My Financial Life In A Spreadsheet

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ChooseFI Favorite: top rewards card for beginners

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card​

Looking for the best credit card to start earning travel rewards points? The Chase Sapphire Preferred is our pick. With a 50,000 point signup bonus (after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months), the $95 annual fee waived the first year, and ultra-flexible points (transfers to 13 airlines & hotels!), this is our top choice!

I like numbers and quantifying things. That includes quantifying things like my personal progress towards financial independence. To feed this craving, I've started to keep monthly spreadsheets of spending in various categories. At end of each week I manually update a spreadsheet that I've set up with simple math expressions to track my savings rate. It takes me a few seconds to update this spreadsheet and instantly, I see the new numbers for the current month appear in front of me.

Many FI bloggers say that a monthly savings rate of 70% or higher is ideal for those who want to reach FI in the fastest possible time. While I am very far behind from this target I'm slowly making progress!

Before I Discovered FI

The spreadsheets tell a story of the dark before I discovered FI. In January, I was spending way more than I was earning, due to being unemployed. Then in February, I had started my new full-time job and my savings rate was at 11%.

Looking back, I can see I made some mistakes because I didn't track my spending. From February to July, my savings rate fluctuated from 0% to 35%.

In May 2017, I traveled to Portland, shopped a lot for beautiful high end clothing including a $500 dress, and I ate many scoops of Salt&Straw ice cream in the humid city weather. In that same crazy month, I got my wisdom teeth removed, which I paid out of pocket.

Looking back, I should have really thought twice about impulsively shopping on big-budget clothing items. I didn't even know where the money was going until months later when I started tracking my spending such as shown in the below real example.

Items marked in red are my “watch out on these impulse buys!” Rent and total spending are blurred out for my privacy.

After I Discovered FI

July was a turning point.  I started tracking all my expenses in spreadsheets on a weekly basis. I was hooked on the ChooseFI podcasts, and eventually managed to get my savings rate up all the way to 40% with intentional budgeting.

The first half of 2017 is like night and day compared to my second half of 2017. It was ridiculous that I was saving almost nothing or just 20% of my total take-home paycheck in the first half of the year.

I use Mint.com as the primary source for these numbers. I don't have January numbers because Mint.com mysteriously removed all my data from before February 2017. This adds another reason why manually entering the numbers into your finance spreadsheet helps preserve the data and be more aware.

At the end of the month, I double check my numbers in the spreadsheet against the numbers in Mint. I categorize anything that is discretionary spending under the Mint.com category “Shopping” that includes clothes, furniture, live events, and any purchase that is non-essential.

Regrettable buys

From the spreadsheets, I found 10 items that I would NOT buy again in retrospect. I would've saved a lot more money in 2017 if I had discovered the FI community earlier. Now I know better. I have started making smart intentional changes.

  1. $1,100 for one ticket to attend a black-tie gala event hosted by a ballet company.
  2. $529 custom-made formal gala dress.
  3. $251.33 for vintage necklaces and a new handmade shirt.
  4. $80-200/month on Lyft or Uber.
  5. $98/month Verizon phone bill. I now use a $40 pre-paid Verizon plan with 3GB data on my iPhone 5S.
  6. $100 library fines. I now get email notifications turned on about library due dates.
  7. $50 ice cream pints/month.
  8. $190 for a pair of handmade leather oxford shoes ordered online but were the wrong size.
  9. $300/month dining out at restaurants.
  10. $137 opera tickets.

I've changed my ways so that I no longer spend outrageous amounts for these items. For example, I love the black-tie galas but to save money I now volunteer at gala events, this way I can get in free and sometimes even get a free dinner. To save money on clothing I now only buy from thrift and consignment clothing stores. I only take public transportation, which is reimbursed by my employer's transit plan. I signed up for email notifications from my library so I never forget a due date. I've started bringing my lunch to work and cut back on my ice cream habit, saving my health as well as my wallet. And finally, the opera has cheap standing room tickets which is how I now get my opera fix.

New Year's resolution

Looking ahead, I want to do better than my current 40% monthly savings rate. Eventually I want to get to a 50% or higher monthly savings rate. Even maybe a 70% savings rate if I make major life adjustments. But this is especially difficult because I live in San Francisco—one of the most expensive cities in the United States.

If you've started to track your spending by category in a spreadsheet, please let me know what new things you've found in your own spending habits by leaving a comment.

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9 thoughts on “My Financial Life In A Spreadsheet

  1. That’s an incredible increase in savings rate. Especially without changing your housing costs at all. Well done. Can’t wait to see the how you can get it even higher.

    I also track on a spreadsheet. The biggest savings I’ve found so far were in car/home insurance and on my cable/internet bill.

  2. My favorite part of this is the way you’re finding creative ways to still get the same benefits. I especially love the volunteering at gala events instead of paying to attend. My wife did a similar thing where she had been paying a lot of money for exercise classes and instead became a coach. Now she gets paid to teach the classes and attends other classes for free.

    This sort of creative approach to life is really going to pay dividends and it seems like all it took was first just getting an idea of where your money was going so you could strategize on how to improve. Congrats on the great progress!

  3. Wow! I love the way you maintain the things you love by volunteering as opposed to over spending.

    Has there been anything that you couldn’t replace by volunteering or thrifting?

    This is an amazing amount of change-keep up the creative FI momentum.

  4. RE: Reluctant Frugalist: High quality shoes are the only type of clothing items I would not want to thrift. I would only ever buy new shoes. My feet are flat, so I wear orthotics everyday. I am especially picky about buying new shoes. I did one of the most spendiest things in my life in December 2017: I’ve commissioned a pair of handmade black leather ankle boot shoes from Beneduci.com, all made in San Francisco. The shoemakers had to measure my feet precisely to make a custom pattern and will make these new shoes to last me for a lifetime.

  5. Wow, it was like reading about me. Although $1100 for a black tie event was a peak, I never scaled. My life too changed last year around April when I discovered FI. My grocery bill for a small family was $932.31 in April 2017. Listening to Choose FI and reading other blogs led to a gradual decrease in my grocery bill. My Jan 2018 grocery bill was $327.72 (one tip I discovered was going to a particular grocery place such as Costco only once every two weeks). The funny thing, I don’t feel my life has degraded in any way but has enriched a lot. Grocery Bill is just one area. Over the last months, my life has taken a gradual turn for the better. The podcasts have kept me modified. I too have an excel sheet for all my expenses and investments. My last year savings late was 46.25%, and hopefully, I would be able to get around 63.55% (as per my current calculation).

  6. I love this! I spreadsheet all my stuff on a monthly basis. Almost hit a magic number this month, but with the losses in the markets so far this February, it” take a few more months.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say that you should feel great about helping the local ballet. If not for people like you giving their support, ballets and symphonies and operas and all would literally cease to exist. I work in that world and we are so grateful for generous people like you!

    I look froward to reading your future posts!

    CHGO FIRE

  7. What a turnaround! I also admire how you are still doing what you love but in a more cost-effective manner. Nicely done! This ChooseFI community is contagious.

    Um, I too am a connoisseur of good ice cream! Since I love it so much but am also health conscience, my compromise is to only consume organic, locally made, delicious ice cream on special occasions. I define what constitutes a special occasion and that can be just because, but what it isn’t, is frequent.

    I track my expenses in a spreadsheet and formerly took out cash each month and categorized it. It was simple. However, with my world widening and learning about travel rewards, I now use credit cards within my budget. It is a little more work to track but I think I have a system down.

    I look forward to reading more of your stuff.

  8. Don’t cry over spilt milk!! Only one on the regrets list that is totally regretable is number 6 (some might argue 10 :-)). Thats not bad for a six months.

    Everything else will last a life-time on that list, the stories you will tell about the ice cream will prove to be worth it in the long run. I spent 2 and a half weeks in Italy once and had gelato every day at a gelato bar! Mrs. A-F and I still talk about the gelato.

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