How My Monthly Budget Looks in 2012

In , I went through my annual ritual of carrying around a notebook and keeping track of every time I spent money, so that I could try to come up with a realistic look at spending, with an eye to making sure it was sustainable under my deliberately-limited income.

You can find my results in my Picket Line entry, and if you want to compare this to previous years, you can see those reports in the following entries:

was a strange month in some ways, and I’ve since moved to a new home in a new city, so I didn’t feel confident I could trust the numbers. I repeated the experiment to try to get a better handle on things. Here is what I found:

CategoryDaily expense ()Monthly expense ()Daily expense ()Monthly expense ()
Total$51.30$1,612.89 $47.42$1,435.08
Food (groceries)$12.47$379.54$6.39$194.42
Cat stuff$2.82$85.70$4.08$124.12
Food (eating out)$0.35$10.62$1.62$49.16
Commercial beer/wine$5.26$160.06$3.26$99.28
Utilities & internet$0.93$20.76$4.22$126.60
California state taxes$1.39$42.42 $0.99$29.99

(The numbers may not all add up quite right due to rounding. Also, some expenses don’t represent my actual spending for the month, but my spending in the 30-day months of September and November increased slightly to account for the average 30.4-day month.)

Here’s how my current burn rate compares with past years (I’ve had to rejuggle the numbers a bit so that the categories remain the same from year to year; and in many past years I didn’t account for sales tax separately, which probably messes up the numbers a bit):

monthly totals
Monthly total$1,128.45$1,612.89$1,435.08
Yearly total$13,541$19,355$17,221
Food (groceries)$181.40$379.54$194.42
Food (eating out)$34.85$10.62$49.16
Internet (hosting) fees$16.08$7.53$7.53

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 started separating California state sales tax into its own line item, and I continued that this year, and combined that with my expected California income tax bill (I don’t resist my state tax, just as a matter of picking my battles).

A $17,221/year burn rate is sustainable given my current technique of staying below the tax line by keeping my adjustable gross income below $17,750. This is encouraging, as my accounting had put me on notice.

My rent has dropped by $75 per month, but that’s more than made up by a jump in my utilities (which were mostly paid by the landlord in my previous home, which also had more roomies to share expenses) of nearly $100. We’re investigating ways of lowering our utility bills, for instance by trying to get a smaller & cheaper set of trash bins (since we do our own composting), and by borrowing a kill-a-watt electricity usage monitor from the library to figure out which appliances are drawing the most juice.

I’m impressed at how much it costs to own a cat. was a little bit special because it was time for his annual feline leukemia and rabies booster shots, but much of the expense came from ordinary regular expenses like kitty litter and food. Perhaps I should look into cheaper alternatives to what is commercially available in these areas.

I was glad to see that my grocery bill dropped, and surprised at just how much. I really was paying a premium to shop for food at the Berkeley Bowl and at Berkeley farmers markets. The grocery stores and farmers markets in San Luis Obispo are much more reasonable.

My entire transportation budget was consumed in a single trip in a borrowed car to visit friends for Thanksgiving. That $51.99 was what it took to fill the tank and run the car through a carwash. Dang but gas is expensive these days.