MMM #19 Round-Up: Getting Onto The Budget Bandwagon

April 28th, 2011 - filed under: Furthermore » Monday Monthly Mission

A picnic in the park is a pretty great Friday night.

What an interesting experiment! At the beginning of the month, I set out to track every cent we spent, and that’s just what I’ve been doing. Donning my snappy green visor and attacking the project with an all-out Excel spreadsheet, I’ve tallied and categorized and summed up our expenditures. And you know what?

It’s kind of exactly what I expected!

Here’s the breakdown -

  • Mortgage: 46%
  • Bills: 11% (cell phones, gas, electric, trash, internet, and this month we paid our yearly co-op dues)
  • Groceries: 19%
  • Eating Out: 12%
  • Coffee Etc: 2%
  • Sups and Meds: 1%
  • Dog food + Chicken food: 1% (hello! homemade dog food for the win!)
  • Baby: 1% (who says having a kid is expensive?!)
  • Transportation: 3% (gas + bus)
  • Miscellaneous Fun: 6%
  • Savings: 3%

There are some things that really jump out at me. Firstly, holy hell our mortgage is huge. Almost 50% of our entire income, it’s no wonder times are tough around here! But we always knew that and for us, it’s worth it to be where we are and to own our home. We heart HQ!

Now, about that food . . .

So groceries account for about 20% of our expenses, which sounds much less appalling than the actual dollar amount (I *for reals* gasped out loud when I tallied it up). Add to that the additional 12% that we spent on eating out (which, to be fair, includes Damian’s lunches – most often at Whole Foods and I support that because it’s the healthiest choice), and we’re spending over a quarter of our income on food!

So that may sound sort of crazy, but here’s the thing. Look at what we spent on “miscellaneous fun”. While most people go out to movies, live music, bars, buy clothes, buy gizmos, treat themselves to any number of small pleasures, we sorta . . . don’t. We live a really simple life and with a toddler, we just don’t “get out” much (actually, we go out a lot, but it’s to parks and to FarMar and other things like that). Don’t get me wrong, because I’m not knocking anybody’s choices. We love movies and we miss them so, especially our beloved pub theaters, but our life as it is right now just isn’t conducive to that.

But everyone deserves a little escapism. And for us, that means . . . the Whole Foods hot bar on a hectic Wednesday night. Ha! Or our favorite Lebanese takeout for a Friday evening picnic. Or a grocery bag full of fancy foods – all local, biodynamic, and hippie-approved. We’re food geeks, plain and simple. Some people buy cashmere. Some people buy stereo equipment. We buy wild-harvested fiddlehead ferns and organic raw macadamias. We eat the healthiest and tastiest foods and for 31% of our income, I say “Hells yeah!” Totally worth it, and I’m glad that now I know the numbers.

Some other interesting points, to me, were the “Coffee Etc” and the “Transportation”. Both of these were super low, and I’m happy to see that. I expected coffee to be higher (so yay!) and transportation is right where it should be. I’m proud of that.

Over all, I think our budget makes a lot of sense for our current lifestyle. I’m sure that it will change as our lives do – as Waits grows and his needs change, as Damian excels in his career and our income increases, and as I gain more freedom and am able to contribute more to our finances. 6% is pretty low for “Miscellaneous Fun”. I’d like to see that number go up. MORE FUN!

I’m curious to hear from you guys. How does your budget break down? Where have you placed your priorities, and how does that affect your spending?

  • erosan

    sigh… I didn’t really kept up with the MMM, mostly because I had to focus on solving some… uh… issues *cough*paying-debts*cough* so this was not my typical month.

    The good news is I probably killed about 70% of my debt in one go, and am slowly paying another 17% so that only leaves me the other 13% to deal with some other day. and after that I might start getting out of the “I’m poor” hole I’ve dug myself in out.

    So those are good news, the bad news is I still don’t know how I’ll fare in the aftermath of paying all this money, as my finances might be affected for months to come.

  • Mercedes@ Cultivating Consciousness

    I’ve also been tracking penny-for-penny our spending this month. There were some areas that surprised me, but some that I figured would be right on. What I didn’t think to do, though, was figure out a percent. I’m on it now! Thanks for the reminder. I love, love, love, (love), your blog!

  • Steph

    Oooh I might have to try this for March. I’m pretty sure I’ll be in for a heart attack when I realise how little (none) I earn and how much I actually spend of it. Might be a good wake up call for me. Our mortgage is about half of what we earn too but you have to pick your biggest needs and for us it was a safer area and a huge yard, no contest.

  • Allison

    Ok, so I didn’t track my funds this month but after looking at your breakdown I had to do some quick calculations. Your savings number and your mortgage number really surprised me. I found that my portion of my rent (split with my boyfriend) is only 20% of my income, my utilities and bills are 8% my accessible savings (for large purchases or emergencies) is 22% and finally my retirement savings is 3%. I feel pretty alright going forward with however much I spend on food! I also think I could afford to rent a place with a nicer kitchen and larger backyard. Thanks for making me think about this!

  • jenny b

    May 1st- I begin !

  • Dana

    I also track every penny we spend, and have done so for a long time. Since my husband got fired ( he did find another job, be it one that pays a lot less) we have been living on a small budget, so I really need to check where our money is going.
    Most of our money goes to the mortgage and bills (insurance, phones, healthcare insurance, etc) and the groceries. What is left at the end of the month is spend on fun things, but it is so little that most of the time we just put it into the groceries (I don’t mind eating basic food, but every now and then I like to eat something more exotic!).

    We save money by riding our bikes to work, and buying only secondhand (think clothes and stuff. Although I get most of my clothes from family/friends).That, and we don’t go out, that is just not our thing. I read/knit/crochet a lot, Matt spends a lot of time on the computer, surfing online.

    This might sound strange, but I actually like living this way. Not having a lot of money to spend forced me to look at what I already have, and I have a lot…. I am very blessed!

  • Alli

    I tried this a few months ago, but might give it a shot for May since there’s been some changes in our budget since then. One number that stuck out was only 25% of my income was going towards rent (which is AWESOME, since we live in NYC and I know people who pay over half their income in rent). I also spend a larger amount of money on groceries, especially since I am trying to become better at not eating out for breakfast or lunch during the work week. The book The Art of Eating In by Cathy Erway definitely inspired me in that respect!

  • Monika {windycityvegan}

    I haven’t looked at the numbers yet – Mar tracks it all to the penny, I just haven’t made the time to pull up the spreadsheet – but I know that our food and farm budgets are the two biggest things we spend money on. April has turned out to have some unique expenses, like a huge deposit into Nina’s college fund before the fiscal year end date (mid-April), so I am going to review our March expenses instead. Also, they will be more ‘honest’, since my spending habits weren’t being subconsciously influenced by this MMM!

    I am going to be utterly disgusted with the amount we spend on petrol, I just know it. I need to steel myself for that one.

  • Alegre

    I am learning how to use the computer (instead of pen and paper) for my budget. However I had family visiting for a few weeks and kind of flaked on the budget part of it. So I did half of what I’d set out to do. We only use credit cards or checks so I can go back and figure it all out. I’m grateful for the reminder to get back to it (the nice weather has me escaping the house with my toddler when i should be doing other things)

  • Kelsey

    I actually did a pretty good job of keeping on top of tracking things, and I managed to put 30% of my income into savings. That was pretty awesome considering that we had friends visiting and I managed to spend more than a week of pay the 3 days that they were here. I definitely going to keep this up!

  • Sayward

    Thanks to everybody who participated, and I’m glad we all learned a little something. Good luck to everyone who’s thinking of taking this on – I HIGHLY recommend it!