If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may remember back in 2017 and early 2018, I used to work with a financial planner at LearnVest and during that time, used their money tracking software pretty religiously. Since I knew where every dollar was going, it was pretty easy for me to write a post about how I spent my money in 2017. Shortly after I wrote that post, I stopped using LearnVest and instead just practiced their budgeting philosophies on my own. After stopping LearnVest, since I didn’t have a budgeting app I was using regularly, I lacked a good way to track how I spent my money other than manually coding everything. So last year, I didn’t write a similar post recapping how I spent my money in 2018—I love the blog, but hand coding hundreds of transactions didn’t exactly scream “fun times” to me.
A week or so ago, I was reviewing my recent credit card charges and had a notification saying that my year-end spending report was ready. Other than rent, I put 99.9% of my expenses on a credit card, so this report made it really easy for me to see where my money went in 2019. To round out my full financial picture, I calculated how much I spent on rent and how much money I saved, and then calculated the percentage I spent in each category, which you’ll see below.
Looking at where I spent the majority of my money last year—rent, savings, travel, food + drink—was not a surprise to me at all, and I consider that to be a good thing since it means I have pretty good self awareness when it comes to my finances. I am sure my financial priorities will change over time, but for where I am at right now with a very “lock and leave” lifestyle, I’m happy to spend my money on traveling to new places and enjoying good food and drink with friends (and not cooking for one, hah!). One thing I have really tried to double down on the past couple of years is saving—I’ve slowly increased my 401(K) contributions, take advantage of the company stock plan, and squirrel away money into my emergency savings fund. I am really good at spending money, so saving is something I really have to work at—but I know it will pay off in the long run, and since I have a ~lifestyle~ I love, I want to make sure I can afford such luxuries in the retirement home one day.
Before we dive in, I want to disclaim that I am not financial planner or expert, and I’m simply sharing the below since I thought it would be an interesting read. I have a financial planner who helps me manage my money, and I’d totally recommend finding one to help you, too! You don’t have to be rich, own a home, or even make a ton of money to meet with one, and they can help you be so much smarter about your money. So with that said, here’s how I spent my money in 2019:
I spent a lot of money on rent and while I love living alone, I’d say that if you have a good thing going with a roommate, definitely stick it out for as long as you can—it’s a great way to save money! (I had a realization the other day that the rent I pay now is $300 more than what my first roommate out of college and I paid for our entire rent.) Hopefully one day I’ll have someone to split the rent with again—and I look forward to those days because I’ll be able to save so much money (!!!)—but for now, I am really happy with where I live (you can see my apartment here!), am willing to pay a premium to live in a great neighborhood with easy Metro access, and, at this point in my life, wouldn’t want to live with a random roommate unless I fell on hard times.
My current lease is up in October and I’ve been thinking about if I’d want to move somewhere a little bit cheaper to save money on rent—and this is something I plan to chat with my financial advisor about when I see her. However, I do love where I live, moving is expensive and such a pain, and my building didn’t raise my rent that much when I re-signed my lease this past time—so I am optimistic they won’t do so this time. We’ll see where my head is at closer to time!
In 2019, I really focused on contributing to my savings, and prioritized growing my 401(K) contributions and my emergency savings fund so that I’m both set up for retirement and any situations where I might need to be more liquid. I was listening to a podcast recently, and the guest said if you’re having a hard time saving for the future (instant gratification is so hard to fight!), name your future self, make her a character in your held, and save for her—I loved that tip so wanted to pass it along.
If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I was shocked at how much money I spent on Amazon last year! But, when I put it in the context of my larger budget, I felt a lot better about my Amazon spending habits. I never buy super expensive things on Amazon, it’s always a $3 movie rental here, a $15 book there. (Though I do save a ton of money each year on books by using the library!) So, I think what I realized, even though I did rationally know this, is that the little impulse Amazon purchases really do add up and that’s something I want to be more conscious of this year.
I will also be curious how my Amazon shopping fluctuates YoY since in 2019, I was planning an engagement party and a bachelorette party, both of which lend themselves to lots of Amazon purchases! I don’t have the responsibility of hosting either type of party this year, so I’d hypothesize my Amazon spending in 2020 might be less.
Within this health + wellness section, I counted everything relating to my physical or mental well-being: Soul Cycle, Orangetheory, other workout classes, doctor’s office co-pays, my emergency root canal (CRYING about that one still!), CVS/other pharmacy purchases—that type of thing.
It’s no secret I love group exercise classes, and it’s also no secret those can be expensive; a single Soul Cycle class sets me back just under $35. Other than my root canal, my Soul Cycle habit was the largest contributor to this section of my budget. I love Soul Cycle though and I’m willing (and in a place where I am able) to pay a premium to do it, so I’ve just accepted that it is what it is. I also could easily burn through $35 at a single happy hour and hitting the road is a lot healthier—plus, you know what they say, preventative medicine is always cheaper!
In a shock to ABSOLUTELY NO ONE—see evidence of an empty fridge here—I don’t spend a ton of money on groceries. I would wager a guess that the bulk of my grocery budget is liquids—wine, La Croix, diet soda—condiments, fruit to have on-hand for snacks, and Trader Joe’s frozen foods or grab-and-go options. In 2019, I can think of maybe 10-12 times when I cooked a full meal at home. Once you see the portion of my budget I spent on food + drink, this category might make a lot more sense.
I’m lucky because my rent also includes all utilities—water, electricity, trash. So, the only real bills I have are for my cell phone and Internet. (You may remember I cut cable when I moved to Dupont Circle and have absolutely no regrets.) There’s nothing too exciting to say here—both are necessary and things I use every day!
The one piece of advice I will give about this category of my budget is that when my Internet bill increased this year, I called Verizon and asked if there was anything they could do for me. I was really, really nice to the customer service rep, and he found me a deal that was $22 less than what I was paying before and he was able to lock it in for me for two years, which will save me over $500!
Entertainment spend includes concerts, theater tickets, sporting event tickets—things like that. I only went to a handful of concerts last year—Maren Morris and Chase Rice stand out!—and they were all really cheap, so this wasn’t a huge budget suck for me at all. I really do value experiences over things, but tend to spend more on travel and food than entertainment.
I eat out a lot, so it’s no surprise that food and drink charges are a big portion of my budget. This category includes dinners and happy hours out with friends, lunch at work (I buy lunch everyday—but my office has an amazing cafeteria with really discounted prices!), and my fast casual favorites like Chop’t, Sweetgreen, Chipotle, Cava—all of the meals I usually grab after an exercise class when I don’t have plans with friends.
I love a home cooked meal, and know they are better for the budget and waistline. But right now, cooking at home isn’t a huge priority for me. After work, I either get dinner with friends or work out. If I work out, by the time I get out of class, it’s 7:30pm and I am starving—I certainly don’t want to wait 20-30 more minutes to eat, so grabbing a salad just works for me. I also find cooking for one really hard; I don’t mind leftovers for a meal or two, but after that, it gets really old.
I’m really proud of myself this year on the shopping front—I didn’t buy many new items for my apartment since I feel like it’s “finished” (when I lived in Arlington, I had so much space that apartment decor was a big budget suck for me!) and whenever I bought clothes, shoes, or accessories, I was very discerning and only kept items I truly loved and felt good in. I have a really small apartment—about 350SF!—and not having a lot of space to store extra stuff also really helps me only keep things if I really love them.
Other than rent and savings, travel is where I spent most of my money last year—and I have no regrets! I went to some amazing places: Austin, Chicago, Virginia’s Northern Neck, The Homestead, Quebec City, Los Angeles, Nashville, Natchez, Oxford, Birmingham, and Atlanta—on top of many work trips. I mentioned in my post about 2020 goals, but this year, I would love to be more intentional with how I travel—like taking fewer, longer trips so I can really get a break from work. So far this year, I have trips booked to Vegas and Europe, and I’m feeling great about what the rest of the year might hold. I’m not sure if I will necessarily spend less money on travel this year, but I am hoping to get a little bit smarter about how I travel.
Hopefully this post was interesting to read—it was really fun to pull everything together. Here’s to health and wealth in 2020! x