How My Monthly Budget Looks in 2003

I decided to get more rigorous about my budget. I’d done some estimating before, but thought that in the interests of science I should document things more carefully. So I did something I’ve never done before and am not particularly eager to do again: I carried around a little notebook all month and made careful note of every time I spent money and how much I spent and what I spent it on.

I wanted to make sure I was actually living in my budget since I know how easy it is to spend semi-consciously or to justify “exceptional” expenses. I also wanted to be able to point to some real numbers in case anyone skeptically asks me if I’m really able to live comfortably on $15,000 a year in San Francisco. (According to this article in ’s San Francisco Chronicle, I shouldn’t be able to get by on any less than $27,781.)

So, to enlighten you, to amuse you, or to treat your insomnia, here are my results:

CategoryExpense% of totalNotes
Housing & Utilities40.7%A
Food & Drink25.9%
food (groceries)$149.9912.9%
food (prepared)$48.614.2%C
health insurance$231.2519.8%
cell phone$31.242.7%G
website hosting$12.611.1%H
magazine subs$3.500.3%I
or, $13,991 per year
Not included in this table: clothing (I didn’t buy any in , but expect to buy clothes from time to time), movies/plays/performances (I didn’t buy any tickets , but probably will in many months), taxes (I’m not paying federal income tax, and haven’t itemized excise and sales taxes), cool toys, gizmos, DVDs and the like (I didn’t buy any).
A:Some utility bill amounts are estimates based on past months’ values.
B:Yeah, I know. I could blame it on my flatmates, but I also like to watch, especially since both the Giants and Athletics are in the post-season.
C:Any food I got at a restaurant, burrito joint, etc.
D:More than I expected. When did I become such a boozehound?
E:Including the cost of coffee paraphernalia like half-and-half and coffee filters.
F:Gas for my carpool back from Burning Man, and local bus and subway fares; doesn’t include car insurance, vehicle registration, auto maintenance, parking fees, traffic tickets, bridge tolls, emissions tests, or any of those car-owner headaches, thank you very much
G:I’m stuck in a contract until the end of the year, alas, then I’m dropping it.
H:Keeping in business. I’ve split the yearly fee up over the year for this table.
I:The New Yorker and Harpers; worth it to me. I’ve divided the subscription cost up over the year.
J:A class textbook, a paperback, and postage charges to send my computer in for a repair estimate.

Thanks to the folks at for plugging The Picket Line on their site.