I Tracked my Spending for One Year and My Grocery Bill Shocked Me
I tracked my spending for one year because this is the very first lesson to learn on your journey to better finances. It’s very simple and very, very powerful – track your spending. That’s all. Easy right? Not exactly.
It takes some serious and sustained focus to keep on top of tracking your spending because people have this awful habit of spending money everyday. But I decided, if I was serious about improving my finance, I had to do it. As a result, I started tracking my expenses one year ago. Because of that decision, I now have all the hard data on my spending habits. I want to look at it in the context of my financial goals and see if there is anything I can learn from it.
How Did I Track My Expenses?
I used Google Sheets. You can install the app on your phone and access it on the go. In my job, I use an elevator all the time to move between floors. I realised that this was the perfect moment in the day to pull out my phone and any receipts I had in my wallet. By the time the elevator got me to my floor, I had my spreadsheet up to date.
Initially, my spreadsheet just had a description and an amount. Two columns filled with less than compelling information like “Groceries: €25.98” and “Fuel: €22.25“.
SUPER BORING STUFF
Spreadsheets. This is why I am single.
As I progressed, I divided the tracking sheet into months and also introduced categories. As a result I could organise and categorise each spend under different headings and sub-headings in order to get an overall view. I even started to track monthly income so I could get a month-by-month comparison on income vs. expenditure. Here is the list of categories that I have used in the last year:
- Wifi (Utilities)
- Gas (Utilities)
- Electricity (Utilities)
- Bins (Utilities)
- Phone (Utilities)
- Car Insurance
- House Insurance
- Life Insurance
- DIY/ Renovation
- House – Facility/Furnishing
- Gym – Membership
- Gym – Trainer
- Motor Tax
- Property Tax
- Rent-a-Room Income
- 1st Job Income
- 2nd Job 2 Income
- Sales/Adverts Income
- Other Income
- Mortgage Overpayment
- Loan – Parents
- Expenses – Job 1
- Expenses – Job 2
- Car – Repair/Maintenance
Do my extra mortgage payments count as spending?
I did have to do some thinking on how to record investments, or as what some people call “purchased investments”. This is any money that went to Peer-to-Peer, my Degiro account, my savings or even an over-payment on my mortgage. This technically is spending as I am buying assets.
Paula Pant, of the american podcast Afford Anything, has an interesting viewpoint on this. She argues that any payment of debt or purchase of an asset can be seen as a positive as it improves your net worth. In her eyes, an over-payment of a debt has a positive impact on your overall net worth. For the purposes of this exercise though, I decided not to include mortgage-overpayments or investments in my spending total.
PEW PEW PIE!
I even added summary pie charts for every month to visual get a snapshot in pie form. Mmm…pie.
Some advice for tracking your spending
- Don’t worry about getting the system you use perfect from the start, just start with anything and it will design itself based on your own circumstances. You can use Google Sheets like I did or you can try a purpose-built expense tracking app like Mint. Whatever your approach just aim to capture consistent data in an organised way.
- Using a credit card is very helpful for remembering what you paid and when. Cash purchases are easy to lose track of. It is even better if you use a credit card that offers some rewards and of course, you pay off the balance immediately.
- The answer to “would you like a receipt” is always yes. Just stuff them in your wallet/purse and pull them out again when you have a few spare minutes to kill.
My "Burn Rate" is €2,020 per month
A burn rate is an entrepreneurial term that denotes how much cash a business has in capital versus how much it is spending on a monthly basis. You could look at your own personal finance situation through the same lens. How much have you got coming in (as opposed to capital in the bank already) and how much is going out? Doing this kind of exercise is a really healthy step towards taking control of your finances. If you have the information, you can use it.
The figure of €24,243 is calculated from data I recorded in the 12-month period from January 1st to December 31st 2019. The total for my annual spend does not include any money spent on investments, savings or mortgage over-payments.
It is a sum of more day-to-day expenses like my mortgage, bills, groceries, fuel, gym membership, insurance, medical, clothing, eating out with friends, going on holidays, furnishing my house, buying gifts, paying solicitors and generally being a human.
Why is it so important to know this number?
It is so important to me to finally know this figure because it simply tells me what exactly level of income that I need to continue living my current lifestyle. Upon a bit of further analysis I can also figure out where I have spent the most and the least money and think about those points for a bit.
I can also look at my emergency fund a little differently now. Given the data I have collected about my spending habits in the course of the year, I now have a better understanding of how far my emergency fund might take me if I just lost my jobs.
To be honest, I was a bit surprised by my total spend figure because I thought it would be higher. I know that I’ve always been frugally minded and since discovering FIRE and minimalism I have become even more conscientious of my spending. As a result, I am wondering how my “burn rate” compares to other people both inside and outside the FIRE community and also those with kids.
While I would personally argue that I have been leading a comfortable yet sensibly frugal life, other people may argue that I have deprived myself of something. I would find it hard to argue with my mother about my spending on new clothes. I really, really hate shopping for new clothes. Yikes.
So, How Did I Spend My Money?
What did I spend the most money on? I had a feeling about this one before I even did the calculation. I can be more precise and say that I had a guilty feeling about this one. It’s gotta be the “Discretionary Food/Drink” category right? I shudder to think what proportion of that is comprised by cake and other baked goods. I have an addition to coffee and cake. It’s one of my simple pleasures and the best way to spend time with people. Here is a break down of some of the major areas:
I had a few months away in another country in 2019 and I didn’t have my car there. I also bought a bike in the summer and reduced my dependency on my car. I’d love an electric car but they remain out of my budget.
Monthly average spend on fuel: €54
This one really shocked me. I do most of my shopping at Lidl, I bulk buy from caterwar and I am mainly vegetarian these days. I also meal prep for convenience and health/fitness reasons but this figure seemed so low I checked the numbers twice.
Monthly average spend on groceries: €107
Bills + Utilities
All the basics to keep life ticking over including phone, gas, electricity, WIFI and bins (bin lifts and service charges). I used bonkers.ie to find the best deals and I makr in my calendar when I need to call up these companies and tell them I want to cancel my contract – “Just one moment sir while we transfer you to our customer retention team.”
Monthly average spend on bills/utilities: €195
Like the bills, I go hunting for the best deals by getting several quotes online before I buy. This annual figure includes life assurance, car insurance and home insurance. I still haven’t purchased health insurance.
Monthly average spend on insurance: €83
Overpayments are not inlcuded in this figure, only regular monthly payments. However all of the over payments I have made coupled with the switch to a better rate have brought my monthly payments down a lot.
Monthly average spend on mortgage: €515
This includes DIY stuff, adding value to the house, materials, furnishings, repairs, maintenance and general improvements. The largest single purchase was €500 for a second hand couch.
Monthly average spend on home improvements: €136
While this figure does not include the three months of spending/rent/language schools fees from Barcelona, it does include the flights. It also includes the holidays to UK and the Canaries and respective spending in those locations.
Monthly average spend on holidays: €176
Most of this is cake. And it might make up for the low spend on groceries. I have a real weakness for eating out with friends and treating myself to a nice cup of coffee. I could look at reducing this figure somewhat but I am not going to, I really enjoy these treats.
Monthly average spend on eating out: €191
Other Interesting Facts
I spent the least money on clothing
At just €208 in a year. My mother would be ashamed to hear that. However, the fact is, I really don’t value clothes. My wardrobe consists mostly of plain,simple items because that’s all I need. I do plan to spend more in this area in the new year to replace some items that are wearing out with high-quality alternatives that will last a bit longer. I will also be trying to source them from more environmentally responsible retailers, not Pennys.
My most frequent purchase was eating out
From small snacks, going for coffee or dinner with friends and family. I made this kind of purchase 326 times in one year.
My most expensive purchase of the year was legal help
This was the solicitor fees of €1,256 but you could argue that this was covered by the €3,000 mortgage switch bonus. Discounting that, the next most expensive purchase was a TUI holiday in Gran Canaria that came in at €891 (doesn’t include spending money, just flights, transfers and hotel).
My most expensive month was September 2019.
But why? I don’t have any kids or back to school expenses. Ah, it was those solicitor fees again, they kind of skew things a bit. My total spend in September 2019 was €3,761
My cheapest month was March 2019
With a total spend of just €1,480. I would have been working two jobs during this month, focusing on the gym and eating healthy. I was also saving a bit for my trip to Barcelona.
This one really surprised me but there are some caveats
The figure seems impressive and if you are really paying attention you might see that the combined spending and investments totals for 2019 aren’t in line with what I claim my salary is. So there are a few factors in that total figure that I could discount.
Firstly, the free money from my mortgage switch is included in the total figure for investments.
Secondly, so is a €4,400 interest free loan I took out from the bank of mam and dad when I overpaid the max 10% of my fixed rate mortgage.
Finally, any over-payment on the mortgage, savings to the credit union or investments in shares/peer-to-peer platforms are all included here. Anything that improves my net worth is included eve though some people would argue that mortgage over-payments shouldn’t be included.
Including the switching bonus from KBC and a lump sum loan from parents to reach the full 10% allowable over-payment for the 2 year fixed term. I cannot make any more over-payments for two years.
All this went into the Credit Union and is going towards my ambition to save a deposit for an investment property. Might be waiting to see what happens with Brexit first though.
Peer-to-Peer & Stocks
I put a small but consistent effort into these types of investments throughout the year. I randomly decided each month between stocks or peer-to-peer.
Am I Feeling Proud?
In so far as I did what I set out to do, yes. I recorded every transaction for an entire year with a very high level of accuracy and details. Summarising all of this at the end of that time frame has even highlight how I can make the process a little more efficient by setting up more rules and reformatting my Google Sheets file. It really was a very valuable exercise for me and I am very happy that I saw it through.
How Do I Feel About the Numbers?
They were surprising to me, especially the very small groceries spend. Overall, I think my spending was fairly low. However, aside from data from the CSO I really have no point of reference for my own individual situation – single, male, late-thirties,non smoker, mostly vegetarian, bit of a minimalist, no kids, no pets, lives in Dublin.
I came across a usual post on Mrs. Money Hacker’s site called What We Spent in the Last 12 Months which offers at least some reference point in terms of Irish lifestyle. Their spending amounted to €41,000 and she also captured things like bank charges which I omitted. I guess we would share some of the same fixed costs regardless of out different family sizes and geolocation. It’s a good read.
Carry on. I will improve my spending tracking system and continue to gather the data which will allow me to compare my spending over two years to see what changes occur.
I feel like I am clearer on what wriggle room I have when it comes to average spending in the different categories each month. It really is good to have this data because up to now, all I could do was guess.
Next year, I can do another analysis and map the information to any major events that happen in my life over the next 12 month period. Other than that, I think tracking my spending has now become a fairly steadfast habit.
I’m still very, very single.
You will get one email a month with a summary of posts from that month so you can keep up-to-date with my progress and failures. Grand job!
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