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Stockpiling to save time, not necessarily money

March 28th, 2009 at 06:53 pm

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 06:57 am

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 08:29 am

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 05:53 am

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 07:10 am

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 14th, 2007 at 05:38 pm

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 10:22 am

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 01:55 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 09:03 am

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 07:47 am

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!