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I have a confession to make. My budget is a prime example of lifestyle creep and how wants can become needs. Yes, my husband and I save just over 50% of our post-tax income, well above the U.S. national average personal savings rate of 5.7%. But, in reality, that has everything to do with being in a high earning career and having low-cost hobbies, more than it has to do with some inherent frugal nature. While I make sure we submit every dollar of rebates from Ibotta and spend two weeks price shopping blenders, I also make plenty of excuses for some pretty ridiculous expenses.
In an effort to combat our embedded lifestyle costs, I’ve decided to lay out the most cringe-worthy expenses in our monthly budget. I’ll even share the conversations we have on these costs on a monthly basis, just to show how easy it is to keep convincing yourself you need ridiculous luxuries.
My Most Cringe-worthy Monthly Expenses
This post rounds up the six expenses that bother me every single month, but that I somehow refuse to change. Often, the conversation goes that my income and our overall savings rate should afford us these luxuries. Maybe that’s true. Maybe the stress of my work and the time it takes me away from my son should be offset by some physical comforts. However, I worry that keeping these things in the budget will make an eventual transition to financial independence more difficult. We’ll lose sight of what things are real needs versus entrenched wants. So, I hope this list can be a reminder to my future self of what should not find its way into our early retirement budget.
Sit back, grab some popcorn, and enjoy the story of our frugal failures!
Cleaning Service – Weekly cost: $105 – Annual cost: $5,260
Let me tell you how this cleaning service journey began. I was pregnant with Fuss Fish and constantly exhausted, Daddy Fish was still working, and our house was starting to stress me out. We decided to get a quote for a monthly cleaning from a person our realtor uses in her own home. Lo and behold, the quote came in well below where we expected! So, of course, we signed on for an every other week plan.
A few months later, Fuss Fish was born and we had even less time. I didn’t want to spend weekends cleaning the house when I could be spending that extra time with my son. I also didn’t want to leave the job to my husband who already had his hands full with a baby and shouldn’t be responsible for cleaning for both of us. So, we upped our cleaning service to every week.
And here we are today, balking at the cost but also loving coming home on Mondays to a beautiful clean house. We talk about canceling or stepping down the service, but we never pull the trigger. It is, by far, our most costly “mental health” expense.
Gym membership – Monthly cost: $267.75 – Annual cost: $3,237
We have a family membership to a luxury gym near our home. It has two pools, racquetball courts, tennis courts, classes, and even a rock climbing wall. It is amazing. However, like most gym memberships, it largely goes unused. We primarily use it to bring Fuss Fish swimming once or twice a week.
Assuming my husband brings Fuss 1.5 times a week, 48 weeks out of the year, and that I attend with them about once a month, this breaks down to an average visit cost of $20.75 per person, per visit. More than the gym’s $20 day pass option. So how do we rationalize it? Well, the same way as almost every other American family with a gym membership. We know we should go more, so we keep saying we will. Hasn’t happened so far, but the jury is out for next month!
Overspending on food – Monthly cost: ~$250 – Annual cost: $3,000
We have not been able to figure our food spending out. We stick to a meal plan for the first two to three days of the week and then go rogue. We buy what is on sale and freeze it, but then forget to thaw it on time to eat meaning we order take out or make another run to the grocery store. Every single month Daddy Fish and I bellyache about our food budget. I estimate it is at least $250 higher than it should be.
I have absolutely no excuses when it comes to this overspending. This is all about focus and willpower, entirely something we can and should control, but don’t. Of the things on this list, it is the one I most hope we change ASAP.
Dog walker – Weekly cost: $40 – Annual cost: $2,000
So, we have a super weird dog. She loves to run, but not if you throw her a ball or take her on a run on her leash. She loves to run on her own terms. No leash, in the woods, for at least an hour. Preferably with other dogs. If she doesn’t get to do this on a regular basis, she gets incredibly mopey and will basically walk right under your legs until you take her for a hike. Trip hazards, be damned!
When Daddy Fish and I were both working, she was walked almost every day by a dog walker who would take her to the woods and we would take her out most weekends. Then, when Daddy Fish transitioned to being a stay-at-home-dad, we quit the dog walker. However, it became clear that Fuss wasn’t always up for hanging in the hiking pack for an hour or more multiple times a week. Some days it was too hot, or too cold, or he just didn’t want to be confined. The dog got grumpy, started tripping every one, and we felt bad that we were neglecting her. So we brought the dog walker back to take her out twice a week.
Yup, a dog that is home with people all day needs an entertainment budget. Frugal failures don’t get more embarrassing than that.
Commuter parking – Weekly cost: $20 – Annual cost: $980
We live a whopping 0.7 miles from the commuter rail station I use to get to the office every day. It costs $4 a day to park and driving saves me maybe 7-8 minutes each way. Arguably, I should walk every day for my health and my budget. But I don’t. I honestly don’t remember the last time I walked. And here’s why.
On an average day, I get about 15-20 minutes in the morning to spend with Fuss Fish between when he wakes up and when I have to get ready for work and get out the door. In the evenings, I am home just in time to put him in his pajamas after his bath, read him his books, and put him to bed. That gives me about 15-20 minutes with him. While the cost drives me crazy and seems insane, that 7-8 minutes I pick up from driving to the commuter station gives me over 40% more time with my child on an average work day. 15 minutes to you is everything to me.
This cost makes me cringe for a lot of reasons, but mostly it isn’t about the money. It’s about being in a career that only gives me 35-40 minutes a day with my kid, on a good day. It’s about being in a place where I’m buying minutes with my child. If I can cut some of the other expenses on this painful list, maybe I’ll get to be home with him more just a little bit sooner.
Massage Envy membership – Monthly cost: $59.99 + $15 tip – Annual cost: $900
You know what’s funny about sitting at a desk for 50+ hours a week? Your back hates it! After much cajoling from Daddy Fish several months ago, I finally signed up for a membership at our local Massage Envy. When I found a masseuse I liked there, I had the joy of being told that I was basically one continuous knot. Did you know that you can have a “rope” of knots running down both sides of your spine? Or that you can have knots in your neck, hands, and feet? Neither did I! Ah, the joys of stress and desk jockeying!
Every month I count this as one of those “trading your health for wealth” expenses. It isn’t as bad as some of the stress related issues I had at my prior job, but it isn’t small stuff either. The reality was it was this or physical therapy, which would mean missing work hours and staying late to trade off the time some nights. This I can do after Fuss goes to bed, the masseuse helps me with a stretching plan between sessions, and it’s relaxing. But it definitely won’t be an expense in our budget once I can quit the 9-5!
Total cost: $15,377 a year!
The numbers don’t lie
Sharing these expenses with you just might get me shunned by the personal finance community. They certainly make me want to don a “Dunce” cap and sit in the corner. But while putting all the numbers together in black and white was painful, it was also eye opening.
Just these seven expenses in our budget make up $15,377 of our annual spending! They may seem like small expenses on a day-to-day basis or relative to our income level today, but they could make a huge difference in our early retirement plans. Using a 4% withdrawal rate, keeping these expenses in our budget post retirement would mean needing to save over $384,000 more to be able to retire! It would add years to my target retirement date, not months. So, we are going to focus on stepping down these costs now while we still have time to practice. Wish us luck on rolling back the lifestyle creep!
What is the annual cost of the luxury expenses in your budget? Do you have a sense of what you really spend on wants? Let me know in the comments! And share your insights into how Daddy Fish and I can right our ship!