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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How budgetting helps me figure out my spending trends

March 23, 2012 at 6:20 pm (budget, spending habits) (, )

I have a budget. I’ve had one for over 3 years. Sometimes I think it’s more a spending ideal than an actual set of rules to follow. At least, that is how I’ve used budgetting. Sure, it lets me figure out how much money I have and when to pay bills. It lets me be aware of what I need to save up for (uh oh, my timing belt is coming due in 2 months, better save up extra!). However, I’ve never used it as the final authority of when to cut off my spending. Maybe that’s my problem. I’m a wishy washy budgetter and don’t always take it seriously.

I’ve really been focused on my pending habits and trends, and figuring out how I spend my own money, now that I’m single. I have a big excel spreadsheet that I use for my budget, and then at the end of every month, I “hide” all the details and just show the bottom line for each catagory. Basically, I can look at the totals for all months side by side, and really compare month to month my spending habits. In other words, I can recognize trends.

So what did I determine? Since December (before that, I lost a lot of data when my previous computer died and haven’t spent the effort to redo my budget before Dec 2011), I always overspend in the same 2 catagories: food and extra purchases.

I’m supposed to spend $350 on groceries, and $100 on restaurant spending. Nuh uh. Never happens. The best I do is about $500, my median spending is about $550 and at my very worst, it was $650. Keep in mind during this last 4 month period, I *have* moved, so I had a lot of too tired to cook nights, too busy moving and cleaning nights, and a lot of connecting with friends after my breakup nights, so I spent a LOT more than usual. I also bought a lot more premade foods (a precooked chicken, a bottle of wine, and salad make a great meal to give someone when they donate their time to help – how cheap is it to make them work and not feed them?).

My restaurant spending is often more $150-$200 typically. I’ve been evaluating how $100 is spent. If I go out, it’s often $20 for breakfast or lunch, and $25-$35 for dinner. If I only eat out 3 times a month for dinner, and not do any lunches or meals out when I’m out and about, then I can stick to that $100 budget. But I really think that’s unrealistic. If I truly had gazelle intensity to my debt payoff, then I would eat out less. Heck, I’d make lentil soup and rice all the time, but I don’t do that. I’m not trying to out-frugal-ize the personal finance blogosphere. I’m trying to live within my means, live responsibly, pay off my debt, and be sane.

It means that I don’t go out for weekend getaways, or go out drinking at bars regularly. Or get really expensive dinners, with appetizers, 2 drinks AND dessert. I typically get a meal and a drink, that’s it, and tip well. I use meals out as a way to connect with my friends, and be social, and get out of the house. I’m ok with spending more, and I think $150 for restaurant spending per month is realistic. For me. And I’m ok with that.

I think my “food” spending is higher because I’ve been buying more wine when I go to the store. I also have been shopping at higher quality places, that are more community owned and responsible. Quality is higher, but so are the prices. And if you’ve ever shopped in Seattle, you know how expensive it really is! What i don’t do is splurge on expensive cuts of meat (I can’t remember what filet mignon is like!!) or fresh king salmon (like i used to). But I don’t buy cheap meats either. I always do free range, natural, hormone free. Free range, cage free, organic eggs are $5/dozen. I could do eggs that cost half the price, but socially, I won’t go there.

I rarely buy clothes (I shop a lot at thriftstores) or shoes. I don’t buy books at all (yeah libraries!), and go to the movies about once every 3 or 4 months. But. I seem to be spending a LOT of extra money. The last few months I’ve been wanting to dress a little more girlie. I wear jeans, clogs, t-shirts, and fleece pullovers every single day. I work in a warehouse, so I can dress super casual. I wear this stuff on the weekends. I wear it out. I have 4 pairs of jeans and that’s all! But lately, I’ve been wanting more nice accessories. I’ve worn the same necklace for the last 3 years, every single day (just about). I wanted a new necklace. Then I found it. Turquoise. An eagle, articulated, cool, brightly colored, and strong and perfect for me, and this new phase in my life. So I bought it. $270! Then I bought a few other things this month, a drapey triple chained necklace with a big jewel stone, and a gorgeous pair of velvet gloves, all significant things I can use for years, but still! I’ve definitely overspent this month – instead of $200, I spent $565.

Last month was $324. January was $544 – I had to replace some furniture pieces when mr. maven moved away. I bought some significant things, and I bought them on craigslist, used, but they still cost money. A $200 8×10′ rug, a $100 floor lamp (it was mid-century and I love it). In December I bought myself a $240 ceramic sculpture by my favorite artist for a whopper of a budget buster total of $522.

So there you go. I spend a lot on food. I have rationalized that it’s ok what I’ve been spending eating out (within reason), and I realize that I have GOT TO GET MY EXTRA SPENDING UNDER CONTROL. There. No more art purchases. No more jewelry. No more furniture. If I want it, save up for it. But no more just go out and spend.

I’m going to really really push to not use my credit card at all. I am going to leave a cushion in my checking account, and not spend all my money the day after I get my paycheck. I need to leave myself my budgetted amount for food, eating out, gas, my $100 “extra” per paycheck, and be ok if I run out by not spending anymore. For real this time.

See how great budgets can be? After 3 years of this, I’m pretty good at it, but I’m still not perfect. It is really helpful to see where I need to be vigilant (and always!).

I’m going into April in a good place. I’ve figured out how my paychecks are to be spent, with enough room to cover small purchases. I’ve finally fully paid off my credit card (and no more “borrowing” from my mini funds to pay it off so I don’t get charged fees, and then in the next paycheck have to payback my “loan” from the mini funds, which makes me not have enough money, and have to use my credit card again – downwards spiral, you see?). I’ve finished covering debts to clean up after mr. maven’s departure, moving expenses, and deposits on my new place. Everything is now refunded, paid up, and starting at a zero balance (when it’s supposed to be at zero). My taxes are completed and my refund has been spent (on debt of course!). It’s back to normal. I still have to adjust my new budget, but I’m ready!

Happy spring to you all!
debtmaven out

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Moving… cleaning up…and budget craziness

February 17, 2012 at 7:00 am (budget, moving, mr. maven) (, )

My life is a whirlwind of activity and will continue to be so until March. I’m just going to post a hodge podge of activity financially related that have been impacting me this month:

When ex-mr. maven left, he also left a lot of crap for me to deal with. I may not have mentioned it previously, but he was a bit of a pack rat/scavenger. He would collect odds and ends that he would want to use for building a house, or furniture he wanted to refinish at some point, etc. etc. He also is an artist/photographer like me, so he would collect and hoard frames (particularly large ones) for projects, most of which were not used, particularly since we could get them for free from my job. So when he left behind his sh*t, I was left to pick up the pieces. Literally. Luckily a good friend (of us both) offered to help, so she helped me pick up a rental truck, and haul all the crap into the truck. By the end of the day, here’s what we did: 3250 lbs of refuse, one 14’ rental truck, PACKED TO THE GILLS with trash, 7 hours of labor, $239 for the dump fees, $46 for the rental, $8 for the gas (plus a meal for us both, I bought her breakfast for her help). You can bet mr. maven will pay me back for this. This unfortunately had to go onto my BECU credit card, until I have enough to pay it.

I’m pretty close to the edge with my finances right now. I pretty much have my paycheck fully spent and apportioned by the time I get it (including paying myself first into my mini-fund savings and debt payments), so I don’t often have a lot left over for additional spending. Thus, unexpected things like the dump fees go straight onto the credit card until my next paycheck. As long as it gets paid off before the next statement, there are no fees.

Ex mr. maven just got hired, yeah!!! He has a service job and will be making 15.50/hr…to start. Not bad! His expenses will be relatively low, plus he’s less than 5 miles from home, so his travel expenses will be low. They provide him a uniform, so no expensive suits. He will hopefully still pursue work in the legal field and continue to look for higher paying jobs. As he is able to pick and choose employment more easily than most places in the US (due to the oil boom there), he should continue to try and move up the payscale ladder! I fully expect him to repay me for the costs of getting rid of his garbage.

Ex-mr. maven also mentioned he wanted to pay me back for some of the missed expenses while we were living together. I can’t remember if I mentioned it, but the last 3-4 months of him living with me he paid at most $100 towards rent per month. It was a major sore point. Financial inequality like that really causes friction and resentment. It did little for our relationship, and we did have heated discussions more than once by the end of that time period (and just before he told me he was leaving). I won’t hold my breath, but I hope that he will at least give me $300 for the dump/uhaul.

Tonight, whoo hoo, I get the keys to my new apartment! I have already packed a bunch of stuff and will try and bring a car load of stuff every evening to reduce the difficulty of a) finding enough packing materials to do it in 1 go, b) lower the time/energy expenditure to carry ALL MY STUFF into the truck, IN ONE DAY, UP ONE FLIGHT OF STAIRS and c) reducing the time commitment of all the people who are offering to help so it’s not such an onerous activity. Plus, I’ve been having bad luck getting free supermarket fruit boxes, so I don’t have a ton to go around. I hope to unpack the boxes I bring over so I can reuse them. It may be a little challenging to put them places, when I don’t have furniture there yet, but there should be enough room to stash stuff/pile it, plus all the closets I have! Update: I’ve now hauled 2 car loads of stuff and the piles of stuff is a bit unnerving, but what else can I do? Most of my furniture won’t fit in my car! Plus I can’t move it myself, safely.

I have made a big pile of stuff to get rid of. Rather than put it in the dump or just take it straight to a donation truck, I want to try and recoup some money for having purchased all that crap in the beginning, or for my time and energy in cleaning up after mr. maven’s departure (a good portion is his!). So this weekend I’m having a yard sale. Rain or shine! After all, I have a covered back porch. I have been making signs to post, which take time, and I have to post photos and details to craigslist tonight. Since you only get 4 small images per post, I’m going to post a few times so people get a sense for what I have. Whatever doesn’t sell I will donate. I can bring most of it in a car to the donation truck, which sits every weekend, in a parking lot 3 miles from my house. There is a large piece of furniture I need to get rid of that I may not be able to sell. It’s too big for my car. That’s the only iffy part that I’m not looking forward to.

My company has a nice relationship with a local trucking company – we lease a fleet of trucks with them, so they know us and offer good discounts to employees on rental trucks (particularly for me, since I call them regularly!). Uhaul charges $30/day plus .99/mi mileage. Let’s just say that I am getting a screaming deal. They will let me rent, with a Friday pickup, for a whole weekend, for 1 day, $20, plus only .1/mile. I doubt it will cost more than $35, plus the cost of fuel. I will need to use the truck for a dump run/donating large bulky items that won’t fit in my car, if needed.

With all the stuff going on, moving, packing, planning, yard sale, organizing, did I mention packing? All by myself… well, let’s just say that I’m having difficulty focusing well on food and food preparation. My energy level is hit and miss, so I am not preparing food quite up to the standard I usually do. I bought lunch out today since I didn’t plan and make enough food for dinner and lunch. I expect this behavior to persist for the next 2 weeks. I’m not going to sweat it. If I eat out lunch 3+ days a week for 2 weeks, so be it. It’s good for my sanity, if a minor hit to my budget.

My finances are still haywire and probably won’t be normal until April. I still have expenses from January that will hit me in the February budget (since they are on my credit card, which delays payment by a month). I had to spend more on my deposit/first month rent. The total for that is $1270. Rent ($695), extra week of rent prorated ($175) for access in February, the storage space ($50), and my deposit ($350). Luckily I had already paid my last month’s rent for my current place in the beginning, so it wasn’t a double overlap of rent for 2 places at the same time, just a few hundred extra. I was able to cover it on one paycheck, but it didn’t leave much extra for anything else. I will have an additional truck rental for the move to pay for this month, too, and the $300 dump run fees from mr. maven – I will get that back, but it may be a month or two after I pay for it (to avoid credit card fees). In March, I won’t have rent to pay, so all my “rent” will go to debt (yeah!!!), so that will skew the March budget in a strange way. I’ll also get back some of my deposit from my current place by end of March, so that will be extra income. And I should get some snowball money from the yard sale next weekend. So you see, nothing will be right or normal until April.

Time for work…debtmaven out!



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2012 Budget

January 20, 2012 at 7:05 am (budget, Uncategorized)

Budgets are not static, they need to change based on job changes, life changes, shifting needs and wants, etc. I stopped budgetting for the second half of 2011, and due to a computer crash, lost my old budget, so I’m restarting from an older version that I had saved on my external hard drive. Not too much has changed, but I have made some tweaks. I’ll have to reevaluate my budget after February; I’ve just become single, which will drastically change some of my basic spending habits, and the beginning of January was not typical, as I made some additional purchases based on splitting up of household items between mr. maven and I. Here’s my current plan:

Paychecks: 2 per month, paid on the 5th & 20th, average of $1600/check, or $3200/month
Total pay can range between $3100-$3400/month based on overtime and actual hours worked.
My budget cycle starts on the 5th of every month (with my first paycheck).

Paycheck 1:
Rent: $895
Gym: $38
Mini-funds: car-$200, vacation-$100, xmas-$33, clothes-$70

* My timing belt needs to be changed in about 8k-20k miles, so I’m increasing my car fund from the previous $125-$150 I used to save, especially as it’s virtually empty right now. Cost will be about $850-$900.

Paycheck 2:
SBA autopay: $100
Car payment: $253
Internet: $65
Car insurance: $63
Gas (house): $75 (average)
Utilities (water or electric): $125 (average)
Netflix/Hulu: $18
Any additional payments to SBA/debt: $300 (hopefully)
Emergency fund: $100 (it’s currently at zero, will take all year to build up)

Spread evenly throughout the month:
Food/restaurants: $450 (pre mr. maven totals) – will need to reevaluate after February
Gas (car): $150
Coffee: $25
Liquor: $50
Stuff: $200 (this includes home purchases, health costs, entertainment, or photography/art expenses, art purchases, and misc. spending).

Any additional income I receive (gifts/tax refunds/etc) always get put towards debt.

It’s always difficult to wait weeks to pay debt, but since the majority of my first paycheck goes towards rent, I’ve had to shift the majority of my bill and debt payments to the second half of the month. Patience is a virtue, I just wish I had more of it!

I’m not too worried about having a fully depleted EF right now. My excellent bank (BECU) has a no-fee use of a personal loan if my checking account is overdrawn (if my EF is empty, which is my first-tier backup for overdraft protection). If used, I always make sure to fully pay it off the next paycheck (which is very rare). Again, at no cost other than interest.

In March, once I reevaluate this budget, I will post any final tweakings. Of course, if I end up moving, this will also change (for the better, since I’d be paying less in rent and utilities with my future roommate), but there will be additional deposits and moving expenses (local truck rental, dinner/beer for anyone helping) incurred.

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Changes I’m making for 2011

January 29, 2011 at 9:47 am (budget, goals, paycheck)

I made a decision about a year ago that I wanted to increase my 401K contributions. But how to do that while focusing primarily on debt repayment? Well, I came to a compromise. Every year, I would increase my 401K contribution by 1%. I figured that that should be either equal or less than any raise I might get, or if I didn’t get one, I’d not really notice the $500/year reduction in my paycheck, which is what I calculated what 1% is equal to. So on Dec. 30 I changed my contribution from 4% to 5%. So far so good.

Then came the news that I got a $1 raise, quite unexpectedly! Then I heard about the payroll deduction changes in social security taxes. I had heard about it, but it wasn’t until I looked over my first paycheck of 2011 that I saw it made a big different. That means that I’ve gotten a 6.5% raise this year between both income changes. I thought about it a while, and decided that I’d increase my contribution up to 6%. While I could go higher, I have some other immediate goals I also want to contribute to.

Debt repayment is still my main, primary focus right now. But I am also making a big investment in my health this year, which by happenstance, started at the new year, but is not really a resolution. It’s been building for a while, and after I finally got healthy after some lengthy nasty winter colds, I started returning to the gym (for which I have been paying and not using since last summer!!! Boo.). I started cooking almost every meal at home (no more restaurant spending! yeah! or at least, much less). I started bringing all food to work for lunch (no more lunches out, yeah! much cheaper!). But I also need some additional clothes and shoes, and such. That’s going to be hard to maintain my clothes fund at $50/month if I have to get sneakers and additional (and highly expensive) workout clothes. Wicking undees, $15/pair! Good quality no-bounce bras ($50+). New sneakers every couple of months $100-$125/pair! Plus, I have committed to going out on regular outdoor excursions. Snowshoeing and hiking at least 2-3 times/month. That’s a lot of gas to drive 2 hours into the mountains. Plus some additional gear. I need a new waterproof backpack (my $10 pack from target is fine for the gym, but not for putting on the snow when I take break snowshoeing and need to eat my lunch!!!). An annual forest pass, $35. Mount Rainier annual pass, $40.

I have already realized that I also want to start a trip fund. No, I don’t have plans for a big extensive trip to Hawaii or Europe or anything like that (at least for now!), but I do want to do an extended driving/hiking trip this summer. Extra gas, maybe a motel room? Or maybe going up to Whistler in Canada for a snowshoeing trip with a girlfriend. Fitness based, and relatively local, but with a tight budget, there’s not much room for extra $200+ expenses! And J wants to go visit his family in N. Dakota this fall, and have us do a driving trip out there. All this means more money. So I’ve decided to start a $50/month trip fund. And that may be too low, maybe $75? This should alleviate some large unaccounted expenses that occur for me. And with all the changes to my salary due to the above reasons, I have enough to cover it without having any overt changes to my budget!

I am also happy to report that I have maintained my goal to pay $750 per month, instead of the $600 I had been averaging last year. It was less difficult and more realistic than I had expected it to be! I am being way more frugal than I had been, but I’m still able to do the things I want, just a little less so. I’ve reviewed my spending habits and have recalculated my debt free date to be November 2013!

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Budget check in

January 23, 2011 at 1:45 pm (budget)

So I’ve made it halfway through month 1 of my austerity budget. Let’s see how I’m progressing…

I’ve budgetted pretty narowly this month, and really minimized all expenses except for food. I’m having difficulty sticking to $75/week, which I had wondered about. I already know I will have to increase my food budget some next month. Also, after checking two or three times, and calculating what else I’ll be spending money on, I realized I had plenty of money to pay a fat amount towards debt, so I paid $750 immediately after depositing my paycheck. I think the $750 I had calculated that I needed to pay to make my lofty $10,000 paid in 2011  is actually achievable! I think I may even be able to put a little extra towards debt by the end of the month.

Looking forward, I expect I have about $680 – $850 left in expenses for the month. I have $675 left in my checking account. I have about $450 so or incoming from J for his portion of rent. I should be able to fund some towards my emergency fund, and still put a little extra towards debt!

I’m even estimating that I may be able to pay an additional $150-$250  towards debt, making my total debt payments $1,000 (over and after the minimum payments). Wow. This is fabulous and definitely a testament to my holding the line and being conservative with spending. But it also makes me wonder how frivolous I must have been being in the last 6 months to never be able to pay more than $600/month previously…

I’ve also noted that I’ve already spent $120 on gas, and there’s 12 more days to go. I know I’ll be getting at least 1 more tank of gas $40-$45. I think I’m going to have to up my gas spending. It’s unfortunate to have such bad mileage for my truck, since I use it mostly for commuting. I’m definitely going to look at a better mileage vehicle in a few years, when I look for a new vehicle.

I’m doing amazingly well with restaurant spending. I think not going to my cafe on Thursdays for dinner before I work in the photo lab where I volunteer has helped a lot ($20/week = $80/month!). Instead I’ve been bringing extra food, either a sandwich, or leftover soup/stew. So far so good, plus it’s much more in line with my healthier eating goals.

I’ve been struggling alot with clothes spending. It’s not that I’m a clothes horse, to the contrary! Instead, I have recently started up 2 new activities, snoeshoeing and significant exercising (5x/week at least), and while I have most of the clothes I need, I’ve had to buy more for both. It’s been tough budgetting a minimal amount and knowing I already have next month’s budget spent/planned. And I’m going to have to get a new pair of running shoes in April, $100, that’s 2 month’s budget. Ugh. Well, any extra will come out of my $250 discretionary spending, and unfortunately, if I use it, that’s less to put into my emergency fund. (I mentioned in a previous post that I am going to build it back up from zero with anything unspent in this category, and only from this category).

I’ve been spending very little on alcohol, but what I do have budgetted, is going faster than it should since J is drinking some, making it not last a month, which it is supposed to! Argh, but then, when I feel the urge to have a tiny glass of red wine, he is very kind to offer all the time (after I don’t contribute $ and after stating that I wasn’t going to drink regularly). So I guess I can’t complain!

I also realize that I should probably make a health fund for my gym membership ($40/month). Plus I need to be doing vitamins, and good quality ones are super expensive. I should do $60/month and add that.

So right now, I expect the following changes to occur for next month:
Food + Restaurant $450 (instead of $300/food + $100/restaurant)
Health: $60/month (to be added)
Alcohol: $35/month (what I get is actually more than $30, so I’ll increase it $5/month)
Gas: $175 (up from $150, just in case)

I also know I need to start saving up some money for summer trips. While I am committed to not going on vacations, I know I may do some big road trips for hiking/photography/etc. Gas will be a big expense, and some motel spending. I think I may start this fund soon, but I am going to wait until I have fully paid off my BECU Visa (next month!!!) and start on my final debt, the big $27,700 SBA loan. I think I’ll do $50/month on this when I do start it, maybe in March?

So, I am doing pretty well, but there’s some tweaking I need to do to bring some things up to realistic amounts (when I can’t really control the spending, like gas, driving to work and the grocery store). I do really like having a few funds that I don’t regularly use combined into one big lump category: entertainment, photo/art, home, health, emergency fund, and the discretionary/extra category. I’ve been putting wierd small spending into this category, like if i have to pay for parking.  So overall, I’m pleased with my planning and how austere I’ve been. Budgetting is often a work in progress.

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Budget/spending ramblings

January 11, 2011 at 4:01 pm (bringing lunch, budget)

I’m sticking extremely well to my austerity budget. I’ve managed to bring lunch every day now, and the rest of the week continues to look good. I ran out of sandwich meat today, and didn’t have enough time to finish cooking my big pot o’ soup last night (it’s been a while since I cooked chick peas from scratch), so had to pick up some deli meat this morning, but it was the only thing that I bought! I may  have to go buy a loaf of bread later this week, but I think we’re set, food-wise, until the weekend.

We do have a trip to Costco to plan, and those are always budget busters, but I may manage to get out of there with only $40 in spending, I hope. We’re pretty well stocked up on stuff right now.

I’ve paid the first half of the month’s bills (mostly the mini-funds and rent), and it appears I have a little extra available, so I’m going to make an early payment of $200 towards the BECU credit card. Then I’ll be really tight on spending until next payday on the 20th.

I had a great overtime opportunity this morning. I had to go in to work at 4 am, so while I am quite exhausted right now, I was able to log an additional 4 hours of doubletime in addition to my normal day. Good thing too! The next paycheck will be pretty skimpy – only 10 days, and a lot of those are shortened days, since I was sick for several of them with a nasty cold (#2 if you’re counting!!! Grrrr), and then left early/came in late often since there’s not a ton to do at work! I’m extrapolating that this coming paycheck will be at least $100-$200 less than usual, even with the doubletime!!

Still haven’t eaten out yet this month, but I may break down and get something on Thursdays. While I would normally go to this really cool French café, I don’t know that I want to spend $20 on a meal by myself (and I typically do this every Thursday as I need to eat something before working at my volunteer job from 5:30 to 10). I don’t know that I can prepare 2 meals to bring to work that day, and not get totally sick of the same sandwich/apple slices/bag of nuts/kasha bar combination. And then it struck me – there’s a Subway a block away. I can both get something healthy, AND budget-friendly. Way to go diet/debtmaven! See, it all comes down to planning.

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

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Still on budget, despite temptations

January 9, 2011 at 10:23 am (budget)

Here’s my post-shopping report from the big sale at Macy’s: I only bought 2 xmas ornamens for $5, and that’s it! I went back and canvased all clothes racks, making sure to only look at them if they had signs advertising 60% off, or higher. I tried on a bunch of items, but to be honest, didn’t find anything I had to have. I did find one really awesome top, but it was $23, and I decided I can wait until it goes down more (if it does). It wasn’t cheap enough, so I did not buy it.

Then I was starving, even after having had a big smoothie for breakfast, so I found the lowest calorie item to eat, a red mango non-fat frozen yogurt, small, with strawberries. Hideously expensive, over $4. Including tax, $10 at the mall isn’t that bad. I got out without losing my shirt tails.

We went food shopping Friday and did really well – I only spent $50, and that only included 1 bottle of wine. J wanted to go to Safeway and get a 6-pack of wine to get the 10% discount (he finally realized that it was worth the extra discount to buy in bulk, and I’ve only been telling him to do that for all of 2010! So now he does it when I am not participating in the purchase or drinking of it, d’oh!). So last night after dinner, we went and I got my 16 grapefruits (they were $.59 each!!!!) to make fresh-squeezed grapefruit/orange juice (now I have to find good cheap oranges) and a few sundries for $12 and he got his $38 of alcohol. I didn’t pay for any of it, whoo hoo. How amazing. And since I didn’t contribute, I feel extra vigilant in not wanting to drink it, so I shall not (as I am in dietmaven mode).

I can spend about $75/week on groceries according to my budget. I’ve spent $62. I still want to go to QFC  – they have a sale on my favorite bars, cliff’s mojo (I get the mixed nut, and they have pretzels in them!!!!) – they are savory, salty with only a hint of sweetness. I hate the all-fruit bars, or the ones drenched in chocolate coatings. They have ’em for $1/ each, so I wanted to get a whole bundle, enough for quite a while. I may get $20 or $30 and go over the week’s budget, but it would be cheaper in the long run, to get a month’s worth all at one time.

Not bad, a few days into the new budget. I’m hyper-focused on it since it’s new and I’m in frugalista mode, so it will be interesting to see how it goes the rest of the month. Normally I’m not much of a budget-stickler, but you have to start controlled in the beginning before loosening up (experience comes with practice).

So far so good!

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Revamping the budget: austerity edition!

January 6, 2011 at 10:23 am (budget)

Last night, the first time in 8 months, I opened up my budget spreadsheet. I figured, no better way to be extra frugal these next few months than to actually track my spending and pay attention to every last dollar. This was also a good opportunity to revamp the budget and make some hard decisions on where to spend my money and what to whittle down.

My goal? SPEND LESS. Seems simple, but that means tightening the belt when those little desires creep up. The kind that tells you how tired you are in the evening, and why not just go out for happy hour down the street and let them cook for you? $15-$20 later, not so happy. The kind that says in mid-afternoon at work, my, wouldn’t it be nice to get some fresh air for 5 minutes and go to the espresso stand and get a hot chocolate/mocha as a pick me up? That is the dark side and I am feeling virtuous.

Plus, I really really need to pay more debt. I’ve been slacking and getting lazy, and getting too comfortable with the smaller luxuries. Time to change that for a while. Time to focus on the important goals and accomplish things and be proactive not reactive!

So, today I present you with… my budget!

Category 2010 2011
Food $300 $300
Restaurant $150 $100
Gas $110 $150
Bills $1,200 $1,130
Credit Payments $400 $155
Pets $100 $90
Coffee $35 $20
Liquor $50 $30
Entertainment $25 $0
Photo $40 $0
Clothes $70 $50
Fees/Subscriptions $25 $0
Home $25 $0
Car $100 $150
Gifts $50 $50
Health $100 $0
Xtra $115 $250
Total Budget $2,745 $2,450
Income $3,400

Food/Restaurants: I have habitually been over in restaurant spending, but going forward that will change. I can’t afford it. Simple as that. As for food, I often spend more than I budget on grocery spending. Partially that is because of buying wine at the store, about a bottle every trip. At $6-7 each, that adds up! Hopefully eating at home more often and making lunches won’t make this go up. I’ll be closely monitoring this in the next few weeks and see if it needs to be tweaked further.

Credit: At the start of 2010 I had a variety of minimum interest payments to make. Having paid several off completely, I now only have 2: $50 to my BECU credit card, and $115 to my SBA loan. In a few months, hopefully by April, the BECU credit card should be paid off and I will be down to $115 with my SBA, and then that should begin to decrease every month as I pay that loan off.

Coffee: Hopefully I will spend less than I’ve budgetted. $20 comes out to about 5 luxury drinks (grande mocha is my drink of choice). I can avoid having more than 1 a week, I think, particularly while I’m in dietmaven mode! However, when I do go to B&N to hang out and read, particularly since it is immediately adjacent to my gym and I am going there at least 4 times per week, I will need to get something to hang out in their chairs. A $1.50 cup of tea should be more than fine, and I’d need to go a lot to spend $20!!

Gas: Gas is more expensive. Simple as that. Plus, I know I’ll be spending a lot more money driving on trips – this past summer I went hiking every weekend with my girlfriend (March – August), and driving 50-100 miles away uses a lot of gas in my truck! Even if we alternate driving, it adds up. So I increased the budget since this is more a healthy necessity for me rather than a luxury. Now that I have a brand new pair of snowshoes, I expect that driving to be year round (why let snow stop me?)!

Bills: I no longer pay for a cellphone since I gave it to J to use and pay for. However, the utility bills have finally started arriving and boy is that expensive! $895 rent, $65 internet, $110 for water/sewer/garbage, $60 for gas (average, may be higher in winter, $10 in summer).

Liquor: Buying less, ’nuff said.

Entertainment/Photo/Fees/Home/Health: I decided that these were wierd semi-used categories, and made them all $0. Instead, I put them into my “Extra” budget to cover any and all sundry things that I may do in a given month. If I go to a movie (usually ’bout once ever 5 months). Photo is for costs of printing my photography, or framing work, or matting, or buying art supplies – I want to start making encaustic artwork for shows and to sell on Etsy. It ain’t cheap, but I don’t always do it, or at least don’t do it much. Fees? Tickets, subscription costs, etc. I rarely have this, so it’s a maybe cost. Home. I don’t really need any new baking, cooking equipment, curtains, or such, or at least often. Health. I was gong to save $100/month last year, to pay for copays, etc, and I didn’t go to the doctor or the dentist. I need to start going and when I do, it will be expensive, so I decided to do zero for now. Instead, I am budgetting $250/month for all of the above items. If I use it, fine. If I don’t, it will go into my emergency fund. Currently it is at zero. Yes. Zero.

Clothes: I bought a lot of useable clothes in 2010, bring my wardrobe from uber minimal to having enough variety to be comfortable, without being extravagant. I often went over budget, but not by much. But this year I think I have enough to tide me over. I don’t need extra pants this winter. I have plenty of workout clothes. I have new shoes and sneakers and hiking boots and snowshoes. I do need to buy some bras this month, and a winter hiking pant, and more new socks, but I can get any extras at the thrift store. I had some good hauls last time I went, so will just have to continue not shopping at department stores. Doubt that will be much of a problem this year.

Vehicle: I have continually maxed out my vehicle fund when big things happen to my truck. I decided to kick up my contributions to this mini-fund so I don’t have to dip into my EF or my debt payments. My truck is at 170K miles. It now has a new clutch. I don’t think I’m quite ready for a new vehicle, but about the time my debt is paid off, I will need to consider saving up for a new vehicle. So in 2 or so years I will probably have to put int $300-$500/month. But not yet.

Gifts: I’ve found that $50/month seems to be about the right amount. I can be a little extravagant during xmas and get gifts for all my close friends. I haven’t been buying gifts for my family 3,000 miles away, but that’s ok, I don’t think they need anything and we’re not all that close. There’s also enough here for the odd birthday gift.

Savings/mini-funds: Until I get back on course, I will need to beef up my emergency fund back to $1,000. That will take some doing. For right now, I will put whatever extra is unspent in any category into the EF, before I apply anything to debt. I plan on being uber-frugal, so that should be ok. I should be able to get $100-$150 in this month at least. I have decided to not contribute anything more to my kitten fund, for now. I know vet bills can be super high if something catastrophic happens, but I need to beef up other things first. Plus, $750 is pretty good to have already! Vehicle fund, need to beef it up starting now, and get some tires pretty darn soon (as I mentioned previously, I may wait until Feb or so to get them, to the tune of about $200 for 2). Savings vs. payment debt, it’s always a struggle to decide which one is more important.

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I’m back, plus a few updates

April 17, 2010 at 8:57 am (budget, credit cards, mr. maven, work) ()

Well, my angry financial episode is mostly behind me and now I’m just picking up the pieces and moving on. I’ve been sticking to my budget, with a few budget busters that I’m paying off this month on my credit card (to keep up my 100% payoff every month on new debt): some majorly expensive garden supplies to get our newly built beds up and running. I’m also getting $300 from J towards rent, down from $450 – he’s able to still contribute, though in a smaller capacity since his unemployment income is much less than when he was employed.

Let’s see, what else is new?

Car Insurance
My next year’s policy is about to start. I’m going to change it to be a monthly automatic withdrawal from my checking account – no extra fees for this, but I won’t have the last 3 months with no payments due either. My overall car insurance budget will decrease from $90 to $66. This will start in May.

US Bank Credit Card
My 0% offer ends at the end of May. The new rate will be about 12-13%. I’m going to transfer about $1,500 to my SBA and max that out (since it has the smallest interest rate of any of my debts), and place the remainder into my personal line of credit, about $4,000. The line of credit has 10% interest. I’ll then be down to 2 debts, and my focus will be on the line of credit until that is paid off.

No More Balance Transfer Credit Cards
I decided that I’d like to keep things s imple. I’m not going to go after any more 0% offers right now and rather focus on getting all my debt down to just the SBA loan. I may, however, open a credit card with my credit union – I’m going to be losing my oldest credit card in the next year due to my opting out of a credit hike, and I’d like to open one I expect I’ll be using more longer-term to replace it. Not sure when I’ll do so, maybe in the next month. If anyone has an opinions on this?

Job Furlough
I’ll do a separate post about this, but my required alternate Fridays off is about to end (next Friday may be my last Friday off), and it has nothing to do with the economy!

Mini-Fund Savings
I’ve continued to put money away for those bigger expenses while my debt payoff has slowed down. I’m on track for christmas spending, car repairs, clothes (I expect I’ll be using a big chunk as we get in to summer – I will need a $130 pair of summer sandals). I just hit my $500 goal for the kittens and I’m reconsidering if I should just keep contributing. Who knows what will happen down the road, big accident/surgery/medical care. $500 is not that much, not when we have 2 cats and twice the risk. They are not even 2 yet. Maybe I should stop and focus on debt, and recontribute when the debt is gone? I’m not sure. I’m not sure what to do with my health/medical fund. I think of it as the lowest priority, and with my income being reduced right now on 2 fronts (J’s contributions and my reduced hours), I have elected to stop contributions until one or both change.

Anyway, I hope to start plugging away in a higher capacity with my debt payments this month going forward. It’s looking better than it was a month ago, now that things are settling in to a routine and I’m getting some money from J, less than before his layoff, but more than I had expected he’d give me. In response to that, my outgoing expenses are fluctuating a little, up in some categories (groceries, gas), and down in others (coffee, liquor, restaurant, entertainment).

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