Last updated: January 19, 2024
- Expense Categories
- Expense Totals
- Daycare Adjustment
- Our Best Expenses
- Our Worst Expenses
- What were your best and/or worst purchases of 2023?
It’s that time of year again – summarizing our annual expenses! Woohoo! I know that’s everyone else’s favorite activity as well.
Last year I thought I might try to do quarterly expense updates, but that definitely was too ambitious. There are way too many other things to do, including lots of analysis and other posts I want to write.
So from now on, I’ll be doing just annual expense updates.
I like doing for several reasons:
- sharing our expenses publicly is a great way to hold my wife and myself accountable in our finances and lifestyle
- showing others what is possible: if you’re spending more than us and are looking for ideas to cut down your expenses, hopefully this post will help
- sharing the best and worst purchases we’ve made
If you have any ideas on reducing our spending further, please let us know in the comments below or shoot us a note! I always love to hear good workout tips for the Frugality Gym.
To quote from my “Ten Steps to Become and Stay Financially Independent” eBook (see sidebar):
Reducing expenses has a triple benefit:
- You save more money towards your FI goal
- You need less overall money to achieve FI
- Every dollar you save is 100% tax-free
Let’s start with the total expenses we had in each of the categories we came up with.
Note: some of the product links below are affiliate links. That means if you look at one of the linked items and make a purchase, we’ll receive a commission from Amazon – at no additional cost to you. This setup is a great win-win in my mind, where you pay nothing extra and support this site at the same time.
|Annual tuition for our daughter’s Montessori preschool, which we LOVE.
|We’re rocking a pretty low 3.125% interest rate on our mortgage, from back in the good ol’ days when mortgage rates were crazy low. We plan to hold on to this mortgage until it’s paid off in Jan 2050!
|Home Repairs & Landscaping
|New roof with shingle upgrade and new powered attic vents (~$8K for deductible and upgrade costs), dishwasher repair ($355, right after the 1 year warranty expired!) and small items basket for dishwasher, microwave, grill cover, grill igniter, better ant bait, smoke detectors, air filter for HVAC, sink faucet stem cartridges, plastic bag organizer, reusable K cup filter, ceiling fan, wireless thermometer to monitor our attic temperature (to make sure the new attic fans are working), lots of other minor things
|Texas may not have a state income tax, but the really high property taxes make up for it!
|This equates to about $550/month, or $127/week. I’d love to see our grocery bill under $100/week like it used to be pre-pandemic, but at this point I don’t think that’s gonna happen again with all the inflation we’ve had. At least while we have kids at home. But I know many families of 4 spend MUCH less on groceries, so we could bring this down if needed.
|Medical expenses were quite a bit higher this year for one main reason: $2K worth of Phase 1 Orthodontics for our son. Other expenses include copays, dental cleanings/fees, meds/supplies, etc.
|Insurance (Auto, Home, Umbrella)
|We had big jumps in our auto ($1776.37) and umbrella ($262.55) policy premiums, and a slight drop in our home ($1145.01) policy premium vs 2022, despite a giant house insurance claim for the new roof. Weird! I guess because we now have a new roof. Once again allstate turned out to be the lowest cost option overall when we renewed in November. I recommend using an aggregator service like Answer Financial to quickly find the lowest overall price from lots of companies, which I do every year with one phone call.
|California, Canada, and New Orleans trip expenses (buying Hyatt points, restaurants, wineries, admissions, rental car, gas, airport parking, etc.). This would have been dramatically higher if we hadn’t used lots of points/rewards.
|Pixel 8 and case and screen protector, a new laptop, old school bunny ears TV antenna (worked better than many of the new styles we tried), new headphones, electric skillet, robot vacuum battery replacement, other minor things
|Restaurants & Bars
|2023 we continued our increasing restaurant visit trend emerging from the pandemics. We had a total of 64 outings, averaging 5.3 outings and $127 per month. Though a great deal of this spending was on day trips we took with our son during his summer vacation while he was out of school – again taking advantage of working part time and being FI.
|About $120/month, which is a bit higher than in 2022. With two electric cars and a super hot summer in 2023, this number didn’t surprise me. Also, we signed up for the GreenChoice Renewable Energy program with Austin Energy, so all our electricity is from renewable wind energy in west Texas – for a pretty reasonable additional cost.
|Diapers and wipes, new shoes and sandals, swim lessons, clothes, school supplies, school yearbook, thermometer, electric toothbrush, new kid headphones
|Fortunately no giant water leak in 2023, so our annual water bill was about $145 lower
|Variety of Xmas and b-day gifts for kids and other family, including these phone stands we love, small tumbler, big tumblers, hand blender
|After years of rate increases from our internet monopoly company (Spectrum), I finally got a rate decrease back down to $55/month at the end of 2022, so our overall cost in 2023 was better. It has gone up to $65/mo at the end of 2023, so internet should cost us about $120 more in 2024. I cannot wait until we can sign up for Google Fiber here in north Austin.
|Car inspections and registrations (including a new insanely higher EV registration cost), tire rotations, tolls, new bike helmet for Mrs. EYFI, new bike helmet for our son, cabin air filter
|I hope one day this is zero! Until then, we still have a gas furnace and hot water heater.
|Amazon Prime renewal ($150 after tax), Sam’s club membership ($50 tax included), Chase Sapphire Preferred Annual Fee ($95, for each of us), Chase Southwest CC annual fee ($69), various fees to renew passport
|New clothes from REI, Athleta, and Amazon, including pants, slippers, shirts, flip flops, silicone rings
|Toilet paper, cleaning stuff, etc.
|Hygiene / Toiletries
|Boring stuff: toothpaste, etc.
|Cell Phone Service
|We love Mint Mobile! I have yet to find another service that offers as much data for as low as $15/mo. Only catch is you have to pay for an entire year up front, making switching providers harder.
|Fun Food (groceries)
|I really like to separate “fun food” out from “normal food”, because I like placing it in the discretionary category (and thus know how much we could cut if needed). Examples include desserts and other expensive indulgences at the grocery store we don’t really need to get and could easily cut.
|Neighborhood pool passes, pool admission, Dallas Arboretum fee, solar eclipse glasses, admission to the DoSeum and Denver Art Museum
|Fortunately we only pay for gas when traveling long distances now (otherwise we use our EV and our PHEV has plenty of electric-only range in town), so this gas is only for trips to see family in Dallas and Houston
|A category we plan to ramp up on in the future as we become more comfortably FI, which will probably involve a Vanguard donor-advised fund.
|Alcohol, fun drinks at home
|Mrs. EYFI and I have cut way back on drinking alcohol at home, which is great for our health and bank account. We now really only drink when we’re out with friends or hosting friends. I also lump fancy sparkling water and other fun drinks into this category – easy to cut if needed.
Note that I’m not including any work/business expenses here, which is pretty common practice in the FI community. I think it makes sense to keep these expenses separate from our personal expenses. However, I also try very hard to not lump a bunch of “well maybe this is a work expense…” expenses into this category, which can be easy to do sometimes.
I classify “required” expenses as those that are far less easy to cut than “discretionary” expenses.
Required expense categories include: Mortgage, Property Taxes, Groceries, Home Repairs, Insurance (Auto, Home, Umbrella), Medical, Electricity, Childcare (Other), Water, Internet, Household, Gas (House), Transportation, Cell Phone Service, and Hygiene / Toiletries.
Of course, if things got really tight, we could also go after reductions in many of these “required” categories as well, it just wouldn’t be as easy.
Adding up these categories, we get required expenses totalling $47,045.15.
Our discretionary expenses we could theoretically pull the plug on quickly and relatively easily (some easier than others obviously).
Discretionary expense categories include: Daycare, Travel, Restaurants & Bars, Electronics, Gifts, Gas (car) (technically we could only use our EV and PHEV in electric-only mode, and never run the PHEV engine), Fun Food (groceries), Entertainment, Clothing, Alcohol & fun drinks at home, Charity, Miscellaneous.
Note that some of these categories are only discretionary if we assume Mrs. EYFI and/or I are no longer working, like the daycare expense. But that’s always the lens I view expense categorization through: after achieving FI, what expenses could be cut to retain FI if needed, without the need to earn an income?
Adding up these categories, we get discretionary expenses totalling $18,188.07.
So if we add required and discretionary expenses together, we get a grand total of $65,233.22 in expenses in 2023.
Which is quite a step up from the $57,413.58 total in 2022 – probably a combination of inflation and us loosening the purse strings a bit. And/or just random big expenses hitting us in 2023, like paying the deductible and upgrade cost for a new roof (~$8K), which is an expense we can expect only every 2 to 3 decades.
I like to think that a total around $65K for a family of four with a mortgage isn’t too bad though. And if we were still aggressively pursuing FI full speed, I’m pretty sure our expenses would have been lower.
Of course we’re always looking for clever new ways to cut expenses as well, especially if they are relatively painless changes such as switching cell phone carriers. So if you have stronger frugality muscles than us in one or more categories, please feel free to let me know your secrets!
Finally, a lot of folks have stronger frugality muscles than us because they don’t have a choice. While we grew up in middle class households that emphasized the value of saving and keeping expenses down, we also never had to worry about losing our home or getting enough to eat, as millions of people around the world still do today. We try to remind ourselves of that fact regularly, so that when we’re patting ourselves on the back for keeping expenses down voluntarily, MANY others have to watch their expenses just to survive.
Here’s a visual overview of the expense totals:
When we compute our annual withdrawal rate with these expenses, which is important for achieving and maintaining FI, we do make one significant adjustment.
You can see that daycare is actually our largest expense for 2023 ($9,975), but it’s also the only big expense that we know will end permanently in just a few years when our daughter starts full-day kindergarten.
Thus we essentially have about $27K worth of daycare expenses over the next few years (rates go down with age, but up with inflation, so this is probably a conservative number), and then it ends.
As a result, I think it’s more logical to subtract this expense ($9,975) from our annual expense total, subtract the $27K total from our total (liquid) net worth, and then compute our withdrawal rate using those two modified numbers.
So without daycare, our annual expenses are $65,233.22 – $9,975 = $55,258.22.
I’ll admit this is the number I typically tell other folks at happy hours (I mean, who doesn’t talk about their exact annual expenses at happy hours, right?). Because (for the reasons listed above) I also subtract about $30K from our assets in my head.
Our Best Expenses
So a while back I got a nice idea from @minnesotafinances when we were chatting on Instagram. She mentioned she likes seeing what other people feel were really good purchases, which I think is a great idea.
This year I’ve decided to break down our best and worst expenses into two main categories: best/worst service/fee expense, and best/worst product (along with lots of honorable mentions).
And for both services and products, I’m trying to avoid listing items that are recurring expenses, so I’m not just reporting the same thing every year.
EYFI Best Service/Fee Expense of the Year
Our best service award has to go to the guys who installed our new roof this summer. The temperature reached 106° F on the day they installed the roof, and yet they kept at it, doing a fantastic job with the roof by the end of the day. Their heat tolerance is absolutely world-class, ultra impressive.
And perhaps even more exciting to me, they also discovered that we had two powered attic fans – which had not been working for who knows how many years (at least 10). So they replaced those with new fans, and BOOM the 2nd floor of our house became dramatically cooler! Woohoo!!!! My office is on the 2nd floor, so I was extremely happy about this change.
So if you own a house and you’re unsure what kind of ventilation you have in your attic, get that checked out. If you have non-operational powered attic fans, I strongly recommend replacing those.
I also got a wireless thermometer to monitor our attic temperature, so that hopefully if the vents fail again in the future I’ll be able to quickly know that (you can also hear them a bit from upstairs, but it’s not super noticeable).
EYFI Best Product of the Year
The official EYFI product of the year goes to the Acer Swift Go 14” laptop.
Before finding that Acer laptop, we’d been looking for a new laptop for what seemed like years. Prior to that, we used a mediocre chromebook for quite a few years, but then Google decided to simply stop supporting the laptop – no more security updates for us anymore!
I tried to install the super light weight linux distribution Lubuntu on the chromebook (after having to pry open the laptop and physically remove a write protection screw!), but it ran horribly.
After all that, we decided to steer clear of chromebooks in the future, unfortunately.
I started looking for new laptops, but I couldn’t find one that had the specs I wanted at the price point that I wanted (around $600). I didn’t didn’t want to spend any more on it than that, because we’ve got two small kids and take it on plenty of trips and I just didn’t want to stress about it breaking and losing lots of $ on it.
Spending more than about $600 on it also seemed unreasonable because we don’t need the laptop to do anything crazy computationally – no super high end specs or gaming laptop needed.
At the same time, I still wanted it to have enough horsepower and memory to load websites quickly and handle lots of different browser tabs being open at once, as well as the ability to do some limited content creation.
Earlier in 2023 I tried buying the Acer Aspire Vero laptop, especially since it was sold as more environmentally friendly, and it had a great price. Unfortunately the thermal management was awful, and the fans vibrated the laptop constantly and strongly. So we had to return it.
All this time when I was searching, I didn’t have a strong size / weight preference for the laptop, which made the search space huge.
But then I ran across a really compelling article from back in 2016, which made a really good point: “If you’re not a power user or a gamer, you should strongly consider a 12-, 13- or 14-inch laptop. The difference in weight and battery life between a 15-inch laptop and one with a smaller display is the difference between being able to carry your computer around the house (or around the world) and having to leave it on a table near an outlet at all times. And if you can’t easily move your computer, why are you buying a laptop in the first place?”
That initiated a conversation with Mrs. EYFI, and she had been hoping for a smaller laptop as well. We agreed that weight and portability was really important to both of us, since Mrs. EYFI would want to use it on her laptop while sitting on the couch, and I would want to use it on my laptop while taking notes at conference presentations.
And by then I had also come to the conclusion that the numpads available on larger laptop keyboards were not that great (and made the rest of the keyboard cramped too), and thus I no longer wanted that – one less reason to get a larger laptop.
After all that, we agreed that we wanted a laptop smaller than 15”, which very fortunately greatly narrowed down the options I had to consider.
Finally we found the Acer Swift Go 14” laptop that had all the specs we wanted for a good price during the “Prime Big Deal Days” sale during October, so we jumped on it. And we’ve been really pleased with it. Boots quickly, strong performance, plenty of memory. The laptop also has a really nice and responsive touch screen, though we very rarely use it and I would have preferred a lower price for a non-touch screen. But our kids really like it.
The primary problem I have with the laptop is a really bizarre design flaw in the body of the laptop: the edges/corners of the HDMI and two USB-A ports are razor sharp and obtrusive where the ports meet the bottom edge of the laptop. No idea how they managed to make a laptop with such crazy bad design of the ports.
I considered returning the laptop because of this crazy sharp port issue, but everything else we really liked about it, and no laptop is perfect.
So we looked for ways to solve that one pain point. As a short term solution I just put some nice smooth stickers over the ports to prevent our fingers / clothes / etc from catching on the sharp edges/corners of the ports.
But that means we can’t easily access the ports, so we need to find a new solution. Unfortunately “laptop sharp HDMI USB port corners” produces no useful products or results. So for now we’ve ordered some port plugs, we’ll see how that works. Not sure how well they will cover those corners/edges though.
2. Soundcore Anker Life Q20 headphones – I have not had the best luck with new headphones this year, but these have blown me away with how comfortable and effective they are. Eventually Mrs. EYFI got these same headphones after one of her coworkers suggested them as a good option for work calls, and she has really liked them as well. I’m now strongly leaning towards getting another pair to keep at the office as well. I particularly love how well they work in airports and on airplanes – I can actually hear music/movies really well now.
3. Roomba Vacuum Battery Replacement – We have been thrilled with how effective this new battery has been for our old Roomba. It has WAY more capacity than the OEM brand (no idea why iRobot sells such crazy small capacity batteries), so now the vacuum can run for 2+ hours every night. With it’s old degraded original small battery it was dying after less than 30 min. Our floors are way cleaner now as a result!
4. Reusable K Cup Filter – Mrs. EYFI can make a cup of coffee with bulk ground coffee using this, and with minimal cleanup. One minor downside: the corners on the inside are quite sharp, so a bit uncomfortable to get fingers in there to clean coffee ground remnants out.
5. Small Items Basket for Dishwasher – we had been looking for a replacement top rack dishwasher basket for small items for quite some time since they no longer sell the one we had (which was falling apart). After buying a bunch of options (see below), we finally found this larger basket from Prince Lionheart that works really well. I particularly like how the lid will stay propped up while loading – super handy.
Our Worst Expenses
I also like the idea of describing purchases that we particularly disliked and/or were a total waste of money, so others can avoid them.
EYFI Worse Service/Fee Expenses of the Year
There were two big items that I hated paying more than anything else this year, and I couldn’t decide which one I hated the most, so I’m listing both.
First, I despise the fact that Texas is now charging EV owners a whopping $200 extra in registration fees!!!!!!!! For so many reasons:
- It discourages people (especially those with lower incomes) from buying EVs, and that is the LAST thing we need to be doing right now
- It completely disconnects the relationship between how much you drive and how much tax you pay, which we have with gas taxes
- Which means we’re ALSO not incentivizing people to drive less, which we also need to do!
Given how little we drive, I suspect we’re paying at least 5x more taxes now, vs what we paid in gas taxes previously.
If gas taxes will no longer work in a future of EVs, then we need to find a different way to pay for roads than just blasting every person with an EV with an insane $200 registration fee. Even if it means more toll roads or some other taxation scheme.
And perhaps most painfully I actually had the opportunity to avoid this $200 excess charge for 2023, if I had just renewed the registration on our EV before Sept 1. But I didn’t know, so I waited until the month our EV registration was due – in September! Bleh! $200 down the toilet.
Second, about 13 months after we purchased our Maytag MDB4949SKZ Dishwasher (the EYFI 2022 Product of the Year), the motor/pump died for some inexplicable reason. Which is of course only ONE MONTH after the warranty ended. Absolutely insane.
So instead of Maytag repairing what was obviously a faulty part, we had to pay to get it replaced ourselves. Still pisses me off.
Fortunately we have a really good appliance repair guy (Richard at Proud Appliance Repair, highly recommend if you’re in the Austin area), so the total cost of repairing it was about half the cost of replacing the dishwasher. So we opted for that.
Then to add to our dishwasher misfortune, it broke during the holiday season, so it took much longer than normal for the part to ship from one of the very few suppliers of these parts. So we had to step back in time to the pre-dishwasher era for several weeks – which was super annoying with two professional dirty dish generators in our house (kids).
Perhaps we just had horrible luck with this, and Maytag is still the most reliable appliance maker you can buy from. It does seem overall we have horrific luck with dishwashers. Sometimes it feels like we’ll have to spend hundreds of dollars on either a new dishwasher or a big dishwasher repair every year for the rest of our lives – gah!!!!!!!
Fortunately we still love how effectively this dishwasher works. And hopefully we’ll get more than another year out of it before something else happens – but at this rate who knows.
EYFI Product Bust of the Year
The biggest failure regarding products I’ve had this year is finding a decent replacement for my ancient Soundbot running bluetooth headphones that I bought way back in 2015 (and which are no longer sold).
I bought every type of small running on-ear headphones I could find on amazon, but they all had significant issues compared to my old headphones. The most common issues are that the headphones are too tight, or have horrible buttons, or have terrible audio quality, or have super weak and unreliable bluetooth connections (or all of the above!). Even the next generation version of the soundbot headphones that are now sold are painfully tight and the buttons are awful compared to the previous generation. Bleh!
So at this point I’ll probably have to use several different headphones to replace my old soundbot headphones – some that fit better but have weak bluetooth for when I don’t need to watch any video and I’m close to my phone, and others that have better bluetooth but aren’t as comfortable / have worse buttons. Bleh!
If you’ve had any luck with better running / workout on-ear headphones, please let me know. I can’t stand any kind of ear bud headphones because they always make my ears hurt and give me a headache pretty quickly. And I tried some conduction headphones, but the audio quality was not great and they let too much sound in (which I know is a feature for some people, but it’s a bug for me).
2. Acer Aspire Vero laptop – awful thermal management, especially if you want to run linux on it
3. Munchkin High Capacity Dishwasher Basket (does not open easily, and really crazily does not fit in a standard dishwasher width between rungs) and OXO Tot Dishwasher Basket (ultra difficult and painful to open, horrible design)
4. Delta Cycle Michelangelo 2 Bike Storage Rack – seemed sturdy enough but was not easy to get bikes on/off the top rack, and did not seem to save any space
Here’s a visual overview of our best and worst purchases for 2023:
What were your best and/or worst purchases of 2023?
Let us know in the comments or shoot us a note!