I’m writing this article in the spirit of full disclosure. I want to be open and transparent with my Simple Family Finance family (that’s you!), and since frugality and cutting expenses is such a big part of what we discuss, sharing my expenses feels like the right thing to do.
This is not necessarily a “how to” article because everyone’s situation is different. We have different passions, backgrounds, families, and geography. Some items will be more expensive where I live and others will be much less. I have a young child. You may not. Or you may have 8 children…and in that case, may God give you the strength that you need to survive . There are rarely solutions to our financial lives that are applicable to 100% of people everywhere (except to spend less than you earn), but the more that we share, the better informed and equipped we will be to live a more frugal and satisfying life.
So, the following article is a look behind the scenes. It’s a good way to get to know me. Every penny is accounted for and no expense has been left out besides those that are solely related to my businesses. In other words, while we may be able to deduct a portion of our heating bill on our taxes because of a “home office”, the entire heating bill, phone bill, etc. has been accounted for since they’re not 100% for business use. However, the credit card processing fees or domain name renewals will not be included.
Also, taxes, savings, and investments are not a part of this analysis either. Just our everyday expenditures.
Important: The other reason that I’m sharing this information is to demonstrate how important and useful tracking your expenses can be. We use a spreadsheet very similar to the one that I provide on the sidebar of this website. You can download it for free or you can use whatever system you prefer. It doesn’t have to be complicated. The point is simply to track where your money goes and organize it into categories.
We all know how much income we have coming in and where it comes from, but very few people that I talk to have any clue where their money is going, except for a vague concept of their bills and loans. There are a lot of spare dollars and cents that disappear from our pockets and bank accounts. Where they end up is critical information if your truly want to KNOW your finances.
There are 2 main reasons why an expense tracking system is important.
1. It allows you to set up a more accurate budget in the future. I can take my 2012 spreadsheet and be supremely confident that the figure that I budget for food, utilities, or even gifts is going to be accurate and attainable. Most people simply offer educated guesses when budgeting for a new year.
2. It allows you to analyze and trim your expenses more efficiently. You have all the information you need to notice that a change needs to be made. Let’s say that you have a water leak in your home. You know you have a leak because there’s a puddle of water in your basement. However, unless you know specifically where the leak is coming from, there’s very little you can do to stop it. The puddle only tells you that there’s a problem – not how to fix it.
It’s the same way with our finances. You may know that you have a problem because your credit card balances continue to climb, or you’re just not able to save as much as you think you should, but until you diagnose where the leak is coming from, you won’t be able to fix it. You may find after 3 months of tracking that you’re spending much more on your grocery bill than you had imagined. Now you’re equipped to make a change.
My 2012 Annual Expenses
I had set up an annual budget of $25,000 for 2012, and we nearly made it. We ended up spending a total of $25,149 – $149 over budget. However, I’m giving myself a pass on this one because we had to redo our roof when it started leaking this summer. I’ll talk more about this in a moment, but that was a $1200 expense that was not planned for. Sure, we set aside some money for house repairs, but not quite that much. However, we’re also able to put plenty of money in savings each year, so an overage isn’t as big of a deal as it used to be.
The percentages shown are a % of our total expenses, not income.
Our Expenses Explained:
Here’s a more detailed analysis of some of the more important categories, from largest to smallest. Again, the % shown is the percentage of our total expenses – not our income.
1. Mortgage + Escrow (24.16% – $6,075)
We live in a reasonably modest 1300 square foot home, well below what the bank says we can afford. We like it that way. It makes for plenty of breathing room in the budget. This figure is what we paid to our mortage (principal and interest), as well as our property taxes and insurance. We pay a little extra each month, but nothing extraordinary. This is our last piece of debt, but I’m not really in a huge hurry to pay it off. With a low rate and a little equity in case we needed to sell, I’d actually prefer to keep my cash in real estate investments right now, where it can make a better return on investment.
If you added my utilities and the roof project into this figure, it would make up 39.25% of my total expenses.
2. Charitable Giving (15.72% – $3,954)
This is made up of tithe to our church, some missionaries we support, monetary gifts to families in our community, and charities. I was a little frustrated to see it this low. This is the one (and only) expense that I’d like to see increase substantially in 2013. The problem this year was that most of our savings was tied up in investments, but I need to ensure a better balance from now on.
3. Utilities (9.58% – $2,410)
Our water, electric, and heat bills came in almost exactly where I thought they would. I budget $200/month for these 3 bills. Due to rising costs, I’ll probably have to budget a bit more in 2013, but I’m also going to attempt to cut our electric bill in the coming months. You’ll probably see an article or two about this endeavor.
4. Food (7.42% – $1,867)
Well, this was our first year attempting to feed a little one. It’s been interesting to see how the different stages have affected our budget. At first, Landry was nursing, so the effect was minimal. Then the little bugger started getting hungry, so we started making our own baby food and added that into the equation. That, too, was pretty cheap. But, then came formula. The last few months have been formula + baby food and that isn’t much fun. The store-brand formula alone was $40 – $60/month, but, at least it was temporary. Now he’s 1 and off of formula, so we’re finally getting back to normal and will be able to stick to our $2 budget again.
Despite the formula hike, we were still able to stick to a $1.71 per day per person food budget (including eating out). So, overall we did fine. We don’t eat out very often. I’d say we average about one restaurant per month, plus a Dairy Queen or Coldstone visit here and there. However, even then we often split meals, because they usually offer such large portions. The total amount of money that we spent on food outside our home this year was $179.05. More on this later.
5. Vehicle Expenses (6.99% – $1,757)
We don’t have a car payment, so this is simply gas, vehicle maintenance & repairs, and our car insurance. Since I walk to work, we live near our church, and are only a few miles away from the grocery store, the vast majority of our gas expense is related to our trips to see my in-laws. They live about 70 miles away and we try to visit at least once a month. We have it pretty good as far as our vehicle expense is concerned. It’s part of the reason that we chose the house we did a few years ago. I love being able to walk to work.
6. Vacation/Travel (6.98% – $1,756)
Only $1 out of the #5 spot! Better luck next year vacations. Trisha and I both love to travel, and who doesn’t love a vacation? So, this is one expense that we don’t mind budgeting for every year. Last year we went out to visit my relatives in Washington and Oregon in order to show off Landry a bit (he was about 6 months old and they had never seen him in person). While it was great fun at times, and we love spending time with our family, that trip also taught us that we want to take a break from traversing time zones, boarding crowded planes, and attempting to drive long stretches with a very young child. So, I think 2013 will consist of several long weekends instead of a great, big vacation.
7. Gifts (5.21% – $1,310)
About half of this total is related to Christmas, which still seems like a lot. However, we’re making good strides since the 2012 figure is certainly down from previous years. We’ve been simplifying Christmas for a couple years now, and I think birthdays are next. As I said in a previous article, it has nothing to do with being stingy or greedy. It’s just the fact that most holiday gifts tend to become more about obligation than generosity. So, we’re trying to be generous in other ways instead. However, with weddings, open houses, baby showers, and Hallmark holidays not going away anytime soon, I’m sure this expense will stay pretty steady for years to come.
8. Medical Expenses (5.19% – $1,305)
2011 was much more expensive than 2012 since Landry was born in December of that year. This year was a breeze compared to that. The total is mostly made up of dental torture and chiropractic cracking.
9. The Roof Project (5.02% – $1,261)
A section of our roof began leaking last summer. Turns out it wasn’t leaking – it was actually crying tears from all the abuse it had taken over the years. It had at least 4 or 5 layers of shingles on it and had been patched and patched again, so we ripped that entire section off down to the rafters and replaced it. We remodeled the ceiling inside that section of the house as well, since it had previously been a rather ugly drop ceiling…and I accidentally fell through the roof when my foot slipped off a rafter. It wasn’t cheap, but we did save some moola by doing it ourselves (with a lot of help from my loving family). And, fortunately, my fall didn’t result in larger medical bills – just a deep purple bruise larger than your head.
10. TV/Internet (2.33% – $587)
It still looks like a big number to me, but that’s just because I’m cheap. We used to pay about $58/month for basic cable and high-speed internet, but we cut the cord on our cable in June. So, now we simply watch TV online or by using Netflix, and we haven’t missed cable at all.
Being in a rural area, we have very few options for decent high-speed internet, so we’re sort of stuck paying around $35 – $40/month for the type of service we want. But, that’s fine. The World Wide Web isn’t leaving the Tecmire household anytime soon. I wouldn’t be able to talk to you fine folks, plus, it saves us too much money in other ways. If we decide to ditch the internet some day, we’re going all the way…Amish.
11. Clothing (0.77% – $193)
We’re cheap. And I stopped caring what I looked like years ago (sorry honey). The only clothing I buy for myself any more is the occasional dress shirt or slacks for work. Also, my shoes need to be replaced every now and then. Other than that, I’m very content with my simple wardrobe. Back in the day, when I was still trying to impress everyone, I never thought twice about spending $60 on a tie or $80 on a shirt. Every month I went shopping for something new. Wow, have things changed!
This year I personally bought a $25 pair of dress shoes, some socks, and some underwear. That’s it. Some people would be embarrassed, but I lean more toward proud. The rest of the grand total consisted of a couple of my wife’s items, some outfits for Landry (often from garage sales), and a discount gift card to our local outlet mall. We bought it because it was 20% off, and then put it in the clothing category, because we’ll ultimately use it for clothes (one day).
Trisha likes clothes but might be cheaper than I am. She generally won’t even consider purchasing something unless it’s at a garage sale, on sale at a thrift store, or 60% off the clearance price at Old Navy. So, Landry is the only one that we buy clothes for and even that is pretty minimal at this point. He has grandparents, uncles, and aunts that like to buy him cute outfits. Even so, this category is bound to fluctuate a bit as we need to replace larger items in our wardrobe. Even if it pains me in the process.
12. Cell phone and home phone (0.33% – $82)
Yes. You read that right. Our annual phone expense for both phones combined is less than some people spend on just one month of cell phone service. I’ll get into the details of our arrangement in a future article, but we have a Magic Jack Plus home phone and a pre-paid cell phone that we mostly use within our family and for emergencies. The home phone and cell phone each cost around $40 per year. Again, I’ll delve into this in more detail soon.
Biggest budget-related victory in 2012
In February we were able to pay off my student loans – the last non-mortgage debt that we had. That was a good feeling. That money now gets added to our savings account each month.
Charitable giving was much lower than I’d like. Besides our tithe, we really didn’t branch out as much as we had in 2011, but that will change this year.
The roof was not necessarily expected, but that’s why an Uh-Oh fund or adequate savings account is so important.
Biggest Differences Between Our Budget & the Average American Family’s
***The figures used were from the average American family with the most similar income bracket to ours in order to be as accurate as possible.
1. Phone Services
Us - $82
U.S. - $1,173 (1430% increase)
2. Eating Out
Us – $179
U.S. – $2,122 (1185% increase)
Us – $193
U.S. – $1,381 (716% increase)
Us – $1,757
U.S. - $7,099 (404% increase)
Biggest Similarities Between Our Budget & the Average American Family’s
Us – $2,410
U.S. – $2,357 (2% decrease)
Us – $1,310
U.S. – $644 (49% decrease)
There they are. That’s what we spent money on in 2012. Obviously, there are a few miscellaneous categories not covered, but you’re probably bored as it is, so I’ll stop here.
Now, it’s your turn. What were your biggest budgetary victories or failures in 2012?
2012 image courtesy of Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net