A Look Inside Our Monthly Budget

Last week, a reader asked if we would be willing to share the details of our 2018 budget. Sure, I have no problem with that. We’ve shared our budget several times over the years as we’ve worked toward various goals. With that being said though, every budget is unique to the lifestyle and income of the individual or couple and ours is no exception. As you read this post, please keep in mind that the financial choices we have made, may not be right for you (and vice versa).

A few years ago, I read an article called “The 50/20/30 Rule for Minimalist Budgeting”. At first, I was excited. I thought I’d finally found a definitive guide to help me – a minimalist – create the perfect budget. Believe me, I tried to follow the rules:

  • 50% of your income for essentials
  • 20% to savings
  • 30% to personal

It wasn’t long though before I realized this budget did not fit our lifestyle. Don’t get me wrong, the 50/20/30 rule is a great guideline. I highly recommend starting with these percentages if you are new to budgeting or are having trouble getting your discretionary spending under control. For us though, 30% of our income seemed a rather large chunk to allocate to personal choices, even with our love of travel and fancy dark roast coffee beans included.

Trying the 50/20/30 rule led us to an eye-opening discovery though. We found that we could successfully live off approximately 65% of our (then) income, without compromising our savings or our personal goals. This was all the permission we needed to spend less time working.

Today, we are a single-part-time-income couple (with a cat). After taxes, insurance, and other standard deductions, we will bring home $29,778.72 this year (not including any proceeds from side hustles).  Our current budget is based on this income and follows more of a 72/18/10 rule:

  • 72% of our income is spent on essentials (rent, utilities, insurance, groceries and gas)
  • 18% is directed to savings, investments, and charitable giving
  • 10% is spent on fun (Netflix, baseball games, movie nights, etc. and funding our travel account)

Our monthly budget looks something like this:

Here are a few things to note.

  • Rent is our single biggest expense and that’s not likely to change this year. We’ve accepted that in order to have a safe place to live within a reasonable distance of my mother’s house (we moved here to care for her), we have to pay a higher rent. Believe it or not, this is the mid-range rent for our area. Other apartments start at $1079 and up for a one-bedroom. Who knows what next year will bring though!
  • I have 5 payments left on my last student loan. Woo-hoo!!
  • This budget shows a “zero sum” but sometimes we have a carryover balance between $40 – $160, depending on our actual electric bill and our flexible spending categories (gas, groceries, entertainment, and cash). It is a rare month that we actually spend $80 on entertainment since most of our favorite pastimes are either free or cheap. Any money left at the end of the month is allocated to general savings.
  • Side hustle income is not counted in our budget because we don’t always want to work a side hustle. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s a hassle. When we are saving for a specific goal, like a vacation, we hustle, but only up to the point in which we reach our goal. Our side hustle income has been about $4,000 so far this year, which is unusual for us, but it has allowed us to cover some unexpected expenses, like vet bills.
  • We use an American Express Bluebird card for groceries and household spending. This is a prepaid debit card that you can pick up at Walmart for $5. There are no annual fees or usage fees. We have $250 debited from our main checking account to the Bluebird account on the 15th of every month. This has been extremely helpful to us in staying within our grocery budget.
  • Our non-IRA investments include $5 per week in micro investing via Stash. Stash allows you to purchase stocks and ETFs (exchange traded funds) in increments of just $5 or more. Since 2016, we’ve earned a little over $110 on our micro investments (plus we’ve learned a lot about investing in general by reading their weekly tips).

For better or worse, this is the budget we created for the year and the one we are trying to stick to. It’s subject to change at any time though, as we’re always challenging ourselves to find new ways to live with even less.

1st Quarter Progress Toward a Better Me

The first quarter of this year is almost in the books, and though Spring is officially “sprung” and the Redbud trees outside our apartment are in full bloom, I still find it hard to believe we are already on the cusp of April. I’d ask the age old question “where does time go?” but I already know the answer. Time, like money, goes exactly where you spend it.

Though the fickle weather kept us indoors more often than we wanted, I’d like to think that we spent the first 3 months of this year at least somewhat wisely. Our goal toward being a “better me” was to Live simply. Prove that we can live a happy, healthy, and prosperous life with less. To do that, we came up with a few objectives. Here’s how we progressed this quarter:

  • Set a budget and stick to it. Strive for no unplanned spending.
    • We received $2,195 in extra (unexpected) income in February so we had to adjust our original budget a bit. This income excludes side hustles, which we won’t see any profit from until April. The largest portion came from our tax refund, but another part was a surprise gift. Of this amount, $1,385 went directly to savings and retirement. The remainder paid for our annual CSA subscription ($295), a new tent ($192), and a trip to the Smoky Mountains.
    • We had four unplanned purchases: a mini greenhouse at Tractor Supply that was marked down to $11.99, $26.22 in personal care items from God’s Green Earth, $14 in gifts, and $11.44 for a lamp (needed, but still unplanned) and cake pan (for my Mom) at Goodwill.
    • In February, we added a charitable giving category to our budget. For every month that we come in under our $250 grocery budget, we’re giving the remainder to one of 3 food-related charities in our area: Society of St. Andrew, Nashville Food Project, or Presbyterian Mission. So far, we have donated a total of $40.60.
  • Buy used when possible.
    • We gave it our best shot when sourcing supplies for our rain barrel project but sadly, we couldn’t find any used gutters at the Habitat Re-Store. We did purchase our bedroom lamp at Goodwill  for $4.99.
  • Eat a mostly plant-based diet, with no more than 10% of meals containing meat.
    • We had 65 completely meatless days (out of 90) or 244 meatless meals. We prepared only 2 meals at home that contained meat (actually seafood). The remaining meats that were consumed were at dinners hosted by my Mom. In total 9% of our meals contained meat.
  • Do something active 3 times a week.
    • Depending on how liberal the definition of “active”, we may or may not have met this goal. When it was too cold to play outside in January, I knitted 3 hats. That’s active, right? Angie, of course, continued to work out several times a week. Together, we went on a couple of hikes, a few walks outside, and a whole lot of walks inside buildings (did you know you can easily walk 2 miles or more inside Walmart while doing side hustles??). We played on the gym equipment at the park once. And we’ve worked in the yard/garden at least twice a week since mid-February. As the weather improves, so will our achievement of this goal (or at least that’s the plan).

Food Waste Update

No food finds this week. Our dumpster is now hidden behind a construction fence and we don’t really want to be caught snooping around behind it. I can’t imagine trying to explain to the police that we’re only interested in the oranges, not the stacks of expensive materials and construction equipment lying about. 

  • Wasted Food this week: 0 ounces
  • Total Wasted Food in 2018: 50 ounces
  • Rescued Food this week:   0 US pounds
  • Total Food Rescued this year:  184.39 US pounds

Keep up with our food finds in real time by viewing our Food Find Gallery.