I started tracking my expenses and even though I THOUGHT I was aware of where my money went, I really wasn't. What an eye opener!

What I learned from tracking my expenses

Mid-August of this year, my interest in savings rates, investing and FIRE was sparked. Spending less and earning more, that was supposed to be the main trick. Making more money didn’t seem that impossible to me. I always see chances for new clients and side hustles. I wanted to know how much I could decrease my expenses! So I opened all my various bank accounts and wrote down every single expense since June. What an eye-opener it was!

What I learned from tracking my expenses? It was SUCH an eye opener and made me able to save plenty of money on a monthly basis.

I’ve always been quite well aware of my fixed costs. It was essential for me to be aware of them when I decided to work full-time as a freelancer, and again when I was about to make the move to Spain. I also know what normal price levels for groceries are and how much fuel I used on average when I still lived in my home country. So I didn’t expect any surprises there. What was a big eye-opener for me though, was what I did with all the money that was left after those basic costs.

In June, I spent over €500 on rental cars, fuel, parking and toll. Not because of a holiday, but on day and weekend trips. I also spent over €150 in the what I call the ‘Really Useless’ category: food delivery & taxis. Especially the food delivery: there’s no fun in those moments and usually it doesn’t even taste that good. There is a supermarket a 2-minute walk away from my house, but apparently, I was too lazy to even do that. No more. In August the expenses in that category went down to €70, and although September is only 10 days old, so far it’s been €0.

Another category that I needed to work on was the ‘Unnecessary shopping’ category. In there are especially takeaway or quick coffees, as well as takeaway lunches during work. Sometimes they’re with friends, but they’re not truly quality-time moments. I could (and should!) have brought lunch from home and there was perfectly good coffee waiting for me at my house every time, yet in August I spent over €70 on those things.

So do I not want to spend any money at all? No, that’s not the case. The point for me is that I want to be more aware of why I’m spending my money. Taxis here in Spain are relatively affordable, so after a long day, it can be so tempting to take a €6 taxi home. But do it every time you feel like it, and all of a sudden it’s €60 down the drain. Instead, I want to spend my money on quality-time moments and experiences. Yesterday I rented a car with someone and we had a fantastic day. We got out of the city, drove to our favourite place up north, visited friends, had some of our favourite food… it was worth every cent. But I’m not letting it go up to €500 again this month!

I think one of the main things I need to remind myself of is that there are cheaper alternatives. I’ve had the highest income ever in my life earlier this year,  and I spoiled myself quite a bit. I enjoyed it to the fullest, and by that I mean that I spent every cent that came in. Now that I’m refusing to order food, I started to enjoy cooking for myself a lot more. Full dinners with friends can also be just going for drinks, or sometimes even better: cooking together or doing something else instead, like going for a sunset walk.

I realize this all may sound quite spoiled to some, but it’s the way it is and I’d rather face it so I can change it, than pretending I wasn’t getting used to a certain standard of living. Also, I’ve started to see it a lot around me. Many of my friends are in their late 20s to mid-30s without families, making a career and earning more money. With their demanding jobs, they tell themselves – and each other – that ‘they deserve to take a cab’, they ‘should enjoy the money, they worked hard enough for it’. Myself included. And of course, it’s true that you deserve the money you made. You studied, you worked, you sacrificed your personal and social life at times… but how do you want to enjoy what you deserve? Right now by taking taxis just because you feel too lazy to take the metro? Or in 15 years by retiring early?

Again, this is not about being cheap. I’m all for picking up the bill when there’s something to celebrate, or simply because I feel like it. In those moments, it really brings me true value and often lasting memories with the people I care about. And that’s worth retiring just that little bit later.

I did find a few things in my fixed expenses: I cancelled my phone insurance, which was €15 each month but my phone is by now 3 years old. I also made use of the fact that my phone contract was up and I took a new sim-only contract that was a lot cheaper than my old one. I cancelled a magazine subscription that I wasn’t enjoying enough. Altogether it’ll make a €70 difference in fixed costs each month. Not bad!

Are you tracking your expenses? What was your biggest eye-opener? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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