A few years back I ran an experiment to see if I could live in the Florida Keys, and Key West, for less than $50 a day. For three years I tracked every penny, every expense, no matter how small, with the simple goal of not spending more than the aforementioned $50 every 24 hour period. The results were mixed and don’t bother searching the archives as I have since deleted all said posts. The first year, thanks to an unusually large tax bill, my daily average came in around $63 a day. The second year was more better at just over $51 while year three finally came in around $47 per day. Overall, in three years I averaged $53 a day to live in the Keys. Not too shabby all things considered.
I dropped the experiment after the third year as I sensed you few readers were getting bored with all the numbers and math and stuff, and stopped bothering to track expenses with so much detail. But last year, in the midst of all the bullshit between the travel, bad landlords, illness, and moving to Hawaii, I decided it might be a good idea to start keeping track of things like spending and income again.
One thing I noticed when I was doing said experiment is I became acutely aware of where all my money was going. I was very unpleasantly surprised by how much I was wasting on trying to maintain some semblance of internet connection. It was a long arduous pain in the ass to find decent, reliable, and cheap (free) internet. I spent a lot of money on a variety of connections which were woefully insufficient for my needs.
By the same token, I was pleasantly surprised by how much money I was not spending because I no longer owned a vehicle. There were some months where I spent ZERO dollars on transportation, instead relying on a bicycle or those two size 10 ½ flat things at the end of my legs to get around.
Keeping a budget really puts one’s spending habits in full view and allows one to make adjustments going forward. So, starting back at the first of this year, I began keeping a budget again.
I’ve been tracking business expenses for quite a while. Keeping track of book sales, web income, and using said info for tax purposes. But I decided to also run a personal budget and see where both my dollars are going. One thing which really prompted me to do so was the high cost of groceries in Hawaii. It seemed I was spending way more than I wanted for sustenance every month and when I start tracking expenses, I found out I was.
Budgets can be as simple or as complicated as you want. A simple spread sheet might work if you are just tracking household expenses or you can use any of a number of online programs and software to get into more detail. My personal choice is a site called waveapps.com. The basic program is free and for most minimalists doing the digital nomad thing or running a single person operation, Wave Apps is more than adequate. I track all income and expenses from my vast evil online empire, and recently added the ability to take credit card payments through the program and have said payments directly deposited into my bank. Fees are in line with most any other credit card processor and it’s very easy to use. I can produce reports showing all the who, what, where, and why of every penny which comes and goes, see the profits and losses, and it costs nothing.
Last year Wave Apps added in the option of doing a personal budget, which gave me the incentive to run such a budget tracking all my personal expenses like rent, food, transportation, and anything else I may spend money on, as well as keeping track of any income I have coming in. Again, I can run reports keeping track of profits and loss, and set goals every month so if I am overspending on something, I see the alert on the screen which sometimes gives me more incentive to not spend so much.
Going back on a budget has proven to be very advantageous and it’s something I will probably continue to do for the foreseeable future. Not only does the budget provide me with a full financial picture of what I have coming and going, it gives me an excellent blueprint going forward. Based on what the budget shows I can project what I can afford in the future in regards to what I can spend on rent, setting a food budget, and allowing for any other upcoming expenses. Based on said information I now know the maximum I can spend every month which sets the limits on how fancy a place I can live in, how I much I can spend on food, and how much, if any surplus I might have at the end of each month. My ultimate goal is to at least have a positive income every month. It can be a few dollars, it can be a lot, just as long as I can stay within budget, and not get carried away with spending, I can maintain and slowly increase the amount of money I have in the bank.
Keeping a budget may sound like a no brainer or something you may do just out of hand, but for me, a budget has become essential. The amount of detail a few months worth of tracking expenses and income can reveal a ton of valuable information which you can use to amend your lifestyle so you don’t overspend, and stay out of debt. Once you have a good financial picture right there on the screen, it has a lot more impact than simply checking your bank balance and empty pockets now and then. With the knowledge of what you have coming in, and what you know is going out, making more better life decisions becomes a lot more easier.
I now know what it costs me to live in Maui. I have just 4 months and change worth of budget showing but with even such a short time span, I have a very good idea what it will cost going forward when I go back. I can adjust accordingly and have a very good idea of what and where I can afford to live out there. Or anywhere else should the opportunity arise.
Financial awareness comes a lot more easier when you keep a good budget and stick to it. Give it a try if you are not doing so already. It will pay for itself in more ways than one.
In case you are wondering, I won’t post the details, but I was living in Maui for $48 a day.