I think we’re all a little guilty of financial voyeurism. Who isn’t a little curious about how much our friends, coworkers, family members and neighbors earn? Although the more tantalizing topic may be how they choose to spend their money…
When we’ve told friends of our early retirement plans, the first question is always, “But how can you afford to retire 20 years early??” Well, we’re DINKs. We’re both engineers with high earning potential. We live a moderate cost of living area. We’re careful how we spend our money, but we still have a lot of fun.
Are you one of those super frugal couples that never spends money?
Absolutely not. Extreme frugality, while admirable, is simply not something we’re interested in as means of getting to financial independence faster. Life is about the journey, not the destination. If we eliminated all luxuries during our journey, it wouldn’t be a very enjoyable one. Our budget reflects a lifestyle of strategic frugality as we work towards early retirement. We splurge on experiences and goods that matter most to us, while conscientiously refraining from spending habits that hold less value to us (sorry, no fancy restaurants or $300 purses). Our yearly vacation budget is ridiculous, but traveling is one of our top priorities and we do a lot of research to stretch those vacation dollars as far as possible.
So curious where our money goes each month?
Below is the Saverdink household’s monthly budget. Most categories fluctuate month-to-month, so this table shows the estimated average monthly cost. For instance, our house has a propane tank and delivery is primarily in the winter months. Some months are $0, some months are $250. We averaged the yearly total across 12 months for the monthly average for budgeting purposes. We do have cell phones, but they are not reflected below, since we don’t pay for them. 401k contributions, health insurance premiums and charitable donations are paid directly out of our paychecks and are not reflected in the budget below.
|Utilities - Electric||$100|
|Utilities - Propane||$150|
|Utilities - Water||$40|
|Utilities - Internet||$50|
|Home/Auto Insurance||$160||Paid in full in Jan, but this represents the monthly equivalent.|
|Gas/Tolls||$360||Includes annual $500 vehicle registration|
|Entertainment||$25||Amazon Prime, Hulu, digital NY Times. We do not have cable.|
|Pet Care||$50||food, litter, vet visits for 2 cats|
|Hobbies||$250||Includes new sports gear, skiing lift tickets|
|Miscellaneous||$550||Includes random household/personal items, additional charitable donations, whatever electronic device Mr. Saverdink happens to "need"...|
Total Monthly Expenditures: $5,615
Wow, that’s a lot. It’s easy to spend money when you’re not paying attention. So which categories are the biggest drivers in how much we spend?
- 43% of expenditures [$2,420/month]: Housing (mortgage, utilities, insurance, maintenance)
- 11% of expenditures [$630/month]: Food, alcohol or restaurants
- 8% of expenditures [$400/month]: Transportation (gas, tolls, car registration fees)
- 1% of expenditures [$50/month]: Pet care
- 27% of expenditures [$1,500/month]: Fun stuff (hobbies and travel primarily; eating at restaurants while traveling is included in this category as we rarely eat out when home)
- 10% of expenditures [$575/month]: Clothing, household items, personal care items, gifts and miscellaneous crap that we probably don’t need
The above represents a “typical” month in our mildly frugal, but adventurous household. Blue = Necessities with minimal savings opportunities. Red = Primarily non-essentials. If needed, we could drastically cut back on the last two categories (but we’ll still need to buy toilet paper and other basic household/personal items!) and with minor cut backs in the first three categories, save at least $2,000 per month. A bare bones budget for our household would be about $3,500.
Do you guys actually follow a budget?
Not exactly. I like to track our expenses as a post-mortem financial exercise to keep tabs on our lifestyle and make sure our spending isn’t getting too out of hand in relation to our income (hey – I would love a house cleaner, someone to mow the lawn, new furniture, a new laptop, and… and… and…). 5 years ago, our budgetary goal was to max out our retirement accounts, save a little for home repairs and investments (<$2k month) and use the remainder for every day living expenses and vacations. Now that we’re on our 30s and we have a higher household income, we spend a bit more on vacations and hobbies (the luxuries that mean the most to us!), but save even more towards financial independence.
All right, so now that we have our basic budget laid out on paper, time to run a Budget SWOT Analysis! What is a SWOT Analysis, you say? It’s a tool commonly used in business to identify:
By identifying how these attributes pertain to our particular financial situation, we can leverage strengths and opportunities, while mitigating weaknesses and threats as we come up with a plan to meet our financial goals.
SAVERDINK BUDGET STRENGTHS: ← Any ways to leverage our strengths for additional financial gain?
- Positive cash flow with significant savings/investment allocations each month. DINK-hood with two high earning professionals makes this possible.
- No debt, other than our mortgage. Let’s keep it this way!
- Moderate cost of living area. We could live closer to Boston and pay 2x for the same house…. but no. We’re really not city people.
- Low restaurant expenditures. We cook at home and bring lunch to work 99% of the time.
- Low personal care / clothing expenditures. We’re simply not very stylish, but neither are most engineers, so we fit right in!
- Low maintenance pets. Referring to how much it costs to sustain them, not the amount of time we spend vacuuming fur from our house…
- We rarely spend money on entertainment. We love outdoor activities and would much rather go camping, skiing, biking or kayaking than head to the movies. We cut cable 3 years ago and haven’t missed it since.
- We avoid outsourcing tasks when we can do the job ourselves. We take our trash to the dump, mow the lawn, clean the house and do our own home repairs/maintenance, even though we could afford to hire out those chores.
SAVERDINK BUDGET WEAKNESSES: ← Areas we should focus on improving
- We spend a LOT on travel. This is one of our top goals for retirement, so why not start now? We view this as a positive spending attribute, but it is definitely a top budget driver 🙂 Improvement = focusing on how to stretch our vacation budget as far as possible.
- We partake in a lot of gear-intensive hobbies. Bikes, kayaks, skis… not cheap, but we always try to buy used or on sale.
- We own 3 vehicles. This is a story for another day… we never intended to own 3 vehicles, but a job change instigated the need for a fuel efficient commuter car.
- Transportation costs are high. See above. The cost of going to work!
- “Miscellaneous” category is a bit of a slush fund. Yes, we’re finance aficionados, but we still buy a lot of random “things” and don’t want to maintain 50 different spending categories. This is my lazy way of tracking the money, but not exactly knowing where it’s all going.
SAVERDINK BUDGET OPPORTUNITIES: ← How can we tip these opportunities in our favor?
- Future income growth. Work hard, play hard. Focus on being a top performer at work to secure higher-than-average future raises and promotions.
- Pick up a “side hustle” to make extra cash. Sell unused items on Craigslist. Earn some extra cash at a “fun” job. Freelancing opportunities. There are a lot of options we could choose to pursue.
- Investigate investment strategies that provide additional income. Dividend stocks? This is one area I would like to learn more about.
SAVERDINK BUDGET THREATS: ← Be aware of risks and mitigate as much as possible
- Lifestyle creep. It’s so easy to “throw money at the problem” or splurge on material purchases that only provide temporary happiness. Must. avoid. instantaneous. gratification.
- Major house or car repairs. You never know what might break next… Regular home/car maintenance helps. Always have an emergency fund accessible.
- Major illness or injury. We enjoy a wide variety of sports, some of which are inherently dangerous. We both have long-term and short-term disability coverage and life insurance via our employers.
- Taxes. We’re in a high income bracket and need to understand future tax liability.
Self-awareness of your overall financial situation, understanding your budget and conducting a SWOT analysis play a huge factor in setting your short-term and long-term financial goals. I highly recommend that everyone take time for self-reflection and go through this exercise. Hopefully our budget and SWOT examples were helpful.
But don’t lie, you were really just curious about how we spend our cash… 🙂