[This entry is almost entirely about my finances. If you’re the sort of person who is uncomfortable reading that sort of thing, best leave now.]
I spent a lot more in 2018 than I meant to.
Gnucash tells me that I spent $36,600.67. That’s probably close to the truth–I’m pretty good at entering things into the program–but I’m sure some stuff slipped past. For the purposes of this article, let’s round up and call it $37k. I wanted that number to be closer to $30k… and I overshot by more than twenty percent.
I should note that that number very explicitly does not include the taxes I paid last year, which was another $30,000, thanks to the sale of almost all of my tech-company stocks I got while I was an employee. Taxes cost money, yes, but you’re going to pay them no matter what, so it feels disingenuous to consider them with other expenditures. (Besides, my tax rate has already plummeted, since I only worked in January last year, and will drop again for 2019.)
I should also note that, while I do track, I don’t budget. That’s probably a mistake, but it turns out that my regular costs are very regular indeed, so a bunch of the variability comes either from stuff out of my control (maintenance, twice-a-year car insurance, etc.) or stuff I know I shouldn’t be spending anyhow (healthy servings of boardgames and videogames, mostly, with a light sweet drizzle of puzzle magazines from Japan on top).
Now, some amount of that $37k is pretty fixed. My rent is $650 a month, and I paid a bit more than that each month for my COBRA health insurance continuation. Yes, that means had I not had health insurance, I would have hit my $30,000 goal pretty much on the nose. I wasn’t willing to risk that, though, and I still feel that keeping said insurance was the right decision even though it cost me a lot of money.
In my heart, though, I know there’s a lot of obvious wastage in those numbers as well. (In a moment, you’ll even get to see it in graphical form.)
The first question is: did I get better at this spending thing over time?
The answer: yes, by a bit. My monthly spend rate dropped from ~$3,000 to ~$2,500 by the end of the year. That’s a good sign; were I to stay at that level for this year, it would save me ~$6,000 for the year, which is a significant chunk of change when you no longer have a regular income.
There’s still a whole lot of orange in the bars, though, which means that most months I spent north of $500 on unnecessary stuff. In fact, for the year, my Frivolities sub-section accounts for almost $11,000 of the $37,000 I spent. That’s… well, it’s stupid, not to put too fine a point on it. That leads to the second question: can I stop setting so much money on metaphorical fire?
Fortunately I realized the need to do that even before writing this up, and have already adjusted course pretty aggressively. For January it looks like I’ll have spent less than $300 on frivolous things this year, and part of that is an $80 once-a-year payment to Grandmaster Puzzles, which you should check out if you’re as much of a puzzle fiend as I am. On the other hand, I already know of at least one big Kickstarter in February that I’ll be backing to the tune of $300… ugh.
In addition, thanks to the Affordable Care Act’s subsidies being income-based rather than means-based, I’m not paying anything for my health insurance this year. That’s another $6,000 or so I’m saving this year.
Given all of that, let’s ask a third question: is it plausible that I only spend about $25,000 in 2019, rather than the $37,000 I spent in 2018? It is, and that’s my goal. I won’t be furious with myself if I miss it… but I will be if I break $30,000 due to unnecessary spending.
I do have one big purchase coming up that’s going to hurt the numbers a bit. My current desktop is more than nine years old, so calling it a “potato” is honestly a bit of an insult to potatoes. (I kid; as long as I’m not playing modern games, it actually still works perfectly fine.) I don’t plan on spending more than $1,200 or so on a new machine, all bits and bobs included, but we’ll see how that goes.
And, honestly, we’ll see how this all goes. I knew this first year was going to take some getting-settled time, and honestly that’s still going on. I suspect my expenditure rate will continue to drop over the coming year or two as I figure out what I do and don’t need to spend money on, and that’s on top of my having explicitly decided to spend less on unnecessary stuff.
Hopefully year-in-the-future me will be proud… or, y’know, at least not furious… at the soon-to-come me. We shall see!