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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?


A New Budget + Stretching Food Budget

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Hi all! Hope your Friday is off to a good start! We’ve been battling colds over here (again!!! I swear, this cold/flu season has been the worst!!!!!) but we’re all finally on the mend, the girls are back in preschool (after being home sick on Wednesday), and life is good! ; )

I’ve already mentioned that I overspent January’s budget (particularly in our grocery budget). I’ll give you all the details on Monday with my January budget update post, but today I wanted to tell you a little bit about how I’m making our food dollars stretch to try to spend a lot less on groceries this month.

First, I’ve been really trying to eat from our pantry and freezer. Second, I’ve been trying to repurpose meals by making leftovers into a second (or even third) meal so that every single bite of food is eaten and not wasted. I HATE wasting money and food waste is always one of the biggest culprits! Whenever I have to throw away old lettuce or meat or whatever, I see dollar signs being tossed in the trash. It’s a HUGE pet peeve of mine! So I’ve really tried to re-focus on making sure all food gets eaten before it goes bad. Here’s a list of the things we’ve eaten lately, and how I’ve tried to re-purpose leftovers so meal time doesn’t get stale:

  • Sausage wraps with broccoli & shells with cheese (sausage from freezer, broccoli was on hand, and shells & cheese and tortillas were in the pantry).
  • Ham and potato cheese soup (ham chunks from freezer leftover from last time we ate ham, potatoes from pantry, cheese from fridge, homemade rolls on the side). Also ate leftover soup throughout the week for lunches!
  • Cheeseburgers with home fries (meat from freezer, sliced and baked fries from potatoes we had in pantry, cheese on hand in the fridge, and leftover homemade rolls for the buns).
  • BBQ chicken, corn, and shells & cheese (chicken from freezer, canned corn from pantry, leftover shells & cheese from a previous dinner).
  • Spaghetti and meat sauce with garlic bread (crumbled leftover burgers for meat, used sauce and noodles from pantry, sliced up leftover rolls that I buttered and sprinkled with garlic before broiling for the garlic bread)
  • BBQ chicken “pizzas” and corn (leftover BBQ chicken that I shredded, cheese from fridge, made on top of tortillas instead of traditional pizza crust; leftover corn…doesn’t really go with pizza, but it worked).

It takes a little forethought to make sure I can reuse and/or repurpose leftovers, but I’ve already noticed such a huge difference in my grocery spending. Not only does it cost less money this way (i.e., re-using leftovers in future meals), but its actually easier, too! It’s the whole “cook once, eat twice” mentality (not sure where I’ve heard that, so can’t credit a source but I think it’s a pretty well known phrase). It’s so, so much easier when parts of the meal are already cooked (especially when the meat is already done, as with the spaghetti and meat sauce and the bbq chicken pizzas). When the main protein is already pre-cooked all I have to do is just assemble, heat, and serve! Score!

So I’m really making an effort to try to get my spending back on track and, so far, I think I’ve been doing pretty well. Toward this end, I’ve also made the decision to do a new budget. Not just a new budget, but a  new budget software, too! Remember back when I’d tried to do YNAB (you need a budget), but I’d bailed less than a week into the month? I wasn’t ready at the time. But I gave it another shot a few weeks ago and have fallen for it hard. Once you get a hang of it, it’s really so superior to my old Excel spreadsheet. If there’s any interest I’d be happy to write a full review at some point.

In the meantime, if anyone is interested in purchasing the YNAB software, usually $60, I’ve got a link I can share that will get you a 10% savings. Note that if you purchase through this link, you get $6 off the price and I get a $6 referral credit. A win-win (plus you can share your personal link with friends to earn credits, too). Just wanted to be transparent on that (you can also try a free month-long trial by going to their website, too).

What are your favorite rollover meals or cheap meal ideas? 


Paying Down Principal

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Can I admit something that may make me sound like a real dummy? (It’s okay, I’m secure enough with my own intelligence in other domains that I’m okay with admitting when I’m totally out of my depth in something.) Plus, it’s something that I’m hoping many of the readers here will be able to educate me on and help me with. Here goes…..

You know how I’ve been making larger-than-minimum payments on my car for several months now (since last August to be precise)? Well, I logged in to check on the status of my balance for my last debt update and realized that it said my next due date isn’t until January of 2016!!!

In other words, instead of applying any additional money toward the principal balance, they were simply pre-paying future payments. I had thought (and was wrong), that they only pre-paid for up to 3 payments, and then extra money went straight to principal. So after discovering this error I called customer service and explained the situation, asking for my extra payments to go toward the principal instead of future payments.

I was assured this would be done, but it would take a few days (so my online account hasn’t been updated yet), and I was told that it wouldn’t actually change my balance at all.

I started thinking about it after we hung up and have thoroughly confused myself.

Aren’t most loans (cars, mortgage, etc.) arranged so you pay mostly interest up front? Toward the end of the loan terms you end up paying more principal, but initially almost the entire payment goes to interest, right? So basically I’d just be pre-paying mostly interest. Sooo, if that money gets reallocated toward the principal, then there’s a lower balance for the interest to be compounded on (or capitalized on? I’m so confused!). Right? Soooo, shouldn’t my balance go down then??? No?? Why not? I don’t understand!

Also, I was thinking about it more and trying to figure out what the actual benefit is of paying more toward principal versus simply pre-paying payments (particularly if there’s no difference in the balance). I’ve always heard that if I make extra payments (for car loan or student loans) that I should request for the extra to go toward the principal. But why? I was so off-put by the fact that I don’t know the answer to this that I started googling…..without much luck. When I googled “why should I put extra money toward principal instead of prepaying a loan?” I received a ton of results related to mortgages and student loans. I’m specifically interested in my car loan, but figured the numbers would be the same so I read some of the articles. From what I could gather, it seems like if you pay the principal first, it basically just shortens your loan term (so if you had a 60 month term, like my car, it may end up getting shortened down to a 48 month term). But wouldn’t this also inherently decrease the amount interest being paid? I mean, you’re paying it off sooner, so you have a lower balance for the interest to be compounded/capitalized on (again – no idea the difference between capitalized vs. compound interest), and then eventually you pay it off and it all just goes away. Right? And it’d be the same thing with pre-paying a loan too, right? You pay it off sooner, meaning less interest gets paid in the end because there are fewer months for which to have interest accumulate. Am I totally off on this?

I almost shudder, knowing that so many of you are probably bonking your heads against the computer screen, shouting at my ignorance.

But, yeah. I really don’t know. And I don’t get it, either.

Please enlighten me! I really want and need to understand this difference, particularly with my huge amount of debt!!

And, relatedly, I’m going to start paying extra on my student loans. My plan is still to focus on other debts first, but I need to at least pay the interest on my student loans so the balances don’t keep growing (remember, my minimum payments are so low that they don’t even cover the interest). In reference to this….when I make an extra payment, my intention is really just for it to cover the interest. So I can just make the payment online and leave it alone, right? Or do I need to call and ask that the extra payment be applied to principal? This whole issue with prinicipal balance, interest payment, and loan pre-payment has really thrown me for a loop! Help me sort it out!!!

Seriously, sorry for my ignorance on this matter! Clearly I do not have a background in finance! But to really take charge of my debt I feel like I need to get my mind wrapped around this better. Do you suggest any good personal finance books? Or any good websites or other resources that have been informative for you?


The Book is Closed on our Old Home

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So I am closing the book on the old house and many wanted to know the final chapter.  There is not much to tell, and this will be the last time I will bring it up here, but I didn’t want to leave you wondering.  So to understand it all, especially if you have joined us in the last couple of months, here’s a recap of the posts regarding my housing debacle.

Three Years, Six Moves – When I wrote this back in April, 2014, I said we were home.  Little did I know how quickly that would change.

The Best Laid Plans

Why I Decided Not to Buy My Home

The Ultimatum

The Curse

The Next Step

The House is in Chaos

I Quit

Oh What a Feeling

The House Sold

Chapter Closed

So now that you are caught, I want to tell you how it ended.  As you know, in December, after several months on the market, I got what I thought would be the best offer on selling my van but the difference between my loan amount and the sales price was more than I had readily available so I had to make up the difference to make the sale happen. Needless to say, time was of the essence.

I had had several brief conversations with my dad without trying to pressure him, asking about the house, and he consistently said he didn’t have time to review it.  This time I called with a purpose.  I let him know the situation and asked if he had time to consider the house monies that he had said several times I would receive as this would be a big help at this point.

His words “well, if I was going to give you money, it wouldn’t be for a car.”  I was shocked speechless.  First, it was never my intent to ask for him to give me money.  I felt and he had indicated during several conversations that I would get some money from the sale of the house since I had paid all related expenses for four years, put the blinds in, paid for all the appliances (which were sold with the house,) added a patio, landscaping, etc. Essentially I treated the home as my own and incurred all relevant expenses including my own renters insurance and his owners insurance, etc.  Ok, you get my point, I was in no way asking for a handout.

He then went on in the same conversation to say that he had been thinking we could open a joint account, where we would both have to sign to get money out and he would match my savings toward a house with the money rather than give it to me.  If I wasn’t still speechless from the “give” suggestion, I was shaking in anger now.  Control.  He still wanted control.

I knew with no doubt that I was not ever going to consider that option and frankly, I let him know what I thought in no uncertain terms.  Now, I don’t want to seem ungrateful for what he did four years ago after our two rental homes fell through, BUT my dad has ALWAYS used money to control.  He would take away my car when he didn’t agree with my decisions, he would threaten to stop paying for school when he didn’t agree, and that’s just me.  I am not in any way trying to bash my dad, I love him, respect him, but this is fact.

You see four years ago, when the second rental house fell through I put all my stuff in a POD as we began to travel as I figured out what to do.  The POD would have allowed me to move anywhere, sending for my stuff when I figured it out.  That was my plan, travel around for a while and then decide.  That was when Dad stepped in and offered to help me buy a house here where he and my mom lived. I know he was doing what he thought was best for me and my two kids at the time but it was also a control move.

So back to the final conversation my dad and I had about the house…I told him in no uncertain terms that I would NEVER, EVER get into a financial relationship with him again. And based on our conversation I would assume that he never intended to give me any money from the house.  I also told him that I thought he took advantage of me.  If he had been honest about the house money from the beginning I would not have put EVERY SINGLE extra penny into the house to get it ready to sell as I really needed that money for my family.  I have now totaled the money I put into the house to get it ready for sale plus utilities for the two months after we moved out, and I spent $4000 on that alone.

So no, my dad has never given me a dime from the house and I don’t expect he will.  And you know what, that’s fine.  I learned a very, very hard lesson.  My children have learned some really hard lessons.  And what ever happens next, we did that.  No man will ever have that kind of control over me again.

I am in no way male bashing.  I know there are some great guys, husbands, fathers out there.  I see them all the time with their children, with my friends.  But after my marriage and my brothers and my dad, I’m done, completely and totally done.


Ashley’s January Debt Update

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I pre-wrote and scheduled a couple of posts for today because I’ll be doing my campus interview all day (my itinerary is from 9am-7pm)!!! I probably won’t have a chance to respond to any comments until tonight or tomorrow so I just wanted to give you a heads up on that. Please send me some good vibes, positive thoughts/energy, prayers, good juju, whatever works for you! I am trying to come off as confident (but not cocky), enthusiastic and likable (but not desperate), professional, and articulate. Remember – I’ve kinda got all my eggs in one basket on this one, so it feels like a BIG day for me! Wish me luck!!!

The numbers are in and here’s how my debt has been shaping up this month…

PlaceCurrent BalanceAPRLast Payment MadeLast Payment Date (original debt, March 2014)
Capital One CC-17.9%-Paid off in March ($413)
Mattress Firm-0%-Paid off in May ($1381)
Wells Fargo CC-13.65%-Paid off in May ($7697)
BoA CC-7.24%-Paid off in June ($2220)
License Fees$22082.5%250January ($5808)
PenFed Car Loan$159782.49%1000January ($24040)
Navient - Federal Student Loans$44448.25%16January ($4687)
Navient - Dept of Ed$722318.25-6.55%260January ($69191)
ACS Student Loans$210407.24%77December ($21035)
Medical Bills$64110%75January ($9000)
Totals$122,312 (Last month = 123,667)Total: $1,678Starting Debt = $145,472

Maybe it’s just because we’ve reached the 10-month mark so some of the newness and excitement has started to rub off a bit, but I’m just not as enthusiastic about my progress as I was early on in the debt-repayment process.

On one hand, we put over $1,600 toward debt this month! That’s great, right?!

On the other hand, my student loan balances went up. Again. (my minimum payments don’t cover the interest, so the balance keeps slooooowly growing).

And my total debt ($122,000+) is still so out-of-control. I cannot WAIT for the day that I break the $100,000 barrier and dip into the $99,999s.

Hubs ended up making an extra debt payment toward his license fees at the end of last month. So if you were to compare the balance this month to the one from last month, that’s why there’s a discrepancy (the table says $250 was applied this month, which is true, but hubs had made a payment of just over $250 at the end of last month, too, so it’s gone down by $500 compared to last month’s beginning balance).

Can I make a little confession that will become pretty apparent anyway real soon (when we talk about how the budget went this month)???

I ended up going a bit over on a couple categories this month. I think some of the holiday-spending spilled over into January and I was just a little too loosey-goosey on my spending. Nothing crazy or extravagant. Mostly just up to my old tricks again….spending too much on groceries and crap that we don’t really need because its oh-so-easy for me to justify grocery purchases as a necessity, even if they aren’t.

Anyway, my plan at the beginning of the month was to pay extra toward my student loans (above the minimums) so I could pay the interest in full and not have a growing balance. *Sigh* Having gone over on my grocery budget (by a lot, I should add), I re-allocated those funds to cover my frivolous food expenses and, alas, the student loan balances continue to grow. Very discouraging.

I will do better next month!

Another confession, since we’re on that train now…

Hubs and I have fallen off the wagon with our monthly finance talks, too.

For long time readers, you’ll know that hubs and I have a unique financial relationship (I talked about it here when I first started blogging). Some of it is changing (e.g., we’re adding each other to all of our accounts this month), but one of the big things is that I’ve always been the one to sit down and actually pay the bills. When I first started blogging we started loosely following a Dave Ramsey-esque type program where hubs and I would have a monthly budget discussion to decide exactly how to allocate that months’ funds.

Over the holidays we’ve sort of slipped back into our old patterns where hubs has simply given me money and I’ve put it where I think it should go. To be clear, I really am doing what I believe to be best with the money (in terms of debt allocations, etc.), but I do think it’s important for hubs to actually be in on these decisions rather than simply letting me handle the funds how I see fit. Things seemed to be moving faster and progress seemed to be better when we were working together. So that’s coming back at the end of this month as we discuss our plans for February.

Hopefully in the coming months we’ll see some stronger progress!

How’ve you been doing with your debt payments? How do you and your significant other handle finances/bills/etc?


Failure to Pay – Hope

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My biggest client pays me pretty consistently every two weeks.  It’s not like clockwork, but I can generally count on getting paid on a regular basis.  But last month, well, I didn’t get paid.

I expected it to arrive the week of Christmas, and I thought, “Great, just in time for me to do a little Christmas shopping” But no payment.

In previous years, they’ve always asked for my year end invoice early so they can get it paid before the new year starts (I always assumed for tax purposes, but never asked.) And I’ve always enjoyed getting those monies early especially with the holidays, etc.  But again, not this year.

So here I was, the last two weeks of the year, no income, no extra money and I didn’t panic. I had the little bit of money in my EF but I was firm that the was not an emergency.

So we ate up the food in our pantry, which would probably have just lingered, went to the movies with gift certificates received as Christmas presents and really enjoyed some down time at home. We spent no money, not a dime the last two weeks of December. What a blessing this was!!

That gets me started in January.with double the money I would have had. They’ve paid me for my 1st December invoice now and I expect payment for the second one any day now.  Christmas came late this year by helping me avoid the temptations to spend over the holidays and giving me a kickstart on my debt payoff journey for the new year.  Who knew that not getting paid as expected could be such a blessing!


Gifts to Myself – A Mental Break

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You are right.  I am overwhelmed, I am stressed out and I don’t trust my own judgment right now. So currently, my financial life is just trying to stay afloat, not make any big decisions and get a little ahead.  But I have this week decided to gift myself two things….

  1. We will be going out for Thanksgiving.  Despite the hardships of the last few months, we have much to be thankful for and I do not take it for granted.  What I did take for granted was lots of counter space and a kitchen that more than one person could stand in.  So we are going out…I’m not cooking.  I’ve decided on Golden Corral.  We will all be able to eat our fill at about $66 for the 5 of us.
  2. I am going to pay $50 for the younger two to go to a “school’s out” camp at our martial arts studio.  I just need a break  So Wednesday I will have a whole work day with no interruptions…I’m already compiling lists of the things I will get done.

I know that’s $116 I could put toward debt, but right now I just need the mental break.

 


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