For our second finance meeting our homework was to figure out what percent of our spending was in each of eleven rough categories. Of course each of us tracks things differently, so even the large categories weren't exactly equivalent. We compared percentages to account for differences in income, which we haven't specifically shared. I imaginee that much of the difference in spending would be found in the housing category, and certainly there were differences. The highest percent on housing (which included utilities) was 33%, but that household is paying extra interest on their mortgage.
When we got to groceries, we shared actual numbers -- they varied from something over $300/month to over $700/month. Some of the discrepancy is in the categorization of household items like soap, shampoo, detergent, etc. But the woman with the lowest grocery bill works hard on saving on groceries -- she reads circulars, makes list comparing prices of items she buys, and uses coupons. Since it looks like she's saving about $200/month over the rest of us, that is work that seems to pay off.
I found the exercise useful. I'm not sure that these are the supercategories I will use, but at the bottom of the list were Entertainment or Frivolities, Donations, and Investments, and in our household those categories are big enough that I can see where we could cut if we wanted to. My husband isn't that happy at his job, and I'd like to feel that if he takes a lower paying job, we can figure out how to keep paying for the house and generally making ends meet. Interestingly, although I haven't been reading blogs lately (until today), apparently personal finance is the topic du jour. Elizabeth at Half Changed World is discussing it, as are some others.