My 2013 Budget

August 5, 2013 at 5:43 am (Uncategorized)

My spending has changed a bit since 2012, so I’ve been overdue for an overhaul. After the last 11 months’ medical crisis of dealing with a cancer diagnosis and 9-month treatment plan, I’ve had to reevaluate my spending in quite a few areas. The good news is that as of August, I have just caught up on my medical payments and have finally met my yearly deductible. Combined with my treatment having also finally ended, my out of control medical costs have now reduced significantly and I can get back to a more “normal” budget of paying off debt rather than doctors. I also had my income radically change this past spring. It went from hourly to salaried, but based on my 2012 income (including a massive amount of overtime). My new salary is consistent, and in effect, I received a huge raise. I now have $3800/month to work with. It’s nice to have more money and extra nice that the amount is consistent from pay period to pay period.

I’m still using what I call a “split” style budget and it continues to work great. I get paid twice monthly, on the 5th and 20th. I start each month on the day of my first paycheck rather than the actual 1st of the month. I split all expenses over the course of the month so that I’m not in the red or black at any one time, but consistent throughout. I did make an adjustment – because I don’t get paid until the 5th or 6th, and my rent is due on the 1st (technically, though it is never cashed until the 9th – 11th!), I pay it the paycheck prior so that I’m never late. Luckily, if I forget, my landlord is super flexible and nice about it, but I still want to be proper and pay on time. And while my budget indicates rent paid at the end of the month, it doesn’t get cashed until the following month’s budget. There’s a part of me that hates seeing it uncashed – I like things to be neat and orderly. Having spent money that doesn’t show up in my checking account is quite annoying. However, I do get more interest on it for 2 weeks, so I guess it works in my favor.

I’ve changed my eating habits quite a bit from before I was diagnosed. I’m now eating as close to 100% organic as possible (super expensive!), and drink significantly less alcohol (3 or more drinks per week is a huge risk factor in increasing cancer risk). I also cancelled my gym membership since I’ve been unable to use it, so have nixed both the alcohol and gym categories from my budget. I have been doing very little socializing the last year, and my weekly long-distance driving trips to go hiking have virtually disappeared, so I’ve reduced my gas spending and my restaurant spending is on track for the first time since I started budgeting (previously, it was often over, and by a significant amount). I also added an additional fund for health costs – which are primarily for self-care and things not covered by medical insurance (such as supplements that are medically necessary to help prevent cancer from returning and improve my health, and acupuncture/massage if no longer covered by insurance). Those things are also quite expensive but important to my quality of life.

Category Paycheck 1 Paycheck 2 Subtotal
Food $275 $275 $550
Restaurant $75 $75  $150
Gas $90 $90  $180
Rent $745  $745
Credit Payments $325 $325  $650
Car Loan $253  $253
Coffee  $10  $10 $20
Electric  $25  $25
Netflix/Hulu  $9  $9 $18
Internet $72 $72
Car Insurance $64  $64
Car Fund $150  $150
Xmas/Gifts $35  $25
Stuff $100 $100  $200
Vacation $100  $100
Health $300  $200
Total Budget $1722 $1790 $3512

The total budget equals $3512 but I typically have $3800 to work with. Until July I have had excessively high medical costs (paying off $2500 plus copays, drug costs, supplements, and acupuncture), so this may need to be adjusted in a month or two. I also joined a CSA, which has required payments over 4 months; my food income is thus much higher from June – September, but will be lower afterwards as I continue to get my box of organic veggies through December (the last 3 months are essentially “free”).

I am having any extra money from my first paycheck stick around through the end of the month, just in case I have some crazy big end-of-month payment out of the blue, but I do try to put extra towards debt if there’s a large amount by the 20th of each month. While my minimum debt payment is $650 (not including my car loan payment), I do expect to increase that to $700 or more most months.

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What Does Life After Debt Look Like?

August 4, 2013 at 8:35 am (Uncategorized) (, )

What does life after debt look like? I have no idea, since I’ve never been there! But here’s how I’m planning to restructure what I currently pay off on debt towards paying myself. In reality, it looks an awful lot like my current budget:

Budgetary Savings for Big Expenses (aka my “mini funds”)

401K: increase my pre-tax 401K spending on my paychecks to 10%-13% of my salary. Currently I’m at 6%. In January 2014 I’m going to increase it to 7%. I’ve been trying to increase it by 1% a year.

Car: save $300 towards car repairs/new car purchase each month. I’ve never flat out “bought” a car before, I’ve always financed it. How nice to walk in, cash in hand, and just buy on the spot. My last vehicle was $16K, so I’d like to save up $15K at least, but that will take a very long time. Hmm. Maybe I’ll keep saving my “normal” car payment of $250/month plus $100 for maintenance?

Trips: continue to save $100-$150/month for travelling. Haven’t done it yet, but would like to do some more large-scale trips (like Europe!), those are $2K-$3K easy.

Medical: I do need to save about $200 monthly for pills, and other out of pocket expenses like acupuncture and supplements (via my Naturopath).

Gifts: no big family, and none of my friends are in the wealthy/excessive gift-giving category, so I’ll keep it at $35 per month. I often have leftovers after the xmas holiday, so I know I’m in the right range.

After all that (which is basically my current budget, unchanged), that leaves me with my extra debt payments of $650-$700/month. Since I won’t have debt any longer, I need to invest it in myself.

Investing in Myself (Retirement, Buying a House, a larger EF)

First step: save a cushion of 3-6 months of living expenses. Based on my current budget, adding together my food and restaurant expenses, gas (though I expect I’ll be driving less without a job!), bills (rent, internet, electricity, Hulu, car insurance), money for stuff (in which I lump everything non essential that always happens, such as hair cuts, buying clothes, entertainment, photo/art supplies, things for the house), and about half of my medical fund. If things get bad, I will probably cancel any acupuncture that I have, so less will be fine. This comes out to $2069, or $2K a month. I think having a flat $10K available in case of a job loss would be smart. That will take me 3/4 – 1 year to save if I do nothing else.

Second step: save for retirement. I have no idea how to go about this. Putting money aside from my paycheck seems easy. Figuring out how to invest it wisely, not so much. I need to learn how to invest in the stock market. Mutual funds are not doing me much good, and I don’t know how to do stocks. So I’ve gotta learn! Still not sure what to do in this regard,  but thinking of having half my available money go towards the above and half towards investing. This could be through an IRA/Roth IRA if I can invest it rather than do a mutual fund. Again, I’m not entirely sure yet, but it appeals to me, doing investing immediately, as the sooner the more long-term rewards and the more growth occurs.

Third step: save for a house. I don’t know that I want to buy a house, but I’m enough of a nester to know I probably should have one. I’ll probably need 20% down, which would be $40,000 minimum (most houses here are $250K-$300K to start). That’s a lot to save as a single person! I can see keeping up monthly saving long-term. The $10K living expense cushion can keep growing and become my down payment. If I haven’t used it, I can always apply it towards a house then build it up again just for living expenses or catastrophic house repairs.

The above assumes that I remain single, employed, and doesn’t account for any huge increase in pay. Not sure where I’ll be working (or for how much) in the coming years, but I do expect I’ll start looking for a new job at some point. Anyway, this is a rough frame work for how I see my spending habits as of next summer, when I expect to be FULLY OUT OF DEBT! Can’t wait. In fact, I’m doing the wiggle dance of anticipation right now!!

 

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Back in the Game

August 3, 2013 at 11:44 am (Uncategorized)

Howdy folks. Been a long 10 months since my last post. Finally completed my cancer treatment and the drug and chemo haze has faded (mostly) from my head. I’ve buckled down and finished paying off my medical costs ($5,000 deductible over 2012-2013 plus $20 dr visit copays and $25 prescription copays). Surgery and recovery is over and I’m back at work full time. I’m not fully recovered, and probably won’t be for a year or two I’m told, but I’m starting to go back to some normal activities (like going out to a movie, and seeing friends). I probably won’t be able to hike much until next year – I have no conditioning, have to start up my fitness regime again, and battle excessive fatigue (I need an average of 10-11 hours of sleep a night right now).

What has changed financially for me? Well, work has been undergoing figurative earthquakes and tsunamis to which I’ve been pretty oblivious, just trying to get through daily activities and be present (barely) enough to do my job since September ’12. Then I had surgery in early April, and was out for 5 weeks. I went back to work, but started radiation daily for 7 weeks. By the end, I physically couldn’t handle being there (lookup radiation treatment/burns/recovery online if you want to know specifics). I worked from home for about 3 weeks. During this period, we went through the hugest reorg, I had a new manager, and while I was out for surgery, she was fired and everything changed, again. However, my manager, while managing to alienate 98% of the company, decided to help me out by making my position salaried. I had been avoiding this for some time, but she convinced our CEO to pay me based on my last year’s salary, including all the overtime I acquired (which I’ve found out was the most of anyone at the company…I did try, and hard!). This was to allow me to not be penalized while I did my medical treatments. She’s gone now, but thanks to her, I basically got a $3.90/hr raise. Now that I’m back, I am no longer closing the building 2 nights a week, or going in late after hours for late crews. More money, less time at work, who doesn’t love that?

My work is insane in a way a lot of professional companies could not possibly understand. However, as crazy and dysfunctional as it is, it is a family. Many of my coworkers donated vacation time to me and for quite some time, they were also donating money out of their paychecks to help with medical bills. This has helped immeasurably. I couldn’t have asked for a better work environment – supportive coworkers and management, no issues leaving for appointments, no issues being out 5 weeks for surgery, and the ability to work from home when I couldn’t handle being at work during the healing phase. Wow. I hear stories about other women that get not only don’t get support, but become endangered of losing their jobs!

So where am I at now? Well, I did take a few months off from paying down debt beyond the minimum. I was able to get a payment plan in place for Swedish Hospital and just paid that down (with no interest, who knew?) last month. August will be the first month that I don’t have to pay hundreds of dollars in medical costs. However, I have new expenses I didn’t have before this whole shebang happened.

I’ve been seeing an acupuncturist and my maximum has been reached, so any more and I pay $70/visit. I’m going to go twice a month. It’s helped me a lot so far, and while it is difficult to see real concrete improvements, I do know it has helped with a lot of side effects and my naturopath strongly recommends that I continue treatments. I’m also considering seeing a physical therapist to help with mobility and strength training after a mastectomy (getting my right breast completely amputated). But the largest expense is seeing a Naturopath. Out of this whole cancer treatment, I’ve wanted to help prevent this EVER happening again. How to do that? Well, diet change and exercise and improving nutrients in my body to help fight off future cancers (since I’ve shown that I’m susceptible). Actually seeing a naturopath isn’t all that expensive. It’s like a dr visit – covered by insurance with a copay. What is expensive are the supplements they have you take. I’m taking things to help reduce inflammation and fight cancer (turmeric, green tea, mushroom extract, vitamin D), things to help with my long-term side effects of chemotherapy which will last for a year or two longer, plus a few other things. Right now, I’m taking 12 pills a day. These are not chemical drugs and thus not covered by insurance and totally out of pocket. I’m not completely sure yet, but this will be $1500-$2000 per year, and I’ll need to take them for at least 4-5 years (when I’m most at risk for recurrence of the cancer they treated; after that, if it hasn’t come back they consider it gone or “cured”). So, yes, this is expensive, but it’s an investment in my health. After the last year, it’s an expense I’m more than willing to pay.

Ok, now to talk about my food intake. I’ve greatly changed my diet after seeing the naturopath. As I had expected, I’m eating a mostly vegan diet – TONS of fresh fruits and veggies, lots of plant based proteins (beans/legumes/tofu), and minimal amounts of red meat. They recommend deep water ocean fish. I love salmon, but at $25-$30/lb, it’s a bit pricey!! I’m also strongly encouraged to eat organic as much as possible. Not only because chemicals are nasty nasty things, but organic produce is 30% more nutritious compared to commercially-grown foods. I’ve bucked up and started buying organic as much as I can. When I do eat meat, I try and buy pasture-raised meats and those without hormones and antibiotics. I also joined a CSA and have gotten huge amounts of organic fruits and veggies (and even some cheese and butter!) each week. My food budget has gone up exponentially, as you can imagine. But again, this is an investment in my health. I’m now spending about $500+ per month on food as an individual. That’s buying mostly fresh, organic, unpackaged, bulk foods and organic/natural meats and fresh-caught wild fish. On the upside, I haven’t been going out much, so my restaurant spending is less than $200/month. Either way, food has become much more expensive for my budget.

So what about my budget? Well, I’ll save that for another post. I will say that I am paying the minimum on my car payment, $253/month with 1.75 years to go on my loan. My only other debt is my SBA loan. I’m paying that as aggressively as I can manage. I have automatic payment set up for $325 every paycheck (for $650/month), and add extra if I am able ($50 here, $15 there, it all adds up!). I have calculated that I’ll have the SBA loan paid off by May 2014 and my car fully paid off by August 2014. Provided there’s no other big bumps in the road.

 

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Cancer Changes Everything

November 3, 2012 at 9:07 am (Uncategorized)

My life and my debt journey have taken a radical detour. 2 months ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer and my entire outlook is now focused on my health and making it through treatment over the course of 8 months from the original diagnosis. I don’t expect to post much here for a while. I am still committed to getting out of debt, but the financial realities of dealing with cancer treatment is going to impact me for at least a year.

I am missing a lot of work in order to go to massive quantities of tests and dr appointments. Luckily I had 4 sick days and over 90 hours of vacation time when this started. However, taking a day off to see doctors not only uses up my accrued time off, but stops me from getting overtime, when I would normally be at work, working. So it’s a double whammy. My take home pay has been a lot less in the last several paychecks. I’m also having to pay a lot extra in copays for drugs and dr visits. Come spring, I’ll be recovering from surgery for about 4 weeks, not working, so that will also be something to plan for.

For now, I’ve slowed down my debt payments. I have to do my car payments of $253/month, and I am cutting down on my SBA loan to just $200/month. Outside of that, everything is going to my living expenses and health care costs. I do have a maximum out of pocket of $2500/year, but that doesn’t include copays, which add up quickly, and of course, it’s almost the end of this calendar year, so I’ll have more expenses starting in January.

This is going to be a hard winter for me, and I should be done and recovering by June in 2013, at least that’s the schedule. I am currently going through treatment – I have 5 months of chemotherapy, then 2 weeks to recover from the drugs, then surgery, and about 6 weeks of radiation after that. Whew. Not a fun process. I am only 41, was pretty fit, and relatively healthy, but now my entire world has shifted on its axis.

I’ll probably start this blog up again next summer, once I’ve recovered from treatment and start getting back to normal. It’s going to be an interesting time. Best wishes to you all…

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Slow down for a month (or two)

July 10, 2012 at 2:56 pm (paying debt)

Decided to take a little intermission for the next month or two and catch up on my debt and savings plans. I’ve been running pretty close to the edge the last few months. I get greedy to pay down my debt, pay a lot a bit too early, and by the end of the month have to borrow a bit from savings or put some expenses on my credit card. Of course, I always want to pay these back and off immediately so there’s never any finance fees, but it does derail the following month a bit and I use money earmarked for debt to pay off my credit card or pay back my “temporary loan.” This then also skews my budget on the dates I pay for things.

I decided that this month I will scale back my debt payments, consolidate, pay off, top up, and the like. What that means is that I’ve reduced my autopayments to my debt to $300 for the month (down from $650). I’m going to see where I am at the end of the month, and pay that towards my road bike loan, the GE Capital. I want that close to paid off by the end of the month. Next month I’ll then be free and clear. I hate having that 0% credit reduce my regular-debt-paying momentum.

Of course, I always seem to forget that I have to pay an annual web hosting fee for my main real-life photography website, and I also get whammed with my SBA annual fee, both of which are $150, both of which occur in July. So here’s the score for this month:

July SBA debt payments: $300 ($200 on the 1st paycheck, $100 on the 2nd)
Road Bike loan: $200 ($500 left to pay)
Car Loan: $253.11 (minimum payment)
Web Hosting: $150

It makes me sad that I can’t pay $600 towards my SBA loan. I feel like I’m treading water this month. Next month I’ll be able to pay off my road bike fully, and that will bring me back to normal for September – I’ll be back in fighting debt trim.

Oh, and I updated my stats on the right. I used up a lot of my car fun to get a bunch of work done, oil change, some engine work, and of course the timing belt. Totaled about $900 in 2 visits. Now that that major repair is over and done with, I’m gonig to scale back my car fun savings to $100/month for a while (down from the $150-$200 I had been socking away).

debtmaven out

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Status update, mini-milestone, and coming to terms with the cost of hiking

May 26, 2012 at 8:58 am (Uncategorized) (, )

No big topic to post about, but a lot of updates and musings to bring up. I’ve had some juicy overtime the last 2 paychecks, and one more to come. The last one I worked from 8:30 am to 10:45 at night!! My last 2 paychecks have been much larger than usual, which has allowed me to top up some of my savings, pay a bit towards the loan for my road bike, and pay a ton towards debt this month. I’ve gotten my SBA loan down to below $13,000, which is very satisfying! Having it be maxed out near $30,000, and not being able to touch it much, until all other debts were paid off, has made it seem a bit insurmountable. But since the interst is so darn low, it’s just sat there, untended…until now. Anyway lots of satisfaction in throwing all extra money towards diminishing it to zero is quite enjoyable.

I’m ok with having the zero interest loan for the road bike (for 6 months). While it is slowing down my debt payments, I was/am not willing to put off buying it for 1 1/2 – 2 years. The enjoyment I’ll get out of it is worth the delay in debt payment. However, my intention was to sell my old, unused road bike (that has the shifters on the frame not the handlebars and which I’m terrified to ride/use). I haven’t even done that yet. I have to clean it up a bit before photographing it and posting on craigslist, which is why I haven’t done it up ’til now.But now that I’m thinking about it, I will do that tomorrow or Monday.

I’m splurging a little this holiday weekend. I went out for sushi last night, which I had room for in the budget, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I may also go for a movie later this weekend. Oh and of course my big drive/gas expenditure yesterday (see next paragraph for an explanation) – otherwise it will be a relatively normal weekend. Hanging out with friends and having a big meal and wine, but not too expensive in the grand scheme of things. Not quite sure if it’ll happen, but if there’s any money leftover at the end of the month, I am going to split it between debt and my emergency fund, which has been growing v-e-r-y slowly. I’d really like to get it up to $1,000 so I can leave it there untouched and unused. I realize that if I push to get it up to $1,000, then there’s a greater chance I’ll have to use it sooner than later, which sortof defeats the purpose of having it. So I’m doing it slowly, balancing between my normal spending, and other savings goals (like my upcoming $1,000 car maintenance/timing belt change in the next 2 months).

I took Friday off before the 3-day to have a more mini-4-day-vacation, since I never take time off. I drove up into the mountains and went for a hike. I realize that while I enjoy hiking, and have done it exensively in the last 2 years, I think I enjoy spending time with my girlfriend/hiking partner just as much as being there. You can cover a lot of ground on a 4-hour round trip drive and 4-6 hour hike! She can’t really hike this year, since she’s recovering from really bad planter fasciitis, so I either have to go solo, or don’t go. Well, this makes my 3rd hike so far this year, which is pretty pathetic compared to my previous 2 years. I’ve been doing it more for fitness reasons than a desperate urge to get out of town and into the green forests. Yesterday I realized that maybe I don’t have to do hiking as much as I used to. It’s ok, I can do other things, like concentrate on going for bike rides in and around Seattle! Especially when I look at my gas spending, which is significant, to get to the hiking destinations – I drove 260 miles yesterday. For a single day of activity. It was great when it was 2 people alternating driving and paying for gas. Now it’s just me. So I think I may hold off on going hiking as much as I feel I ought to, and in turn reduce my gas spending and stay in town, and overall be a little happier, or at least not beat myself up when I don’t get out.

Gas prices – 1
debtmaven – 0

That’s all I have to report.
debtmaven out

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The great internal debate (on food spending)

May 11, 2012 at 7:43 am (food) (, )

My food spending is out of control. I don’t know quite why. It could be that now I drive by my favorite, yet the most expensive/upscale market just before I get home, so I tend to stop there more frequently. It could be that I’m single and responsible for all of my food purchases and solely responsible for any food that is uneaten and wasted. Could be I have expensive tastes! I thought that buying more often and in smaller quantities would prevent food waste and help me stay within budget (see my recent post on food frugality). Well, I’m happy to report that there’s much less food wasted, but my budget is even more out of control now than usual. I think I’m going to blame the high-end prices and my impulses of being hungry and wanting a certain food item right as I’m nearing home and driving by.

I spent over $550 on groceries in April, and I’m a single person, no family, no kids, no partner. And about $150 in eating out (lunches, things grabbed on the go, etc). Egads, over $700/month for food! I’m still trying to figure this out. When I was with mr. maven I was able to keep my spending to $300-$400/month. I have to get back on track. I refuse to let food defeat me and my budget.

Ok, enough with the recriminations. What am I going to do about it? I’m trying to keep a really clear understanding of my spending on a daily basis. I’ve raised my budget to be $400/month for food spending (not including restaurant spending). Good quality produce and meats cost a lot. I don’t do packaged foods and coupons are useless – they don’t apply to uncooked raw materials. Safeway is one of the lower budget supermarkets I can also shop at, but I find their quality horrid and refuse to shop there. Anyway, back to it. If I break out that $40 into a daily limit, it comes out to about $13/day.

I do my budget in an Excel spreadsheet. I love it – it lets me have a bit of flexibility to add features and change things easily. I have found the online budgets really constricting and without the control I crave. A perfect example – I’ve added a little extra part to my monthly budget this past week. When I go in and enter my spending every few days, I update my little food spending chart. I look at the total I’ve spent on groceries, and I enter how many days are into the month so far. I then can easily figure out that so far this month, I’ve spent $91 in the past 7 days. That comes out to be $13/day – I’m exactly on target to maintain my budget. I also have an extrapolation portion – it takes that daily amount (to date) and figures out how much I’m going to be over (or under) budget if I continue to spend that way for the rest of the month. It’s a little exercise in keeping tabs on how I’m doing, rather than freaking out over how many times I’ve spent money on groceries (as I said, I’m going almost every day). It can be hard to see a gazillion entries in the food category and not be able to easily see if I’m on track or over budget.

This system is already helping. I had a taste for a steak salad last night (my latest favorite is grapefruit/goat cheese/steak slices on salad with freshly roasted beets). Steak and grapefruit is an amazing combination, and the juice leftover from cutting up the grapefruit is great in vinaigrette! It was a monumental mental struggle on my way home yesterday. Do I stop and get a steak? It would be a better deal and more options if I stop at Costco and get a 3-pack for $24 and freeze what I don’t use for later? What decided me was my daily budget. If I stopped and bought a steak I’d be in a serious deficit already, 1 week into my budget. If I didn’t stop I could have gyoza dumplings on my roasted beat goat cheese salad (I have a few bags from the asian market in my freezer – $3.99 for 30, enough for 3 meals in a bag). Well, the internal budget discussion won over my impulse buying behavior. I did not stop at any store. I went home and roasted beats, cleaned my kitchen, and made a gyoza dumpling salad. Yum. Yeah for my daily food chart. It’s the little things that are keeping me focused. I’ll report how I do by the end of the month, promise.

Budget – 1
Steak – 0

debtmaven out.

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Tax Rates, Paychecks, Overtime, and Road Trip

April 20, 2012 at 10:53 am (overtime, paycheck) (, , )

I got my paycheck today and as always, it was about $50 from what I expected it to be. I finally found out why! Overtime is taxed at a higher rate than regular hours! Thank you to my friend in accounting that finally explained that. I’ve always had a varying discrepency with my paycheck. I calculate my 401K deduction(6%), I subtract my health care contribution (10% per paycheck or $51), then try to multiply by what I calculate is my taxable rate, which seems to change from paycheck to paycheck!!! Not knowing until today that regular hours and overtime hours are taxed at differing rates has always stupified me!!! Now I finally know why.

This paycheck today is abysmally small. It’s only for a 10 day period, and there is precious little overtime. So it’s on the low end of what I typically get paid. Unfortunate, sad, and potentially disasterous unless I remain vigilant about my spending until May 4 (my next pay check which as you’ll soon see is going to be a humdinger). I’m managing my new budget under a microscope, and as I just posted about, I’m trying to reduce my lofty idealized expectations of how much I can afford to save and how much I can afford to pay towards debt. Both have shrunken from what I want to spend, and with this even smaller-than-usual paycheck I just received, it’s going to be that much more of a struggle. I guess I’ll take it as a lesson in humility and learning some lessons on creative budgetting! Maybe it will make me look at my food spending and throw in some extra frugal meals like soups and rice and beans, etc etc (now doesn’t that sound boring?).

Balancing my tiny paycheck today is the ginormous amount of overtime I’ve been working this week. I have had several 12 hour+ days already this week. It’s exhausting, and mentally draining, and makes me not have time to cook or prep lunches for the next day, and makes me want to not get out of bed, but in the long run, overtime makes me happy. I wish it was something more controllable, but it’s not. It’s all driven by clients and circumstances. I am responsible for closing the building I work in 2 nights a week. If jobs go long, I have to stay and wait for staff to return. Sometimes we have after hour jobs. I love those! They are great overtime opportunities for relatively little effort. This week is a cornicopia of overtime, but the last 2 weeks were a famine. Nothing I can do about that except be available and desirous of working long hours. Luckily I have very little other competition for this among my coworkers. Yeah me!  I guess I’m the only one without a life.

I normally average about 3.5 hours of overtime per week (due to my closing responsibilities) – when I stay until at least 6 or 6:30 twice a week. I have to be available 8:30-5 to answer the phones (I’m the main point of contact with the outside world), so anything that makes me stay late is gravy. As I can’t come in any later (remember, I have to be in by 8:30), I just have to stay longer. When I have nights that allow me to stay until 7, 8, or 9 pm, it’s a slog, yes, but the overtime hours are yummy. Getting paid time and a half for every hour over 40 that I work (and double for any jobs that happen between midnight and 5 am, which does occur occasionally) is so financially satisfying! Being able to get paid 4 hours minimum at overtime rates when sometimes i only have to drive in to work during off hours and weekends and be in the building 30 minutes to 1 hour is so awesome. It can suck not having time to do anything but grab some grub (quickly), and go straight to bed, but it’s a small sacrifice. This week alone I will have 12 hours of overtime!!

So. Back to this month’s finances. My yummy overtime paycheck (probably $300 more than I typically get) won’t be until May, so I have to make do with scrooge-like proportions. I’m also planning a road trip to eastern washington to take some photos. I have planned it already and I’m taking a friend who’s up for the 16-18 hour day!!! 4 hours to drive to the area I like to photograph, each way, plus 6 hours photographing, plus down time to snag a meal or two. It will be a long day. And expensive. I estimate $90 – $110 in gas. Then I will come back and have several rolls of film to process at $6 a pop – it’s a special larger format size, different than 35mm film (it’s called medium-format), which takes 12 images per roll and costs a lot of money, both to buy ($5/roll + $6/roll to process). Basically it costs about $1/image. And there are only 2-3 places in Seattle that process it. I have a show in July that I have to prepare for, so this is the fun part – going and taking photos. Then comes the financial drain of processing the work, and going to a lab and working on them and printing them (and paying for the time and ink to do so). $$$$$ Expensive. So I will be cutting into my debt payment a bit this month.

I was gonig to celebrate sticking to my frugal lifestyle this last 2 weeks, and get a nice dinner and a bottle of wine tonight. But UGH, that costs a lot! I may stick with a less expensive cut of steak, but I think I’m going to continue to avoid buying any wine for a few weeks. I’ve already stopped myself from getting wine to go with dinner several times in the weeks prior, and I’ve been totally ok with that. 

Road trip – 1
Finances – 0

debtmaven out

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Reality check: my new 2012 budget

April 16, 2012 at 8:31 am (budget) (, , )

I just posted my 2012 budget on the side bar. Putting it together made me think really hard about my spending on a macro scale. It also made me realize that thoughts and deeds are very different things. I want to save $200/month on my car (for an upcoming timing belt change). I want to put at least $100/month into savings and build up my emergency fund from my end of 2011 decimation (and I’ve elected to do so slowly, a little at a time, to avoid delaying paying debt any more). I want to save money for a big international trip in 1-2 years (as I haven’t on an airplane since 2001. I also WANT to pay at least $700 towards my SBA loan every month (in addition to my car payment, my only other debt). What I want and what is happening are distinctly separate activities.

Rent and car payments are set and not open to change. My other bills are pretty set in stone. I don’t have cable, just internet. I don’t spend frivolously on shopping sprees (um, just don’t read about my February spending, that, uh, was an anomaly, truly). I don’t want to reduce my spending on food. I’m happy with the quality of the foodstuffs that I buy. I don’t want to purchase crappy packaged meals, or commercial-grade meats, lower quality produce, or things with preservatives, fillers, corn syrup, you name it. I buy good quality foods and I’m not budging on that point. Basically, I’ve reviewed and rehashed my spending for 3 years now and I’m unwilling to make any further reductions or changes from where it’s currently at. I’m not acting with gazelle intensity, but I’m happy with my current plan.

I have a little leeway with buying alcohol, and a gym membership, and I am going to cancel Netflix after this month (I don’t use it enough to justify the online $9/month service – Hulu Plus is enough). However, all of these things tally less than $100/month! The biggest thing that will be affecting me in the next 6 months is exercise-based activities. Hiking and biking. I’ve already purchased an expensive new bike. I have a few paraphernalia items I need to get: a $20 multi-tool to adjust it, a spare inner tube at $5, a bike rack ($25) for a pannier ($50-$100 for a single one) so I can do longer rides and carry a jacket, extra water, and lunch, and then finally an electronic device to track mileage, revolutions per minute, and speed ($60-$120). For hiking, I don’t really need much, but each trip costs about a half tank of gas or more, depending on how far I drive (often 1.5-3 hours each way). If I want to do a road trip for photography, that is at least 1.5-2 tanks of gas, possibly a little more. Basically, most of my spending is for leisure activities, having to do with my wellbeing, my mental health, and my creativity. I’m not sure I want to compromise in any of these areas.

What I’m realizing is that my goals are in conflict. I’m 40, I’m used to being relatively comfortable (I don’t want to eat pbj and ramen for meals), and enjoying activities in the wilderness (which cost a certain level of money to perform). I want to create artwork – if I don’t then I’ll just be someone with an art degree that does nothing with it (and what a waste that would be!). I also have realized that my “extra” spending of $200/month is just not enough to cover my bike purchase AND my minimal other spending. I can’t not buy clothes or shoes, or $20 to start up an herb garden at my new place (which I just did this weekend), or avoid getting an annual permit to enjoy the wild areas of the pacific northwest ($30 for a recent discovery pass to go to state parks). Maybe I can for 1 month, but definitely not the 6 it will take to pay off the bike. Something’s gotta give.

I mentioned at the start of this post that the genesis of all this thought and reflection had to do with my 2012 budget. When I was putting it together to post I realized that my savings and debt payments were not allowing me to budget in line with my wants and desires. I can’t scrimp for 6 months like I mentally think I might be able to. So instead, I’ve reduced my savings by $75 ($50 from my car mini fund and $25 less towards my EF) each month. I am also going to reduce my debt repayment by $50-$100 each month. This will give me enough slack to still pay myself first and pay down debt, but without sacrificing my quality of life. I’ll still be able to hike, enjoy my new bike (as I pay it off in 6 months), and take photos (and spend the money to process, print, and mount/frame for shows as needed).

Being able to go hiking and do a roadtrip or two or three to take photos is completely worth extending my debt payments by an extra 2-3 months. I can delay a big 3-4 week trip to France/Spain until 2014 and do it right.

It’s all about compromise.
debtmaven out.

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Update on budget revision/musings on food frugality

April 11, 2012 at 8:58 am (Being Frugal, groceries, paying debt) (, )

This is the first month with my revised split payment budget plan in effect, and I have to say, so far I love it! Previously I had to pay rent, bills, save money in my mini-funds (car maintenance, EF contributions, etc), and had precious little left over. I then wasn’t able to pay debt until the end of the month. It was always a big “Hmm, I wonder how much is left over to pay down debt” and, because it was the last thing I did, it felt like the least supported and least likely to happen item in my budget!

I get paid twice, on the 5th and 20th of each month. Because I work for a small company, we don’t have full direct deposit – instead we are allowed to direct deposit $300 automatically each paycheck maximum – I then have to physically deposit the rest of my paycheck at a BECU ATM.  

Well now, I’ve restructed my budget to pay rent early, on the second half of the previous month. This has had the ripple effect of letting me pay things I am most serious about spending money quickly, at once, at the beginning of every month’s budget. Once the first paycheck is deposited, I now top up my mini-funds (pay yourself first, right?) at the beginning of every month’s budget, and I make an immediate payment to my SBA loan (which comes out of the $300 direct deposit). I then allow enough time to deposit my paycheck before making a smaller second debt payment. I repeat this process for the second paycheck of the month, but instead of paying towards savings, I pay rent instead. I’ve actually automated my debt payments, so it’s scheduled regularly in 4 smaller chunks, I don’t have to plan for it, but rather around it! I’ve set up $750 in payments over 4 dates each month. Here’s what I’ve set up to occur each month:

6th: $200 (comes out of my $300 direct deposit)
10th: $150 (sufficient time to allow 1st paycheck to be deposited)
20st: $100 (comes out of my $300 direct deposit)
24th: $300 (sufficient time to allow 2nd paycheck to be deposited)

So far, so great! I love automated payments. Right now I have $249 left in my checking account until I get paid on April 20th. That’s enough for food, restaurant spending, and gas. And that’s it! I am constantly checking my checking balance, and being vigilant and thinking about every penny I’m spending. Having such a small mount available, and being really strict about not letting myself use my credit card is forcing me to really think about my spending. Which brings me to some musings on my biggest spending area: FOOD.

I recently decided to not buy a ton of food at once – I’ve been having issues with not using food and having it spoil and be wasted (very financially unwise). Instead, I’m shopping for a few specific meals at a time. This means that I’ve been spending a little bit quite frequently. I keep updating my budget with $18 here, and $20 there. It adds up fast! I previously had this idea that I needed to limit my food psending to $75/month, give or take. but that was never enough. Now, I am quickly surpassing that! However, I have had a shift in my thinking about spending. I’ve revised my food budget to be $350/month (not including restaurant/eating out). That breaks down to about $11.67/day. I’m trying to keep that perspective in mind. If I spend $20 every time I shop and I shop every 2 out of 3 days, that’s too much. If I spend $20 every other day, then that’s awesome, I’m under budget! It’s a hard shift to make, and I’m still getting used to it. This month will be the month I figure it out and see how I’m doing.

I’ve also been paying very strict attention to my “extra” spending category (anything not regularly accounted for), which includes entertainment, bike/hiking purchases, art, clothes, photography expenses, you name it. With my recent road bike purchase, I have to pay about $175/month for 6 months to pay it off, which leaves me precious little extra in my “extra” budget category (currently it is $200/month). So anything that’s not budgetted for is on the chopping block.

I have had offers to go to a spa ($35), which I sadly turned down – no room in the budget! I got an email invite to go along with friends for an acrobatic/dance performance ($22), decided not to do it (I’m sure dinner would also be involved before or after). Had to buy a $30 Discovery Pass for access to Washington State Parks (annual pass) this past weekend on my first hike, so I am having to be extremely tight fisted about every single future April purchase, even $5!!! I don’t think this is realistic to maintain for the 6 months it will take me to pay off the bike, but I’ll definitely not be spending like I have been the last 3 months, that’s for sure! I will probably decrease my debt payments by $50-$100/month occassionally, but I’m going to try really hard not to let that be the first option, but the last (and to not let it happen every month).

So, basically, frugality is still my BFF (we’ve been tied at the hip for about 3 weeks now – maybe we should celebrate our 6 week, 2 month, and 6 month anniversaries? :) ).  Oh, and in the next few days I’m going to update my budget and post it on the sidebar.

Stay strong everyone!
debtmaven out.

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