Ten things this family of five spent less than $2,000 on in 2019

by Government Worker FI | Last Updated: April 29, 2020

In my previous post about our 2019 finances, I used percentages rather than actual numbers. In today’s post, I thought I’d break out the “miscellaneous” category with actual numbers. I’m not listing all of our miscellaneous expenses, but rather am highlighting our top 10 categories. So here is our “top 10” list of minor expenses this family of five spent less than $2,000 on in 2019. (Or is it a bottom of 10 list?)

Gas/Auto- $1,554.18

Our biggest expense as a family of five that was less than $2,000 in 2019 was gas and auto. We spent about $1,500 on our car last year. Our biggest car expense was car insurance which was about $600 for full coverage on our 2015 Mazda5. The rest of the money was spent on gasoline. We bike most of the places we need to go. (Check out my love letter to our cargo bicycle). My wife and I both live within 2 miles of our offices. While this means that our housing costs are high, our transportation costs are low. And our commuting time consists of communing with nature. I love our house.

The new car allows everyone to sleep without touching each other.

Home Improvements- $1,246.03

Since pursuing financial independence, this is the category that has shrunk the most! We bought a crappy college rental and have been fixing it up for the past 9 years. For many years, when we got a lump sum of money, (or a raise) we’d throw that extra money at the house. Over the years we’ve added central air, put drain tile in the basement so it didn’t flood every rainstorm, and DIY’ed a kitchen and bathroom remodel.

This past year, we only put $1,200 into the house. (And I can’t even remember what we upgraded.) At some point, I’m sure this category will balloon up again when we need a new roof or finally address some insulation issues. But each year we can keep this low is another year we can save more towards FI.

Charity- $1,115.10

So of all of the expenses I totaled up from 2019, this number was the most shocking to me. We gave an incredibly small percentage of our income to charity last year. It’s embarrassing. Instead of trying to hide this fact, I’m being open about it. We sucked at being charitable with our abundance last year. My goal is to improve this in 2020.

Household- $1,099.12

This is truly the miscellaneous of the miscellaneous category. It is comprised of random things we’ve bought at Target and Amazon throughout the year. For example, November’s household category consisted of a lamp, batteries, and chalk board pens. In many ways this is a dangerous category because it’s very easy to sneak a non-necessary item in here. However, it’s a very small fraction of our total spending, and kids are going to need batteries every now and then.

Bicycles $1,065.75

Picture of our family riding a cargo bike
4/5 members of the GovFamily on our spicy curry cargo bike

This might be one of our expenses less than $2,000 where we spent more than an average family of five. So you know what happens when you don’t spend a lot of money on cars? You end up spending a lot of money on bicycles. This amount includes the purchase of one used bicycle for $20. The rest of it is bicycle maintenance. My wife and I have six bicycles between the two of us:

We have winter bicycles that we specifically let get trashed by the road salt and slush in the winter to keep our “summer bikes” running more smoothly. Even with the summer bike/winter bike lineup, those bikes need to get tuned up. And so do the kids bikes!

I like to take our bicycles to a vocational training program for at-risk youth to get fixed. There bicycle maintenance costs about half as much as a normal store, and it helps the community. Unfortunately they won’t touch our cargo bike ($450 tuneup :-/). And we had a lot of bicycle tuneups this past year.

Yes, in theory, bicycle maintenance is something I could do myself. But I hate doing it. I get super frustrated adjusting the brakes and the derailleurs. They are always too loose or too tight. I’d much rather pay someone who can “feel” how it should be. That frees up time for me to work my real job, parent, and write this blog.

Date & Babysitting $794.40

We have 3 kids and love them very much. But even though they are amazing humans, we need breaks to focus on our relationships. Mrs. GovWorker and I have been married for 15 years and we’ve had kids for 12/17ths of the time we’ve known each other. It’s important to find time to connect.

Hard to believe these lovebirds have been married for 15 years!

That being said, we stopped going on dates in August. We had scheduled dates too close together and we couldn’t figure out what to do and got in a fight. (A stupid fight but a fight). I think we would enjoy dates much better if we could hang out at home and somebody took the kids out somewhere.

Dates seemed like a disappointment. We’d go to a restaurant and pay too much for sub-optimal food, then try to figure out how to kill another 1-2 hours before the kids were in bed. And sometimes we’d come home and have to put the kids in bed anyway. If we still had to deal with the shittiest part of the night, was it really worth dropping $50-$90? It seemed like we were spending money and not getting any extra joy out of the date.

We’ve now switched it up and have “at home dates” after the kids go to bed.

Restaurants $585.80

We spent less than $600 on restaurants last year for our family of 5. I feel like this is a pretty great number. I saw someone on Twitter saying that they were having problems sticking to their $100 per month budget for 1 person!! We’re just over $100 per person per year in this category. To be fair- this doesn’t include restaurant food purchased on vacation. (That’s in the vacation category). Nor does it include restaurant food purchased on dates (that’s in dates).

We rarely eat at restaurants- even on vacation. I have food allergies, which limits the number of restaurants we can eat at.

And even though there are plenty of restaurants that have gluten-free food, I find that restaurants are always a let-down. I feel like crap after eating at a restaurant. I’d much rather just stop at a grocery store and eat fruits and vegetables if I need to consume calories on the go.

Likewise the “treat” of not-cooking is by far out-weighed by the “chore” of dealing with 3 feral kids at a table in public. Mealtimes are a chaotic battle-field at home. Why expose the general public to our shenanigans.

Entertainment $469.40

This category includes any streaming TV services we have as well as live entertainment we’ve attended as a family. Netflix is less than $20 a month. In addition to Netflix, it contains small amounts of money for tickets to minor sporting events and other kids shows we’ve attended.

Picture of kids in an art museum. this family of five spent less than $2,000 on entertainment in 2019
Part of our entertainment budget was spent on a membership to an art museum.

Clothing $332.32

We spent about $100 per kid last year on clothing. According to this article, the average middle income family spent $78 per month per kid on clothes. This appears to be another category less than $2,000 where this family of five spent well less than the average family. Over 90% of our children’s clothes we got free from other families or relatives who have outgrown them. Likewise as our youngest outgrows clothes we pass along the clothes we are done with on to other families who will put them towards good use.

Most of the money we spent this past year was to get new shoes, winter coats, and boots that had finally worn out. We were able to buy a lot of those items at Goodwill and other thrift stores and only needed to purchase one or two new items. This reusing and recycling is not only great for our budget but is also great for the planet!

Pets $273.86

One of our smallest expenses we spent less than $2,000 on as a family of five was pets. We have one cat. He needs food and litter. We fostered two other cats for the first 8 months of 2019 for another family that was on sabbatical. So we got the love of 2.33 cats for less than $300 last year. All-in-all that seems worth it. Especially for the GovKids. I mostly enjoy complaining about feeding the damned thing (but secretly love it).

So- tell me! What surprised you about what our family of five spent less than $2,000 on last year?