In June, for only the second time in our marriage, the Shmoopies have a clear and accurate picture of where all their money went. Ever since we got married, I’ve been the person in charge of paying our bills and “managing the money.” This was our M.O. from the beginning largely because I simply had more experience with paying bills and living on my own than the husband had. So, we went along month by month, year by year, thinking that because we never paid our bills late, we were “managing” well.
Periodically, we’d have a discussion about the amount we saved or why we seemed to be unable to save more, but these discussions always resulted in some amount of frustration with each other. I would get frustrated because I felt like the husband was accusing me of not managing our money, and he would get frustrated with me because he felt I was accusing him of being too spendy. Then we would get really frustrated and weird because we found ourselves bickering about money! This would bring up a whole host of issues related to our family histories (mostly mine).
A few months ago, we started to question where our money went in a more healthy way. I think the conversation began because of the possibility of buying a house. I covered that in some detail in my Home Without a House post, but it was at this time that we discovered that while we could technically afford to buy a house, we really had no clue where all of our money went each month. We reasoned that while we could buy a house and make it work with our finances somehow, we still wouldn’t feel any more secure or knowledgeable of our financial standing and stood to become even more confused about our finances since we weren’t truly keeping track of where our money goes. Add to that the inevitable expenses that come from buying a structure to live in and the complexity of the transaction itself, and we knew we would feel like we were spinning out of control, that our funds were controlling us rather than the other way around.
We decided to get hold of ourselves and figure out where all our money went. Instead of “staying within a budget,” we resolved that we wanted to default to not spending. So, for the past two months, I have carefully utilized Mint.com to track every dollar we spend. I even kept track of cash we happened to receive and then spent on groceries, our new gym equipment, even a coke from a vending machine (me).
I thought it would be a royal pain in the rear to track every transaction, but much to my surprise, I actually enjoyed it. It was so freeing to know exactly where every dime went! If I wanted to buy something, I knew it had to go into Mint and be categorized, even the little stuff. I broke down the receipts a few times a week to figure how much I spent in different categories for a truly accurate picture of how much we spent on groceries, household items, personal care, eating out, etc. Rather than feeling defeated, I felt empowered. Rather than feeling bogged down by these details, I feel that I’ve mastered some great secret talent.
So, how did it all break down? I’m not going to flesh out every detail of our spending particulars because I don’t feel like it’s the business of the Internet to know how much we pay in rent, insurance, savings, giving, etc. But, I will break down a couple big ones that anyone and everyone can adjust or rein in to slow down the outflow of cash: groceries, dining out, utilities, cell phones, gas, amusement, and misc. spending.
In the past, this has been a huge spending category for us. I was inconsistent with breaking down the cost of true groceries versus just something I happened to buy at a grocery store which was thus categorized as a grocery spend even if it wasn’t. Mostly I was lazy about tracking this spending which meant that I also was lazy to rein in it. I would log in to Mint and look at the grocery category and throw up my hands in despair. In February, we spent almost $900 on groceries according to Mint. Now, bear in mind that it wasn’t until May that I began tracking every dollar that goes out, so there is little doubt in my mind that the amount we spent on actual groceries in February is actually below that $900 figure. I don’t have a long history of grocery spending to which I can compare, but in May, we spent $534 versus $426 in June. We got a little more intentional about using what we have and not throwing out food, and it paid off with a $100+ savings from last month. And, this month we had a couple more spendy dinners at home (featuring delicious and extravagant salmon burgers from Central Market!). In July, I want to see if we can get below $350 for groceries.
Dining Out: $280
We overdid it in June with dining out, or perhaps I just set my expectations too high. We spent $160 on restaurants, $90 on fast food and $12 on coffee shops. I (Katy) spent about $20 on alcohol to be shared with friends when Brandon was out of town. I didn’t drink it all by myself, but I did purchase a six-pack to share with friends who had me over for dinner and taking a co-worker out for happy hour after a particularly grueling work-day, both instances when Brandon was out of town. It’s worth noting that the majority of our dining out spending was on quality time out with others. Brandon regularly takes his cousin out for coffee and Bible study. We took each of his parents out for meals, and we each went out to lunch with co-workers a time or two. We spent only $30 on dining out with each other. The majority of the time, our dining out spending is with other people with whom we are trying to build stronger relationships. With each other, we prefer to cook and eat at home. If we dine out together, it is usually because we are out and about running errands as we did one day after church. We also do the occasional ice cream date, though both of us are getting kind of sick of ice cream and sugar. Our spending on dining out was down significantly from April ($411) and May ($414) when we ate out a lot due to my mom’s illness and constantly being at the hospital or with family. There was very little time or motivation to cook healthy meals. We were in survival mode and were also providing meals for other people. So, while I’d like to spend less in the future, I am also glad our Dining Out spending leveled off in June. In July, we will have quite a lot more in the Dining Out category since we went on vacation for a week.
It’s also officially hot now, which means our costs are up. Texas is ridiculous in the summertime. Today’s high is 100 degrees. We also pay a bit more for electricity because we use clean energy sources. We use Green Mountain Energy. CO2 emissions avoided: 1,414. Hooray!
Cell phones: $137.46
We are currently in a contract with Verizon ending in October. We will reevaluate our spending in this category at that time.
We live in the Dallas area. We drive. A lot.
This includes our monthly Netflix account, a Redbox rental, three months subscription to “The Economist” and a monthly $1 fee for a Logos Bible study app.
This month’s spending in this category is a little skewed. We ran out of our pro-biotic and had to stock up ($22). We had one gym membership fee ($20). And we also quit the gym and bought some workout stuff for our garage, free weights, medicine balls and mats ($670). So far, we have worked out in our garage at least three times per week and enjoyed it much more than working out at the gym. Setting up a garage gym is high dollar on the front end, but saves so much money in the long run. We decided to pull the trigger on this project after figuring out that we spent almost $500 per year on our gym memberships. We went infrequently and didn’t enjoy it. Additionally, we found it really inconvenient to go on evenings when we also had commitments such as community group or hosting a friend for dinner. Since we have begun working out at home, we have found that we’re less likely to use our evening’s activities as excuses for not working out. We plan to spend another $500 or so on a squat rack/pull-up bar combo that will give us many more exercises we can do at home. Best part? Working out is now a free activity we enjoy doing together. We will have spent the equivalent of about two years worth of gym memberships once we have the garage gym completely set up, but we enjoy this hobby and it leads to greater overall health and a happier marriage. Last night, Brandon was throwing a 12-pound medicine ball to me while I did sit-ups. Quote of the night: “How did I find a wife who lets me throw a ball at her face and yell at her to get one more dead lift?”
Total spent: $1,734.90
We just returned from a one-week vacation to the East Coast where we ate all the food, stayed in hotels and rented a car. July is going to be a doozy. We categorized our spending and then tagged all the transactions resulting from our vacation. We planned for our trip, and it was worth it! I’ll report on that stuff later in the month. For now, I’ll say that tracking our spending and looking at the categories has been incredibly eye-opening for me. After all, it’s only by tracking how much we spend that we can understand how to rein in our expenses and questioning our financial choices.