November Spending Survey Results and Follow-Up

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Last month, I challenged readers to predict their spending for the month of November, track it, and then come back and see how well their predictions went. Over 60 people completed my online Google spreadsheet survey, and an unknown amount of people did it manually via paper. It’s all anonymous so hopefully that makes it easy to be honest.

Well, I finally went back and recategorized my own expenses in Mint, and here are the results that I can share. The first two columns are the average and median of all the online responses. This is just for kicks, it really doesn’t show much valuable data. The third and fourth columns are my own household predictions and final spending tallies.

  Average Median MMB Predict MMB Actual
Housing $1,436 $1,237 $3,100 $3,100
Food $523 $500 $600 $656
Transport $305 $200 $200 $191
Debt $370 $50 $0 $0
Utilities $240 $200 $300 $317
Personal $395 $220 $100 $311
Total $3,279 $3,000 $6,000 $6,402

The real goal of this post was to motivate some of you readers to track your spending and see if you found any surprises. Budgeting every month is hard, but just tracking your spending for a single month can point out problem areas to target. If you missed it last month, you can just download the PDF version and do it this month or any time. Some thoughts on our own spending:

  • Predicting housing costs is probably not very useful, as for most people this doesn’t change much from month-to-month.
  • Food continues to be our weak spot, both groceries and dining out, although for the most part we spend a lot on food and we choose to do so. We’re trying to buy more fresh vegetables and such, and need to work on planning ahead of time so we don’t buy stuff at “retail” prices at the supermarket for our recipes.
  • Gas is another area that probably stays relatively constant from month-to-month, it’s hard to separate the noise from actual gas-saving efforts like driving less or with less vigor. We actually usually spend less than this in most months. We have no car payments.
  • I broke down Personal as “health insurance, medical expenses, clothing, personal care, entertainment, etc.” Our health insurance premiums are covered by work, but we’ve had several visits recently where the copays have been adding up as well as other things. We also bought more clothes than usual this month.
  • Regarding the total number, another factor here is that we bought most of our holiday gifts in November. I read somewhere that the average household spends about $1,000 during the holidays in general, with $700 going towards gifts. We’re pretty close to that, and our rough budget was $1,000 towards gifts for the family and friends.

In the end, I think when it comes to overall spending, it’s best to concentrate on the recurring big stuff – housing, food, transportation. This takes preplanning and structural changes such as getting a roommate, moving closer to work and getting rid of a car, or downsizing the living space. However, in month-to-month budgets, it’s often those forgotten and occasional expenses and sneak up and bite us. Things like holiday gifts, doctor’s bills, car repairs, birthdays and weddings for other people, and so on.

How’d you do?

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  1. Thank for the update. Just few things like to share.

    You can also categorize the budget as Fixed and Variable cost in general term as many aware. Mortgage, health insurance, Car loan all goes under fixed cost and Food, Utilities does under variable cost. As you mentioned variable cost are hard to predict and can vary because unexpected expenses. What I do, I save $100 for each of those items in ING savings and take it from that account when it happens. That way its doesn’t hurt your monthly budget. You just spending a fixed cost for it every month. Hope this helps

  2. @Vijaianand – That is an option as well.

    Just a quick note that the totals are NOT supposed to add up, as their are “Other” expenses that won’t be included in the specific categories that I chose. Some people meticulously categorize every little transaction to account for these, while I am lazy and prefer to just lump them into Other.

  3. I know ours. We keep a spreadsheet and it seems we track pretty good on it. What we spend is outrageous in a year but I’m also including 3 rental properties, childcare, 529 savings, 401k, etc.

  4. I really like this idea, and it’s interesting to see how some of my own numbers compare. I see that you use mint (love that site) and some of the people posting use their own spreadsheet to track their budget. I think you’re making an important point and I agree that “how” you keep a budget is not the issue, but rather “if” you keep a budget.

    Keep up the good work!

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