After the last couple of months of less than stellar savings rates, it feels good to write an update that comes closer to where we were at the first half of this year. Juuuuust shy of that 50% savings rate goal I set at the beginning of 2018, but it feels better than that because we’re back in an upswing from the lull of the fall.

Our most expensive months in 2017 were also in the latter half of the year, so it looks like I may just need to start planning for that moving forward. A fifty percent savings rate was difficult the first part of the year, but we probably could have edged it up closer to fifty five or sixty by paying as close of attention as I have the last few months, which feels a bit backwards, because we’ve certainly spend more as of late.

Vehicle maintenance, home maintenance, work clothes and boots for the husband, pet expenses, etc. All things that in theory should even out throughout the year have almost all been considerable larger the last four months of the year than the first two thirds. In previous years, we’ve also had to replace our refrigerator and washer and dryer around the holidays as well.

This huge fluctuation in expenses is certainly why so many people talk up the excellence of sinking funds; even so, I don’t see us going that path in the future. Sinking funds and other kinds of budgeting techniques only work well if you use an actual budget, and we don’t.

I guess we could always put aside an extra bit of money each month in the large categories I mentioned above, but we already do have a solid emergency fund in place. For the rest, we are still able to cash flow the difference in the spends months; it just means we send less to savings. At this point at least, I think I prefer to set things up as they are.

If we did put money aside for specific expenditures, I think we might be more inclined to spend more on them as needs came up. For example, if we put money away for home maintenance and had a good amount put aside when our old dishwasher finally dies, we’d be tempted to go out and pick a fancy new one to replace it with. Instead, since that will be an expense we cash flow in a single month, we will be much more judicious about the appliance we pick out and will spend less money for it.

This may not work for everyone, but with most things, personal finance is personal and you need to know what’s likely to work best for you and your family. And for us, that’s taking anything but the biggest expenses as they come.

Fancy new refrigerator after the power surge after an outtage fried our old one (Nov 2015)

November Income

November was a standard two paycheck month for us (the next three paycheck month isn’t until March), but we still had more money come in than just our W-2 incomes. To start with, we do get rental income from our roommate every month. We undercharge him compared to the market we’re in by at least fifty percent, but it’s well worth it for a number of reasons. For starters, he’s lived with us for more than six years now and is more or less part of the family at this point.

He also watches our animals when we go out of town, be it for a night or a long vacation, as long as he’s around, which is most of the time. We did knock a bit off his rent for May when we went on our East Coast road trip and were gone for thirteen days, but that would have cost us a good $1500 or so had we needed a house sitter. Plus, the animals get to stay home in their normal routine, which is way less stress on them.

I did also receive my quarterly Ebates check in November (though I didn’t actually deposit it until last week). It was only $30 or so, but I’m counting it here as “income” now that I automatically take the amount deposited and move it into long term savings or investments. Not a big number, and it isn’t enough to even move my savings rate for the month by even a partial percentage point, but every little bit helps. (If you don’t yet use Ebates – here’s a referral link for $10 to get started)

We also received our quarterly real estate investment check, and that’s significantly more than the one from Ebates (and it’s also a perpetual thing that requires nothing from my end). I don’t write too much about that here as it’s a work related investment, but let’s just say it’s somewhat like investing in a REIT, but much smaller, and I know more of the details about the actual projects we’re investing in. I’m currently saving up to invest in another project, and I have to say, I love investing in real estate where I don’t have to be involved in the day to day bits of rental management. I

Index funds are great and all (and we’re slowly growing those as well), but I sure appreciate an investment that has both equity and cash flow. Perhaps one day I’ll read enough posts on All About The Dividends, Tawcan, and Gen Y Money about dividend investing and make that a larger piece of our portfolio as well.

Food Spending

Once again, our food spending is on the high end of what I feel like is an acceptable amount for us to be spending as a family of three. Of course, this does include additional spending for Thanksgiving, but as we weren’t the ones hosting, this wasn’t a big extra.

We also did a day of wine and beer tasting in Woodinville in Black Friday, but I put that under the “miscellaneous” category this month, as it wasn’t exactly a vacation expense but didn’t feel quite right to put it under groceries / restaurant spending either. If you go to a winery or brewery specifically for tastings and not a meal, how do you categorize it? Sometimes I feel like I need additional categories in this spreadsheet, but at the same time, I like keeping things relatively simple.

Otherwise, the other big food expenditure that I feel is out of balance is the “fast food” category, which more or less means my husband’s workday lunches. As you might recall, I used to spend a ton of money on lunches out myself, but I broke that habit over a year ago. For me, the cost wasn’t nearly worth the amount of money I was spending each month.

However, my husband feels the cost is completely worth it for him. He works outside, and especially during the wet and cold winter months, he really appreciates a hearty, hot meal at lunchtime. Of course, he does have access to a microwave, but it’s in a shared office, and he generally likes to eat his meals alone while reading a book to recharge before the rest of the day. For him, the easiest way to do that is to buy lunch and take it back to his truck. It works for him, and even a couple hundred dollars a month really isn’t going to make or break our overarching financial goals.

We do have separate checking accounts as well as our joint accounts, and these lunches are a perfect example as to why. He is spending his money on what he decides has value, whether or not I find that same thing to have value. Of course, that wouldn’t work if suddenly he was dropping thousands of dollars on some fancy bottles of whiskey or caviar at lunch, but as long as it’s reasonable and ultimately comes from his separate account, then we don’t have a problem. I know not everyone agrees with the idea of having even partially separate accounts once you’re married, but it’s worked very well for us so far. And that’s what matters.

Food expenses we do agree on – brunch while traveling

Vehicle Expenses

After the previous few months, hooray, we had no vehicle expenses to speak of this month! The only spending that fell into the car/transit category for November was $5 for the roundtrip on the Monorail the kiddo and I took the night we went to see the Nutcracker in Seattle. We did also use bus fare, but I only calculate that in when I refill my bus pass versus when that money is actually used for riding the bus. Of course, we’ll always have vehicle maintenance costs, but it’s nice to have a bit of a break between the two vehicles right now.

Pet Expenses

Pet spending was also down this month, again under $300. You know you have an older animal on a lot of medications when a “really cheap” month for pet care still comes in at a couple hundred dollars. Her medications alone cost a good $140 though, so between that and food we’re pretty much always guaranteed to break the $200 mark these days. She also takes taurine pills daily, but those are purchased pretty cheaply on Amazon and in bulk, so that isn’t an every month purchase.

That dog also goes in for a check up every three months or so now, so she and the cat have vet appointments this month, meaning that December won’t be quite as cheap as November was. What you do when you have animals though; when they need care, you take them in.

Cute, but expensive – all three of them 😉

Vacation Spending

Considering the travel we did this month, our vacation spending is artificially low thanks to prepayment of some of it. I attended Cents Positive the first weekend of November, but since I had already prepaid for the conference and the plane flights, I spent very little money this month on that trip.

Splitting an Airbnb with Emilie, Erin, and Bethany meant that I spent just $66 on lodging for the three nights, and since I spent almost the entire trip at the conference itself, there wasn’t anything else to spend money on. Of course, the cost of the event and the plane tickets added up to about $500, but like I said, that was paid for before November and so not in this month’s update.

Pizza at the Denver airport before heading home

(If you’ve never used Airbnb before, here’s a referral link for $40 off your first stay. As you probably noticed by my trip to Cents Positive, Airbnb can sometimes save you A LOT of money over a hotel, plus you often have a place to cook and do laundry.)

While I was gone, my husband, kiddo, and my husband’s godfather went camping for the weekend, but since it was truck camping, it wasn’t an expensive trip. Otherwise, we’ve actually been at home on the weekends since then, though that will be changing again here soon.

Miscellaneous

Once again, the miscellaneous spending category ended up to be a significant number, but as the things we spent money on are all over the place, I really don’t think there’s a better way to categorize going forward without splitting things out into serious detail.

This month, the miscellaneous category encompassed boots and Carhartts for work for my husband, snowshoes and snow boots for the kiddo (seriously discounted though), a drivers license renewal for me, our Christmas tree and a few other holiday purchases like gingerbread decorations, a Goodwill trip for new clothes and snow outfits for the kiddo, and a new outdoor thermometer.

We had an outdoor thermometer connected to our furnace thermostat from when we had the system put in six years ago, but it died recently. We first looked up its replacement, but it would have cost us seventy dollars, so instead we just bought a simple analog thermometer for sixteen dollars that sits outside the window instead of having a pretty digital reading on our thermostat. Not worth an extra fifty-four dollars, especially if it’s likely to break again in another six years. Odds are the one we bought instead will last a lot longer than that.

November 2018 Spending (Excludes mortgage + daycare)

Jun 2018 Jul 2018 Aug 2018 Sep 2018 Oct 2018 Nov 2018
Groceries $353.25 $1,041.77 $393.91 $375.58 $358.12 $501.61
Restaurants $529.21 $329.83 $422.17 $562.84 $508.23 $418.73
Fast Food $75.89 $117.72 $65.55 $148.45 $75.95 $142.56
Gym $17.84 $17.84 $17.84 $17.84 $17.84 $17.84
Gas $242.89 $117.72 $258.94 $275.12 $236.54 $245.75
Car/Transit $737.53 $640.86 $88.12 $114.05 $1,113.27 $5.00
Utilities $266.25 $126.98 $129.58 $320.25 $304.17 $187.06
Pet Care $277.56 $578.63 $391.38 $207.77 $228.09 $217.64
Vacations $148.00 $483.45 $110.11 $808.13 $414.17 $310.03
Misc $164.62 $629.79 $232.95 $1,009.10 $476.83 $914.22
Total $2,813.04 $4,084.59 $2,110.55 $3,839.13 $3,733.21 $2,960.44
Savings Rate 44% 30% 67% 31% 32% 47%
Excluding Mortgage Principal 38% 23% 63% 25% 25% 41%

An overall savings rate of 47% with just one month left to finish out the year is pretty darn spectacular when you consider our previous years came in at 22-23%. Of course, it means we’re coming in short compared to the big audacious goal I set back in January to hit a 50% savings rate. Still, all things considered, if I think back to last year at this time, I don’t think I would ever had considered we could do as well as we have. Doesn’t mean I’m not a little frustrated that we won’t hit that goal, but I’m doing my best to keep it in perspective. After all, there’s always next year.

(And yes, mom, that positive spin right there is much for you. I know we are doing exceptionally well, but you know better than most anyone that once I set a goal for myself I get darn determined to meet it, whatever it is.)

Speaking of next year, it’s almost time to figure out what I’m going to shoot for in 2019. I know we won’t hit that 50% number this year, but we’ll be so close that just setting the goal for 50% again seems “too easy” in a way. I realize that a goal we fell short of isn’t actually one that can be considered too easy, but I’ll want to stretch us again next year, or we likely won’t hit it then either.

How and when do you set financial goals? Do you have suggestions for me on how to set a big one for next year?

46 thoughts on “Monthly Financial Update: November 2018

  1. That’s an awesome savings rate! Next year it sounds like you’ll hit 50 for sure! Maybe you’ll even up it another 5% just to make it a little difficult since it looks so easy for you now :)!

    For next years goals, have you given thought to running a marathon or something? I know you enjoy running, maybe that way you’ll get even more time to run in nature?

    1. I wouldn’t say it looks SO easy, since we aren’t going to hit that goal this year 😉 But I was considering upping it to at least 55% to make it a bigger stretch goal again, but not so far out to be discouraging. MAYBE 60%.

    2. Oh, and I do want to run another half marathon (I’ve done it in the past) but just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

  2. Still a solid month when you look back at the year. I think you keep 50% as your goal for next year as you are trending so close. Hopefully no major unexpected appliance purchases and vet bills pop up and it becomes very possible.

    1. Yeah definitely a solid month. It seems entirely doable next year, which is what’s making me consider pushing it up a tiny bit more.

  3. My big goal for 2018 was to put 10k towards student loans. We only managed $7252, so I totally understand the frustration of being close, but not quite hitting that goal. I’m just proud of the progress we made considering all the life changes we had (I graduated from college, we got married, I quit my job and I was unemployed for a month before I found another). Learning to understand it in the grand scheme of things is huge. Keep trucking through for December!

    1. That’s dang impressive as well! The point of really hard goals is to push us farther than we thought possible, right? Meeting an easy goal is not nearly the same kind of feat.

      1. Yes! I’m a little sad I didn’t meet my goal, but I got pretty dang close! And especially with all the crazy life changes I’ve had happy this year, I’m pretty proud!

  4. It looks to me like your Misc category needs to be broken out – it’s so high that it’s not able to give you a lot of information about where your money is going! That might be okay with you, but maybe not.

    My spending categories have evolved over time, and one way I decide if they’re working for me is assessing how Misc is doing – 3 entries this year, averaging $10/month, does seem very miscellaneous! (and in reviewing the three entries I feel like I could have classified each of them better if I tried.) I now have 16 categories, so it may seem a bit daunting, but it works for me.

    The wine tasting I would have put either in my eating out category (that’s where the odd pint of beer or whatever goes) OR entertainment. If I actually bought wine to bring home it would go in my booze/wine category.

    In case you’re curious, since I don’t blog, my categories are:
    bills (includes mortgage but not extra payments against principal; my mortgage is my only debt)
    food out (includes drinks out), groceries, coffee. (coffee used to be more important to track when I was in an office every day and buying one cup out most mornings)

    I get more granular for the rest of my spending. These have evolved over the last 10+ years of tracking:
    entertainment, gifts, charity/activism (includes recurring and one-off donations, political contributions, postage for postcards to voters, etc.), travel, transportation, clothes, household, health/upkeep (everything from sunscreen to haircuts, doctors’ visits etc.), hobby (organized run fees, classes I take for fun, etc), misc, booze/beer/wine (things I buy to bring to parties or to have at home, not a drink out some evening), house (different from household – this is things like ladder, which if I were a renter I wouldn’t need).

    Finally I have a big ticket expense category for things like my grill, or fence repair, but also my monthly principal pre-payments.

    It’s not perfect but as I said, it’s evolved over time and it’s a system I can work with! And it gives me meaningful data to look at.

    I feel like assessing peoples’ categories is super fascinating. Maybe you need a series for the voyeurs!

    1. I guess the point of keeping the “miscellaneous” category as it is right now is that the things that fall into it vary so wildly from month to month. I guess I COULD have a clothing or home maintenance category next year, but there are plenty of months that they would be $0 then. Same goes for gifts. Good food for thought as I prep for 2019.

      1. I definitely have months where I have $0 in several categories! Those make me feel pretty happy since it’s another way of seeing where I did NOT spend money, if that makes sense. (Or, conversely, if I don’t have any spending in the charity/activism category, that’s a good reminder – hasn’t been a problem these last few years.)

      2. Yeah, I kept my charity spending numbers separate from these reports this year for a variety of reasons but I think I’ll be switching that up next year.

  5. Nice new fridge!! Awesome job at 50% savings rate.

    Pets are expensive 🙁 I just dropped $500 yesterday for my dog to see the vet.

    Has your husband tried one of those thermos bottles for food? I often work out of the office too and like a hot warm meal, I find it keeps my food very warm still even after 4-5 hours since putting it in there. Maybe for a

    1. Well, the fridge is from 2015, but still totally awesome 😉 Today was my $500 vet bill day, ouch.

      And as far as his work lunches go, at this point it’s better for our marriage if I just leave it alone 😉

  6. Even with additional expenses you make it sound easy to save close to 50%. Like Chris I’d stick with that rate for 2019.

    You’re blessed to have a built-in/live-in pet sitter. It’s so hard to leave pets behind when on vacation and feel confident about their care, finances aside. I sure know what it’s like to have those unexpected pet expenses, too.

    I predict our grocery bill will go up this year. I’ve saved a lot by shopping at Aldi but there’s none real close by where we’re living now. Still, when we visit Mr. G’s parents we can shop there, and also take advantage of their Sam’s Club membership.

    1. Definitely hasn’t felt easy this year, but 40%+ has definitely felt doable. Crazy to think how different that number looked in previous years. No Aldi within 700 miles of us, so I’ve actually only stepped foot inside a store once in my life 😉

    1. I calculate post tax, but IMO it really doesn’t matter which as long as I keep the metric the same month to month 🙂

      1. I think people calculate it all different kinds of ways, but as long as you’re comparing apples to apples yourself, I don’t think it matters what way you pick.

  7. Yeah, I would do 50% next year since you did find it a challenge to meet this year. Personally, I like goals that are reasonably achievable, while still challenging. You can always set a “stretch goal” to save more!

    1. Yeah, 50% was definitely more a stretch goal than a “reasonable” one, so even coming this close is pretty freaking stellar. Even if a bit annoying for not hitting it 😉

  8. Although you’re not going to reach that 50% savings goal for this year, that is pretty darn close to it at 47%. That is more than good considering were saving at 22-23% the previous years. Now you have a goal for next year, 50% or over savings rate!!

    1. Yeah, pretty darn close is right. I guess we could have skipped some of our travel this year and met it, but I think I’ll take the travel 😉

  9. I’m laughing so hard at the hugeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee size of double bastard just smush into the fridge door hahahaha

    1. Hahahahaha yeah. I’m surprised no one else commented on that. My husband clearly has priorities 😂

  10. I would keep the savings goal at 50% for next year since you haven’t yet reached that number and it gives you the opportunity to meet and exceed the goal. Give yourself the win. Plus, at some point your spending will be optimized and the savings % can’t continue to go up unless your income does. If you value the travel and eating out and lunches for spouse it won’t be worth trying to cut those categories just to meet an arbitrary goal.

    I decided not to use a misc. category when tracking our spending so everything has to fit into one of the existing lines. Each line is a category that we consider a mutual expense, except the spending line where a set $ is agreed on each month to cover all personal spending which includes lunch out at work, clothes, games, online subscriptions that aren’t mutually used, etc. This way i never look at a category like say fast food where one spouse is doing most of the spending and wish we were spending less. Some months there is a zero on several lines but then i have the info split out when I average it over the year

    mortgage
    property taxes
    homeowners insurance
    electric/gas
    water/sew/gar
    internet
    phone
    life insurance
    transportation/gas
    car maintenance
    car insurance
    groceries
    dogs medical
    medical
    tax financial software

    giving
    home improvement
    household goods
    vacation
    netflix/amazon/hulu
    fitness
    eating out
    spending Spouse1
    spending Spouse2
    gifts
    news subscriptions
    entertainment

    1. Yeah, home improvement would probably be a fair category for sure next year. I also didn’t share our giving numbers this year, but I’m considering doing so next year.

  11. So close to 50%!! Hey I’m sure if you had not set the bar high, and maybe had a lower number goal, it could have been a lot easier to fall back off the gas pedal and spend money on other things knowing you “only” had to get to 45% This is such an awesome job especially given some of those unexpected expenses that came up throughout the year!

    1. Sooooo close!! And you are absolutely right. I could have set a 30% savings goal, and probably would have just hit it.

    1. Yeah, we used to have a wayyy too healthy restaurants category, but I’m entirely comfortable with where we’re at now.

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