Our Top 10 Spending Categories of 2014 Revealed

Ever wonder how other people spend their money? Whether you use the envelope budget or like budgeting another way, it's always fun to spy on others. We list our spending in our top 10 budget categories for 2014. Our #1 category was a huge goal of ours this year. Find out what it is on MoneyManifesto.com.One of the benefits of using awesome finance tracking software like Quicken, Personal Capital, Mint or your very own spreadsheet is the detailed information you’ll have should you want to analyze any of your spending behavior.

Toward the beginning of 2015, my wife and I sat down with Quicken and took a look at our spending for 2014 and if it was in line with what we expected.

Here’s what we found and our top 10 spending categories of 2014. This is based on cash flow, not the strict definition of expense, so a mortgage is considered part of our spending even though part of it went to pay down our principal.

Category 1: Student Loan Payments (29.5%)

This shouldn’t shock anyone. At the beginning of the year we were still waging a war on my wife’s student loan debt. Luckily, we were able to pay these loans off for good in the first half of the year.

Next year, we’ll spend $0 and 0% of our spending on my wife’s student loans and that is pretty awesome if you ask me, since 29.5% is a HUGE part of our spending this year.

Category 2: Our Primary Residence Mortgage (18.7%)

Our next biggest spending category in 2014 was our primary residence mortgage payments. We’re thankful that we didn’t take out a huge mortgage that is in line with the traditional thinking of spending 25-33% of your take home pay on housing.

Instead, our mortgage only came in at 18.7% of our total spending and we didn’t spend anywhere near all of the income we made in 2014.

On a percentage basis, this mortgage will take up more of our spending next year since we won’t have to pay the student loans anymore, but we’re really happy with our house and plan to live in it for quite a while.

The only downside is it isn’t on the beach! Of course, our mortgage would probably be about 10 times higher if it was.

Category 3: Our Rental Mortgage (8.3%)

Our third largest spending category in 2014 was our rental townhouse mortgage. We’ve had a good year with our rental home and didn’t have to spend hardly anything above the mortgage payments in upkeep this year. On top of that, our tenants pay us more than the mortgage in rent, so our rental is cash flow positive. I don’t see us getting rid of this anytime soon.

Category 4: Groceries & Household Items (7.9%)

Groceries and household items came in at number four on our list. We do have to eat to survive, but we probably spend more on groceries than we should.

I don’t see this coming down anytime soon, though, as we are trying to eat healthier and healthy food is often more expensive than junk food. This does not include dining out, which you will see further down in this list.

One way that we will be trying to improve our grocery spending is reducing our food waste. We’ve found ourselves throwing out food a bit more than I’d like, so hopefully we can get that under control a bit more in 2015.

Category 5: Utilities (6.8%)

Utilities is a huge category as it includes many services that we use on a very regular basis. These services include cable TV, internet, a home phone line (which we discontinued in December 2014), two cell phones (one with Republic Wireless and the other with AT&T until my contract runs out), electricity, water, sewer and trash.

In 2014, our cable, internet and phone prices were rising and we finally had to switch to Comcast in December 2014. We’ve locked in a 2 year rate and the service seems decent so far so I think this will have been a good move, even though we lost our home phone line.

My wife switched her phone to Republic Wireless when her contract ran out and it has been a great move so far. While the phone itself isn’t what she was used to, you can’t beat the price and service since her phone bill is now only $31.05 a month (taxes included) for unlimited calls, text and data.

Our electric bills went up in 2014 as our electric company instituted a price increase. We’ve also decided to pay a little more in electricity to keep the house at a bit more comfortable temperature (77 degrees) in the summer rather than the 78 degrees we have kept it at in the past. It was worth it. What good is money if you don’t use it?

Category 6: Automobiles (5.2%)

Our automobile expense includes insurance, fuel, registration, service for things like oil changes, new tires on my car, windshield wiper blades and other miscellaneous items. Since both of our cars are paid off, this represents a pretty small part of our spending.

We’ll be keeping our paid off cars for at least another few years, so this expense should continue to remain low. It may increase a little bit as the cars age and need some more expensive repairs, but it will still be vastly cheaper than buying new or new to us cars.

Category 7: Medical Expenses (3.3%)

Medical expenses are never fun, but they are necessary. These do not include health insurance, this is just spending our of our take home pay. Since our health insurance comes out pretax, we didn’t track it. This represented a typical year for us, so we’ll need to keep medical expenses in mind going forward.

Category 8: Vacations (3.2%)

Vacation is a fun category! We went on two cruises in 2014, an 8 day southern Caribbean cruise and a 5 day western Caribbean cruise, and the fact that we were able to take both for only 3.2% of our spending is amazing. Of course, we did use credit card rewards to help us pay for $900 of our first cruise which is not included in the 3.2%.

These expenses include everything including gas, hotels, dining out, cruise fares, spending money in ports and anything else you can think of. This also includes a week long trip to visit the in-laws which included a free hotel stay from rewards points and a ton of driving.

I’d say we did pretty awesome keeping this cost down in 2014 and hopefully we can do the same in 2015.

Category 9: House Upgrades/Repairs and HOA Fees (2.5%)

House upgrades/repairs and HOA fees only accounted for 2.5% of our budget, but that will be increasing in 2015 as we finally begin to make our home our own.

This included our quarterly homeowners association dues, painting our living room and kitchen, replacing all of our hinges and doorknobs with brushed nickle finishes instead of brass, a new clothes washer and two new fans for our master bedroom and my office.

It’s pretty amazing to think we got all of that done with only 2.5% of our 2014 spending, so we were very happy with this.

Category 10: Dining Out (2.5%)

The last category rounding out our top 10 is dining out. Even in absolute dollar terms, this was less than I thought it would be. Yes, we could have spent the money elsewhere, but we enjoy dining out at this point in our lives.

We used coupons whenever possible which helped us keep our costs down and we rarely eat takeout for lunches while we are working. Some may think even 2.5% of our spending on dining out is crazy, but we’re happy with it. Hopefully it will stay this low going into the future.

Well, that’s it, our top 10 spending categories of 2014. There were still 12.1% of other spending, but they’re so small and all over the place that I didn’t want to bother listing them. I imagine most of these will stay pretty close to the same in 2015 with the exceptions noted above such as no more student loan payments (YAY!).

What do you think about our spending categories? Do you think we’re out of line anywhere? I’d love to hear your opinions. I’d also love to hear what your top spending catgories were for 2014. I think it’d be interesting to hear what everyone prioritizes.

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About Lance Cothern

Lance Cothern, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is the founder of Money Manifesto. You can read more about him here or connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest.


  1. It’s so helpful to know where your money is actually going. Top three are usually housing, transportation, and food, so the fact that you are spending more of paying down debt & less on car & food/dining out is great.

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