Keeping Expenses Under $20,000 a Year

If you have aspirations of turning some of your working years into freedom years as I do, you’ll be hard-pressed achieving that goal without paying attention to your lifestyle expenses.

I’ve worked very hard over the past ten years or so to ensure that my yearly expenses stay as flat as possible. What I spend each year will largely dictate how quickly I can reach financial independence, and since my goal is to maximize my freedom years, I have been watching those expenses like a hawk.

Over those years, I’ve managed to maintain expenses around an average of~$50,000 per year, as shown in the graphic below:

As I plan out the next five years for my transition into financial independence, I wanted to do a more detailed analysis of expenses to evaluate which costs were truly mandatory, and which were more lifestyle based. Everyone’s situation is unique, and where you live can have a significant impact on expenses, although I would argue much less so with no debt/mortgage. There are many ordinary expenses that every one of us shares, here’s a peek at my household expenses.

Mandatory Expenses

These are expenses which I would have a tough time avoiding or eliminating; they’re the bare minimum needed to keep my particular household operational.

Based on the above table, I’ve determined that I can get by on ~$20,000 per year as a minimum expense level. My most significant expense is property taxes, which tends to be high in my state of Texas, so it’s possible for me to reduce that expense even further by either downsizing or moving. I like living in a big city, and close to town, so it’s unlikely that value will drop much also in my case, with a higher likelihood of it increasing over time.

Some apparent items are missing from the above, such as mortgage payments, and transportation costs, to name a few. I’ve limited the items in this scenario to the absolute minimum for my particular situation. Since I’ve already paid off my mortgage, destroyed my student loans, and eliminated car payments from my life (kind of), I can “lock-in” this expense level mentally as the goal going forward.

I think of the above as my Bronze Lifestyle Package of expenses

Optional Expenses

These are expenses which I could eliminate, but choose not to. These are primarily my own lifestyle choices, and everyone’s list will be unique. What’s optional to me, may end up being Mandatory to you and shifted to the prior category.

If I’m looking to upgrade my lifestyle a bit more, I would add the above items to the list, which would bring my total expenses to ~$33,000 per year. I consider these to comfort items and small luxuries primarily. The two most significant things are going out to eat on the weekends, and after school care for my daughter. The latter used to be higher when my daughter was in preschool and would have been listed under mandatory back then.

I think of the above as my Silver Lifestyle Package of expenses; it’s the upgrade to the Bronze.

Miscellaneous Expenses

These are other expenses which currently do not apply to my situation, although they are items that may have used at some point in time, or may need to be considered in the future. For most, some of these expenses may still be mandatory.

The biggest expense item I’m currently planning for is Travel. One of my goals when paying off the mortgage earlier this year was to make the mortgage payment and “convert” it into a travel budget for the next five years. This budget will fund our slow summer travels, which will consist of spending two months each year in a particular city around the world. Read about our first planned trip in 2017  to Barcelona, Spain. I consider this, of course, to be the ultimate in lifestyle luxury.

This amount could easily be saved, but I’ve been working up to this particular goal for 15 years or so, and it’s part of the plan. I’ve always loved to read about the various travel nomads and families that drop everything and travel full time but felt that path was not ideal for my family. As a compromise, my wife and I decided we would keep a strong base at home ten months out of the year, and explore during the summers to get a small taste of that lifestyle. That felt like a right balance of keeping our daughter anchored around friends and family, while still exposing her to various cultures and experiences.

This expense would push me up to ~$53,000 per year, which would still keep me below my historical expense level over the past ten years.

This is the Gold Lifestyle Package of expenses and an upgrade from the Silver.

Cover All Bases

There are always unexpected expenses and one-time costs that inevitably come up throughout the year. They can be home-related costs, car-related costs, medical costs, or some other type of costs. I would feel more secure knowing I can handle those costs in any given year without straining my finances if I had a buffer built into my overall expenses. Since I prefer being conservative, I’ll add ~$20,000 per year as that additional buffer. This would bring my “all-in” total costs to maintain a luxurious lifestyle to ~$75,000 per year.

With this extra padding to help me sleep better at night, I would be upgraded to the highest Platinum Lifestyle Package of expenses.

Keep a Budget

Hopefully, one thing that should have come across so far is the importance of keeping a decent budget. As you could tell from the earlier graph I shared, I’ve been tracking my expenses for many years. I do it in a spreadsheet that I update once a year. I keep most of my receipts from the year and toss them in a file cabinet until the end of the year ritual, which I find perversely satisfying.

I’ll admit that I don’t track my expenses as closely or precisely as I used to in the early days of my financial journey. That’s the benefit that comes along with being on a robust financial independence path.

In Summary

Looking at my expenses this way helps me determine how much money I would need to have saved to maintain my lifestyle

Your package thresholds could vary depending on the cost of living, family size, remaining debt, etc.

The main point of this exercise is to calculate what your minimum lifestyle expenses could be if you stripped them down as much as possible.

That should help you calculate the minimum level needed for your financial nest egg, and set a goal for the desired one. Once the desired is reached, you can start enjoying your freedom years!

I figured out that I would need between $1.5-$2M in investable assets to fund my desired lifestyle.

Readers, How do your expenses compare? Can you pull off living on <$20,000 per year? Which lifestyle package is right for you? Share your thoughts and comments below!




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