Last year we spent nearly $100,000 in non-investment purchases. This year wasn’t quite that bad, but it wasn’t the $80,000 I was ballparking back in January 2017.
The plan for a mini-retirement wasn’t fully formed at that point, and I hadn’t considered how taking that break would affect the numbers when I came back around this year. Not that I didn’t plan for the year’s expenses before leaving my job — of course I ran the numbers several ways to make sure we would be OK. I mean I didn’t get too far into the categorical weeds of what would go up and what would go down.
All in all, acknowledging there are a few caveats in the data, it looks like we got out of 2018 with about $92,000 in spending.
How did it all break down? I thought you’d never ask.
The Big Ones
Let’s again look at some of the big expenses. Last year’s total is in parentheses.
Mortgage & HOA: $25,650 ($24,750) – This line went up about $900, but increased from 25% to 28% of our total spend. Our 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. This would have increased further, but we got new quotes for homeowners insurance and got a better deal. If there’s one thing you take away from I Dream of FIRE, it’s that you should always shop for insurance every 12-24 months.
Vacation: $8,300 ($4,500) – We practically doubled the travel spending according to the data. This wasn’t totally unexpected. When I left my job in April for the mini-retirement, we had several trips we planned to take. We were going to take advantage of me not having to closely watch how much time off I had banked. So we took a cruise; trips to Michigan, Nashville, and Florida; spent a week at an all-inclusive; visited Lava Hot Springs, Idaho, a few times; and I went to Colorado to climb that mountain. My wife took a few trips of her own. Honestly we probably spent $1,000-$1,200 less than the numbers show. My wife often books AirBNBs for group trips and then collects everyone’s portion via Venmo or PayPal, and I didn’t try to go through everything trying to account for how much she got back from everyone. So this is probably closer to $7,200 in spend.
House: $8,100 ($4,300) – This is the remainder of the new furnace and air conditioner we got last year on a zero-percent interest credit card. We paid it off before any of the accrued interest came due.
Groceries: $7,300 ($8,000) – As with last year, 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.
Services: $6,750 ($3,600) – This catch-all category covers a lot of different types of spending. It includes things like haircuts, massages, pet care, passport renewals. It includes credit card annual fees. Big new expenses this year were nearly $2,000 for my masterminds in the Dad Edge Alliance and Driven Dad health and nutrition bootcamp, as well as almost $800 for swimming lessons my daughter has been taking all year.
These are the five big line items that are above $5,000 each. They total just over $56,000, compared with last year’s $5,000+ club hitting just under $55,000. The college and kindergarten expenses that were part of last year’s group have fallen down the line. Now let’s look at the remaining $36,000 of spending yet to be accounted for.
I’m going to say anything between $1,000 and $5,000 for the year is a medium expense. This was a mixed bag compared with last year, as some things I anticipated would decrease didn’t but some went down a bit. There are also fewer categories that hit that $1,000 threshold.
Merchandise: $4,950 ($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 laptop ($850), a newspaper subscription ($450) and living room decor ($340). There’s also some random PayPal transactions that could actually be travel related, but I’m not sorting through them all.
Healthcare: $4,800 ($3,700) – When I left work, we switched to my wife’s insurance and moved to a high-deductible plan with a health savings account. I ran the numbers every which way I could, and no matter what I did it was always more advantageous for us to go with that plan. However, last year’s numbers didn’t include the premiums that came out of my paycheck and this year’s numbers include all the costs we paid for but would have mostly avoided had we been on a typical healthcare plan. So while it looks like this expense went up quite a bit, in truth it wasn’t quite so drastic. But yes, I spent more on my health this year, and there was a sizable chunk of dental work in here that shouldn’t happen very often. I had hoped this category would go down compared to 2017, but I understand why it was higher and I’m not overly concerned about it.
College: $4,550 ($14,250) – My oldest step son finished his last semester of college (woohoo!). This includes tuition and books, but not housing, as he moved back to our house for his last semester. Future college costs will be whatever we pay toward my other stepson’s education, since his scholarships that have covered the first two years of his schooling are coming to an end.
Charity: $3,100 ($975) – That’s a good jump, but still a category that we will continue to grow in the future.
Car insurance: $2,850 ($3,500) – This is the last year we should have these high insurance costs.
Utilities: $2,600 ($2,800) – Gas, electric, water, sewer, trash and recycling.
Dining: $2,050 ($2,000) – This spending doesn’t include gift cards we used, nor does it include spending on restaurant lunches during work. This was in line with last year’s spending, which was much reduced from years past. This feels like right about where I would like to keep it, assuming we continue to get restaurant gift cards as presents.
Car repairs: $1,950 ($1,700) – I include oil changes, registration renewal and taxes, inspections, etc. in here. This year there were $700 new tires put on the car that was then promptly totaled, $400 in taxes, and a $400 brake replacement on another car.
Life insurance: $1,800 ($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.
Gas: $1,500 ($1,500) – This was in line with last year’s spending. I actually drove more while I was off to do shopping and such.
Alcohol: $1,400 ($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. Our spend fell a bit this year … yay health!
I Dream of FIRE: $1,200 ($2,000) – Most of this is the trip to FinCon in Orlando. I used points for the airfare, but the hotel, food and drinks are in here.
This section adds up to $32,800 compared with last year’s $41,000. Last year I wanted to cut down on merchandise (didn’t plan to buy an $800 laptop then), healthcare (didn’t anticipate switching to a high-deductible plan), and car repairs (ugh). I did manage to cut down on car insurance, utilities, and alcohol.
Rounding out our spending for the year are these categories where we’re pretty frugal overall.
Gifts: $700 ($1,800) – I’m not sure I actually categorized all the Amazon spending correctly. Some of the merchandise spending probably belongs down here.
Misc. child expenses: $600 ($1,100) – Pretty much covers random things you pay for when you have kids.
Entertainment: $450 ($1,600) – With as much as we were traveling this year we didn’t go to as many concerts or other events.
Taxes: $350 ($50) – We owed some state tax this year.
TV: $300 ($500) – We still have Netflix, and I bought far fewer UFC PPVs this year. This is actually about what I used to pay for our monthly cable and Internet bill with a PPV tacked on. I do not miss those 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’re interested in cutting your cell phone costs with a great service, check out Republic Wireless’s offerings. You can use my affiliate link, which means if you sign up I’ll get a few bucks for sending you their way.
Work lunch: $250 ($600) – I left work in April, so this looks about right.
Kindergarten: $0 ($7,800) – Last year, my daughter went to a private all-day kindergarten. My mini-retirement eliminated the need to keep her in during the summer, and since we paid a lump sum at the end of 2017 (saving 5% because of it) there were no expenses associated with the school for 2018. She began public school in the fall.
Only about $3,000 in this section, and almost everything was lower than last year.
Looking at the year ahead
Last year I said I was hoping to get this year’s spending closer to $80,000. We’re 15 percent over that, although still down from last year.
This year I would like to be more diligent about subtracting the reimbursed expenses. I’m thankful that we don’t have to track every dollar, but I also want to get a little bit better every year and dial in my system more.
I expect the vacation expenses to be lower in 2019, as well as the house expenses now that the furnace is paid off, although we expect to paint the exterior in the summer. Healthcare and college expenses are a bit squishy right now, and I won’t plan on seeing savings there.
I’d like to see lower car insurance and car repair costs. I’d like to see less spending on services, too, which seems reasonable since I don’t expect to do any personal masterminds and that was $2,000 in 2018.
Big expenses I can foresee would be the house painting at $3,500-$5,000 and possibly a car to replace my wife’s totaled Magnum. We’ve got insurance money for that, and we’ll just see whether we stick with one car or if she gets another vehicle. There could also be some college expenses later in the year. Initially I’m funding my financial coaching startup costs for Live Your Way Financial Coaching through personal funds, but I will repay those as the business grows.
Next year I would be happy with a 10 percent reduction. Let’s see what tune I’m singing then.