This past month I participated in the Uber Frugal Month Challenge. I figured this would be a good way to get my finances in order at the start of this year. Essentially what this entailed was to only spend money on things that were absolutely necessary, think all of my purchases through, and track every penny of what I spent. This may have been the first time in my life that actually tracked my spending down to the penny. I always keep a rough budget so that I don’t overspend, but I have never been this meticulous.
This process was pretty enlightening. Over the course of the month I learned several things about where I spend money, and where I really don’t spend much money. I also made some decisions about where I could afford to spend a bit more money. Here are some of my takeaways:
- I spend less on gas than I thought I did. – I always budget $35 per week on gas. Maybe I was off because I switched cars this fall and went from a small SUV to a subcompact car, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that this line item was not as large as I thought it was. I do have a decent commute, so I always felt like I spent more on gas than I actually do. My new total is $27 per week.
- Spending $50 a week on groceries is possible but not satisfying. – I enjoy going through my circular every week and planning out my trip to Market Basket. It makes things easy and helps me to avoid spending on food that I don’t need. However, $50 a week for myself and my toddler is pretty meager and assumed I have some meat and other staples stored at home. This total also falls below the USDA Thrify Spending Plan that I outlined in a previous post. I plan on upping my weekly grocery spending to somewhere in the $65 dollar range.
- The only money I spend on entertainment outside of Netflix was for my daughter. – It’s tough for me to get out and do much socially these days. Since I’m a single mom, I either have to take my daughter with me, or I pay for a babysitter. Babysitters are expensive. I’m not all that interested in spending $40-$50 on top of the cost of a meal or drinking at a restaurant. I think the cold weather also contributes to us staying indoors. Aside from paying for my daughter to attend some classes, I didn’t pay for anything else last month. However, once the weather improves a bit I will be adding to my entertainment budget. Having fun helps keep people on track because they don’t feel deprived!
- You will always have unexpected expenses. – We have had a rough winter over here. This is the first year that baby saves has been in school and she has been sick several times. I have also been sick. We were both hit a couple of times this month with colds and the flu which required one ER visit for me and a couple of doctor’s appointments for baby saves. Between these visits, medicine, extra juice, etc, we spent more than I had hoped.
- I did not spend any money on fast food and it was awesome! – Not only did I not spend money on fast food this month, but it really wasn’t a big deal. The more time I have spent cooking my own food, the more I actually enjoy homemade food so much more than what I can buy outside. While it’s nice to go out on occasion as a treat, I don’t want it to continue to be a money guzzling habit.
Despite the fact that I had a few unanticipated expenses, I am happy overall with the outcome of this challenge. Even though this month long challenge is over, I plan on tracking my expenses further to get a better picture of my overall spending. I am hoping to keep track of everything for a year. Maybe once I organize things better I will become brave enough to publish some expense reports. Between this tracking and the information on Personal Capital, I am confident that I can start moving from negative net worth to positive.
Do you think it’s useful to track your expenses? What are the advantages or disadvantages?