I mentioned a few months ago with my year-end balance sheet that I would soon be changing the way I report my finances publicly. These monthly reports have been a relatively consistent part of Consumerism Commentary since I founded this website in July 2003. One of the original purposes of this website was to help myself take control of my finances and learn more about managing my own money.
After a while, though, the net worth reports, which include not much more than an accounting of my bank account and credit card balances, became less meaningful. At the same time, I stopped myself from reporting my income figures due to the complexities with dealing with a private transaction. I’ve decided to turn back to basics with the monthly reporting in order to focus once again on reducing my expenses.
The report below includes the last six months of my expenses after taxes and not including a few items like charitable contributions and business expenses. It will provide a good baseline for moving forward and determining where I can reduce my expenses and where I can compromise and allow myself more leeway. I’ve already done a good job of eliminating unnecessary expenses in order for me to enjoy certain things without stretching my budget, so reducing expenses might not be as important right now as monitoring my spending to ensure I’m not being wasteful.
The first thing you may notice is the large expense in the first category. In February, I had work done on my 2004 Honda Civic. At 138,000 miles, this was the first major maintenance I’ve needed since buying the car new in June 2004. The total cost of about $1,900 was higher than I expected, but I’ve resigned myself to getting major work like this completed at the dealership despite the higher cost. I’ve had bad experience with independent mechanics in the past, and at least at the dealership I have slightly more confidence that the work is done correctly.
I have expenses for food and groceries listed under non-discretionary while dining out is listed under discretionary. In some months, I spend more on groceries, and in other months I find myself dining out often. I’m not a big fan of cooking at home. I live by myself and buying groceries often results in having too much food for one person to eat. I’ve tried preparing a week’s worth of meals in advance, but I’m just not someone who enjoys cooking often.
If you’re wondering about that $85 expense under interest and fees from September, that would be the annual fee for a travel rewards credit card. That month featured the one-year anniversary of the card; the first year was free. If you assume that without the card I would have had to pay for checking bags on my flights for the prior year, the fee was more than worthwhile for me. Many people would be better off with fee-free credit cards.
The entertainment category houses a variety of expenses. The biggest of these is usually grouped under “hobbies” in Quicken. I’ve been involved in photography for the last several years, going as far as converting a small portion of my apartment into a mini-studio. I’m interested in film as much as digital photography, so I’ve started preparing for my own development. In fact, the expense listed under the education category on the report refers to the latest photography class I’ve signed up for, but it will be my last class for a while.
My gym membership isn’t exactly frugal. While the membership is advertised at $21 a month, what’s not clear until you’re sitting down signing the membership forms is that you pay for your first month’s fee, last month’s fee, and other random fees at the time you sign up. Each year in January, the gym assesses yet another fee. Furthermore, I haven’t had a chance to take much time out of my day to go to the gym, despite the proximity of the facility to my apartment. Lately, my time at the gym has been used more as a stress reliever than as part of a fitness plan.
I mentioned recently that I am planning my annual family visit, and that’s contributing to the recent vacation expense. The $75 credit from last month is a fee refunded to me from earlier travel. I used miles (and an annoying co-payment) to try to upgrade a portion of my flight, but the upgrade was not available. The airline returned the unused miles to my frequent flyer account and the co-payment to my credit card.
The only expense I have under the “Other” category at the bottom of the chart right now is pet care; the expense in January was the fee for taking my cat to the veterinarian for the last time. It will be some time before I replace him, if I ever do.
Did you have any outrageous expenses so far this year?
Published or updated March 6, 2012.