An Example ALT Budget
Many people wonder what life in rural Japan costs. Since my salary is publicly available to pretty much anyone who looks it up, I figured disclosing my monthly spending habits would be no big deal. This is what I actually spend on stuff each month. Every single financial transaction I have made in 2009, more than 300 so far, is included. This is by no means what everyone’s budget looks like, but it’s a real case study for the curious. I’ve got charts, and explanations of the categories that I use below. Please note that the color legend is different between the two charts.
As you can see, I have paid on average ¥81,425 each month towards my college loans. (It’s aggressive on purpose.) That’s where most of my monthly money goes. Allow me to point out that for both of these charts the value given to the Housing category is weighted incorrectly, yet accurate. I paid several months’ worth of rent in January. My actual rent is ¥19,000 / month plus water usage fees (which are separate from hot water fees – regular fees are around ¥1,000 monthly for me, while hot water fees hit at about ¥3,800 each month). In short, “Housing” looks twice as big as it really is. But it’s accurate, because I actually did pay enough to skew it. Ha ha.
Food is the most surprising cost to me. I spend nearly the same on Food as I do on Trips each month. To date, I’ve spent ¥158,255 on food this year. Unreal. I had no idea eating costed so much. I’ve especially noticed how much each trip to the vending machine costs. I’m going to see if I can’t cut this substantially by joining the coffee pool at work (one time ¥500 versus ¥120 for each can of coffee that tastes bad anyway), and by eliminating silly snacks when I buy lunch – which would be a good thing anyway. I’m not sure what my Entertainment expenditure says about me… A mere monthly average of ¥5,498, or a cumulative ¥21,992 over 4 months. Yikes. I obviously have no life. Half of that was spent on presents for other people! Ha ha. This is where rural Japan helps you save. When there is nothing to do, you don’t spend money on entertainment, I guess. I get most of my entertainment online these days.
Let’s take a look at the percentage of my gross income that I spend by category. Remember, the housing slice will shrink eventually to half its current size. I’m really encouraged when I look at this and remember that the Transportation, Food, Utilities, and Housing categories are the only rigid ones. I must spend on these without much leeway. The rest is all flexible! The rest can be adjusted at a moment’s notice! I can’t tell you how nice it is to realize this. Before I started tracking my spending habits, I always “knew” how much I needed to get by – but now that I watch it, I know just how small the number is. I can live on ¥80,000 yen a month. The rest is freely adjustable. I happen to choose to travel (while I can!), and pay off loans with a large amount of it. Other folks do different things.
Do you track your expenses? Do you have any questions about what I’ve written so far? Leave me a comment, and I’ll answer as best I can – but I reserve the right to not make public every little detail. Ha ha. Please keep reading past the fold to see the descriptions of the categories I used for the tracking and the charts. These categories cover 100% of my expenditures. If something doesn’t fit, it goes into the catch-all “Miscellaneous” category.
Unplanned Savings – this is the money that I don’t spend, which rolls over to be spent in the next month. It’s helpful to calculate this for cash flow and balancing purposes. But it’s perhaps a little odd to call it “savings.” If this number is negative, it just means I had a negative cash flow for a month – it doesn’t mean I’ve gone into debt.
Planned Savings – the embarrassingly small amount of money that I’m tossing in a savings account. It’ll grow once I’ve phased out the smaller of my 2 student loan tabs. Right now it’s juuust about at 10% of my income. :shy:
Utilities – Electricity, Gas (cooking), NTT Phone Service, Docomo Cellular Service, Hot Water, Yahoo! BB Internet Service, Drycleaning
Food – Pretty self-explanatory. Groceries and lunches are included, some dinners out are not.
Insurance – I ride a scooter, and insurance costs a mere ¥10,000 per year. I paid 2 years ago. Will pay again shortly, but that’s why it’s at 0% right now. Health, etc. is covered by various other means.
Transportation – Gas (scooter), bridge tolls, ferry tickets, train tickets, oil changes, job-related airfare.
Personal Care – Toiletries, clothing.
Entertainment – Anything just for fun – including the non-Food dinners, like enkais.
Miscellaneous – Catch-all category for stuff that doesn’t fit anywhere else.
Trips – Includes domestic and international travel, but does not include work-related travel.
Loans – Student loans, obviously. Darn them. Darn them to heck.
Housing – Rent.
These graphs were made using the raw output of the 2009 expense tracker spreadsheet that I got from Presh Talwalker (whose name sounds like something out of Star Wars) plugged into the Google Spreadsheet’s graphing utility. Being a cool guy, Presh helped me troubleshoot his free spreadsheet for use in Google Docs and modify it a bit. Thanks to him, my New Year’s resolution is still holding strong – how many of my readers can say that, I wonder? – and I’m far more knowledgeable about my spending habits. Cool huh?