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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!


Year of Becoming an Adult: October Update

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Just last month I told you guys that we’d completed 2 out of our 4 2015 goals on our Year of Becoming an Adult list. Here’s where we stand now:

  1. Wills: Completed a couple months ago.
  2. Life insurance for hubs: I’d mentioned in my last update about hubs losing a bunch of weight (50 lbs, to be exact!!!) He still wants to lose about another 20, but decided to go ahead an initiate the life insurance process now. I remember it taking two or three months last time around (not a quick process), so hopefully by getting the ball rolling now he’ll be able to be insured before the end of the calendar year. And, just to show you how far he’s come, check out this incredible before/after photo comparison (note: I forced him to do this –he’d be embarrassed to do a mirror selfie himself; I also forced him to wear the same shirt for comparison purposes. The difference is incredible, right?!?! So proud of him!!!).

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  1. Open retirement accounts: We opened a Roth IRA back in April, and I also started funding an additional account through my work (a 401a) in July. I’m investing 10% of my paycheck into the 401(a) + my 7% employer match, plus still doing the $100/month toward the Roth (I know its not much, but better than nothing!)
  2. Open college savings accounts for the kids: I finally did it! I opened two 529s (one for each child) and have set up an auto-deposit of $25/month for each of them (a total of $50/month). Once we’re further along in the debt-payoff process we may increase contributions a bit, but I’m happy with where they’re at for now. It’s not much, but every little bit helps.

It’s been a crazy whirlwind of a year! Some serious happy times and some serious lows have been had. And in the last few months as I’ve transitioned back into full-time work I feel like I’ve let a lot of these “household” type tasks fall to the wayside as I’ve been trying to balance my work obligations and father caretaker tasks.  I’ve alluded to this without outright saying it, but I’ve taken over 100% of my father’s financial matters. Since he owns two separate properties, it feels like I’m essentially running THREE households myself. Hubs and I still have our budget meetings so its not like he doesn’t contribute to our household, but I’m still the person who balances the YNAB budget and physically pays the bills. It’s been a lot to take on, but I’m of course happy to help my Dad and just trying to stay on top of everything. I’m eternally grateful for the accountability I’ve received here!!! I’ve always done Excel budget spreadsheets, but I don’t think I was as uber-careful about where every single penny was being spent until I started blogging here (and, really, YNAB has been a life-changer in that regard. Check out my review if you’re interested.) Without the organization I’ve gained since I started blogging here, managing 3 separate household budgets would be really tricky. I mean, its tricky either way, but it’s certainly much easier being organized.

At any rate, in spite of the haze that this year has been (can’t believe its already mid-October! Where is 2015 going!?), I’m really glad to have now solidly accomplished 3 of our 4 “Year of Becoming an Adult” goals and that we’re well on the way to completing the fourth as well.

Now….if we can just squeeze in some debt payoff milestones we’ll be set! ; )

Have you ever tried YNAB? What did you think?

Do you do goals or resolutions for the year? How are you doing on your 2015 goals?


Killer Cooling Costs

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How is it that every summer I’m completely thrown off guard by our ridiculously high electric bill? Given Tucson’s heat, our A/C is running constantly – even with our thermostat set to 80 degrees during the day and 76 degrees at night!

I thought last month’s electric bill was bad ($209) but since we were gone for a full week at the beginning of July, I’d half-expected this month’s bill to be lower. LOL at that! Wishful thinking, I guess!

I felt like I’d been hit in the gut when I opened our bill and faced the music – to the tune of $245!!! In fact, I was so shocked by the higher bill (given what I’d thought was a lower usage compared to last month), that I pulled up my old Excel spreadsheet from last year (we now use YNAB) to check out how this year’s bill compared to last year’s bill. And, wouldn’t you know, this month’s bill was actually a little LOWER compared to last couple year’s bills!

August 2013:  $261

August 2014:  $251

August 2015: $245

Judging from the past two years’ September bills, next month won’t be that much better (September 2013 = $230; September 2014 = $245). So I guess I’ll just have to plan ahead for having these super high electric bills!

If nothing else, at least I feel a bit better knowing that this month’s bill isn’t out of line with previous years’ usage (even though a nearly two hundred fifty dollar bill still causes me to feel like I’ve had the wind knocked out of me).

What are your cooling costs like over the summer? Before moving to our current rental house (in 2013), we lived in places without A/C. We just has swamp coolers/evaporative cooling. According to my Excel spreadsheet, our electric bill  in August 2012 was $136. I’d LOVE a $136 electric bill now, but I NEVER want to go back to having no A/C, so I guess I’ll take the higher bill and the comfort of having central air conditioning!


May 2015 Budget Update

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I have been dreading this post. Like – dreading it!

This month has not been great in terms of our budgeting. I’ll show you the numbers in a second and I know they’re higher than our average numbers, but I also don’t feel like we went crazy or anything.

In basically all categories, our overspending was due to known expenses that I had failed to plan for. Basically – no big surprises came up (no crap river or emergency dental visits). Instead it was stuff like needing to buy the girls new swimsuits for their free swim lessons (they grow too fast! I tried to put them in last year’s swimsuits and the resulting atomic wedgies indicated it was NOT going to happen). Also, I mentioned that my mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law visited for four days. While here we paid to take them out to dinner one night in celebration of MIL’s birthday (and to thank them for their visit). That single dinner blew our entire month’s eating out budget. I should have increased it for the month since I knew this visit was coming up. Same thing happened with groceries. Aside from the one big dinner out, we did most of our eating at home and I hadn’t adequately planned by increasing our grocery budget.

At the month’s end we were over budget by nearly $400.

This is where YNAB comes into play and – again – why I have loved it so much (see my full review here). Going into the software I was easily able to move some monies around. I’d originally planned to put some money toward savings for dental/vision and annual fees but I re-allocated that money to different categories. Additionally, I had to tap into some of my Capital One 360 savings accounts. I didn’t want to pull all the money from my Emergency Fund (more on that in a minute), so I pulled about half from the EF and the other half from my semi-annual fees account. This move was partly psychological and partly strategic. It didn’t feel like as big of a “hit” when I spread the money out (instead of taking solely from my EF). That’s the psychological part. How was this move also strategic?

Sigh…

Here’s the part I’ve REALLY dreaded of this post. I have to tell you guys that this month did not go well for husband’s business. In the past when we’ve had lower income months I’ve gotten all introspective about it and been very public with what I think our mistakes were and how to correct them. But in the interest of keeping some things just between hubs and I, I’m not going to go into reasons this month (though he and I have discussed them endlessly, so its not for lack of analysis).

Long story short, Hubs’ business came up empty-handed this month. Completely. This isn’t the first time, though it’s the first time in a looooooong time (first time since I’ve been blogging). In the early days of his business some 4+ years ago this happened more frequently. There were even some months where he’d lose money! (Yes. As in, we’d have to take money from our personal checking/savings to cover his business losses). On the overall, his business’ trend has been upward. But this is life owning a small business. Some months are awesome! And some months you may not make anything. You hope the awesome months are more frequent and the crappy months are few and far between (and, in general, that’s the trend his business has been taking). But this month was a crappy one.

So how will we survive?

Well, fortunately, I still get paid from my job! And with the shortage we’ll be forced to raid our EF. However, we’ve also been trying to sell things to minimize our losses. Husband has sold some of his shoes (it’s funny, but he has a larger shoe collection than I do!), and has sold a nice watch he owns. Our regular pay will still be business as usual (being saved for the following month since we live on last month’s income). But with any side-money we receive from selling things, we’ll use it to supplement the current month (June) to minimize the amount we have to take from our EF to survive the month.

So there you have it. Last month’s overages and the plan for next month.

Now, onto the actual numbers.

 

Place Amount Spent
Rent 1055
Electricity 127
Water 61
Natural gas 18
Sprint (2 lines) 119
Cable/Internet 99
Car Insurance 58
Health Insurance 394
Trash 35
Preschool 1024
Gift-Giving 29
Restaurants 162
Entertainment 10
Groceries 550
Gasoline 71
Medical 11
Household Goods 100
Clothing 20
Toddler purchases 60
Work Purchases 47
Rainy Day Savings 130
Savings Goals 500
Debt Payments 1708
Total 6388

I hope your May was more fruitful than ours! Here’s to hoping we knock it out of the park in June!

Do you/have you ever had a variable income? How do you handle the fluctuations? Our variable income is one of the main reasons I loved YNAB’s idea of living on last month’s income. It’s also one of the main reasons we have a larger emergency fund than the $1,000 beginner EF recommended by Dave Ramsey. That’s way too low for my comfort level given the sometimes unexpectedly low income months we have on occasion.

 

Note: My YNAB and CapitalOne360 links are refer a friend links. If you join it doesn’t cost you anything extra but I do get a small compensation for the referral. All opinions are 100% my own and I joined paying my own money so this is not a sponsored post and I received no discount or anything for mentioning them. Particularly for YNAB, I’m just giving them a shout out because their budgeting system really has made a HUGE impact on getting our financial house in order!


Ashley’s February Budget Update

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After admittedly falling off the frugal train in the month of January, I think I did a much better job in February. You’ll see that not every single purchase was one of absolute necessity, but I also think I maintained a good balance of saving money, paying down debt, and getting a few things that were needed during the month. Here you go….
February Budget Update

Budget Category Amount Spent
Rent 1055
Electricity 158
Water 60
Natural gas 22
Sprint (2 lines) 114
Cable/Internet 99
Car Insurance 165
Health Insurance 394
Trash 35
Preschool 1040
Gift-Giving 50
Personal Maintenance 40*
Restaurants 87
Entertainment 35
Groceries 310
Gasoline 57
Household Goods 115
Clothing 22
Toddler purchases 20
Rainy Day Savings 625
Savings Goals 500
Debt Payments 2102
Total $7105

Let’s discuss….

  • Electricity. It’s weird that my electric bill this month was exactly the same as last month. At first I thought this was a mistake and double-checked, but this is the correct figure. Just a weird coincidence (note, I’ve been working to try to conserve electricity and the bill has gone down this month – wahoo!!)
  • Car Insurance. This got messed up this month because somehow husband’s truck ended up back on our personal insurance (instead of a separate policy in his company’s name). I’ve called to correct this so the bill should go back down again for next month.
  • Gift-Giving. We had several gift-giving occasions in February. This $50 figure includes a $30 photo book for my Mom’s birthday, my $5 classroom gift basket, and supplies for the Valentines we sent out to friends and family members (including pictures I had printed, postage, and a couple of cheap V-Day gifts I picked up from Dollar Tree for the girls).
  • Personal Maintenance. I put an asterisk next to this item because I didn’t actually spend any money during February on personal maintenance, but I plan to spend the money this month and wanted it set aside. I’m trying to decide what to do (may write a post about it), but am thinking I may get my hair done again before my big “not an interview” trip. It feels so soon, since I’d gone a full 9+ months without getting it done a single time, and then I went at the end of January before my ‘real interview’….but it’ll be a solid 9 weeks by the time I go on my next trip. Should I get a trim? Have my highlights touched up? Etc? I know I want to look sharp, so basically I set the money aside with the intention to use it this month. Not sure how (i.e., what I’ll be doing) or in what fashion (e.g., Groupon? Hair school?) yet. I’ll keep you posted.
  • Restaurants. We did better on eating out this month than we have in recent months (generally I set this at a $100 budget). However, we spent more in the next category than we usually do…
  • Entertainment. Some of this was little stuff ($3 for itunes songs; $6 to feed the giraffes at the zoo). The biggest splurge is that hubs and I actually went on a date this month! This was our first date since our anniversary in November, and we won’t be going on any dates for probably another couple of months so I’m okay with this expense. Just to be transparent, I paid for the actual “date” (movie tickets and snacks), and hubs paid for a babysitter separately, so this figure is lower than it would be if a babysitter were included here.
  • Groceries. Knocked it out of the park with groceries this month (we usually budget $400!!) I guess this makes up a bit for my overage in January, though it means I’m starting out March with a pretty bare pantry and fridge/freezer, and with it being such a tight month financially it means I’ll have to be creative with our dinner plans.
  • Household Goods. This category was also much higher than normal (usually we spend less than $30/month on household items). Some of it was just refilling some cleaning supplies (new kitchen scrub brush, laundry detergent), but I spent $40 on Round Up since our weeds have been out of control (side note – Costco is the cheapest place around for Round Up! I spent $40, but I got THREE of the big jugs-worth of weed killer, whereas Walmart sells the same stuff for $40 for only ONE of the big jugs of weed killer. Costco is the bomb.com)! The other large expense here was the YNAB software. I spent $54 for the YNAB software, but I think its money well spent (edited to add = I thought this was an annual expense, but a reader pointed out this is a one-time fee! Wahoo, I didn’t even realize that, makes it seem like an even better deal now!!!)
  • Toddler Purchases. $20 on gummy vitamins. I get two kinds: a multivitamin and an omega-3 vitamin. Also from Costco and much cheaper than I’ve seen anywhere else (even beats the sales prices at my local grocery store).
  • Rainy Day Savings. In YNAB I’ve made categories for all my savings needs. This month’s rainy day savings include: $200 (car repair fund), $125 (dental/vision), $100 (semi-annual fees), and $200 (a one-time pet expense saving). Remember when I was going to just put $500 toward my pet savings for the year? Yeah, too much money. But I made a good dent in it with the $200 savings (and then I promptly withdrew $51 to buy pet food). But still, that money will last for probably half the year, and I’m not planning to add any additional money to the pet savings right now since things are a bit tight.
  • Savings Goals. These are longer-term savings goals, not just for routine expenses. I saved $100 toward a Roth IRA, and $400 toward cruise 2016.

I said I was going to stop doing a full “anticipated budget” post for the current month, but just to give you a quick idea of how things are changing this month during our time of lower income….

In March I’ve done away with rainy day savings. I’ve changed all my Capital One 360 automatic savings plans so that nothing will be saved toward any of my rainy day funds in the month of March. I’ve also reduced my savings goals. I still have the $100 going toward a Roth IRA, but only $200 is going toward Cruise 2016 (instead of the $400 I’d initially planned). That’s a whopping total of $300 in overall savings in March…. compared to the $1125 I saved in the month of February.

This is yet another example of how having a lean month can be helpful. When I was really studying the budget and seeing where we could cut back, it’s hard not to notice that OVER A THOUSAND DOLLARS A MONTH IS GOING TO SAVINGS!!!!

How is this??? HOW!?!?!

We still had a decent debt payment (over $2,000; nearly 30% of our total income), but it was a bit of a shock to realize just how much is simply being set aside and saved on a monthly basis. When things get tight, the savings is the first thing to go! Just as a heads up, my debt payments will be much smaller this month, too. I’m just focusing on trying to pay all of our minimum obligations (okay, a little over the minimum, but not by much), and get through the month without any overspending. It’s been a long time since our income has been this low, and with the girls’ preschool accounting for nearly 25% of our take-home pay, regular bills (rent, utilities, insurances, etc.) accounting for another 50% of our take-home pay this month….there’s not a lot leftover for big-sized debt payments and non-discretionary spending (like groceries, gasoline, etc.).

But still, progress is progress. Any month that we’re moving forward is a good month, no matter by how little.

So there you have it.

How’d you do with your budget last month? Any big changes for this month?


Review of YNAB

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I’ve now been using the You Need A Budget (YNAB) software for two full months and have to say that it has been a game changer.

Although I really liked the idea of YNAB (and wrote about it way back last summer), I wasn’t initially psyched with the idea of ditching my old budgeting software (ahem, a modest excel spreadsheet) in favor of their fancy-pants software. I watched a few of the getting started videos and understood all the concepts but was held back for a couple reasons.

  1. First and foremost (and what I wrote about it here) is the fact that I found it challenging until I was living on last month’s income. I know you can start at any time, and there are tips and techniques for budgeting when you have a variable income (like hubs and I have), but I just didn’t love it.
  2. The second reason was simply because I hadn’t really “committed” yet to the idea of it. It was very different from my previous budgeting method (which had been much more rigid and “set”), and since I hadn’t committed yet to YNAB (meaning, I was just doing the trial and unsure if I’d buy), I didn’t want to abandon my old budgeting techniques yet. That means I was basically committing myself to completing TWO completely different budgeting spreadsheets simultaneously (my old excel one AND the new YNAB one). It was, frankly, overwhelming. So I quit my trial early and didn’t look back for months.

In January I decided it would be a good time to give it a second try. I re-watched some of the beginner videos and emailed customer support to see if they’d give me another free month trial (They did. For the record they were super helpful and friendly).

Well, folks, I’m two months deep and I’m never looking back!!!

So what’s so different about YNAB? (again, I’m comparing to a simple excel spreadsheet)

  •  The constant back-and-forth between screens. I was used to having everything in a single excel sheet (I had a different page for each month), so initially it felt cumbersome to have to switch back and forth between the budget screen and the accounts screen (where you actually log all income and expenditures). It took some getting used to and was something I didn’t like initially. But now that I’ve got the hang of it, I love that I can easily see just the budget and compare between recent months (you can easily move forward or backward to look at your current month, past months, future months, etc.) It’s a nice and easy little comparison.
  • YNAB allows you to set up savings goals inside of the program. I’m not quite ready to give up my Capital One 360 accounts….but YNAB sure makes them seem pretty pointless. One of the features in YNAB allows you to set up savings goals. Basically you can allocate money toward each of your savings goals (e.g., savings for Roth IRA, saving for cruise 2016, etc.) and your rainy day funds (e.g., savings for emergency fund, dental/vision, annual fees), so you can really easily see how much you’ve got in each category. I’ve used Capital One 360 in the past because I like to be able to have my money saved in multiple different categories, but with YNAB you don’t need to literally have the money separated into separate accounts. You can have it all in one account and, as long as you reference your budget, you know what all the money is for (so it doesn’t just seem like a pile of money; you already know every dollar has a job or a purpose.
  • YNAB’s flexibility. This is probably the biggest game-changer, so far. YNAB allows for such fluidity between budget categories. I used to have very rigidly set categories that were identical from month-to-month. With YNAB my categories change based on my monthly needs. Need new clothes? Allocate money to the clothes category (I used to have one “catch all” category named miscellaneous that clothing would fall under). Spend too much money on household goods? Take away some money from the restaurant fund. Have money leftover from a lower-than-expected electric bill? Add more money toward debt payments! So extremely easy-peasy and really lets things be fluid and flexible between and within months.

I also know there are some really cool features I still haven’t even gotten into yet! You can run reports and make graphs from excel, but the reports feature in YNAB is just so seamless and easy! You don’t have to program any commands or know computer-lingo – you just press the reports tab and click on the type of chart you want to see (spending by category, by payee, spending trend, etc. etc. etc.)

Everything about it is so user-friendly and incredibly well planned and thought-out. One of my best friends is a designer (she does architectural design, specifically), and the YNAB program just seems like something a designer would have had a hand in. It’s not just created by some finance geeks (term “geeks” used affectionately). It serves a family’s personal finance needs, but is done so in a way that is elegant and efficient in design. I love efficiency. And who doesn’t love a little elegance? ; )

There are some cons though…

From my own experience, I would say that YNAB is not really something you can pick up overnight. It can be a bit overwhelming (this is coming from someone who already had a pretty decent budget, and I imagine it’d be even harder for someone starting with absolutely no budget). I would also bet that I’m not the only person who required a couple different tries for the program to really “stick.” In fact, I would say that if you’re interested, you might as well go into it expecting to have some growing pains and a little bit of a learning curve as you get used to the software.

But in spite of all that, I can honestly say I would recommend the program. Even with the cost (and BELIEVE ME, I was reluctant to shell over the money for the program and YES I did pay for it. In no way is this a sponsored post), I think it’s money well spent.

You can try the program free for a month (see here).

And if you’re a college student, you can even get the program 100% free!!! (see here). Can’t beat free!

Or, if you’re not a college student but are ready to invest in the YNAB program, maybe consider purchasing through my referral link here. You get $6 off the program (10% off the $60 price tag), and I get $6 for referring you. It’s a win-win!

If you’re going to invest in the program, I highly encourage you check into some of the free online classes. They even give away an activation code for free at the end of every live class (so you can try to win one for free….I’m never that lucky!)

If you’ve used YNAB, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the program! What is your favorite part of the software? What took some getting use to?


January Budget Update

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Last month I fell off the frugal train pretty hard. A tiny portion of the spending was, in my opinion, for the best (e.g., it cost a couple hundred bucks to have our wills/power of attorney drafted and notarized). But overwhelmingly, the spending was really not a necessity, but a luxury. For instance, I bought family season passes to the zoo. To be absolutely fair, I’ve been thinking about and wanting to buy season passes to the zoo for nearly a year but the price has held me back. For whatever reason, I threw caution to the wind this month and, without even having saved up in advance, threw the cash down and bought us some passes. I will certainly make good use of them and I’m happy to have them (already gone twice with plans to go tomorrow, too!), but I do think the purchase was a bit frivolous and could have been better planned by saving up instead of just spending. This has made me re-think how I will budget.

Remember how I mentioned last month that I was just going to have a “buffer” of money that I’d allocate throughout the month (this was instead of having a “miscellaneous” budget)? Wellll, I don’t think that idea worked out too well. I pretty much spent the money real quick as if it was “fun” money, and then spent the last half of the month wondering where all of our money went! Lesson learned!

In addition to this expense, I spent nearly 50% over our grocery budget for the month. Want to know the super scary part??? I honestly have NO IDEA what I got to show for it!!! I didn’t stock up on anything, our freezer is nearly empty, and I seriously don’t know where all this money went! It’s like it was just flying out the window!

I do know that I made 2 trips to Costco during month (which always costs more than I’d like so I try to limit trips to once per month), but realistically this does not account for the full overage! The thing about my grocery shopping techniques is that I like to try to meal plan and make one grocery run per week (so I only buy what we need, keep costs low, etc.). But I made SOOOOO MANY grocery trips last month! Most of the trips were below $50, but it adds up if you go 4-5 times per week!!! Here’s what some of my entries looked like for the month:

  • Fry’s Grocery $39
  • Sprouts $19
  • Safeway $9
  • Frys $132
  • Sprouts $17
  • Sprouts $12
  • Fry’s $6
  • Albertsons $6
  • Sprouts $25
  • Costco $125
  • And so forth…..You get the point.

Sooooo many trips! So even though the majority are pretty low-dollar purchases, they add up quickly!

The good news is that writing here provides me with a big wake up call and slap in the face! It’s impossible to blog about your shopping habits and monthly spending without INSTANTLY realizing when there’s a HUGE, GLARING problem in your face!

Last month we experienced the problem. This month we will work on fixing it (and we’re already on track, with grocery spending well below budget so far and a new budget software to help me track my expenses!)

So without further adieu, here’s how last month shaped up:

January’s Expenses

Item Amount Spent
Rent 1055
Electricity 158
Water 53
Natural gas 18
Sprint (2 lines) 114
Cable/Internet 99
Car Insurance 49
Health Insurance 394
Trash 35
Preschool 1149
Gift-Giving 17
Wills & Power of Attorneys 211
Personal Maintenance 25
Restaurants 112
Entertainment 96
Groceries 572
Gasoline 47
Clothing 35
Parking 9
Toddler Pull Ups/Wipes 131
Postage 9
Debt 1784
Savings 385
Total Spent 6557

 

Let’s talk about some of these categories….

 

Gift-Giving ($17)

The gift-giving was a $14 wedding gift (remember my trick to spend super low on gifts, but still get something the recipient would want/use?), and $3 for cards from Dollar Tree. I sent one card to the wedding couple, one card to a friend expecting a baby (I also sent one of my old books from when I was a child, along with a sweet personal message to the baby about how much the book meant to me and I hope it means as much to her one day, blah blah, super sentimental stuff but also super cheap), and kept one card for this month.

 

Personal Maintenance ($25)

I usually spend nearly nothing on personal maintenance, but not so much this month. I went to one yoga class ($10) and got my eyebrows waxed ($15 for wax + tip).

 

Restaurants ($112)

 Generally we budget $100 for restaurant-eating (this is usually two “real” restaurant trips per month OR some combination of one restaurant meal and 2-3 cheaper options like Jason’s Deli or fast food, or no restaurant meals and all cheaper options, etc.). We went over this month by $12.

 

Entertainment ($96)

 Here’s where things really get painful! I bought season passes to our zoo ($70 for the family season pass), $21 on drinks with a friend (I put this here rather than “restaurants” because it was really just hanging out at a bar, as I had a friend come to town that moved away 2 years ago) and $5 on a Kindle book that was a total splurge purchase. I always, always use the library for books but there was a flash deal on this book (typically a $20 book) and before I knew it I was typing in my password to purchase. So, yeah. Total failure on this category for last month.

 

Groceries ($572)

Aaaaahhhhhh! How on earth could I spend $572 on groceries (normal budget = $400) without even knowing what I got, having nothing extra, nothing stocked up, etc??? Failure on this, too!

 

Savings ($385)

  • 3-6 months expenses $25
  • Travel/Christmas $25
  • Dental/Vision $125
  • Semi-Annual Expenses $100
  • Toddler Birthday $10
  • Savings for Roth IRA $100

Note, I typically also save $200/month for my car repair fund, too, but had to forego it this month so that I could use that money toward some of the other overages, discussed above.

 

Debt ($1784)

  • Car payment $1000
  • Student loan payment $453
  • License fees $256
  • Medical bills $75

Note, I had initially budgeted for an additional $100 to go toward my student loans (to keep the interest from accumulating), but also had to divert that money toward other overages, discussed above.

 

Final Thoughts

There’s not a lot more to say on the matter. I know I messed up last month. Fun fact: when I type up my budget update, I use an old template (happens to be from the month of October), so I was able to see that during that month we were working with less income, and yet made a larger debt payment than in January. Blah!

So there you have it. I’m sure many must be disappointed by my spending this past month, but I am merely mortal. I really think this was my first month that presented a major stumbling block in terms of spending (you may disagree, but that’s my opinion; we’ve had other overages, but typically for dental work or car repairs or things that weren’t merely frivolous spending). I realize what’s happened, have taken steps to change my actions, and think that this can serve as a learning opportunity for me. If you aren’t careful with budgeting your income, it really does just disappear into thin air. You HAVE to be vigilant, or else it will be gone! Lesson learned.

 

What’s your biggest budget-buster? Where are you most likely to overspend?


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