spending less, getting more

call me weird but, yes, I have kept track of our family’s spending over the last few years, with excel worksheets to prove it. there actually IS a science behind home management.

Today, as I busied myself over recording and scheduling bill payments for the month of August, I felt a sudden urge to try and analyze how our spending has changed over the years. I wonder if other people are as obsessed with a household budget as I am. But really I find budgeting information very practical. In fact, I always find myself looking back to it especially when we try to revisit our financial priorities, which inevitably changes as years go by.

At this point in our family life, we are actually making the most financial sense than we ever had. Of course we’ve had our share of investment lapses and unsound economic judgment, but we have learned a lot from them and we’ve matured enough to actually make some really excellent financial decisions this time around.

Looking back at our average monthly spending over the last three years, we are now spending much less than we did before. This is largely influenced by the fact that we are earning less now than we did a couple of years back, so naturally we have to squeeze in all our expenses within a tighter margin. Still, it is interesting to note that living on a smaller household budget is actually achievable, but with some slight to major lifestyle shifts.

Take a look at our average monthly budget in 2009. Like a typical household budget, food is naturally the biggest expense. This chunk is further broken down to grocery and wet market purchases. Travel is the next biggest chunk and this used to be one of our biggest splurges, making it a point to have at least 2 major trips each year. While a good half goes to food and travel, the remainder is spent on rent, services (househelp), bills payment and medical expenses. A good 15% of our monthly earnings is also stashed away as savings. Looking good so far.

average monthly budget, 2009

In 2011, our regular spending was cut down by 3% compared to the previous year. This was the time that we moved to Los Banos and while most of the basic goods and services are about the same price here as in Manila, there are some things here that cost significantly less, like eating out for example.

Our 2011 budget chart shows that while food is still the biggest expense, it did not go beyond 30% of our monthly budget. Travel expenses shot up to 23% because both Turo and I traveled regularly to Manila to work even when we were already living in LB. The rest of our expenses were essentially the same.

average monthly budget, 2011

I have mentioned quite a number of times in my previous entries that we had been slashing pesos off our budget as a resultant effect of changing the way we eat and live. You would be surprised that while our rent payments stayed constant over the years, our monthly food allocation dropped down to just about the same amount in 2012. Our monthly fuel expense is now just a mere 7% compared to a high of 23% in the year before.

Our current monthly spending is actually 12% less than what we used to spend in 2009. This is in spite of the fact that we have more expenditures now because we are also paying for farm expenses, paying school fees, and paying debt which we incurred when we loaned money as start-up capital for the farm.

average monthly budget, 2012

So how did we do it?

We grew our own food. We buy local. We skipped the grocery and stopped consuming processed, packaged food. Now we are eating fresh, natural and local, which tastes so much better, costs so much cheaper, is so much healthier and we even get to support local producers and boost local economies.

We started to maximize an oft-neglected resource—our bodies. As city dwellers we were enslaved by various modes of fuel-consuming transportation. Here in Los Banos we learned to skip riding a car or a jeepney because we can get to our destination by burning calories, not gasoline.

We grew more conscious of our purchases. We buy what we need when we need them. Stocking food or supplies no longer exist in our vocabulary. We did away with needless shopping especially of items that will go to waste eventually.

We indulge in cheap forms of entertainment. We watch movies on DVD instead of going to the movie theater. We spend mornings at the park eating taho or drinking juice. We jog around UPLB campus and treat ourselves to a cup of yogurt afterwards. We set up a sandbox for the kids so we can spend afternoons at the farm. We have pizza weekends, barbecue nights, and rarely dine out.

In less than a year, our lifestyle has changed drastically from being highly consumerist to being highly sustainable. True, we did slash thousands of pesos off our budget, but this came at a price, on denominations that we were willing to pay—in terms of time and effort. Vegetables don’t grow by themselves overnight. Local produce need to be sourced from different stores and locations. Walking to work means you need to leave the house much earlier than when you will just hop on and off a vehicle. And making pizza is so much more difficult than just waiting for it to land on your plate.

Time and effort. These are key to our happy, healthy, meaningful and sustainable lifestyle. The good news is that it can be done. But only by those who dare to leave the convenience of this modern world behind and enjoy the elements of life as they were meant to be enjoyed. No shortcuts.

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