Ask the Readers: What's the Biggest Item in Your Budget?

By Ashley Jacobs on 25 January 2011 (Updated 2 February 2011) 160 comments
Photo: Pawel Loj

Editor's note: Congratulations to Joe, @aethediver2, and Lisa Denny for winning this week's contest!

As Linsey pointed out recently, some people just don't believe in skipping the latte. Sure, it makes sense to keep track of all spending, even when buying a cup of coffee. But let's not forget the big ticket items — the ones with real impact on your finances.

What's the biggest item in your budget? Is it housing, transportation, eating out, or medical bills? Let's brainstorm about how you can drastically cut down on these items. Maybe you can live closer to work and ditch your car, or perhaps find a roommate and split the bills. 

Share your budget items with us and we'll enter you in a drawing to win a $20 Amazon Gift Card!

Win 1 of 3 $20 Amazon Gift Cards

We're doing three giveaways — one for random comments, one for random Facebook "Likes", and another one for random tweets.

Enter 1 of 3 Ways:

  • Post your answer in the comments below, or
  • Go to our Facebook page, "Like" us, then "Like" the update mentioning this giveaway (you can comment, as well — but you don't have to for entry), or
  • Tweet your answer. You have to be a follower of our @wisebread account. Include both "@wisebread" and "#WBAsk" in your tweet so we'll see it and count it.

If you're inspired to write a whole blog post OR you have a photo on flickr to share, please link to it in the comments or tweet it.

Giveaway Rules:

  • Contest ends Monday, January 31st at 11:59 pm Pacific. Winners will be announced after January 31st on the original post and via Twitter. Winners will also be contacted via email, Facebook, and Twitter Direct Message.
  • You can enter all three drawings — once by leaving a comment, once by liking our Facebook update, and once by tweeting.
  • You must be 18 and US resident to enter. Void where prohibited.

Good Luck!

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Guest's picture
Aleoxmom

Our biggest expenses would have to be property taxes, daycare and utilities as we have no mortgage or car payments. I am not sure how to reduce any of those as the taxes are given... the daycare is a must if we want to work as we have no family to look after the kids and we are already pretty frugal with our utility usage.

Guest's picture
gt0163c

My mortgage (including significant extra principal payment) is definitely my biggest expense. After that, charitable giving. Then food and consumables, utilities, insurance...the list goes on.

I'm to the point where it doesn't make a lot of sense to refinance my mortage (have a good interest rate already and paying more principal than interest each month). I'm actually looking at increasing my charitable giving this year, as I mostly give to individuals rather than larger causes and I know that, due to the economy, a number of those I support are running a monthly deficit.

Guest's picture
Susie

Since I'm currently living with family members rent-free, groceries and debt repayment are my biggest expenses.

Guest's picture
Jan

Health Insurance! My husband works for a small company. His insurance premium (for a family plan that includes myself and our son) costs $300 per week! It has a $3000 per person deductible. He just had cataract surgery this week and it has already cost us $5000 out of pocket (so you can see how worthless our insurance coverage is). Help. We are soon going to have to pay to go to work just to cover our medical insurance. And his employer pays half of the premiums! Who is making this big money???

Guest's picture
Mariel Martinez

My biggest item is FOOD. We are always EATING at my house, and most of the bills we have are small, but Food is not. I know that there are coupons or something, but honestly, we do not use them here...

Guest's picture
A

Housing

Guest's picture
Guest

Rent! It's our only big expense. I just signed up on Airbnb.com to rent out our spare bedroom like a bed and breakfast. I made $200 this week having a guest stay in the little used room.

Guest's picture
Lauren

Housing, definitely! Apartment prices in Manhattan are absurd.

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April

Student loans!

Guest's picture
Elizabeth

student loans.

Guest's picture
ccw

Housing is my biggest expense, doesn’t help living in San Francisco!

Guest's picture
Shannon W.

My apartment rent in Dallas has got to be the biggest item in my budget and I'm living in relatively cheap apartments. It's a good 30% of my income. What a shock it was when my previous rent was like 1/10 of what it is now!

Guest's picture
Guest

Housing is the biggest item in our budget. We have a two-bedroom apartment, which we love. However, we do try to cut our costs in variable expenses.

Guest's picture
sarah r

As a tangible item, rent for sure. Although my biggest actual outgo is my debt repayments. My rent's about 30% of my take-home, and I live in a very safe area where as a petite girl, I can go running in the dark by myself w/o fear. Since that's my exercise, it's really important to me. I've looked at other places near mine, but they're SO MUCH MORE for SO MUCH LESS. Literally, they're almost what I pay and less than half the size.

My next closest expense is under 5% and everything else is under 2-3% so I feel like I'm doing okay.

Guest's picture
Susan

My house is my biggest budget item - 2 mortgages (including escrow on the 1st), monthly assessments for my condo association and home owners insurance.

Guest's picture
Anne

I'm embarassed to admit that it's my chapter 13 bankruptcy payment! I don't know if it was worth it to do it. Love your site!

Guest's picture
Donna Skibbe

Biggest Budget Bites:
1. Mortgage
2. Daycare
3. Credit Cards
4. Car
5. Groceries
6. Gas for car

Guest's picture
Susan

Housing then utilities. Not much I can do about the mortgage at the moment other than pay it off faster, already have a pretty low interest rate.

Guest's picture
Guest

Credit Cards...*sigh*

Guest's picture
Diana

My mortgage first, groceries second.

Guest's picture
Robin

mortgage & taxes. It's the taxes that hurt the most because they have gone up at a much greater rate than any cost of living expenses. Other than that, It would be groceries. I prefer my clean, near by Whole Foods to the large, disgusting Shop Rite that is a little further away. I'm a food snob... I admit it.

Guest's picture
Claudia

The biggest item in your budget is my mortgage but I really look at it as a life-long investment.. Its expensive but is something that is worth more than I paid for it and I love it. I am also very proud of it.

Guest's picture
Elena

#1 item is our mortgage. #2 - my husband's and mine student loans (yeah, that's pretty terrible considering these are just 2 bachelor's degrees, one in accounting and one in management).

Guest's picture
kelly

Our rent is our biggest item in our budget. Living in Los Angeles makes renting better financial sense then buying.

Guest's picture
Karen

Our Household biggest expense is our Mortgage and our children's education. They attend a catholic school and we also save for college on a prepaid plan for all four of them. We manage by cutting down on the things that are so important.

Guest's picture
Schib02

Definitely groceries. I spend about $250-$275 a month as a single person. I'm working hard at reducing my waste by meal planning and such, but it just seems like such a large amount for one!

Guest's picture
Joel

Taxes at $1900, followed by charity at $950.

Guest's picture
Leia Michaels

We spend more on food than we do on housing, transportation, and entertainment combined, easily. Though I drive a twelve year old car and practice other frugal pursuits in order to do so, we eat all organic food in an area without much competition (we shop five stores routinely to find all that we need, and that doesn't include online shopping for odd items).
Beyond the obvious, to go back to conventional foods (and since this is a priority for us, that isn't what we'd like to do), I think I can focus on making more soups and using 'fillers' of rice and beans. Provided that my garden turns out this year or that we join a CSA, we'll be able to save quite a bit and eat healthier this summer at a cost savings, too. :) One thing I've managed to do already is stop wasting so much produce - it was disgusting how much we didn't use. :blush:

Guest's picture
Guest

With four kids (three of them teenagers) and two adults, our biggest expense other than the mortgage is FOOD!

Guest's picture
Des

Ours is taxes by a landslide, followed by insurance (medical, dental, life, car, & house), followed by the mortgage.

Guest's picture

Right now it's travel, i.e., I have decided to travel as much as I can and am making it a priority. It's FRUGAL travel, of course (frequent flier tickets, a couple of buddy passes, house-sitting, not renting cars, and staying with family and friends) but it does add up. That means being careful about where else I spend, and don't spend. I am fortunate to be able to take my work along with me (I'm a freelance writer) so I have decided to travel until I can't.
P.S. At home I eat a lot of pinto beans, and I haven't bought any new clothes since my daughter's wedding almost three years ago (except for shoes, thrift-store jeans and a thrift-store coat to replace my 25-year-old jacket). Totally OK with that trade-off.

Guest's picture
Shawna

Since I live in one of the most expensive urban areas, housing is definitely the biggest budget line item.

Guest's picture
Amy N.

Our mortgage is the biggest expense in our finances right now. Gotta love California home prices!

Guest's picture
Betty

Rent. *sigh*

Guest's picture
Holly

Our biggest expense at this moment is private schooling, at about $20,000+/yr. We are grateful that we can afford it, but are seriously looking forward to the day when this expense goes away (not that we want to rush these years but SHEESH!).

Guest's picture
Markr

What's the Biggest Item in Your Budget?

Housing.

Guest's picture
Carson

My fiancee and I have budgeted so efficiently that now our big ticket item is our rent, which we found out is probably not a bad amount to pay for rent in our neck of the woods. I'm sure the next step up would be to move on to ownership instead of renting, but we've learned that ownership doesn't allow us the flexibility and mobility we currently enjoy. So the next most expensive endeavor is grocery shopping! And we ALWAYS use price reducing coupons and online deals for that each and every visit...including some deals I've located right here on Wise Bread! Still wouldn't hurt to find more ways to stretch our grocery dollars though.

Guest's picture
Renee

groceries: we eat fresh meats/gluten free foods (no coupons and a loaf of GF bread is $7) and also have a 1 year old little boy (babies are expensive but worth every penny!). I cut my grocery bill in half 2 years ago and am hoping to cut ba...ck more this year by using a price book and utilizing my new chest freezer (a super great investment that I highly recommend) along with more homemade foods rather than prepackaged GF foods. I do get my HBC/GM practically for free by using coupons and scoring deals at drugstores - and haven't bought a pack of diapers in 4 months! :)

Guest's picture
liggygirl

My biggest thing in my budget is eating out. I like it but not as much as it happens. I need to organize a grocery list, actually sit down and plan out meals, and organize my coupons. I get frustrated with the cost of eating out. I try to only get water and then get something that is cheap. It is a nice escape. My boyfriend and I meet up 1x a week at a cheap little restaurant where everyone knows who you are and what you drink and how you order. That to us is precious. I hate eating fast food, if I could pre package food to take while traveling that would help us! Fast food isn't CHEAP...

Guest's picture
Chelle

Besides the obvious- housing- our top expense is the gym. We just can't give it up. I fid that in order to motivate myself to work out, I have to be losing money if i don't. :)

Guest's picture
Susan D.

The biggest item in my budget is my grad school loan payment, but only because I'm paying it off as quickly as I can. Rent is a close second.

Guest's picture
Jen

definitely rent- I have 1 housemate and we share a 2 bed, 1 bath location.

Guest's picture
Guest

Childcare. We pay more for daycare for 2 kids than we do for our mortgage!

Guest's picture
Nicole H.

Rent. It eats up my income something fierce.

Guest's picture
Terri

Rent! We have a really good deal, but it's still a big chunk of the budget.

Guest's picture
Gerard

The single largest line item in my budget is housing.

Guest's picture
kristine

Rent. 54% of our take home. Why? A huge gamble- bright kids, and we wanted a first class school district. It has paid off- my daughter was just offered full tuition, room and board, and automatic grad school acceptance at one of the top 30 universities. Several ivy interviews next week. The opportunities and competitiveness that my kids absolutely thrive on were not available where we lived. So we have lived at our means for 4 years and will for 2 more years, to get our son through high school. Our gamble was that our college contribution was the high school, and just a little money. Paid off big time! The month after my son graduates, we will buy a teeny-tiny house in the woods of western MA, and work and live comfortably on very little!

Guest's picture
Lisa

I'll say our top 3 are: 1) Mortgage (25%)
2) Food (20%)
3) Tuition (20%)

Since our bread winner lost his job and my retail job pays $560/mth after taxes/ins, I'm not sure how the percentages above will be affected.

Guest's picture
Angela

We currently rent a house. Our rent is our largest expense and saving towards a down payment to hopefully buy in 2011 is our second largest.

Guest's picture
Elizabeth

Apartment rent, 37% of my budget. That's probably too much, but I got tired of roommates after 5 years...

Guest's picture
KelR1

Unfortunately, it's the mortgage.

Guest's picture
Linda

The largest item in my family's budget is expenses related to housing. We refinanced from a thirty year to a fifteen year fixed rate mortgage about six years ago; we're finally seeing the payment to principal outstrip the amount to interest. I recommend this move for those who are staying in their houses for awhile.

Property tax increases are the area of the largest growth in our overall housing expense. Although I worry about the increase, we also live in an area of upstate New York with good schools, excellent public services, abundant parks and recreation. While proposals to trim excess in government & consolidate local government services is welcome; I hate to see our Governor & legislature impose tax caps that limit local control and our ability as a community to fund our priorities.

Guest's picture
Noah

My top spending categories over the last three months (as percentages of net spending, not income.)
Rent: 55%
Clothing: 21%
Food: 8%

I live in the bay area, which is why rent is so significant. Don't really have an excuse for the clothing. I would resolve to get that under control, but Barney's is getting all their SS collections in right now. It would be criminal not to get some new shoes, at least.

Guest's picture
Amanda

Our biggest item is housing BUT we actually spend more each month paying extra on our student loans so we can be debt free! It is kind of crazy that we actually spend over 25% of our income on paying off debt; Hopefully, it will be worth it soon.

Guest's picture
Guest

My biggest budget item is my car payment. Finally paid off the mortgage!

Guest's picture
Robin

Mortgage. mortgage, mortgage. I live in the Bay Area and housing prices aren't cheap here. Second on the list would be property taxes. But at least we have a nice house :)

Guest's picture
Caro

I also spend the most on the mortgage and daycare. We are re-arranging our schedule so that once my oldest goes to Kindergarden, we'll be able to be home with her, so our daycare costs should drop quite a bit in September. Yay!

Guest's picture
Guest

Mortgage, insurance, food.

Guest's picture
Stephanie

Definitely school loans

Guest's picture

My biggest budget buster is food I guess. I have not been cooking lately but have been buying packaged food. I know these are more expensive but they are such a time saver. But then, I recently noticed that those are making me go over my food budget by about $50 a month so I really need to start cooking from scratch again.