For a family, who I think is living modestly, I’ve been a bit shocked by our monthly expenses. Our average monthly expenses for a family of three living in Vancouver is over $7,300.
It surprised me to learn that’s actually typical. According to a Stats Canada survey from 2015, “On average, couples with children spent $84,263 on goods and services…”, or $7,022 per month.
Compared to the averages, we’re spending significantly more on housing – not surprising in Vancouver. Quite a bit less on transportation – likely due to being a one-car family and not owing anything on our car. The average couple with children is spending ~$1,000 per month on food. We’re about $200 over that.
So I guess our spending is not bad. It still seems high to me though. I had a run at reducing our budget – but it was very incremental. A few dollars a month here and there. Not very satisfying.
Next I tried a different approach: what would we spend on each category if we didn’t work, minimized our expenses, and had all the time in the world? This made a huge difference as I was able to cut out nearly $2,000 per month, particularly from:
- Child care
That exercise gave me some hope that opportunities to trim our monthly budget and increase our savings rate exist. It’s important to recognize though, that some of our expenses are driven by us working full-time. Trying to save on items such as cleaning services is not smart right now, since that frees up time for us that in turn allows us to earn more income.
Opportunities to reduce our spending now:
Child Care ($100 / month opportunity)
Reduce our babysitting budget from $100 to $0. We’ve got a pretty good network of friends now that we can trade off baby sitting duties with when needed.
Food ($190 / month opportunity)
Reduce our Grocery budget by $90. $910 per month still seems like a lot to be spending on groceries, though this does include other household products such as toilet paper and laundry detergent.
Reduce our Restaurant budget by $100, leaving us with $40 per month. That covers one nice meal for two every three months ($120), assuming we don’t splurge on expensive wine or need to pay a baby sitter.
Keeping our Fast Food budget at $144 per month. That seems like a lot, but it only covers:
- One treat per week ($25) such as a trip to Nandos for the three of us or some Vietnamese Pho.
- One lunch out per month for both my wife and I.
Transport ($110 / month opportunity)
We’re a one-car family and most of our vehicle expenses are set ($360): insurance, maintenance, and gas. We have no debt on the car, though we probably should start saving for a replacement in a few years.
The opportunities for savings in this category come mostly from my commuting. While my wife uses the car for her commute, I have three options: car-share (Car2Go, Evo), public transit, or bicycle. Bicycle is the best option for many reasons: cost, health, environment – and there’s no reason I can’t commit to four days per week. Public transit is painfully slow and wastes a lot of time I don’t have. Car share is convenient, but expensive.
By limiting my use of car shares to once per week, I can reduce our transportation spending by $110 per month. If we can time the once per week to line up with my wife’s day-a-week working from home, we could eliminate that spend entirely.
Living Expenses ($186 / month opportunity)
Reduce our budget for cleaning services by $60 to $120 per month.
One of our bigger categories of spend is “miscellaneous”. These are all the things that don’t cleanly fit into another category. This seems to continue to grow and is difficult to set a budget on. Over the last 12 months, we’ve averaged $476 per month in this category. So, what’s in there? I use mint.com, which makes it really easy to track our spending by category. The vendors we spend the most with in the “miscellaneous” category over the last year are:
- London Drugs: $829
- Wal-Mart: $737
- Cash: $580
- Amazon: $526
There’s a lot of household expenses in here, various child expenses, kids clothes, etc. There’s an opportunity to trim this down somewhat. Targeting brining this down to $350 per month.
Although this is certainly a discretionary item, it’s not an area I want to cut back. We love to travel and I want my son to have those experiences too.
We are budgeting $400 per month, although we’ve been spending less in the last couple of years due to life circumstances, I expect this to ramp up again.
Overall, if we stick to these budget reductions, we’ll save $586 per month and get our monthly expenses down to $6,850 – which seems somewhat more reasonable for a family of three living in Vancouver.