Here’s the thing. When I decided we should track our spending last month, I thought it was just to smooth out any rough edges, find anything we might be paying too much for. But it turns out our spending habits are terrible, and not at all what you’d expect from someone from blogs about being sensible with money (among other things). We actually have more going out than coming in! Net result just now: a goal we expect to cost €800 (and which is a bit too private to mention here) is out of our reach, even though several times that amount hits our bank accounts every single month.
According to the file we made to track our spending (we used Excel, nothing fancy), the splurging falls into two categories. The first is “food”, and the second is “other”, which in this case is hiding a multitude of sins.
One easy problem…
Our high food costs did surprise me, because I thought we had this nut pretty much cracked. We cook proper meals from scratch, we don’t buy ready meals or desserts and we don’t each eat much meat. We use our local market and one independent shop as well as the supermarket. On the other hand, we buy plenty of fresh stuff and fish, plus we try to buy ethically (free-range eggs and so on). That costs a bit more, but it’s not something we want to compromise on. So what do we do?
Despite my initial shock, it seems we’ve actually found the solution already. We can buy fruit, veg and dry things like rice at the market and the independent shop, which is where we prefer to buy them anyway. This is a convenience trade-off: it’s so much easier to nip to the supermarket, which is always open and on our doorstep, than to plan in advance and remember to buy things when the other places are open. If we do plan, though, it leaves a lot less to be bought at the supermarket, where the prices are slightly higher.
…and one hard one
So that leaves us with “other”. This was more than a third of our total spending for the month! Obviously it didn’t include any of the essentials: rent, food, bills, toiletries and even eating out had their own entries. To be fair to us, it wasn’t all ridiculous spending, and we did have some unusual costs in October (the month we tracked): a 2015 calendar, a wedding present for a colleague and a couple of things, like tango lessons, that covered more than one month. These weren’t essential, strictly speaking, but they’re hardly unreasonable and they only account for a small fraction of what we spent anyway. In general it’s hard to see what we’ve got to show for spending so much, and worse still this is probably the cheapest stage of our lives for the foreseeable future because we don’t have a mortgage or children yet.
Of course, every cloud has a silver lining: if we can get a grip on ourselves, we’ll be able to put away a pretty impressive sum every month, or at least impressive considering I’m a student. Our basic problem is we’re both used to spending without thinking about it – not so bad if you’re in your 20s and working full-time with no immediate plans to settle down, but pretty daft if you’re us.
At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old woman, we used not to buy new stuff all the time. If you wanted something, you saved up for it, or you waited until you got presents on your birthday or at Christmas. Why not do that now too? That would save plenty, and the anticipation would make us appreciate the items when we got them, instead of getting jaded by all that instant gratification.
Easier said than done, though. How do you get that mindset back once you’re used to spoiling yourself with constant purchases? After all, it’s not as if we all had some magical reserve of self-control back then: we just had less disposable income, so we couldn’t spend constantly. These days we can probably find the money for a medium-sized purchase if we really want to, so why wait? It’s not even a saving if it’s something you plan to buy later anyway. Where do you draw the line between something non-essential but useful and a frippery anyway? And no less importantly, how do you encourage people to think twice about splurging without putting strain on relationships?
This one’s still a work in progress.