I don’t budget, but I track expenses like a motherf*cker. I proudly present our 2020 spending breakdown.
A few notes, before we get started.
First off, I try to minimize my spending categories, so this post will lack some granularity. Sorry about that. I’m mostly looking for the big trends. I don’t care if a category with $400 of spending was 24% vet visits, or 14% shipping services. I need to capture and evaluate the big expenditure categories, because that’s all that matters to me at this point.
Also, I made some slight adjustments to certain costs, which are detailed in the breakdown. For instance, we house-hacked up until our move in December, and so I applied the rental income toward our mortgage line item. Also, we sold a ton of household goods during the year with the expectation that we’d use some of that money to buy back similar items in Virginia. By using these credits, I’m trying to realize the net effect of our transactions in 2020.
Without further ado, here’s our 2020 spending breakdown.
We spent just under $76,000 as a family of four in 2020. That sets a new record high for us, as we spent roughly $68,000 last year. When we look at the actual breakdown, though, we’re pretty much in trend with previous years. Outside of our core spending (housing, food, transportation, other essentials), the main costs were associated with childcare and medical bills. Essentially, the kids are draining our bank account. But that was part of the deal we entered into when we decided to procreate.
Let’s look at the details of our 2020 spending.
The Big 3
Whenever people in the personal finance realm talk about spending, they refer to The Big 3: Housing, Food, and Transportation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditures Survey, American households spend roughly $40,000, or 62% of their income, on these 3 categories in 2019. We spent $38,805 on these categories in 2020, which is just over 50% of our total spend.
Our housing expenditures were slightly higher in 2020 compared to prior years, for two reasons. First, we paid rent in addition to our mortgage for almost 2 months, as part of our move to Virginia. Second, our rental income on the Basement Bungalow was lower in 2020, coming in at $8,450. This is partly due to multiple COVID-induced rental disruptions, and partly because our last tenant moved on in October when we sold the house.
Our utilities were a bit higher than 2018-2019, because our solar generation system was down for 3 months while we waited for a part to be replaced. Also, our last tenant was an electricity hog who ran the air conditioner 24/7 for 2 months.
Maintenance costs were about average, coming in around 1% of the home’s value, which I think is normal. We fixed a number of plumbing, electrical, and cosmetic issues with the house in preparation for selling.
Our food spending was pretty consistent with previous years. Our grocery spending was a bit higher ($450/month vs ~$350/month in 2019). This was probably some combination of having an additional mouth to feed, and a clear increase in some food costs caused by the pandemic. Also, we lost power 3 times in August, which caused us to lose a bunch of food.
Our spending on restaurants (once a week take-out) was exactly the same as last year.
Check out my Food Manual for more information on how we keep our food spending down.
Our cars are 4 and 7 years old, respectively. They’ve been paid off for years.
I drive approximately 7,000 miles per year, and Mrs. BF drives a bit more due to a longer commute. I no longer have a commute, but I’ll probably take a few trips up to CT this year, so I expect my mileage will stay the same.
Mrs. BF’s car came up for some major service in November, which accounts for the higher maintenance costs. Our “Parts/Service” line item is normally ~$500 per year.
Childcare and Medical Costs
We spent $19,065 on childcare in 2020. This includes roughly 4 months of the kids staying home during the pandemic / Mrs. BF’s maternity leave. Our full year run rate would have been ~$25,000, and it’ll be even more in 2021 now that we need full-time child care.
In addition, almost 100% of our medical costs ($4,258) were associated with the birth of our son in February. I guess that’s just the price you pay for children these days.
If you add in the roughly $800 spent on diapers, wipes, and at least another $300 on clothes, bottles and other peripherals, we spent close to $35,000 directly on child costs this year, which represents roughly 45% of our total 2020 spending. Holy crap, that’s a lot!
The good news- we don’t plan on purchasing any more new babies from the hospital, and the childcare expenses are temporary. I look at our childcare costs as roughly $60,000 per child, spread over 5 years. And if we end up becoming a single income family, we’ll immediately reduce these expenses significantly.
Shopping / Misc. Spending
This category includes all expenditures that I deem necessary in our household. The consumables include toiletries, cleaning supplies, chicken/dog food, diapers, wipes, and anything else that registers as a recurring purchase.
The durables include furniture, electronics, appliances, toys, or other permanent fixtures of our house.
These costs are mostly in line with previous years. They’ll go down a bit once we stop buying baby stuff likes diapers, but the cost will probably just shift to other kid stuff. Did I mention that kids are expensive?
My discretionary category covers everything that we don’t need, but we buy because we like it.
If you’re still following along, you just found my one vice: alcohol. We spend a lot of money on beer (and wine for Mrs. BF). Am I an alcoholic? Maybe, according to some definitions. But enjoying fancy beers is part of my persona. And craft beer ain’t cheap: a lot of the 4-packs I buy can cost $15+ each. It’s that one category where I don’t feel spending guilt.
Our entertainment budget collapsed this year: no partying with friends, no drinking after softball games, and no concerts.
Within the “Misc. goods” line item would be a few major tech purchases. First, I finally replaced my 2010 iMac with a new MacBook Air, and added a second monitor for my remote work. That totaled out to approximately $1,100. I also bought some new bone conduction headphones, which are awesome. I wish I had bought them long ago.
You know I’m obsessed with cutting subscriptions; so how did I spend $1,285 on this category? Here’s how:
- Streaming (Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max) – $461
- Reading (Audible, Kindle, Digital Newspaper Subscriptions) – $337
- Memberships (Amazon Prime, Costco, mlb.TV) – $225
- Music (Spotify) – $191
I don’t think I got my worth out of the streaming services, considering I turn on the TV once a week normally. I did enjoy watching Ozark and Fargo, though.
I’ve got no qualms about spending $300 on reading. Even if I can glean just one nugget of wisdom from a book, it’s worth it. I use the library and associated sources (Libby, Hoopla) for most of the books I read, but sometimes they’re just not available, especially newer titles.
Our travel budget, much like our entertainment budget, went to shit with the explosion of the Coronavirus. In all reality, we weren’t going to travel too much this year with a newborn, anyway. But we probably would have rented a couple houses in the woods or near the beach to party with friends. Maybe in 2021… or 2022.
You may have noticed that I omitted moving costs. Well, I did, and here’s why. We spent $2,025 on moving-related goods, and $2,983 on moving-related services at the end of 2020. However, we sold over $5,000 worth of possessions during the year, so I think that more than covers the furniture and household items we re-purchased in Virginia. Likewise, I’m offsetting the moving services (UPack pods + car rental) with the $5,000 relocation bonus that Mrs. BF received as part of her new job. That makes sense, I think.
Summary, 2021 Outlook
Well that basically sums up our 2020 spending. As stated at the beginning, we don’t budget in any meaningful way. However, I do track everything we spend on, and use this information to adjust our habits to make sure they align with our goals.
If there’s one thing I learned this year, it’s this: stop sweating the small stuff.
It sometimes takes me months of agonizing over a decision before buying something, like the headphones I mentioned. They cost $125, which is 0.16% of our 2020 spending, and 0.010% of our net worth. And I absolutely love them, and use them every day. Live a little, Adam!
How did your 2020 spending pan out? Were you way over budget, or under budget? Or, fuck budgets? Let me know in the comments.