Our 2018 Budget

Our 2018 Budget



Welcome to 2018! It marks the first year in our quest to reach financial independence. As written in the previous post (Our Origins), the goal is to save $2 million to hopefully slow down our work output in 8 years in order to spend more time with family and travel the world. I sacrificed my precious youth (my twenties) to be a medical doctor so most likely won’t quit Medicine completely but will cut back on shifts.

2017 was an expensive year for us due to paying off our $260,000 student loans (Tran’s loan, my loan), wedding, and honeymoon. Now that all debts are paid off, we can save and invest more.

Due to my medical training, I only joined the workforce in mid-2016. Fortunately, Tran has been wise with his savings/investments so we get to start year 1 with ~$450,000 in net worth.

To reach financial independence, we need to be more mindful of our spending. We created a budget for 2018. We will rely on Personal Capital to keep track of our spending and income. It is an incredibly simple and secure website that you can link your 401k, IRA, Brokerage, and Bank accounts, all in one place. We find it extremely helpful to track finances and net income over time, and highly recommend it. Here is our review of it.


We are budgeting $76,580 to spend this year. The budget is much higher than we expected but also includes some of our parents’ and my youngest brother’s expenses. This is our first formal budget, so hopefully, we are over-budgeting.

Annual Monthly
Apartment Rent $24,492 $2,041
Mortgage $6,960 $580
Property Tax $5,500 $458
Homeowner insurance $600 $50
Utilities $720 $60
Cell Phone $2,640 $220
Medical/Dental $2,868 $239
Clothing $600 $50
Household / personal care $1,800 $150
Wedding Gifts $1,200 $100
Brother’s Expenses $3,600 $300
Travel $10,000 $833
Dining $4,000 $333
Grocery $2,400 $200
Credit Card Fees $1,800 $150
Transportation $2,400 $200
Charity $1,500 $125
Entertainment $1,000 $83
Misc Spending $2,500 $208
Total $76,580 $6,382


Our housing budget is $37,552 (includes parents’ mortgage, property tax, homeowner insurance, apartment rental) and makes up 50% of the budget.

We have a house in California but are not making money on it since my parents live there. We subsidize the mortgage, homeowner insurance, and property tax. Since the house is less than three years old, we didn’t budget anything for maintenance. Any tax implications are addressed by the gift tax exclusion.

Property values have gone up in my hometown. The housing market is hot, which eerily reminds me of the period right before the housing bubble burst in 2008. Due to the increased property value, taxes will likely increase in 2018.

We live in Chicago because of Tran’s job and rent is expensive. As long as he continues to earn a good salary, it justifies the high expense. Fortunately, our rent includes cable and internet. Our apartment’s convenient location also allows us to walk to many places without needing a car.

Utilities / Phone

Our budget for utilities is $720. The utility bill is quite stable. It includes electric, gas, and our rental insurance. It used to be less but we’ve been cooking consistently since I moved in.

Our budget for phone service is $2,640. This includes 4 lines (my in laws, Tran, and myself), 3 iPhone payments, unlimited voice and text, and 1 GB of data for everyone. With T-mobile, we get free 2G data in many countries. It has been useful for most of our international trips except for Vietnam.

It’s a hefty bill. Our goal is to find a cheaper alternative for this year.

Medical and Dental

We allocate $2,868 for medical and dental costs.

High deductible plans are subsidized through our respective employers. We will need to establish primary care in Chicago and have included a $300 estimate for co-pays.


The budget for clothing is $600.

We both work a lot so rarely need new clothes. Tran is attempting to buy as little new clothing as possible in 2018. I’ve been purchasing most of mine from Vietnam, Ross, or eBay. When we go to Vietnam in a couple of months then I will make most of my purchases.

Household / Personal Care

Our budget for household/personal care products is $1,800.

I have very sensitive skin. I tried using products from drugstores to save money but they were never agreeable with my skin. Later on, I switched to Korean products and didn’t like them either. Last year, I discover Tatcha and haven’t had breakouts since then. Unfortunately, these products are expensive and I buy the skin care set at least twice a year. However, it is not something I advise skimping on.



Clear skin after using Tatcha, sans makeup

Tran cuts his hair and takes his work shirts to the dry cleaner every couple of weeks.

We usually wait until there’s a sale to buy household items. We don’t limit ourselves to one store, shopping at Walmart, Amazon, and Target. We check slickdeals for the latest deals. Once there’s a deal we like then we use Ebates to make a purchase.

Wedding gift

The budget for wedding gifts is $1,200.

We anticipate a few weddings in 2018. In most Asian cultures, cash is the preferred gift. The amount depends on the relationship you have with the couple. The standard is $100 per guest or $200 per couple and can add more if you’re closer to them.

Brother’s expenses

Our budget for my brother’s expenses is $3,600.

My brother is in college. We pay his rent in the summer and in between semesters when there is no financial aid. We also pay for his car insurance and all airfares.


The travel budget is $10,000.

This is a hefty sum but hopefully will cover both sets of parents and us. We subsidize our costs significantly by using credit cards sign-up bonuses and rewards.


Our dining budget is $4,000.

Tran eats dinner at work most days and I travel often for work. While on the road, I cannot cook in hotels so eat out daily. There aren’t any good Asian options where I work, so Panda Express is my most visited restaurant. I usually get a two item plate that would last two meals for about $8. For snacks and fruits, I get them from Aldi. Sometimes, I buy food from the hospital’s cafeteria, which usually runs ~ $4 per meal.

At home, Tran and I cook most of our meals. Occasionally, we meet up with friends for a drink or a meal. We also pay for meals when visiting our families. Picking up the bill for our families is probably the largest dining expense.


The budget for groceries is $2,400.

We shop at various stores during the year, most often at Aldi and Jewel. We keep an eye on the weekly circular and cater our meals toward the fruits and vegetables on sale that week. Occasionally, we head north to shop at the Vietnamese grocery store to make Vietnamese cuisine or Costco to buy things in bulk.

Credit Card Fees

Our budget for credit card fees is $1,800. I start off 2018 with 18 cards while Tran has 13 cards. A couple have no annual fees while some do. We will cancel a few when annual fees are due but will keep those that provide us with more benefits. There are a few more cards that we plan to get in 2018.

We used almost 2 millions miles/points in 2017. To accumulate them, we pay annual fees on certain cards. Some of our favorites include the following.

The Hyatt credit card and the IHG credit card both offer free nights on your anniversary date. The Hyatt’s fee is $75 while the IHG’s fee is $49. The redemption opportunities more than cover the cost of the fees. We used both IHG nights at the Intercontinental in Danang in 2017 and will redeem Hyatt free nights at Park Hyatt Saigon in a couple of months.

The Ink Business Preferred card offers 5x UR points on purchases at Office Supply stores and on your cell phone. This is the main card Tran uses to churn UR points. Using UR points, we recently redeemed flights on Asiana Business Class for our upcoming Asia trip.

SPG (Personal, Business): I use this card to accumulate Starpoints to transfer to airlines. I’m planning to transfer to Alaska to book my mom a business class flight on Cathay to Vietnam.


Our budget for transportation is $2,400.

I gave my car to my brother after residency. We walk often and rely on Uber and Lyft to get around. Occasionally, we will take public transportation. This strategy has worked out surprisingly well for us. It may not work as well if you don’t live in an urban setting.


The budget for charity is $1,500.

We spent much more on charity last year but plan to cut back this year. Instead of giving to charity, we will help our families first. Eventually, as they become financially stable then will donate more to charities. Meanwhile, we will spend more time volunteering than last year.

Some of the main causes that we will continue to support include the following:

  • An organization that provides aid to disabled South Vietnamese soldiers in Vietnam. The Vietnamese government provides no support for these men.
  • Provide several families with dinners during Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas
  • Adopt several children during Christmas, providing them with toys
Mom and Dad dropping off Christmas presents


Our entertainment budget is $1,000.

We love going to the movies. Usually we go on Sunday mornings when ticket prices are more than 50% off. This allocation also includes our Netflix subscription, which keeps rising. However, it gives access to both of us, my brother, and niece.

Tran likes to play golf. He gets in about 10-12 rounds a year between Chicago and California.


We’ve budgeted $2,500 for miscellaneous spending.

Sometimes stuff happens, like when I flew to Iowa for work this week without a winter coat and gloves in -31 degrees weather and my husband had to spend more than $60 to FedEx them to me.

We also take my parents to Costco to pick up a few items around the house whenever we visit.  Tran also purchases VGC with his Chase Ink Card for UR points.

Parting thoughts

As you can see, if it weren’t for our families, the budget for two people living in Chicago would be around $56,000. We could even save more by cutting back on discretionary spendings like cell phone bills and premium travel. However, our goal is to save money without sacrificing our quality of living.

If you’re interested in starting a budget, we suggest you look at all of your finances and start tracking your spending. It will allow you to see what your core expenses are. We are using Personal Capital to help us with that and like it a lot so far. We’ll share some of the nice outputs in our financial updates going forward.

What does your 2018 budget look like? Which category is the most expensive for you?


  1. What about physician disability insurance to in the event you become disabled in order to insure the lost earnings as a physician. How about term life insurance as well?

  2. Instead of canceling the cc’s with fees, you could downgrade them to a card without fees. That way, you won’t take the credit hit associated with canceling a card (shorter avg credit history & higher utilization due to lower limit)

    1. Hi Aus, we did try to downgrade to no annual fees card but some of them got closed after a period of inactivity. Nowadays, we don’t bother anymore. Our scores would dip a few points but would rebound quickly so it’s not a big deal.

  3. I just found your blog while searching hotel reviews in Asia and spent a hour reading various articles y’all have written. I really like how much y’all take care of your families. It’s impressive period, but especially in these times, to see people still take care of those who helped them reach where they are. Good on y’all!

    1. Hi Tom, thank your for your comment. Our parents sacrificed a lot to raise us. Now that we are successful, it’s only right to help them travel the world in style. We hope you enjoyed reading our reviews. =)

  4. Missing from your budget is an estimate of Federal and State taxes. Further, your budget seems to address only your immediate expenses rather than budgeting for your family’s future. Perhaps, your budget should include what you are putting away for retirement planning and starting a family.

    1. Right, taxes are not in there. Here, in a way, we’re looking only at variable expenses (you can argue things such as rent are fixed, but they’re still under our control). Savings would require disclosing income and is intentionally left out. That said, we wanted to just focus on expenses since we don’t really have a savings goal. For us, the playbook is more control the costs and whatever is leftover is what it is.

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