Every Penny of $20,000 I Spent in 2020

I’m positive that 2020 will be a bookmark year, one that we can flip to easily in our minds and remember exactly what we were doing when the whole world shut down.

For me personally, 2020 brought on lots of change and forced flexibility. I moved from New York to California, worked from home the entire year, and did my best to enjoy the little things.

Note: some links in this article are affiliate links, meaning if you click through I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Highlights of 2020

Small town living

I’m a Colorado native who moved to the Pacific Northwest after college. Half of this year I spent living in a small town in upstate NY, fulfilling one of my curiosities: I always wondered if I would like living in a small town. I really did enjoy it. I made local friends and we hiked all over the area, had parties around bonfires, and had elaborate potlucks (pre-pandemic).

Burning old, dry Christmas trees is a January tradition. Helps keeps our butts warm.
We went all out for this potluck

When the pandemic hit, I was nervous about being in New York and also on lockdown in an already tiny town with not much going on. However, there were many opportunities to take long walks along the meandering countryside. I hit up the local bakeries often and took a treat to the lake while listening to podcasts. The simple life was made even simpler in the pandemic, and I decided to enjoy it.

The local bakery with a message of hope

Moving to California

I have always wanted to move to California. In high school I applied to a ton of universities and made it into a few, but in the end I went to college in Colorado. In June, moving to California became a reality. The reliable sunshine and weekends at the beach have been a welcome change for me as a usually-landlocked-lady.

How Much I Spent in 2020

Every year I tally up how much I spent and do a breakdown of where every penny went.  

In 2017, I spent $25,874.

In 2018, I spent $19,438

In 2019, I spent just $15,000

I’m curious to see the total for 2020 given the fact that we both hunkered down during the pandemic but also moved to a very high cost of living city. 

The total is $19,863! All in all, I spent an average of $1,655 per month. This includes a massive cross-country movefurnishing a new apartment, and, like everyone else, figuring out how to stay sane during a global pandemic.

$ 0
Total Expenses in 2020

This total is much higher than last year, when I spent just $15,000, but seems well within the range of my average spending overall. 

Expenses over the years

Spending by Month

Every month I write an expense report, so I went through each one to double check my total with Personal Capital (affiliate link), the software I use to track my spending. Note: these are expenses for just me.

There is a clear jump when I moved to California in June, no surprise there. My rent went from $500 per month to $1,320!

Spending by Category

The largest expense is rent by far, and the cost of moving put a dent in my savings this year. Travel costs decreased and food costs increased, probably from hoarding a ton of Trader Joe’s goodies. 

Here is the breakdown of where every penny went.

Monthly Bills

Rent $10,908 

(Last year: $7,413)

With the year split between New York and California, my average rent cost per month was $909. That’s not bad! However, looking forward to next year, if I want to stay in California I will have to budget for the higher rent.

Utilities $185

(Last year: $167)

Our utilities were included in the cost of rent for the first half of the year.

Insurance $629

(Last year: $464)

We updated both our homeowner’s and car insurance plans and switched companies when we moved.

Internet $258

(Last year: $200)

We pay an average of $20 each to our internet plans per month. 

$ 0
Monthly Bills Total


Groceries $1,915

(Last year: $2,010)

I spent an average of $159 per month on groceries. This is no-coupon, pick-what-you-want, plan-meals-in-advance budget, and feels very true to my average shopping trip. We restocked our kitchen when we moved, which was a significant expense, and spent a lot on cooking meals at home. 

Homemade chicken enchiladas!

Eating Out $518

(Last year: $1,144)

I spent less than half on restaurants compared to last year, mostly due to the lockdown (and because I was on a mission to eat at most of Portland’s famous eateries before I left). My energy went towards cooking meals at home instead.

$ 0
Food Total


Flights, Airbnbs, etc. $546

(Last year: $1,295)

We cancelled our plans to go to Cuba in March, so instead most travel plans have been small local trips. 

Fuel $129

(Last year: $278)

This year I only spent $10 a month on gas, that’s pretty good! I counted fuel during our move as moving expenses, but the rest of the time we only drove to the grocery store every week or so, and overall didn’t drive much. 

$ 0
Travel Total

Moving Expenses

General Moving Expenses $1,226

This includes car shipment across the country, a U-Haul, fuel, packing supplies, etc. More information in this post: How Much It Cost To Move Across the Country

Home Improvement and Furniture $479

(Last year: $414)

There is not a single piece of new furniture in our new apartment– everything came used from a previous owner or thrift store. Read more here: Decorating Our New Home With Thrift Store Finds

The thrifted living room
$ 0
Moving Expenses Total

Medical Expenses

Medical $129

(Last year: $181)

I burned myself while cooking, which unfortunately got infected and needed treatment. I also had regular wellness checkups.

Therapy $625

(Last year: $0)

This year I introduced therapy into my self-care regimen and have benefitted from it enormously! It’s a big expense, but mental wellness is priceless.

$ 0
Medical Total

All The Fun Stuff

Charity $480

(Last year: $400)

I’d like to increase this category in 2021. Currently I try to pick a charity each month, but it would be better to either automate giving or pick all the charities in advance. 

Business i.e. This Blog $198

(Last year: $239)

I paid for hosting and renewed the domain for this website. Last year I went to FinCon, but unfortunately the conference went virtual this year and I decided not to attend.

Gifts $418

(Last year: $202).

I’m actually glad to see an increase in this category, as I’ve enjoyed prioritizing gift giving this year.

Personal Care $208

(Last year: $77)

A few gym classes, a haircut, etc. 

Clothes & Shoes $280

(Last year: $61)

I nearly went the entire year without buying clothes, but went shopping at the end of the year for some new pieces.

Entertainment $131

(Last year: $52)

I paid for a professional photography session for $100 and went to a comedy show with a friend pre-pandemic. I had planned to head to NYC and see a Broadway play but due to lockdown that never happened.

Pet care $150

This is just vet bills, MechaniCat’s food is included in my grocery total. 

Fees $451

A decidedly un-fun expense, this includes a yearly credit card fee, an “inactive HSA fee”, and an unfortunate speeding ticket. 

$ 0
Discretionary Expenses

2021 Money Resolution

After spending most of my life with my head in the sand when it comes to money, it’s been really enjoyable to check out my yearly expenses the last 4 years and actually see where my money goes. 

It’s also nice to see consistency over the years. In the last four years, my average yearly spending was $20,000. This feels like a comfortable benchmark. I’m relieved that even living in expensive areas I have been able to reliably keep my living expenses at the same general level.

However, as I look into the future, I don’t want to spend less. At this point, I have a comfortable amount of savings (I’ll get into the nitty gritty details in a future post) and a high salary. My goal for next year is to spend more. Pick things that will add value, focus on self-care, and don’t let cost be as much of a factor when making decisions. 

What About You?

How were your yearly expenses affected by the pandemic?

What are your 2021 Money Resolutions?

Share in the comments below!

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  1. Ouch, that’s so little money. I spent more in 2020 to improve the quality of my life. The time to spend money is during difficult years. Hoarding money when things are ready so difficult is a scarcity mindset.

    All the same, at least you have more money! HNY!

    1. I feel more like I’m SAVING money, but it’s definitely good to be cognizant of scarcity mindset and how we come to a healthy perspective on our balance sheets. I am glad to hear your quality of life improved even now during difficult years, sounds like you found what works for you!

  2. Congrats on the minimal spending!
    I always enjoy seeing your breakdown of expenses, since I too live in coastal California.
    It’s a nice litmus check for my own finances.

    For instance, we spent more on groceries (3k USD/person) but less on eating out (300 USD/person).
    There’s obviously a lot of work we could do in this category: more efficient meals and more meals with friends (post-pandemic, of course).

    Another big thing is that this year we bought a house, so our housing expense went from 7.5k USD/person to 10k USD/person. With utilities included the total climbs to 13k USD/person.
    That figure is cashflow only though, so it’s not discounting the equity we’re building. Still, it’s expensive out here. I can only hope that the intangible benefits of living here are worth it.
    Hopefully you find the cost of the coast to be worth it 🙂

    1. I’m glad it’s a helpful tool for a bit of comparison! $25 per month on eating out is pretty impressive.

      Congrats on buying a house in coastal California, that sounds like an adventure. There are definitely tons of benefits of living here, built into the cost. So far I think it’s worth it!

  3. Ouch at the hoarding money comment.

    We spent double this amount but there are three of us so…maybe that is okay? (Realizing we don’t have a mortgage and maybe I’m just not frugal enough anymore.)

    I am really awed at your food budget. That is amazing. Somehow we spent $10k on groceries this year and we’re clearly doing something wrong. 🙂

    1. I’m impressed you could cover you, a partner, and a kiddo on double this amount! Sounds pretty frugal to me.

      Food is one of those categories that seems to shift a lot for different families. It would be fascinating to see more detailed breakdowns for different family spending on food. I’ll keep it in mind for a future article!

  4. I think I spent around $20,000 for the year as well. I’m a big advocate of lowering your expenses year over year because a lot of spending we do are for one-time expenses. There’s only so much furniture you can buy every year before you run out of space! Hurray for fixed costs. Well done and we can only look onwards and upwards to 2021!

    1. It always feels like one-time expenses, but somehow there are always one-time expenses for me! It’s true that furniture will hopefully not be a recurring cost though 🙂

  5. Thanks again for sharing that overview! My spending ended up as about US$17,700, including US$3,960 in all food/drink (groceries, dining out, takeaway, alcohol). Impressed that your food spending is so low, but also I know this area of spending is a priority and source of entertainment for me, so no regrets. Yay for free accommodation through housesitting and other low rent I use to counteract those costs.

    1. Amazing! It’s always good to identify those categories where there might be higher spending but also more value. Great to have low rent and housesitting!

  6. Sitting down to do my December analysis and plug it into the full 2020 spreadsheet 🙂 I’ve been looking forward to it all week! Congratulations on your frugal year, while also moving & prioritizing spending on mental health! You mention it and I’ll second it…setting up automated monthly donations to causes you care about it so helpful to them for their fiscal planning. Beginning of the year is a great time to do that!

    1. It did take some time to grow on me, the biggest factor was that once I made friends everything was more fun. That can be easier in big cities with sites like MeetUp.com but I found that it wasn’t too hard in the small town either!

  7. Appreciate the overview! My spending didn’t change much during the pandemic, which I’m grateful for! Lots of plans for 2021 but hoping to hit a positive net worth!

  8. I found that I spent a lot less this year – like about $1000 a month less than I usually do, and that is because of lower than usual expenditure for travelling. I make a conscious effort to save money in order to travel and usually a large % of my expenses are travel related. This year I did squeeze in a trip to Mexico and a cruise before the middle of February before the pandemic halted all that.
    It is very interesting to compare to one’s expenses to others so thanks for this post. I spent about more than you on housing but that was on paying down the mortgage and goes to the principal so doesn’t really count since I (hopefully) get that back in the end. Your house looks GORGEOUS by the way – I can’t believe you spent so little on furnishings!
    My food expenses were less than yours and that is probably because I am a bit of a fanatic about not wasting any food and use coupons and only buy items on sale. But again that is because travel is a priority. You can’t have it all right? You have to be scarce in one area to live large in another!

    1. $1000 a month less means really awesome travel coming up! Glad you got some travel in before everything shut down.

      Thank you for the compliment on the house! It was a labor of love 🙂

      I agree about choosing your priorities so you can save in some categories but splurge on what is important to you. Hopefully travel will be an option for you in the coming year (or next! Who knows!)

  9. Uh, $10 a month on gas is incredible! We definitely spent less — especially during that time when gas was super cheap and we were barely going anywhere — but not that much less! That’s awesome.

    After years and years of putting it off, I finally — FINALLY — decided in 2021 that I am going to actually keep track of our transactions. Would love to say this is motivated only by wanting to know how much we spend but I’ll be honest: it’s more due to the fact that the card we use for most of our purchases is not attached to our every day bank and at one point in November, I was having trouble keeping all of our spending straight. Putting everything into a spreadsheet then marking it off as paid when I transfer the cash has simplified that dramatically, especially when there are delays in payments registering across accounts. The added bonus is that I should be able to have a better picture of our spending by this time next year!

    1. I’m happy with it too! Gas was pretty cheap in NY but expensive as anything in California, but we bike/walk most places there so only filled up a couple times since moving there.

      Woohoo! It definitely helps to have some sort of system. I am sure if I had to do it manually it would be much trickier for me, but Personal Capital helped me a lot (I think YNAB sounds more manual-focused) and your method sounds solid too! Excited to learn more about your spending next year!

  10. Wow – that is amazingly low spending for a full year! We saved on travel, entertainment, and dining out too (though we tried to do takeout often to support local). The grocery bill is up since my husband was often traveling / expensing food, my office once provided breakfast & lunch on site (from a now ancient relic known as a buffet), and my dad has been living with us. We also paid off a 2nd mortgage this year which put overall spend over the top.

    1. It’s interesting to see how most of our grocery bills were impacted with no work-expensed travel or work-provided food onsite! Congrats on paying off a 2nd mortgage, hopefully you’ll see the dividends of that down the line and your overall spend might go down next year.

  11. I am super impressed with your food expenses! Especially for eating at home most of the time, your grocery bill is super low. And you said this is without couponing?

    What’s your secret? We typically shop the deals and use coupons and our food bill is higher than that. We do have to stick to my gluten free diet and we are pescatarian and there is two of us but still. Way to go.

    1. I’m still not sure what my secret is! I keep meaning to do a meticulous track of everything I buy at the grocery store to show what a month generally looks like, but it always gets complicated because I move so much! I’m sure gluten free affects some things, though not eating meat should bring expenses much lower too.

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