Any personal finance blog/guru/BuzzFeed list will have their own version of the basic “Three/Five/Ten steps to get in control of your finances“, or “Millionaires reveal their secrets to building wealth – here’s their advice!” type article.
It generally goes something like this:
- Plan a monthly budget
- “Pay yourself first” (e.g. set aside savings immediately after receiving your paycheck; don’t just sweep up what’s left at the end of the month)
- Track all your expenses
- Build an emergency fund
- Focus on paying off all your debt
- Etc. etc.
At some point I do intend to write up my own homemade recipe for financial stability, tailored to being young, financially clueless, and Bruneian (since the stuff you find online will tell you to “Max out your 401k” and contribute to your Roth IRA… HARH??) But right now let’s start talking a bit about tracking your expenses.
Allow me to introduce this sub-section of personal finance with a round-up of my own 2015 Expenses Report:
(I track my expenses on an app called Wally, which is fantastic – I highly recommend it! I’ll do a separate post specifically on the Wally app: how it works, what it can do and show you, how I use it, etc.)
This handy-dandy app sorts my expenses into eight main Categories; which can be then broken down and customized into further detail (so in the app, if I click a Category – e.g. “Fun“, a breakdown will show up):
- Fun mostly consists of my holiday and travel-related expenses (flights, accommodation, holiday spending) and other entertainment (e.g. movies, escape rooms [i love escape rooms], books).
- Food & Drink – the breakdown I customized is: breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee, desserts, teatime, drinks, fast food
- Misc – because of the little gift box icon, this category comprises all the “not for me” related spending. I don’t want to call it charity but it’s basically things like gifts (birthday related or just general buying something for someone else), lanja (treat/”it’s on me”) food and drink, wedding sedekah/gift, taking my family out for lunch, miscellaneous charity – that’s what i mean by “not for me”
- Clothes – this would be more accurately labelled “Shopping” but you unfortunately can’t rename the categories on Wally (which is strange because you can literally customize everything else). This is split into clothes, shoes, make-up, baju kurung (fabric and tailoring), bags, skincare, accessories.
- Personal – general personal care/items like toiletries, medical expenses, spa/massage treatments, haircuts, eyecare (e.g. spectacles). My necessary phone-related expenses also fall under here, like my top-up or if i had to change a simcard. (If I bought a new phone it would go under Clothes because that would be more of a shopping expense)
- House – as the name suggests, house related items like groceries, pet care (food, vet bills, litter), furniture, electronics, utilities.
- Transport & Travel – this category is dedicated to necessary, daily transport expenses, which is why my leisure travel doesn’t fall under this heading (that would be under Fun instead.) One important point to bring up is I haven’t bought my own brand new car yet, which is why my transport expenses are so low, only: fuel, annual insurance, road tax, and parking (except my work parking which I will explain below).
- General – This is the actual miscellaneous “don’t really know what it is” category. I had to renew my IC (identity card) for $25 and this only happens once every decade, so I didn’t know which other category to put it under.
NOTE: I used this app to track my variable, discretionary expenses (which I have control of) only. That means I didn’t include the very regular, predictable, “can’t escape” monthly spending such as the money I give to my parents and my contribution to the domestic help at home. I also don’t include my work parking because I get a parking allowance (so it doesn’t really come out of my salary, strictly speaking) and I don’t have a realistic option to not pay for parking. I work in Bandar and I’m not going to waste time every morning looking for a cheap empty parking spot 30 mins walk from my office just so I can hang onto the allowance. It’s just easier, safer, and more time-efficient to pay for the parking.
Extra NOTE: Just to clarify, the expenses I didn’t include are stuff that I sort of “have to” pay (Well I don’t have to pay my parents but you know what I mean, it’s not something I want to suddenly cut back on. If I needed to save more money that’s not what should be cut first – the variable expenses should be the first to go!). That means that if I had a car loan, or an Astro bill, or a Prima phone plan, even if these are also “regular, monthly payments”, they would be included in my expenses app because they’re discretionary, variable expenses that I would have control over.
Anyway, that’s enough clarification and definitions! Now on to:
I had a family trip to Bangkok last March and spent a month gallivanting around Europe towards the end of the year (four countries, quite a number of cities/towns) so that’s how “Fun” made up 28% of my expenses in 2015. That might seem like a huge chunk to some people, but I’ve enjoyed travelling all my life and it’s where I prioritize my Wants so I’m content to spend money on it. I don’t go crazy and stay at the Grand Hyatt or anything though; so I do try to stay fairly prudent.
I work in Bandar (and have too-easy access to a lot of Food & Drink options) so I buy lunch at least five days in the week. I also tend to buy breakfast out, and I unfortunately have a proper coffee addiction (not the oOo i love coffee and conversation type of addiction; it’s the if i don’t have coffee at work i will literally be slouched over my desk unable to function type) so my coffee expenses are higher than the average person. I would say my most frequent purchase is food – pretty much every day – so a quarter (25%) is not too bad.
“Not for me” expenses at 16% is mostly gift-esque stuff (my parents tend to pop up in this category quite frequently), hari raya related expenses and green packet money, a bit of wedding cash gifts, and all the cumulative “it’s on me” food and drink. I’m pretty content with this percentage; I try not to overthink this section too much – I believe some level of generosity is important but I also don’t go nuts paying for people left, right, and centre. So having a bit of a balance is healthy. Don’t be stingy and bekira but at the same time it’s not good to have people expect you to pay for stuff all the time 🙂
10% on Clothes, HA! I enjoy shopping and looking nice but I don’t enjoy spending lots and lots of money on it. And the older I get the more conscious and careful I am with my purchases; I stopped buying the overly trendy stuff y’know fringed skirts, studded jackets – I left that a long time ago, I mean when and where am I going to where that stuff anyway?! I work a corporate 9-5 job (dress code isn’t too conservative, so I can and do have a bit of fun with it) and on the weekends I like loosey-goosey cotton jersey comfy stuff. I still love clothing and fashion and all that jazz (so no I haven’t completely fallen into boresville Auntieland) but most of the clothing I buy now are things I know I will get a lot of use out of, and are of good quality. No more disposable fashion, ain’t nobody got taim fo dat.
The other Categories are fairly equally divided, and the detailed breakdown I already explained above. The only potentially noteworthy expense under Personal is my monthly massage; I absolutely love (!) going to get a massage. I don’t like getting my hair or nails done (I literally spent a total of $30 on my hair last year – that’s two haircuts) but a one-hour full-body massage? HECK YEAH.
Obviously the app also tells me the actual dollar amount I spent per Category – and the total amount spent in 2015 – but I rubbed that out in the image above because, well, you and I just met and those details are a little too intimate for now (teehee).
In the coming weeks, I’ll be doing notes on some of the Categories. It’ll be interesting to, for example, look at my Food & Drink breakdown – which meal do I spend the most money on – lunch, dinner? How much was spent on coffee? Is there a particular restaurant/cafe where I spent the most?
(And yes, Wally allows you to input location – so you can actually filter/summarise by location too!)