If you can believe it, I've been blogging for almost six years now. As a financial educator, writing these words on the internet might mean that I could be banned from the "financial educators club", but the fact of the matter is that for almost a year now I've struggled with tracking ALL my expenses, all the time. Maybe you're like me, tired of tracking every penny on an excel spreadsheet, ever changing phone app or maybe you have never tracked expenses at all, but let's discuss the two things I do track.
No matter what, I always track our food expenses. Groceries in our house always tend to be the same, but expenses like going out to eat, and even fast food tend to rack up faster than any other purchases. While this is usually the most tedious part of my spending plan, tracking it helps me keep our budget in check, and it makes me feel better about our overall spending! Food is typically the second or third largest expenditure for most Americans. We need food to live, but being smart about the financial choices we make with food expenses is important too!
According to some research done by the USDA, "Food Purchase Decisions of Millennial Households Compared to Other Generations" – Of all generations Millennials are spending the least money on food at home and have the largest expenditures for prepared foods, pasta and sugar/sweets. In this study, millennials eat outside the home, approximately 2.8 more meals than Traditionalists (born before 1946). With all this eating out, making sure I track our restaurant and fast food purchases helps keep my budget/spending in check.
This reminds me of SpongeBob SquarePants' song F.U.N. Doing fun things with my family is anything that I don't do regularly, but costs money, so they go into this "fun" category. Now, if you are slightly obsessive compulsive like me, this "fun" is sorted into multiple categories that I track. Fun, if not kept in check, could blow up my budget. For example, now that my son is getting older, it's been exciting to let him try new experiences. Experiences like going to the movies, driving to the beach, and even bowling! USA Today recently published an article that claims Americans spend $18,000/year on "nonessentials". If these "nonessentials" are tracked and you keep a balanced budget, most of these are generally reasonable expenses.
Fun and Food are the two things in my spending plan that I do track because they fluctuate a lot. In the summer months, it's easier to do "free" fun things than in the winter, plus food costs change depending on what's in/out of season. Also, can we say, farmer's markets!
While I do keep an eye on my other regular monthly expenses, nothing ever really surprises me anymore. For the first time in my life, I don't have a life transition that dramatically changes my expenses. While I still may get kicked out of the "financial educators club" – it's nice not to have to track every penny for a change, at least for the time being.