This is a little bit premature, since there’s still almost a month until the end of 2015. But I wanted to make December a month for retrospective review; I have some thinking to do about what worked and what didn’t this year, and what I want to keep doing, or make changes in, next year. That starts with analysis. While there may be a few unanticipated expenses during December, I did my best here to project them (for example, I haven’t even mailed in the check for my passport renewal, but I counted it anyway under “Gremlins” since I know what to expect. Ditto with my car insurance, which I won’t pay until the end of the month but which I count here anyway.) So this should give a pretty accurate picture of 2015. Shoutout to YNAB, by the way; while of course I could have tracked in other ways, their reporting tools made it easy to see what I’d spent both by category, and to various vendors. Assembling this report therefore took a lot less time than it would have otherwise.
Two things I didn’t include: the $1262.88 I spent on health insurance premiums, which were deducted from my paycheck before taxes, and the deducted taxes themselves. Omitting these from “spending” kept these numbers consistent with the spending reports I’ve been providing all year. I’m not sure whether this is the “right” decision but I think consistent is better than right here.
Rent and utilities: $4881.00. This includes one last electric-bill payment to my 2014 housemate, plus $400/monthly for rent/utilities to my 2015 housemate.
Cell phone: $200.00. This is a bit misleading since I really pay $25/month. But my friends forgave $100 that I had been going to pay them this spring, because it came due at the time that I had just spent a boatload of money on an emergency visit to them.
Car & renter’s Insurance: $569.64. My car is really old, so I carry the state minimums on everything. Renter’s insurance is rolled in and I get a substantial discount for doing both together, so I end up paying just a couple dollars extra a month to protect my stuff.
Total Fixed Expenses: $5650.64. This is amazing to me. That’s, oh, about three months’ worth of fixed expenses from the last two years I lived in New York. Even the earlier years there when I lived very cheaply, that would have represented about six months’ bare-bones fixed expenses (rent/utilities/phone), not a full year’s.
Cash draw: $3420.00. This is where the lion’s share of my food spending (both groceries and eating out) came from, and I also spent cash on things like dry cleaning, postage, small entertainment like movie tickets, donations at church, small gifts, whatever.
Fuel: $347.08. Ridiculous. Obviously I was helped substantially by lower recent gas prices and by having a very very short commute, but still, I see bloggers who spend this much or more monthly. It’s worth noting that I sometimes did pay for gas using my “travel” money, so this is not all the gas I used this year, just the gas I bought for basic daily life stuff.
Total Basic Expenses: $3767.08
“Stuff”: $682.12. This includes CDs, books, kitchen supplies (including all that canning gear I bought over the summer), cleaning supplies, and a few other odds and ends — new bed pillows, that kind of thing.
- I actually wish I had a better breakdown of this. Roughly half of these transactions were from Meijer, Target, etc, and I don’t have a better description of them in YNAB. I’d like to know how much of this money actually went to groceries that I folded in to a credit card transaction, how much was canning gear, etc. I do know that I spent about $100 on books (mostly used) and CDs (mostly new) because I had separate transactions for each one instead of bundling them. I also spent about $200 buying kitchen gear (rice cooker, large stockpot, and some smaller ticket items) in separate transactions but I can’t say precisely because I know other small items were bundled in with those general big-box things. Next year: better record-keeping!
Pantry: $220.92. This is stocking-up money I spent on mail-ordering food/cooking supplies I couldn’t find in the city I live in, plus money I spent on picking fruit over the summer.
Eating out (not including what I spent on eating out from my cash draw): $224.34.
Entertainment (not including what I spent on, eg, movie tickets from my cash draw): $261.38. This is about equally divided between what I spent on single-event tickets (music, theater) and what I spent on subscriptions (magazines, MLBtv, etc).
Gifts and Donations (not including giving out of cash draw): $550 (including estimate of remaining Christmas spending; current number is $486.31.) A wide variety of stuff, ranging from Christmas and birthday presents to small donations to various causes. The big ticket item in here actually turned out to be a housewarming gift I spent $75 on. I usually put money in the church collection basket out of my cash draw. After I make a housing decision next year, I want to increase my giving — right now I’m hoarding against a possible down payment.
“Gremlins” — this is the category I was most interested to study. What surprised me this year?
- Speeding ticket: $166.25
- VPN subscription: $39.95
- taxes owed after filing: $31.00
- License and registration renewal: $73.85
- Passport renewal: $110.00
…huh. That’s $421.05. Better than I thought, and surprisingly few specific transactions.
Personal and Health: $937.89. I’m actually kind of stunned by how much I spend on this stuff when I don’t even have a gym membership! This includes co-pays for doctors’ visits and prescriptions, contact lenses (the big-ticket item), haircuts, and various visits to real drugstores, to drugstore.com, and to sephora. It seems like a lot, and yet looking back very little of it seems unnecessary (maybe some of the sephora stuff, but that was only $142 all year.)
Clothing: $792.00. Again, this seems like both a lot and not that much. Considering I’d spent nearly $0 on clothing and shoes over the preceding three years, it doesn’t seem that bad. However, this is a category where I definitely want to strategize better in 2016, so more later on that.
Car Repairs and Maintenance: $962.21. Ouch. There are a few oil changes and car washes in there, but the bulk of this stems from two “damn, your car is really old” sessions: one in the winter when it wouldn’t start and I ended up having it towed, had to get the fuel lines flushed, and replaced the spark plugs, and one in the summer to deal with a couple of issues that were causing it to make the dreaded “weird screeching noise” when I took a hard left.
Non-Car Repairs and Maintenance: $260.93. The vast majority of this — more than $200 — went on replacing my laptop’s hard drive. Well worth it. I also had a small charge at the bike shop, some dry cleaning that I didn’t pay for out of my cash draw, and I bought some waterproofing spray. Very minor stuff.
Travel: $3800 (including projected estimate of expenses for Christmas trip home). The big kahuna! Aside from rent, this was by far my biggest expense this year. I will say that about 1/3 of it went on the last-minute weekend emergency trip I made this spring. A bit less than 1/3 went to a fairly epic trip that took me to the Caribbean with friends, and to wintry Minnesota for work and to see friends, in the same week. Virtually all of the rest of it went to smaller-scale travel to see friends and family, with a little bit dedicated to gas and train tickets for some small local excursions.
Non-reimbursible professional expenses: $219.74. It’s nice to see this number so low. It represents a few yearly membership fees for professional societies along with some photocopying. This category can get really expensive if I’m not looking out — there have been years when I’ve spent hundreds on books, supplies, and non-funded conferences and research travel — but I was careful this year. Some of my work travel has been covered by, well, work, but I also was good about not buying books but asking the library to buy them instead, etc.
Total Variable Expenses: $9332.58
Total Total Expenses: $18750.30
That strikes me as a very solid number. It’s an average of $1562 a month.* No single category overwhelmed the others, and as you’d expect the largest categories were for housing, food, and transportation. The travel number is pretty big relative to the other optional categories, but considering the circumstances of my best friends and family all being in different parts of the country, I’m not bothered by it.
I will definitely be doing more blogging about these numbers in the next couple of weeks. My plan is to spend next week thinking about what went right for me this year, and the following week thinking about what didn’t work so well and what changes I want to implement (they are not all about spending less, though some are.)
[*It’s also roughly the same amount I saved. Confusing accounting practices that I implemented in 2015 prevent me from getting a precise handle on that question, but between cash savings and investment accounts I put away somewhere between $18000 and $21500, I think probably closer to the lower figure. And yes, I’m fixing the accounting practices in 2016.]