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No Spend Week Check-In: Days 3 & 4

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Wednesday was Day #3 of our No Spend Week Challenge.

Day #3 (Wednesday) Notes:

I used the last of the bread for toast at breakfast. BUT, a small miracle occurred when I recalled that the local grocer had recently sent out coupons. There were two coupons, in particular, that were totally FREE items – no purchase necessary! One for bread and one for a Dole Salad Kit! Score!

I was going to try to make it all the way until Friday without purchasing anything at all (I still had all $13 in my wallet), but then I was thwarted when, about 1pm, I got a phone call from the kids’ school. Both kiddos had fevers and were being sent home. On my way to pick them up, I swung by the grocery store. I used my free coupons to get bread and a salad kit. In addition, I picked up a couple fresh fruits that were on sale, but I also had to spend some of the money on children’s Tylenol and I got some juice, since I thought the vitamin C wold be good for the kids. I had to be extra cautious (and had to make decisions: putting back a bag of apples in favor of a less expensive fruit option), but I ended up spending $13.08!! I was pretty pumped to have spent exactly what I had left for the week (the 8 pennies came from my wallet).

I don’t know what sickness is ailing the kids, but there’s no puke (*fingers crossed*) and they both slept well all night (thank Jesus!), so I’m hoping I won’t need any additional illness-related items. They’re staying home today (Thursday, Day #4 of the No Spend Week). Fingers crossed they’ll be well enough to go back on Friday and, also, that I manage to get some work done from home today.

Wednesday’s Meals:

Breakfast:  Smoothie (now running low on frozen berries), half a piece of toast (uneaten from one of my kids’ breakfasts)

Lunch:  Chicken and cheese bagel sandwich (chicken was the last of the leftovers, repurposed in a different way; cheese from fridge, half a bagel from a bag I’d had in the freezer); tortilla chips on side.

Dinner:  Chicken tenders with frozen mixed veggies (from freezer) and homemade rolls on side.

 

Day #4 (Thursday) Notes:

Today (Thursday), will be different than originally planned given that now all 3 of us girls are going to be home. It makes work tough, but will likely make our food situation easier because I can utilize the oven/microwave to have food for lunch that would be impractical to make for the kids’ lunches.

Thursday Meals:

Breakfast: Bagel and cream cheese

Lunch (planned): Leftovers from dinner Wednesday night.

Dinner (planned): Orange chicken (Costco package in freezer) with jasmine rice (from bag in pantry) and fresh broccoli (just purchased).

 

Jury is still out on whether additional expenses are necessary for illness-related medication. We literally have no money at this point, which really sucks. We have credit available, but the whole goal of this month was to STOP spending on credit. My tentative plan is a “wait and see” approach with the kids. It’s still early here in Tucson and so far, the kids seem okay. If by about 9-ish they’re not doing well I’ll go ahead and schedule a doctor’s appointment and take them to be seen. I get paid tomorrow (Friday), so if any purchases need to be made I’m planning to pay with my debit card, but to have it run like “credit.”  That way the charge is “pending” for a couple days and by the time it officially goes through I’ll have money in the bank. I know this is a totally sad and ridiculous way to go about life – having to play games to delay payment until pay day. I know. We’ve got a lot of work to do still. But at least we’re making every effort to right the ship we’re on and to stop taking on additional debt!

Wish me luck with both the money situation and the kids’ illness situation. OF COURSE, hubby is scheduled to be out of town the next 4 days (Thurs – Sun) so I’m single-parenting it over here with the sick kids. Normally it’d be no big deal, but I have a HUGE work deadline next week (I have to submit a dossier for my promotion & tenure committee, so it’s kind of a big deal – directly affecting my ability to promote). I’m pretty stressed about potentially NOT being able to work the next 4 days while the kids are sick and hubs is gone. Times like these, I sure wish we had family around that I could call for help/backup!

How are your No Spend Weeks going? Any unexpected expenses come up? How have you handled the situation?


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?