:::: MENU ::::
Browsing posts in: Monthly Spending

Cheap Anniversary Date

by

Hi friends! Hope you’re having a happy Monday morning!

I didn’t mention it last week, but I was able to reschedule my missed interview for today (at noon, Arizona time), so everyone please keep your fingers and toes crossed for me to do well! I’m trying not to get my hopes up, but the thought of securing a full time position (which would provide excellent health/dental/vision coverage + increase my current salary by almost 50%), is pretty exciting! These things are always so political and there’s never any guarantees (remember my first phone interview that I blogged about – where I thought I nailed it for sure and then just never heard back???), so I’m really trying to calm my nerves and relax a bit so I don’t come across as too eager/excited. But regardless….send good vibes my way!!

This morning I wanted to tell you guys about our cheap anniversary date that we did last month! It’s a little late now (our anniversary was November 6th, and our date was November 13th), but I didn’t want it to just slip through the cracks!

First – can I get an “hallelujah” for a real date night?? We get them every once in awhile (generally when we are visiting family in Texas or someone is here visiting us, so we don’t have to pay for a sitter), but not nearly as often as I would like. It was so fun to get to dress all up and go out sans kiddos and not spend a fortune!

How did we do it?

Well, for us, the most expensive thing is still the babysitter. I only have 1 close “Mommy” friend and I’ve asked a couple times about doing babysitting swaps (a suggestion that I got from you guys!), but she hasn’t seemed at all interested. The girls are still young enough that I don’t feel comfortable leaving them with your typical high school-aged babysitter (once they’re old enough to really speak and articulate what they did with the babysitter I’ll feel better about this option). So if you want high quality care….you end up paying high quality prices. In our case, we ended up paying $14/hour. Tucson (where we live) is a generally cheap area to live, but I’m a member of several Facebook Mom’s groups and this seems to be a typical price for our situation (two toddlers). The average range seems to be from about $10-$15, with more money going toward harder work (younger children, multiple children), and less money for less work (fewer children, older ages).

So that’s the big cost we incurred. We were gone for 3.5 hours, for a total babysitting cost of $49 (we rounded up to $50).

Since we were spending so much on the babysitter, it was imperative we do something for cheap or almost free. And that’s exactly what we did!!!

Is anyone else a member of the Yelp community? I joined after hearing from a work friend that she is considered “Yelp Elite” and telling me about all the cool benefits it included. If you are unfamiliar, Yelp is a website (and a phone app) that allows you to rate your experiences with all kinds of things. Most people tend to use it to rate restaurants, but you can rate it for anything (hair dresser, furniture store, moving services, etc etc etc). I was already a Yelp user – meaning, I would look up reviews for a restaurant before heading there – but after hearing from my friend I actually joined and started writing reviews for places I had visited, too. It didn’t take too long before I earned an “Elite” badge (you get voted on based on your activity with rating places, providing quality reviews, etc.). And then the elite perks started rolling in! Every month Yelp hosts some type of Elite event (some months they’ll do 2). I haven’t been to one in a long, long time because they’re rarely kid-friendly and we can’t just pay a babysitter every time an elite event comes along. Plus, they’re often last-minute events and its difficult to get a last-minute babysitter even if we wanted to go.

But November turned out to be a perfect storm that worked FOR us instead of against us. In November Yelp had paid for a table at a fancy charity event for March of Dimes. Each spot was $75 and I was given a +1 to invite someone with me to the event (that’s $150 value already, totally free!) That aside, March of Dimes is a charity that I really believe in (it funds research for premature babies)! Without going into too much detail, our girls (twins) were born 8 weeks premature and spent a full month in the NICU (Newborn Intensive Care Unit). During that time, I read all about the advancements that had taken place with medicine and technology to allow our girls to survive. If they were born even as few as 20 years ago, our twins would never have survived. To say that I support and appreciate the work March of Dimes has done to expand research, testing, technology, and medicine for premature babies is the understatement of the year. Without them, we literally would not have our children right now. So, yeah. The organization is a big thing for me.

This charity event was all kinds of swanky! It was called the March of Dimes Signature Chefs Auction, and was being toted as a total “foodie” event. We were pampered and spoiled with all kinds of incredible food, drink, dessert, and good times! They also had a couple of games (with proceeds from the games going to March of Dimes), that were a lot of fun. Husband paid $20 to play a spin-the-wheel type game where we won a nice bottle of wine. But most of the night was spent noshing on incredible food and drink and simply enjoying the experience. I would have liked to have donated more money to the organization, but our finances wouldn’t allow it and I made myself feel better by simply occupying our seats. Even though we didn’t pay the $150 for the event, our seats were paid for by Yelp on our behalf. So we got to enjoy the event for nearly free, and March of Dimes still received their cut of money from our spots.

So, in all, we spent a whopping $70 on our date ($50 babysitter + $20 spin-the-wheel game). And we got to enjoy a glamorous night out at a fancy resort with incredible food and drinks and a fun atmosphere.

This definitely isn’t a sponsored post (I am in no way affiliated with Yelp, nor am I compensated from them in any way for writing this), but I just wanted to tell you all a little about the Elite experience. This month’s experience was a little different from most (most are exclusively for Yelp members, whereas this was a Yelp table purchased at a larger event), but every event I have gone to has been an absolute blast! It’s so easy to download the app and write a quick review whenever you go someplace new. If you have the time or energy, I totally recommend becoming part of the Yelp community (particularly if you have cheap childcare or no kids/older kids so you can go last-minute without having to worry about paying for childcare). It really is a lot of fun!

Are you a member of any community that offers cool perks? We also get lots of fun family-friendly activities to do for free that are sponsored by our local neighborhood’s association and/or the town where we live. At least once a month they do movie in the park, music in the park, or some other type of event. We just went to a holiday tree lighting were we saw all kinds of performances (dance, music), got free hot chocolate and cookies, the girls got to jump in bounce houses for free, and we got to see the epic tree lighting, which was really a whole choreographed thing set to music. It was so much fun!!!


November Budget Update

by

Hi all! I hope you’re doing well! November seemed to fly by faster than most. I swear I was just typing up my October Budget Update the other day….and somehow a full month has flown by! I guess that’s how it works, especially around the holidays!

As a quick reminder, we live on last month’s income, so for the month of November we had a total of $5855 to budget and appropriate to various categories. Here’s how things worked out…

November budget (planned & actual spent):

Place Planned Budget Actual Spent
Rent 1055 1055
Electricity 170 168
Water 60 56
Natural gas 20 28
Sprint (2 lines) 115 114
Cable/Internet 100 100
Car Insurance 56 55
Health Insurance 350 350
Trash 35 35
Debt 1498 1498
Miscellaneous 300 867
Groceries 400 419
Baby Purchases 1100 1180
Gasoline 100 75
Saving for Irregular Expenses 495 495
Total Budgeted 5854 6495

 

As a reminder, miscellaneous is broken down into 4 categories:

  • Entertainment: budgeted = $20; spent = $26
  • Eating Out: budgeted = $100; spent = $129
  • Personal Maintenance: budgeted = $30; spent = $5
  • Other: budgeted = $150; spent = $707

Side note: In January I’m going to do a big, formal assessment of my monthly spending all year and re-do my budget/categories a bit. Right now I have miscellaneous broken into these four sub-categories but starting in January I’m going to simply give each of these categories its own line item instead of lumping them together and itemizing separately. It’s so weird, I don’t even know why I did this to begin with!?

I think this is the very first time since I started blogging that I went over in the entertainment category (I went to a movie with a friend, which cost $12 and tipped me over in this category). Obviously the biggest overage is in the “other” category. I don’t feel comfortable divulging exact details regarding the monetary settlement we came to with our landlord (for damages from the Great Flood of 2014), so I’m purposely going to leave out exact numbers here. I will, however, say that the overage is due to a combination of these three things: (1) iphone screen repair, (2) costs associated with the Great Flood, and (3) truck repair. Note that I was, indeed, able to get my phone screen fixed (rather than having to buy a whole new phone – whew!!), and a portion of the truck repair was paid for out of our vehicle maintenance savings account (we didn’t have enough to cover the full repair, so the deficit came from this category).

I also went a little over in our natural gas bill and in our grocery line-item. Nothing too bad. But I was over by a full $80 in the baby purchases category (which includes the cost of preschool, pull ups/diapers, and any purchases that are toddler-specific). Honestly, I generally budget $1200 in this category so I don’t know why I thought I could drop it down to $1100 and not go over. That was unrealistic and I’m bumping it back up to $1200 for next month.

We had a total of $5855, but spent a total of $6495. This leaves us with a deficit of $640.

Ouch!

We’ve had other rough months in the past but this is, by far, the worst since I started blogging. I think I was only over budget one other month, and it was only by about $20. Here we stand this month, over by nearly a grand (I exaggerate, but we’re still over by a lot!) Again – thank goodness for our emergency fund! I think I’m actually going to write a full blog post dedicated to the EF sometime soon because I haven’t talked much about it since I first started blogging.

At any rate, this month we learned some tough lessons. Lessons in preparedness and in the amount of funds we need to have liquid for future “Murphy’s Law” incidents. I’m going to hold off on changing anything at this time (e.g., altering savings for car repairs), but this will be something I look closely at in December and January as I plan and budget for the new year.

 

How did you do with your November spending?


Life Happenings…

by

Hi guys!

Probably didn’t expect to hear from me this evening, hmm??

Truth is life has been scattered lately! Instead of having posts pre-planned and waiting to go up at “X” time, I’ve just been writing and pressing “publish” whenever I can. Writing as life happens, that is.

At any rate, we’re back in our house. It’s still a bit of a cluster. They had to re-carpet two rooms and although the carpet installers moved things for us, it was still quite an ordeal. The cribs were too big to fit through the door frames so had to be completely disassembled. Even with things finally moved back, it almost feels like we’re in the middle of a move or something! On the good news front, our landlord is going to work with us on some of the costs. I feel uncomfortable disclosing the numbers in our agreement, but I’m happy with the situation. This month will still require us to dive into our emergency fund (both for the house stuff and for the car repairs), but I’m knocking on wood for a calmer week this week!

In other news, I was able to get a couple work applications submitted! I had 2 due on the 15th (which was a Saturday) and one on the 17th (a Monday). I looked at them all and decided to ditch one of the applications. I selected the job I was least likely to get and metaphorically chucked it out. The other two applications I completed late Sunday night (the 16th). I realize this was past the deadline for one of them, but I figured the reviews wouldn’t start until Monday anyway so I just crossed my fingers and hoped it would work out. And guess what…I’ve already heard back on one of the jobs! They’re requesting additional information, which is always a good sign (means I’ve at least made it past the initial round of cuts). It’s for a job here in Tucson and is not a tenure-track position, though it still keeps me in academia. Obviously a tenure-track job is what I’d really like (or maybe its not so obvious….but I spent 6 years in graduate school specifically to try to earn a tenure-track position, so this is a big point of distinction for me). However, I’ve figured that if I get this position I could probably keep teaching at least 2 classes per semester online through my teaching job, and would effectively make my salary higher than most entry-level tenure-track positions. Plus then we wouldn’t have to deal with a cross-country move (so torn on this though, as I’d love to be closer to family). So, we’ll wait and see what happens. I know better than to get my hopes up at this stage in the game.

Also, I’m taking some of your advice and trying to fix my own iPhone screen. Since I initially mentioned that I’d broken my screen again, the crack has progressively gotten worse. There are now pieces of glass that have fallen out and I’ve actually sliced my fingers a few times (small slices, more like paper cuts). At any rate, it needs to be replaced. I found a $15 kit on ebay complete with new screen, all the tools, adhesive material, etc. and it should be here tomorrow. I’m a little nervous. I’ve watched a couple youtube videos and it does NOT look easy. But I did find a cheaper place that can do repairs here in town ($115, whereas last time I paid $150). I figured even if this doesn’t work out, I can still go with the cheaper place and be saving money over what I paid last time. Obviously I would prefer if it just works out with this repair kit and I get away with only a $15 fix (+ cost of a new OtterBox case, as that seems to be the consensus for best/strongest case). I’m still mad at myself over breaking the phone, but in light of the Crap River we just dealt with, it seems like small potatoes.

Meanwhile, I’ve been having to hold myself back from some retail therapy. I’m really not a big shopper, but I’ve been longing to go to Kohl’s and buy myself some new warm tops (now that it’s finally a bit colder in Tucson…sorry to those of you in negative degree weather!!) I think this is partly due to stress, partly due to simple change in weather and wanting newer clothes for the new season, and partly due to all the spending we’ve been doing. It almost feels like “oh, well, we’ve already spent $XXX on hotel and food, what’s another $50 or so for clothes???”  Don’t worry, I haven’t done it (and I have plenty of warm-weather clothes, for the record), but the struggle has been real!

And, lastly, I’m SO SO excited for Thanksgiving next week! My Dad is going to come to town and it will be the first time that I’ve hosted a Thanksgiving at our house since the girls have been born (the first year when they were 5 months we went to a friends’ house; last year when they were 17 months husband was in the hospital with his mystery illness and we skipped the holiday all together). I’m starting to think that Novembers are cursed (not really…but kinda), so it will be good to be with family celebrating everything we’re thankful for. I’m trying not to go too overboard with food, so I’ve planned a menu. I plan to write a whole post on this to run it by you all for some suggestions on how you save money at Thanksgiving. The point is, I’m really looking forward to it!! Now I need to find a free Turkey Trot 5K or something. All this eating out has made me bloated and “ugh” feeling!

I hope your weeks are all off to a great start! Let’s get a head start on Thanksgiving week – leave me a comment with something you’re grateful about! 

 


Giving Gifts for Cheaper

by

Hi all!

I know some of you may be rolling your eyes after reading the title of this post (especially after I admitted to buying my boss some pricey flowers last month), but overall I’ve done really, really well with cutting down on the amount that I’ve been spending on gift giving since I started my debt reduction journey.

I now average about $15/gift, a full $10-$15 less per gift than I used to average.

I want to give one of my little tips about how I like to give gifts that the recipient will love, while saving some cash!

Whenever there’s a big gift-giving occasion on the horizon (lately I’ve had a few baby shower invites and, of course, my friend’s wedding), here’s a little trick I use. I will browse the Momma-to-be (or bride-to-be)’s gift registry, but then use those ideas to find the perfect gift somewhere else for cheaper.

Here’s an example….

One of my life-long best friends (since 10 years old!!!) is having a baby shower this month. Sadly, I won’t be able to make it as she still lives in Austin. But I want to send her something she’ll appreciate. She is registered at two places:  Babies R Us and Amazon. I don’t particularly love either of those online sites. Babies R Us is pretty pricey. And although I can find deals on Amazon, I am not a Prime member (and have no interest in it whatsoever, as I don’t do a lot of online shopping), so I would have to pay an extra fee for shipping.

So what do I do?

I check out the registry and notice the types of things my bestie has registered for. I don’t zero in on one specific thing, but rather look at several of the options she has selected. Then I do a  little research to find the same or similar products for less.

In this particular example, I noticed that my friend had registered for a smattering of Burt’s Bees products (to the tune of about $14.99 each at Babies R Us, not including shipping). Instead of only giving a single bottle of baby wash, I did some googling and found a lovely gift package with all of the baby basics (lotion, diaper cream, baby wash, and more) at Target for only $17.99. Plus, I have a Target card so I can get 5% off and free shipping (side note:  Not sure if I’ve ever mentioned my Target card because it’s never carried a balance the whole time I’ve been blogging. But I do like to use it for this type of thing since I get free shipping. I still track any purchases like normal – gifts come out of my “other” budget – and I pay the balance in full each month).

I did find a couple Burt’s Bees gift packages cheaper (like this one on Amazon for $11.69), but I didn’t like them nearly as much. The packages were smaller, had far less product, and just weren’t packaged as nicely (and, again, the cost doesn’t include shipping, which would take the price up to being the same as the Target package).

I like using this method to find gifts for cheaper because then I know its something the recipient will use and appreciate (it’s basically the same as the things she’s registered for – just put together in a package instead of being separate bottles), and I’m able to score it at a price that works for my budget! Plus, who doesn’t like gift packages? It just looks more “put together” than receiving a single bottle of baby shampoo and its essentially the same price. Am I right or am I right?

BONUS:  Buy your product through the swagbucks website to get even more bang for your buck! Why not??

What tricks do you use to save money on gift-giving???

Disclosure: There were several links provided in this post. NONE of the item links (to Target or Amazon) were affiliate links. The Swagbucks link does give me a referral bonus if you sign up, but it’s tied to points (not straight cash) and if you’re a member you can use it to refer your friends/family to earn points, too!


Modified Money Envelope System

by

Well the month is almost over and I wanted to report on how my modified money envelope system has gone.

Remember, I decided to do a modified money envelope with only 2 categories: groceries and eating out. Instead of a traditional envelope I used the two compartments in my wallet and designated one for each of these purposes.

How did it go?

Well, as with anything new, I think there were a bit of some growing pains.

Cons:

There’s really only one. Because the money was stored in my regular wallet (instead of a big, bulky envelope), at the beginning of the month I would sometimes forget it was there! Twice I went to the grocery store and paid with a debit card out of habit, then got out to the parking lot and face-palmed over not using my cash!! This was frustrating and annoying to try to reconcile with the cash I had on hand (by subtracting odd dollar amounts when I didn’t have correct change, etc.). Just a bit of a learning curve as I tried to re-learn to use CASH ONLY instead of debit.

Pros:

I really, really paid attention to that money dwindling! These are categories that I usually go over on and this month I basically told myself that this cash was all I have in the world (even though we obviously have more money in the bank). So when the money started running low I had to get creative with making meals at home and using ingredients we had on hand. Instead of just putting it on debit and worrying about how I’d gone over budget later, I was forced to really work with ONLY the cash that I had allotted to these categories, no more.

Overall, I think the system worked great! After learning to spend my cash instead of automatically defaulting to debit, I didn’t have any problems. I’m definitely going to keep it up next month.

One potentially negative in terms of my grocery budget……I don’t know how but last month and this month I’ve run out of money well before the month was over. In both cases I’ve been forced to eat out of our freezer and pantry. That’s all well and good and helped me from going over our grocery budget. BUT, our freezer and pantry are both looking pretty darn bare right now. Our freezer, in particular, has rarely been so low on food! I’m hoping that with Thanksgiving next month I’ll be able to stock up on a lot of sale-priced meat (turkey is at a once-a-year low in November); and on the bright side of things, I have the room in my freezer to spare fore stocking up on some meat and other freezable food. However, I’m going to have to get crafty on how to stock up since I still don’t want to increase my grocery budget. That will be a challenge for next month. Fun times!

 


The Downside of Living on Last Month’s Income

by

I’ve run into a problem with living on last month’s income. In general, I think its an awesome thing and has been really valuable for us. But maybe you YNAB-ers can fill me in on how to handle this situation….

You’ve got a budget all planned for the month and things are going well. Mid-way through the month (and everything is on track), something costly comes up. It cannot be put off until the following month and it is 100% for sure going to blow your budget.

If you are living on your current month’s income then maybe you can try to sell some things, work extra hours, or do whatever it takes to boost your income. But if you’re living on last month’s income then your income is already set and there’s really not much you can do about it (aside from “cheating” and using money from the current month’s income and/or dipping into savings). How is this issue best handled???

Let me tell you what’s happened/happening…

Remember my friend whose getting married? Her wedding is at the end of this month. Remember how I talked about giving her a decent-sized check because I’d initially thought I might be a bridesmaid, but since I’m not incurring any of those expenses I’d like to put (some of) the money I would have spent toward giving her a nice gift? Wellllllll, apparently things have changed.

What is it about the wedding industry that sucks people in and forces them to get all hyped up on the hoopla even when they’re trying to avoid it? I swear, its like they tell you that if you don’t get the monogramed napkins and matching monogrammed floor sticker that your marriage is doomed to divorce. I don’t want this to come off as talking badly about my friend but….she got sucked into the trap. And now, all of these things that didn’t exist before (bachelorette party, bridal shower, etc.) suddenly exist.

I had already budgeted to give her and her husband-to-be some money. Initially I’d thought $100-$150, and I ended up budgeting for $100. But that is it. There is no more wiggle room in our budget. Now, with two weeks notice, I have been invited (and would love to attend) a mini bachelorette the week of the wedding. Nothing crazy or over the top, but it’s a night out that will NOT fit in my eating out and/or entertainment budgets. And although she said no gifts, I feel like there’s an inherent expectation of maybe picking up a round of drinks or showing up to the party with some of those fun penis-shaped straws and whatever bachelorette parties entail. This all, of course, costs money. Maybe not a lot of money (certainly nowhere near as much as being a “real” bridesmaid would have cost), but money nonetheless and money I don’t have in our budget.

I know many will say simply not to go. But even though we may not be life-long friends (we met 4.5 years ago), she is one of my best friends in the state. We moved here at the same time (for school) when we didn’t know anyone else and have been through some serious life transitions together (weddings, babies, graduation, employment/lack thereof). I want to support her. I want to be there. So then do I just go and not really participate? Don’t buy her a drink, don’t buy myself a drink, don’t partake in the festivities? Do I give her less for her wedding and put some of that money toward these expenses? What would you do?

And, back to the down side of living on last month’s income, what do you do if you simply have an expense that exceeds your monthly budget/allotted income? Where does the extra money come from? I know a wedding/party is a whole different situation than a real necessary expense (like, a car tire blows out and HAS to be replaced immediately), but either way, how does this work with the YNAB living on last month’s income system?

Suggestions? Advice? What would you do?


Planned October Budget

by

So after everything was said and done with last month’s employment and compensation (see issues related to husband’s compensation here and my compensation here), we ended up earning a total of $6410 for the month. This puts us just barely above what we had to work with last month (see last month’s planned budget – with $6317 for income – here). Remember, we live on last month’s income, so the money we earned last month will be used this month to pay bills!

And, unlike last month, where the planned budget was $200 over our income, I’ve balanced this month’s planned budget to come in just under our income for the month. I’m hopeful that we’ll have a little money leftover and can apply it toward an additional debt payment. But, if not, at least we’re still chugging along. Remember, even with these lesser amounts applied toward debt (last month and this month), we’re still paying well over our minimum monthly payments so we’re continuing to make progress. Every bit helps! See my last debt update post here.

Here’s October’s Planned Budget:

Place Planned Budget
Rent 1055
Electricity 241
Water 65
Natural gas 17
Sprint (2 lines) 114
Cable/Internet 100
Car Insurance 55
Health Insurance 350
Trash 35
Debt 1843
Miscellaneous 300
Groceries 400
Baby Purchases 1200
Gasoline 125
Saving for Irregular Expenses 495
Total Budgeted 6395

 

Now we just stay the course and try to keep living within our means. To help with this, I’m doing the modified money envelope system for groceries and eating out expenses. So far, so good. I’m under for the week’s groceries and haven’t spent a dime on eating out yet. Let’s see how long this will last (as I historically struggle in these areas).

Also, thanks for all the tips on Sunday night’s blog post (about my situation with University B and the delayed pay). Following reader advice, I did reach out and say I’d like to continue working with them. I took last week off and am requesting a slight reduction in work-load for this week (and they did oblige, so we will continue our working relationship together). Even though I know the money is coming down the road, it’s still a bit scary to continue working without immediate compensation. I’ll be making slightly less if I work less (since I get paid per project completion and I’ll be taking fewer projects), but I’m also gearing up for application/hiring season and need to make sure I have enough time to give my applications justice. Wish me luck in this endeavor! First one is due in just over a week! Yikes – need to get on it!!

Hope you all have a great week!