How My Monthly Budget Looks in 2010

In each year of my tax resistance project I have, for one month, made note of every time I have spent money. I’ve then combined this with a record of my bill-paying from home and of any yearly expenses that didn’t come directly to my attention during the month in order to create an estimate of my budget.

In the Picket Line archives, you can see my results for , , , , , and . Last year I didn’t get around to doing my monthly accounting until , which is unfortunate, since December is usually an atypical month spending-wise (alas, the whole last half of was full of atypical spending months for me this year).

When I originally posted this entry, I used incorrect numbers (I had counted some items that my sweetie and I had paid for jointly as items that I paid for myself, and so double-charged myself for the expenses). I have corrected some of these numbers in the text that follows.

What I found this year is that, if I were to extrapolate from my spending in , I would have to earn about $46.54 $43.08 in potentially-taxable income each day in order to maintain my lifestyle:

CategoryDaily expense
Total$46.54 $43.08
Food (groceries)$9.10 $6.86
Food (eating out)$0.28
Coffee/tea/beer/wine/booze$4.37 $3.52
Utilities$1.16 $0.96
Internet fees$0.96
Cat stuff$0.34
Miscellany$12.66 $12.48

Here’s how this compares to years past (I’ve had to rejuggle the numbers a bit so that the categories remain the same from year to year):

monthly totals
Monthly total$1,015.72$1,399.84 $1,296.22
Yearly total$12,189$16,798 $15,555
Food (groceries)$152.03$271.83 $204.99
Food (eating out)$37.97$8.30
Coffee/tea/beer/wine/booze$85.42$130.66 $105.26
Utilities$56.39$34.59 $28.70
Internet fees$13.27$28.64
Miscellany$138.04$388.58 $383.09

Not included in any of the above totals were any business expenses (since I write these off against my business income), my health insurance premium (which, as a self-employed person, I can also write off), or any medical expenses that I paid for from my pre-tax Health Savings Account. I also didn’t include any used book exchanges (where I came out ahead a little this month), or birthday gifts I received. Some items this month we purchased with gift cards, but I treated these as though they had come out of our common household funds rather than as “free” money (this also explains some of our larger booze budget — bottom-shelf wine from Trader Joe’s), which may not be fair because these gift cards don’t threaten to be taxable income. I didn’t try to separate out California state sales tax and other taxes into its own line item, so there’s a lot of state tax in the “Miscellany,” “Utilities,” and beverages-of-vice lines.

The trouble with doing this accounting for only a single month and then trying to extrapolate to the whole year is that no month is a typical month. There are always some months in which big expenses come up, and other months in which garden harvests or freecycle booty or unexpected gifts reduce expenses. Some months, it seems like everything in the pantry needs re-stocking, other months I can coast on what we’ve got.

My big-ticket discretionary spending items this month were a $28 drivers license renewal fee, a $40 YMCA gym membership, a $13 Netflix membership, and $70 I spent on Christmas presents. I’m not real big on the whole gift-exchange extravaganza, and some years I manage to mostly avoid it, but this year I got caught. We also went out-of-town for Christmas, and had gas and bridge toll expenses from that, though overall my transportation costs were surprisingly low this month, especially considering that bus fare went up by a third again this year.

We’re now getting most of our food from two community-supported agriculture groups, one that specializes in veggies and the other that specializes in meat. The meat costs us $86 per month, which gets us five pounds of assorted sausages, four pounds of roasts, and five pounds of ground meat — more than $6 per pound. The veggies cost us $17–$21.50 per month depending on whether or not we order eggs, and represent a pick-your-own style basket of produce that changes from month to month but costs more than double what I would pay for quantitatively-equivalent, but lower-quality produce at the corner market. This extra expanse has increased our food bill substantially. I think I’m going to have to work on some strategies for stretching our food dollar a little better.

The coffee & booze line fluctuates a lot from month to month. I was out of town a lot this summer and so didn’t have time to supervise a homebrewing cycle. In I brewed a pale ale, an amber, and a stout. But none of these were ready to drink until late last month, so we mostly had store-bought beer in December. I also started several gallons of hard cider this month. So the last couple of months have had a lot more expenses in this area than the coming months will, when we can just coast on the bottles of homebrew for a while.

We bought more than our usual share of household items this month: a cast-iron skillet, a pyrex measuring cup, blackout candles, a soap dispenser, an audio cable, and a toilet-paper holder. This year we purchased health insurance for our cat, which strikes me as a kind of ridiculous thing for a self-professed frugalist to say, but there you have it.

The gist of all this is that if you take as a typical spending month, I’m no longer still spending at a sustainable burn rate at an under-the-tax-line income (I’d be spending about $1,000 per year too much but with less than $500 per year in wiggle room). Ideally, I’d like to be substantially below substantially below this limit in order to squirrel money away for emergencies, vacations, and the like.

That said, as I mentioned before, December wasn’t a very typical month, and so I don’t feel all that confident in extrapolating from it. I do have the feeling that my spending has gotten too high, though, and I do plan to look for ways to cut back.