Tracking your spending is one of the most basic things you need to do when on the FI path. December 2016 is the first month I actually kept track of everything I spent, which means I have data for the entire year of 2017.
I have to admit, for months now I’ve been thinking about totaling up everything from 2017, but I’ve also been avoiding it. While I moved to spending more intentionally overall during the year, I know for a fact there was a lot of waste, and I was scared to see what I’d find. But for the sake of better knowing my finances, I sucked it up and took a peek at the numbers.
In 2017 I spent a total of $27,068.64.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but at first glance this number doesn’t seem too bad! However, I’ve always had this idea in my head that I’d try to keep my total spending to $2,000 or under per month, which puts me well over that $24,000 mark. (And even $1,000 in spending after rent is high, so ideally it would be less. Maybe if I’d had a budget…).
How I keep track
Because I wouldn’t want to make this too easy (?♀️), I actually track my spending two ways. I track and categorize every single purchase when it shows up in Personal Capital, and I tend to do that on a daily basis. I mentioned earlier this week that I don’t use a budget but instead keep an eye on what I’m spending overall; tracking in Personal Capital is how I do that. (And no, I’m not shilling for them. I like the way their system works—and I certainly don’t have enough money that they’re bugging me to use them as my financial advisors!—but I realize not everyone does or will. If you like Mint or YNAB, go for it! If you want to write down every transaction on a notebook you carry around, do that!)
At the end of the month I go through and put the totals in each category of spending into a spreadsheet, which helpfully (or depressingly?) also monitors the total amount spent in each category overall and the average monthly spend.
What am I even doing here?
I’m seeing slightly different numbers between my spreadsheet’s breakdown and what Personal Capital is reporting for each category.
Some of that is confusion in categorization. For example, when I buy prints for my walls (which I did on more than one occasion in 2017!), what category does that go under? General merchandise? Some “home goods”-type category? I am absolutely sure that in some cases I did one thing when the charge showed up in PC and another when it came time to add up expenses at the end of the month for each category.
Some of it is also the nature of tracking my expenses for the first time: what did I want to track? That’s one of those things that changes over time, and I had no idea what I’d find when I first started tracking how I was spending my money. What larger categories did I end up breaking into subcategories later? Even now I go back and forth on whether “general merchandise” or “shopping” are good enough for tracking, or whether I want to break things down further into clothes, books, art, etc. My spreadsheet has a “shopping” category, but I do tend to go into more detail on Personal Capital.
The spreadsheet is by no means infallible, but since I manually have to input the totals into it, I’m more inclined to believe those reported numbers. However, the numbers in Personal Capital do give me a better breakdown of some larger categories, which is helpful for the more miscellaneous, catch-all categories.
This first year was certainly a learning experience. Essentially what I’m saying is I’m working with two sets of numbers here, so I’m not even going to bother trying to make every single category add up. Close enough is my general approach to math anyway! (Yes, yes, I know “close enough” doesn’t fly when it’s FIRE numbers you’re talking about, but I’m so far off that close enough works just fine for now.)
The grocery spending there is obviously the one I have the most control of and I have to say I’m pretty impressed with myself for keeping it to around $150 per month! It could be lower but I think that’s a decent number to generally aim for.
I spent $1,193.41 on vacation in 2017, which works out to a monthly average of $99.45.
Last year I went to the Azores. I visited Portland. I went to a friend’s wedding. I did a mini road trip culminating in a few days in Vegas, then immediately went to the beach for a week with extended family.
I’m sure there was some waste there (and I’m a baby still when it comes to travel hacking), but I don’t regret spending one cent of this. Travel is a priority and one of the things I want to spend a lot of time doing after I escape the 9-5 life. But there’s no use in putting that on hold while I’m waiting for that to happen, so I’ll continue spending money on things like this that make me happy in the the meantime.
For the record, this does not include eating out while on vacation. All of the Portland breweries we patronized, for example, all went under vacation spending, not restaurants/bars.
My total for last year was $482.71, or $40.23 per month. It’s probably a good thing I wasn’t tracking expenses in 2016 because I have a feeling I probably spent close to double that. A happy hour here and another there adds up very quickly, and I hardly ever turned down invites back then!
While this is absolutely significant progress, it’s still a bit higher than I’d like. I’m continuing to look for opportunities to hang out with friends that don’t involve spending a ton of money; my cousin can attest to the fact that I’ll suggest brunch at my place instead of going out, or going for a hike instead (and in our case we can then joke about how we’re upholding the outdoorsy,
Depression-era cheapness frugal family tradition!).
I’m also a fan of the pre-happy hour PB&J or similar snack to hopefully tide me over and keep me from buying food as well as drinks (it doesn’t always work though. Fries have such an irresistible siren song sometimes!). Know yourself: I have a tendency to get hangry when my blood sugar drops too low, so snacks are a must if I don’t want to end up spending a ton of money on happy hour.
At the same time, though, this isn’t one of those categories I’d have a strict monthly limit on going forward. I’m finding great joy lately in paying for a meal when I’m out with one or both of my parents, and I’m not going to decide not to do that if the opportunity arises just because I’ve already been out with a friend that month.
Just so you can see what owning a car (despite living a largely car-free life) cost me in 2017:
The insurance number is a bit high because I was paying monthly until May, when I renewed for a year; that obviously spills into this year and isn’t included in this calculation. But either way, that’s not an insignificant amount of money my car costs me, and that’s without a car payment. That’s a decision I’ve made, but it’s something anyone who is thinking of owning a car should think about.
Ah yes, that good old “general merchandise” category. I don’t particularly want to, but I’m going to unpack this anyway.
It looks like I spent approximately $739 on clothes last year, or an average of $61.58 per month. Considering I knew that was a problem area and went for a few months last year without buying clothes, that’s even more per month in practice.
That’s way, way too much. To be fair, that number includes a new work purse, a wallet, and new undergarments to replace the ones I’d been wearing since high school that finally wore out. Even without those included, the number is way higher than I want it to be, especially considering I buy cheap fast fashion, not quality items of clothing.
I’ve mentioned before how I don’t particularly care about clothes, but clearly I care enough to buy way too many of them. This is a definite case of my spending not aligning with my priorities. I’m not going to implement a total yearlong ban (although I do think about it occasionally), but my goal is going to be to spend a max of $50 on clothes per month and to go without buying clothes for at least half of this year (so a total of $300).
A whopping $1,867.16 or $155.60 per month.
It’s honestly hard to tell what this all covers. I bought prints for my apartment on multiple occasions and then bought frames for that art. I bought a Vitamix. I bought a new raincoat and a large carry-on backpack right before the Azores. I bought a new Fitbit. I’ve spent a long time slowly switching out my gross, chemical-laden cleaning supplies for more natural ones, which certainly isn’t cheap. I bought gifts for people.
A lot of these were one-offs, but I was tracking my spending and supposedly being more mindful as the year progressed, and I still can’t tell you how I managed to spend this much money on miscellaneous stuff. This is a prime candidate for reducing in 2018 as I continue working to be a more mindful consumer (especially with regards to the environmental impact of my purchases).
Remember how I said before I’ve historically spent to try to gain a sense of control or to project an image of someone I wanted to be? Yeah, hello all of that right here, to the tune of $322.78/$26.90 per month.
It’s not my fault that switching birth control has resulted in a whole host of skin issues (-shakes fist at sky-) and making the switch to more natural facial products isn’t a bad thing overall. But almost a year later I’m still at the point where I have to follow a rigorous skincare routine every day or my face will make its displeasure known soon afterwards; I haven’t found some magic potion that will restore me to the clear skin I had while I was still on the pill.
I’m still trying to figure out what works best for me: case in point, I just bought two different moisturizers last week. But the fact that I’m still trying new products is a reminder that I’m not likely to ever find the magical product that fixes everything. At some point I need to call it good enough and stop spending money on endless new products.
Avoiding the blame game
Back to that $27,068.64 I spent.
Despite the initial relief that it wasn’t horrible, that’s high. It would be so incredibly easy to blame myself for spending so much on stuff and for going well over the arbitrary $2,000 per month number I only very loosely set. But what’s done is done. I’ve spent that money and it would be an unproductive use of my time to berate myself about it or think about how much better off I’d be if I hadn’t spent it.
I was scared to do this exercise in the first place because I was afraid of what I’d find in terms of mindless and wasteful spending. While I’m not happy about the overall spending, and especially about the almost $3,000 I spent on “stuff” last year, I’ve got a much better idea of my weaknesses and things to watch out for.
Now that I’ve looked at 2017’s total spending, I’ve got a baseline from which to measure myself this year for improvement. Given those numbers, it shouldn’t be hard!
Has anyone else looked at their total spending for last year? Were there any surprises (good or bad)?
25 Replies to “Coming to terms with a year’s worth of spending”
A good baseline….I started tracking without any plans to reduce…then gradually started evaluating things a bit more on the value vs price scale. And having a large misc isn’t bad if you want to save time and don’t need to reduce all costs!
I’m very much in the wealth accumulation phase so cutting expenses to the bone is something I am looking to do, but you’re right: it’s not inherently a bad thing to have that.
I’ve only tracked closely since November, so I have a ways to go yet before I have a full year of data. Considering the vacation number includes food and drink, I’m impressed. For whatever reason, I break that stuff out and put it in the restaurants category instead of vacations. Guess it doesn’t matter where it goes as long as it’s the same month to month 😉
Also – if you don’t want to do a year clothes ban (it’s not as hard as it seems, I promise!), why not try for a 3 or 6 mo h one instead? No matter what, it would be a good reset.
Consistency is key and is part of the reason why my numbers don’t match up across various places! Oh well, now that I’m a year in I know how I end up actually categorizing things ?
I could most definitely do a shorter one. If all I’ve bought so far this year is a pair of tennis shoes that I actually need since I walk so much, am I allowed to say I’ve already completed two months of a clothes ban? 😉
I have my exact spending numbers broken out by categories for 2017 but haven’t done a full post breakout yet because some of the stuff seems so crazy that I spent that much on it!
I’m thinking it’s best to do a full breakout at the end of this year so that way I can do a comparison to 2018 when it should (hopefully) make it look much better!
We all have our priorities though, it is always interesting to see a full years worth of expenses and the monthly averages so you have a baseline to compare to as this year goes along!
You just have to remember that since you’ve already spent that money that there’s no use beating yourself up for it! Especially if you learn from that and spend less going forward.
Saving last year’s breakout for the end of this year so you can outshine yourself by comparison? Haha I like your style 😉
Wow that’s not much at all for a year. I have trouble using PC exclusively too because there are things that I bought for work that I got reimbursed for and had to go back and do a lot of manual adjustments and I just didn’t…and other minor issues. I mostly use it for net worth tracking and use and app to keep track of daily spending…and even that can be challenging day to day. Great job overall!
Yeah it’s certainly not a perfect system. Oh well, it’s working for now! (Although we can debate the merits of logging in to see your net worth every day haha.)
I think you did pretty well! I used to spend a little less when I was single, and you have to keep in mind the costs of living in a big city.
Not sure you’ve ever written about it before, but what do you use your car for? I just assume city folk can use public transportation.
I also count food spending while on vacation as part of ‘vacation’ and not ‘food.’ Because as you know, I don’t budget for vacation at all and somehow think I have an unlimited budget temporarily.
I also think $1100 for 3-4 trips is really good! I somehow missed your Azores trip (it’s on my list). Maybe it’s because you went during that sad, dark time when we weren’t friends 🙁
Jeez, Luxe. Haven’t you gone through my newly-minted archives page yet to find that out for yourself? 😉
It was a gift from my parents; no way I’d have a car if I’d had to buy it myself. I use it for Costco trips, hiking, and for driving home/the occasional other trip to somewhere close on occasion. Definitely not at all necessary, but it sure does make those things much easier. I also refuse to drive it across this city on principle, so unless I’m leaving DC proper (or it’ll take me 20 minutes to drive versus an hour on the metro) I take public transit when possible.
Maybe “unlimited budget for vacation!!!!” isn’t the best mindset but it sure makes vacation fun! And you’re right, it was the beginning of May so probably way back in those dark days ?
27K isn’t bad at all! Remember to not play the comparison game 🙂
Looks like if you get a few of those categories down a bit you’ll hit your 24k goal easy without sacrificing any fun or enjoyment in life. Although the Vitamix might get you a demerit with frugal PF bloggers 😉
Yep, shouldn’t be too hard not to sacrifice anything, especially since this year is all about realigning my spending so that $24k brings me more enjoyment. Case in point: the $600 I’ve already spent this year on plane tickets!
Hahaha I know, but at least it was a refurbished one and not one of the ridiculously expensive new ones! It does make some pretty damn good smoothies and sauces ?
Just over $1,000 on vacation and less than that for socialising seems like a pretty awesome year to me. I’m quite rubbish with those categories personally and I think my vacation budget for 2018 is something like £4,000!!
Well it’s only March and I’ve already spent more than half of last year’s vacation spending on plane tickets, so it’ll be way higher this year! But that’s all part of spending less on the things I don’t care as much about so I have more for things like travel 🙂
That’s in line with what I spent in 2015 & 2016 ($26.9k and $27.7k, respectively), but 2017 was a doozy at $47.3k. I know that $15k of the increase was from buying a car and paying it off in < 3 months, and around $2k in gift cards and other pre-paid bills, but I'm still upset with myself for the other $3k lifestyle inflation that I am struggling to account for. That's a 10% increase that I can't even point to something tangible where it went...
It totally sucks to not be happy with your spending, but the important thing is that you realize lifestyle inflation was happening and now that you know you can watch it more closely. And paying off a car in less than 3 months is amazing!
I was actually below avg spend for the first half of 2017, and then I think I let myself get too spendy with repairs to the old car and buying the new-to-me car. Trying to get back on track and spend under my 3-year avg per month in at least 9 of 12 months this year. Shouldn’t be too hard given the easy comps.
Sounds like a great plan!
Excellent breakdown, and I think you are still doing spectacularly! I saw the $150 and thought it was per week and was like Damn, Girl, that’s a lot of avocados… then saw it was per month and was more like, Damn, Girl, teach me your ways! 😉 Sorry the impant is messin with the hormone and skin situation… I hope you find an answer.
Agree every cent spent on travel is worth… especially when well thought out and planned for in advance. I hope some travel money this year gets spent on coming back to Durham… at least I buy the wine! Seems like a solid plan on the clothes spending going forward too. That which is not measured cannot be tracked, at least now you’ve a baseline indeed. Good luck in 2018!
Heh heh, even I can’t eat that many avocados! It helps that I don’t have a super tall, super hungry husband to feed, too 😉
The great thing about Durham is that it takes up so very little of my money (especially if you buy the wine haha), just gas and some of the restaurant money. I’d love to do a daytrip with you out to the mountains some weekend—let’s figure that out!
Oh right, that black hole I throw food into… he does impact the budget. ^.^
Eeee yes that sounds AWESOME! All the hiking. Maybe even camping, marshmallows around the fire…?
Um, we need to talk about how you spent less than $1200 on vacations and that included 3 locations, including THE AZORES.
Hah it helps that the Azores was a family trip which means it was subsidized a bit…
Super impressed with your sub-$30k spending. I pat myself on the back for spending well more than this, so you should feel *really* good about this.
There will always be wasteful spending, and there’s not a damn thing any of us can do about it. Because we are humans not machines, haha!
Go waste some money on beer and/or whiskey to celebrate this achievement.
$27k is not bad at all. If you can keep it at this level, you’ll be set.
We spent almost $50k, but that’s 2 adults and a kid. Still not too bad.
Good job watching your spending. Keep it up!