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Posts tagged with: budgeting

Ashley’s New 2017 Budget

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It’s been awhile since I did a full budget post. As I was working on this post, I was reminded of the reason – these posts always take sooooo long to pull together. I double and triple check everything 10 times to make sure there are no mistakes and to make sure I have solid footing on where all of these numbers are coming from.

These are good posts for me to do, though, because it always offers an opportunity for us to make subtle tweaks or changes to the budget. This time around, the big one was with our Roth IRA savings. We’ve only been saving about $100/month toward a Roth. But one of our 2017 goals is to fully fund a Roth at $5500 this year. In order to do that, we’re going to have to increase our monthly rate of savings for our Roth!!

At any rate, I want to show our budget and then offer some explanation below:

MONTHLY BILLS & EXPENSES
Mortgage $1250
Property Taxes & Insurance $350
HOA $40
Electricity $165
Water $75
Phones $150
Cable/Internet $130
Preschool & Childcare $1100
Gift-Giving $50
Personal Maintenance $50
Restaurants $300
Entertainment $100
Kids’ Activities $100
Groceries $600
Fuel $100
Household Goods $100
Clothing $50
Category subtotal $4710
SAVINGS
3-6 month expenses, Full at $5,000 $0/mo ($5,000 current)
Car Repairs, Full at $2,000 $200/mo; ($676 current)
Kids’ birthday, Full at $500 $50/mo; ($150 current)
Travel/Christmas; Full at $500 $50/mo; ($50 current)
Annual Fees $240/mo (revolving)
Girls’ College Savings $50/mo
Roth IRA Savings $460/mo
Home Improvement $350/mo
Summer Vacation Savings $500/mo
Category subtotal $1900/mo
DEBT
Student Loan Payments $2200/mo
Medical $25/mo
Balance Transfer $800/mo
Category subtotal $3,025/mo

 

TOTAL = $9635/month

 

The biggest “note” right off the bat is this: I do NOT make $9635 “take home” per month. I don’t make that much. So that’s a problem. But here’s the deal – we’ll make it work.
At least for the time being, hubs is still drawing a little bit of additional income, so that helps to supplement my income. But as the year progresses, assuming our income will go down at some point, we’ll end up having to cut back. Likely the cut-backs will occur in both the savings and the debt categories. Some of the savings categories are easy to cut (e.g., travel/Christmas or kids’ birthdays); some of the savings are short-term and will go away eventually (e.g., summer vacation savings). But some will be harder to cut out (e.g., girls’ college savings is set to draft automatically from my account and if we want to hit our fully funded Roth IRA goal, we need to be pretty consistent in that savings category). I hate to cut back on debt at all, too, but if faced with a lack of funds at the end of the month, we may have to dip below my projected number. To be fair, our 2017 goal is to pay $30,000 toward debt, which is “only” $2500/month, so we’ve got a bit of wiggle room if we need to make a slightly lower debt payment (though I’d LOVE to pay MORE toward debt and hit our goals early!!!)

In terms of the monthly bills and expenses, most of those are pretty “set” at this point. We did our 100% bare-bones blog days (a full 2 years) and have just started loosening up the purse strings a bit for the sake of our sanity and longevity with our get-out-of-debt plans. We may try to make our “entertainment” budget cheaper (which accounts for our monthly date nights and any family activities we do), and I’m always struggling to try to spend less on food (either/both in groceries & in eating out). I could skip or reduce the personal maintenance budget occasionally (which accounts for things like yoga/exercise stuff, eyebrow wax, hair care, makeup, etc). But for the most part, the monthly bills are going to be hard to see much wiggle room in at this point.

So all of this brings us to this point…. It’s kind of scary to see a budget that our projected income cannot cover. To accommodate for this, all savings and debt payments will be made late in the month. That way, we can alter payments (and savings) as needed so that our budget isn’t exceeding our monthly income.

There you have it! January debt update coming soon, too!

 

If you keep a budget, what are your proportions of monthly expenses, savings, and debt? Ours are 48% monthly expenses, 20% savings, 32% debt. Of course, that’s just the budgeted categories and things are subject to change as income decreases. But as budgeted, I think that’s pretty good! I’d be proud to pull those numbers! What are your numbers?


Ashley’s June Budget + 2016 Goals Update

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As a reminder, we have 3 concrete financial goals that we’re working on in 2016:

  • Save $10,000 for a down payment
  • Save $5,000 for an emergency fund
  • Put $30,000 toward debt.

Even amidst some obstacles that have caused us to have to withdraw money from our EF (for expenses related to the death of our beloved dog and a plane ticket home for my Nana’s funeral), we’ve still managed to make some progress for each of our savings goals.

In total we have now saved up: $6,000 for a house down payment, and $2,100 in our emergency fund.  In May we weren’t able to contribute to any savings at all, but in June we were able to save a good chunk and July should be good in this regard (and for debt payments), too.

Originally, we were hoping to start house-hunting in mid-summer but we decided to push our timeframe back just a tad so we can save up more money. We’re now hoping to have both of these savings goals met by August or September, and plan to start the house-hunting process in early September. I’m itching hard on this!

What about the $30,000 debt goal?

After last month’s $3500 debt payment, we’re almost exactly half-way to our overall 2016 goal of paying $30,000 toward debt! In full transparency, it’s going to be tough to hit our goal since we’re still working on stocking our savings accounts, too (we’d hoped to be done with the savings goals by mid-year). Even so, we’re currently on track and making good progress. For reference, here’s the table I made of goal debt-payments compared to actual payments for 2016:

Month 2016 GOALS 2016
January Goal: $3500 $4013
February Goal: $1000 $1261
March Goal:  $1000 $2134
April Goal:  $2000 $1521
May Goal: $2000 $1325
June Goal:  $4000 $3500
July Goal: $4000
August Goal: $2500
September Goal: $2500
October Goal: $2500
November Goal: $2500
December Goal: $2500
Total Goal: $30,000 Actual: $15770.00

 

Currently, we’ve paid $15,770 toward debt out of the total $30,000 we have planned (though it’d be great to beat our goal, too!) Right on track!

And here’s how our household budget looked for June 2016:

 

Place Amount Spent
Rent 1200
Down Payment Savings 2000
Electricity 128
Water 65
Natural gas 36
Cell Phones (2 lines) 105
Cable/Internet 100
Trash 35
Preschool (babysitting) 880
Gift-Giving 9
Restaurants 334
Kids Activities 136
Groceries 505
Gasoline 159
Household Goods 41
Clothing 74
Work Expenses 105
Rainy Day Savings 2023 (minus deductions, see below)
Savings Goals 500
Debt Payments 3500

 

Comments:

Electricity: Our electric bill from June was moderate, but I already received the July bill and it’s shooting sky-high. This is to be expected given that the temperatures are in the one-teens (as in 115 degrees!!!) and the girls have a babysitter at home all summer so we need to keep the A/C running since kids are at the house all day.

Restaurants + Groceries: I feel like you can’t consider one without knowledge of the other. Our overall food spending this month wasn’t too terrible when you consider that these figures include some of the food for the girls’ birthday party, along with the food we had to buy on our multiple trips this month (remember, I went to Austin for a funeral the first week of June + the whole family went to Utah the third week of June. Particularly during the Utah trip, we had to eat out basically the entire time since we were clearing out my Dad’s house and didn’t have the ability to cook).

Babysitting: The only perk about our travels is that we had less childcare. During the regular preschool year we have to pay a set price regardless of whether we travel or not (for instance, we still had to pay the full week of childcare when we were on cruise 2016). But with a babysitter, we don’t have to pay if we aren’t utilizing her services. So our childcare costs were pretty low in June.

Kids’ Activities ($136): I had cancelled swim lessons for about a month while we were busy traveling, but I started back up again in late June. I think I’ll carry it through the duration of summer and in early September I’ll probably cancel again and start them in a new activity. For new readers, swim lessons is the only paid activity we’ve ever done with the girls. But now that they’re 4 years old, I really want to let them start trying some new activities. We have lots in our area to choose from:  dance, soccer, martial arts, gymnastics, music lessons, etc. etc. etc. I’m committed to only having them in a single activity at a time (at least for the time being). They’ve made great progress in swim lessons so far and I’m really proud of how far they’ve come. But I also can’t wait to get to watch them in little tutus or soccer cleats or whatever the “uniform” is for the next activity we decide to do!

Clothing: This includes a mix of clothes for all 4 of us. I got a new cardigan for work, hubs got some new basketball shorts, and I got some darling outfits for the girls from my favorite app, Wish (side note: I’m still loving how cheap and easy it is to order through Wish, but I’ve seriously reduced the frequency of use. I can see how people could get addicted and overspend on crap).

Work Expenses:  This month I had several work-related expenses:  a new ink cartridge for our home printer, reordering checks and address labels, and $30 worth of gift cards for people who helped participate in a huge project I’m working on (that amounts to 3- $10 gift cards). Even though I had to pay for it personally (the department said “no”), I feel like it was warranted because these people have invested a HUGE amount of time into a project I’m spearheading.

Rainy Day Savings: I’d deposited $2023 into my various rainy day funds (though some money was also withdrawn from these accounts.) See below:

  • 3-6 Month EF: $1,000. The goal is to get to $5,000 and we currently have $2100 (note, this is down from my last budget update because we had to use emergency funds to cover my $$$ last-minute flight to Texas for my Nana’s funeral; we also had to withdraw some money for end-of-life expenses for our dog, who died last month. We withdrew money for an ultrasound, lab tests, and his final cremation and disposal. http://www.bloggingawaydebt.com/2015/12/2016-tentative-financial-goals/
  • Car Repairs: $50. I also withdrew $10 to wash it. Our overall account balance is at $113, but I know we need to add more because my breaks have been squeaky and there are a couple routine maintenance issues we need to get done soon. Why are car repairs always so $$$???
  • Birthdays: $523. I also withdrew the full $523 for kid birthday expenses. I lumped some expenses here that would otherwise have gone into different budget categories, but I included them here due to their nature. For instance, both of our moms came to town for the birthday, but we only have one guest bed. So this number includes money for a new air mattress. It also includes all of the food costs associated with the party AND a dinner out when we treated our moms to Italian food while they were in town. In addition to that, this covers the bounce house, a pop-up tent we got to shade the yard, and all kinds of party odds-and-ends (decorations, goody bag treats, piñata & candy, etc.). I’d guesstimated our party costs to be about $600, so I wasn’t too terribly far off.
  • Travel/Christmas: $100. The full account balance for this category is at $150. It always helps when Christmas time rolls around to have some of our travel and gift expenses subsidized a bit!
  • Health/Dental/Vision: $0. Generally, this gets auto-deducted from my paychecks so we can pay for healthcare out of pre-tax money (it sits in a flexible spending account earmarked for health-care related expenses.) However, I pre-pay healthcare expenses in the spring semester to cover the summer (this is normal at my university), so I didn’t add anything to the account this month since its summer time. Instead, I get a higher paycheck since this money isn’t withdrawn. : ) I did have to make a deduction this month, though. I deducted $25 from our FSA to pay for a prescription. Current account balance sits right at $2300.
  • Annual Fees: $300. Deducted $68 for vehicle registration. The total current balance is $482. I like to have it around $500ish, so we’re almost fully funded here.
  • Girls’ College Savings: $50. We save $25/each (x 2 girls) for college that’s automatically transferred monthly to designated 529 accounts.

Savings Goals ($500): This is all money that was saved for our 2016 Roth IRA. As a reminder, I have 10% of my paycheck auto-deposited into pre-tax retirement accounts, but I also like to put a little bit of post-tax money into a Roth each year. It’s never a big priority (especially since I’m already saving 10% of my income), but every little bit helps.

 

Debt:  I gave a full debt update here.

 

Overall, June was a good month! Here’s hoping July is just as fruitful!

 


Ashley’s February 2016 Budget Update

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There’ve been some changes to the ol’ budget this past month. Check out what we spent and saved in February:

 

 

Place Amount Spent
Rent 1200
Down Payment Savings 2155
Electricity 283
Water 61
Natural gas 163
Cell Phones (2 lines) 89
Cable/Internet 97
Car Insurance (now comes out of rainy day funds)
Trash 35
Preschool 1163
Gift-Giving 381
Personal Maintenance 8
Restaurants 175
Entertainment 147
Groceries 695
Gasoline 74
Household Goods 68
Clothing 36
Postage 15
Rainy Day Savings 3175 (minus deductions, see below)
Savings Goals 775 (minus deductions, see below)
Debt Payments 1261
Total Budgeted $12,056

 

Comments:

Down Payment Savings ($2155): Notice that I created a new account called “Down Payment Savings.” The goal is to get to $10,000 by summer time. We’re planning to start house-hunting around May, with hopes of closing by August (our current lease is up in August, though we can go month-to-month if needed). This savings goal will heavily impact the first half of our year’s budgets since we need to save heavily at the beginning of the year.

Electricity ($283): I posted previously about our outrageous electric bill (our gas bill was high, too). Fortunately, this has gone down. I’ve already gotten the bill for March and its over a hundred dollars than February’s bill. I discussed in my post possible reasons for the sky-high bill. I took active measures to correct those issues and it looks like it paid off big-time!

Car Insurance ($0):  After this month, I’ll be removing this line item from our budget. I wrote earlier about how I changed our insurance to be paid in full for 6-month chunks of time so we could save some big money. For this budget update I wanted to just remind readers of this budget change. Moving forward, I’ll be setting money aside monthly for car insurance as part of our “annual fees” rainy day savings (part of our Capital One 360 savings account).

Gift-Giving ($381): This number is really deceiving. It does include 3 birthdays and 1 house-warming gift (for a total of $181 spent on gifts), but the other $200 is actually a charitable donation I made so I could get Arizona’s tax credit. Every year since I’ve started blogging we’ve been making similar donations (this donation was for a school, but we also donate to a children’s nonprofit organization we support). The donations cover our state income tax liability and it’s great because we get to support these organizations we love. It’s a win-win. As a side-note, I’m very curious to see what our tax liability might be for 2015. Last year we ended up owing big time! This year I was better about making realistic sized estimated tax payments, plus my new full-time job takes taxes out of my check. So I’m hoping we’ll end up breaking even, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Personal Maintenance ($8): This is just for a box of hair dye. Operation cut/color-my-own-hair is still going strong. In full disclosure, though, I’m planning to get a professional cut/color prior to cruise 2016 (which will come from my cruise savings).

Entertainment ($147): Part of this ($65) was from renewing our family’s membership to the zoo. I struggled with that decision for a bit because we don’t go nearly as often as we used to now that I’m working full-time (we used to go nearly every week!). But I did the math and realized that we’d literally only have to go three times to make the cost worthwhile (without membership it would cost us $28 per visit). We still go about once per month, so I opted to go ahead and renew. The rest of the spending was from a date that hubs and I went on. As promised, hubs and I are planning to do about one date per month this year (in the past 2 years we rarely ever had date nights). So expect this category to be a bit higher this year in compared to previous years.

Groceries ($695):  I’ve consistently over-spent in this category every single month since I started working full-time. Our old grocery budget (before full-time job) was $500/month. When I started working I initially increased the budget to $600/month. I’ve struggled hard to try to make that cut-off, but to no avail. I attribute it to buying more prepared foods and not cooking fully from scratch as often. But, honestly, after 7 months now of battling this budget category I think it might be time to admit that I just can’t hit the $600-mark. I still don’t want to be spending as much as I did this month on groceries, but I may increase my budget to $650. It’s a simple time management issue. I’m working on it, but I’m not perfect. Sometimes I’ve gotta buy a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store for dinner, you know? That’s just how it goes.

Household Goods ($68): This includes laundry soap, toilet paper, and some new flower pots and soil. I should post a picture of my chive plant soon. It’s seriously out-of-control! The biggest I’ve ever seen!!!

Rainy Day Savings ($3175): I’d deposited $3175 into my various rainy day funds (though some money was also withdrawn from these accounts.) See below:

  • 3-6 Month EF: $1,000. My goal is to get to $5,000 for now (about 1 month of expenses). Eventually I’ll want to raise it up further, but that’s it for now.
  • Car Repairs fund: $400 (though I withdrew $195 for a new tire and will withdraw the other $200 soon to repair the weird car flap thing that broke on my car the week after I paid it off).
  • Birthdays: $50
  • Health: $425 (though I withdrew $74 for a doctor’s visit and prescription after my kids got pink eye. I was able to save money because I only paid for one doctor’s trip and one prescription, but it was enough for both kids. Our pediatrician is awesome this way because she’ll often look at both kids, even if I’m only there for one of the kids).
  • Annual Fees: $1000 (though I withdrew $918 to account for 6-months of car insurance)
  • Pet Expenses: $250
  • Girls’ College Savings: $50

Savings Goals ($775): $775 was deposited but there were also withdrawals. See below:

  • Savings for 2015 Roth IRA: $275
  • Cruise 2016: $500. I also withdrew $1276 from my cruise fund to make our final cruise payment and buy a couple cruise-related items (e.g., a snorkel set and beach stuff). I’ve got a post that talks more about how much money is still leftover and what I plan to do with it, planned to post later this week.

Debt:  I gave a full debt update here.

Final Thoughts:

This was a really high-income month for us! We were able to save a TON of money! Between the house downpayment, the rainy day savings, and the savings goals we put basically $6,000 toward various savings (though, to be fair, a lot of the “rainy day savings” were immediately spent. Example: nearly a thousand for car insurance, another couple hundred for car repairs, etc.) Even with some of these larger expenses, I was very pleased with how well we did! As I’d mentioned in my debt update post, we’re right on track (ahead of schedule, really) with our debt payments in order to reach out $30,000 goal for the year of 2016. And in regard to the house downpayment fund, we’re right on track with that as well. We’ll need to keep putting about $2,000/month toward the down payment fund to reach $10,000 by June. It will be tight, but I believe it’s doable. Finally, I mentioned in this post how we had a bit of extra money. A lot of that ended up being routed toward rainy day savings funds. But we also put just over $300 into our “last month’s income” account inside of YNAB’s budget software. It’s just a tiny amount, but it’s the beginning. I can’t wait to build back up that buffer so that we’re always living on last month’s income. It was a fantastic feeling of peace to have that extra money (in addition to an EF). Can’t wait to get that feeling back! Little by little. It will happen. : )

How did you do with budgeting last month? Do you have any problem areas in your budget? How do you deal with them?


7 Things To Do After Getting a Raise

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By Holly Tomlinson

If you’ve recently received a raise, or you’re planning on having the talk with the powers that be soon, congratulations. This is an exciting step in any professional career, and the money earned shouldn’t be regarded lightly.

Look at Your Budget

You’ll need to look back at your budget and do some spring cleaning of sorts. Assess your budget as it is now and determine where you could decrease unnecessary spending. Take a look at your credit card statements from the past few months and take note of any purchases that you could have done without. Once you’ve reviewed your budget, consider where you could put your raise funds and make the biggest practical difference. Be sure not to automatically spend your raise without deciding the best place in your budget is should go.

Emergency Savings Fund

If you don’t have an emergency savings fund, then now is the time to create one. I would recommend having a six-month cushion in case of job loss or emergency. The expenses your emergency savings fund should be able to cover are extensive; from rent, mortgages, and utilities to food expenses, even health care to transportation. There seems to be a never-ending list of items you’ll be responsible for even in the unlikely case you lose your job. Establish automatic transfers when receiving your paycheck; you won’t miss the extra money that automatically goes into your savings account, but you will be glad you have it when a rainy day inevitably comes.

Pay Off Pre-Existing Debt

If you have debt hanging over your head, use the extra funds you’ve been given to start paying off those accounts, focusing first on the ones that are charging high-interest rates. The sooner you get out of debt, the less you will pay over time in interest, and your credit score can start improving the second you settle your debts. Some choose to pay off accounts in the opposite manner; by knocking off smaller debts, your list of accounts gets smaller quicker and may make the debt seem less overwhelming. If your debt is serious, then your raise should definitely go towards paying back what you owe to get you out of hot water with the IRS. If you’re in need of financial advice how to settle outstanding balances with the IRS, use a company like CTax to figure out the best option for you.

Give Back

Now that you’ve been given more, make sure you give back if you have the extra funds available within your budget. Donating to charitable organizations makes you eligible for tax deductions and will relieve the negative effects of decreased deductions and credits that may have come with your change in pay grade.

Consider Retirement

Once you’ve determined how your raise can be factored into your daily and monthly expenses, give a glance to the future. Putting more money in your retirement fund means you’ll have higher retirement income and potentially be able to retire sooner than expected. Consider contributing to a Roth IRA. You’ll pay upfront taxes on your contributions, but once you pull it out, you can grab it tax-free. If your employer matches your 401k contributions, make sure you put more into when possible.

Make Strategic Purchases

Just because you now have more money, it doesn’t mean you should spend it on anything. Rather than hit the ground running by throwing your hard-earned income towards frivolous purchases, it’s imperative to think before you buy. Try to make purchases that will pay you back in the long run. Maybe it’s time to get a new energy efficient appliance that will pay for itself with the amount of energy it saves in the long run. As you look at purchases you want to make, prioritize those which have the potential to save you money in the long run.

What Not to Do

There are several things you shouldn’t do, at least not in the first few weeks and months of receiving your raise. Signing the lease on a more expensive apartment or home, funding a business venture, and loaning out money may seem doable once you’re making more money, but these expenditures can actually come back to bite you. Be responsible with your raise, and don’t spend more simply because you have more money coming into your account.


Ashley’s January 2016 Budget Update

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Let’s just jump right to it, shall we?

Also, full disclosure….as I was making this month’s budget update I realized I never made one for December! Yikes! How did no one point this out/remind me? In full honesty, I feel too rushed for time as it is to go back and write a post from last month so I’m just picking back up here and moving forward.

 

Place Amount Spent
Rent 1200
Electricity 199
Water 61
Natural gas 103
Cell Phones (2 lines) 89
Cable/Internet 101
Car Insurance 137
Trash 35
Preschool 1061
Gift-Giving 107
Personal Maintenance 33
Restaurants 197
Entertainment 81
Groceries 665
Gasoline 131
Household Goods 9
Clothing 69
Health 25
Rainy Day Savings 50
Savings Goals 0 (-120)
Debt Payments 4013
Total Budgeted $8366

 

Comments:

Gift-Giving: I paid for 3 birthday and 1 belated Christmas gift with that $107, so I felt like I’d done pretty well considering how many gifts were purchased.

Personal Maintenance: This is for some hair care products I bought. It’s been FOREVER since I’ve bought anything related to my hair (with the exception of hair dye since I cut and color my own hair), so I didn’t think this was too bad. I bought a deep conditioning treatment thing and a new flat brush since my old one has been falling apart for months.

Restaurants: This was super high this month (and was last month too, even though I never did a budget update last month – doh!), and it’s because this includes a bunch of eating out expenses from when we were out of town. Remember that this year we traveled back to Texas in late December and stayed until the first week of January. Some of those expenses, of course, were in December, but some fell in the month of January too. So that’s why this was so high.

Entertainment:  $6 was from the girls riding on those giant animal things they have in malls (know what I’m talking about? No? Nevermind then). The remainder was from a DATE NIGHT that hubs and I took! Wahoo for that! I’m warning you now, I’m really committed to trying to have more regular date-nights this year so you’ll see a higher entertainment budget this year than in the past 2 years of blogging. We’re shooting for every-other-month, but we’ve already got plans for Valentines, so we’ll be going back-to-back January and February.

Groceries:  This was also a monstrous sized number! I stocked up on a ton of snack-type foods for the girls that I send with them to preschool (e.g., pretzels, cheese crackers, fruit leather, trail mix, juice boxes, etc. etc.) and I’m hoping/planning that those things will last at least 2 months, so our February grocery budget should be much more reasonable.

Household Goods: This includes some batteries we needed for remotes and kid toys.

Clothing:  I’m still budgeting roughly $100/month for building up a work wardrobe. I’m getting to be pretty good on this, though. I’m still trying to find some decent khaki pants (I’ve tried on a few different pair from a couple different places in the mall, but wasn’t crazy about anything), but once the pants are purchased I think I’ll have all my staples and I’ll reduce this budget down to probably closer to $40/month just to fill in with a new blouse or cardigan once a month or so.

Health: This is from a prescription

Rainy Day Savings:  I don’t really like the category because it’s really not a “rainy day savings” (I need to adjust my YNAB a bit), but this is for the girls’ college savings. We save $25/month per child ($50/total) toward college. I’d hoped to save a bit more toward our car repair fund, annual fees fund, etc., but at the end of the month we just didn’t have the money there, as we’d spent it on getting rid of the car loans (wooo!!!!) We’ll focus a lot harder on this category in February.

Savings Goals:  Similar to the rainy day savings, we just didn’t have money this month for any of our long-term savings goals. You’ll notice that I actually put a negative number there in the table! I actually withdrew $120 from the Cruise 2016 fund. I paid for one plane ticket (I will be traveling separately from the rest of the family because I can’t take off extra time to stay in Texas like hubs and the girls plan to do), and I bought a new swimsuit. I plan to use this money for all cruise-related expenses so I’ll be spending a big chunk this month (when I pay off our remaining balance), and this is where I’ll be spending when I buy cruise-related clothing or other necessities (as opposed to having it come from the regular clothing our household budget).**Edited to add:  I realized without additional context this amount seems off. The plane ticket I bought was only $75 because I already had an airline credit. The remaining $45 was for a swimsuit. PRO tip:  Mix & Match!! I bought a swimsuit bottom from one site because it was cute, my size, and on clearance. I bought the top from another site for the same reasons. They’re both black so, even though they’re different brands, they definitely look like a matching pair. But it’d be possible to mix-and-match patterns, too. The point is that if you look around, you can score some great deals! The swimsuit full price would’ve been about $100. The bottom was from Albion Fit and the top was from Victoria’s Secret (both a bit pricey in swimwear), but buying off-season and clearance saved me a ton. That’s my tip of the day. : )

Debt:  I gave a full debt update here.

So I think that’s it. I’m excited about the month ahead!

I hope you are all starting off to a fantastic February!


Ashley’s Year In Review (2015)

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I know we’re now a full week into the new year, but I always like to look back and reflect on the previous year around this time. So indulge me in a week-late review of some of the big highlights of 2015.

Personal and Financial Goals

The year began (or really was preceded by) setting some big goals. We had one list of financial goals, and a second list of goals related to “growing up” (in my mind this meant doing things like getting wills, life insurance, etc.). By the end of the year we hadn’t quite met all of our financial goals, but we’d made incredible progress. In all, we paid off over $26,000 in debt!!! We did even better on our “year of becoming an adult” goals. We fully accomplished 3 of our 4 goals and are well underway on the 4th goal (see update here). We’ve set some pretty lofty financial goals for 2016, too!

Budgeting

In early January, we made some pretty big changes to the way we did our budget. This eventually lead us to using YNAB for budgeting (we’d previously used an Excel file). I still can’t say enough great things about YNAB. I really think it’s made a huge impact on how well we’ve been able to stick to our budget and, therefore, how well we’ve done with paying off debt (see my full review here).

One of the categories in our budget that we really struggled with this year was our grocery budget. I talked several times about our efforts to make cheap meals, saving money by making homemade yogurt (super easy and so tasty!), DIY-ing pumpkin spice coffee (a personal fave), and trying my hardest to meal plan (which was much easier when I worked from home compared to an office-setting, and I’m still learning to balance competing needs).

I also saved a lot of money on self-maintenance this year. With the exception of 2 professional cut/colors (which I did prior to big job interviews), I’ve saved money in our budget by cutting and coloring my own hair for the past 21 months (but who’s counting? hehe). I’ve even received compliments on my self-maintained hair and really like my new darker color. To be transparent, I did just barely receive a professional cut/color from my Mom as a birthday gift, so this totals 3 professional jobs (only 2 that I personally paid for) in nearly 2 years.

Employment

I interviewed for 3 separate jobs in 2015:  one in January (recap), one in March, and one in June. I was offered the third job (third times a charm!) and accepted the position soon thereafter. I started the position in July and have been very happy in the job ever since (though I have plans to try to negotiate for a title change and more money).

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Gift-Giving

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Before I started our debt reduction mission we really spent a ton of money on gift-giving. Since starting to blog here, I’ve drastically reduced the amount spent on gifts. I now try to spend an average of about $15-20 per gift (though hubs and I set a $50 limit on gifts to each other). I talked about a cheap classroom gift here and waxed poetic about the impact of a hand-written thank you note (as opposed to an expensive flower delivery). I also talked about a cheap going away gift basket, a cheap Mother-in-Law (or grandparent) gift, an inexpensive alternative wedding gift, and relatively inexpensive ($50 limit) anniversary gifts.

Kids Crafts

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The kids did lots of fun and cheap crafts this year. A sampling of crafts include: a  Valentine’s craft, a Mother’s Day craft, and an Easter craft. All of these doubled as cheap cards/gifts for family, too!

Entertainment

Our entertainment budget was really bare bones this year as we tried to funnel all our extra money toward debt. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t have fun! I talked about a free family activity here and a free painting class (courtesy of Yelp Elite) here. I also shared how we got cheap Halloween costumes for the kids and had fun with a cheap-ish birthday day date for hubs’ 33rd birthday.

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Successes

In April we celebrated kicking hubs’ license fee debt to the curb! That left us with only the car loan, some medical debt, and the monstrous student loans to contend with. That same month I did a balance transfer of a higher-interest student loan (8.5%) to a 0% APR credit card to pay off one of my Navient student loans at a lower rate (just paid a 2% initiation fee). I also celebrated when we paid off another of my Navient student loans back in October. It’s no secret that I freaking hate Navient, so I can’t wait to rid them from my life!

Personal

In June I let you know something I’d been keeping a bit of a secret. I have a very close family member experiencing a debilitating illness for which there is no cure. I later told you all that the “close family member” is my father and divulged that his diagnosis is frontotemporal degeneration (a type of dementia). I had a rough time in regard to processing this information. I was painfully honest about the scary feelings and emotions experienced knowing that his health is quickly declining and my siblings and I will be tasked with becoming his caretaker and all of the other financial implications of the situation. I also discussed prioritizing the costs of therapy so I could take care of myself. I never updated, but I did in fact search for therapists but there was only one person who really stood out to me as a good fit. Of course, that person was not accepting new clients at the time and, feeling overwhelmed by life, the new job, etc., I never pursued any other options. To be honest, I do think I’ll try again to find someone to talk to in the New Year. I feel like I am in a much better place mentally than I was when I first wrote this post (or this one, too), but I know my Dad’s health issues will continue to be a HUGE deal in my life and I would like to see someone at least occasionally to help me process everything as his disease progresses.

Summary

2015 was a wild year! Lots of great successes – Can I get a high five for that $26,000+ of debt that was paid off!?! and some tough times, too. In 2016 we plan to split our priorities a bit between saving for a house and continuing to pay off debt, but I know that we’ll continue to make great progress along the way. I’ve admitted before that I may loosen up the purse strings slightly. I think it’s important to have more regular date nights and such. But I also can’t wait to make some big dents to our debt this year. This will be the first full year of me having a full-time job and income (in addition to my part-time job & hubs’ job). With the additional money we really hope to do some crazy things in 2016. A house, a car (not a new one, but our current one being paid off), punching Navient in the nose, and so on. Great things ahead, friends! Thank you for joining me on life’s wild ride!


Ashley’s November 2015 Budget Update

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November seemed to fly by in the blink of an eye. I was proud of how well I did in trying to tighten our belt, especially with the Thanksgiving holiday/travel. I’ve been struggling with our food expenses (both eating out and regular grocery budgets have been out of control lately), so I made a concerted effort this month to try to get those categories down a bit and was pleased with the result. We could still do better (we’re not perfect), but this was a big decrease compared to the past few months, so overall I’m happy.

Place Amount Spent
Rent 1200
Electricity 193
Water 60
Natural gas 65
Cell Phones (2 lines) 92
Cable/Internet 100
Car Insurance 117
Trash 35
Preschool 1006
Gift-Giving 119
Entertainment 38
Restaurants 135
Groceries 605
Gasoline 64
Household Goods 70
Clothing 53
Toddler purchases 107
Rainy Day Savings 150
Savings Goals 500
Debt Payments 2751
Total Budgeted $7460

Comments:

Preschool:  Preschool was a little more this month because we had to utilize the after-care program a bit more than usual. The preschool we chose ends their normal day at 3pm. Rarely are we able to pick them up at 3. Generally we aim for a 4pm pick-up time (which is what they’re used to since that’s when their old preschool had pick-up), but there have been a handful of times that we’ve both been tied up with work until 4:30 or 5:00pm. Our preschool charges by the hour (so we don’t get a discount if we pick up at 4:30 rather than 5), but we still prefer to have our children if we can, so we just pay the whole hour and get them as soon as we can.

Gift-Giving:  Gift-giving was high this month because it includes several items. We bought gifts for our Utah relatives (Grandma, Dad, and Uncle) so we could take them up with us over Thanksgiving rather than mailing at Christmas. I also bought a gift for the girls (hidden in the closet until Christmas) and this figure includes the belt I bought for hubs for our anniversary at the beginning of November.  For five-six gifts total (depending on whether you lump the girls’ gift as one or view it as two), I think we did pretty good.

Entertainment:  This month we rented a couple Netflix movies, I bought a few iTunes songs, and hubs watched the girls one night so I could go to a movie with a friend. We saw the last movie in the Hunger Games series. I think this was the first time I’ve been to a movie since the last Hunger Games movie….it’s been awhile. : )  Fun month!

Gasoline:  This is actually low for the month, and its because I didn’t include the gas costs for our travel to Utah. My dad paid our gasoline costs.

Household Goods: This is from a Sonicare toothbrush (I lost our old one, leaving it at my Dad’s house on a previous Utah trip. I’d been using a manual one and hoping to retrieve my Sonicare one at this trip but when I went and couldn’t find it anywhere I gave up and bought a new one). The extra cost is from a few Halloween decorations purchased on clearance after Halloween was over (to save for next year).

Savings:  Savings were low this month in favor of trying to put more money toward debt. Our rainy day savings were $100 for Christmas spending (to be spent in December) and $50 for the girls’ 529 accounts. The $500 savings goal was for our cruise 2016 fund.

That’s it! We’re trying to have a frugal Christmas this year, too. It’s funny how every year we tend to think “next year….”  This year we had hoped to do some really fun Christmas activities that just aren’t in the budget (the Polar Express was at the top of the list). Instead, we’re digging deep and really trying our hardest to get out of debt! It’s not going to be this month, but we’re working hard to try to pass the consumer debt-free mark in January. We’re so excited! It will feel like Christmas all over again!

How are you trying to save money with all the holiday spending?


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