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First Paycheck = FAIL!!!

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I received my first full paycheck at my new rate of pay. I was shocked that it was much lower than I had anticipated (even after using a couple online calculator programs to try to accurately predict take-home pay).  My expectation was that I’d earn somewhere between $5-6,000/month take-home.  The reason for the large range is that I have a LOT of money coming out in pre-tax deductions, including:  medical and dental insurance, Flex Spending Savings accounts for health and dependent care, and 7% retirement investment (required and matched by my employer). In total, I have 20% of my check removed pre-tax. Taxes remove another 20% of my paycheck. So when looking at my base weekly salary compared to my take-home pay, I’m only actually bringing home 60% of what I earn (to be fair, I’m saving money by being able to pay a portion of medical and childcare from our FSA with pre-tax dollars, but our FSA has caps that we exceed, so some of those expenses are still paid out of my take-home pay post-tax).

After all deductions, my first full paycheck was for a total of $2269. I get paid bi-weekly, so we’re talking about $4500/month for most months (except for the odd month with 3 pay periods). This was a huge shock, given that we’ve been quite accustomed to budgeting for literally double that income amount.

I’ve never shared exact income numbers before on the blog because it made my husband feel uncomfortable for his business earnings to be shared and analyzed. But now that he’s shut his doors down and it’s all me – I feel fine with sharing my personal income. Guess what, y’all….my salary is $95,423/year. That’s with my big raise. I was originally hired at $55,000 two years ago. I guess there’s some disconnect in my brain or something because I thought $95k sounded like “BIG MONEY.” When I got my raise I was overjoyed – I was expecting a huge, wild difference in my rate of take-home pay. Under $5,000/month was NOT what I was expecting. Call me spoiled or privileged of whatever else you want (and I own that I am some of those things – I’m lucky to have the job I do), but this was a huge shock.

So although it feels like “starting over” (although it’s not!!! We’re still down nearly $80k in debt over the last 3 years), it’s definitely a come-to-Jesus moment. Hubs and I have had to totally start over on our budget with fresh eyes. Thinking about how to continue making progress on our debt reduction journey while simply surviving (here, we thought we’d be “thriving” with this huge raise). Some tough realizations have been made:

  • Hubs must keep earning an income somehow. Hubs has run a successful flooring business for almost a decade, but recently quit to go back to school. Many people have commented that he should keep his business going for some side-income, but it just doesn’t work that way. Unless you’ve owned a business in the construction trade before, you probably don’t realize how expensive it is just to maintain the proper insurances, licenses, etc. Hubs is NOT the type to do business under the table without the appropriate certifications. It’s a big problem in his industry (and where we live, in particular), and he was not about to go that route. But to just keep his insurances and licenses up to date cost several thousand a year. When we looked at what he was bringing in part-time versus the costs to keep the company legal, it just wasn’t enough to make it worthwhile. And, maybe surprisingly, the flooring trade is not as flexible with a school schedule as we need. Hubs’ first semester back was this past Spring and he had many stressful calls from employees (or worse, home-owners) with issues that demanded immediate attention, while he was still stuck in class for many hours to come. All in all, this was a losing proposition for our family. So now we’re trying to think of more flexible and accommodating ways that hubs can earn some side-money while in school. So far brainstorming has included: driving for uber or lyft, doing some type of food delivery, and perhaps trying to become a personal trainer. Remember – hubs has been big into health and fitness the last couple years, so the latter is his preferred method, but it will also take the longest to get started and requires additional research first. Any other ideas?
  • Food consumption has to get under control. A friend recently posted on facebook to inquire about how much her friends’ families pay per month for groceries. The most common number I saw was $250/week. I have to say, for the past couple of years since I’ve been working 2 jobs, our food budget has been way over $1,000/month (including groceries + eating out). I mean, $1,000/month was a GOOD month. But remembering back to when I first started blogging, it hasn’t always been this way! In fact, my original grocery budget was only $400/month!!! And I stuck to it! To be fair, it was never easy. I would spend a TON of time researching sales, carefully planning meals around sale items and food we already had in our pantry or freezer. I would easily have to go to 2-3 stores per week to get the best priced items (Walmart does their ad matching, but our local Walmart doesn’t have great quality produce). I’d also make a ton of items from scratch. Everything from breads and homemade granola bars to fruit leather and yogurt – even baby wipes I made myself for cheaper than could be bought bulk at Costco. Between ad searching, meal planning, grocery shopping, food prepping, and scratch baking, I probably spent a good 10-15 hours/week on my efforts. It paid off big-time in terms of money saved, but I just simply lacked the time when I started working full time (plus kept my part-time job, on the side). When I accepted my big raise I had to sign a non-compete so I had to leave my part-time job. So even though I still work full-time, I have significantly more time in the early morning/evening/weekend hours to try to devote to some of my old grocery-saving ways. I don’t know that it’s reasonable to get back to only $400/month. But I think if I shoot for $550-600/month (again – that’s for all food: groceries + eating out), it would be a huge savings over our current spending. I’m going to give it an honest effort for the month of August and see how I do.
  • The budget, in general, needs to be slashed. It’s scary how easy it’s been for things to creep up over time. When I first started blogging all our gifts were in the $10-15/range. Recently our gift-giving has been closer to $25-35+/gift. Hubs and I have both rejoined a gym. It’s very important to hubs (and he spends legitimately a ton of time there), but maybe I’ll cancel my own membership to try to save some money since I’m perfectly happy to run outdoors for free as my preferred form of exercise. I also had a friend recently mention that some health insurance companies offer discounts for gym memberships? I need to call Blue Cross, Blue Shield to inquire about this. Spending across the board needs to come down.
  • Debt payments??? Probably the hardest thing to accept is that our debt payments are going to drastically decrease. We’d grown accustomed to throwing thousands a month toward debt! I’m talking many months where we were paying $2500-$3000/month toward debt!!! Obviously if I’m only bringing home $4,500, there’s no room for a $3,000 debt payment. It’s just not possible. So we have to adjust expectations, adjust our 2017 financial goals, and just keep plowing forward, making as much progress as possible with what we have to work with.

So, ultimately, we need to cut our expenses AND try to find a way to increase our income. There’s not much wiggle room for me (since I can’t pick up side work in my current industry), but I think we can try to find solutions to get hubs some part-time side gigs. My focus will be best spent on trying to reduce our food expenses, since that tends to be our #1 monthly expense (cumulatively speaking. And yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds, but it’s true).

So there you go – I’ve laid it all out on the table. Next up will be formulating a solid budget plan and figuring out how to juggle our debt payments. Especially now that we owe $1,000/month to the IRS from our poor planning last year. Ugh! But baby steps here – if I think about everything at once I become overwhelmed so it’s one thing at a time. We now have a solid “income” figure so we know what we’ll be working with in terms of take-home pay. Now it’s time to figure out how to make our outflow match with our inflow and to find additional areas to cut back.

 

How much does your household spend per month on groceries (and how many people are in the household)? How do you save money on your food budget?


Finances & Fitness

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Hubs has become quite the fitness aficionado lately. Remember back in 2015 when he lost a ton of weight? He ended up losing 60 lbs. in total. In 2016 he was really just learning to maintain his weight through having a healthier lifestyle overall. He eats pretty clean, drinks lots of water, exercises regularly, etc. This year (2017) he decided he wanted to try to build some muscle mass. Well, mission = accomplished! I think his whole year was made last month when, while on our mom-&-dad getaway, a kid at the hotel’s pool area asked him if he was a professional bodybuilder! LOL! He ate up the compliment and was floating on Cloud 9 the rest of the day!

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As a disclaimer, I gotta say his “before” picture is in a shirt that was stained, not dirty. Hubs was a flooring contractor so all his work clothes eventually had stains all over them from glue, paint, etc. Just kinda gross to see all the “gunk” – it’s not just filth! Ha!

The truth is, hubs works hard for the gains he has made. Our summer has been a little more relaxed, but during the academic year he had been waking up faithfully at 4:45am so he could be at the gym at 5am when they opened, get in 1.5-2 hours of gym time, and be home in time to help get the girls dressed and ready for school. Even on vacation he went to the hotel gym daily. On our long driving days to and from Texas, he figured out creative ways to still get in his workouts by doing youtube videos using one’s own bodyweight for resistance, etc. When the rest of us want a bowl of ice cream after dinner, he prepares a bowl of fruit for himself. He’s dedicated like that.

I’ve wanted to get back on the whole fitness wagon lately. I used to be really into fitness, and while I would describe my current body-type as “average”, I’d love to get back to a place where I could consider myself “fit.” Unfortunately, I’ve found myself lacking motivation. The other day I was talking to hubs and asked him about how he stays so motivated – how he can push himself day after day to make healthy choices, sacrifice sleep for his gym time, choose the healthier food option when a sweet treat is right in his face, etc. I wish he had some secret trick I could share (or sell for $$$), but we all know that’s not the way it works. His response, “You just have to make the decision and stick with it.”

Me:  But it’s too hot to work out!

Him:  The gym has air conditioning. And you should be sweating while you’re working out anyway.

Me: But I’m tired!

Him: You won’t be after you get your heart rate up and going.

Me: UGH!!!!! BUT I DON’T WANT TO!!!

Him: Well….that’s your problem then. : )

As we talked about it, I couldn’t help but draw the parallels between FITNESS and FINANCES.

I recently admitted to letting our finances slip a bit over the summer. I’ve slacked off on a lot of the money-saving habits I used to have. It’s been months since I’ve designed our meal plans around sales and ads, for instance. I used to do that weekly – our meals were specifically planned based on the kinds of food on sale at our local grocers. It’s been years since I’ve done the envelope system. Or since I kept a “30 Day Wish List” prior to buying household stuff.

I think I’ve just been lacking motivation. To be honest, it’s probably been going on for awhile. I’ve been able to get away with it because our income has been high enough to compensate for some poor planning and spending habits. But when our income dropped, I really never buckled down. I never started the process of really trying to cut back significantly and, instead, I continued to spend like all was normal.

I’ve wanted to change, but I didn’t really want to put in the work to make it happen. Kind of like my fitness journey. Heh.

I don’t have any grandiose conclusion right now where I can say “That’s It! I’m back on the financially-fit bandwagon!” The truth is, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about it, but not a lot of actions just yet. I really feel somewhat immobilized by our lower summer income (hub recently stopped working to go back to school and I had to leave my part-time job due to a noncompete at my full-time job). It feels like no matter what I do, I’m not sure that I can make our outflow match our inflow right now. It feels helpless. I’ve intentionally never given exact income figures (though it’s not a total surprise, as I’ve been pretty open about our budget and expenses, etc.). But just to give ballpark numbers, we went from earning a take-home salary of roughly $10,000/month….to right at $3,000/month. Practically overnight. Granted, these are take-home numbers (insurance is paid pre-tax, some of childcare and medical is paid pre-tax, mandatory 7% investment is pre-tax), so the low $3,000 number doesn’t mean we’re only making $36,000/year. We’re still making significantly more than that. But just in terms of dealing with take-home pay, we’ve experienced a huge drop over the last couple months.

My new raise goes into effect soon and as much as I am LOVING the academic freedom this summer, I can’t wait for August to roll around just so I’ll be able to experience my first full month with my new salary (remember that raise I got months ago but doesn’t go into effect until my new contract??? Can’t wait!!!).

ANYWAY…..

I just wanted to check in with you all and be honest and open about where I am in my debt journey right now. I have no doubts that we will make a full rebound. I know it. But right now I’m still just kind of limping my way through, trying to find that motivation that comes so naturally to my hubby.

Share a financial (or fitness-related, if you prefer) WIN you’ve made recently! I love hearing other’s successes!

How do you keep your motivation high when you’re not really feeling it? Fake it till you make it? Any other tips or strategies?