I write a lot about personal finance, but how well do I practice what I preach? For the most part, I follow my own advice. Much of what I write here is based on personal experience. But my financial life is not without weaknesses. The good news is that the Big Picture looks fantastic. Only a few years ago my net worth was minimal. Now it’s growing consistently. In 2006 it jumped $30,000, from $176,216 to $206,368.

I’m still spending too much, though. There are areas that need attention. Most of these will come as no surprise to regular readers. Here are my biggest sources of discretionary spending:

Books (2005: $1049.91, 2006: $692.96)
I’ve been working to reduce my book expenses for several years. In 2003, I spent $200/month on books. I have that down to about $50/month now. Because half of that is my Audible subscription (which gives me two audiobooks per month), I’ve actually reduced my book spending to about $25/month. This is huge for me. I’ve done it by using the public library and purchasing books from my local thrift store.
Comic Books (2005: $2810.52, 2006: $3202.91)
This is, by far, my weak spot. I’m almost embarrassed to share these numbers. I struggled with comic book spending throughout 2006, and it shows. In the first quarter of the year, I spent $1430.03 on comics. By the last quarter, that had dropped to $466.50. I spent $178.71 on comics during December. That’s nearly double what I want to spend.
Entertainment (2005: $479.31, 2006: $610.55)
This includes CDs, DVDs, music downloads, movies, etc. To be honest, I don’t think this category is going too poorly. I used to buy several DVDs a month. Our Netflix subscription has reduced that to a handful each year. My big entertainment expense is iTunes downloads (TV shows and music albums). Even this is just $20/month, which doesn’t bother me.
Food (2005: $5290.06, $5060.04)
which includes Dining out (2005: $1648.63, 2006: $2018.81)
Ah, food, how you are a thorn in my side. I’m spending about $40/week for dining out. This is too much. (We don’t dine out often, but we dine out well.) I have high hopes that my new wellness program will allow me to save money on food. (Literally as I type this, I’ve just made reservations one of our favorite expensive Portland restaurants. sigh)
Pets (2005: $397.76, 2006: $471.03)
There’s not much I can do to reduce this number. And since we just brought home a fourth cat, my pet expenses will actually increase. But it just costs about fifty cents a day for each animal, and they bring much more joy than that to my life.
Sin (2005: $1055.33, 2006: $768.95)
This includes wine, liquor, pipe tobacco, poker nights, etc. Looking at this category, you’d think I was a chain-smoking lush! It’s not true. I smoke a pipe maybe a dozen times a year. I did drink wine regularly before I started my wellness program in November, but even then most of the alcohol expense would best have been classified as “entertaining”. We serve alcohol at dinner parties and social gatherings. Because we like to entertain, we serve a lot of alcohol.

As I wrote the descriptions for these expenses, I could feel myself rationalizing. Yes I derive pleasure from each these things, and yes I can certainly afford some extravagances. Still, I need to do be more mindful about my spending. Two categories — comic books and food — deserve particular attention this year.

It’s worth noting that there’s nothing inherently wrong with purchasing things that bring you joy. Problems occur when you finance these purchases with debt, however. (Or, in my case, by failing to use the money for debt reduction.) If my IRA were fully funded and my debt paid off, then I’d be okay spending $3200 a year on comic books. But Batman and Superman won’t pay for retirement.

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