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
Alyssa

My apartment! I love my cute one bedroom apartment but I didn’t realize how expensive it is to live alone. Reality hit and now I am trying to find a roommate and 2 bedroom so I can start living within my means.

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Rita D

Housing/utilities tops our budget at 30% of our net income. Food is next...groceries...not restaurants...at 13%.

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paulke

Easily my housing. Nothing else comes close.

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Mrs H

mortgage. followed by utilities. van payment (pd off in 4 months-yeah!)

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Joe

Student loans are currently at the top of my list, next would be my apartment

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Guest

Mortgage ftw...

Guest's picture

I know this isn't a glamorous or unusual answer, but our mortgage is our biggest budget item for 2011. BUT..."Giving" (to church, charity, etc.) was our biggest in 2010, which had been a goal for some time.

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Tracy

The biggest item in our budget is a tie between our mortgage and our kid's daycare! I spend about the same amount per year on both. I have two children in full time in home daycare - We are at a very competatively priced daycare in our area and quite frankly, I think she is underpaid. We spend about $12,000 a year for daycare!

I have considered working opposite shifts with my husband - but that is tough to do when you are both working professionals. Our families also work full time, so there is no "grandma daycare" available to us. Aside from kindgarten beginning in the fall, I do not see a way to reduce the amount I spend on daycare.

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Chris

Taxes: Fed, State, Real Property, Personal Property.... nearly 25% of our income.

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Holly

My mortgage followed by child care. We have a very reasonable priced daycare and it does include food for one of the kids so I don't see room for cutting this unless I quit my job, but then we'd have bigger budget problems. The mortgage is at a good rate so it isn't worth doing a refi.

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Angela

By far it's the mortgage. But it's worth it - I love my house!

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Selene Montgomery

Housing is our biggest expense. However, within 2 years we are relocating and may live fulltime in our RV with a significant drop in housing expense.

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Selene Montgomery

I 'liked' the Facebook update.

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Guest

Aside from rent, I'd have to say it's "things that make life easier but I don't necessarily need, but since I don't have a family (yet) I might as well just get it now without going too overboard"

Yeah, just from Amazon.com, I'd say I'm spending, at least, a couple of hundred bucks a month on stuff that isn't necessary, but I consider a hobby or helps me save money in the long run.

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Susan

Paying off debt then housing...no car, small grocery budget..

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Michelle

Our house is our biggest monthly expense by far. Fortunately, it is our only outstanding debt and we only have regular living expenses (groceries, gas, utilities, etc.) Good times!

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Morgan

Hah, I spend more on my student loan payments than I do on housing every month. Go figure.

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Matt

Mortgage - by a lot. After that are utilities, student loans, and food... which change places depending on the month and how much we've put into paying down loans.

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iJoel

My Rent/Furniture/Home Improvement Budget it the top. Rent is $540 a month, living alone in a single bedroom apartment. Included in the budget is furniture and little odds and ends that make my apartment, a home. So in Mint, I set it at $600, but it could be anywhere from $540 (just rent) to $700 (new entertainment center).

Here's a Mint Screen Cap of all my budgets, and how well (or horribly) I'm doing for this month.

http://cl.ly/4CuU

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Alex

Rent (including utilities) is by far my biggest budget item.

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Naomi

Housing costs, hands down!

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Jessica

Housing, specifically our mortgage payments. Refinanced to a 20 yr 4.25% mortgage, can't really do any more about reducing that expense. Have done what I can to reduce utilities, student loans are at the historically low rates. Not much room for drastic measures, or need for that matter.

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Courtney

Federal income taxes and FICA/self-employment tax. After taxes, the largest part of my budget is tied between mortgage and daycare costs.

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Darice Romero

Well, if we didn't have two houses right now, it would be wedding expenses.

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Hannah

After rent, food is the biggest item in my budget. This includes groceries and restaurants. However, I've managed to cut it down a bit with meal planning and cooking at home.

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Raina

My biggest expense is definitely my rent. It's not too bad at $600/month, but I'm really stubborn and refuse to get a roommate. I like my privacy and not having to worry about someone else messing with my stuff while I'm not around. Fortunately, since I'm already saving over 2/3 of my income, I figure I can allow myself this expense.

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Kristy OT

Ours is rent. I'm afraid to live anywhere cheaper though... even this current place is pretty sketchy.

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Megan

Student loans and rent are basically tied. Trying to pay off law school earlier than 10 years so we can be freed up for other job opportunities...

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Traci

My apartment beats taxes as my biggest expense.

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Christie

Mortgage. But thankfully, we only owe money on the house and one car, and the car will be paid off in 11 months. Something to look forward to! :)

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Brenden

Technically it is taxes, but I don't track that in my budget, so next on the list is the Mortgage.

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Stephanie G

Definitely our mortgage!

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Heather

We currently rent. Our local area is still struggling with the housing crisis,but we were able to sell a bit before the bottom. Since we didn't lose money, we decided to wait the ride out and in the process we discovered we really like renting. If I could reduce our rent, we would save quite a bit. However for our area, we really do not pay that much.

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Rita D

We rented for 23 years before buying a house 2 years ago. Now I wish we were still renting! Home ownership, in my opinion, is overrated. We are debt-free otherwise, and I despise being in debt $170K on a house.

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Eric

The rent is too damn high! lol. It is actually really cheap, but it is my highest expense every month nonetheless.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4o-TeMHys0

Guest's picture

Housing, definitely. It comes to about 35% of our budget, and that's just renting the bottom floor of a house where we don't have a bathtub, dishwasher, garbage disposal or freezer. Food comes to about 25%, auto 10%, charity/tithe 10% and the rest get smaller percentages from there. Since we live a flight away from both sides of our family, travel is usually a decent portion of our budget too.

Guest's picture

My mortgage, then my wife's clothing!

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Stefanie

Rent on our apartment, for sure. We might be able to find cheaper rent someplace else at this point, but I don't think it would be worth the expense or hassle of a move. We love our place and our landlord loves us, so we make it work.

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RebeccaKate

My rent is normally the highest (I live in Cambridge close to the Boston line) but this winter I have been undergoing a treatment for back pain that my insurance doesn't cover. My rent should reduce when I get married in the fall and move into a one-bedroom further from the Boston line. Not sure how to cover the "non-medical" treatment!

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Shelly

Our mortgage is our biggest payment right now, followed by day care. Gas (traveling a lot for work), groceries, and student loans are all about the same each. In a few months though, day care will double and that will be more than the mortgage.

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Rebeccalynn78

The highest single item is our house payment. It is about 15% of our total take home pay.

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Adriana

rent

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Kristen

Housing: Rent, utilities, e.t.c.

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Tricia

Tragically, student loans by a landslide.

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Jackie

The mortgage. By a lot. It's 41% of my take-home pay! Nothing else is even half that much. I'm in process now of moving to a cheap rent place and putting my house on the rental market. Rental income won't cover the mortgage, but I can improve my cash flow by a couple hundred a month.

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Guest

Mortgage, but then followed very closely by tithe. It is a major stretch, but almost every month we tithe 10% for our gross income.

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Colleen

The mortgage is our biggest expense, but we're focusing on getting rid of PMI and shopping around for other insurance companies to cut our monthly cost. After that, I'd have to say groceries, a big part of which is pet supplies (2 dogs, 2 cats).

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Tara

Housing for me!

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Lisa

The mortgage payment is by far my biggest expense. People who can acquire a home without going into debt are ahead of the game.

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Raina

That's what I intend to do if I ever decide to buy a house... buy it 100% cash. I hate the thought of paying interest on anything.

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Scott

Housing, by far.

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Colleen

Housing and property taxes. I married a year ago, we combined households and put one home up for sale. I inherited three parcels of acreage, so we gained additional property taxes. Thank goodness, one piece of land sold and the other two are pending. We expect any "profit" to be used up while we carry the modest mortgage of the extra home until it sells, if ever.

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Amanda

For 2010...
1. Rent (47%)
2. Travel (13%)
3. Food & Dining (12%)

I'm a college student going to school out-of-state, so getting home for breaks is what makes my travel costs so high. I reduced my housing costs by moving to an apartment instead of the dorms after May 2010. The dorms were very overpriced. In general I don't have many monthly expenses. All utilities including tv and internet are included in my rent. Still on my parent's family plan for cell phone & their medical/dental insurance (and will be for 4 more years with the new health care bill! :) ).

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Melissa K.

Rent on our apartment. I've looked into moving elsewhere, but that would mean I have to drive to work and pay for a parking permit. Plus our rent includes water, internet, and parking. Also the floor plan is laid out so we use very minimal lighting which means an ultra low electricity bill.

Guest's picture

My rent and my student loans. My undergrad and MBA student loans (combined) are more than $500 per month payment. Yipes!!

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Jerry

My mortgage is paid off, but the condo fee (which includes utilities) is still the top item at $516 followed closely by health insurance at $383 for a high-deductible policy.

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Guest

mortgage - followed closely by taxes.

Guest's picture

Vehicles. Between my wife & I, we pay $700/month in car notes + $200/month in insurance + $300/month in gas - not to mention maintenance/repair, etc.

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Rachel R

I live in Manhattan, so housing eats up a large chunk of my budget.

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Emily

Tuition bills right now. But almost finished!!

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Nicole

Definitely the mortgage!

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Cindy Moore

My biggest expence is rent

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skelly

Ours is by far medical - My coverage is paid for by my work, but it's $580 for husband + $400 HSA to meet annual deductible (company pays in $1,200). That's more than our house payment,3x more than our car payment and twice as much as our utilities. And we're stuck with this because of pre-existing conditions. We've tried to get individual health insurance for my husband, but since he has diabetes (controlled), insurance companies avoid him at all possible costs.

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Mr. Yes

Me and my Fiancee live in a high rise in downtown Arlington, Va. I had no idea how expensive the cost of living was here. I am from one of the wealthiest counties in the nation in Maryland and it pales in comparison to city living. With 40 restaurants within a 1 mile radius, it's hard to hold onto our money for a full pay period.

Eating out would be our biggest achilles heel. Even groceries are expensive!

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Duck of Url

My wife and I are both retired, our mortgage was paid off last October and our cars are both paid off.

Our biggest expense by far is health insurance and health care. We're currently paying north of $900 per month and next month this will jump to $1200/month. So much for the promised "bending the cost curve down" by the passage of the health care reform bill. Add in about $1200/year auto insurance and about $1800/year homeowners insurance and insurance of one kind or another is definitely the biggest expense in our budget.

Second place is federal, state and local taxes with federal income taxes and local property taxes and assessments taking the biggest bite.

Third place goes to utilities: electricity, water, phone, satellite TV and internet. I suppose that the last two can be categorized as "entertainment".

Remaining expenses, in order, are food, travel and entertainment.

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Chris

The Mortgage is my highest. Nothing else really come close.

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Guest

My biggest expense is clothes.

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Quinten

By far, our joint student loan payments. They represent almost 50% of our take home pay! However, we have them on an aggressive repayment schedule and most of that cost is subsidized through loan repayment assistance programs we are both eligible for.

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Guest

My poor old 99 mazda is on its death bed. I want to buy used, but hopefully a car that can last me at least 6 years... and not break the break the bank during 4 more years of grad school. Yikes! Wishful thinking! Maybe I'll just cut holes in the drivers side floor!

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SherryH

The biggest single item is housing, if you count mobile home payment and lot rent together. Groceries for our family of four is our next-biggest expense, larger than either loan payment or rent alone.

We're about three years out from paying off the loan, though, and it's almost impossible to refinance a mobile home if you don't own the ground under it, so our only strategy for now is to wait it out. I have many strategies for cutting down on grocery expenses, but they're pretty 101 - buy cheap, cook at home, don't eat out much - and there's only so low you can go and still have food on the table.

Guest's picture

Hmmm, looking over all our budget categories in mint.com, it appears our biggest expense each month is helping our son with all his monthly expenses, followed closely by our lump budget each month for food/groceries/toiletries/pet supplies.

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Guest

Definitely housing and then food

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Sarah

rent!

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Jan

Our largest category in our budget is actually our tithe to our church by more than $100 over our mortgage. Our car payment would be next.

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Sherry Ballard

Housing is our budget killer!

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David

Fortunately, we live below our means in almost every aspect. However, when it came to our childs daycare, we simply would not comprimise. Day care for our infant is by far the largest expense in our household at 20% of our net income. Next would be the mortgage on our small condo at 15% (including taxes, insurance, PMI and maintenance).

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Laura D

Health insurance, unfortunately. We have to buy ours privately, and that adds up!

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ziggy

Housing related costs take the biggest bite out of budget, but our dogs and horses devour most of the rest.

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Andrea

My biggest expense is my education- and I went to a state school! I ended up needing loans for almost my entire time there and am currently paying off four different lenders. It's always a little depressing to realize that my expensive education isn't paying itself off. Terrible job market has me wishing I'd found other ways to pay for my schooling!

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Trish

Definitely rent is the biggest part, student loans would be second.

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My city utility bill (electric, water, trash). It varies, but is often higher than my mortgage payment.

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Guest

Taxes! Since most of that is taken out before I get a chance to see it, next is mortgage!

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Since I regularly track all my expenses, I can tell you my top 5 expenses in 2010: Mortgage/property taxes, food, health insurane (premiums and out of pockeet), clothing and "household" expenses.

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peggy

Mortgage. Most definitely.

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Definitely the mortgage!

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Christina

Our rent is definitely the biggest part of our budget!

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Katie R

My mortgage is my largest expense.

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lsharp

My mortgage. After that is my savings to put three kids through college!

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Ally

Definitely housing by far.

Guest's picture

Mortgage and everything that comes with it....we bought just before the market crash and are thus stuck with high interest. Luckily, we are able to afford it but it easily eats up 30% of our spendable income.

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Keri Ritenour

My biggest budget item is the mortgage, with farm expenses coming in second.

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Monique

My mortgage is the biggest by far.

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Lynda

wedding

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kristina wittchen

The largest thing in my budget is transportation.

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Lani C

Our house and it's property taxes. If we could go back, we'd definately have bought a less expensive house.

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Andrea

Definitely the house!

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gina

Right now the biggest item in our budget is our mortgage. We are trying so hard to get it paid off in less than 10 years.

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Patrick

Mortgage

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Olivia

We have no control over our housing as it comes as part of the pay "package". But at the government's calculation (for tax purposes), it outstrips every other expense. About 30% of the whole. That aside, last year out of pocket medical expenses came in second at 18%. Hopefully not to be repeated, it did a number on our savings. Everything else is rather modest.

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Sylvia

By far, rent is my biggest budget item. I live in a one-room apartment in a rent-stabilized building in Brooklyn NYC, but rent still takes a little more than a third of my take-home pay. After that, probably food for me and my dog (who requires a prescription veterinary diet). I also have rather steep annual medical expenses due to chronic vision and hearing problems. I am frugal and I make it work, but I'm learning that the more I know about money the better life can be. Money = time and energy!