I do love spending diaries.
I’ve written before about how I reckon a spending diary can change your life.
But know what I love even more than my own spending diary?
Reading someone else’s! If you’re nosey like me, it’s fascinating!
So when Lynn over at Mrs Mummypenny suggested we swap spending diaries for January, to see what we could learn from each other, I jumped at the chance.
I had already committed to a low-spend month, aiming to cut food bills and tackle a no-spend clothing challenge. Knowing I had to hand over my spending diary at the end of the month definitely helped keep me on track.
Our home and work situations are quite similar. We’re both money bloggers. We’re both married with primary school age kids, although I have two children and Mrs Mummypenny has three. We both live outside London in four bed houses.
However, while I bang on about frugality, Mrs Mummypenny has only cut down more recently, determined to clear the balances on a couple of interest-free credit cards.
Where would we spend the same? And what would be different?
Here’s what I learnt from swapping our spending diaries:
So grateful we don’t have debt
First and foremost looking at Mrs Mummypenny’s spending diary, I am incredibly, unbelievably grateful that we don’t have any borrowing or debt.
We use a cashback credit card for virtually all our spending, but always pay off the balance in full every month.
Otherwise, we don’t borrow anything. Nada. Nothing.
No credit card balances, overdrafts, loans or car financing. By selling up in London and moving to Suffolk, we were also able to clear our mortgage.
In contrast, during January Mrs Mummypenny forked more than £1,570 to cover her mortgage, leases on two cars and regular repayments towards interest-free credit card balances. And that’s before any one-off lump sums to clear debt.
Sobering stuff. It really reminded me how we can afford to live on less, because we don’t have to repay any borrowing. Being debt-free is a lot less expensive!
Swings and roundabouts on household bills
I always knew we lived in a ridiculous house from a frugal perspective, but there’s nothing like seeing someone else’s bills to ram it home.
We pay a good £100 more in Council Tax each month. Mrs Mummypenny’s combined gas and electricity payment may be higher than our electricity charges, but I’m sure we pay way more topping up our oil tank every few months.
We spend very similar amounts on our broadband and landline, but manage to economise on mobile phones. As a family, we spent just under £19 a month across our SIM only deals, versus Mrs Mummypenny’s £55. That adds up to £432 over a year.
Otherwise where Mrs Mummypenny spends on Sky and Amazon Music, we spend on a Times subscription for my job, Microsoft Office software, Apple storage, a random oven insurance plan and our Shelter donation.
Glad to see we both pay for life insurance, although our costs are higher.
It was also a relief to see that Mrs Mummypenny, as fellow working mother, also pays for a cleaner!
Overall, setting aside Mrs Mummypenny’s mortgage payment and our extra council tax, our total for bills each month was remarkably similar.
Hungry boys = twice as much food spending
Hands up, our grocery shopping this month was lower than normal. I’ve been a woman on a mission trying to use up the contents of our kitchen cupboards, fridge and freezer, and snapping up reduced price food.
It was interesting to see what and when Lynn spent on groceries, especially with a husband and three hungry boys to feed. Their three big shops at Aldi came to £285. But as I’ve found, it’s the top up shops in between that can gouge a hole in your budget.
So in total, Mrs Mummypenny spent £433 on food shopping for her family of five, more than twice as much as the £195 I spent on food shopping for our family of four.
Glad I don’t like coffee
I was keen to see how much another family would spend on eating out. We tend to eat at home, or take packed lunches when out.
Looks like Mrs Mummypenny is also rationing takeaways and eating out. Their January certainly didn’t include any Michelin-starred feasts, but more family-friendly trips to Dominos, KFC and Pizza Express, and food at the cinema, theatre, football and swimming pool.
Almost all our eating out costs (£130ish of £145) came from two meals out, a takeaway and £££ ice creams during the interval at Wicked. I try to avoid spending at the cinema and swimming pool, by smuggling in sweets and packing snacks in the swimming bag. I’m also glad I don’t like coffee, given it added £28 to Mrs Mummypenny’s spending.
Overall, Mrs Mummypenny’s family forked out nearly a third more than we did on eating out, but I reckon we both did pretty well.
Kids are super expensive
Wow. Both our budgets take a big hit from our kids, the biggest spending category after household bills.
Mrs Mummypenny’s list is very familiar: clothes, school shoes, haircuts, school trips, sport and other activities. Lynn’s two oldest boys are brilliant footballers, and the cost of subs and football tours adds up.
An extra expense for me is school dinners – turns out Lynn’s boys take packed lunches, which would account for some of the higher grocery spend.
As a mean mummy, I also make my kids spend their own cash on any computer games or credits.
I was impressed that Mrs Mummypenny and her husband manage to juggle their jobs to avoid child care, whereas I spent about £85 on after school cover for the days I’m away in London.
Annual expenses throw a spanner in the works
At first sight, Lynn’s business expenses seemed pretty high at £330. But actually most of that was annual membership subs for CIMA, at £285. Occasional train tickets to London, and tube travel while there, were very familiar!
I need more fun spending in my life!
Mrs Mummypenny has a budget category of ‘Lynn fun’, which I think is a great idea. It went on flowers for a friend, tickets to the cinema and charity party, and a quarterly subscription box. Like me, there were no big sums this month on beauty, hair, treatments, clothes. Looked like a pretty low spend month.
Fun on a budget
Mrs Mummypenny spent less than half our total on family activities, including a couple of trips to the cinema and panto tickets.
However, our spending was bumped up by £54 renewing my daughter’s passport. We also bought train tickets to enjoy a couple of Christmas presents – the family day in London to see Wicked and the V&A video games exhibition, and my trip to the ballet with friends.
Cars eat up cash
Setting side Mrs Mummypenny’s car finance, the running costs for our cars were pretty similar. Mrs Mummypenny spent £150 across two cars. On our side, petrol for my husband’s commute, paying for parking a couple of times, and £15 on a replacement headlamp bulb, pushed our car costs up to £167. Makes me even keener to check out hybrid cars!
Luckily neither of us faced the big bills for car tax, MOT, servicing, breakdown cover or insurance during January, thank goodness.
Must save harder
Mrs Mummypenny has worked wonders towards clearing a couple of credit card balances. However, she still managed to put £50 into a stocks and shares Isa, uses Plum, the automatic savings app (I love a similar app, Chip), and made her first pension contribution in years: £1,000 to PensionBee.
Previous post: What is a pension and why you should care
Comparing our spending diaries made me realise I need to get my act together about pensions, savings and investments. We pay £300 a month into a 5% regular saver account that will finish next January, in time to help with Christmas credit cards bills and tax payments. I also have a couple of test accounts with robo advisers (new breed of investment websites), which squirrelled away another £172 in investments. But I could do with setting up standing orders, rather than just chucking in lump sums every so often.
So what’s missing?
We spent a chunky £150 on presents – a combination of presents for three birthdays, some stuff for the kids during our day in London, and future Christmas presents and cards snapped up in the sales.
I also spent £53 or so on household expenses – postage, cleaning products, toothpaste, batteries and a raft of cold medicines when we were all ill. I suspect a bunch of that comes within Mrs Mummypenny’s grocery spending.
At first glance, our spending seemed very different.
Overall, we spent just under half as much as Mrs Mummypenny during January.
But strip out Mrs Mummypenny’s borrowing and debt repayments, and both our savings and investments, and suddenly our spending is much more similar: only 7% lower.
What I learnt
I rarely study my own spending diary in such detail, and it was fascinating to study someone else’s too.
Having discussed money with Mrs Mummypenny in the past, I was genuinely impressed at her hard work in cutting back to shift her credit card balances.
It was a sobering reminder of how much less I need to live on, being debt-free – and also how much of our spending is driven by our children. It also showed how much small amounts on for example top up shops, presents and coffee can add up.
Looking ahead, I’m keen to be more structured about our savings, investments and pensions. I’m also keen to embrace the idea of fun money!
Do check Mrs Mummypenny’s post on what she learnt from my spending diary
Now – over to you. Do you keep a spending diary? Do you like reading other people’s?
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