Ever since my post-college years scattered my best friends throughout the country, one of the things I have been fascinated by is just how different our costs of living are. How much we make, how much we spend, what our largest money sinks are — all of those things are wildly different, especially once you throw different careers, spouses, debt, and children into the mix.
One of the things I’ve loved about TFD is its commitment to financial transparency. Whether it’s talking credit card debt or how much a hospital bill was after a sex injury or what splurges were or weren’t worth it, there are a lot of people here interested in talking about the actual dollar numbers when it comes to finances. So, in the name of transparency — and because I have auto-generated reports that let me set custom date ranges — I’m going to break down every penny I spent in the first six months of 2017 from the largest expense category to the smallest.
Useful Notes: I had four income sources over these six months: gross salary ($23,737.71), a one-time settlement payment for a car accident ($3,000), freelance income ($451.50), and interest earned ($67.97). That’s a total of $27,257.18 for me to account for, minus a scattering of birthday cash/gift cards that I didn’t keep a record of.
I also live on my own in a one-bedroom basement apartment in a mid-cost-of-living suburban area (<50,000 people in this city). I have no debt.
1. Home: $5,890.48. Easily my biggest expense, as I imagine it is for a lot of people. This is further split into three subcategories: rent ($5,154.00), furnishings ($556.56), and supplies ($179.92).
2. Taxes: $5,027.27. Taken directly out of my paycheck for the most part. I haven’t had a refund in years, plus there’s a small property tax fee on top of my rent. Two subcategories: state/federal/etc. taxes ($4,967.27) and property tax ($60.00).
3. 401(k): $2,848.53. I am nowhere near maxing this out. Don’t get me wrong, maxing out is a future goal, but there’s no way I can (read: am willing to) put over a third of my gross income into this. Also, this total does not include my 3% employer match. That hasn’t vested, so I don’t consider it my money until I can leave my job and take it all with me.
4. Bills & Utilities: $1,815.81. My cell phone and internet contracts will be done soon, so I’m shopping for cheaper alternatives. Four subcategories: utilities ($721.13), cell phone ($588.12), internet ($239.94), and website hosting ($266.62).
5. Food & Dining: $1,472.86. I’ve been trying to keep my restaurant spending under control, and I think I’m doing okay. Five sub-categories: groceries ($994.71), restaurants ($380.45), alcohol and bars ($43.86), coffee shops ($40.32), and fast food ($13.52).
6. Medical/Dental/Etc.: $1,286.52. My company pays the bulk of my insurance costs, and I am currently in decent health. Four subcategories: medical insurance ($1,176.86), dental insurance ($63.36), copays ($25.00), and prescriptions ($21.30).
7. Travel: $1,204.66. I am going on an international trip later this year, so the bulk of this category is airfare for a trip I haven’t taken yet. Thanks to credit card reward points, just $11.20 of this amount paid for a roundtrip ticket to see a friend in California. Three subcategories: air travel and insurance ($955.17), vacation spending money ($177.00), and gear/supplies ($72.49).
8. Shopping: $827.23. I have a weakness for electronic gadgets and wanted to take a tablet instead of a laptop on my aforementioned trips. I did not own a tablet in January. Five sub categories: electronics and software ($492.75), clothing ($190.38), Amazon Prime membership ($99.00), books ($35.91), and hobbies ($9.19).
9. Personal Care: $683.66. I’ve only been putting highlights in my hair for the last year and a half or so, but I absolutely love it. A great hairdresser who knows how to handle short curly hair is worth every penny. Three subcategories: hair ($420.00), makeup/hygiene/etc. ($223.66), and spa/massage ($40.00).
10. Roth IRA Contribution: $600. At some point, I need to revisit the 401(k) vs Roth IRA debate and adjust my contributions in those categories accordingly.
11. Auto & Transport: $581.88. My company offers either a parking pass or a free bus/train pass for all employees. I was able to find an apartment I could afford just a short drive from the train station, so I use public transportation for the bulk of my commute. Four subcategories: insurance ($389.30), gas ($129.58), parking ($60.00), and public transportation ($3.00).
12. Gifts & Donations: $581.38. I like giving presents to friends and family whenever possible. Two subcategories: gifts ($429.38) and charity ($152.00).
13. Entertainment: $127.39. I get most of my entertainment through the internet. Two subcategories: streaming sites ($98.85) and movies/DVDs ($28.54).
14. Fees & Charges: $36.95. There’s a billing fee on top of my rent (why, I don’t know), plus some other miscellaneous items.
15. Cash: $30.00. I generally don’t use cash and have no idea what I did with this. Apparently, I needed to hand physical money to someone for some reason?
That’s a grand total of $23,014.62 leaving my pockets in the first six months of 2017. The bulk of the unspent $4,242.56 went to short- and medium-term savings (with a tiny bit leftover in checking). I’m pretty happy with these numbers overall, though I’ll admit I did splurge more than I should have with the settlement money. Did I really need a much larger, much nicer TV? No. Had I been researching exactly what I wanted for two months before the money hit my account? Yes. Is that why my home furnishings category deserves some side-eye? Of course. Did I still stick the remainder into savings? Absolutely.
But there were a couple of things that surprised me when I scrutinized my spending in detail. I knew the frequent highlights and haircuts were costing me a pretty penny, but I hadn’t realized it was that much. I was already alternating a haircut + highlight with just a haircut in an effort to keep down costs — but I’m a little baffled by the fact I’ve spent more on my hair than meals at restaurants.
Then again, my local friends are a frugal lot; our social activities are usually going to someone’s house for a cooking club session or a movie night instead of going out to eat. I’m also the only person who drinks in that group (and lightly at that), so it’s no wonder I spent under $50 at the liquor store. The bottle of rum in my cupboard has been there since May, and I still have 3/4ths of it since I’m drinking it an ounce at a time. (Cuba Libres are currently my favorite cocktail for summer.)
I’m not concerned by the amount I’ve spent on travel even though it’s so high up on the list. I’ve been saving for this international trip for three years, so all of that money originally came from previous years’ savings and was “reimbursed” by the settlement money. The vacation spending money was cash I spent in California while visiting my friend, so no regrets on that one, either.
The most painful category by far is my home expenses. If I just got a roommate, I’d save thousands of dollars in rent. Then again, the last time I moved in with strangers, I ended up being all but told I wasn’t welcome. I really only left my bedroom to make food or leave the house. After a year as miserable as that one, I’m willing to pay a premium to live on my own so I actually have a place I feel comfortable in.
That’s where the personal part of personal finance kicks in: I’m using the resources I have to build a lifestyle I’m happy with, while also preparing for immediate goals and retirement. Right now I’m on track to spend close to the same as I did in 2016 — and a few thousand less than I did in 2014 and 2015. Here’s hoping I can stay on target.
Manuela prefers to write under a pen name.
Image via Unsplash