I recently received this question and thought I'd do a blog post about it: how does one calculate their non-essential spending? Following is the process I use to calculate my monthly non-essential spending total.
Print out the last 3 months of statements for all chequing, savings, line of credit and credit card(s) accounts.
With 2 highlighters, go through the last 3 months of each account, highlighting in one color the essential spending such as groceries and gas and highlight in another color the non-essential spending (any unnecessary spending as defined by you, this can include multiple trips to the mall, departments stores, or big box stores for items that weren't 100% needed).
With a calculator, total all of the highlighted essential spending items. Divide this total by 3 and this is your average monthly essential spending. Next, total all of your highlighted NON-ESSENTIAL spending items. Divide this total by 3 and this is your average monthly NON-ESSENTIAL spending.
What to do with this information once you have your essential and non-essential monthly expenditures calculated? You can keep a spending journal and journal your thoughts on your findings. Where are you succeeding with your finances? Which areas do you feel need improvement? Within a spending journal you can get into the nitty gritty of WHY you're spending (especially on non-essential spending) and get into the psychology of money. After all, it can be argued that money is, in most cases, not a math problem but a psychology problem.
I've been keeping a spending journal for the last year and it's amazing how much I've learned about myself. More specifically, that I tend to be a loneliness-based emotional spender, meaning that when I'm alone is when I tend to spend the most money in order to "see" other people and fill the emptiness of being by myself. This was especially apparent when my partner visited his family in Northern British Columbia for 2 weeks in October and I was left behind at home because I had to work.
This encourages me to ask (if you'd like to and are open to sharing of course), what is your monthly non-essential spending number? What did you find out about keeping a spending journal? I'd love to know in the comments below. In the meantime, I hope everyone is staying safe. Ingat ingat (careful out there), everyone.