Again, I think this is one of those months where I am way too hard on myself. After missing out on my 2018 savings goal by a few percentage points, I went into 2019 with a renewed focus to hit that full fifty percent savings rate this year. Of course, January was also the month where we left for our trip to Hawaii, and we brought my grandmother there for the very first time.

Oh, and we also took a trip to Forks at the beginning of the month for my husband’s birthday (but lodging was paid for by the in-laws as a Christmas/birthday gift) AND a one night, kid-free trip to Port Angeles to celebrate another friend’s birthday. Long story short, January was filled with a LOT of travel related expenses. So much for starting 2019 with a seriously awesome savings rate.

But I do always say that we want to live now and travel and enjoy our days with family and friends, right? Right. And this month we definitely proved that with our spending.

Monthly Financial Update: January 2019

The good news is we are closing in on another three paycheck month in March, and February spending looks pretty decent as well. We did spend most of the first week of February in Hawaii, but we really only paid for food and gas while we were there a everything else was cash flowed previously. Previously being, for the most part, January.

Akaka Falls, Hawaii

I know that some people are huge proponents of sinking funds for things like vacation spending, but we’ve always just cash flowed those expenses as they arrive. Of course, booking things like lodging and plane flights (though we rarely pay for those) up front does spread the cost out a little bit naturally.

This means that when our incomes were smaller, we went on fewer and less expensive vacations, but we still never saved up for them in advance. And we never put them on a credit card. Beyond being adverse to paying interest in any amount outside of our mortgage, the idea of paying for something after you’ve already experienced it has always felt like a terrible idea to me. If it’s passed, then the spending should have passed as well.

Miscellaneous

We spent $5,859.31 on “miscellaneous” stuff in 2018. While I had initially decided I didn’t want to have an endless list of categories broken down each month, realizing that the miscellaneous category averaged out to almost five hundred dollars a month made me realize that I needed to add at least a few more categories to be able to look back and really track where our money was going.

Miscellaneous spending totaled just $70.50 for January with my new categories added for 2019, which seems like a much more respectable amount. In theory, the new ones should cover *most* of what fell into miscellaneous last year, but who knows what surprises the rest of the year will bring.

New Category: Vacation Food

The biggest new category for 2019 is most definitely this one. I went back and forth a lot last year trying to decide whether to break this out from our regular grocery / restaurant spending, but since the bulk of our restaurant spending really is done while we are traveling and we tend to splurge on local grocery stores as well, it seems fair that this should get its own category this year.

As you’ll see, this added up to $364.99 for January, so I’d say this probably makes sense. Of course, we DID pick up a few things for home while grocery shopping in Port Angeles at the fancy natural foods store, but the majority of this was for meals while we were there.

Tofu pad se ew – meat free meal out! And one I haven’t perfected at home by any stretch

We also had a couple meals out in Forks, though not many, and the last day of January was fully spent in Hawaii as we had arrived the night before. It was one of the days we were staying at the hotel as well, so all of our meals were cooked by others that day. When I list it all out, I’m now just glad this number isn’t higher. Good thing we aren’t traveling any more this month.

While I added Vacation Food as a category, I also deleted Fast Food as its own separate category. Really, this is almost entirely my husband’s work lunches and it included food trucks and grocery store deli food as well as actual fast food restaurants, but at under $100 a month on average, I decided I’d just lump it in with our regular restaurant spending (though he does pay for it all himself when I go through our bills each month).

Vacation Spending

And then, there’s the rest of the vacation spending for January and the real reason why we don’t have a higher savings rate for the month. Vacation spending alone came in at $882.18. This included: ferry trip fares for the two weekends on the Olympic Peninsula, our share of the Airbnb cost for Port Angeles, our share of the Airbnb cost for Honokaa, Hawaii (second half payment), the car rental for Hawaii, and two tickets to the luau.

The luau tickets alone were $290 (luckily they don’t charge for kids under five so we squeaked by there). This isn’t something we would have done on our own – and not something we did on our last trip to Hawaii – but it was one of the absolute highlights of my grandmother’s trip, and so I would make that same choice to go if I had to do it over again. Sometimes things to cost a little bit extra, and that’s okay.

Luau – learning how to do some of the dances

New Category: Home/Tools

Since my husband buys tools on a semi regular basis – though always on sale – and as we do have maintenance to do and pay for as homeowners, I decided that this needed its own category. For this month, the saw my husband had had his eye on for months finally went on a big sale at Home Depot and he picked it up when we were there last.

This also included a bit of miscellaneous hardware etc, but the total cost of the Home Depot trip was considerably smaller than it could have been thanks to a gift card and our 10% military discount, or the equivalent of not paying tax because that’s how high our sales tax is in our area now.

I am not including general home / cleaning supplies here but instead leaving them in the groceries category because we buy those things at Costco or our local grocery store and it would be too much of a pain to split them out separately. Since we mostly use zero waste versions of things like paper towels, this number isn’t huge anyway and a Costco package of paper towels will last us well over a year.

New Category: Gardening

Again, I don’t spend a huge amount of money on the garden each year now that the raised beds are mostly set up and I save a portion of the seeds, but since I’ve been tracking the spending separately this is an easy one to break out anyway. Last year it was just a couple hundred dollars in the miscellaneous category. So far, we’ve spent zero dollars on the garden since it’s winter and not quite planting season yet. Odds are I won’t spend any money (or at least very little) until March since the garden is still well covered in snow right now.

 Poor broken off kale plants 

New Category: Gifts

Again, this is one of those categories that will likely see a number of zero dollar months and probably never an overly expensive month since we tend to lean toward experiences and not things when it comes to gifts, but it also seemed like a natural split out from the more general miscellaneous category.

New Category: Alcohol

This category is specifically for alcohol only purchases, rather than splitting out a single bottle of wine from a grocery store purchase. So this will only show trips to Total Wine and trips to breweries and that sort of thing. Perhaps it would make sense to split out all alcohol purchases, but again, I don’t want to have to go into that level of detail in splitting out receipts.

New Category: Clothes

Obviously, this category doesn’t include me at this point, though that will change eventually once I finally break my clothes buying ban. March first marks the two year point, so any purchases will absolutely be after then. For January, this expense was for a new pair of Carhartt overalls for the kiddo when we were in Forks for the weekend.

New overalls! And walking through the woods with neighbor friends

No Spend Days

So while this month was obviously not a record low spending month for us, it was a record for number of No Spend Days in a single month, at fifteen. I’d managed a couple of months at twelve days, but January blew those out of the water. While our spending overall wasn’t near our lowest, I credit my extra focus on No Spend Days for the fact that it wasn’t also a record high expense month either.

These days are what generally stop me from grabbing lunch out at work just because “I feel like it” and other mindless spending that really shouldn’t happen, but would if I wasn’t tracking things closely. Of course, our vacation spending blew our total out of proportion, but being more mindful during the rest of the month really kept things under control.

January 2019 Spending (Excludes Mortgage, Daycare, Insurance)

January 2019
Groceries $382.11
Restaurants $332.61
Gym $17.84
Gas $188.43
Car/Transit $166.00
Utilities $223.98
Pet Care $210.18
Vacation $882.18
Vacation Food $364.99
Home/Tools $281.94
Gardening $0.00
Gifts $28.31
Alcohol $55.93
Clothing $29.28
Misc $70.50
Total $3,234.28
Savings Rate 28%
Excluding Mortgage Principal 34%
Giving % 3%

Sharing My Giving Rate

So this is something that I have gone back and forth on for most of a year and even took to Twitter last week to get some extra opinions. That poll with over one hundred responses clearly leaned toward share or at least share percentages, so I decided to make the leap and at least partially pull back the curtain there. I did decide to share percentages of our overall total instead of dollar amounts, and I won’t be sharing where those dollars go, but this feels like a good middle ground for now.

I started really tracking my charitable giving in 2017 and it became very clear that the more I gave and the more I paid attention to giving, the more I did it. 2018 I stepped it up a bit more, and this year I plan to continue in that direction. My hope in sharing percentages publicly is that I will be even more incentivized to increase that number and perhaps inspire others to do also as they are able.

Even those of us Middletons in what is generally a pretty high income personal finance community are doing pretty well for ourselves and could probably do better to share that with others. As my income grows, I hope to grow my giving as well. We are in pretty darn good shape to be chasing a fifty percent savings rate and there is no reason I can see for being tight fisted with our money when twenty dollars won’t break us but can be used in a significant way elsewhere, especially as its added up with other contributions.

What do you think? Should I continue to share my giving rate? Or is that best kept personal and closer to the chest?

41 thoughts on “Monthly Financial Update: January 2019

  1. 1. That noodle dish looks AMAZING
    2. Those overalls are adorable 🙂
    3. I think you should do whatever you feel comfortable with when it comes to sharing your giving rate. There are pros and cons. On the plus side, if you model your giving behavior to your readers, it might encourage them to think harder about how and where they could give too.

    1. It was SO freaking good. Thai food is something I haven’t been able to recreate at home but I think I want to try again.

      1. Now I have a craving for Thai food! If you find a good recipe to recreate something like that at home, you will have to share on the blog for sure.

  2. If sharing your giving rate helps motivate you to give more then I say you should do it. It sounds like quite an expense-filled month, but in a good way since you were paying for a worthwhile experience and created memories that you (and your grandmother) can cherish.

    Way to go on the savings rate! I know it’s not as high as you’d like, but it’s still very good.

  3. I put our food while on vacation under travel expense. That makes it much easier and you don’t have to add another category. 🙂 Hawaii looks so nice. It’s great that you guys enjoyed the luau. It sounds expensive, but worth it.

    1. Oh right, you’ve still never been to Hawaii, have you? Really is so easy from the west coast!

  4. I second JP’s 3rd point on sharing giving rates: it’s entirely up to you, but by sharing hopefully you will incentivise others to up their giving game as well.
    I for one love the fact that you are both doing the giving and talking about it!! There are many financial/FIRE blogs where there is no mention of giving and personally I find that sad – I think if we are in a position to save upwards of 20% of our incomes, we can also make a difference to others .

    1. Yeah, that’s ultimately what pushed me to share – I DO know a number of PF bloggers who do give regularly but don’t share it on their blogs. I don’t want to shame anyone who can’t afford to, but those of us who are saving large percentages of our incomes absolutely can afford it.

  5. I love that you’ve decided to share your giving rate. Your middle ground is very similar to what we did last year. We shared our giving as an overall percentage of take home pay, listed a few of the organizations that we give to, but did not share exact numbers or provide a further percentage breakdown. I think sharing our giving rates can inspire others to do this same.

    1. You are part of the reason I decided to add at least this much to my monthly updates! I’m not anywhere near 10% so far but I’d like to get close someday 🙂

      1. Well it took us until my mid to late 30s to reach a 10% savings rate on take home pay. For most of my professional career we were closer to 1 or 2 percent. I’m looking forward to your giving updates! 🙂

      2. Well that makes me feel better then! I’m only 31 so I guess I have some time yet 😉

  6. it’s a good think we can’t get wine in grocery stores here or it would look like we had a 20k annual grocery bill. even though it’s clear that you care about the earth and environment more than me i wanted to let you know that we use cloth napkins at home and when i use paper towels at least i’m thinking about it. you state the case in a way that makes even me think about waste and that’s where change begins. it’s never preachy or in the imperative and it makes all the difference between somebody considering it and just tuning on out. fyi.

    1. Woo hoo thanks for sharing your feedback on the environmental side of things!!

      Wait. You can’t even get wine at the grocery store? I guess we’ve never grocery shopped in New York. Hmm.

    2. Seeing this comment, I have to chime in – Angela, thanks for one of your earlier environmental posts I have gone back to using cloth napkins at table 🙂 Thank you for the inspiration. Once I stopped to think about it, it is such a no brainer (indeed, I was slightly embarrassed of myself as a would-be environmentalist). I grew up using cloth napkins, then when I went to university I switched over to paper towels. Now that I’m a grown-up with my own kitchen there is no excuse! So I’ve bought myself a set of napkins and I’m very happy. (I already had a collection of cloth kitchen towels of various ages…).

      1. I’m so happy to hear that!! It’s funny how many things we start doing for “convenience” without actually stopping to think about why we made the switch.

        Thank you so much for sharing with me – I LOVE LOVE LOVE non blogger comments (as much as I love my blogger community) because otherwise I have no way of interacting with you all and knowing the background ❤️

  7. I think sharing your giving rate is great – both in that it may keep it more top of mind for you, AND in that it reminds others it’s something to consider on a regular basis.

    I managed to give about 8% of my take-home this year and that felt really good to calculate. I give on a monthly basis for some things, and more irregularly for others, so it’s (for me) nice to keep an eye on the grand total to make sure I’m contributing at a level that seems impactful and possible. I always gave sporadically, but signed up for more monthly commitments after the elections a couple years ago – and feel pretty confident they’ll be lifelong commitments unless I have big changes to my money situation.

    1. Well done!!! And I’ve never done recurring donations before, but now you have me thinking about that. From what I’ve read it’s way better to focus giving on a couple of places because they will benefit more than if you just spread a little bit all over the place, which is what I’ve been apt to do.

  8. I enjoy seeing your savings rate Angela! While we’re all on our own journeys to FI, I think it helps to know what others are putting away. 1) to know it’s possible 2) to know we’re not alone if our savings rate aren’t as high as we want them to be lol.

    Nice January summary! 😄

    1. Thank you! Accountability has been huge for me in general, so I expect it will be for this as well 🙂

  9. It’s funny but I ended up with almost the same categories as you (I just lump all our vacation spend into one bucket). Must be natural spending categories.

  10. I appreciate you sharing your giving rate. I have an embarrassing confession – before I discovered FI, I gave freely and generously (in my humble opinion). After discovering FI, I clamped down on it and didn’t give as much. I found a happy medium finally after hitting my FI goal, but I think it’s good not to be so laser beam focused on the end goal that we forget what, in my case, was clearly important to me. I appreciate you keeping it front of mind as I imagine there are others like me out there. On another note, GREAT MINDS, I am starting to track my eating out while traveling separately this year as well as alcohol. Those two items are low hanging wins on the living more frugally and saving more money tree and should allow me to stay below budget overall. The eating a more plant based diet should do that as well.

    1. GREAT MINDS, for sure. And funny enough, after starting this blog and tracking expenses more closely (though years after I actually discovered FI), I found myself giving more freely and more often because it felt like I had SO much more money.

  11. I’m always debating whether to track vacation food spending as food or vacation and since we travel so little (maybe one trip a year and another camping trip) I haven’t nailed down my system yet. One thing we discussed last year when planning a trip was what we valued more, staying in a nice place or spending more on food. We both decided that we’d rather skimp on the accommodations to have more freedom in eating at places that we want to splurge on.

    I calculated my giving rate as a percentage and was kind of embarrassed as to how small a number it is. We do have recurring donations but I know that they don’t total much each month. I’d like to create a DAF as part of our FIRE plans (inspired by Tanya of course) and thinking of it like an endowment helps me plan how much I want to fund it to generate income for life.

    1. Yeah, we will always choose fancy food over fancy accommodations. What do people travel for if not for the food and the natural sites? 😉

      I still feel like my giving is much lower than I’d ultimately like it to be, but it’s so much more than just a few years ago.

  12. When I traveled a couple times last year, I put all those expenses under ‘Travel Expenses’ since it’s easier for me to know how much I spend during the trip.
    I think you should continue to share your giving rate because I think it will inspire others to put a percentage of their income to a charitable cause. They will see how admirable you are and may want to do the same.

    1. Yeah, we travel quite a bit and it’s a good chunk of our budget so important to track accordingly:)

  13. I don’t think the giving number should matter (but am curious haha). I really reallllly want to know why you chose which organizations to give and why *exactly* – like step by step vetting process on that 🙂

    1. HA – not sure I will ever share that level of detail publicly, but you could always DM me for more info if you want it 😉

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