What I Learned After Budgeting for One Year
I can’t believe that I’ve been tracking every dollar I’ve spent for 1 full year. This was my New Year’s Resolution last year and I did it!
So, let’s take a look at the breakdown of my savings/expenses.
I took home $31,788 total last year (income, mileage reimbursement, tax returns, miscellaneous income). This is after taxes, after everything has been taken out.
My bills amounted to $12,523.
This leaves me $19,265 for everything else.
- Gas – $1,357.00
- Food – $2,330.00
- Beer/Wine – $1,559.00 (don’t look at me like that!)
- Entertainment – $312.00 (tickets, games, movies)
- Out to Eat – $1,449.00 (including coffee runs, forgotten lunch on workdays, etc.)
- Piper (my dog) – $258.00
- Health – $1,172.00
- Car Maintenance – $205.00
- Travel – $1,859.00
- Emergency – $408 (root canal – another $700 or so is included in “Health”)
- Annual – $156.00 (excise tax, registration, etc.)
- Miscellaneous – $5,189.00
This equates to $16,254.
So, let’s do some math.
$19,265 (after bills) – $16,254 (what I spent) = $3,011.00
Oddly enough, I can’t seem to find some of this $3,011 in my bank account, but I have some ideas as to where it could go. I can account for most of it, and I won’t go into specifics because it’s really irrelevant, except for this: I rounded everything down to the lower dollar. So if I spent $3.12 on a coffee, I put it in my budget as $3. This will add up over time, of course, and leave you at the end of the year wondering ‘what happened to my money?’
Even to 50 cents, to keep it simple. That way you’re thinking at the end of the month, “where did this extra money come from?” And it will trick you into thinking you’ve spent more over the course of the months than you actually did (hopefully limiting future spending).So in example, instead of putting a $3.12 coffee into my budget as $3, I should put it in as $4 from now on.Better yet, you can keep track of exactly how much you spend. $3.12 + 2.48, and so on. I find this really tedious and not worth the time. Plus, I’m horrible at math. But whatever floats your boat.
So. Other things I’ve learned:
2. Going out to eat is a huge expense!
I spent $1,449.00 going out to eat this year, and my boyfriend paid for the other half! This seems like a ridiculous amount of money to look at now, but in all actuality every month I spent between $36 and $225 (averaging $120.00) on restaurants, unplanned meals, take-out, coffee runs, etc. This equates to maybe 1-2 meals out per week (not much at all!).
I highly recommend adding up (if you keep track) what you spend going out to eat. When you see that number clear as day in front of you, it might be that motivator you need. Go to Starbucks every workday? That’s about $1,300 per year (saying you spend $5 per day). Do you buy a full meal every workday (let’s say, $10)? That’s $2,600.
The trick is to remind yourself of your priorities. For me, it’s travel. I’m going to Switzerland in May, and I want to live like a Queen when I’m there. It’s easy to say no to a frappuccino when I think about the beer I’d like to have on a mountaintop open-air restaurant.
3. Always be prepared for an emergency.
My root canal this year has cost me over $1,200 (and I’m insured!). Just one tooth! Imagine if I had two of them (root canals, not teeth – at least I have more than two teeth). A second (less related) point in this is to adhere to preventative treatment. If I had gone to the dentist 6 months earlier, this probably would have been a $100 fee of filling a cavity as opposed to a full root canal.
Unexpected things are going to come up. Maybe your dog gets an infection, or your child breaks a leg. Maybe you break your leg, or a tree falls on your car. Knock on wood to all of these, and have something put away just in case.
4. Miscellaneous spending exceeded EVERYTHING (even my car payment).
Some things are excusable: Christmas, birthdays, other holidays. But I truly don’t know how to justify the $5,189.00 I spent on everything that isn’t listed in the other categories! I went on almost no clothes-shopping sprees. My boyfriend and I went half-sies on a mountain bike for my birthday. I went a little Annie Sloan – crazy on some old, cheap furniture. I spent over $350 at Sephora this year (VIB status, baby!).
But $5,189 worth? Even adding up the expenses I can think of, I’m really only coming out to about $2,000. I will be thinking of this next time I see a pair of boots I want and don’t need, or next time I
5. Out of sight, out of mind.
This age-old adage is on everyone’s lips because it’s true.
In August, I opened an extra checking account for no real reason other than to have a designated account for travel savings. I mention numerous times on my sight that traveling is hugely important to me, and I will save for it because it is a high priority.
I put each mileage check I received from work into this account and by mid-November, I had almost $1,000 saved for Switzerland. The best part about it was that I don’t even miss the money. Do something like this, and keep the debit card for the account at home so that you’re not even actively thinking about how much you have in the account.
6. Like everything, it becomes a habit.
A year ago, I didn’t know how I could put away $100, let alone $3,000. After my bills, I only had $1,000 every month. After gas, food, annual expenses, the vet, the doctor – I expected to continuously be in a deficit. And then something happened.
Tracking my money became a habit. It was no longer a conscious debate in my mind to start refusing to buy extraneous things. It just became ingrained within my every day life. I started having no-spend days, and then no-spend weekends, and then no-spend weeks. It became less painful over time.
Just like a diet. The first few weeks you can find yourself craving something sweet, but eventually your body and your mind just adapts and forgets. That’s exactly what happens.
7. Traditional budgeting is not for everyone.
Many people give themselves a limit, but it’s not for everyone. You might give yourself $100 for food per week, $40 for gas, $30 for miscellaneous expenses. I don’t find this practical. You’re going to go over, and many times you’re going to have some to spare. If I gave myself a limit (let’s say food), then I know that I will find myself meeting that limit, regardless of whether I need to. Then I will end up spending $100 on food, when I might only need to spend $35 in a week.
Keeping track of your dollars, as opposed to giving yourself limits, makes you mentally justify each dollar you spend as opposed to spending any excess.
Of course, it may not be the same for you. The best thing you can do is try different things. Try it a traditional way, try it my way, try it another way. We are all different, and just like everything else in life, what works for us will vary.
What has worked for you? What do you think of what I’ve said? Let me know in the comments below!