Our 2020 Household Spending Revealed

Let’s kick off 2021 by taking a look at how much the Strong Money household spent last year.

We’ll take a look at what categories went up, what went down, and how it all compares to last year.  

If you’d like to check out previous spending reviews, you can do so here:  2019 spending.  2018 spending.

This is now the third year of tracking our spending properly.  It might sound odd, but before that, I just used to estimate.  Running this blog has encouraged me to make sure I was walking the talk when it comes to frugality and knowing where your money goes.

 

A reminder of our situation…

If you’re new here and unaware, here’s some context around the numbers you’re about to see.

  • We’re an early retiree couple, with one dog.
  • Mrs SMA now works a couple of days per week.  I stay home with our bulldog and do a bit of blogging/podcasting stuff.
  • We’re living in Perth, and we’re renting.
  • We enjoy our free time and live comfortably.  Travelling is generally local, so we can take our dog with us!

2020 was a pretty strange year to say the least.  But our spending was roughly what I had expected it would be.  After a few years of keeping track, our yearly spending seems to be hovering around $40,000 to $45,000. 

For comparison, in 2018 we spent around $46,000.  And in 2019, we somehow spent only $37,000.  Check out the links for a full breakdown.  Okay, here’s the full picture of spending this year compared to last.

 

Strong Money Household Spending 2020

Category 2020 2019
Rent $20,800 $20,800
Food & Dining $6,125 $4,947
 Groceries (incl. alcohol, vitamins)  $4,701  $3,718
 Café/Restaurants  $1,424  $1,229
Car/Transport $2,474 $2,179
 Public Transport/Uber  $750  $823
 Petrol  $520  $804
 Rego, repairs, insurance  $1,204  $552
Utilities $1,454 $1,711
 Electricity/Gas  $1,121  $1,357
 Water  $333  $354
Travel $2,821 $1,320
 Country Trips  $1,750  $0
 Interstate visits  $1,071  $1,320
Medical / Health $1,138 $1,390
 Doctor, Physio, Dental, Massage  $679  $1,050
 Prescriptions  $459  $340
Miscellaneous $7,154 $4,579
 Pet (Insurance, Vet, Bulk Food)  $233  $1,038
 Gifts  $1,500  $764
 Phone & Internet  $884  $569
 Garden  $908  $560
 Other  $2,202  $543
 Charity  $527  $508
 Personal/Beauty Products  $595  $419
 Clothes & Accessories  $305  $180
TOTAL $41,966 $36,926

 

Our Spending in Charts…

Some people love the numbers, while others’ eyes glaze over. 

Here’s the same breakdown in pie-chart form.  All expenses in the first chart, and the second chart is everything except rent (since it makes up such a huge portion).

Strong Money Household Spending 2020

 

Strong Money Household Spending 2020 (Ex-Housing)

 

Comments…

As you can see, our spending went up by around $5,000.  Having said that, 2019 was unusually low. 

Overall, it was a blend of lifestyle inflation, a more average year and some random fluctuations.  But here are my thoughts on our spending this year.

Groceries.  Our food spend went up by about $20 per week!  I drank more alcohol in 2020 (anyone else?), but not that much.  I did notice prices went up for most of our groceries by about 10%, which accounts for some of it.  That’s the first year of noticeable grocery inflation in the last 10 years.

Travel.  As I wrote about a few months ago, we got our act together in 2020 and did a lovely little trip within WA with our dog.  This is usually a yearly thing, so we’ll start planning the next one soon.

Electricity.  Sadly, still only one provider here in WA.  But on the plus side, the WA government gave each household a $600 energy credit, which saved us $200 in 2020 and $400 for this year.  Thanks Mark McGowan!

Car.  Our fuel costs are noticeably lower now after switching to a smaller, more efficient vehicle.  Hoping to drive less in 2021.  We also had to pay rego this year (last year we didn’t as we sold our old car just before it was due). 

We also got third-party insurance, which turned out to be incredibly cheap.  I hadn’t looked at this in many, many years.  It turns out I was probably way overestimating the cost.

Pet.  First full year with no pet insurance after cancelling last year.  Premiums became nothing short of insane.  Happy to take the risk and pay out of pocket.

Gifts.  Somehow we spent double on gifts this year.  I don’t think it was on ourselves, so I guess Mrs SMA was feeling more generous this year.  I say that because she’s the gift person as I’m pretty much in the camp of ‘adults buying each other stuff on a pre-determined day is silly’.

It’s not about the money.  I think buying people things should be random in nature.  That’s true generosity and thoughtfulness.  Not a planned event which is 100% expected and feels forced.  But I digress…

Phone & Internet.  We now have NBN internet with Aussie Broadband at $60 per month, which I needed for podcasting.  Our old and slow pre-paid internet wasn’t gonna cut it!  This also enabled us to downgrade our Kogan pre-paid to a cheaper plan.  We’re very happy with both services.

If you’re considering switching to Aussie Broadband, you can get $50 credit when you mention my refer-a-friend code – 3103355 – while signing up.  And full disclosure, I’ll also get $50 credit.

Other stuff.  We also bought a bunch of exciting new objects this year.  The first was a washing machine, since our old one died.  The second is a new battery-powered lawnmower.  And Mrs SMA also got a second-hand massage chair, as well as fancy pillows for her neck.

 

Spending and happiness have a busted relationship?

Our spending has now been around this level – under $50,000 – for the last 6-8 years.  Before teaming up and getting serious about our finances, we spent way more.  Probably more like $70,000+. 

That was over a decade ago, which would be even more in today’s dollars.  Funnily enough, we’re actually happier now, even though we’re spending much less.  In fact, our lives are more enjoyable and meaningful because we have our freedom. 

With a large portion of our happiness built on good health, relationships, and spending time doing things that feel worthwhile, there isn’t a whole lot of things you can go out and buy to ‘enhance’ your life. 

Actually, I’d argue that if you’re thinking about quality of life in terms of yearly spending, you’ve already lost. 

Yes, money can help with certain things.  But ‘dollars spent’ is a terrible gauge for how fulfilling a life is.  More often than not, the highest spenders are the least fulfilled people.   

And that makes sense when you think about it.  They feel something is missing, something could be better.  So they chase consumer highs and experiences. 

In contrast, if you feel satisfied with your life, you feel nothing is lacking.  And without that feeling, the urge to spend money melts away.  There are no emotional gaps to fill.

… Somehow these blogs (and my podcasts) always turn into a philosophical ramble!

 

Final thoughts…

We could spend a ton more in every category, but that would achieve little.  We’re happy with our lives the way they are.  

While typing this out, it becomes clear there is even plenty of fat to cut if we wanted to.  The list of spending feels pretty bloated while typing it all out and thinking about what we actually need.

Being the person I am, I can’t help but want to optimise where I see potential for improvement.  We could probably spend more in certain areas, less in others and still come out ahead with lower spending and more enjoyment if we made the effort. 

The new year is a great time to re-focus and consider making tweaks in how we do things – whether it’s health, work, finances, you name it.

That’s enough from me.  How was your spending in 2020?  Did COVID and lockdowns affect your spending?  I’d love to hear about it.  Let me know in the comments below…

43 comments

  1. 400% increase in Other !! Always a dangerous category 🙂

    Great to see that your costs have remained about the same year on year. I’m about to early retire at 52 (in a few months) to a rural part of NSW. Excited and nervous at the prospect.

    1. Haha yep. That’s mostly accounted for by the washing machine and the 2nd hand massage chair – both of which should be those once-in-a-decade type purchases.

      That’s fantastic Murray, you must be counting down the days!

      1. Once I buy the house then I have to quit. It will be too far to commute. That was a conscious decision 🙂 and looking to kickoff my new passion/legacy.

    1. meal plan and shop to a list for just those meals – you’d be surprised how easy it is to save heaps shopping the edges in the supermarket and cooking all your meals from recipes rather than shopping the aisles 🙂
      We just pop in every 2 or 3 days and shop fresh for the next three days meals

      Take last night – 2 chicken breasts, marinaded, oven cooked, sliced up on a salad…. $15 for three of us
      Breakfast – scrambled egg, avo, on rye…. $5 for all of us

      Juts buy the list – go through your pantry and fridge and freezer – do some use up days where you cobble together some meals from stuff you already have also.

      Nothing better than shopping fresh at markets too 🙂

      1. Well said Mark, solid tips.

        Even on our old diet including meat eggs, and so on (which I used to eat a lot of), the total bill for the year was only around $7k or so, with plenty of unnecessary stuff in there. Planning and cooking in bulk with reasonable cost foods (no fancy packaged crap or high end meats) and the costs should come right down. Unless he Dingo has like 7 kids or something 😉

      2. Thanks for your tips. We do a weekly meal plan and a pick up shop once a week. We’re two adults and one todler. We live in remote WA so no fruit markets around, only Woolies and Coles so prices probably a bit inflated. We eat fish and red meat once a week. We rarely eat out.

    2. Wow, how the heck did you spend $15k? I assume you have a very different household than us. There’s no kids here, we don’t have expensive tastes and we eat a mostly vegan diet. But I went into more detail on nailing down the grocery budget here in this article.

      1. It’s definitely something we’re going to start working on. This was the first year we started tracking out spending so lots of things to start taking aim at. We cook non stop in our house and rarely eat out. We do a weekly online shop and pick it up. Also a bit from the butcher too as we want our son to get enough protein etc through red meat and fish. My goal is to get it under $10k this year, I think that’s achievable. Cooking more in bulk, doing heaps more purchasing when things are on sale, cooking more vego meals etc…. I feel empowered knowing where our funds are going and now it’s time to make some changes. Thanks for the kick up the bum

        1. Sounds like a plan Dingo, look forward to hearing you report back this time next year and seeing how it went 🙂

  2. dont waste your money on vitamins LOL eat a good well balanced diet with lots of fresh fruit and veg and you won’t need vitamins…. I gave up Vitamins and Supplements (Like glucosamine a couple of years back for my knees) and eat way more colours in my diet – feel so much better.

    Check out Boost Annual Sims also for your mobile, they piggy back on the FULL telstra network – i pay $150 a year for my mobile now 🙂 (Free international calls too back to Uk) – I work on remote mine sites and have perfect coverage 🙂

    1. Cheers Mark. That sounds good. I believe our plans are about $135, we’re on the Small Kogan plans – that’s all we need since our home internet has way more data than we need so we just use wifi at home and barely touch our phone data.

      On the vitamins, since we eat a vegan diet there’s a couple of vitamins that are notoriously difficult to get – Omega 3 and b12 – so we supplement those. We eat plenty of vegetables and since doing so it does make you feel a lot better, couldn’t agree with you more!

        1. Not quite the same in terms of nutrients, different types of Omega 3. Algae based Omega 3 is the closest to eating fish (since they eat the algae, we’re just avoiding the middle man lol). Have tried Flax/chia though, and don’t really enjoy them in our food/smoothies. So for both reasons the supp is the ideal option for now.

      1. As food has come up a few times, thought I’d share info that everyone should be aware of before making their dietary choices—Yes, it’s relevant to FI as it effects our health and wealth.

        The Mess: Money vs Evidence – Dr. Zoë Harcombe, PhD
        https://youtu.be/UzX1QTSSw88
        References: https://www.zoeharcombe.com/cf19/

        What About Fibre (Why cereals were invented) – Dr. Zoë Harcombe, PhD
        https://youtu.be/4KrmpK_Lckg
        References: https://www.zoeharcombe.com/lcd19/

        Our Dietary Guidelines and ‘Lifestyle Medicine’
        https://isupportgary.com/articles/the-plant-based-diet-is-vegan

  3. Hello Dave ,
    Happy New Year to you and your readers!!

    Considering there are two of you , that’s a damn great result ( and importantly you guys are happy 😁🙏)

    I could really see one thing that only stood out between the comparison 2 years , which you could possibly trim down and that is in the Miscellaneous column ( other ….$2202) ..

    Stay safe & Take care

    Cheers 🥳

    1. Thanks Jimmy, you too mate!

      Yes, that miscellaneous was a big jump. I’ll keep an eye on that this year and see if we can be a bit more mindful 😉

      As mentioned, the Other category was mostly up because of a washing machine and massage chair, which shouldn’t be repeated in 2021 lol.

  4. ….ohh yeh !!! ….and maybe the supplements and Vitamins !!! ….incorporate more fruit & veg in your nutrition….Smoothies are fantastic as you can add many vitamins and minerals through blending and they taste delicious 😋!!!

  5. Great article.
    Last year was great for us, saved alot in transport/travel costs by WFH and free childcare for 3 months.
    Based on that anomaly, do we budget based on 2019 figures?
    What do you think Dave?

    1. Thanks Rob 🙂
      Not sure mate as I don’t budget at all. I just tally it up as we go, try to be mindful along the way, see what the result was at the end, and then think about what I could do better.

      Those costs may rise back to a more normal level this year, you can’t really control that. Looking at your 2020 spending, what are some things you can control, or could improve on going into this year? Any areas where you could be more mindful, where maybe you got a bit sloppy in 2020?

      That’s how I would approach it. Hope that helps.

  6. Hi Dave,
    Another great read. I am interested in your donations to charity section. With my budget I set amount each year and if at the end of the year am I am under my spending, I will donate a bit extra. I am looking to donate more $ and time once I reach fire.

    Do you have set way you donate your dollars? Is is based on % of your income etc or website revenue etc?

    1. Hey Nat. I do it a bit like you only I don’t budget – just have a goal to increase it each year. So I’ll check our spending spreadsheet towards the end of the year and if it hasn’t exceeded previous year I’ll donate more. It’s not related to any of our income figures at this stage. Would just like to nudge it higher every year, regardless of what happens with our investments/income.

  7. Hi Dave

    First time commenter! Love these year in review posts you do. We got a lockdown dog this year (I’m sure we’re not the only ones!). She’s a rescue and a fairly large dog (27kg). We want the best for her so started out buying quality products and went a little overboard as you do. Obviously this comes with a price tag. How do you keep your pet category so low? What kind of pet food do you buy in bulk? Cheers!

    1. Hey Gwyn, thanks for the comment. Oh that’s great, you must be having a great time with her!
      Our Pet category is not very accurate – we only buy biscuits and heartworm separately, which is in the Pet category. The rest of his food comes under our Grocery category since it’s just part of our normal shopping. We give him sardines, rice, veggies, biscuits and some soybeans as well. Our vet always comments what great condition he’s in 🙂

      So a fair bit of his diet is real foods, the rest biscuits. None of which is expensive. We get these ones which are cheap online, you can get a discount for PetCircle using the coupon on my recommendations page).

  8. Nice, we got $77,500 minus the home loan and daycare which will finish in a few years time.. we are at $38,500 for a family of 5.

    1. That actually seems pretty reasonable. Works out to be $25k regular non-housing spending as a couple (similar to us), plus $4.5k per kid. No daycare will be a great help I’m sure!

  9. Great post and I think your food spend for 2 adults is really great even including vitamins. Your water is so cheap in WA. Our water bill is $300 per quarter which is an average household in Brisbane. Kathy

    1. Hey Kathy, thanks! Remember, most of the cost on your water bill will not be usage. It will be the owner’s rates part of the bill. At our old place which we owned, our bill was about $220 every two months, but only $20 of that was actual water usage.

  10. Hi Dave,
    Like your articles and have recommended SMA to our young relatives.
    Our situ: 2 x 70 y/o retirees in a modest, unencumbered home in Sydney’s East with a small, 10 yr old Japanese car.
    Comparing totals after deducting Dave’s rent – your $17k vs our $47k, So I’m with “Dingo” in that “this gives me anxiety.”
    A couple of stark diffs…. Your Groceries/Supermarket $5.5k (incl. personal/beauty & pet) vs our $13.9k Our splash on a few fresh blueberries and prawns each week wouldn’t be more than about $2.5k of that. The devil is in the detail as they say, but my gut feeling is that groceries must be much cheaper than I realise outside my locality. (Wife buying $6 loaves of sourdough doesn’t help either.)
    The other… Medical $1.1k vs our $8.8k which includes $4.4k private health insurance.
    I’ll need to look closer at the figures to see why such a diff. but my gut feeling is we could not live in a more expensive part of Australia. I’d move to a regional area in a flash, but the wife won’t budge.

    1. Hey John, thanks for spreading the word! As you say, it’ll be all the little things (across many categories) that add up to a large difference over time most likely.

      I wouldn’t stress about it if you’re already retired, financially comfortable and quite happy the way things are 🙂

  11. Hi Dave,
    Thanks for sharing. This list gives me some sort of guideline for the household expenses. Although we have a long way to go, you have proved to us it totally doable.

    I told my partner you spend about $90/wk on groceries. He said ‘are they starving themselves?…’ lol. We spend about $190/wk for 2 adults.

    Although I am not a big spender myself, I am curious how you managed such a low figure, particularly for some of the categories you listed. For example:
    Café/Restaurants $1,424 ————— This doesn’t seem much at all, you guys mustn’t going out much?
    Rego, repairs, insurance $1,204—— Do you only have 3rd party insurance and service once a year?
    Water $333————————————- I can’t understand this one, how is this possible? Our water bill has $172 service charge per bi-monthly. Even we don’t use any water, the bill is still big.

    Cheers.

    1. Hey Saki. As I mentioned to another reader, 90% of the water cost of the service or rates charges. We’re renting so we only have to pay for the actual water usage, which is very cheap. If we were owning, our ‘water’ costs would be more like $1300 per year.

      Haha, it’s funny because some other people will look at those numbers and see that they’re much higher than their own. More on our food spending here. So it’s a matter of perspective. I think nearly $1500 for cafe/takeaway food is pretty damn high. We go out to meet friends and go out together every now and then, but it’s not to fancy restaurants, which we have no interest in. It’s usually for coffee or sushi or things like that.

      And yes, we have third party and service the car once per year. Hope that helps.

      1. $1300 for water… and then some. We have fake grass, a tiny garden – lower water usage than similar sized Perth houses (according to WaterCorp) and we spend $1800 a year. Almost all of it is connection fees.

        Electricity is going that way too. A couple of years ago our solar paid for our electricity as we generate more than we use. But these days because ‘poor households can’t afford solar’, the rebate has been cut to almost nothing and additional costs have gone into the connection fee (because then everyone has to pay it).

        Health Insurance is stupid expensive for what you get (but you get taxed if you don’t), and Council rates are the other big killer. I live in a council made up of mainly lower socio-economic suburbs, yet our rates are higher than that of Peppermint Grove’s. And that’s for a council that has decided their one ‘junk collection’ per year (which I’d previously noticed was actually once every 13 months) will no longer be advertised (to cut costs). And they stopped fixing the parks long ago.

        1. Damn Nathan it almost sounds like you should move to a different area!

          Water rates are almost entirely dependant on ‘rateable value’ which they seem to concoct from from something like land value/potential rental income. Then again, if your council is a rip-off then maybe they just make it up.

          I’m hopeful on electricity here in WA – I think it’s only a matter of time before private is allowed to operate. Just like what happened with gas a few years ago which brought costs down by about 30-40%.

    1. It’s extremely random Damien. More often than not it’s small things like coffee and sushi or something like that ($20 or less). So it’s works out multiple times per month with maybe half of it being socialising – meeting for lunch or coffee or sometimes we just feel like going out for a while and we’ll eat while we’re out. There’s no regular restaurant or planned routine we have.

  12. Daycare is more than our mortgage, our child’s last week for us and we will save at least 22k a year after government rebates.

  13. Having never having looked at it at all until today I had a look at the online banking and looks like over the last 5 years we have been averaging 60000 a year excluding mortgage payments. Was 58000 in 2020. $6000 food and drink at home. Hopefully that’s not a bad starting point seeing Im only just looking at this for the first time. Just two of us

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