10 Largest Purchases of 2014

Out of curiosity, I took a look at our ten largest purchases of 2014.  I knew what the the top few expenses would be (vacations and a major home renovation), but the rest of the expenses escaped my memory after the money left my hand.

Looking at the top ten expenses is a good exercise to conduct each year.  Our top ten add up to about half of our annual spending.  I’m a big believer in making sure our expenditures bring a lot of value, and by looking at these top ten expenses, we can see whether we got good value in 2014.

Top Ten Expenses of 2014

Home renovations - New siding and windows; roof repairs$8,700
Carnival cruise – southern Caribbean1,888
Property tax for house1,432
Canada summer road trip1,316
House insurance786
Dentist – 2 crowns772
4 new tires and alignment in Montreal603
Dell Desktop Computer + graphics card400
King size 13” mattress367
6 weeks summer camp318

The most expensive purchase of the year was our home renovation project that included new siding, new windows, and a major roof repair (as discussed in the November and December monthly financial updates).  At $8,700, it was very expensive compared to our $32,000 annual budget.  However, the new siding and windows should last for a few decades at least.  The roof repair will prevent water from leaking into our house and hopefully mean we don’t have to replace the whole roof for another five to ten years.

The next most expensive purchase was a week long cruise to the Caribbean.  We had a lot of fun and the cost fit within our annual travel budget.  At just under $1,900, the cruise was a very good value for what we received: transportation to three foreign countries, constant seaside views,  three or four meals every day, and two clean rooms with comfortable beds each night.  In other words, a few notches of luxury above our summer road trip to Canada.

Number three on the top ten list was our annual house property tax bill.  This expense doesn’t really bring us any joy at all, but we’ll lose the house if we don’t pay it!  At $1,432, it’s a lot cheaper than property taxes in high cost of living areas.  The majority of that expense pays for our local schools, which we get a huge benefit from since we have two kids currently enrolled and a third will be in a few more years.  A small part of the tax bill funds our wonderful city parks and recreation program, which we use fairly often as well.

Our summer road trip to Canada came in at number four on the list.  We budgeted $4,300 for the planned five weeks of travel.  After a few weeks of traveling and sightseeing, we were exhausted and decided to come back home.  The hair that broke the camel’s back was a really dirty AirBnB apartment rental.  In the end, we spent $1,316 for two and a half weeks of travel after factoring in some free hotels and credit card cash back we redeemed on the trip.  We managed to see a lot of new places and visit some familiar spots on a very small budget.

Number five on the list was $786 spent on home insurance.  This figure keeps going up every year and I plan to shop the policy around when it’s up for renewal in July.  Like our property taxes, it doesn’t bring us a lot of fun.  But knowing we won’t be out $150,000 or so if our house burns down or gets blown over by a tornado is reassuring.

Two dental crowns landed at number six on the top ten list.  At $772 after insurance, these things make chewing a lot more fun.  And that’s way cheaper than dental implants.

Four new tires and an alignment were number seven.  We spent $603 for these auto maintenance items while in Canada after a disastrous tire failure on the trip north from New York City to Montreal.  I knew we would need tires soon, but not that soon!  Since we had to rush to get the tires replaced, we probably spent $100-200 more than the sale prices at home.  The alternative was to have an inoperable car and temporarily postpone our vacation.

Number eight on the list was a brand new Dell desktop computer and graphics card at about $400 after rebate.  This is my new blogging computer and has a powerful enough graphics card to make photo manipulation very quick and easy.  I might get into videos in the future and it should be more than capable of video editing as well.

At number nine, a new king size mattress makes our sleep more comfortable each night.  For $367, we picked up this Night Therapy 13″ Deluxe Euro Box Top mattress.  We visited mattress stores and tried out a number of expensive name brand mattresses.  We ended up researching and buying this very similar model for half or a third of the retail prices.  After almost six months of ownership, it’s still a great purchase.

Rounding out the top ten is the $318 we spent on six weeks of summer camp for the kids.  They have a lot of fun in the all day summer camps at our local community center.  We might spend a little more this summer on themed summer camps for robotics, movie production or other technology-related themes.

Overall, I’m feeling pretty good about these top ten expenditures.  There are fun expenses mixed in with necessary expenses to keep our house and car running smoothly.  I don’t see any areas where we wasted our money or didn’t get a good deal on what we bought.  We were fortunate to not have any real “emergencies” outside of our planned budget.

I keep very close track of all expenses using the free tools at Personal Capital.  The online interface makes it really easy to review where our money is going each month and to review the top areas of spending over the course of a year.  We don’t really stick to a budget each month, but by routinely reviewing our actual spending we can figure out whether we are spending too much or are able to spend even more if we want to.



Ten Tiniest Expenses of 2014

Just for fun, I took a look at our ten smallest purchases for the year.  These ten purchases add up to $5.72.  This might be the best $5.72 I have ever spent, although I’ve never looked at my bottom ten expenses before.

Humble Bundle games$0.01
3 MicroSim cards – T-Mobile0.03
Food Lion groceries0.06
8 GB MicroSD card – ebay0.39
Passport photos from Walgreens0.43
Lowe's 10% off coupon0.99
Green onions from vegetable stand in Montreal1.00
Massage from LAM1.00
Dollar Tree1.07

A few items on here are things that are almost free like the Humble Bundle games.  You can pay what you want for the indie computer or mobile games they offer.  I’ll occasionally find a diamond in the rough in the games they have to offer.  However, there are times when I’m glad I didn’t pay more than a penny.

The $0.39 MicroSD card went into my “new” Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone.  I had a $5 off coupon for ebay and found something I needed for just over $5.

Our $0.43 in passport photos for the five of us saved us $74.57 compared to what the post office charges for the same photos.  It took me maybe an hour or two to photograph everyone (including a one year old who is crazy) and then format the photos per US Department of State requirements.  Pretty good ROI.  And saving money on the passport photos helped offset the pain of paying hundreds of dollars for passports for our family.

The $1 we spent on green onions in Montreal was totally worth it.  We bought them at a mini farmer’s market across the street from our AirBnB apartment.  They were delicious when fried up with some steaks.

Mrs. Root of Good purchased a “massage from LAM” for $1.  LAM stands for Lotion and Massage, our oldest daughter’s burgeoning spa and salon business.  Her 2014 revenues climbed to around $3 and her gross margins are running consistently in the 95-100% range since she uses our lotion.

The most expensive cheapest purchase of 2014 was $1.07 at Dollar Tree.  The extra seven cents on top of the dollar tell me it was a fully taxed non-food purchase.  Maybe I picked up some batteries or envelopes or other office supplies?  I can’t recall.



Take a look at your top purchases of 2014.  Any surprises in there?  



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  1. I really appreciate your post because it permits us to see the details of your life… what’s important to you as a family and what isn’t. My husband and I are trying hard to do the same thing… evaluate our expenses closely and look for ways to save without suffering too much. We’re finding it much easier to do than we ever realized. In the end it’s all about our choices and we recognize that. Thanks tons and please don’t stop sharing!

  2. As your 10th biggest expense was only $318, I applaud your efforts for 2014! And I wouldn’t really consider home remodeling costs to be expenses as they are increasing the value of your home, but as you most likely don’t plan on selling the home anytime soon and it doesn’t earn you any income, I understand. But a good expense nonetheless.

    I also am thinking about getting a mattress in the near future so I’ll have to check out your recommendation. Only 20 days left until my Carnival Caribbean cruise, can’t wait!

    1. I view the home maintenance items as real expenses, but I acknowledge that they won’t recur very often. And even if they increase the value of the home, those improvements are already slowly decaying and will have to be maintained or replaced in a few decades.

      That cruise sounds nice right about now since it’s near freezing all weekend. Enjoy!

      1. Yes, they are all “real” expenses, but in my tracking system they would be very different kinds of expenses and evaluated differently.

        Obligatory expenses such as the property tax and the home insurance I bundle into my basic living expenses (BLE) run rate, since I have no option but to pay them. And, though I do run a separate “sub-budget” under basic living expenses for car maintenance and repairs, that again would remain part of my BLE because I really would have very little option about replacing the tires.

        On the other hand, the computer and the cruise and similar OPTIONAL purchases would come out of my Discretionary Fund, where all my surplus cash over and above my BLE goes until I decide to spend some of it on a “want.” (And trips I definitely pay for from this Fund, rather than incorporating them as a “travel line” in my BLE.)

        Finally, home improvements such as the windows would come out of yet another separate Fund we maintain for that purpose.

        Why all this dicing and slicing of our expenses? So we can really identify and separate what’s basic and/or obligatory (our need-to-have money) from what is discretionary/optional (our could-spend money).

        Probably not for everyone, I know, but it works for us.

        1. I see what you mean. I’m sort of implicitly assuming that the big items (like new windows) could be postponed if I had to reduce spending for a year or three.

          But I like the idea of separating pure “basic living expenses” like you do. I did roughly that when I was prepping for FIRE and planning a retirement budget. But most of the categories ended up in basic living expenses for me! I know I could always cut corners, but things like a new computer periodically are “basic” to me. Travel is the biggest non-BLE for me, and could drop down to almost zero for a year or two without making me cry.

          I ended at the conclusion that our BLE’s would be around $24-28k most years and the wants are $6-8k (not an exact science since health care and failure of appliances are lumpy expenses).

  3. Your expenses are still outstanding compared to many/most. The house probably hits the high point of many peoples lists as well, unless they were fortunate to not have anything major to repair or replace. Taxes will be up there as well if you own property, as they were for us. Our vacation costs were higher since I have timeshare maintenance fees to pay. We also jumped our standing in the Wyndham Vacation Club, but that was a one time expense to give us more and more access to more and more vacations (uh-oh, I see a problem here from an expense standpoint.)

    Great post, and keep it coming. We all appreciate the candor.

  4. That is pretty incredible to have not only the detail to do the research, but to have your 10th largest purchase for an entire year be only $318! Once again I am impressed by your ability to keep spending at such a low level for a family of 5. In comparison, my list would not be pretty.

  5. ROG,

    After reading this post I feel horrible about buying a $600 treadmill on Sunday. Actually I was trying to look around the neighborhood garages to see if anyone had a an old treadmill with cobwebs on it. I probably could have got one used for $50. Before I got to far into that process my wife put the kibosh on it and off we went to Academy. 🙂

    Great job with keeping the expenses under control.


  6. Wow your home insurance is so cheap. We live in DFW. Car insurance for two economy size used cars is $2200. And house insurance for our house that is worth $145K, $150K maybe, is $1600. Our property taxes are $2700 a year. Could you share a post on what your insurance coverage is like? Maybe I’m over on certain limits that we don’t necessarily need….. Insurance payments are by far some of our biggest payments and I wish I could find ways to cut back. We already shop around and get the cheapest rate.

    1. We have the highest deductible on the house – $2500. We do carry higher than standard liability levels on the house and car (nothing crazy though). Cars are liability only, no comprehensive or collision.

      I really want to cover a total loss of our house (or major structural damage like from a tornado). And the liability that would arise out of a motor vehicle accident.

    1. Well, what were #13-22? 🙂 Please don’t say “January vacation house mortgage”, “February vacation house mortgage”, “March vacation house mortgage”… 🙂

  7. Like SavvyFinancialLatina, our homeowners insurance is significantly higher. Having lived in the DFW area for several years, and now in Oklahoma City, we sit square in the middle of tornado and hail country. I think Texas and Oklahoma actually have some of the highest rates based on natural disasters. That’s at least what our insurance broker told me when I called to ask why the premium jumped dramatically year after year. I still think he was just trying to justify his job (and likely an annual raise)…

  8. I oddly don’t mind paying our property taxes at all. It helps that we don’t have state income taxes and our property taxes are really affordable. But also – each taxing authority gets listed separately so I can see how much goes to the libraries, the parks, the water management district, mosquito control, the fire dept, and city services… all stuff that I use regularly and I like being reminded to keep using all these awesome resources (well, though I won’t intentionally get in another car accident just to use the fire dept again…). Yes, we pay for schools and don’t have kids, but we pay about 1 month of school expenses for 1 kid. Just feels like doing our part for the handful of kids that live on our block. =)

    1. I’m the same way. I know the tax I’m paying is going right back into the community around us, and we’re responsible for keeping responsible elected officials in office to judiciously spend our money. So far I’m pretty happy and can’t complain.

  9. Our most expensive purchases were probably homeowners insurance, materials for DIY home renovation/repair, and plane tickets to visit family. 2014 was a particularly low-spend year for us and thankfully we didn’t have any bizarre emergencies crop up.

    I like that your list has both the practical and the fun side of life on it. Also, your daughter’s LAM business is adorable :).

  10. Very revealing post. What a great deal on a king size mattress. Prior to my wife and I’s frugalness, we bought a king size for $1,100 (and we thought we got a deal). We then bought a second king size a week later for $750–and the $1,100 mattress is just sitting in the basement.

    What a waste of money…


    1. Ouch. If you ever want to get rid of that $1100 mattress, we had great success selling old mattresses on craigslist. I sold some dumpy old not particularly comfortable queen size mattresses for $55-80 (the more expensive one sold with the box springs too). A nice new king size might fetch $150-200. Apparently there’s a huge market for second hand mattresses to furnish guest bedrooms (that’s what everyone told me when they visited to check out the mattresses).

  11. Ugh, I don’t even want to get into looking at our list…

    You totally should shop around for insurance. We ended up saving a ton on both car/homeowners insurance by going with a company we had never heard of before but is wonderful: Amica.

    This is now something I will do once a year – shopping around makes a big difference.

    1. Thanks, I’ll take a look at Amica when I’m up for renewal this summer. I haven’t seriously shopped the policies in a while so it will be a good test to see whether we are getting good rates.

      I asked around our neighborhood and someone with a slightly larger house pays a little bit more than me so I feel like I’m getting a fairly decent rate on house insurance, and the auto is much lower than most folks I’ve talked to.

      1. We have a neighborhood FB page where this kind of stuff gets discussed often. I have found that people simply don’t shop around until they are given a reason to (claim issue, rates rising, etc.) People stay with companies who consistently raise their rates each year despite not filing a claim and not increasing the coverage value on the property. They also are often over-insured and take the land into account on the value of the home.

        I guess my point is, don’t trust what the neighbors are paying. Whats the harm in shopping around once a year? Some of your time.

        What is the possible benefit?

        1. Between home and auto we’re running $1300-1400/yr, so even if I can “only” save $200 then I’ll still be getting huge return on a few hours worth of investment of time. Way more than the $20/yr I’m usually looking for to justify any output of money-saving effort.

          I just set a reminder on my calendar to shop rates on June 1 just in time for renewal in July.

  12. Other than your property tax, two more things that are ridiculously low comparing to how much we are paying: Homeowner Insurance, and dental crown. We pay 6000+ on homeowner insurance and $1500 per crown. Now, I almost feel we are stupid to pay so much for these. FI will give us the option to choose where to live.

    1. Wow, $6000 homeowners insurance? Are you on the coast? That’s crazy!

      The full price of the crowns would have been ~$900 each with a cash discount, but because we still have dental insurance they were closer to $400 each.

  13. I love this post. Our homeowners insurance I think is fairly low: $903 for living in New England. We unfortunately pay over $1700 per year for car insurance (my wife financed a car so we need full coverage). Property taxes aren’t bad at about $2500, but valuation is really low (much different than the bank).

    I have to ask where did you buy your mattress? I only ask b/c we did the same thing and got a really awesome king-size memory foam mattress from overstock at just about $400. We bought it last year and it was one of the best $400 we have spent.

    1. That link above shows the exact mattress we bought (well, we got the king size version and Amazon only had the full and queen sizes the last I checked). We bought straight from the manufacturer (Sleep Revolution who makes Night Therapy), but the Amazon prices are competitive with the direct prices and you might be able to skip taxes and shipping at amazon. That brand also sells at Sams Club and Walmart although we didn’t get a chance to try it before buying. I just relied on reading dozens or hundreds of reviews and taking a risk.

  14. This is a great idea!

    As pointed out by other comments I’d have to look at this “sans mortgage” but will have a look at the end of the year (only started properly tracking 6 months ago so can’t do 2014)

    Love the LAM business… Watch out Donald Trump! 🙂

    1. It’s a good quick way to drill down to where your money is going. Even if you include the 12 mortgage payments as one of the top 10 expenses, it’ll still be a good overview of where the majority of your money is going, and draw attention to the “one time” expenses that can really eat you alive.

  15. I haven’t looked at our 2014 biggest expenses. I haven’t really kept track very well, but since part of the reason why I’ve started my new blog is to keep myself accountable, hopefully at the end of 2015, I’ll have a great idea about our expenses.
    We got married last year, and although the wedding cost us less than $1,000, the honeymoon in Italy was probably one of our biggest expenses. Also, we’ve had a patio cover built for $5,000. So we had quite a few big expenses last year.

  16. Thanks for sharing in such detail.

    I may have mentioned this to you previously and it is a small thing. But you may want to shop your home insurance around with a local county based Mutual company. You won’t find their rates on the web. In our case our insurance was quoted at around $2,400 by all the big names. My agent suggested a mutual and lo and behold they came in around $800. A huge difference.

    We are in the worst rated fire zone (10 I think?). YMMV

    But think about this. Even if you only save $10 per month on home insurance that would become 300K in 60 years. (inflation adjusted, assuming 8-10% avg return). Your children may like to have that money?

    1. I’ll take a look at the mutuals. The only local mutual company I found doesn’t sell directly, only through independent agents (which usually means I’m buying the agent’s new BMW and paying for insurance coverage…). I’ll definitely check them out though. They also offer a few different types of homeowner’s insurance, and one of those types might be better for me (I’m paying for $211,000 coverage for a structure that’s probably only worth around half that when you subtract the land value).

  17. Good job on the top ten expenses. I see you use mint or personal capital for the results. Taxes in my town are 8-12K per year, for an average house and I can now see what a big difference it is to move after reaching FI.

  18. Okay, a little late to the party on this one.

    I calculated all of our major expenses, and it came to $17,000. That’s including $3,300 in energy efficiency upgrades, $700 for a new dishwasher, $800 for new water heater, a relatively new car after an accident (about $7,000 after insurance and a family member kicked in) and a ton of various repairs that added up.

    This year isn’t looking much better thanks to some major repair projects ($3,000ish so far and another $3,500 next month) and a major medical expense. Maybe 2016 will be calmer.

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