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Normal by the Numbers?


I’ve been asked to reveal my actual monthly budget numbers. I was reluctant at first and then realized it may be a learning experience and I should see if I am normal in my expectations of my money.

No, I am not going to reveal my housing costs. Asking a San Diegan to reveal her mortgage payment is like asking a New York housewife to reveal her age. The only thing likely to happen is a giant string of lies.

I’m also not going to reveal our charitable giving amounts. What we decide to give is a very personal decision and it’s not an amount I’m willing to change just to pay more on bills.

Savings: $50
Electricity/Gas: $105
Cell Phones: $100
Cable/Internet/Phone: $100
Grocery: $300
Gas: $260
Laundry: $10
Toiletries: $11
Clothing/House Repairs/Animal Care/Spending Money: $200
Water: $70
Trash: $18

All remaining money is used to pay our mortgage, our credit card, our student loans, and my husband’s truck.

So. Am I normal by the numbers? What does your budget look like?


  • Reply FrugalMe |

    Normal is relative. For one person, your figures (~$1200) may be too low, for another it may be too high and yet another it is just average. There are a lot of factors that should be considered in making a decision on the figures you have given. Some factors include family size, cost of living where you are located, etc.

  • Reply Jaime |

    Is this for both you and your husband? I was just surprised by the $300 grocery budget per month. I clip coupons, and buy sales, and at farm stands. We try to get some organics and ours is $450. (though I am pregnant and we do have a two year old!)

  • Reply Money Beagle |

    Thanks for sharing! That looks fairly similar to our budget items. What about insurance and health care costs, how do you budget for those?

  • Reply brooklynchick |

    Your budget looks very normal to me. My only question is if you had all your phones and cable with one provider, could you negoatiate a better rate. I have a cell, landline, DSL with one provider (Verizon) and I spend about $125 for all three. Might be worth a call.

    Regarding giving, I know so few people who even build it in to their budget, so BRAVO! Would you be willing to share how much it is as a % of monthly costs or income? I currently give about 2% of my gross income. I have a lot of debt, so I struggle because I would like to be giving closer to 5%, and I am unsure what is the right thing. I would love to even hear your thinking process about this, as well as other readeers.

  • Reply Leene |

    I agree – normal is relative because it changes from state to state and family to family. The only suggestions I’d make for your budget are the cell phone and then cable/internet/phone – do you really need both a landline and a cell phone?? When we started really cutting our budget to start saving for a house the first thing we did was get rid of our landline – it saved us $20/month. Another suggestion I’ve got is going meatless once or twice a week. We have a family of four (2 adults and 2 children ages 8 and 4) our monthly food budget is $300.00. Leene

  • Reply dogatemyfinances |

    This is pretty much the entire point of a PF blog, and it’s why dear Tricia made the NYT.

    I too am impressed by your $300 figure, way lower than ours. You also seem to be missing the category that kills me every month, eating out.

  • Reply E.D. |

    I don’t think this is too out of line, but here are my observations:

    Savings should be larger, if this is your emergency fund money.

    The amount on gas seems high, but if your cars are low MPG, it may make sense.

    That water bill is high – does it include sewer charges?

  • Reply nrlec |

    Haha, I didn’t know you were from SD, but your sentiment regarding revealing your mortgage payment is so true! Unless a person is from the area, there is no way they could understand.

  • Reply jolie |

    It’s always fun to see someone else’s numbers but as Frugal said, normal is indeed relative. I’m up in Canada so my groceries are higher plus I am feeding two adults and two walking stomachs. Aside from your gas and household budgets, mine is far more than yours. How much do you set aside for debt repayment?

  • Reply Joy Smith |

    It depends on your family’s size. For our household though we don’t spend $100 a month on cable/phone/internet. We don’t have cable because we can watch tv online just as easily and we already have cell phones so there is no need for an extra phoneline.

  • Reply Jen |

    Two numbers that jumped out at me were groceries and laundry. Is the laundry cost for detergent and bleach only, or does it include dry cleaning? If it’s just detergent, you might be using too much. I’ve found you never need to use the amount they tell you to. I usually use 1/4-1/2 the amount. I bought a bottle of Method concentrated laundry detergent three years ago, used only half of what was indicated, and I didn’t need to buy a new bottle until now.

    Granted, $10 isn’t much, but it just struck me as odd to be buying detergent each month.

    As for groceries, it seems like you could do some cost cutting there, but I remember hearing that San Diego has very, very strong unions and that grocery store employees are paid significantly higher wages than the rest of country, so that probably translates into high prices for the customer.

    I am impressed by your decision to continue to give to charity. For many, that’s the first item that gets cut. I think it’s admirable you decided against cutting that item, especially with economy the way it is more people need assistance.

    And, why are San Diegans so reluctant to discuss mortgage payments? Is it because housing costs are so high it’d be tacky for those who bought a long time ago to reveal their payments are lower? Here in Boston people don’t give dollar amounts when discussing their mortgages. Instead, we seem to discuss interest rates instead. People here tend to just avoid talking about money specifics such as income and monthly expenses. However, various counties in MA have put their deed information online so you can look up someone’s mortgage if you know their name and/or address. This means you can also see how much they paid for their home. I have noticed, though, that more and more filings omit the interest rate, so while you know the owner’s total debt, you can’t calculate the exact payment, although you could certainly estimate it.

  • Reply Sam |

    Becks, is your water bill every month? That seems really high to me. Here in another part of Socal our water bill is around $30 every month. How many HCF do you use?

  • Reply Honey |

    Wow. It’s just me and my boyfriend, two vegetarians, and we spend DOUBLE that on groceries, easily, plus eating out at least twice a week.

    The gas bill seems extraordinarily high as well, I’ve never seen anything like it.

    We also spend probably $100 on laundry/dry cleaning every month, since he wears suits every day and has to get his shirts professionally cleaned.

    Everything else seems comparable now that our chronically ill kitty is no longer with it, though we rent a condo from the owner and so water and trash are included with our rent.

  • Reply Honey |

    I should say, now that our chronically ill cat is no longer with US…she passed away in Feb. (I probably spent at least $8K on her in the five years that I owned her, ouch).

  • Reply Jim ~ mydebtblog.com |

    I don’t care what your budget is as long as you’re living within your means. The rules I live by are food, shelter, heat/water, clothes, and transportation. Next comes debt and having the emergency fund in place. Any extras beyond that like cell phone or TV/Internet are fine so long as you can afford it. Stuff like vacations and new cars are very low on the list when you have a bunch of debt.

  • Reply Beks |

    Jaime – Yes, this is for me and my husband. I use coupons and shop for bargains constantly.

    Money Beagle – Our healthcare costs are covered by our employers (fortunately).

    Brooklynchick – I’m going to have to look into the Verizon idea! As for the giving, we try to give 10% but we usually hover between 5% and 10%

    Leene – We do go meatless several times a week but perhaps we should cut more. It’s expensive here.

    dogatemyfinances – We use the grocery budget when we go out. That’s why we rarely go out! ; )

    ED – We have an emergency fund set up and have a few months survival savings. We apply the little amount to it because we’d rather focus more on debt. The gas is high because my husband has a long commute and works several jobs each day. I take public transportation every day to work. This number is actually going down.

    nrlec – ha! You must live here!

    jolie – Everything we have left over.

    Joy – I’m one of those people that feels uncomfortable and unsafe without a landline. I’m a wimp!

    Jen – Because people feel silly and stupid for spending a half a million dollars on a pile of bricks.

    Sam – I am actually a below average water user. Our water district shows us where we are compaired to the rest of the area and I’m about 20% less. I feel sorry for my neighbors!

    Honey – So sorry about the cat! Ugh! I feel ya on those vet bills!

    Jim – so so true!

  • Reply Nicole |

    You saw my budget stats a few weeks ago and I think you’re doing just great!

  • Reply Julie |

    Since you shared, I thought I’d share mine as well:

    Electricity/Gas: $200 (avg – higher in winter, lower in summer)
    Cell phones: $125 (since we have data plans and no land line)
    Cable/Internet: $60
    Grocery: $350
    Gas: $160
    Water: $25
    Trash: $25
    Auto/Health insurance: $225
    Extras: $1000
    Savings: $4500
    The rest is for mortgage, and charity. We do not have car payments.

  • Reply Angie |

    Wow. Either my numbers are high or you are just doing an extremely good job.

    For Two people
    Spending – $500
    Vacation – $300
    Gas – $200
    Clothes – $160
    CAr Tax – 65
    Hobbies – 130
    Groceries – 300
    Cable – 150
    Utilities – 135
    Car Maintenance – 175
    Rent – 1535

    All the rest the rest is saved for loans.

  • Reply Beks |

    Thanks for sharing your numbers!! It lets me know that I’m about right where I need to be. I’d like to spend more – I just don’t have more! ; )

    Julie, can I have your savings! ; )

  • Reply Julie |

    I forgot to add:

    $600/month for childcare
    $2200/month for mortgage

    We are a family of 3 (husband, me, and baby).

  • Reply Julie |

    Oh! If you add up what you pay towards your CC and student loans you probably have the same amount as my savings. My husband and I just happen to have those done and didn’t see the need to spend the money we stopped paying towards debt.

  • Reply emmi |

    We canceled our cable and phone, but kept the internet. Neither of us commute, so move the gas line item to “wine” and you have us. 😉

    Otherwise they look pretty similar.

    Angie: $500 for spending money? Wow. What is that going to? maybe you should pack lunches and coffee every day if that’s what you are using it for.

  • Reply Debt Plan |

    “Water: $70” That is the only one that seems high. Could just be due to your location in SoCal.

    Like Jamie, I was also surpised with a $300 grocery bill- Good work.

  • Reply Kevin |

    I am a single guy and I live in FL. I also work within 6 miles of my house. So my expenses are really low compared to some of the above ones. I rarely use heat or A/C — which might explain the “single” part of the first sentence — so my electric bill rarely goes above $50. If I do use A/C in the summer it can double the bill.

    I’m not really a shy person when it comes to money so here is what I budget for.

    Savings: $110
    Car Insurance + Maint.: $98
    Shopping: $50
    Misc: $44

    Internet: $48
    Cell Phone: $35
    Water: $60
    Electric: $50
    Gas: $80
    Food and Dining: $175
    Debt Repayment: $824

    And there is the mortgage payment as well. The top four amounts, above the “—” are all amounts that go into savings. And they are used as necessary to cover the expenses that come up for their area.

    I am working towards paying off my car and student loans, as well as the 20% part of the 80/20 on my house. That is where the $824 a month goes right now. I have to confess that the $175/month for food is more of a “goal” than a true budget. I typically go over a little bit. Usually less than $25-$30. This is good because I was spending around $300/mo before I really started tracking it. So I might not be hitting my goal just yet. But I am going a LOT better than when I wasn’t trying.

    Also, this isn’t a “zero-balance” budget. It is arranged to consistently come in under my actual income. And the extra amount is left in my checking account until it is large enough that I move it to savings. It provides a buffer so that I don’t end up over-drawing my account.

  • Reply Beks |

    Kevin – trust me, girls think guys who spend money wisely are hot.

    I’m with you on the ‘zero-balance’ budget. I can’t use a zero-balance budget either. I know things come up and I’d rather not have an overdrawn account.

  • Reply Angie |

    Hum. and that $500 I just decided to increase to $600 after ALWAYS going over with 2 weeks in the month to go.

    Spending $ for me is my catch-all and covers:
    – Household/personal items
    – Restaurants (~once/week lunches)
    – Alcohol
    – Entertainment

    I’m not really sure where it all goes… but it goes fast. I tried to base it around having 1 night out a week then enough for household expenses. Its been really high because of trips we’ve had planned.

  • Reply Kevin |

    I have to count my eating out with my normal food because eating out was killing me financially. $5 here and there can add up fast when it’s 10-12 times a week. So if I want to eat out, I have to recognize that it is coming out of my grocery budget. I was spending almost $80 a month just on food at work. Then there would be days when I didn’t want to cook at home so I would order pizza. Or I would run to some fast food place. Same with alcohol and for the same reasons. It is just too easy to waste money on it. I like my beer and cider as much as anyone but it is not a priority expense.

    And, fast food cost me even more than the expected price. One day, recently, I decided that I was just going to spend the $6 and get some food and it would be worth it. On the way home, I rear-ended a truck in front of me when they slammed on their brakes suddenly. Two hours later, I got home with my cold and disgusting food. And I get to decide if I want to repair my bumper or save the deductible. And I know my rates will go up because this was my fault. It was a very expensive McDonald’s run and the food was bad by the time I even got to try it.

    For the time being, I need to restrict my eating out to a couple times a month. More than that just sucks my budget dry. If I could fit it in, I would eat out more often.

  • Reply Jenn |

    There are such wild variations from one area to the next and one country to another that some line items are interesting but cannot be compared to what others are doing. I’ll throw my numbers in too for fun (all amounts in Canadian$). Family of 4 (kids 8 & 15), live on 3 acres in a country subdivision 20min out from the suburbs of a major city. Hubby drives to suburbs then takes bus to downtown. I normally commute to the suburbs, but am currently working from home. Gas budget assumes I’m commuting. We’re on well/septic so no water/sewage bill. Garbage is included in property taxes. We only have one utility, electricity which covers heat/AC, the pump for the well, and regular household electricity. The grocery amount is high (and I’m working on that) but includes all personal care/cleaning supplies, we all take our lunches and rarely eat out, so it’s ALL the food. We haven’t had cable in 15yrs, we shop at thrift stores, and we buy used vehicles and drive them until they fall apart. Okay, here goes:

    mortgage $1600
    property taxes $415
    electricity $425 ($150 in summer, $1500 in winter)
    gas $400 (2 vehicles, 20min to reach suburbs)
    bus $50
    house/car/RV insurance $340
    Life insurance $225
    Phone $40
    Cell $80 (two phones sharing plan)
    Internet $65
    Groceries $800 (we have a teenaged boy…)
    Misc pocket money $80
    No vehicle payments (buy used, pay cash)

    That takes ~55% of our net (depending whether we’re paying summer or winter electric bills). The 45% that’s unallocated is occasionally required to cover car/house repairs, clothes. We spend on these so seldom that we don’t budget for them specifically. The rest mostly goes to paying down the mortgage ASAP and investing toward early retirement. Every weekend I balance up the actual numbers against what was planned in my spreadsheet and any excess not used that week is skimmed off and sent to the mortage or investments. This year we had to replace my husband’s old truck so from March-July we just didn’t invest or pay any extra on the mortgage. When we had enough cash accumulated we replaced the 1997 Suburban with a 2005 Durango. The next week I resumed transfers to mortgage/investments. The summer of 2008 we decided to do a big trip with the kids and funded it the same way. Temporarily stopped skimming off the excess and instead let it pile up until we had enough for the trip. Some folks set aside regular amounts for holidays, vehicle purchases, new roofs/tires/appliances etc, but I find these things rarely happen so suddenly that you don’t have at least a few weeks warning and more likely a few months. Because we live waaaay below our means we just stop skimming off the extra for a few weeks/months and then we have enough for the big ticket items. I don’t know if anyone else does it this way but it seems to work for us. I just can’t be bothered stashing money in various savings accounts earmarked for future purchases, and we aren’t the type to spend wildly just because cash is piling up in our regular chequing account. I’ve never felt the need to “hide” it in another account so it doesn’t get spent. We’re just so used to living in frugal mode that we sometimes have difficulty relaxing and spending on anything not planned on the spreadsheet.

    I’ll be getting laid off in the next couple of months (company is in bancruptcy protection so the end is near, and there won’t be any serverance package). It certainly takes the worry out of finding my next job when we are already covering the essentials with one salary. If I don’t find a new job before I’m laid off and there’s a gap, I’ll just temporarily suspend the mortgage/investment top ups until I find another job.

So, what do you think ?