Tracking Every Dollar I Spent in February

One of my favourite things to read online is Refinery29’s Money Diaries. This ongoing series features a different subject each time, recounting a week’s worth of expenses in their city of residence. A week in London on a 50k salary; a week in NYC on a 12k salary; a week in Dallas on a 200k salary, and so on. From the good (detailed budgeting from people with similar jobs and incomes as me!), the bad (the people who’s parents/partners/gift cards pay for everything so they don’t “count” those expenses), and the lol (that writer who spent 70 quid on cocaine and then got her credit card declined at a takeaway), it’s always interesting to get a glimpse behind the curtain of someone’s financial life.

When I moved to New Zealand, I sadly had to mostly give up on using my favourite budget tracker, Mint. While I can still log in to keep an eye on my American accounts, my New Zealand bank is not supported on their interface and so I can’t connect it for all-in-one account-monitoring convenience. The exchange rate also makes the budgeting feature fairly useless. However, as tempting as it is to use this as an excuse to let my expenses be a free-for-all, I decided to track my spending the old fashioned way and see where things were at.

So for the month of February, I made a list in my bujo of every single dollar I spent. Whether it was several hundred dollars for rent or a single dollar to contribute to the work lotto pool, I accounted for all my spending. Now, unlike R29’s Money Diaries, this isn’t an anonymous post, so I’m not going to share every single detail of where my money went, but here’s a look into the cost of living in Wellington, NZ (all numbers in NZD unless otherwise noted).

Industry: Receptionist and freelancer
Age: 27
Location: Wellington, New Zealand
Income (for February): 3500 NZD (about 2500 USD)

Because part of my income is from freelance work, it tends to fluctuate from month to month. I’ve made as little as $400 and as much as $10,000 in a single month, depending on how much I work and on which projects. That’s also pre-tax, of course, so about 30% of whatever I make is immediately set aside to cover self-employment tax. While I’m in New Zealand, I’ve cut back on freelancing so I can get an office job and not just sit at home alone on my computer. I’m currently temping as a receptionist at a government office, a job which started in January and is scheduled to run through March.

Housing costs: $295 fortnightly
Utilities: ~$100 per month
Phone bill: $29 per month
Loan payments: n/a
Other: 120 USD per month

Housing in Wellington is in high demand, but Steve and I got lucky with a reasonably-priced one-bedroom apartment about half an hour’s walk from the CBD. Rent in New Zealand is calculated weekly rather than monthly, and we pay our 295-per-week rent fortnightly, split 50/50. Utilities are paid monthly, and include power and internet. My phone plan gives me 1.5GB of data per month, plus unlimited New Zealand calls and texts. I use my parents’ Netflix info (thanks mom and dad) and I currently have a free three-month gym membership that I won in a contest last month, so my only other recurring expense is a 20USD-per-month subscription to an online bellydance course website, which I bought at a discount at the start of the year. I also add 100USD per month to my investment account, which is in an S&P 500 Index fund.

Food costs:
Groceries: $313.80
Going out (incl. alcohol): $382.50

Uh, yeah, this one’s high. Groceries are fairly expensive in New Zealand, although Steve and I try to shop at the cheaper grocery stores and go to the weekend produce markets in order to cut costs. I also pack my lunch almost every day (I only bought lunch at work twice the whole month, and opted for under-$10 options rather than fancier fare). But almost $700 on food is still a significant amount. The thing is, Steve and I love cooking and going out to eat, so food is a form of entertainment for us as well as a form of sustenance. Socially, February was also a particularly busy month, with friends visiting from abroad, a number of food-centric friend meet ups (GLT brunches are never something I’m going to turn down), and several holidays that call for special meals out, so this is probably higher than an average month.

Transportation costs:
Public transport: $94
Uber: $26

I walk to work most days and then often bus home, so I spend about 2.80 (the cost of one bus trip) per day on transit. The $94 figure doesn’t accurately represent my spending for February because I topped up my Snapper card (the bus system card here in Welly) with $40 near the end of the month and have barely used any of it so far. The figure also covers a $14 train ticket to Paekakariki for a hike on Waitangi Day. Uber is fairly cheap here, especially when splitting with Steve or friends, so I use it a few times a month to get home after a night out or when the weather’s particularly bad.

Shopping costs:
Entertainment: $142
Clothes: $20
Beauty: $45.40
Misc. $122.50

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and Bret McKenzie (of Flight of the Conchords) are joining forces in April for the Jim Henson Retrospectacle, a tribute concert to the Muppet-master. Of course I had to buy tickets for Steve and me to go. The other entertainment cost comes from a trip to the cinema to see Black Panther (SO GOOD). Because I’m only in New Zealand for a year, I’ve been trying to limit myself from buying unnecessary stuff. I love clothes shopping, but clothing is really expensive here so I’d rather save up and buy a few pieces I really like rather than expendable trendy stuff. However, I did pick up a cozy robe for cold mornings. I’m a little obsessed with Lush lately, so all of my beauty spending was there. I bought a hair mask and a solid shampoo. The rest of my spending encompassed the following: a weekly dollar toward the work lotto pool, a foam roller, a padlock for my gym locker, a voucher for a couple of classes at the local pole fitness studio, and an anniversary gift for Steve. Impulse buying unnecessary items is something I’ve had issues with in the past, so I was happy to see that I limited my spending on stuff this month.

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Overall, I was happy with the results of my track-every-dollar experiment. Even Mint doesn’t provide as thorough a breakdown as I can make myself by writing down every single purchase I make. While I’m probably not going to continue to do this each and every month, it’s good to take a look back and see where I might have made unnecessary splurges or acknowledge where high expenses might be a result of things happening in my life. While I definitely don’t plan to keep sharing my expenses and finances with the world, it’s important to me to be transparent with myself about where my money goes, and I found this to be a really helpful look at where exactly I’m spending my hard-earned money.

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