By Mandy Wallace 

Guys, I ran the numbers and our grocery and eating out expenses have doubled – DOUBLED – since we hit the road.

When we first started 16 months ago, we were on a shoestring budget. My husband, the primary breadwinner, had just lost his job. As soon as he got another one, we took our emergency fund and the rest of his severance check and bought an RV. Those first three months (Aug, Sept, and Oct 2017) we were in emergency mode. We floated on credit card bills, attempting to limit our spending wherever we could. Even so, our monthly groceries, household, and eating out expenses went up by $500.

A year later our income is stable. But when I looked at our average grocery, household, and eating out expenses for the last three months (Aug, Sept, Oct 2018), I was shocked to see that our spending has ballooned. It’s doubled! We’re spending more than double on food and paper towels since we started this grand adventure!

I should pause here and explain that I’m a bit of a numbers nerd. I honestly, deep down in my heart of hearts, love updating our family budget and tracking our spending. I love talking about personal finance – I used to write a blog solely devoted to personal finance. I knew that our spending had been a bit unpredictable on the road, but I did not realize by how much.

So I’ve been staring at the numbers while reasons, justifications, disbelief, and excuses have been swirling through my mind.

Justifications and Excuses

The Kids: Well, obviously our three kids are growing – it must be them! Some nights our boys will tear through two and three servings of food, so leftovers are rare to come by. Our three year old is actually starting to eat meals and snacks like a proper person. So, part of the problem is that we’re buying more to fill growing bellies.

The Experience (good): We’ve been places we’ve never been, trying foods from different regions, visited friends and family we never see. We used to eat out occasionally, but now we make a point to go out at least once a week so we can try the local fare. And, again the kids are actually eating meals now, so that adds up. We mostly eat out for lunch so prices are a little lower and we don’t add multiple drinks to our tab. Apparently that’s not really helping.

The Experience (not so good): There are some days when we end up eating out when we didn’t intend to – like when the RV is in the shop overnight! I’ve learned to prepare (check out how I prep for a shop day here), but the past three months really hit us hard with three shop visits (two unplanned).

The Limited Options: Sometimes we shop for the week in a glorified gas station where a dozen eggs are $4 – and I’m not talking about the organic, free range kind. It seems like in those stores, everything costs a dollar extra.

Maybe Regional Differences? The past three months we’ve been traveling down the West Coast. Maybe it’s true that everything – even toilet paper – just costs more in California.

My old money saver tricks haven’t translated. When it comes down to it, I think that this has had the greatest impact on our spending.

  • No garden: We’re moving all the time, we can’t garden and grow our own herbs and vegetables. We’ve tried a few small containers for herbs, but haven’t had much success.
  • No space: Before we hit the road, I would shop at Costco once a month and then supplement weekly at the local grocery store. We’ve debated the benefits of buying in bulk but it really comes down to storage. Where do we put 24 rolls of paper towels and 36 rolls of toilet paper? We hardly have room for the large grocery store mayo jar – where in the world would we put a 5 pound tub?
  • No batching: I used to a lot of batching for family dinners to save time and money. I’d make two batches of a slow cooker meal, cooking one that day and freezing the second batch in a bag for later that month. I’d coordinate slow cooker meal swaps once a quarter and fill my freezer with meals ready to go. Our RV freezer is the size of a shoe box. There is no room for bags of meals ready to go – and, going back to the Costco thing, it’s sometimes hard to even find freezer space for larger portions of meat or seafood.

In thinking through all of the strategies I used to use to save money on groceries and the realities of life of the road, these are my ideas to attempt over the next six months:

  • I’m going to reclaim leftovers for lunch. Before we plate our dinners, I’m going to box two portions and save them for the next day’s lunch for me and Joe. Sometimes I feel like at the end of a meal I try to pawn off what’s left in the pot so I don’t have to store it or toss it anyway.
  • I’m going to reevaluate our food storage options. I have a hunch that it would make a big impact on our spending if I could buy in bulk and prep meals in bulk. I’m not ready to pay the membership fee for Costco (I’d have to research their locations and see if we’ll even be near them with our travel plans in the coming year), but I think I could purge some of the kitchen stuff I originally brought with us but still haven’t used.
  • Piggybacking off that, I’m going to try to streamline some meal planning. I think if I try limiting our meals to maybe 10 or 12 options that everyone likes, I can get rid of some of the ingredients that are taking up space in the fridge, freezer, and pantry.

I’m not sure what steps will ultimately prove effective, but I know something has to change – and change fast! I’ll report back in a few months and let you know how we’re doing. I’d love to know what strategies you use to help keep food and household costs down while you’re on the road!