Luxury, luxury, luxury. What a strange and grand country this is, where the necessities are virtually free, so we end up spending most of our income on optional luxuries in the quest for ever-fancier pants. The Money Mustache family is no exception, and 2013 was another tight navigation along the border between “Enough” and “Too Much”.
Imagine that Bill and Melinda Gates had come over to your house for dinner yesterday evening, and just before leaving they slipped you a little envelope containing a credit card with your name on it. It came with a $100,000 monthly limit, and the understanding that you’d never see the bill – it would be covered in perpetuity by the generosity of the Gates family. How would your spending change?
Even with much lower income than that, I have been forced to consider this scenario, because for practical purposes we’re finding ourselves in the same boat. Our surplus in savings and income grew again this year, and the gap between this and our spending became embarrassingly large. This gave me a chance to re-evaluate all of my frugal roots. Was I really doing all this stuff because it makes me happier, or was some of it just because of the money?
So we cut loose a bit. Never thought twice about buying a pack of beer to bring over to a friend’s house, browsing the gourmet cheese section at the hip new grocery store that opened up in town, taking a trip, or inviting crowds of people over for elaborate meals. We hosted a steady stream of out-of-town visitors, providing food and entertainment and hospitality. Upgraded work boots and worn clothing with abandon, and gave gifts and donated time and money whenever it seemed appropriate. I even upgraded my kitchen sink.
On the other hand, many things did not change. I didn’t abandon my trusty commuter bike and become a Car Clown, because cycling is genuinely a much happier thing to do than driving. Kept building things, because carpentry makes me happy. Didn’t buy a bunch of new gadgets and furniture, because simplicity is a better daily habit than cluttering up one’s living room with a Hedonic Treadmill. And we took fewer trips this year, because we love where we live and now have many close friends here. While vacations and tropical beaches are fun, it is always worth considering what you are leaving behind. A better home life creates the desire for fewer vacations.
I don’t do any budgeting or track spending through the year – we just let the cash fly and add it all up at the end. So I was sure we’d blow our reputation this year and I would have to report back to you with an embarrassingly middle-class exploding-volcano-of-wastefulness figure.
The net result of all this? Our total spending for the year increased by $140, to a grand total of $25,142*
|Property Taxes||2,358||2,517||Looking forward to a drop next year in the new, smaller house!|
|Food and Dining||6,238||7,739||This is where our flashy spending really showed up.|
|Groceries||5,733||6,984||For this we can blame the new Lucky's Supermarket, and loads of houseguests and parties.|
|Wine/Beer||280||466||Although the category has increased, $150 of this was a gift to a friend. Getting your good wine in boxes really helps in this department.|
|Restaurants, Coffee Shop||225||288|
|Health Insurance||710||2,855||First full year of fully unsubsidized health insurance (see article).|
|Auto and Transport||1,537||2,231|
|Gasoline||684||1,022||A bit more roadtripping this year, including destinations in Canada and Utah/Nevada.|
|Registration & Testing||217||294|
|Service & Parts||169||422||I enjoyed my first mechanical problem this year on the 1999 minivan, but managed to fix it. See article How to Fix a Car|
|Public Transportation||n/a||81||While I'm in favor of public transport in principle, I find I never use it in practice, because bikes are faster, cheaper, and better for you for typical intra-city distances.|
|Utilities||1,463||1,649||This includes natural gas, electricity, water, sewer, trash, recycling, and some other city services. Our usage dropped slightly, but rates rose a bit and some of this was startup fees for the new house.|
|Cell Phone||240||300||These days I get free phones, but this is the annual cost of a single unlimited smartphone from Republic Wireless. Or two phones with unlimited talk/text but wi-fi data only.|
|Internet Access||360||360||(not included in mint charts)
We keep this cost down by sharing a high-end connection with a friend: (see article)
|Home Renovations||2,147||383||My only house expenses this year were a new kitchen sink and a bath faucet.|
|Donations/Charity||1,734||615||Personal donations only (business including this blog donates separately).|
|Crossfit||1,175||650||We managed to chop this down by setting our own garage up as a gym, and inviting friends over for free workouts.|
|Shoes & Clothing||327||606||Several pairs of fancypants, new sandals, new workboots. Excessive!|
|Other||789||440||Netflix, kids activities, swim lessons, school supplies, local plays, apps, CC annual fee, cash withdrawals, foreign transaction fees|
|Travel||1,876||1,934||Really you could subtract $1200 from this, which is the statement credit we got from various rewards credit cards. This figure also includes the experiment where I tried to Waste $1000.|
|Subtracting Tuition, Donations||22,202||24,567|
|Subtracting travel, crossfit||19,151||21,983|
|Subtracting organic/luxury food||17,259||19,678||Assuming a 33% increase on groceries due to organic + meat.|
|Subtracting home renovation expense||15,112||19,295||This is what our "no frills" living cost would be, unless we moved to a smaller house (Note: Misc category could be cut down a lot as well)|
As it seems to happen every year, things changed, but we spent about the same amount. And life went on just fine. I think it’s because spending is more of a habit than a conscious effort – if you just develop the habit of spending the right amount for your own needs and savings goals, everything else takes care of itself.
Here’s to a prosperous 2014!
How to track your spending: We do almost all spending using a good cash-back credit card, and let the Personal Capital and Mint apps automatically categorize everything and display it in pretty pie charts and percentages for us. As a non-budget person, I find this method of tracking to be revolutionary, as it happens even when you are busy living life and forgetting about money.
Other exposing annual spending articles:
*Note: I did not include any costs related to rebuilding our new house in this total, which so far have added to about $25,000 including things like engineering, permit fees, steel, lumber, electrical and plumbing parts, kitchen cabinets, and all new windows and doors. This is because the end result will be selling our current house and ending up with $100k to spare from the transaction. It’s more of an investment than a spending spree, although it sure feels otherwise when all these cardboard boxes keep arriving on the job site.