I’m curious as much as the next person about how much other people spend. With Your Year in Monzo and an increasing number of money diary articles popping up, I wanted to take a closer look at how much I actually spent and on what over the course of the year.
Call me Mr. Krabs, call me boring, but I’m generally the kind of person who cuts corners when it comes to eating out and has no problem with being the odd one out without a coffee or a glass of wine. I’m pretty resistant to making impulse purchases online and try to steer clear of shelling out for streaming platforms.
Despite the pandemic halting my plan-to plan trips to Europe (I never even got started), I’m very grateful to be in a position where I had regular teaching work through the school closures of 2020 and that the scary decision of moving out of a full time position into supply teaching didn’t backfire on me.
With regular income (aside from the summer holidays), this created an odd skew in my savings compared to my spendings. In the height of our first lockdown, other than groceries, my biggest single expenditure in the month of May was my phone bill of £5.04. What. Even. (Don’t worry, I’ll explain later).
January 19, 2020
Budget says: You will save £2.58 per month this year.
Back in January 2020 when I initially looked at my budget, I calculated that I’d only be able to save a few pounds a month; however this was largely due to setting aside money for travelling to Europe, doing weekend trips around the UK and going to EVERY theatre show on the West End.
So with no overseas travel and steady teaching work, this is how my spending panned out:
What did my Year in Monzo say?
If you haven’t come across it before, Monzo bank creates a yearly breakdown of your spending through looking at the different categories each transaction was classified as. I thought the app feature was pretty cool to scroll through and I loved the little 2020 relatable statements.
The tricky thing was that, for a start, the breakdown of my spending was just for my personal account and didn’t include our shared account for food, bills, rent and general household items. A good third of my spending was classed as ‘General’ which wasn’t particularly helpful.
Seeing my transactions per month was definitely interesting at a glance; it’s pretty clear when I was at home in lockdown buying nothing and then when I started spending it up for our summer road trip.
It’s quite funny to see my supposed ‘top spots for Eating Out’. I obviously didn’t go to any place to eat out for a repeat visit so Monzo could’ve chosen any of the 21 places I ate out at. As for ‘Slim Chickens’, that was actually a lovely dinner at the Old Bicycle Shop in Cambridge...far from southern-style fried chicken.
What did I find out?
Okay, so Monzo started painting a picture, but I got a much clearer idea of the breakdown when I went through the transactions myself from January 1st all the way through to December 31st...whewf!
Out of the gate, I can see that a lot of my money early on was going into transport; the daily commute on the tube or bus, going flat hunting, out to climbing gyms and the theatre.
Once we went into lockdown, I didn’t touch public transport again (other than Uber for moving house twice and a trip to the hospital with a sprained ankle) until November. In the interim, walking and cycling were the go. Read about my take on cycling in London here.
Transport (tube, bus, Uber): £410.85
Bike + equipment + maintenance: £170.23
My main spendings here were on tickets to West End musicals and going bouldering at indoor climbing gyms and outdoors at Harrison’s Rock. Finally feeling settled enough in London to sign up to PureGym was short-lived as two weeks later we were plunged into lockdown and I never went back.
The huge benefit of most of our flats was they came with Netflix either included with bills or through flatmates. This meant that I only needed to pay £2.99 to get Disney Plus for a month (for the sole reason of watching Hamilton the Musical), and then another £5.99 for my silly error of not cancelling my BritBox subscription at the end of the free one month trial.
Clothing & Beauty
I only brought one suitcase with me when I moved to London with the intention of buying some fancy new clothes to return home with. I’d also planned on finding some decent work shoes and getting a pair of Reebok dance shoes for Les Mills Body Jam or other dance classes.
I still haven’t bought a pair of shoes. Somehow I could never get past the ‘add to basket’ stage on the Reebok website or face buying a pair of boots that weren’t on sale. My main spending ended up being at Primark (in store) and BooHoo (online) after I paid the extra six pounds for a year of free deliveries.
I didn’t spend any money on personal beauty products and didn’t bring anything from NZ other than a container of moisturiser. Sorry I’m not the glamorous type peeps; my biggest splash out was on a £1 tub of aqueous cream from Poundland that we’re just over halfway through a year later. Lucky for me, my birthday present was getting a haircut so that means I'm still sorted for at least another year.
Clothing & Beauty: £226.65
Holidays (excluding food)
So, of course, this is the area where I spent a lot less than I expected. We went on a road trip up to North York in mid-February, a summer road trip around England and Wales, a weekend trip to Canterbury and a couple of day trips out of London.
We got in some night navigation, ziplining, classics such as Stonehenge and the Roman Baths and made the most of our English Heritage membership. To save money, we bought train passes and stayed in campsites, cheap hotels and a couple of nights with relatives.
Unlike our usual split of expenses based on income, we split the cost of holidays 50/50.
We’ve already established I’m the worst at saying ‘yes’ to eating out but I did get stuck in during the Eat Out to Help Out scheme and went to lots of places, mostly on our summer road trip. I'll admit it is pretty nice to eat out from time to time and it did make for a welcome change from the norm - I even spoilt myself by getting drinks while they were half price.
We didn’t order any takeaways during our months at home but we got a few Too Good to Go bundles earlier in the year which were pretty good value. We still haven’t been to Pizza Hut - we walked into a Pizza Hut restaurant back in February, sat down, read the prices on the menu and then ran away before the waitress could get back to us. Newsflash: $5 (£2.50) Pizza Hut pizzas don’t exist here!
Eating Out: £163.47
I know I complained about Monzo having too many things categorised as ‘General’ but I’m going to be the hypocrite here and just do the same thing. This section includes all the odds and ends from Waitangi Day outfits, to the second-hand guitar we bought, to physio, a little dabble in stocks, sending a Christmas parcel home, presents and any other random spending that I couldn’t categorise anywhere else.
Expenses (rent, bills, groceries & general household items)
This is a very tricky one to unpack for a few reasons; For a start, at the beginning of January when I had only recently arrived in London, I was just transferring bits and pieces of money back to Simon for food, rent and transport as he already had a couple of months of work in the UK under his belt and I was only getting my first weekly paycheck through.
Once we set up a shared account, we went through three variations of split based on our incomes. This meant that we each paid roughly the same proportion of our incomes into the shared account and then any rent, bills, groceries or household items would be paid out of that. It was challenging to figure out how we wanted to manage this as I would get paid weekly but then not be earning any money during the school holidays - more than a month over the summer. We thought about paying into the shared account on a monthly basis as that’s how people normally get paid but, since I didn’t have money under my belt, I couldn’t pay upfront at the start.
Even once we had this sorted, it still was a bit messy from time to time with flat deposits being paid out of Simon’s account and some bills being paid out of personal accounts then to be ‘reimbursed’ by the shared account.
Working out the breakdown of spending within groceries is too hard to determine as we would’ve bought household items e.g. a duvet from Sainsbury's as part of our supermarket shopping. I also can’t tell which trips to Poundland were us buying tea towels (such fun) and which were us walking out with snacks we hadn’t intended on buying (99% of the time this was chocolate). We also had some other purchases such as houseplants and a Christmas tree paid out of our shared account.
Although this has all been lumped together, I can say that we spent about £62 for two of us in weekly grocery shopping (including lunches and any drinks) each week and around five times as much on rent and bills.
This is where I’ve totalled up any spending around teaching work, website costs and Les Mills. I had banked on getting a work laptop at my first UK teaching job, so when that didn’t happen and there was suddenly talk of going into lockdown, I quickly snatched up a laptop from Currys PC World. I also had to pay for the renewal of my DBS certificate to get confirmation that I was still safe to work with children.
My training courses to become a certified Les Mills BODYJAM and BODYPUMP instructor cost £380 and £280, respectively, and then purchasing new releases after that was an additional £25-£35 per programme. I’ve got a teacher Adobe Creative Cloud subscription so I can create my teaching resources and other graphics.
Professional Development: £1,431.62
So how does this all stack up?
Of the money I earnt in 2020 (starting work on January 6th through to getting my last paycheck of the year on December 24th), I spent just over half of it.
Well, you don’t have to be a mathematician to figure out that I saved more than my predicted £2.58 per month. Once I took away transport, leisure, clothing and holidays, I really wasn’t spending that much.
66.53% of what I spent was on living expenses, not including transport.
That’s almost smack bang on two-thirds.
A measly 1.21% of what I spent was on eating out but that doesn’t come as much of a surprise to me.
I’ve got to say, I’m very impressed if you’ve made it this far. Here are just a couple more figures I found pretty interesting:
By looking at my monthly phone bill, you can see when I had terrible internet or ran out of data (when it went up to £6) and when I was purely at home using the wifi (when it was close to £5):
£5.65, £5.23, £5.55, £5.06, £5.04, £5.69, £1, £6, £5.73, £5.81, £5.33, £6, £5.64
I mentioned earlier that there was a month when my single biggest expenditure after groceries was my monthly phone bill of £5.04. The reason this was the case was because we had scored ourselves an Airbnb which had been pulled off the market due to Covid and was ours as long as we could pay three months of rent upfront. All bills were included so once we got through the scary transfer of money (definitely a heart-in-one’s-mouth kind of moment), we didn’t have to worry about rent and bills for the next three months. Find out more about our rollercoaster of finding a flat here.
As much as it was a mission to get through a year of expenditures, I found this process both interesting from an analytical perspective as well as, surprisingly, being quite a nostalgic experience. I caught myself reminiscing as I saw the changes in supermarkets each of the five times we moved flats and spotted the day Simon went to six supermarkets during the March panic-buying frenzy trying to find food but most importantly toilet paper as we were literally down to our final roll after moving house.
This whole situation is very interesting to unpack and it’s given me plenty of food for thought. With thousands of businesses struggling, should it be people like me getting online and spending rather than saving it all up? Is it selfish of me or am I entitled to save for the things I really want to spend on when the time comes?
2020 felt like a year of waiting for life to happen - and it still does in this year. It’ll be interesting to see how everything pans out and what travel and sight-seeing we’ll be able to get in. For now, I’m enjoying my walks to the park in the snow, sun or cloud and that doesn’t cost a thing.