How budgetting helps me figure out my spending trends

March 23, 2012 at 6:20 pm (budget, spending habits) (, )

I have a budget. I’ve had one for over 3 years. Sometimes I think it’s more a spending ideal than an actual set of rules to follow. At least, that is how I’ve used budgetting. Sure, it lets me figure out how much money I have and when to pay bills. It lets me be aware of what I need to save up for (uh oh, my timing belt is coming due in 2 months, better save up extra!). However, I’ve never used it as the final authority of when to cut off my spending. Maybe that’s my problem. I’m a wishy washy budgetter and don’t always take it seriously.

I’ve really been focused on my pending habits and trends, and figuring out how I spend my own money, now that I’m single. I have a big excel spreadsheet that I use for my budget, and then at the end of every month, I “hide” all the details and just show the bottom line for each catagory. Basically, I can look at the totals for all months side by side, and really compare month to month my spending habits. In other words, I can recognize trends.

So what did I determine? Since December (before that, I lost a lot of data when my previous computer died and haven’t spent the effort to redo my budget before Dec 2011), I always overspend in the same 2 catagories: food and extra purchases.

I’m supposed to spend $350 on groceries, and $100 on restaurant spending. Nuh uh. Never happens. The best I do is about $500, my median spending is about $550 and at my very worst, it was $650. Keep in mind during this last 4 month period, I *have* moved, so I had a lot of too tired to cook nights, too busy moving and cleaning nights, and a lot of connecting with friends after my breakup nights, so I spent a LOT more than usual. I also bought a lot more premade foods (a precooked chicken, a bottle of wine, and salad make a great meal to give someone when they donate their time to help – how cheap is it to make them work and not feed them?).

My restaurant spending is often more $150-$200 typically. I’ve been evaluating how $100 is spent. If I go out, it’s often $20 for breakfast or lunch, and $25-$35 for dinner. If I only eat out 3 times a month for dinner, and not do any lunches or meals out when I’m out and about, then I can stick to that $100 budget. But I really think that’s unrealistic. If I truly had gazelle intensity to my debt payoff, then I would eat out less. Heck, I’d make lentil soup and rice all the time, but I don’t do that. I’m not trying to out-frugal-ize the personal finance blogosphere. I’m trying to live within my means, live responsibly, pay off my debt, and be sane.

It means that I don’t go out for weekend getaways, or go out drinking at bars regularly. Or get really expensive dinners, with appetizers, 2 drinks AND dessert. I typically get a meal and a drink, that’s it, and tip well. I use meals out as a way to connect with my friends, and be social, and get out of the house. I’m ok with spending more, and I think $150 for restaurant spending per month is realistic. For me. And I’m ok with that.

I think my “food” spending is higher because I’ve been buying more wine when I go to the store. I also have been shopping at higher quality places, that are more community owned and responsible. Quality is higher, but so are the prices. And if you’ve ever shopped in Seattle, you know how expensive it really is! What i don’t do is splurge on expensive cuts of meat (I can’t remember what filet mignon is like!!) or fresh king salmon (like i used to). But I don’t buy cheap meats either. I always do free range, natural, hormone free. Free range, cage free, organic eggs are $5/dozen. I could do eggs that cost half the price, but socially, I won’t go there.

I rarely buy clothes (I shop a lot at thriftstores) or shoes. I don’t buy books at all (yeah libraries!), and go to the movies about once every 3 or 4 months. But. I seem to be spending a LOT of extra money. The last few months I’ve been wanting to dress a little more girlie. I wear jeans, clogs, t-shirts, and fleece pullovers every single day. I work in a warehouse, so I can dress super casual. I wear this stuff on the weekends. I wear it out. I have 4 pairs of jeans and that’s all! But lately, I’ve been wanting more nice accessories. I’ve worn the same necklace for the last 3 years, every single day (just about). I wanted a new necklace. Then I found it. Turquoise. An eagle, articulated, cool, brightly colored, and strong and perfect for me, and this new phase in my life. So I bought it. $270! Then I bought a few other things this month, a drapey triple chained necklace with a big jewel stone, and a gorgeous pair of velvet gloves, all significant things I can use for years, but still! I’ve definitely overspent this month – instead of $200, I spent $565.

Last month was $324. January was $544 – I had to replace some furniture pieces when mr. maven moved away. I bought some significant things, and I bought them on craigslist, used, but they still cost money. A $200 8×10′ rug, a $100 floor lamp (it was mid-century and I love it). In December I bought myself a $240 ceramic sculpture by my favorite artist for a whopper of a budget buster total of $522.

So there you go. I spend a lot on food. I have rationalized that it’s ok what I’ve been spending eating out (within reason), and I realize that I have GOT TO GET MY EXTRA SPENDING UNDER CONTROL. There. No more art purchases. No more jewelry. No more furniture. If I want it, save up for it. But no more just go out and spend.

I’m going to really really push to not use my credit card at all. I am going to leave a cushion in my checking account, and not spend all my money the day after I get my paycheck. I need to leave myself my budgetted amount for food, eating out, gas, my $100 “extra” per paycheck, and be ok if I run out by not spending anymore. For real this time.

See how great budgets can be? After 3 years of this, I’m pretty good at it, but I’m still not perfect. It is really helpful to see where I need to be vigilant (and always!).

I’m going into April in a good place. I’ve figured out how my paychecks are to be spent, with enough room to cover small purchases. I’ve finally fully paid off my credit card (and no more “borrowing” from my mini funds to pay it off so I don’t get charged fees, and then in the next paycheck have to payback my “loan” from the mini funds, which makes me not have enough money, and have to use my credit card again – downwards spiral, you see?). I’ve finished covering debts to clean up after mr. maven’s departure, moving expenses, and deposits on my new place. Everything is now refunded, paid up, and starting at a zero balance (when it’s supposed to be at zero). My taxes are completed and my refund has been spent (on debt of course!). It’s back to normal. I still have to adjust my new budget, but I’m ready!

Happy spring to you all!
debtmaven out



  1. Tammy said,

    Howdy Debt Maven. I really enjoy your blog. As someone who went through a “divorce” myself a couple of years ago, I understand what you’re going through. All the spending will stop though. You’re just settling in to a new life, a new routine. I bled money when I left my ex and moved from married life to being a single gal and moved from the burbs to the downtown core of a major, bustling city. Just shy of two years later I had a down payment for my own condo and lots of savings accounts for travel, home renos and emergencies. Everything is budgeted out carefully and life is good. I wish you very much luck in your journey. Have fun being single! I hear Seattle is an awesome city.

  2. debtmaven said,

    Thanks Tammy! 3 months into it, and I’m starting to match your experience. A few friends have said I deserve to splurge a little on myself. Within reason. I’m happy with what I did spent, but am back on the bandwagon and have started a much more strict spending regiment recently. Thanks for stopping by!

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