Sunday, May 10, 2015

April Spending Results

Last month, when Bankrate announced its "no-spend month" challenge, I announced in turn that I would be taking the challenge in a modified form. Instead of skipping all spending on everything other than "necessities" (defined as "gasoline, groceries, rent, utilities, etc.," with that "etc." left as an exercise for the reader), I planned to write down all my expenses and sort them into three categories: clear necessities, clear luxuries, and investment purchases. This last category is for all the things that I didn't absolutely need to buy, because I could survive without them, but that would save me money or otherwise make a clear improvement in my quality of life over the long run.

Now that April is over, I can announce the results of this experiment. I already disclosed my first week's expenses and the categories they fell into, but I think listing all my individual purchases for the whole month would get too tedious, so I'll just give the totals for each category, along with a bit of detail about what went into it.

Necessities: $2,550

Nearly two thirds of this was for our quarterly property taxes, which come due at the end of April. The rest included groceries, gas, personal care items (such as toothbrushes and all the skin care products I bought at the beginning of the month), the monthly premium for our pet insurance, and some basic maintenance for our car and our heating system.

It also included one item I was really annoyed about: a traffic ticket. On our way home from Morris dance practice on Thursday, we got pulled over by a police officer who explained, in the nicest possible way, that our car's registration was expired. This came as a shock to both of us, because we hadn't received any sort of notice from the Motor Vehicle Commission that our registration was up for renewal, and our inspection sticker was good until 2016. But when we checked the registration cards themselves, sure enough, they said that they were only good until February 2015. The cop obviously believed our story, because he said he was going to treat it as a minor violation that wouldn't put any points on Brian's license—but we still ended up paying $56 for the ticket, plus an extra $2 "convenience fee" to renew our registration online so that we wouldn't still be driving around with an expired one. Not to mention that it took me a couple of hours on the Web and on the phone figuring out how to renew it online, since the first thing it asks for is the confirmation code from your registration renewal form—which, of course, we didn't have.

Paying what Dave Ramsay calls "the stupid tax" is annoying enough when you're paying for your own stupidity—for example, if you get the notice to renew your car registration and forget to do it—but having to pay $58 for someone else's stupidity is really, really annoying. But on the whole, taking a whole day to go in to court and contest the ticket would probably have been even more annoying, especially if it didn't work. At least by paying the $58 up front, we could put the whole mess behind us. So I think it's fair to classify it as a necessary expenditure, even if it's one we shouldn't have had to pay.

Luxuries: $74.72

The biggest category here was food. We only ate one meal out (a lunch in Princeton that broke up our day of yard-saling), but we also frittered a way a dollar here and there on sweets: irresistibly priced candy on sale after Easter, a bun from the bakery, dessert and coffee at the Minstrel concert, ice cream with the Morris team after a performance. On top of that, we spent $12.83 on an unusual purchase for us: a bottle of wine from the Rite Aid. Over Christmas vacation, my brother- and sister-in-law had taken us to the New Day Craft Meadery, a place that makes and serves different varieties of cider and mead, and we'd liked some of them quite a bit, so when we spotted this bottle of "honey wine" at the Rite Aid, we decided to splurge. On the whole, though, we didn't like it as much as most of the meads we sampled at New Craft, nor even as much as the $6 port wine Brian buys from Trader Joe's. So this wasn't a particularly worthwhile luxury.

Another luxury category was entertainment. This wasn't a particularly big-ticket item: we spent $7.99 on our Hulu Plus subscription and also made two trips to the Minstrel. As volunteers, we didn't pay the $9 admission fee, but we put $10 each night into the creel as a tip for the performers. The rest of our luxury expenses were kind of miscellaneous: $5 for clothing items (pants from the thrift shop, a sweater and some shoes at a yard sale), $1 for the hurricane lampshade I used to make my cat-safe vase (which I'm pleased to say is still keeping the prying paws at bay), $2 for makeup (concealer, which is just about all I ever use), and $5 for a new cat toy. I debated whether to call that an investment purchase, but I decided since the cats had plenty of toys already, this one was definitely unnecessary. We mostly bought it out of curiosity to see how they respond to catnip. (Answer: quite favorably at first, but they quickly lose interest.)

Investments: $680.91

The bulk of this was for our monthly giving. I ended up classifying it as an investment purchase because it didn't really feel right to call a donation to Doctors Without Borders a necessity, but it clearly wasn't a luxury either. It may seem like a stretch to call it an investment, but not if you think of it as an investment in the future of the world as a whole, rather than just our personal lives.

The next biggest category was home improvement. We spent $130 on a new orbital sander and sandpaper, which Brian plans to use to refinish all the doors throughout the main floor of the house. (One down, nine to go.) This project produces a ridiculous amount of dust, so we also had to invest $6 in a new filter for our Shop-Vac. And we also spent around $4 on some carpet samples for our new DIY cat tree.

Aside from that, it was a little of this and a little of that: a phone we picked up at a yard sale to replace an old one that no longer rings, a bread knife from a yard sale that will serve for cutting bagels and other breads that won't fit in our fiddle-bow knife, a new battery for Brian's watch, his new corded beard trimmer (which we hope will last much longer than the cordless ones), and some cork strips to repair his clarinet. This isn't a necessity, because he doesn't have to play the clarinet in order to survive, but it doesn't quite seem like a luxury either, because our Morris team can't perform if Brian doesn't play the clarinet, and he can't continue to play it without fixing it. So it's not just Brian's hobby, but also my hobby—and my primary form of exercise—that's at stake. I think that's enough to qualify the purchase as an investment rather than a luxury. And anyway, it's only $6.50.

So overall, our spending breaks down as:

As I predicted, our spending on necessities and those hard-to-classify investment purchases dwarfed our spending on luxuries. But even more importantly, all the luxuries that we bought were items we considered carefully and deemed to be worth the price. We didn't have to go out for ice cream with the dance team or buy a bottle of wine, but we decided, upon reflection, that these little luxuries were worth splurging on. So I can say with confidence that while we treat ourselves to the occasional splurge, mindless spending—what the financial fast is designed to combat—is definitely not a problem for us.

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