Our Budget Categories

Midwest Transplant asked:

Hi FB, I enjoy reading your budgeting advice, but I have to ask: how is your laundry only $8 and utilities only 15?! My gas bill alone (heating and cooking) was over $200 last month split between three roommates and laundry is $3 a load in my apartment building. I thought $3 a load was a great deal because its $6 at the laundry mat.

Great question!

Short answer:

I am lucky to have scored a great apartment and I am also a tad, just a TAD procrastinate-y. Not lazy. Just.. I don’t get to laundry when I should sometimes.


Long answer:

I’ll answer about utilities and laundry since you asked about those two, but I’ll go into a bit more detail on a couple of other categories for the sake of completeness.

Utilities = $13.55/month

ELECTRICITY

This is around $54 every 2 months for us and the only bill we pay.

BF pays half, so I only pay $27 for 2 months, or $13.50/month.

We actually don’t use.. much electricity at all.

And not because we’re a bunch of miserly cheapasses, it’s just because we.. don’t. We were both brought up in households to conserve electricity, water and heat.

In my dad’s case, it was to save money, but it just grew on us to turn off lights everywhere and live like moles in the dark.

As for appliances, we only have the radio going, 3 laptops going at one time (sometimes BF and I can have up to 7 laptops running, but that’s rare) and a fridge. That’s it for sucking energy continuously.

We also have a dim, energy saving nightlight in the bathroom because we hate flipping the light on and off each time we go in at night and getting a blast of brightness in our eyes.

I only use the actual bathroom light when I shower or remove contacts, wash my face and brush and floss my teeth before bed.

It also helps that we have a few lights in the actual apartment itself to begin with (none in the bedroom), we don’t own a single lamp (not even a big one) and we don’t own any curtains either so we get all of the natural daylight for free!

Woo hoo, Mother Nature!

GAS

Gas? What gas? It’s all electricity here.

WATER

Water is free in Quebec. But I don’t abuse that and I get mad when BF sometimes leaves the tap on. It’s a reflex from my childhood to freak out at wasted water.

HEAT

The heating system here is heated by hot water (AH HAH! Old buildings sometimes rock my world), and since water is free we also don’t pay for heat since it’s.. basically free.

We could technically crank the heat up in here to make it into a sauna, but we don’t.

It’s not because we’re trying to save heat or anything like that, but because if we make the living room area at a comfortable temperature, the bedroom doesn’t have a regulator and it is like a jungle in there, which makes it very difficult to sleep.

So the compromise is that we keep it at 20 degrees celsius or around 70 degrees, which I can tell you requires you to wear at least a pair of sweatpants, a sweater and maybe a blanket around the legs when it is extremely cold outside.

I also drink hot tea and put my cold feet on BF’s oven-like body to keep them warm.

Very eco-friendly and loving of me.

AIR-CONDITIONING

We sweat like pigs because we don’t have central AC in the building at all.

And we did get a big air conditioner for the summer, but the noise bothers BF, so we have to turn it off at night, when I need it the most.

Most of the time, we don’t even use it. It isn’t big enough and we’d need about 4 going in the summer to keep the apartment cool, due to the lack of curtains.

In Canada, it’s just for a couple of months before it turns back to cool/cold, and last summer was quite cold and rainy, so I survived better the summer before.

Laundry = $16

When we are benched (read: not working or on contract), I do laundry bi-weekly because we don’t get dirty easily sitting around on our butts so we wear the same clothes the whole week, then we change for the second week.

Underwear gets changed daily, but it doesn’t take much space in the machine.

We also don’t work out other than biking, and when we bike, we have special air-wick clothes for that, which we ONLY wear for working out/biking so that smells are in the same ballpark and wash them bi-weekly.

I only do one load and one dry. All of our clothes are pretty low maintenance.

It costs $2 for a wash, $2 for a dry. I spend $4 every 2 weeks, or $8 every month.

When we are working I do laundry weekly. So I spend double the $8, at $16/month.

I don’t buy anything that says dry clean only. And if I do, I ignore it and think of it as a friendly, economy-stimulating suggestion if I think the fabric can hold up to a regular wash/dry. Besides, drycleaners are the devil for the environment and your wallet.

Every time I do a load and a wash, I wash the sheets as well.

We also don’t use laundry detergent or all of those special cleaners or dryer sheets. The dryers we use, are already saturated with all of those dryer sheets from other tenants, and our clothes come out perfectly clean without detergents (trust!).

If we had kids who had cloth diapers with poop in them, I’d definitely use (eco-friendly) detergents to clean them as it is a matter of sanitary health to do so.

Otherwise, not a necessity for us. We don’t wallow in dirt or spill all over ourselves. A little sweat and body dirt is fine with just warm-to-hot water cleaning it using agitation in the washer.

OTHER CATEGORIES

Groceries = $600/month

We spend a lot of money here and we know it. But food is our luxury. (Technology is our second).

We also don’t want to cut back here because at the risk of sounding yuppie, we can afford it.

In addition, toilet paper, tissues and whatnot are included in here (I am switching to handkerchiefs once I remember to buy a pack of them).

We like some organic items like apples and pears (yes, you can taste the difference), but with hard peel items like oranges or bananas, we don’t bother buying organic because the pesticides don’t penetrate a skin we peel off anyway.

When BF bakes lots of cakes, pies or when I make curries, that’s when the budget takes a bit of a jump. Other than that, we tend to stick around the $560 – $600 range.

We are trying to cut it down to $500, but I told him if I didn’t get sushi made for me (the fish is very expensive here) once in a while, I’d be a very sad FB.

Once in December, we made so many gourmet meals, we spent $1000 in groceries!

It was madness. But tasty madness.

Transportation/Car Payment/Car Maintenance = $0 – $90/month

I’ve paid my car insurance in full – $300/year.

My car was bought outright for $2000. I don’t owe or pay for anything on my car except for the gas.

Normally, I wouldn’t spend anything here even if I had a contract.

I used to spend $68 a month on a public transportation pass when I was car-free, but now this is just for taxis or one-off subway tickets which I cannot plan for as a regular expense.


Home Maint./Stuff = $0*

I don’t buy things like decorations for the home. We also rent, so we don’t need to pay for any kind of upkeep.

*But as for things like tissues or toilet paper, it’s all included in the Grocery budget above (we don’t buy or use much, so we don’t really split out the amounts).

We also don’t buy laundry detergent, dish soap or any cleaners for the home any longer as part of my chemical-free journey.

Vinegar, baking soda and elbow grease has replaced all of that.

Eating Out = $90, but I am thinking of dropping this down to $50 or $0 and making it a one-off expense.

I always give myself $90, but I end up never spending it unless we go out to meet with people for dinner which is once every 2 months or so.

We just don’t go to restaurants regularly, it’s not our thing.

We find it too expensive for what we end up eating and I am not kidding when I say that the food BF makes is much, MUCH tastier at home.

Once in a while, we do like to hit up the roasted chicken area which is a meal for $18 for the both of us, drinks included.

We also don’t drink alcohol as we are funny and entertaining enough together as is.

I don’t do it because I hate the after taste of it without getting ANY happy effects people talk about all the time.

And BF doesn’t do it because if he drinks, he really drinks because he can’t stop, and it gets expensive. We’re talking at least a full bottle of wine, Port, whiskey and Grand Marnier just for him.

Toiletries/Makeup = Usually $0/month but on average, $20/month, MAXIMUM

All lot of it is one-off. I don’t constantly buy makeup or toiletries.

I don’t do anything but wash my hair with only water, so any hair stuff — gone.

I rarely wear makeup as is, and when I do for work or once in a while, it’s eyeliner, blush and concealer. All things that last quite a while.

I also get free samples all the time mailed to me to replace what I’ve got.

I do like my sunscreen for the face and I need heavy moisturizers for the winter to battle eczema.

In addition, I buy a lot of one-off things like boar bristle brushes, or tape for my toes (I call it ballet tape but it’s just regular smooth, not cloth medical tape wrapped around my toes to stop blistering).

The only items I buy regularly would be contact lens solution ($40/year), facial cleanser ($16/year) and moisturizer ($40/year).


Wardrobe = $50/month on average

I don’t buy many clothes… but I do buy when it’s one-off, like for a wedding or when I think I should buy long-sleeved pants and tops for biking this summer to stop the tanning madness.

But when I do buy, I don’t buy cheap clothing. I spend upwards to $100 – $300 at any given time, so the average is high, overall.

I guess I spend quite a bit here, but it’s not really my going out and buying just to make myself feel better, like in the past.


Entertainment = $0/month

This is truly a $0 category most of the time, and more one-off and irregular.

We don’t go to movies (we have a big screen projector at home), we don’t go to the theatre.. we’re pretty boring people actually.

We just like to go cycling (free except for the equipment and clothing needed), visiting summer festivals for free and taking walks.

We only pay for entertainment when we go on trips to new cities and pay for museums.

Travel = $200/month on average

Ahh. This was a previously UNDERUSED category, but since I started dating BF, I’ve been to Vancouver and Dallas.

Before 2008 I didn’t travel for *counts*…6 years. I mean, for pleasure. I travelled for work to Atlanta for a bit, Philadelphia, etc, but I never picked those cities, nor travelled for the sake of touring.

I just didn’t have the cash or time back then.

I was a poor student for 4 years, I graduated with lots of debt and now that I’m debt free and quite comfortably funded for my emergency fund, regular savings and even for retirement at my age, I want to make up for those 6 years of not travelling.. but doing it on a budget, which is easier when there are 2 people to share the costs of travelling.

Now in 2009, I can put NYC, Boston and Chicago on my list of places I have visited because the prices right out are really great for those who want to travel.

Insurance (Car) = $0 (or $25/month)

Truly $0. I paid it in full, $300/year, so I guess that’d be about $25/month if I paid it monthly.

As for the rest…

Savings = Can it really be called savings when I don’t earn an income each month? I do have around $10,000 in regular savings before I hit my emergency fund.

Retirement = I fund this when I get on contracts because then I know I’m not depleting my cash reserve. I have to balance my money. I can’t just spend $1000/month on retirement when it’s moot because it’s all “savings” anyway and I need it to be more liquid than being locked into an RRSP.

Emergency Fund = Fully funded for a year at $2000/month for 12 months – I increased it from $1500/month and cut it back to a year instead of 2 years…. but with our new rent coming up that will save me $200/month, it could actually be feasible to stay at $1500.


Things we/I don’t have in the budget that also saves us money

  • Landlines: I have a cellphone, that’s enough.
  • Cable TV: I watch everything online.
  • Pets: I’m highly allergic and would have to get a potbelly pig or fish if I wanted a pet.
  • Kids: None yet.
  • Car Loans & Insurance: Bought my car in full, and I cleared my car insurance in full too.
  • Entertainment/Eating Out: We are very low key in this area.
  • Detergents/Shampoos: Again, it was the chemical-free thing that helps us not spend money.


CONCLUSION: Financial security made me save more and spend less

This was quite a helpful exercise for me. Thank you for the comment!

I am seeing what I spend on average each month, and that my budgeting style is quite loose, in fact.

I tend to vary where and what I spend my money on each month.

One month it may be on suitcases for an upcoming move to Dallas next year, and the other, it may be a new Netbook or something.

But I think in general, I’m pretty low key and low maintenance (except for the Food & Tech parts). I am nowhere near what I used to be 2 years ago — a bit of a shopaholic in need for retail therapy and tempted easily.

Now when I go to a clothing store, I see something I like, 90% of the time I don’t buy it because I know I have something similar in my closet and I DON’T want to add to my clutter, which is my real motivation to not purchase anything, as I de-cluttered 50%+ of my wardrobe in the last 2 years.

I am not saying that I like to sit on my pile of money and feel utterly content.

I do spend money, quite a bit in fact on food and technology.. but it feels different now, even though I have cut out A LOT of what I had considered to be necessary before but the big difference is that I don’t feel deprived for anything any longer, the way I used to.

If you had told me “cut out shampoo, detergents, makeup, entertainment and eating out” when I was getting out of debt, I would have had kittens and would have been promptly allergic to them.

Instead, I made those choices on my own, for motivators OTHER than for the money which makes them sustainable for me, because I’ve changed my mindset and my lifestyle, and naturally, the budget was cut as a result.

Being financially secure means you can (technically) buy whatever the hell you want, but the difference now is that you restrain yourself and ask yourself if it’s really necessary.

I think getting out of debt had a lot to do with that for me. I never want to go back to where I was before.

Different strokes, different folks.

Thanks for the question, Midwest Transplant.

In return, I’d like to challenge YOU to re-examine your budget and do a sort of introspective look about where you naturally seem to save money and post about it.

About the Author

Just a girl trying to find a balance between being a Shopaholic and a Saver. I cleared $60,000 in 18 months earning $65,000 gross/year. Now I am self-employed, and you can read more about my story here, or visit my other blog: The Everyday Minimalist.