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The Max Out of Pocket crew had a pretty fun 2019; fun that is reflected in our 2019 expenses. That’s okay though, we are willing to spend some serious cash on the things we enjoy.
I suppose some people might look at this and say we are slumming it in a dark dungeon of frugal deprivation. While others will see the same information and think we might have a spending problem. Max on the other hand? I am completely happy where things are. I am really only sharing these numbers to try and benefit those lost in one of those mirror mazes with no idea where they stand.
I mentioned this a few times already, but these days, I have been a bit lax keeping up with our expense tracking. Until this last weekend, I hadn’t even looked at our credit card detail in well over four months. When everything is set to auto-pay the full balance every month, it is easy to get a bit lazy. But it can also cause us to overlook companies like Netflix or Spectrum sneaking in little price increases without us noticing.
I don’t play the credit card games like a lot of other people do. We keep everything on a single credit card that gives us 2% cashback on all purchases. This cashback is already baked into the pricing of a lot of the goods and services I pay for, so I don’t really see it as a “pick-up” financially. The nice thing about having one credit card is I can pretty easily download the entire transaction history, categorize it, and pivot everything over into a nice summary.
So what’s the damage? In 2019, the Max Out of Pocket crew saw $51,436 leave our pockets.
Coming in at a nice even $12,000, housing represents about 23% of our 2019 annual spending.
$1,000/month rent X 12 months = $12,000
We sold our house down south when we moved to New England and have been renting ever since. We have been in the same house for 3 years with no rent increases. It’s a nice little two-bedroom in close proximity to the ski slopes and all we really need at this point. There isn’t much room for optimization here. We are in an extremely competitive market that is distorted by vacation rentals.
We could pay cash for a decent house that would suit our needs. The house we are in is probably worth $150,000 on the high end. If I bought this house (or one like it) outright, the opportunity cost of having that equity in the house would have been $45,000 in 2019 alone. That’s because the S&P put up a freak 30% gain in 2019. My $12,000 in rental payments (plus any immaterial capital appreciation and expense offsets associated with owning a home) wouldn’t even have come close to $45,000. That’s the extent of my buy vs. rent argument for today.
$150,000 X 30% S&P gain = $45,000
So at this point, even with the market tanking as I write this, I am comfortable with our decision to rent over the last several years. Mrs. Max OOP and I don’t really know what we will be doing over the next few years and like the flexibility renting offers. Flexibility is probably the real reason we haven’t bought a house.
Food, Dining, and Groceries
We spent another $12,028 in this category. This includes things like eating out, groceries, shampoo, soap, floss, and
rubbing alcohol. I don’t look at transaction detail anymore so if we go shopping at Walmart and Mrs. Max OOP sneaks in her favorite movie or Drake CD (what’s with Canadians and Drake?) onto the list, I probably accidentally call that a grocery. But overall, I think this number is pretty accurate. If I do happen to pay cash while we are eating out, which is pretty rare, I am not capturing it. If we eat at local joints and get to know the server, I generally tip in cash to help them avoid my Uncle Sam should they choose to do so.
Of the $12,000, about $2,700 of it is us eating out. I am not a huge fan of eating out or paying for overpriced drinks but, Mrs. Max OOP loves it. I suppose we all have our vices. This number does include small things like any fast food (pretty rare for us), lunch in the cafeteria, and the super occasional coffee. It also includes money we spend eating out while traveling.
Speaking of vices, Max is known to throw back one too many drinks from time to time. That’s okay, it’s all in good fun. But alcohol is expensive and worth keeping an eye on and another decent chunk of the $12,028 in this category. So there you have it, just food and shelter has already accounted for 47% of our entire budget.
Utilities include things like electric, oil, internet, cell phones, and our Netflix/CBS subscription. Yes, I just called Netflix a utility. I categorized it as a utility years ago and just left it there mostly because it is incurred monthly. This category came in at $4,629.
We get burned on oil and electricity in our rental. Since we live in the mountains, it is very cold and these two expenses add up to over $3,000 annually. That’s about 6% of our entire annual spending! I would definitely aim to optimize these two line items if we owned the house. Water is included in our rent, so we make up for some of these costs there. In 2015 we paid $460 for water and in 2016, it came out at $385. I am also overpaying for the internet; I need to call them and have the talk.
Auto & Transport
This is an area we do well in. We only spent $3,297 on this category in 2019 and we have owned both of our cars outright for years.
Mrs. Max OOP still owns the first car she bought when she graduated from college. Her 2007 Honda Civic has about 180,000 miles on it and requires low maintenance.
She hates my vehicle. My ride is a 2008 Honda Odyssey and it just hit the 200,000-mile mark. I bought it in late 2015 and got a really good deal on it from an old colleague. It was sold slightly under market value at the time for 7k. I did have to replace the alternator in January 2019 and that was a $400+ fix. The van is great for carting people and skis around.
It looks like our auto insurance runs us about $600 which I purchase through Geico. Since both of our vehicles are aged out, I hold minimal coverage. I do pay for “Med-Pay” coverage knowing we have a high deductible health plan.
I strategically rented a house that is within 2-miles of the office where I spend the majority of my working hours. The corporate office is about 1.5 hours away, but they have agreed to let me stay where I am for now and cover my mileage when I make the drive out to corporate.
My other/miscellaneous category has everything else dumped in it. This comes out to $19,482 so I feel like I have some explaining to do here considering it is over 37% of our expenses. I went through an 80/20 rule exercise with the goal of being able to easily identify where 80% of this money went without spending too much time worrying about the details. I found almost 82% of it on the items below by simply sorting from highest to lowest. So let’s go rapid-fire:
- Travel was over $5,500 including an expensive visit to Ecuador, the Galápagos Islands, and several trips to New Brunswick and Michigan. Among other things, it includes several flights and some higher-end lodging.
- Our cats cost us $1,792 including a $500 teeth cleaning for one of them. Most people have no idea how much they spend on their pets and someone coming out of college should really think twice about owning an animal if they want to get a head start on things.
- Shoes & clothing came in at $1,608 for both of us, and this number seems a bit high to me. I barely get a tie on these days for work but I still need to look decent in the office. Dressing up is a huge time-suck and I even do my own ironing, which is one of the worst parts of my day.
- A new $900 computer, which is used partially to produce this content.
- Mrs. Max OOP became a US citizen for $750.
- A $500 donation at a golf tournament although we technically get a hotel stay out of the deal that we haven’t used yet.
- $500 cash went towards firewood to cover us for the whole winter.
- The gym came in at $432, but a lot of that will be reimbursed through my healthy benefits. The monthly fee went down to about $30/month when my old gym closed.
- I had some dental work done in December that came in at $342. I basically offset that by throwing Mrs. Max OOP off the dental insurance in 2019. We let her back on for 2020, though.
- Ski pass for the two of us came in at $300 plus another $125 for Mrs. Max OOP’s ski racing fees for the 10-week series we are doing. My employer picked up my $125.
- Looks like I spent about $292 on this blog, which has been a pretty fun form of entertainment for me.
- Amazon came in at $267. Hopefully, it was good stuff.
- We spent $191 on Christmas gifts.
- We spent $181 maintaining our hair and it seems a little ridiculous if you ask me.
- $179 went to Lowes on a new deep freezer.
- Spent $150 on Turbo Tax.
- $139 on two sets of spikes for winter hiking.
- We spent $110 on a really freaking nice knife for the kitchen.
- Mrs. Max OOP spent $109 on a clinic visit so she could renew her CDL license since she will occasionally drive the bus for school. That will hit my HSA account.
- Spent $106 on Halloween costumes. May sound lame, but Halloween is my birthday and we have been going all out for the last several years.
- $76 in credit card fees mostly from an annual fee that I needed to hold for one more year.
- $65 for a bike tuneup that I should have done myself.
- Cash Expense represents money taken out of the ATM. It came in at $1,338 and this is money I don’t keep really good track of. About $1,000 of it was likely spent in Ecuador since a lot of things needed to be paid in cash. I need to tighten this up in 2020.
Add all that up and we get $15,952. So I found almost 82% of this category in just a few minutes of reviewing higher dollar transactions.
$15,952 / $19,482 = 81.88% of our “other” spending
Here are three highlights from this category proving this was money well spent.
What About Health Insurance Premiums?
How can a blog called “Max Out of Pocket” just gloss over health insurance premiums like they didn’t happen? Okay, you got me.
Since my health insurance premiums are automatically deducted from my paycheck, I have never included them in my expense tracking and this is really bad practice. This is a huge expense to consider in an early retirement scenario and should not be overlooked.
I already disclosed this expense here on the blog, though. My 2019 health insurance plan was valued at $21,564 and I paid $4,793 of that directly from my paycheck. That $4,793 in income was sheltered from Medicare FICA taxes and Social Security FICA taxes. Taxes are another important expense to consider, but something we won’t cover here today.
I still find it daunting that the total cost of our health insurance premiums is very quickly approaching our entire budget for food and shelter.
You can get to know a person pretty well by looking at what they spend their money on. I personally think we live a pretty posh lifestyle on 50k. I know plenty of people who drop that much in one year on a single vehicle. It’s amazing what a few small efforts at lifestyle design can accomplish. I could even argue several of these are “one-time” expenses we likely won’t see in 2020. But every family is different and has different spending priorities, but I am mostly worried about those families out there who have no idea where they stand.
When I first became interested in personal finance, tracking expenses was an invaluable exercise. I did it pretty religiously every month and learned a lot about our spending patterns. It was a great place to look for optimization to help me get my snowball rolling. We were much more frugal back then and were able to put up a pretty amazing savings rate. I am mostly sharing this information in case others benefit from it since I found it helpful looking at other people’s spending years ago.
I will say it is also a pretty nice feeling knowing I could sell off my entire medical office building portfolio tomorrow and live a pretty nice life for an entire year off of the proceeds. But why would I do that when that portfolio alone is already covering $2,737 (5%) of our lifestyle with passive dividend income? I could buy 25 more of those fancy knives for that.
These days, I don’t follow our expenses as closely as I should, but I do keep an eye on things. Since Max isn’t as interested in retiring extremely early like I once was, an above-average expense in some categories is fine with me right now. I will aim to do a bit better tracking this for 2020 (perhaps quarterly) and Mrs. Max OOP and I will look at expense reductions where it makes sense.
*These financials are unaudited and have not been reviewed by a CPA firm. I am also not a CPA and have no formal training, but I will put my Microsoft Excel skills up against the best performers out there.