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Stockpiling to save time, not necessarily money

March 29th, 2009 at 01:53 am

All of a sudden, I'm finding myself buying in bulk, in a big way. I'd love to have a year's supply of whatever is practical. Two things spurred me to do this--

1) My mother casually mentioned how her friend buys blueberries in season and freezes a whole year's supply. It reminded me of how I like to buy a big carton of red-skinned sweet potatoes in the fall, and eat them all year. It's nice to know they're there, and that I don't have to run up to the farm market every few weeks. And I don't have to think about them every time I make a shopping list.

2) I had another scare this past week with my mother--nothing serious, but something that's going to take extra time again, taking her to doctors and such. Something is always coming up. I just can't devote that much time to grocery shopping. Many weeks I only have a few hours to myself, and I'll be darned if I'm going to spend them all looking at circulars, sorting coupons and running to sales.

So I'm starting to think big. So far, I've ordered some stuff on Amazon and joined BJ's Warehouse (like Sam's or Costco, but a smaller chain). I'm going ahead and spending like crazy, but at least I'm using my price book. My goals is to get stocked up as much as possible while on a vacation week, and then try to relax and enjoy my spring and summer as much as possible. It's throwing any concept of a weekly grocery budget out the window, but I think it'll be worth it.


Of Memory Banks and Banking Memories

December 19th, 2007 at 02:57 pm

I've been a Quicken enthusiast for 15 years, but I'm getting very close to giving up on it. Working on this blog entry has been a way to think it through...

128 MB. That's how much memory my computer has--and that was supposed to be the minimum requirement for running Quicken 2008 Deluxe. Well, actually running turned out to be an exaggeration--limping, crawling, or stumbling maybe. (FYI--I started using Quicken on my first computer, back in 1992. That old Quicken version had all the features I needed and worked just fine on 4 MB.)

I decided I was willing to live with the slowness and the quirks because I really wanted to play with the Savings Goal feature. But after installing a security update, it got even worse--now it won't open up and run at all.

I've put in many hours of troubleshooting already, and have another list of things to try from my new email friend, seemingly located in India. Why did I start using it in the first place, what problems did it solve, and do I still need it now? Is it worth putting in even more time trying to get it to work?

Era # 1 - No need for Quicken. Or even a calculator!

In high school and college, my finances were simple. I used a passbook savings account, a Christmas Club, and cash. With passbook savings accounts, you could see exactly what was in your account at any time by looking in the book. With the Christmas Club, you also knew exactly where you stood at all times. You could tell the balance by the number of coupons that were already taken out. And the bank always had a little display out showing what week the Club was on. If it was Week 10 and you were only paid up to Week 8, you knew you had some catching up to do.

Note, the bank provided the only tracking tools I needed.


Era # 2 - Chaos

For roughly 15 years, maybe 1977 to 1992, I could have used something like Quicken if it had existed and if I'd had a computer. I started to keep a checking account, started opening charge accounts and credit cards, and bought some savings bonds. The passbook savings accounts started to disappear, replaced by Statement Savings. The Christmas Club books started to disappear, and now worked like Statement Savings. Note the key here is the word Statement. Without the passbooks and coupon books, I now had to keep track on my own, between statements.

My tracking tools were a paper check register, deposit receipts, a pencil, and a calculator. Eventually I added two more tools--duplicate checks, and teller-provided printouts of recent transactions. They both helped me catch things I forgot to record in the register. My writing is rather large, and I've always had trouble writing in check registers. And even with a calculator I had a terrible time balancing the checkbook when the statement came. I really had no system at all for keeping track of credit card balances.

The first years DH and I were married, we lurched from one financial crisis to the next. It got so bad I was getting cash advances on one credit card to pay the minimum payment on another one. Low income, overspending, and chaotic record keeping all contributed. If payday loans had been invented yet, we might have been sucked into that. My best AND my worst purchase back then might have been that first computer I bought--for $2,000, financed on our Sears card.


Erica # 3 - Golden Age of Quicken

For the next 15 years, 1992 to 2007, I really came to rely on Quicken. It came on that first computer, so I gave it a try. It was intimidating, but the first time I went through the checkbook balancing process with it, I was sold. SO much better than doing it on paper. It seemed like a miracle. I really got into setting up categories and classes and fiddling with the budget feature.

Our financial life got more complicated. Credit union account with several subaccounts, IRAs, stock DRIP plans, more savings bonds. I opened even more credit cards for bonuses and 0% offers. I bought gift cards at a discount and had to track the remaining balances. I started selling books online, and tracked all the business income and expenses in Quicken, too.

But even with all that tracking, we've still had more unpleasant financial surprises than I would have liked--mostly due to counting on Quicken's budget feature. As I've written before, it doesn't take into account the timing of paychecks and bills. It will indicate a surplus for an upcoming month overall, without warning you that you'll go negative for a day because a big bill is due just before a paycheck. It gave me a false sense of security about spending money. So I'm no longer using it for budgeting, and I've spent a lot of time entering expected transactions months in advance, just so I can make sure we won't be going into the red at any point.

And I think our finances got so complicated partly BECAUSE of Quicken. If I'd had to deal with it all on paper, I would have kept things simpler. It seemed so easy to just keep adding accounts and categories in Quicken, til it suddenly became overwhelming.

Lately I've streamlined things. I don't have the bookselling business anymore. We don't own stocks outside of our IRAs. I'm not doing the gift card thing. Practically every transaction in and out of our accounts is predictible, if not automated. Direct deposit of paychecks, automatic transfers to savings, automatic bill payment. We still have two credit cards, but hardly ever use them. I'm trying to use cash instead of the debit card whenever possible.

There just isn't as much to track. And once again, the bank is providing the main tool I need--not in the form of passbooks and coupon books, but through online banking. Maintaining a complete written or Quicken register on my own between monthly statements just isn't as important. The headache of reconciling the account once a month when the statement comes isn't really necessary if I've been keeping up with things online.

The way I'm feeling now is, the computer is a great tool for managing finances. I wouldn't want to go back to pencil and paper. But maybe Quicken was only necessary during that period where banks were pretty much leaving us on our own, without the tools to track thngs between statements. Now with online banking, maybe the Quicken era is ending. I'm pretty sure it is for me.

Taking things one day at a time

October 20th, 2007 at 03:29 pm

It's been three weeks since DH left his job, and he's starting to get cabin fever. He's ready to start looking, but frankly the way things are right now it's good he's still off.

Monday our dog is having surgery to check out a tumor on her face. The vet thinks it's different from the supposedly harmless lipomas she's had elsewhere on her body. They have to put her under to even do a careful exam and biopsy, because she's not the most laid-back of patients. We can't just let it go because it was getting oozy and ugly-looking.

If this is the beginning of the end, I'm sure DH will feel better being able to give her plenty of quality time while he's still home. She's his baby. Even if all she needs is some after-surgery care, it will still be a big help having him home, as I've been working extra hours.

We've also had things come up like one of us having to be here while a new water meter is installed, car repairs, getting to the bank about a matured CD, navigating through the COBRA insurance maze. It's all been easier to manage because he's been home and carrying some of the load.

I'm starting to have this feeling that maybe things are going just as they should be, even if it's uncomfortable for both of us right now. Except for the vet bills, our income and outgo through December is pretty predictable, so there's no use spending time on obsessing over money right at the moment. All we can really do is get through each new thing as it comes along.

FUD

July 27th, 2007 at 12:53 pm

That would be Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. Wikipedia says it's an advertising term, but what I'm feeling is about DH's job and our finances.

His company has been sold, and so far DH and his coworkers have good feelings about the change. They are encouraging all employees to stay, and they have more generous sick and vacation policies. However, I'm antsy to know what the health insurance situation is going to be.

They have several Blue Cross plans to choose from, but not the cheap High Deductible/Health Savings Plan combo we have now. DH has no idea yet whether it's fully paid for by the company, or whether he has to kick in, and how much.

We could be looking at substantially higher or lower take-home pay. It could mean moving ahead on goals faster than we'd thought, or having to cut our Emergency Fund and New Car Fund savings down to a trickle. As it is, we really need to buy some life insurance on him, as the new company-provided policy will be half what it was.

I'm glad it looks like he still has a job. I'm glad we have no cc debt left. I'm glad we have enough in the HSA to cover the dental work DH is in the middle of. But I still can't help being nervous!

Getting sloppy, sliding back

May 31st, 2007 at 02:10 pm

Yikes, it didn't take long.

I stopped doing my 4-week reports here after February. Thought I didn't need them anymore, and was tired of the tedious work involved.

I stopped recording what I was spending out of Cash, figured I'd just chalk it all up to Everyday Expenses.

Life's been getting busier, and I started using the Discover card when I wasn't sure exactly how much was in checking. Rather than stopping to check, I charged things rather than risk having a debit purchase turned down. (Also I was lured by the cash-back rewards.)

Gas prices have gone up, and I haven't revised the rest of my budget to make up for it.

I've been buying special foods for myself to help with The Diet--but honestly, many of them have been luxury items I could do without and still eat healthily.

So, now I've got $135 on Discover from overspending on groceries that I can't just pay off. It's either pay it off over the next 3 weeks, or just don't eat this week! I know it's a tiny balance, but it's a Red Flag, for sure.

When will I ever learn?


Getting back on the wagon

April 15th, 2007 at 12:38 am

For the first time in a long time, I managed to get through a whole work week without hitting the vending machine, or picking up coffee at Wawa!

I switched our cell phones to 18 cents a minute all the time on Virgin Mobile. Our original plan was 25 cents a minute for so many minutes a day, then the price per minute went down. But our calls are usually very short, so we never got the lower price.

I made the extra trip to Pathmark this week, as they had some things on sale cheaper than Wal-Mart. I made the effort to get rain checks on things they were out of. I also asked at Wal-Mart about their price matching policy.

I've been taking out $100 a week in cash to try and get used to using it for groceries and such. I want to see if it really does cause me to spend less than when I use debit or credit cards.

Why? I want to find some extra money for fun stuff. I can't get psyched to find extra money for savings, but spring clothes and plants seem to be a powerful motivator!

A new pet expense

January 25th, 2007 at 06:22 pm

Our dog (11 1/2 years old) is on a new arthritis regimen--Previcox pills that cost $2.50 a piece, special food that costs 2x as much as Purina One, and we're supposed to be starting her on glucosamine as well. But wow, what a difference!

The week before her last vet visit, she had stopped even trying to go upstairs with us to bed. The 2nd day of the pills, she was racing up like a puppy again. Instead of us coaxing her to try and play, she's back to demanding attention after breakfast every morning.

So it's definitely worthwhile--but it will take some working around. It may come to as much as $900 a year! Hopefully, as the food and glucosamine kick in, we'll be able to discontinue the prescription. (She's already down to taking it every other day.)

I think we can still pay for the pet food out of the regular Everyday Expenses account, it will just take a little more adjusting on other groceries and take-out.

The prescription and glucosamine will have to come out of our Discretionary account, reducing the amount we'll be able to spend on entertainment, clothes and other extras. This is where the Snowmint envelope budget software I got is going to come in very handy. It's already forced me to see that the Philly flower show and the King Tut exhibit are way beyond our budget at this point. I don't mind, under the circumstances, and I'm really, really glad to be able to SEE it in time.

2007 Goals

December 31st, 2006 at 09:55 pm

I've been thinking about this for awhile, and already have some things set up so I won't have to pay much attention to them.

1) Save up enough by the fall to pay our next car insurance bill in full. We're still paying the current installments, plus I have monthly transfers set up to an ING account.

2) Save toward replacing one of the cars. I have a $300 monthly transfer set up for that.

3) Get the maximum match on DH's 401K. We already turned in the form so his contribution will be 7%, plus a 3% match. (They only match 50%, and only up to 6%).

This is where it gets tricky. The Dave Ramseyites over on another site say that his Step 3 Fully Funded Emergency Fund isn't for things like car repairs. Once you get stabilized and debt-free, you are supposed to budget for those things, and only use the Emergency Fund for something really big like extended unemployment.

So, my original (baby) Emergency Fund account is now for car and house repairs, and based on last year, $4000 will be going in and back out of there in 2007.

I want to try and build up 3 to 6 months worth of expenses in paper I-bonds as the Step 3 FFEF. But there's no money left in the budget. So what I'll really have to work at this year is finding the money to fund it.

I also have one big Not To Do for the year: The only way I'm going to get involved in rebates, trial offers, test drives or surveys is if I'm completely caught up on the rest of my life. Since I always seem to be behind on housekeeping, exercising, food prep, paperwork and reading--I kind of think the "deals" just aren't going to be happening this year!

Chomping at the bit

December 6th, 2006 at 05:03 pm

I seem to be obsessed lately with reorganizing my system for the new year. I can't seem to concentrate on much else til I make some decisions.

Today's decision, Netbank must go. It was nice to get the $165 in bonuses, but as an ongoing thing it just isn't working. This morning I researched some local banks to see where I might want to move my Discretionary Spending checking account. I think I can get the account opened and direct deposit from my paycheck set up by the end of the week.

FYI - My objections to Netbank.

First, to get paper statements in the mail, they charge you a fee. I really need automatically-mailed paper statements so DH can see what's going on if something happens to me. But I'm darned if I'm gong to pay extra for them.

Second, it's not easy getting money into the account. There are no local branches. And, they don't set up links to other institutions like they do at ING, Paypal and Schwab. You have to give them the sign-on and password to your other accounts' online banking systems. Nobody else asks for that, I'm not comfortable with it, and I'm just not doing it.

I've thought about and tried a couple of different work-arounds, but I'm tired of the hassle. I'd just rather use a normal bank that sends out statements, and where I feel comfortable enough about staying for the long haul to set up direct deposits from my paycheck.

Making up credit card rules for myself

December 4th, 2006 at 03:47 pm

I just looked over the old credit card transactions in Quicken, to see exactly we've been charging since I started here, May of 2005. Unfortunately, I don't have a record of how we built up a balance of $4185 by that point! But it does give me an idea of how much I can cut down on cc usage, and hopefully keep out of trouble better.

Two big reasons for using the cc's have gone away. First, Citi's rewards were cut back. Second, the Dealpass gift card programs seem to be going kaput. Somewhere I read that they only took credit cards, not debit cards, and I never wanted to take the chance.

So the good reasons I have left for using them occasionally are:

Discover pays back 5% on car-related expenses.

If I'm doing trial offers, it helps to have extra cc account numbers to use.

If I'm buying something electronic that might fail, the Sony card doubles the warranty.

Sometimes there's a special discount you can only get if you use a specific card. I've taken advantage of this with Kohl's, Mastercard and Discover.

DMom doesn't like credit or debit cards, and doesn't want one of her own. But she's perfectly happy to have me order things for her online with my cards! If buying something like her computer would leave me strapped until she reimburses me, it seems reasonable to put it on a cc.

If I'm buying something from an unfamiliar place, and think I might have trouble with the order. I've been happy with the way Citi handles chargebacks (have done it twice.)

Then there's always the possibility of a new-account bonus offer that you don't get until after your first purchase.

Virtually everything else (95%) that I've used cc's for lately could have been handled with debit cards or checks, so long as enough money was in our checking accounts. And except for some car repair emergencies, if there wasn't money sitting there I shouldn't have bought the stuff anyway!





OMG, the extra hours start now!

October 17th, 2006 at 01:54 am

I haven't gotten my mind around it yet, but I'll be glad to see some additional money coming in sooner than I'd thought.

First item of business: pay the &#@%$^ credit card off by the end of the year, as originally planned, instead of stretching it out to the end of the 0% period in March.

I'll have to do some number-crunching again; I want to try and fit within the All Your Worth recommendations. But tentatively our plans include upping DH's 401K contribution and me rejoining the gym.





A $2 increase, I can live with! :)

September 27th, 2006 at 04:26 pm

As usual, I quickly got hot under the collar and prepared for a catastrophe when there was a logical explanation and an easy fix.

The CSR at the natural gas company said the computer's automatic adjustment of our equal payment plan was faulty due to an estimated bill last winter. The estimate was way higher than our actual use, and although it was later manually fixed, the high figure was used to figure the new monthly payments.

So our new equal payment plan is $160, $2 a month higher than it was. Crisis averted!

Decisions regarding natural gas--what do you think?

September 26th, 2006 at 03:20 pm

I ended up with a $20 credit at the end of my budget-billing year for natural gas. And there are articles out there like this, which say natural gas prices are trending downward. www.usatoday.com/money/industries/energy/2006-09-12-gas-pric...

Yet, our natural gas company wants to increase our budget billing by $53 a month!

I'm definitely going to call and try to bring that figure down. But there's a second issue.

They have a 3rd party supplier who will give you a locked in price through October 2007. The price is about 7% higher than what's on our latest bill. If the prices actually go down, I will have been a fool for locking in.

OTOH, I can look back and see that on our worst (highest use) month ever, their higher lock-in price would only cost us $24 more than it would be at the current rate. Which makes it really obvious how ridiculous it is having to pay $53 more a month all year round.

So, I could just dispute the budget billing increase. I could lock in the higher rate, and feel more confident about disputing the budget billing increase. I could take my chances that prices will actually be lower this winter, and pay as I go instead of using the even-payment thing. That way I wouldn't be lending them money interest-free. OTOH, if prices go up and it's a cold winter, we could be hit with some really high bills.

Any thoughts?

Spending money on techy stuff

September 16th, 2006 at 02:51 am

I kind of feel like I need to write a confessional. OTOH, I've decided that's silly.

OK, I've just spent $48 on a scanner, I've signed up for Verizon's voicemail again for an extra $6 a month, and I've decided to pay the $30 for Budget by Snowmint (virtual envelope budget software) after the trial period.

I could have spent money on making copies, buying more file folders, and so forth. I could have decided to keep wasting time leafing through papers, trying to stay offline when important calls are due, and playing around with free but cumbersome budget systems. Instead, I'm spending money on tools that actually do the jobs I need done.

Every time I spend money on techy stuff, part of me feels like it's a luxury, like I'm just trying out some new toy. I guess it's because I'm almost 50, and the highest tech thing I had as a kid was a transistor radio!

I'm seeing libraries get rid of stuff I never thought I'd see, because the information is now available online. I just bought a car part on Ebay for my mother. Even some homeless people have email addresses, laptops and blogs.
thehomelessguy.blogspot.com/

It's a new, digital world. So why should buying a digital tool feel less legitimate than buying, say, a hammer? I have the discretionary money on hand to pay for these things, and they serve my streamlining goal, so why not? But it still feels weird in a Future Shock sort of way.






More simplification--automatic bill payments

August 27th, 2006 at 12:59 pm

For a long while, I've had our two most important bills paid automatically each month--the mortgage and our car insurance. Also, heaven knows, I have lots of automatic savings deposits set up. I've been a little leery of automating any more, but it feels like it's time. I feel more confident that enough money will be in checking to cover the bills as they come due, and I also had that recent scare where I almost forgot to pay a cc bill. So this past week I set up the cable, phone and electric bills and the HSBC cc payment.

I set them all up through the billpay on our checking account, NOT at the payee's end. I don't want some unusually high payment taken out automatically, unbeknownst to me. I set up equal payments to HSBC so it gets paid off in January. The cable bill was easy, as it's always the same. A whopping $10.23. Smile

The phone and electric company weren't so easy, as the amounts vary. But I figured out that the phone bill averages just under $23 a month, so I made it an even $23. I'll be paying a little extra some months to build up a credit for the months when it's a little higher. The electric bill is a few dollars lower in the summer because we're on their "cool customer" program. (They can cycle off our a/c if demand is too high.) But I set it up for the normal amount; I can just wait and reap the benefit of those overpaid summer bills when they reset our budget billing in the spring.

I'm waiting to do the gas company, as they'll be readjusting our budget billing next month.

Still trying to figure out how I might want to automate cc payments for the cards I'm actually using.

I do feel like I want to build up more of a cushion in checking because of this, even though it doesn't earn interest. It would buy some time for DH if something happened to me, and he needed to figure things out. Also, I've got to write up what I've done and make sure he knows where the info is.

If anyone else has experience in fully automating payments and such, I'd appreciate any advice.

Budget within a budget; link to nice forms

August 15th, 2006 at 01:53 pm

So far, I'm liking the three checking accounts for Bills, Everyday Expenses, and Discretionary. But then I realized there is a lot to cover under Discretionary.

It's one thing to see a $200 balance for Discretionary spending. But how much can we spend on a dinner out, and not go into money we'll need next month for the anti-allergen heater filters and a new carton of bubble mailers?

So I made up a budget within a budget, kind of a virtual envelope method for just that account. I have 17 categories and a slush fund, for everything from postage to cosmetics, to clothes, to batteries. When I make a deposit, each category gets a certain percentage. That way if our extra income isn't as high as I'd figured, all areas are hit equally. If more comes in than expected, all areas get a little boost.

It might sound cumbersome, but it's already giving me a better picture of what we can and can't afford.

A $5.99 CD sounds hardly worth worrying about, in relation to an overall monthly budget of $2500. It sounds somewhat less affordable in relation to a Discretionary fund of $200. It's obviously out of the question when the uncategorized Slush Fund has a balance of $3.21. Mailing a package Priority for $5.05 doesn't sound so bad, but Media Mail is obviously the way to go if there's only $2.50 in the Postage category.

Sounds overly detailed, I'm sure! But a penny saved is a penny earned; and tall oaks from tiny acorns grow. Hopefully this will help keep me from overspending and getting back into debt in the future.

I tried to do this in a spread sheet, but it was awkward because it doesn't all fit on one screen. I found these nice budget forms online, and now I'm using a Form 3 for each category.

www.coeinc.org/Materials/BudgetBookForms.htm

Homeowner's insurance up by $71

August 11th, 2006 at 01:23 pm

And last month I found out our property taxes were going up about $75 a quarter, or $300 a year. That makes $371 a year more that needs to be going into our ING account for house expenses, or about another $7 a week.

I'm not prepared to shop around for homeowner's insurance again this year. We are getting a discount on car insurance because we now have both with the same company. And I already raised our homeowner's deductible last year to as high as I'm comfortable with. Also, there's the hassle of having an inspector come out and take pictures of the house for a new policy. So I'll just bite the bullet and pay.

$7 a week x 4.3 weeks in a month is $30, which means that the $60 a month I thought could go into our discretionary spending account has just been cut to $30. So our spending on extras will now be even more dependent on any extra income I can scrounge up. Or, finding other categories to trim. Gotta get psyched!

Scary power outage, how to categorize the spending?

July 29th, 2006 at 04:41 pm

Well, I thought I'd spent all I was going to spend, and then the power went out yesterday. I couldn't cook dinner, and DH wasn't thrilled about the idea of a salad, so we ended up ordering a pizza.

The scary part came in when, after dinner, the power came back on for just a few seconds and then we heard yelling outside. A power line came down two houses up from us and was burning on the ground. Not only was it quite a fire, but the sound was unbelievable. Even inside our house, we could hear it--kind of like the humming of a huge machine of some kind. But no harm done, and the power was back on for good just before dark.

We had an outage back on July 4th, too, and ended up getting our cheeseburgers at Wendy's. There are lots of times we end up getting take-out in the midst of some emergency; medical things, cars breaking down, snowstorms. And I never know whether to count it as regular food spending or to take it out of the Emergency Fund. This time I'll call it an Everyday Expense and count it as part of August.

Refining my budget system (long)

July 26th, 2006 at 02:01 am

Here's the main thing I've been up to as far as reorganizing. What I've wanted for a long time is an easy way to make sure we're living within our means, and to see how much is available for extras.

What I've done is tweaked our direct deposits and automatic savings deposits so that no extra money is left in our main checking account beyond what's needed for monthly bills. When non-monthly bills come up, I transfer the money back in from savings.

The point of that is, when I see a nice balance in there I will know none of it can be touched because it all has to pay bills.

Here's the new way things are divvied up out of our main account (annual figures):

$3372 into Emergency Fund
$1040 into Health Savings Account
$6240 into House Account (property taxes, homeowner's insurance, quarterly water and sewer bills, and lawn mowing)
$600 into Occasional Expenses Account (AAA, safe deposit box, etc.)
$600 into Christmas/Gift/Routine Vet Visits Account
$204 into New Computer/Appliances Account
$2784 into New Car Account (starts after cc pmts are finished)

Then there's checking account #2, which gets $140 a week to cover groceries, gas, pet supplies and two Sunday newspaper subscriptions (being as I'm really getting them for the coupons).

I'll be able to see how much is available to spend on Everyday Expenses just by looking at the account balance. (No fiddling with Quicken reports.)

That leaves a total of $720 for discretionary spending per year out of our regular income:

$240 for personal expenses like haircuts, haircolor, makeup, moisturizer, etc.

$480 for clothes for the two of us.

Everything else, from coating the driveway, to plants, to dates with DH, has to come out of the kind of extra money a lot of you are using for the $20 challenge. Rebates, working the elections, bank bonuses, lower-than-expected utility bills, etc.

I'm corralling all the extra/discretionary money into checking account #3 at Netbank. Result, I can see exactly how much spending money is available just by looking at the balance.

A little background on how I came up with some figures.

Clothes - Dave Ramsey recommends spending 2-9% of your income on clothing. $480 is less than 1-1/2% of our take-home. Also, I found a government chart on income and expenditures that shows a household with our income spends about $1477 a year on apparel and clothing care services. $480 is is less than 1/3 of that. So while it might seem high to some of you, I'm feeling that it's perfectly reasonable for us.

Car savings - The $2784 is just about what we've been putting against the cc debt over the past year. Also, that same government chart shows that a household with our income spends $2797 on new vehicle aquisition per year. So this seems right in the ballpark.

Thinking about life after debt

July 15th, 2006 at 07:43 pm

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel as far as credit card debt. Right now I'm on schedule to have it paid off by the end of the year.

For a long while, I'd been thinking that once it was paid off, things would ease up and we'd be able to spend more on discretionary stuff. It seemed like there was no point in actually budgeting for things like household goods, clothes and recreation until things weren't as tight.

Then I realized that when I was finished with the $250 a month on debt, we'd have to start saving that amount toward getting a newer car in 2008. After we get the car, we ought to put that $250 a month on the mortgage so the balance is lower when it readjusts in 2010. (We'll either have less to refinance, or the adjusted payment won't be as bad as it would have been.) After that, we'll need to save that same $250 toward replacing the other car in about 2013.

In other words, that $250 a month is spoken for, for years to come, and can't really be spent on anything else.

So I really need to figure out how we can manage more of the fun, extra stuff on the money we have NOW. Because it's not going to change that much after the cc debt ends. (Hence, why I was googling around about clothing budgets.)






Yikes! At least I don't spend this much!

July 14th, 2006 at 12:35 pm

I was googling around, looking up clothing budget suggestions to try and figure out what is reasonable for us. I came across this thread in the forum at Lucky magazine, which admittedly is all about shopping.

boards.luckymag.com/message.jspa?messageID=46206

The amounts discussed are astounding, even to me. Only one person admitted to spending less than $500 a year. One person mentioned $7000! One entry, in particular, blew me away.

"Being a grad student, I think that I have been spending probably $1200-$1500 a year. The reasons for this are due to my budget, lack of closet space, and also because I don't need very many things - I can dress casually most days. However, I anticipate that once I complete my degree and enter the working world, my budget will go up more in the first year because I will be buying better quality clothing for work, plus I'll have the salary to match (hopefully closet size will increase too)."

When I was a grad student, I was working 3 part-time jobs, borrowing money left and right just to survive, and living in a pretty disgusting apartment, complete with raccoons living in the wall! Who ARE these people?

The mailman bringeth, and the mailman taketh away

July 13th, 2006 at 04:27 pm

The $50 Mercury Milan gift card came today, as well as some free shampoo samples from Dove and my free Giant magazine.

However, the property tax bill also came, and it's now $76 more a quarter. There was a note with the bill saying that the new mayor is trying to balance the township budget, which currently is in the red by $4 million.

There is enough in our Property Tax ING account, and it only comes to $25 a month. But still, it makes me nervous.

I just readjusted the amount going into that ING account every week, and thought I'd allowed a generous amount. Now it looks like it will just barely cover the taxes and insurance over the next year.

I wonder how much better fixed I need to be before stuff like this stops throwing me for a loop.

An added motivation

June 22nd, 2006 at 01:50 pm

Yesterday DH heard a credible rumor at work, that where he works might be sold. Some of his co-workers looked it up online, and it's actually been in the news. They should know more in 30-45 days.

It might fall through. His job might be perfectly secure even if it is sold. But it's still kind of unsettling, and another spur to get the credit card debt paid off, and more money in the bank.

If those Japanese prosperity coins are still circulating, could someone put me on the list to get one next? I think we can use all the luck we can get. Smile

Financial plans for the week

June 19th, 2006 at 12:30 pm

It's going to be a busy week. I want to get a lot of Life In General stuff done, so when I'm on vacation next week I can just relax and have fun. Figured I'd post my financial goals for the week so that I don't forget any, and as a record in case I get too busy with other stuff to post here.

--Copy and mail the Suzuki test drive and Laughing Cow rebate
--Contact Smucker's about their awful sugarfree jam (DONE)
--Contact the shrink-wrapped-microwave-ready-potato people about moldy potatoes (DONE)
--Make the extra-large cc payment to bring balance below $2000 (DONE)
--After money arrives in checking from ING, open money market account at NetBank for $75 bonus (don't know of a way to get it directly from ING to NetBank) (DONE)
--After bill-closing date on the Citi card, order my Passport to Fun gift cards for the month (DONE)
--Find out whether buying gift cards at my supermarket will go toward the amount I have to spend for a promotion they're running
--Cancel Buyer's Advantage (DONE)
--Letter to Upromise for withdrawal of $25 (have to get notarized)
--Finish weeding and organizing the coupon exchange box at work (IN PROCESS)

Added Goal: Order checks? Looks like I might be on the last pad for our main account. (DONE-Used Checkworks. One box of 150 should last about 2 years.)

Finally feels like progress

June 15th, 2006 at 02:49 pm

Unexpected funds and lucky breaks keep turning up lately. Thank you, Benevolent Universe, God, or whatever name you choose to give it. Smile

So instead of having to make smaller payments on the cc debt, right now it looks like I'll be able to throw some extra against it and have it paid off by the end of the year. It looks like I can get it down to $1999 by the end of June. Below $2000. I'm psyched!

DH's 14-yr-old car actually passed inspection this morning, on the first try. So no inspection-related repairs will be needed.

I just qualified for a focus group, to be held during my vacation week. It pays $75.

The $25 Great Fun/Buy.com rebate actually came, much to my surprise.

A $25 CVS gc offer came to me in my maiden name, at my mother's house. I didn't even have to switch a prescription, just give them my info.

I forgot about the $350 property tax rebate we should be getting in October.

I even got a free breakfast sandwich this morning; it was time to pull them and the store was giving them away rather than just tossing them.

Sometimes you're stuck in a run of bad luck, and sometimes you're in the flow where good things keep happening. I know it won't last forever, but I'm sure enjoying this while I can.

Podcast Interviews with other financial bloggers!

June 14th, 2006 at 01:25 pm

moneybloggerpodcast.blogspot.com//

Neat! This guy interviews bloggers who write on financial topics. It's really interesting to hear why other people started blogging, how they approach it, and the responses they've gotten. It's especially interesting to hear the voice that goes with a blog you've been reading. OTOH, in several cases hearing the interview has sent me off to explore a blog I never heard of before.

Maybe someday one of us will be interviewed!

One question he seems to ask of each blogger is, why do you think so many people have such big debt problems? The usual answers are easy credit and so much advertising. However, the answer I keep coming back to, for myself, is not really knowing what we can afford. Still. After blogging here for a year, using Quicken for years before that, and trying other budget methods in between.

The only solution I can see is, get as much out of our main checking account as possible, and into accounts for specific purposes. Then I'd know whatever was left in checking after paying the bills was ok to spend. I've done this to some extent, but I'd like to go further. Will be crunching some numbers this weekend.

Latest experiment seems to be working

June 10th, 2006 at 11:48 pm

Just finished my first full week of the new month, where I'm trying to spend more slowly by limiting myself to $15 a day. I've ended up right on target, having spent $105 this week (including one take-out dinner of cheese steaks). We've had to do without a couple of things for a day or two, but it hasn't been awful. There always seem to be substitutes, if we look around at home.

Here's a comparison of how I've been spending during the first week of each month:

May $187
April $198
March $167
February $212
January $254

Obviously, the pace IS much slower and there should be a lot more money left toward the end of the month. So I will keep going with it for now.



NJ on $15 a day

May 31st, 2006 at 12:20 pm

It's that time again--almost to the end of my 4-week "month" of May (ending June 3). Again, not happy with how I've managed my Everyday Expenses budget.

So I've come up with a money game to try in June: Each day I have $15 to spend, and can only go over if there's a surplus left from previous days.

My natural tendency is to stock up at the beginning of the month, when there's finally a new batch of money to spend. I'm just not very good at estimating a month ahead what we're really going to need or what's going to happen. Work schedules change, people get sick, cars break down-- and then I wish I had cash on hand for pizza, instead of a freezer full of pork chops.

Also, when sales are too good to pass up, I can't pass them up, and end up having too much money tied up in toilet paper or something.

This way I'll be forced to pace myself through the month, not go overboard on sales, and I'll always have the option of using part of the day's $15 for take-out or some forgotten item, if necessary.








Happiness Units

May 27th, 2006 at 03:22 pm

Does anyone else remember Sex and the Single Girl by Helen Gurley Brown? Smile

She has a chapter on money, and I always remember her saying to make sure and spend your money where you'll get the most Happiness Units in return.

Well, it's corny but it's a good point. I'm looking over my spending for the past year, trying to see where I haven't gotten enough happiness units for the money. Those are places that will be easy to cut.

The first obvious category is book/cd/dvd buying (exclusive of Netflix). I spent $132 and the shocking thing is, all but $33 of this was on mailing costs. Mostly for various swapping programs, which were supposed to save me money. The fact is, I sent a lot of stuff out and so far have gotten little in return.

I haven't bought a NEW book in over a year. I bought one DVD that was so obscure even Netflix didn't have it. The rest of the $33 was for used books, most of which I bought to try and sell (unsuccessfully).

So, although $132 is that much in the whole scheme of things, it really didn't buy me much of anything.

I'm going to budget $84 in the coming year (36% reduction), and try to get a lot more for the money. First priority will be trying to get something for the credits I've already earned at the swap sites.

Discretionary purchase today--MP3 player

May 20th, 2006 at 08:02 pm

I've been thinking about this for months, and finally took the plunge, for many reasons.

There was a good deal at Staples for the model I'd been thinking about, but with much more storage than I'd ever hoped for. It came to a little over $58. Creative MuVo TX FM with 1GB of storage.(Thank you Fatwallet!)

This model should work with the downloadable audio books they have at the library where I work. (Not all models do.) It has a voice recorder, which I'd thought about buying separately for a long time anyway. You can also store data on it, so it will take the place of a USB thumb drive, which I've thought about too.

It is also a lot cheaper than getting involved with a broadband bill every month, or satellite radio. My dialup is still ok for most things, but lately for downloading radio shows it's been awful. It's supposed to be 56K but often it's been in the 30's or even 20's. This way I'll be able to download podcasts and radio shows on my dinner hour at work, and have enough to listen to for days. It should be quite a time-saver over the way I've been trying to do it.

It also may give me some brownie points at work (which one can always use). Wink My boss is disappointed that not many people are using the audiobook service. But it's hard for us on the staff to talk it up and give people instructions, if we've never used it ourselves. So in a way, I could classify part of the cost as a work expense. Wink

I'm holding off on the leafblower for now, and will use part of the Ace gc for poison ivy killer, which is a necessity right now.


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