You stroll into the grocery store, shopping list in hand. You limit your produce to what you’ll actually consume this week, you shop the specials on meat, you cross off your list…And then, you see a vibrant colorful endcap filled with holiday treats.
Maybe your budget buster is sweet treats. Maybe it’s anything pumpkin, or gingerbread, or peppermint. It can even be seasonal beer or wine.
‘Tis the season for Beaujolais Noveau, right?
Your grocery budget goes out the window. Hey, you can only get these festive items once a year. You have to take advantage while you can.
Or do you?
Last week, I wrote about Christmas Budget busters, concentrating mainly on what happens when you go out shopping for presents. I wasn’t going to fall victim to any budget buster. I was clever and aware in a retail environment.
More accurately, I was clueless.
I looked at our grocery bill, and realized I had fallen victim to a budget buster just as bad as a bait and switch or an upsell. I had fallen victim to the grocery store endcap.
Our Food Bill Fail
We spent October paring down our food bill and trying to reset our grocery habits, and going in to November I was really optimistic that we were going to keep to a more reasonable $75-100 per week.
Week 1 happened, and we came in a little high. We were in the $150 range. Well, that was just restocking, I thought. Maybe a few indulgences, but refilling staples like olive oil adds up. $150 was just a blip.
Jon’s favorite holiday treat was in stock, so I bought him one carton of eggnog. One! I wasn’t going to buy any more until at least mid-December.
But then Little Bit saw some Christmas-themed cookies. Okay, well, we didn’t actually have any cookies at home. Sure, why not? It was just one treat, and the budget could stretch for one box of white fudge dipped oreos.
Then Jon decided he was going to take responsibility for our mid-week milk runs that mysteriously became milk and eggnog runs EVERY week. Not to mention a trip to the ABC store for a little bourbon to enhance our eggnog enjoyment.
Pecans and pie crusts to make our Thanksgiving contributions. Pumpkin and Cranberry bagels. The seasonal Sam Adams 12 pack. Fruitcake. Cranberries. Candy for the advent calendar. Pretzel rods and chocolate chips to make some festive treats with my daughter.
Our grocery bills ballooned quickly, to almost $800 in November after coming in at $261 for October. We were right back to our September grocery spending level.
Why Buy Holiday Treats?
I am not a holiday hater. I love Christmas and Thanksgiving, and adore feeling the holiday mood. Festive food is a big part of those warm cozies. Seasonal goodies remind me of childhood, of coming home from the cold into a kitchen of baking cookies and hot chocolate.
It’s my responsibility to bring pie to Thanksgiving (chocolate and pecan.) I do pie. If I show up without pie, I will hear about it forever. I make the pies.
My stepmother expects cheeseballs for Christmas, and I will make them.
Jon loves his eggnog. Little Bit loves the candy she gets from the advent calendar, just as my brother and I did when we were young. I love making the Christmas cookies I used to make with my mom.
I want to enjoy and share holiday treats.
And so I’m buying them. Those bright endcaps, filled with cookies, candies, baking ingredients and other festive food call to me.
They’re supposed to. That’s why the grocery stores put them there, where you’ll pass by even if you aren’t going down the aisle. Endcaps are for impulse buys.
Impulse buys are the bane of every budget. And for whatever reason, they’re pretty easy for me to avoid everywhere but the grocery store. Add in the holidays, and I have a real impulse problem biting into my best intentions.
The mistake I made is two-fold: I started buying too early and too often, and I didn’t budget holiday food into my holiday budget.
Even Festive Food is groceries, right? Maybe not.
What to do about Holiday Treats
One thing I haven’t been asking myself as I’ve fallen victim to the seasonal endcap is “Does this purchase replace a purchase I would ordinarily make?”
In some cases, it would. I don’t feel so bad about the seasonal bagels. We were going to buy bagels anyway, we just picked the festive ones. Bagels are a perfectly reasonable breakfast food purchase, even if they’re pumpkin.
Same with the beer. We were out of beer and would have purchased it anyway, although we may have purchased a brand that cost a couple of dollars less.
I think those purchases clearly fell into the categories of “Groceries.”
However, some of my other purchases are holiday-only and don’t replace anything. They just added extra to the grocery bill (and often, to the calorie count.)
Eggnog in the first week in November? Clearly a mistake.
Buying one quart of eggnog opened the floodgates to grocery budget busting. We decided that hey, holidays are here! If the holidays are here, we can buy treats. Lots of treats.
Jon and I were feeling festive. We wanted to treat ourselves as well as those around us.
Our family does the same thing with presents but we limit what we spend. We probably should have been doing the same with our festive foods.
I think we spent a bit much on those holiday treats because we treated them like grocery expenses and not like Christmas expenses. Those items that are outside our regular purchases need to come out of my holiday budget that I’m tracking so carefully.
I’ve designated pools of money for every Christmas present purchase I plan to make. Why didn’t I do the same thing for treats?
I need to be setting an appropriate spending amount, and subtracting with every purchase. It needs to be tracked both as part of my grocery bill and separately in the Holiday category.
I think tracking the holiday treats would do a much better job of reducing my vulnerability to impulse buys. If I’d done this to start the season, I might have delayed or just not bought some of the treats I’ve bought.
The Plan Moving Forward
There will still be some holiday treats to purchase and there are still stocking stuffers to buy (although I was going to take those from the presents budget).
I will still make my famous pecan-crusted cheeseballs for my stepmother and pecan pie for my dad, and I can take the ingredients out of the amount budgeted for their presents. That’s probably good planning, because pecans are pricy.
For the rest, though, I need a limit. I’m going to try to keep additional holiday treat purchases at the $50 level. That should take care of any additional baking ingredients and a few quarts of eggnog for Jon between now and the end of the year with some money to spare.
Keeping that budget in line should help keep temptation at bay for the next few grocery trips and as I run around getting my present shopping done. If there’s only a limited pool for impulse treat buys that still allows me freedom to feel the warm fuzzies, I think I’ll do a better job of keeping my grocery budget intact.
With a little better planning, I can ward off the grocery store end cap. And hopefully, so can you.
What are your overspending triggers? What strategies do you use to keep your holiday or grocery spending on track?
Image courtesy of OZphotography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net