[Editor’s Note: I always find it hilarious to hear how much some of my readers are spending and then compare it to what I read on FIRE blogs. For instance, I had a resident trying to convince me the other day that $100K was a reasonable amount for a resident to spend in a year. WCI Network partner, Physician on FIRE demonstrates in this republished post what happens when you combine a FIRE mentality with a physician income. Making $200-500K and spending < $100K is a recipe for becoming very wealthy, very quickly.]
I’ve been granted exclusive access to a detailed account of a full years’ spending by a multimillionaire family of four. Using free online software by Mint, every outgoing dollar was tracked from September 1, 2015 to August 31, 2016.
Multimillionaire Family Tracks Spending for a Year: They Spent How Much?!?
This was no ordinary year for this multimillionaire family. Of course, when you have millions, no year is ordinary, right? No, sir.
There were home renovations in the fall that necessitated the purchase of a new hot tub. Gotta have that hot tub to soothe those achy, wealthy muscles and complete the newly finished 400 square foot patio.
There were other “one-time” expenses. Their younger boy underwent a surgical operation last winter, and his older brother went under the knife in the spring. This family can afford to pay for unforeseen medical costs out of pocket, so they carry a high-deductible health plan and max out an HSA.
We all know that rich people love to travel, and this family is no exception. In the fall, he flew halfway across the country for a college football game, and she visited a close friend in New York. There was a couples’ getaway in Puerto Rico in November, where they kayaked in the world’s brightest bioluminescent bay, hiked through the Rio Camuy caves, and took in a college basketball game. In March, the whole family took a Disney cruise to the Bahamas and spent a long weekend at Universal Studios in Orlando.
One home is never enough when you can afford a second one. This family used their cabin, a cozy lakeside condo most of the summer, and invited close friends in need of a place to stay to live in their second home throughout last fall, winter, and spring.
This family recognizes that one of their most important assets is the health of their own bodies, so there is the obligatory family gym membership, and plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and seafood filling up their grocery cart.
If you’re curious as to how I have such intimate knowledge of this family’s activities and finances, I’ll let you in on a secret. I’m talking about my own family. In the third person. Which is pretty annoying, so I’ll stop now.
Are you ready to see how much we spent over the last year?
One Year of Spending for My Family of Four
Over the last year, our monthly expenses ranged from about $3,700 to $10,500. Altogether, we spent an average of $6,163 per month, which adds up to $73,959.
In six of the 12 months, we held spending under $4,700 and came in under $4,000 twice. Our three most expensive months happen to be the first three months we tracked our spending.
While that last piece of information might suggest that we made changes to our lives to decrease our spending, the truth is that there were a number of “one-time” expenses that we didn’t incur in other months.
For example, our most expensive month included a hot tub purchase and Disney cruise for four. Subtract those, and we spent well under $4,000 that month. That first quarter included a fair amount of travel, a hefty check to the orthodontist, our very last preschool payment, and one of two property tax payments on our primary home.
Over the last 6 months, we spent $31,116. If we can maintain that level of spending over the next six months, our annual expenses will drop to $62,232. In fact, looking back at the last three quarters, we spend $44,387, or just under $5,000 a month. Extrapolated to a 12-month year, we could have spending of under $60,000 for this calendar year if our expenses are held in check over the remaining four months.
[2018 Update: Spending Reports for the calendar years 2016 & 2017 below
Looking at only the most recent three months, we spent $12,398, or $4,133 per month. While I’d like to stretch that lower level of spending out over the course of the entire year to say we could live this lifestyle on less than $50,000, it would not be realistic.
The summer months have none of the following annual or semi-annual bills: property tax on primary home, home insurance, or auto insurance. Those bills add up to about $6,000, or about $500 per month if spread throughout the year. Also, most of our summertime travel is to and from our second home, which minimizes our travel costs in the summer months. In the winter, we like to head south. It costs much more to fly south and pay for lodging than it does to drive to our cabin.
Where Did the Money Go?
Here is a breakdown by category.
Food and dining is the number one line item. 60% of this went to groceries, which cost us about $7,000 for the year. Restaurants and Alcohol were tied at 16%, while fast food and coffee shops accounted for the other 8%. Yes, we drink. We also host guests and entertain quite a bit, and homebrew supplies and equipment are categorized as “alcohol” for the purposes of tracking. Nevertheless, it was “an eye-opener” to realize that we’re spending more than $5 a day as a couple on drinks.
Health & Fitness is the next category. We have to work off those empty calories somehow! With two surgeries in the family, this was an atypical year. We spent $4,000 out of pocket on surgery and anesthesia, and $2,500 at the orthodontist. Eventually, I will withdraw that money from my HSA, but I’ll let the money grow in there for a while first. A YMCA membership and race entrance fees were the bulk of the remaining costs. My first and last Tough Mudder was not a frugal affair, and I am now in physical therapy for my shoulder that was separated not once, not twice, but three times in 30 minutes!
On the Homefront, we bought a hot tub and I struggled through a minor DIY bathroom upgrade. Home insurance was included here, along with many trips to Menards and Home Depot.
Travel could have easily been our top spending category, but I kept costs reasonable with some credit card travel hacking, CME travel, and being relatively frugal on our journeys. The biggest expense was a $3,000 Disney cruise booking. Tickets for five to visit Universal Orlando weren’t cheap, either.
Vehicles can be expensive to own, operate, and maintain. Vehicles also kill, which another unfortunate deer learned this winter, when in an instant, he met his demise and we met our deductible. Gas has been quite affordable lately, which accounted for 38% ($2,670) of our Auto budget. Repairs were another $2,400, and insurance on two high mileage vehicles was $1,325.
Utilities for our primary home ran about $450 a month on average. This also includes cell phone bills of about $25 a month for two lines on Republic Wireless, and $360 for a one-time purchase of two cords of firewood, which we used to supplement the furnace heat in the winter. I love me a good FIRE. I’ve also negotiated a much better deal on our Dish television service, and will save about $600 over the next ten months.
Property tax on two properties with a combined value of approximately $400,000 was about $4,600 or 1.15% of the value. Not bad! I more than make up for it in income tax payments, but that’s another story.
“Shopping” is an odd catch-all category @ Mint. Wal-Mart purchases default to this category, although we’re mostly buying groceries there. A detailed review of the individual transactions reveals that a few hundred dollars worth of groceries were probably mistakenly assigned here and not recategorized. Clothing, electronics, and toys end up in this category. I bought a $400 laptop, mainly to manage the blog from the road, and that falls under “shopping.” I didn’t exclude blog-related expenses even though I can count them as business expenses when the time comes to pay taxes. Our second home cost us roughly $3,800 in dues and utilities, and it also accounts for $1,000 of the property taxes mentioned above. In a typical year, it is winterized rather than lived in year-round. We’ll save about $1,000 in utility bills this year compared to last.
Education costs were for preschool and piano lessons. We recently added $15 a month for a subscription to a Spanish language teaching program for the family. Now that our younger boy has moved on directly to first grade, we are done paying for school for quite a while. Thankfully, the public schools are quite good where we live. This next year, we should save about $2,500 in this category compared to last year.
Next was $2,900 on gifts, which includes some small donations that we paid for directly. Note that this doesn’t include the bulk of our charitable giving, which comes from our Donor Advised Fund. This seems like a good time to remind you that half of this site’s revenue will be donated to charity.
The rest of the spending (note I don’t call it a budget; budgets are not sexy) is not terribly exciting. We spend a little on the boys, on entertainment (including tickets to theater and NCAA football games), and very little on our poor little dog. Not included in that line item is the dog food we buy in bulk at Costco, which gets categorized as grocery, as does the tick and flea preventer and heartworm pills. We only “board” her with family and friends, and we have arranged a dog swap with friends of ours, so sometimes our dog has a playmate when our friends leave town.
What Did You Expect?
If you have been a reader of this blog, there may not be too many surprises here. If you’re less familiar, you might have expected a multimillionaire family to spend a little more. Maybe a lot more.
Our spending is at a level where we are comfortable. When I say comfortable, I mean that in two ways.
One, we do have a pretty darned comfortable lifestyle. Plenty of creature comforts, travel, and experiences that make us happy.
Two, it is an amount of money that we are comfortable parting with on an annual basis. If we spent twice as much, it would make both my wife and I, two born savers, quite uncomfortable. Also, I would no longer be able to call us financially independent.
Did you notice any glaring omissions from the spending report? For one, we are completely debt free. We have no mortgage payments, and our student loans have been paid in full. With those big bills behind us, we are able to spend on things that bring us joy, while saving and investing a large majority of my paycheck. Using the Savings Calculator I created, I estimate that I’m currently saving 52% of my gross pay, and 77% of net.
You don’t see a whole lot of insurance there, either. While term life insurance and disability insurance are vital when others are dependent upon your income, they are superfluous for a financially independent physician. Being self-insured saves me about $4,000 a year.
There are other line items that are minimal or non-existent. I mow the lawn in the summer, and blow the snow off the driveways and sidewalks in the winter. I cut my own hair of the lace wigs, and cut the boys’ hair as well. We’ll get them a professional cut once a year before school pictures, and my wife usually gets two low-cost haircuts a year. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I am a frugal physician. It works for me.
Can every physician live this way? No, and I don’t expect you to. We take advantage of geographic arbitrage, living in the upper Midwest where the paychecks, like all the children, are above average.
Meanwhile, the cost of living is low. But the east and west coast cities need doctors, too, and I know you can’t live this well on $60,000 or $75,000 a year in many large cities around our great nation. Of course, where you choose to live is a choice. It may be made for you by your partner, but it is still a choice. And it may very well be the right choice. Life isn’t all about the Benjamins, despite what Puff Daddy says.
One last comment on “one-time expenses.” They happen a lot. If you’re a homeowner, not many years will go by without at least one significant repair, remodel, upgrade, or landscaping job. We’ll see “one-time” orthodontic bills at least a couple more times. We might not take a $3,000 cruise every year, but we will be taking frequent family vacations, and some will cost that much and more. One-time expenses might be unique, but they are not infrequent, as I learned when we tracked our spending.
Have you tracked your spending? How does it compare? Any suggestions for optimization? Let me know down below!