Evaluate Your Spending with a Quick Audit

By Kellie Moore, January 19, 2021

Just like our homes, our cars, and even our health, our budgets need routine maintenance.

We’ve written before about the importance of having an intentional spending plan, also called a budget. 

Even after your budget has been established, it needs upkeep. One simple way to do this is to adjust the numbers monthly, depending on your anticipated expenses for the month ahead. For example, when the seasons change, you may want to build a little extra into your clothing fund. If you’re hosting dinner guests, you’ll likely need to bump up your grocery budget a bit.   

In this edition of Verily Cents, we’re taking it one step further: it’s time for a budget check-up. Whether you’ve been budgeting for years or you’re just getting started, it’s a good idea to step back and look at whether your plan is actually working for you. 

By taking some time to analyze how well your spending habits align with your spending plan, you’ll be able to see what areas of your budget need to be tightened up and what you need to set aside more for. 

To complete this spending checkup, we’ll focus on two questions: 1) Is my budget realistic for me, personally? 2) Is my budget reasonable by existing outside standards? 

Is my budget realistic?

Determining whether your budget is realistic is easy. Just ask yourself, Am I staying within my spending limits most or all of the time? If the answer is yes, congratulations! It’s safe to say you have a realistic budget because your spending habits are in sync with your spending plan.   

If the answer is no, ask yourself why you’re overspending. 

Is it because you’re new to budgeting? Don’t stress. It might take you a few months to adjust to this new part of your life. It also takes time to adapt financially after a major life change, such as starting a new job, moving to a new city, getting married, or having children. 

Is it because you need to work on self-discipline when you’re shopping? Slow down when making a purchase and think about whether the price is worth paying, or let the item sit in your online shopping cart overnight to see if you still want it in the morning. Another strategy for curbing your spending is to pay with cash. Research shows that when people pay with a card instead of cash, they spend more. Paying with cash changes the feeling of the transaction because you have to physically part with those dollars, as opposed to swiping your card and putting it back in your wallet. The “pain” associated with paying cash not only helps curb spending, but also adds more meaning to the purchase. 

Is it because you actually need to spend more than you’ve allocated in certain categories? Make adjustments as necessary. For example, after three months of exceeding our grocery budget, my husband and I determined the budget wasn’t realistic for our family, so we increased it by $100.

Is my budget reasonable? 

Whether or not your budget is realistic, you might be wondering if your spending is reasonable by broader standards, especially in the discretionary categories that can fluctuate from month to month. Though your budget is ultimately up to YOU, there are a few data points and guidelines you can use to check your spending. We’ll focus on three areas where it’s easy to overspend. 


The USDA has monthly reports on the average cost of food at four different expense levels. These reports are a useful tool for reviewing your grocery spending. According to one of the 2020 reports, for a 20-something single woman, food could cost anywhere from $171 to $339 a month. The grocery bill for a couple with two young kids could be between $583 and $1,137 a month. The wide ranges reflect differences in types and quantities of food. 

The USDA’s calculations don’t factor in eating out—something that, as of 2019, took up about 54 percent of U.S. food spending. (It will be interesting to see how the pandemic affected that percentage.) When making your budget, it’s worthwhile to separate groceries from eating out so you can get a more detailed picture of where your food dollars are going.


We all need clothing. But the distinction between a “need” and a “want” can be blurry in this category, and even the true needs vary greatly. I need different clothes as a stay-at-home mom than I did as a young professional, and that wardrobe was a far cry from the jeans, t-shirts, and flip-flops I wore in college. 

Perhaps for that reason, it’s hard to find a definitive answer on how much we should spend on clothes. But the general consensus seems to be about 5% of our take-home pay. 

If your take-home pay is $50,000/year, that makes your clothing budget around $200/month. If you make $100,00/year, your clothing budget could be over $400/month. Factor in family size and other variables, and you can see how those numbers might seem either slim or excessive. You are the best gauge of whether your clothing budget is reasonable, but the percentage is a helpful data point to consider, particularly if you’re in the early stages of developing a budget. 


Financial planner and author Tom Corley recommends spending no more than 10% of your take-home pay on entertainment. By his definition, that not only includes leisure expenses like manicures and movies, but also eating out. If you’re spending more than that and it’s causing a strain, it may be a good idea to cut back. If you don’t have an entertainment line in your budget, adding one gives you the freedom to enjoy some leisure expenses, while also being mindful of how much you’re indulging. 

A final word

It’s important to keep in mind that a lot of our spending habits are dependent on our situation. The budget of a debt-free single woman renting a Manhattan apartment is drastically different from that of a married couple in Arkansas with two kids, a mortgage, and student loan debt. Even if the salary in both scenarios is the same, their cost of living, priorities, and lifestyle are different. What’s reasonable for one person might be out of reach for another. 

As you conduct your spending check, you might find you have some serious tightening up to do. Or, you might realize you have ample room in your budget to enjoy your money more than you have been. Either way, taking a few minutes to reflect on your intentional spending plan can help you stay on track as you move toward your financial goals.


Coming your way Spring 2023
Kellie Moore 
Kellie Moore is the editor of Verily Yours. She lives in Utah with her husband, two children, and cat. Aside from writing and editing, she enjoys baking, taking online barre classes, and reading historical fiction.