$756.23. That’s my average monthly spend on Dining Out.
That’s $9,074.76 for a 12 month span or $24.87 a day! Wake up call!
I mean I really love UberEats. Getting the best parts of dining out without wearing pants and dealing with the wild city streets is worth it for some, but ~ $25 a day is pretty wild. That’s way over the averages for both single people and families of four based on the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. For California (one of the highest) it still only sits at $9.02 a day and $3,295 for the year (Business Insider did the digging, but you can check the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis too).
So why the obsession with take out and how much I spend?
One simple reason…
To reach my definition of Financial Independence (not reliant on a W2 income to live my current lifestyle), I need to know what current lifestyle costs. If there is no destination how are you supposed to get there? Well you could stumble upon your end result, but I’d rather not leave that to chance.
So how do you track what you spend in an efficient way to then inform your final destination (your Financial Independence number or FI Number for short)?
Getting started on tracking your wildly out of or in control expenses…
The easiest way to get started find the medium you’ll be using to track everything and then get to it. There are beginner friendly apps like Mint, pro apps like You Need a Budget (YNAB), and then the cross between the two with a bunch more work – Google sheets. I personally have created a Google sheet which I’ve tracked, but that’s because I wanted to do some additional custom things to my sheet and find it almost therapeutic to track this at the end of the day. Once you’ve found what you’d like to start tracking your expenses with you’ll need to figure out what categories you’ll be using.
Identify what categories you’re tracking
You get your paycheck and then after you pay your bills, save a little money, and invest a bit you’re staring at your checking account perplexed.
Where did the cash go?
This is the part that takes the most time out of this entire process. To make it easier start with some really obvious categories like Dining Out and Groceries. You can’t just use ‘food’ because Dining Out and your Groceries are indeed a different expense altogether (see the beginning of the post).
Keep running down the list and think of your normal expenses (look through a few bank statements to see where things are going, write them down, and lump them into a category. I started with a list of 12 (combined things like rent and utilities) and expanded to 16 for 2022. This is because as you track your expenses you’ll see some can be broken out into things that are fixed or variable. Housing is a great example. I started with just that, but expanded to Utilities, Repairs, and Rent.
Getting the information into your tracker
This could potentially be the easiest process unless you went my route. Either way your sheet or app are already set up at this point so it’s just entering the data on a regular basis. Mint (when I used it long ago) allows you to link up bank accounts and categorize your spend. You can also do custom lines if it isn’t picking up certain expenses.
If you went my route with the Google sheets and tracking it manually, then just make sure you get your receipts after a meal, gas, etc. I found it pretty easy to just get text receipts and then just type them into the sheets when I got back home. I did this typically every day or two and left my receipts right next to my computer. Don’t forget to throw them away or your desk is going to start looking like a paper shredder.
Evaluate your averages and find your FI number
With either method you use you’ll be able to see a sum of all your expenses each month and hopefully the specific category. Then you’ll be able to simply take the averages, multiply by 12, and see what your average FI number is. Mine actually went down from 2021 from 2022 probably because I was more conscious of what I was spending my money on.