February 2017 Spending and New Habits Update

After our expensive year in 2016, we set ourselves a goal to reduce our spending by 10% in 2017. We want to do this because it has a double effect. Firstly, it frees up more money to invest for our future. Secondly, if we can live on less, then it brings that future much closer. In 2016, we spent $80,000. To generate that using passive income and the 4% rule, we would need $2,000,000 invested!

February was an extraordinary month, where routines and norms went out of the window. Each day was trying to cope with the increasingly unpleasant surprises that come with failing health. Real life stopped, including cooking and cleaning, and sticking to what is, in reality, an arbitrary budget. Worrying about spending on eating out meant nothing. If paying for parking at the hospital meant we could be in a single spot all day, then it was worth it not to have to constantly leave to try to fight for another parking spot in a 2 hour zone, on days that reached up to 45C.

Despite all of this, we still didn’t totally blow our budget this month. Even if we did, I wouldn’t have cared a whit. When the chips are down, the money is there to be spent on what is most important to us. In that terrible time, it was finding the easiest way to retain some semblance of normality. To me, that is all part of having a budget. Firstly, it gives us a buffer for when the unexpected happens. Secondly, it has/is building new ways of living that are becoming more and more easily maintained. We can recognise a deviation, but because it is a deviation, it doesn’t last as long and won’t have a huge effect over the long-term. Has it continued? No. We have slowly returned to our old ways and routines, in a strange new life where our family member isn’t here any more.

Daily Spending Rate

On to the numbers. Our daily spending rate goal was $194.34. In month, we spent $217.16. For the year, we have spent $172.10, so we are still within our goal, thanks to an excellent start in January.

Food $949.89

Our spending has increased in-year, however our spending for February 2017 ($950) was less than the equivalent in 2016 ($1,180).


(If you are unable to see the graph, you can view it on Tableau Public.)

Groceries

I am still loving Aldi. We came under budget for both need and want groceries, although I will confess to a blow-out this month. Much like alcohol, I used junk food as a crutch while we were dealing with stress. Overall, I’ve found it a lot easier to avoid snacks when shopping in Aldi. They are really only in a single aisle, which is across from the refrigerated section. This means I can easily just concentrate on the fridge, while totally ignoring the chocolate and biscuits and sweet things.

I have also realised that I can pop into Woolworths and buy marked down half-price meat. I then bring it home, portion and freeze it, and use that as the basis of my meal planning for the next week. For $16, I managed to pick up fillet steak, pork stir-fry pieces, and some turkey wings (have you seen those things?! They’re huuuuuuge!). I’ve never cooked them before, but I think I’ve found a good recipe, so we’ll see how we go.

Alcohol

The only category in food we exceeded was that of alcohol ($115 vs. $139 in 2016). Yes, we definitely drank more this month, occasionally as a way to escape, occasionally for socialisation. In March we need to get back into the habit of not having a drink on weeknights. I don’t think this will be too much of an issue.

4 YNAB Categories for Food in February

Eating Out

We just managed to stay within our budget, which I am proud of, considering we spent a whopping $695 in February 2017! We bought food at the hospital (blurgh, even the café food isn’t great), got takeaway on some nights when it was just all too much to handle, and took family members out for meals. I think this was balanced by Mr ETT not being at work, and so not buying lunch every day.

Graph of Eating Out Spending based on who spent what.

Insurance $119.60

Yes, this came out again. I know I said to hold me accountable for reviewing our life insurance, because we are paying for two policies. I need to take a pass for February, but it WILL be done in March!

Gifts and Giving $71.15 each

This month we donated to another of Mr. ETT’s choices, Cure Brain Cancer Foundation, and I bought another couple of issues of The Big Issue magazine (this is an excellent magazine, I highly recommend purchasing it if you come across a vendor). Last year we spent a lot on gifts for people who want for nothing, and shamefully little on giving to causes that want for a lot. This year we are matching charity donations to whatever was spent on gifts for that month. Mr. ETT and I each chose 6 charities independently, then we draw one out of a hat each month to determine who is the recipient. (Because we aren’t spending evenly throughout the year it felt fairest to randomise).

General

As mentioned in my last post, I had to pay the final installment of my tax bill in February, and the car repair turned out to be a lot more expensive than I was hoping for ($1,425). I think this had the biggest effect on our daily spending rate. Still, the replacement parts have a 5 year warranty on them, and that’s about how long I am hoping my car will last before I have to replace it. I also had my yearly visit to the dentist. I don’t know how LadyFIRE got away with $61 for a filling – mine charges $190 for a clean, scale and fluoride! She also wants me to come twice a year, but after not going at all for over 20 years and still having good teeth (I take care of them), this seems excessive to me.

February is also the renewal for our Post Office box. About 15 years ago, the kid next door was stealing our mail. He was doing it just for fun – he stopped when we picked him up on it. Despite that, we decided at the time to get a PO Box, especially because we used to do a lot of online shopping. We don’t do quite so much any more, but it is still valuable to have a safe place for parcels to be delivered.

A Golden Orb Weaver spider in her web.
No other appropriate pictures this month, so here’s a beautiful visitor to our garden – a Golden Orb Weaver spider.

Personal Goals

While I fall within the healthy body weight range, I actually weigh about 10% more than is normal for me, and I’m very unfit. Much like lifestyle inflation can negatively impact your financial future, succumbing to the dreaded middle-aged spread can impact your future health. At the end of last year, through some introspection, I identified that I ate too much. I ate because I was bored, stressed, or when something in the fridge or cupboard caught my eye. I couldn’t remember feeling hungry – I was constantly eating before my body had the chance to fully digest and process my last meal.
I decided to try to implement 3 small changes to habit:

No sugar in my morning coffee. Result A+

I’m no longer reporting on this one. The change has been extremely easy, and has already been adapted as my new normal.

Go for a walk before work one day a week. Result Fail

I’m also changing this to a Pass/Fail score – it’s pretty black and white. Either I did it, or I didn’t! I missed a week because sleep became more important than getting up early. It wasn’t only walking that was paused – I didn’t do any study or tidying or anything else I usually do. This isn’t a harsh, punitive fail, though. It’s just a fact. I’m re-reading Gretchen Rubin’s “Better Than Before – Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives”. As she explains,

When we do stumble, it’s important not to judge ourselves harshly. Although some people assume that strong feelings of guilt or shame act as safeguards to help people stick to good habits, the opposite is true. People who feel less guilt and who show compassion toward themselves in the face of failure are better able to regain self-control…

It was only a week, and I’m already back. I do confess to looking forward to a pass next month, though!

Eat less. Result B-

I’ve improved my score from last month, where my biggest issue was eating too much for dinner. I do still need to be more conscious of serving up less on my plate. It appears that I am a person who doesn’t like waste. I always want to clear my plate. Funnily enough, this doesn’t apply to eating out in cafes or restaurants – I am more than happy not to finish a meal out. This could be because they often serve so much food for a meal as to be ridiculous, or because I know I can get a doggy bag from a lot of restaurants, so the food doesn’t go to waste –  it just becomes a second meal.

I’ve also had a couple of days where I’ve woken up and still felt full. Remember being a teenager, when you woke up and the first and only thing on your mind was breakfast because the 12 hours between meals was just way too long? That’s what I want to get back to, at least a couple of days a week.

Well, for a very short month, February was expensive. I have a feeling that health insurance may be due in March. It could knock our daily spending rate out of the ballpark, even though we have the money sitting in the budget category. Have I been too ambitious? I hope not!

4 thoughts on “February 2017 Spending and New Habits Update

  1. mrspickypincher says:

    Isn’t it crazy how each month there’s something that throws your budget out of whack? I hateeee it. For us in February it was a surprise tax bill. It seems like something always comes up like that. Grrr.

    Is it possible to have Mr. ETT pack his lunch? That would save some moolah and decrease your monthly food costs. We used to spend $1,000/mo on takeout so it’s a real challenge to bring that number down when you’re used to eating out.

    I’ve been trying to up the ante with working out regularly, with mixed success. I also tend to overeat (beyond the point of being satisfied and full), so I like the challenge to be more mindful of eating habits.

    • Hi Mrs. Picky Pincher! Great to see you here.

      Mr. ETT is slowly, slowly working towards an alternative to eating out each day at lunch. Unfortunately, it isn’t just the convenience of not having to plan ahead – at his job, if he sits down to lunch in the tearoom, he will inevitably get at least 3 different people say “oh, I know you are at lunch, but…” Going to out lunch gives him an escape where he can have a proper break. I’m trying to work on getting him to put a stop to it by pointing out to people that he wants to relax. They are all reasonable, and wouldn’t mind, but Mr. ETT likes to be helpful, even to his own detriment.

      How are you working out? How much time does it take you?

  2. I remember back when my husband was in the hospital ICU-all spending restrictions went out the window. Hospital parking? Check. Horrible food in the hospital cafe? Check. Bad coffee? Check, check, and check (I practically lived off coffee). Looks like you had a good month overall, especially considering what happened. The good thing about having stable finances and working toward financial freedom is that a short bad time won’t be devastating. As I said the other day when I told the story about what happened to my husband, when things like this happen, you don’t want to be worrying about money.

    • Hi CMO,

      I have no idea where you got the mental fortitude to just keep going like you did (I had to stop reading your post half way through the other day, because it made me cry). We were really grateful that not only did we not have to worry about money, but we could make genuine offers to help family members if they needed it.

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