What does your spending look like? (Nov 2021)

I must confess — before we moved to Canada (in July 2020) I never tracked our spending. I used Mint to aggregate our investments, and I usually added credit cards there as well, but I never cleaned up or looked at the data. I’ve always felt that one of the perks of living within well within your means is not having to track expenses or make a budget.

I changed my tune when we moved because I thought we were near our FI number. To be sure, though, I had to pin down what our spending was. I had a rough idea of our spending in the US, but since we were in a new country I decided to bite the bullet and track it.

I’m using a tool called GnuCash. I’m only using a fraction of it’s functionality — it’s a full accounting suite, but I’m only using it to track spending. I chose it for a few reasons.

  1. It’s free.
  2. It’s located on my PC (rather than cloud-based). I’ve increasingly moved away from “free” apps or websites where I’m providing them with a lot of personal data.
  3. It learns — as I classify expenses each month, it makes better guesses as to how to classify them in future months.

I thought, when I started doing this, that handling multiple currency (CAD and USD) was going to be a priority for me (which GnuCash can also do) but to get the results I want (a single view of my expenses) it’s easier to just convert my few USD expenses into CAD each month.

Here’s how our average monthly expenses broke down for the last 13 months. This is all in Canadian dollars.

Mortgage$1,142principal and interest
Home Repair / Maintenance$931having house (interior) painted
having the garage / attic finished with aspenite
service for our pellet stove and HVAC
every trip to the hardware store
Taxes$857
Groceries$775vegetarian, mostly whole foods, CSA / farmer’s markets, decent amount of organic
Household$716another catchall — if I was looking to cut expenses I might dig into this one
Auto (gas, parking, insurance)$215doesn’t include the purchase price of our used Subaru Outback
Utilities$195doesn’t include pellets (which appear under home repair / maintenance).
Clothes$190mostly winter, shoes / boots, and skates / sporting goods
Spiritual Health$188retreats and classes w/ our meditation group in Florida
Phone$133currently 2 US, 1 Canada.
Gifts$126
Education (school lunches and summer camp)$125
Dining$104
Insurance (home)$81
Dental$66
Professional Expenses$65
Entertainment$59
Other / Miscellaneous$590
TOTAL$6558

There are undoubtedly places we could trim our spending. I also suspect that this first year in Canada will be a bit higher than subsequent years. My goal in this exercise, though, is to understand our spending, in order to get a sense of where we stand in terms of financial independence. And, based on these numbers, we look to be in pretty good shape.

Our current portfolio sits at about $1.3 million USD. Using the 4% rule (an imperfect but reasonable quick and dirty estimate), that should enable spending at about $52,000 USD (or $65,000 CAD) per year. Our current spending is just under $78,700 CAD (or ~$62,000 USD). This is very similar to what we were spending in the US.

If we were to fully retire, some of these expenses (including our taxes) would reduce, and we’d get an increase in some benefits (like the Canadian Child Benefit) as well. If, for example, we were drawing down so that my wife and I both had $20,000 CAD in income, we’d pay less in taxes and get almost $6000 in CCB, which would put us very close to the ~$65,000 CAD spending target.

Regardless, my wife is currently working part time (and really likes her job) and my plan is to go down to part-time next year (I think). We’ll do that for a few years and see where things stand. Plus, I’d like to pay off our mortgage when it opens up in a little under 4 years, which would significantly reduce our monthly spend.

All in all, I was happy to see, after this first year, that our spending in Canada wasn’t too far off our spending in the US. What about you? How carefully do you track your spending? And what tools do you use?