One of the most enlightening and beneficial personal finance exercises one can complete is to calculate your average monthly budget.
I say “monthly budget”, but for the purposes of this post, monthly budget is synonymous with monthly spending.
If you can calculate that, you’ll instantly surpass the majority of Americans, whose idea of personal finance is to close their eyes, spend away, and pray their heads stay above water – even without doing a bit of budgeting work.
When you figure out your monthly budget expenses, you can:
- Calculate what it actually costs you to survive
- Figure out where you can trim the fat
- Figure out where your spending could be at an optimal low
- Know what income level you need to avoid going in to debt
- Calculate what income level you need to achieve saving goals
- Get a rough idea of what kind of savings you’ll need hit your crossover point
- Get a ballpark estimate of how many more years you’ll need to work to reach your crossover point and an eventual retirement savings goal
It all starts with that monthly spend level.
My Monthly Budget
I just completed this exercise again, as I do every month when I add up my credit card statements.
My estimate for this year is a little over $1,200 per month (excluding home, property tax, & insurance, which for the purposes of this exercise are heavily geo-dependent). That’s about $15,000 per year (for the two of us, 1 dog, and 2 cats), just a bit under the U.S. poverty line of $15,730 in earnings for a family of 2.
Here’s my monthly budget breakdown:
- Life Insurance: $23
- Auto Insurance: $79
- Student Loan (2%, so we happily keep it): $126
- Cell Phone: $16
- Internet/cable: $97
- Gas & Electric: $110
- Water & Sewer: $30
- Groceries/Personal Care: $500
- Fuel: $50
- Restaurant: $20
- Pets: $50
- Random stuff: $100
I’m being generous on the random stuff. It prob. isn’t that much. It would include clothing, entertainment, and random stuff off of Amazon. Even vacation would comfortably fit in the “random stuff” category, as it cost us $346 total last year. We’ll probably make a similar trip this year.
I spend what I consider to be a lot on pricey organic food and could cut back further. I am considering selling my newer car and getting an older one to lower my auto insurance payments, if the right one comes along.
I may be spending near poverty levels, but I feel like I’m living like a king.
How does my spending compare to the average? The average monthly budget is $4,804, or $57,658 annually, in the U.S., for a husband/wife household (here are more data samples, if you want to compare your family size).
What is your Monthly Budget?
I think it would be a fun and telling exercise for everyone to calculate their average monthly spending (here’s a fancy spreadsheet, if you need it) and share it here so we can all see where we’re at and clever ideas on how to get certain categories down. If you want to take it a step further, you could also share what you want to lower and how you plan to do it (a little accountability never hurts).