I have to say, I certainly started off 2018 on a better foot in terms of total savings rate. Then again, we also didn’t take my grandmother to Hawaii at the start of 2018. The good news is, March is a three paycheck month and it should go a long way to balancing things out, as long as nothing unexpected shows up that month.

It’s funny how just a year and a half ago I would have been absolutely amazed at a forty percent savings rate, whereas now I’m just annoyed that we’ve come up short of fifty percent for too many months in a row (Not since August. Ouch). I had considered trying to push out our savings rate goal a bit farther this year, but ultimately got convinced to keep it at the same fifty percent as last year since we came up short at an average of 46% for 2018.

In order to average 50% in the first quarter of the year, our March and April savings rate would need to be 63% each. I expect that won’t happen for April, but March has a possibility of landing in the high sixties, so maybe I can pull off that average. It’s a bit frustrating that a fifty percent savings rate is still so hard, but I suppose that shows just why it is such an impressive feat to accomplish, especially on median salaries.

Yet another weekend adventure (Forks)

Monthly Financial Update

And now for the details as to where we actually did spend our money in February. Compiling these reports take some time each month since we don’t fully combine our finances and each have reimbursable work expenses from time to time, but I have to say that tracking things this closely has been the number one piece to our success and the reason why we doubled our savings rate in 2018.

There are months that I really would rather not share because we’ve come up short from where I’ve publicly announced I want us to be, but the accountability and forcing myself to look closely is what has kept us in check. While some people seem to have super frugality on autopilot at this point, and while we have reasonably low fixed expenses for a high cost of living area, we constantly have to pay attention to our discretionary spending, especially when it comes to food and non-physical expenses.

Vacation Spending

While we did pay for the Airbnb in Hawaii prior to taking the trip, we did pay for the car rental in February as well as a few other minor incidentals like parking and park entry fees. Still, for a Hawaiian vacation, we did a good job keeping our costs down while we were there – as long as you ignore what we spent on food.

I like to include as many gratuitous Hawaii photos as possible

Food Spending

Ah, food expenses. Again and again, this is our Achilles heel when it comes to our savings rate. I think I’m glad I decided to split out our vacation food spending separate from our grocery bill at home, but we sure did spend quite a bit on food and drink while we were in Hawaii – $464.36, or just over $77 a day for the three of us. Considering we cooked a decent amount of our meals at the rental, that is A. LOT. And this didn’t even include the luau dinner.

And then, there’s the amount we spent on food for the rest of February after we came home. I thought we had actually done pretty well here since we didn’t eat out much otherwise and cooked quite a bit from scratch. I didn’t think about the kiddo’s birthday party though.

We may have made the pizzas and the cupcakes from scratch, but feeding two dozen people still adds up (we also bought a large bag of cheese and caramel popcorn and some large bags of broccoli, celery, and baby carrots for a vegetable tray as well). I suppose for a kid’s birthday party, we still didn’t spend all that much compared to what most people spend, but since it was all food expenses it certainly made up for the week we weren’t home.

We also had the long weekend where we were snowed in with our neighbors, and while we cooked all our meals together, we did buy some fancier stuff for some of the meals than we would otherwise, and that pushed up the cost a bit as well. And then there are the days where my husband went off to the store by himself and brought back Dungeness crab.

Considering our four year old will eat an entire crab by himself, he more than makes up for the fact that I don’t eat most seafood. My husband loves that he enjoys the stuff as much as he does, but it certainly doesn’t help our food budget.

I’m writing this after we’ve just gotten home from an evening out at a sushi restaurant (goodbye, another $60), but I’m determined to make March a much more reasonable month with food expenses than we’ve started out this year. Final note here: alcohol spending was up as well thanks to stocking up at both Costco and Trader Joe’s.

Conveyor belt sushi. Yum. 

Pet Care

Nothing particularly special about this month here, other than to note than $250 is now an “average” month for us without a single vet visit – just the cost of medication, pill pockets, and food. The average for all of 2018 was $350 and I expect it will be about the same this year as well. Still, our dog is doing so much better than I could have ever hoped for a year and a half ago and I am so thankful to still have her around and currently snoring at my feet.

Gardening

The one upside of the ill fated trip to the Northwest Flower and Garden Show last month was that I did get a chance to pick up some seed potatoes and a few other seed packets. My very favorite potato variety, Viking Purples, apparently had a bad blight though and are not available this year. The kiddo also picked out some corn, so we shall see if we can actually grow any (I’m not sure if we get enough heat and sun in our yard, but we’ll give it a shot).

Total cost of gardening supplies for the year to date: $36.61. I put the show entrance fee of $23 under miscellaneous because I feel that was more entertainment than specifically a gardening cost.

The strange part though is that we are still getting quite a few hard freezes and my raised beds are still under a layer of snow, so I haven’t even been able to start thinking about planting anything for the spring. By this time of year, I’ve usually planted a few things and be getting ready to plant the potatoes in a couple weeks. Looking back at my garden update from the end of last March makes it obvious how much colder it’s been. We are definitely a good month behind typical this year.

Eventually it will all melt and we will get to spring planting…

Giving

I gave exactly $0.31 more in February than I did in January, completely unintentionally. I have to say though, I absolutely gave more at the end of this month in order to keep up with what I had done in January. To be honest, had I not committed to sharing that percentage here this year, I wouldn’t have given as much this month.

Because I knew I would be sharing it here, I kept track a bit more closely than I have the previous few years. While I’ve incrementally increased my giving in a real way since 2017, I expect 2019 to do even better, and absolutely in part by including that percentage here. I simply do better when I share and keep myself accountable publicly.

I wasn’t certain if I wanted to share even the percentage here, but as it is getting me to open my wallet even more, I think it was absolutely the right choice.

January 2019 February 2019
Groceries $382.11 $530.94
Restaurants $332.61 $302.23
Gym $17.84 $17.84
Gas $188.43 $212.72
Car/Transit $166.00 $152.90
Utilities $223.98 $353.82
Pet Care $210.18 $257.93
Vacation $882.18 $373.60
Vacation Food $364.99 $464.36
Home/Tools $281.94 $93.86
Gardening $0.00 $36.61
Gifts $28.31 $90.00
Alcohol $55.93 $136.45
Clothing $29.28 $0.00
Misc $70.50 $195.80
Total $3,234.28 $3,219.06
Savings Rate 28% 34%
Excluding Mortgage Principal 34% 40%
Giving % 3% 3%

If you noticed, we spent almost exactly the same total amount in February as we did in January, but our savings rate was higher. This was thanks to our quarterly investment payments for both our real estate investment and my small amount in a dividend producing stock. That money went immediately from our bank account to our retirement accounts, and it felt so good to be re funneling that passive income into something that would continue to grow that passive income in the future. It’s way too easy for that money to disappear if it isn’t immediately put away.

0% Interest Credit Card

So I ended up opening a 0% interest credit card in the fall of 2017 after we had back to back to back expensive months. We had originally planned on draining much of our emergency fund in order to cover the costs, but I decided to look into a credit card transfer offer because the idea of reducing our liquid savings so drastically really stresses me out.

When I figured out that the Chase Slate would give us a 0% card for fifteen months with a no cost transfer, I decided it was the best choice for my peace of mind. Champagne and Capital Gains wrote an entire post recently on this kind of decision and I understand her rationale completely – using your emergency fund is actually terrifying.

While I absolutely could have paid the card off faster, I decided to prioritize other savings and investment vehicles like maxing out my IRA for the first time. The 0% rate was expiring in early March though, so I made that final payment and it feels awesome to have it gone and done.

Now that we have so much space between our base expenses and our total income, months like those wouldn’t put us in the red like they did then. No matter what your long term goals are, having the space to weather the unexpected storms is such a great goal to have.

Making Excuses

For all that we have done so well in the last year and a half since I decided to really focus on our finances again, I do wonder if I am making excuses to some degree. We have had too many sub-fifty percent savings rates in a row, and while some of the costs are completely justifiable, I feel like we could be doing better and need to really get focused this spring.

Oddly enough, we also had a great month for no spend days in February (twelve of them), and January was the best yet at fifteen, but neither were anything spectacular as far as overall savings rate is concerned. It almost seems like there is inverse relationship lately between no spend days and total expenses in a month, and I’m not sure why that is.

I’ve done so well cutting out the little fluff but it seems like there have been some bigger expenses each month (or a vacation). Perhaps this is just the cycle we’re in, or perhaps there’s something more going on. I’m not quite sure yet. I will continue tracking closely though, and watching where we spend our money. No matter what, we will save a whole lot more this way than if we just “spent less than we earned,” as we’ve learned from past experience.

More Hawaii – take me back

Looking Ahead

The best news is that March is a three paycheck month for both of us, as I mentioned, so it is an opportunity to really get ahead and get closer to that average fifty percent savings rate for the year. We also don’t have any large trip plans for the next few months, so our vacation spending should be lower as well.

Of course, there will be vet bills and home maintenance spending, but those we have less control over (other than doing the work ourselves, but we already plan to do that). Either way, both *should* be a manageable level of cost this year.

This is definitely one of those times when I’m glad that we have no desire to retire at the early end of when we might hit financial independence, because then I would be really frustrated that we haven’t been hitting that savings goal every month, even if there are good (as well as not so good) reasons for it.

If we were solely focused on hitting a specific number on a specific date in order to quit our jobs as soon as possible, we would make different decisions than we have recently. We might not have gone to Hawaii. We definitely wouldn’t have paid for all the awesome food we ate there, and we wouldn’t have attended the luau, which was one of the highlights of the trip for my grandmother.

I feel very strongly that we need to balance looking to the future along with enjoying and appreciate the days and years we have now, and I think the sprint to financial independence and early retirement can be very damaging if all that matters is that end goal. Financial security and eventual financial independence is extremely important to me for myriad ways, but so is living for today.

I just need to remind myself of that sometimes when the numbers don’t look as perfect as I’d like them to. We’ve made intentional decisions about our incomes and most of our spending (expect for maybe a bit too much on food, as always). If I look at our month and don’t see anything I’d change in a big way, then I think we’re doing it right.

Do you have a set “enough” number? How do you balance future versus present?

36 thoughts on “Monthly Financial Update: February 2019

  1. Like you, we spend a lot on food. It’s not so much on groceries but because we travel, especially my DH who can be on the road for months at a time, our restaurant expenses are really high. He tries hard but as he is a pescatarian, his meal choices tend to cost a bit more. It is what it is, but at times it ticks me off lol. I hear you on feeling like you fell a bit short with the 40% savings rate but the year isn’t done yet 😉

    1. The year is just getting started!! But hopefully that means we’ll halt this early and save more the rest of the year rather than backslide haha

      1. LOL on husband coming home from the store with Dungeness crab. But he also helped with making the homemade pizza last week, right? Sounds like a keeper to me. Add me to the chorus that says you’re being too hard on yourself with the spending rate. Maybe turn it around and instead of viewing it as needing to cut spending, ask if you’re getting the most value you can from the dollars you are spending. If you’re ok with it, then I say that’s what money is for.

      2. Hah, yeah at least sometimes we get the dungeness free from friends and family. Just not this time 😉

        And you’re right, he DID help with the pizzas. I guess I’ll keep him 🙂

  2. I think you did pretty well. 40% is really good. You’ll hit 50% in March, for sure. Those 3 paycheck months are awesome. 🙂
    Hawaii is pretty expensive. But it’s worth it, right?

    1. Hoping to hit closer to 65-70% in March! 🤞

      And Hawaii is absolutely worth it.

      1. I was going to say that even when you cook most meals in Hawaii, it’s pricey as can be. I can’t believe how expensive groceries are! But totally worth it. And I made it up for it by eating as many free guavas (picking them off the trees by the side of any road) as I could last time I was in Kauai.

      2. That’s very true! We did quite a bit of shopping at small, local markets as well, which was well more expensive than shopping at Walmart.

  3. It’s understandable that you feel disappointed for not having hit your goal for a few months in a row (I do and also feel the same in similar scenarios), but at the end of the day it’s just an arbitrary number right? I mean you said it yourself, if you were solely chasing FI as fast as possible you’d be doing things a lot differently than you are now. I’d even argue that forgoing these experiences is exactly the opposite of what FI is all about!!

    I think you said it best with your very last line, if you wouldn’t make any big changes to what you did, I would agree that you are doing things right 🙂

    1. Ha yeah, hitting 50% is totally arbitrary right now. I’m actually sitting on this point right now because it’s making me reconsider a lot of my feelings of “failure” in terms of savings rate. Hmm.

  4. I am one of those who has to cheer you on for hitting 40%. That is a big number.

    My wife and I waste the most on eating our. We both work more hours than those at work, and end up eating out or grabbing take out too often. Our son eats better than we do, and that has to change, but I digress.

    It sounds lime you are doing quite well.

    1. Yeah, our eating out number has definitely come down a lot from it’s peak, but it will shoot right up if I don’t keep an eye on it.

  5. Better to enjoy the life you’ve been given rather than end up in early retirement completely miserable. Also, Hawaii is beautiful and I’m jealous. I need to go for a real vacation there some day. I’ve been to Hawaii once for 3 days and one night (the plane “broke” on the way back from Guam lol). And finally, your gym costs are super low. I’m going to start going to a gymnastics based gym that’s $200 a month!!! I really want to work on my flexibility and they promise they can help me. I will be motivated to go to the gym with that cost hanging over my head!

    1. My gym cost is SUPER low. I started at my gym back in 2011 and it has gone through two ownership changes and so I’ve been grandfathered in at a realllly old rate. It’s awesome.

  6. You’re doing a great job with a 40% savings rate, even though I understand that you would rather hit your goals. Don’t focus too much on the numbers, I would 100% choose Hawaii any time! Honestly it’s my dream to go there!

    Also, I’ll be travelling this year September to November hopefully, so than I’d have to deal with no income and probably a negative savings rate. Let’s see what happens!

    1. Yeah, that’s a very good point. And since we don’t have any specific timeline goals, it doesn’t *really* matter too much one way or the other. I just have to keep reminding myself of that 🙂

  7. I’m still figuring out what kind of number to shoot for in a savings rate. For now I’m just defaulting to 50% and we’ll see how that goes for a few months.

    By the way, is the savings rate pre- or post-tax?

    1. Ha, gotta love this community where 50% is the default 😉 And I use post tax, because it gets too confusing otherwise. I figure sticking to one metric is the most important part so you can compare against yourself.

  8. Since you had a 40% savings rate in the shortest month of year and with three paychecks coming in March, you should get at least 50%. Oh and if you get around a 75% savings rate this month, you’re gonna have a 50% average for the year….come on Angela you can do it!!
    Hey is that a sushi boat restaurant? I love going to those, so much sushi to choose from!!

    1. Hah!! Don’t know that I can quite get to 75% even with three paychecks, but a girl can dream 😉

      and that restaurant is AA Sushi, just a local one around here.

  9. Considering all the graphs and charts and records I keep, it’s kind of funny that I have never actually calculated my savings rate. I’ve procrastinated so long that now I kind of don’t want to know, in case I find out I’m only doing like 15% or something…

    Just put in a vote for the women! Looks like your post is ahead!

  10. Thank you so much for sharing your numbers, ours are very similar! I hesitate to share mine, but do the percentages. Food costs are our Achilles heel too! Meal planning helps, but I also have a husband who likes to randomly buy expensive ingredients. Even thought they’re tasty, I bemoan the offlist shopping!

  11. I think you should cut yourself more slack. If your husband loves to eat Dungeness Crab then don’t hold him back from eating it on occasion. 50% may seem important, but I would argue it’s just a number and you are doing remarkably well saving anything close to that especially without super high incomes. The small expenditures on scrumptious food and relaxing vacations are just as important as a wad of cash in the bank. In fact, with money in the bank I can now safely say they may be more important!

    1. Haha oh yeah, I don’t complain TOO much about his expensive tastes or giant appetite, though he definitely is cause for more than his fare share of our food expenses 😉

      The only real reason I’m bemoaning our savings rate the last couple months is because I know us and how easy it would be to backslide, especially on food purchases.

    1. I haven’t gotten to plant ANYTHING yet this spring because of all this snow 😭

  12. My husband and I went to Hawaii for 16 days in January. We used our “miles” for the flight, mostly stayed in condos (by far our largest expense, averaged $250/night), and mostly ate in. One tip if you ever go again, Costco is incredible there! Same prices as Costco in Minneapolis. I couldn’t believe it. Gas was significantly lower there than others, like fifty cents a gallon. We are looking at exploring camping somewhat next time to make it more affordable because we like to escape MN winters.

    1. Yeah, somehow we’ve never made it to Costco yet. Our trips have only been a week long though, so the Costco bulk is a bit more difficult to do. I didn’t think about gas there though, that’s a great tip! And I hear you on escaping winter for a bit – for us it’s usually looking for the sun first and foremost haha

  13. When I scroll through the budget the one thing that stands out to me is alcohol. As a non drinker to me this is a big amount of money and based on your trend could go from $600-$1500/yr. What is the lifestyle or ROI benefit for such a large expense? Only curious and hoping to help on some reflection with this part of your month.

    1. Absolutely agree – much of that is my husband’s love of craft beer. He’s brewed his own in the past but maybe I need to nudge him into doing it more often. I used to blow quite a bit on nicer wines but I’ve forced myself to reset to the cheaper stuff 🙂

  14. I think you should cut yourself some slack 🙂 40% is still really good. Shoot for the moon and you’ll land amongst the stars! 🙂 Sushi dinner is good and therapeutic, it’s hard to skimp out on that. I might get some sushi for takeout tomorrow too!

    1. Ha, yeah, internal dialogue in my brain constantly these days 🙂 And sushi. Yum.

  15. Hi Angela,

    Living for today is just as important as planning for the future. You just never know what can happen:)

    I am back on monitoring our grocery cost more closely. After I finished my challenge last year, we pretty much went back to our old habits, and it ‘s not like we are eating better, we are just spending more!

    As far as pet cost, I am glad right now our cats and dog are healthy. A few years back I had sick pets and it can add up to a lot, mostly when they need constant visits to the vet. Unfortunately there not much you can do about it.

    Cheers. Caroline

    1. Amazing how that food part of the budget never wants to just sit down and behave! Ha.

      And one dog has some pricey meds and regular vet visits, but she is doing so well otherwise:)

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