Thoughts on Posting my Spending

So, my thoughts on posting about my spending. In a word? It’s been hard. Really hard. I don’t think I realized before how intensely personal spending money is to me. Or at least, how intensely personal it can feel. There are so many aspects of who I am, how I grew up, what I feel is important, wrapped up in my choices. Some choices happen on autopilot, the results of habits hardening over time and some are well thought out, even agonized over. To put it all out there, for people to know and judge, it’s a lot. (And yes, we’re all judging, it’s what we do. In fact, it’s what I asked you to do,)

It’s hard because I only write down what I spend, not the (many) things I choose not to get. It’s difficult because I feel a lot of shame about my spending. It’s one of the two biggest “problem areas” in my life, and I am not proud of anything, really, when it comes to money. I don’t feel competent. I don’t feel capable. I feel like a glutton. And a fuck up.

So sharing where every single dollar goes makes me feel very open, exposed, raw.

The thing is, I have never limited my spending. Not in any real, productive way. I grew up getting whatever I wanted and I got used it (I’m sure I didn’t get everything I wanted, especially when I was a little kid, but it felt like I did when I was older). I honestly don’t really know how to not get what I want. I feel horrible saying it, but it’s true. I’m spoiled. And entitled. I’m the product of two parents who had next to nothing growing up and overcompensated later in life, giving their kids everything they never had (to be fair, my sister grew up in the same environment and she never buys herself anything, but she does have very high expectations for every aspects of her life, those expectations just aren’t centered around stuff).

I started working when I was in high school, but my parents paid for everything I needed, so I was able to spend what I made on what I wanted. And I wanted a lot. I kept up these irresponsible, sometimes even destructive, spending habits well into my 20s. It wasn’t until I had kids that I started becoming aware of how much I was spending on stuff I didn’t need, and even then I couldn’t seem to do anything about it.

The fact that I didn’t rack up any credit card debt until I was on maternity leave speaks to the fact that my mom was actually REALLY good with money and taught me to never bounce a check or carry a balance. So I suppose I did put restrictions on myself, but even as an adult my parents always helped enough with my “needs” that I hardly had to reign in my “wants.” And I never looked ahead enough to put even a cent away into savings. A meager $300/month retirement contribution was all I’ve ever managed.

When I met my now-husband he worked as a corporate attorney and made huge amounts of money, but continued living within the means of a law student as far as the big ticket items were concerned (he rented a room in an apartment with five other guys, didn’t own a car, didn’t buy nice clothes or things). We got used to eating out at all the trendy restaurants, or just ordering in when we were too tired to cook (which was most of the time). We got used to doing whatever it was we wanted to do.

Now a days we only regularly get take-out meals that end up being $4 (or less) for a single meal (like our local extra large pizza or steamed buns). We treat ourselves to $8 burritos (which is just a regular burrito in our area, nothing fancy) about 2x a month. And yes, when it’s a special occasion we go out to eat. It’s what people in San Francisco do. (And I know it’s not a reason to do it, but it’s hard to ignore).

Really though, it’s true. All the people we know in this city live this way. Everyone is making the choices we make. All our friends go out to eat, see shows, and go to events. They just do. It’s what people in this city do. It’s why they live here, because they want to do these things.

I don’t know how they afford it. My guess is they don’t. Some of them still don’t have kids, so that helps them make ends meet. Some of them definitely make more than us, but most of our parent friends are in our socio-economic bracket. They all order in, or go out to eat. The do date nights. (And the vast majority have to pay for a sitter to do it! I bet we save over a thousand dollars a year by having grandparents around to watch our kids for us–and we have more opportunities to go out because of it.)

I’m not saying that because we see other people doing it, we should be able to as well. I guess I’m just trying to explain some of the choices we make. I don’t think we’re trying to keep up with the jonses, we just see people living a certain way and we assume we should be able to live that way too. It’s why we’ve never looked closely at what we spend, because we didn’t consider our choices extravagant. It all just seemed normal.

Creating a budget that includes savings is going to seriously alter the way we live. We will have to make so many different choices. We will have to determine what is most important to us, and what we actually need We’ll have to learn to say no, to others but most importantly to ourselves. It’s going to take a lot of hard work. It’s going make us feel uncomfortable, and upset, and angry, and frustrated, and depressed. In the end we need to find a way to make it work. It would be irresponsible not to.

Posting my weekly spending is just the first baby steps of a thousand mile journey. I’m not going to get it all right in week two, or three, or even 15. It will be a work in progress and slowly, but surely I will move in the right direction. Already the idea of ordering from a Thai place we used to frequent seems like a luxury, I’m sure the idea of getting a pizza will feel that way in a few years.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep posting my spending, even though it makes me feel a lot of things I’d rather not feel. I’m going to put it out there, because it does help. When I know I’ll be held accountable by all of you, I’m better at holding myself accountable. There have been times I’ve wanted to get something, something that would absolutely break my spending ban. I’ve even toyed with the idea of buying something and just lying to all of you about it. A simple omission and it would all be okay, no one would be the wiser. Except for me. I would know. And I have to remind myself every time that lying here, in this space, is only lying to myself. And that is what keeps me from doing it, every time.

So I’ll keep posting an inventory of what I spend. I’ll keep writing about this budget journey. There is still so much for me to do and it’s going to take a long time to do it. One budget post at a time.

Do you think spending is a personal thing? How much do you feel comfortable sharing about it?

18 Comments

  1. I was thinking about this very thing when I read your post (and the comments) yesterday. That it would make me feel really exposed and vulnerable to have my spending out there—to be judged by all! And also that I didn’t really notice anything “wrong” or un-justified, but that probably means that I’m quite spendy myself. I agree that living in a big city, with all there is to do (and eat!) makes it harder (doable, but harder) for me to really limit unnecessary spending. When everyone is going to activities and restaurants, it seems the norm. I didn’t grow up that way, but we also lived in a small town where there wasn’t really anywhere good to eat or much to do. I definitely wasn’t spoiled growing up—my parents were quite frugal—but I also never lacked in anything I really wanted. Its hard to deny myself or my kids.

  2. Yes, I can imagine how hard it is. And your post explains a lot. I wasn’t poor growing up, but we didn’t have a lot either, and in college i was on my own. No college fund, and no one paying for me (or planning for me). Scholarships, grants, work study, and a teeny bit of loans. That’s when I learned to live like a starving student. So very diff upbringing. And I did rebel somewhat in my 20s, eating out a lot.

    Yeah, I know people at work with a salary similar to mine and I wonder how they afford all the vacations, etc. I think some just aren’t saving in deferred comp and/or have subsidies from their family (at least in one case from what I’ve heard).

  3. I’m having a hard time with all these money posts, particularly the comments that do seem judgemental (although I suppose you did ask for it!). The spending you’ve detailed seems very reasonable (restrictive even) to me, and the way you’ve described your spending in the past does NOT mesh in my head with something you stated in this post (that you hadn’t racked up any credit card debt until maternity leave). I’m beginning to suspect you’re just being WAY too hard on yourself. I’m also beginning to question how much of this is related to the way you and your husband split bills – don’t I remember you saying you two have separate accounts and don’t really co-mingle money? I cannot imagine trying to live that way (though I know many people like it/make it work), but I’d be very interested in your explaining more about that – why the decision was made/how it works/if you still truly believe it works the best for BOTH of y’all, etc…

  4. It’s hard to get behind the idea that you’ve had destructive spending habits given that you avoided credit card debt for most of your life while on a modest income and paying mortgage and preschool in SF. When I read this post, this whole exercise is starting to sound like a new vehicle for you to be hard on yourself! You don’t really seem to eat out that much anyway. I don’t think ordering a pizza is at all decadent. At all. It’s probably not the most nutritious option but it isn’t expensive.

    Honestly, I know it’s too late to do anything now, but the only thing I would have done differently if in your shoes would be the bike as this expense has started to mushroom into more expenses and you did the whole thing rather quickly. You probably could have waited another month until your dad returned to gather more information. But, you seem to be enjoying it so that’s great.

    I think you hit the nail on the head a few weeks ago when you said you didn’t have financial goals. Right now, you just seem to be working toward punishing yourself! I think goals will help you and add clarity . Even if they are modest, then you have something to work toward. You’ve been successful with working toward a goal weight. Maybe you can come up with an amount you want in savings and work toward that.

    1. I don’t think that she is punishing herself– I think she’s learning about her relationship with money and where her spending is right now (a good first step is just seeing where the money goes!). In terms of whether she’s spending too much or the right amount, that depends entirely on what her income is and what her goals are.

      If a goal is financial security, then for most of the middle class, some sacrifice is necessary, and earlier sacrifice generally means less sacrifice overall. But the good thing is that the sacrifice isn’t forever– just long enough to get on more solid footing, in this case it sounds like the OP is working towards that by removing some regular expenses (“needs”) and increasing income over the next three years. She’s doing it in a really thoughtful manner where she’s putting her information out there (listed in a way that’s easy for her to see) and thinking about the benefit she’s getting from these items and why and how she spends. It seems healthy to me.

      I love these introspective posts, btw, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the OP’s relationship with money and spending changes over the course of this exercise.

      1. I think I should have said self-criticism rather than self-punishment. I think there could be tremendous value in tracking your expenses publicly. It’s a good first step to greater financial security. But today she immediately went to a place where she was so hard on herself, and it was totally unwarranted!

        So the tone and content of the post made me think the focus of her expense tracking has been finding fault with herself rather than reaching a financial goal.

  5. Spending IS intensely personal and I wouldn’t want to put out the detail you do here. I avoided telling you what our take-out pizza cost in my last comment because we buy two so that one can be gluten-free for me and the amount looked ridiculous for take-out pizza 🙂 I think if this exercise helps you start feeling more comfortable in your spending then it is worthwhile.

  6. One thing that is puzzling to me is that you seem to be determining allowable or justifiable expenses Rather than looking at the total dollar amount. Adding to whet Annie said, I think it would make more sense to set a dollar amount for savings, a dollar amount needed to cover your bills, and then the rest is for you to do as you please. Maybe you could track your purchases to see what categories you spend the most in, and then work on reducing those. But Annie is right, this exercise seems like it’s more about self-discipline than financial health right now.

  7. You can do it!

    I haven’t been commenting (and probably won’t be commenting) because of a comedy of errors that has left me without internet access for a few days (I’m at work right now with internet, but only briefly).

    Right now we’re throwing money at problems… which is the greatest freedom and for me makes the usual frugality and earlier sacrifice worth it.

    Also one of the amazing things about SF is all the *free* stuff there is to do. Golden gate park, hiking on Mt. Tam (and lots of other places), cultural events in the park, and so on. I don’t actually remember much other than the museum of natural history that we spent money to do when I was little (we lived in SF for a few years when I was young and my parents did not make much money at all), but I do remember so many of the amazing free events and doing a lot of walking.

  8. I suppose this is one area boondocks living really helps. I have to be aware of all purchases because I can’t just run to the store. It has to be a planned event, with lists, and enough money because we don’t use atm or credit for groceries/household items. There’s nowhere to run to real fast to get a quick meal, they’re over 20 miles away, so when you factor gas in, you better really want to eat it, and have planned ahead so you get there in a decent amount of time. And there is absolutely no delivery!! Hahaha!! OH how I miss food delivery!!! Any clothes purchases are an hour away, unless I plan on buying stretch pants from walmart, (which I totally did when I found a shelf of them for $1.50. For reals.) I have to be completely aware of what I have in stock and what we are going to need when. It helps with overspending. Plus I was way poor all through my 20s. You learn what’s important. Cheap vodka and tomato soup with grilled cheese for dinner every night, what what!! Haha!

  9. I grew up like you did, and I definitely felt the same way about “stuff.” Heck, I still do, but it comes and goes in waves. We always worked, but my parents paid for our car, gas, clothes, and insurance (until I put the family on high-risk, and even then, they just had me pay $100 a month which was not close to what I cost them). We did give them our full-time summer internship money to pay college tuition, but we also worked part-time and that money was ours to spend. And like you, none of us carried balances on credit cards until our 20’s, and even then, it was only for a matter of months. So I don’t begrudge the way I was (or you were) brought up. Yes, we got a lot of what we wanted, but our parents obviously taught us how to manage money and that’s more important, in my opinion, than being materially spoiled.

    I just posted on my blog about money, before I saw this post go up, so I guess I’m pretty comfortable sharing some things. I don’t share numbers because it’s Brian’s business too, and he would not be comfortable with that, but I share quite a bit (as you’ve seen in my comments on your blog).

    What does your husband do now? Is he out of corporate law? I NEVER realized that about him!

    1. I would imagine it’s much easier to not carry credit card balances when your parents are paying for everything. Just saying.

      1. You are not understanding me. My parents stopped paying for things when we got out of school. They didn’t even help me pay for health insurance after I lost my job! I never had credit cards in school, and after graduating, never carried a balance (until the one time I did after losing my job) because of what they taught me. Wow… A bit judgy, don’t you think?

      2. Maybe my statement about no debt until my 20s was misleading. I had no credit card debt until my mid 20’s after losing my job (carried for 2 months) and then at 29 when I bought my house. My parents taught us to never carry CC debt and taught us, and lived, living within our means, whatever our means are. Sounds like Noemis parents taught her the same thing, and I was just relating a similar experience.

        1. Yep, same experience here. My parents were broke when I was younger, but around the time I went to college things picked up for them and they helped me with grocery/gas money through college. They also taught me to never carry a credit card balance, so even though I suck at reigning in my spending, I’m still pretty good with money, if that makes sense.

  10. My issues about privacy and worthiness prevent my even blogging so I see what you are doing as massively courageous. There is terrific value in writing spending down and not omitting items. Why I like my fitbit. I cannot lie to myself about how much I walk. I think you will benefit greatly from seeing this summer where you spend. It is in what your spend AND what you decide against spending because you don’t want to show that item for whatever reason.
    I worried about the bike and hills in SF but you have shown you know yourself and you really are riding with the children getting both exercise and saving money and stresses that come with driving in SF.
    Publishing your spending helps you reach your goal of being more fiscally responsible and considering your purchases. You also provide a measure for the rest of us in our own decisions about spending and needs vs wants.
    When I worked I was in accounting and HR. I dealt with many ages of adults who lived fabulous lives… and then had to get advances to pay their taxes or child support bills or borrow from 401Ks to meet obligations. I also saw people who managed their lives and expenses admirably. You could not guess from the outside, or their income, or anything else, who was in which category or how stressed they were.
    I remember when a 45 year old married Ph.D. all at once, for the very first time, discovered they were paying INTEREST on their giant credit card debt.
    So please keep posting on this topic, as long as you are comfortable doing so, because we all are clearly journeying the same path of figuring out the whole wants/needs story. Your sharing helps us.

  11. Even though we’re being quite frugal now, I could never be so open as to post our spending in the way you’re doing! You’re very brave! Or brutally honest with yourself. Still, it is a good way to really see what you spend. (In the same way as writing down everything I eat is a good way to realise how I could lose weight.)

    In terms of saving, there is the philosophy of paying yourself first. Figuring out how much you’d like to save, and putting that away first, then making yourself fit around the expenses that are left. I think that’s what I’ll do if I ever get a job again! (Can you sense my frustration at the job market?) Because it is amazing how much we could cut from our spending if we really needed to. Yesterday, my husband and I worked out roughly how much money we’ve spent on buying lunches the last 20 years, rather than making sandwiches or taking leftovers from home. It was a five figure amount! Ouch.

    1. I think I actually have a plan for savings that I’m planning on unveiling in a future post. I’m quite proud of it. It definitely involves taking the money out and then living with what is left.

      Isn’t it amazing how little things add up. So insane! But I think it’s good to do the calculations every once in a while so you can make informed decisions about where your money goes.

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