In pursuit of financial independence and personal fulfillment

Our completely ridiculous 2017 spending recap

I’m in a bit of shock right now.

For the first time ever, I’ve completely consolidated our annual household spending on one spreadsheet. My wife and I maintain separate financial accounts, although we each have full access to all of them, and while we talk about our finances fairly often we stay at the big picture level and don’t obsess at a micro level.

This was an eye-opening exercise.

I’m not going to lie, this isn’t a post I’m particularly happy about writing. As much as we like to think we’re fairly frugal and avoid most frivolous spending, there’s just no way around the math.

We spent almost $100,000 in 2017.

That’s without a car payment, student loan payment, or child support payment — all expenses that went away last year when we used part of the proceeds from selling our house to pay off those debts.

Even now, looking at a detailed spreadsheet breaking out those expenses into specific categories, I’m shocked at how much it all adds up to. Let’s examine how in the world we managed to spend so much money in the past year.

The Big Ones

For starters, let me tackle some of the big expenses.

Mortgage & HOA: $24,750 – At 25% of our spending, this is obviously the big daddy of our expenses. Our monthly HOA fee also includes high-speed Internet, so we don’t pay that in the utility line. This figure includes principal, interest and escrow, so it covers property taxes and homeowners insurance, too.

College: $14,250 – My oldest step son finished his junior year and entered his senior. This includes tuition, books, and the money we pay for his housing and food each month. My younger step son just started college, but he’s got enough scholarship money to cover everything. Next year this expense will be wrapping up, but it could still be about half of this year’s outlay.

Groceries: $8,000 – This line is a bit squishy. We do most of our shopping at Wal-Mart and Costco, and I don’t go to the trouble of separating every item we get into merchandise and groceries. So non-grocery items purchased during a trip for groceries are lumped in here. If it was a specific trip for non-grocery items from these stores, then I did categorize that as merchandise.

Kindergarten: $7,800 – My daughter goes to a private kindergarten, the same school she went to the year before, because both my wife and I work and the logistics of putting her in half-day public kindergarten and then getting her to a daycare for the other half of the day were more trouble than keeping her in a full-day kindergarten. Next year she will go into full-day public school and this will go away.

These are the four big line items that are above $5,000 each. They total to just under $55,000. That leaves almost $45,000 of spending yet to be accounted for.

Medium expenses

I’m going to say anything between $1,000 and $5,000 for the year is a medium expense. This is really where the sum of many seemingly small expenses adds up, and it’s where I think we’ll need to focus in 2018 to rein things in.

Merchandise: $4,500 – I categorize merchandise as pretty much any “stuff” we bought that wasn’t a grocery item, service, utility, etc. The bigger-ticket items this year were a new iPad ($700 after accessories), and an Ikea kitchen table and chairs ($400). There’s some other fluff in here we could be more diligent about in 2018.

Vacation: $4,500 – We went on a cruise in April, spent couple of weekends in Lava Hot Springs, ID, had a family glamping trip in Moab, UT, and enjoyed a weekend in Midway, UT. Plus my wife went on a book club trip to Colorado. This category includes all the spending we did for those, including meals, lodging, gas, airfare, etc.

House: $4,300 – Basically this is all the new air conditioner and furnace. It’s on a zero-percent interest credit card that I’ll pay off before the accrued interest comes due. I owe about $8,100 on it still. That will all be in next year’s expenses.

Healthcare: $3,700 – There were some healthcare expenses this year that weren’t well covered by our insurance. Ideally, this shouldn’t be this high every year.

Services: $3,600 – Again, this is a catch-all category. It includes things like haircuts, massages, pet care, passport renewals. There’s $520 in credit card annual fees from our new focus on rewards points.

Car insurance: $3,500 – Four cars and four drivers — two of them young adult men, one of them with two speeding tickets and an at-fault accident — adds up. I expect this to go way down when my son gets his own car insurance after college.

Utilities: $2,800 – Gas, electric, water, sewer, trash and recycling. I’m still working to get the water bill down. I made some progress last summer, but there’s still more to go.

I Dream of FIRE: $2,000 – Most of this is my October trip to FinCon. The hotel and airfare added up, but the mohawk was priceless.

Dining: $2,000 – We really cut back in this area this year. This spending doesn’t include gift cards we used, nor does it include spending on restaurant lunches during work. I track that separately.

Gifts: $1,800 – Not just Christmas, but birthdays, holidays and a few “just because” things we gave to other people.

Life insurance: $1,800 – Both my wife and I have term life policies outside of our employers, and I also have a supplemental disability policy. There’s enough there that if either of us died the other would be able to pay off the house and invest the rest to get by on one income.

Car repairs: $1,700 – I include oil changes, registration renewal and taxes, inspections, etc. in here. I also had the little issue with both sons’ cars.

Entertainment: $1,600 – For the first time since our daughter was born, my wife and I started going to concerts almost like we used to. This year we saw The Cure, Rise Against, Incubus/Jimmy Eat World, Avenged Sevenfold, Bob Schneider, New Found Glory and a few more. We also went to a few movies, the state fair, and some other events. While the spending on this category is way higher than it has been in years, it’s one category I’m loathe to try to clamp down too much because dammit music is one of the things we like to experience together and that’s worth it.

Alcohol: $1,600 – I include not only trips to the liquor store, but also the occasions where my wife and I went out to a bar or restaurant specifically for drinks. A note on this item: Utah only allows sales of wine, liquor and beer over 4% ABV in a state liquor store with an 88% markup — the highest in the nation. So factor that in. We also go to a monthly wine club in our community where we each bring a bottle. Still, this is a category where I can rein it in, especially in the expensive beer purchases.

Gas: $1,500 – This one surprised me. I didn’t think it would be this high. My wife works from home and I take the train to work. We don’t put a ton of miles on our cars. About 40 percent of it is my son’s car, though, so that will go down in the future.

Misc. child expenses: $1,100 – Pretty much covers random things you pay for when you have kids.

This section adds up to almost $41,000. Places to cut: Merchandise, (hopefully) healthcare, car insurance, utilities, alcohol and (again, hopefully) car repairs.

Small expenses

Rounding out our spending for the year are these categories where we’re pretty frugal overall.

Charity: $975 – We definitely want to spend more on charity in the coming years. Some of the gift spending could be considered charity, too, and this doesn’t include non-monetary donations, like my son’s car.

Work lunch: $600 – I bring my lunch to work most days, but sometimes it’s not convenient because of my meeting schedule, sometimes I don’t feel like it, or sometimes I like to go out with coworkers. My wife eats at home most days, but sometimes she gets out, too.

TV: $500 – We have Netflix, and I still buy a $60 UFC PPV six or seven times a year. This is way down from our cable days!

Cell phone: $300 — I’m on Republic Wireless for around $25 per month (down from $65 per month when I was with Verizon) and my wife’s phone is covered by her work. If you want to lower your own cell costs, I’ve been really pleased with Republic’s service. You can check out their offerings using my affiliate link, which just means if you happen to sign up with them I get a few bucks for sending you their way.

Only about $2,400 in this category. We will increase charity spending in 2018, but everything else should look pretty similar.

Looking at the year ahead

There’s no doubt I want to rein in the spending. However, I knew the past three years were going to be our most expensive. That’s finally starting to wane.

We’ll have several expenses falling away or being significantly lower, especially college and daycare costs. I’m anticipating some savings in car insurance, as well.

There’s still the remainder of the AC/furnace payment before the zero-percent interest period lapses.

A rough estimate based on what we’ve spent and what I expect to spend shows next year hopefully being more around $80,000 in spending, and ideally that will dip further in 2019.


  1. Jim @ Route To Retire

    Haha, wasn’t expecting to see a Mohawk reference when I read this post, but I’ll take it any day!!

    It’s definitely eye-opening to actually see all your expenses laid out in front of you. We use Quicken and I’ve always consolidated our stuff so I’m always looking at it and seeing any waste (I’m like a nightclub bouncer on this stuff!).

    It’ll be nice eliminating the college and kindergarten line items. That’s pretty crazy on the 88% markup on alcohol… that’s grounds for moving! 😉

    Good luck for 2018!

    — Jim

    PS Love the GIF of the kid throwing money out the window!

    • I Dream of FIRE

      The mohawk will live in infamy!

      I guess I need to write a post on alcohol geo-arbitrage down the line 🙂

  2. The Luxe Strategist

    Nice to see another spendy person 🙂 Honestly, none of the spending looks like “a lot” or totally unnecessary to me. We spend less in NYC, but we don’t have kids daycare or college costs–so I’m sure ours will balloon if we have kids! The daycare costs alone I’m dreading. Anyway, kudos to you for being brave enough to publish this!

    • I Dream of FIRE

      Thanks, Luxe. It’s a little daunting to run out in this space and put your business on the street for the world to see. Especially when a lot of peers are posting about spending so much less!

      But reality is reality, and hopefully this will show some people who don’t want to be ultra-frugal that there are levels to it. We still saved a bunch, as well. I also take some comfort in the entertainment/vacation costs being higher than the merchandise costs. We definitely spent more on experiences than just “stuff” last year, and I want to keep that up!

  3. Mr. PIE

    Great post. Wonderful dose of reality, at least for us!!

    We choose to run two kids, two homes, two cats and have a penchant for sliding down the cold white stuff on two skis. Outside of the cats, the other stuff makes us rather spendy!! But we will move to one house when we retire in 4.5 months, knocking a massive amount off our annual expenses. Coupled with a much friendlier tax location (RE, goods/services) in NH, we are aiming for a low WR with our nest egg.

    Keep chipping away at those expenses and your dream WILL become reality. Rooting for you!!

  4. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life

    Whew, I know it seems crazy to see that whopping 6 figures, isn’t it? But we’re pretty close to the same between a Bay Area mortgage, prop tax, and Bay Area childcare ( a HORRIFYING amount over $20k a year). We only have one kid in childcare, too, and we’ll have to make the decision about whether to string together part day preschool/kindergarten+other care options if we ever get into the local preschool.

    Of course it’s easy to lose steam when you look at those numbers but it’s so important to stay on top of them and identify spending trends. Thanks for sharing!

    • I Dream of FIRE

      I’m going to approach it as a reminder that the small things add up in the end. A couple hundred bucks here and there across a month or two doesn’t usually jump into my radar — which is something that took awhile to build up to. But seeing the accumulation of several of those things adding up to a few thousand in different categories, and then combined adding up to tens of thousands, really should get my attention. Time to recalibrate 🙂

  5. Sarah | Smile & Conquer

    I always hate running up an annual calculation like that, I don’t think there’s ever been a time it’s lower than I thought.

    I’ve been putting off running my 2017 numbers because I know I’m not going to like the number. We had a couple of big ticket items that will make it higher than normal. Here’s to a cheaper 2018!

    • I Dream of FIRE

      It always seems like there are a bunch of “not normal” things that pop up every year, right? I’m trying to get comfortable with the idea that there will be those things every year, they’ll just be different things every year.

  6. Erin | Reaching for FI

    Ooh I’ve never added up my annual spending before. Perhaps I should go do that, as I’m sure it’ll be eye-opening despite the fact that I feel like I don’t spend a ton!

    Thanks for sharing all your numbers!

    • I Dream of FIRE

      You’re welcome! I was obviously surprised that it all added up to that much, even though I track things throughout the year (and have for years now). When you’ve got enough margin built into the system, it’s easy to let things bleed into that margin and not get too excited. At least that seems to be our issue 🙂

  7. Amy @ LifeZemplified

    The Mohawk was indeed priceless!

    Perhaps you just need to get rid of the kids. 😉

    Could you make your own beer and wine?

  8. DocG

    Sounds about right to me. Life is expensive. There is no way I could live on 40k!

  9. Steveark

    I hate to admit it but we spent that much with no mortgage, no kids at home and no debt of any kind. That plus inflation is exactly what we planned to spend for the rest of our lives and we saved way more than enough to do it. We also haven’t touched our investments because my side gigs earn more than that but it does make me feel like a jerk sometimes when I see how so many frugal and brilliant people in this space live well raising kids on like $22K per year. There is kind of an ethical dilemma in how much to spend even if money is not a constraint because you saved a bunch of it.

  10. Carol at DownsizeYour2080

    Thanks for sharing your numbers! Everyone’s numbers are different, for sure. Yours remind me it’s time to look into reducing our car insurance premiums. Ours is higher than yours. Good post with some good reflections!

    • I Dream of FIRE

      Car insurance is one of those low-hanging fruit wins I think everyone should evaluate at least every two years, if not every year!

  11. Mr. SSC

    Yep, our spending was pretty rough last year too. I was looking at your grocery spend and though, how much is that per month, and it came out to $666.66, lol. That was one are we stayed on track, but a lot of the rest – kaboom! Not even close. At least some of the bigger spending items will be disappearing soon like college and associated costs, car, insurance, gas, etc…

    Nice roundup! And that 88% alcohol markup – yipes!!

  12. JayP

    Nice recap. Our spending is high too. Sometimes when I read the FIRE blogs I feel ashamed, everyone seems to have better spending habits than me. You have reminded me that we all have different life situations and some just cost more than others. I try to be content knowing that we are doing the best we can and optimizing wherever possible. Looks like you are doing the same. Thanks.

  13. lisa

    Made me think and write down expenses as well! I never thought of doing a spreadsheet but a fairly accurate calculation is $25,000 ( 2 mortgages/food & cleaning supplies/utilities/gas/medical/life ins/car ins/homeowners ins/pharmacy/car maintenance)…We don’t buy clothing, take vacations or go out to eat. Our AGI is $48,000 and the oldest has student loans (I try to help) and the youngest is going to college in the Fall ( I’m not sure how that will calculate into all of this as we’re applying to many scholarships and no luck so far).
    To lower our expenses, we’ve done many things: we found new car/homeowners policies and decreased homeowners by 60% and car by 10% (but with more coverage). We also cut back on food consumption and get our meat from Zaycon (buy in bulk with prices much better than supermarkets and you drive to a local pick up location). We also took jobs close to home (about 2 miles away) and that saved us money for gas/tires/oil changes. The oldest has his own car ins. policy and the youngest refuses to drive, so no expenses there. We use solar panels and pay $29/mth for electric.
    Living does require income, for sure. I wish everyone a frugal 2018 !!

    • I Dream of FIRE

      Wow! That’s incredibly lean for all those expenses. Very impressive!

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