Back in August my forecast for our 2017 expenses was that we would come in 10% below 2016. Well – we beat that forecast by 3%! No deprivation required. Just a cheerful commitment to being wise stewards of our resources, one of which happens to be money. Please join us in a little happy dance!
Strategic Increases (Sort of)
Though we had a great overall gain, there were a few places where we intentionally spent more than last year.
Taxes – $1,408 More
OK, this one was definitely not intentional. We did what we could to plan our withholdings so that we’d come in at net zero when we filed our 2016 taxes. But such was not our luck. At the end of the day, we’d rather owe a little than get a refund, though. Why? Because that $1,408 was sitting in our savings account earning interest until we had to send the check to The Government. As such, we wrote in the check memo “Neener neener!” (Just kidding. We don’t want to piss off the IRS!)
Transportation – $1,056 More
This does not mean that we decided to use Uber instead of light rail or bus in 2017. In the Grumby household, 94% of our transportation expense is bike-related. Because we’re getting ready for an epic bike touring adventure, we spent a bit on gear and maintenance. The most expensive item on the list was tune-ups for 2 bikes @ $262. Our transportation expense for the whole year was $2008. That’s everything: bike stuff, car share, etc. If we had decided to keep our car, parking expense alone would be $1800/year, so I’d say this car-free living is working out pretty well for us.
Charity and Gifts – $962 More
If we count the company match on charitable contributions, this category is actually $1,312 higher than 2016. We decided to focus on organizations that would receive my employer’s very generous 100% match, and 88% of our 2017 contributions were doubled. If you work for a company that has a contribution match benefit, we encourage you to take advantage of this incredible benefit in 2018!
Another note on our 2017 charitable giving is that we planned for future giving by funding a DAF, which you can read about here.
Entertainment – $1,958 Less
2017 was the year of Frugal Entertainment. Occasionally we paid other people to feed and entertain us, but our default was to cook for ourselves and to have fun doing stuff that’s free. One of the highlights of it all was receiving an email from J. Money saying that my post about frugal entertainment had been featured at Personal Finance Central Station, aka Rockstar Finance.
Here’s a snapshot of the archived post (in Rockstar’s Frugality Archives):
It feels great to know that we spent almost $2,000 less on entertainment in 2017, and being featured on Rockstar Finance was worth a few big toothy grins.
Pet Expense – $1,930 Less
This was actually a very sad story in 2017. Grumby Cat passed away in February and we still miss her. We were fortunate to share more than 15 years with this incredible feline and will always be grateful for our time with her.
In our first years of retirement, we have decided to live without a pet because we plan to do a lot of traveling.
Travel – $1,752 Less
Our longest vacation in 2017 was a 10-day bike trip. Our average daily spend on this trip was $67, which included:
- One-way car rental from Portland to Bend
- Two one-way train tickets from Eugene to Portland
Other 2017 vacations included in our total $4,070 2017 travel spend:
- 2 long weekend bike camping trips to Stub Stewart
- 2 trips to Colorado for my mom’s birthday and niece’s wedding
- a winter escape to Arizona
- Mr. Grumby’s “Wild Hogs 2017” motorcycle adventure
- Fall trips to visit our families in Colorado and Missouri
- Trip to Oregon coast with Mr. Grumby’s mom
Housing – $1,630 Less
Waitaminute … how do you lower your housing expense when you’re renting in a spendy city like Portlandia? For us it was pretty simple. We just moved down the hall in our apartment building. When our lease was up for renewal, we checked the property’s website and saw a unit advertised for a lower monthly rate. Same floor, same square footage, and and same awesome south-facing orientation. We had to jump through a few hoops by applying as new residents, paying an application fee, and submitting a new deposit. But the end result, lowering our housing expense by 8%, was totally worth it!
Groceries/Household Items – $1,395 less
In 2016 our monthly average spend for groceries & household stuff (cleaning supplies, toiletries, etc.) was $465 and in 2017 it dropped to an average of $349. One change that drove this 25% savings was that we were more strategic with where we shop. The best bulk food (think big bins of grains, beans, spices, etc.) prices in our neighborhood are at Sheridan Fruit Company. We go there once a month to stock up on oats, rice, lentils, seeds, nuts, dried fruit, and any spices we need. For greens, bread, and pizza cheese we go to Safeway. And we buy our produce at a small local grocer called Green Zebra.
The other reason that we saved so much money this year is that we’ve become more efficient with batch cooking. We make large quantities of soup, rice, lentils, chili, burrito mix, peanut sauce, etc. on weekends, use some of it throughout the week for lunches and dinners, and freeze the rest. I also make all of our fancy oatmeal for the week (bulk oats, nuts, seeds, dried fruit) during the weekend so that it’s ready to take to work during the week. When we’re not munching on leftovers, we like simple and healthy meals: pita pizza & salad, sandwiches with fresh fruit & veggies, and breakfast for dinner (eggs & buckwheat pancakes – yum!).
Other Wins and Mr. Grumby’s Mobile Phone Deals
The combined total of our other savings in 2017 was $2,011 (medical, mobile phone, and “other”). The most impressive story here was Mr. Grumby’s diligent attention to mobile phone opportunities. Going into 2017 he switched from Verizon to Ting, dropping his monthly bill by about $30/month. Then he discovered the “Sprint Free For a Year” deal through Clark Howard in June. Since then his monthly bills have been less than $4/month, which is for taxes and fees. Not sure how long this deal will last, but here’s a link to see if it’s still available. Warning: their customer service is not the best …
Mr. G. also kept an eye out for good deals on new mobile phones to replace our aging (and over-priced) iPhones. His research lead him to the Moto G5 Plus, and we bought 2 new shiny phones for just $333.56 (on sale at Jet.com).
OK, OK! Enough With The Stories Already! Show Us the Numbers!
Thank you for your patience and for reading this far. You will now be rewarded with a handsome spreadsheet filled with all sorts of interesting numbers. Here it is:
What Lies Ahead in 2018?
Since we’ll be transitioning to a life as full-time bicycle tourists sometime in 2018, it’s hard to predict what our expenses will be. In August of last year, I predicted that a full year of living as bicycle nomads would cost about $44k, so hopefully our 2018 expenses will come in close to that.
We’ll see … In the meantime, let us know how 2017 went for you and whether or not you foresee any changes in 2018. Or tell us what you think about our 2017 results and/or our upcoming travels.