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Ashley’s April Debt Update

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I’ve seen lots of comments (on all the bloggers) asking for more openness and transparency. Hopefully this post provides you with that (but, as a result, its a long one so maybe get a quick snack ready!):

April Debt Amounts and Payments

 Place APR March End Balance April End Balance Monthly Payment
Capital One CC 17.9% $0 $0 $0
Wells Fargo CC 13.65% $7429 $5705 $800
Bank of America CC 7.24% $2198 $2175 $35
Carmax Car Loan 7.75% $23736 $23385 $470
License Fees 2.7% $5720 $5672 $55
Mattress Firm 0% until Sept 1st $1281 $181 $100
Medical Bills 0% $8328 $8228 $75
Total $48692 $45346 $1535

 (See the starting balances from when I first started blogging here) A couple notes: Remember that I’m also paying low monthly payments toward my student loans (not in table, but can be seen here. Amounts to $87/month), so our monthly debt payment actually amounts to $1622 (not $1535). Additionally, we made 2 big snowflake payments at the beginning of the month (with extra money from last month since we had a higher income than normal – discussed here). We paid $2,000 in snowflake payments ($1,000 each toward Mattress Firm and Wells Fargo), for a total of just over $3500 toward debt in the month of April!!! (that’s the $1622 “regular” payments + $2,000 in snowflake payments).

April turned out to be another good month financially. Our take-home pay after taxes was $8290. I just want to say that these really good months are NOT “normal” for us. Our annual average is right at about $5,000/month so this was one of our best months….ever! We’re going to talk about what to do with the surplus and will update with our May Debt Update (since the snowflake payments won’t occur until during the month of May). Right now, I’m thinking 2/3 or 3/4 will probably go straight toward debt (paying off Mattress Firm and the rest to Wells Fargo), and the other 1/3 (or 1/4) will go toward making a debt-sinking fund. This is something Adam and Emily did and a commenter suggested it, too. The reason is that summer is Chris’ “busy” time at work and I worry about what happens when winter rolls around and we start having more “lean” months again. The idea is that we keep some money in a savings account but once it reaches a certain dollar amount, I make a big snowflake payment. In hypotheticals, I could save a portion of our income until we get to $5,000 then take half ($2500) and put toward debt, then save back up again and repeat. That way we always have some extra cash on hand in case Chris’ business has a slow month, but if things continue going well we can siphon some off and put toward debt, instead. I will update (in the May Debt Update) with exactly how this surplus was handled. I hope this isn’t confusing. Basically, anything “left over” after paying our basic bills has been used as 1-time “snowflake” payments toward debt, but it doesn’t get applied until the following month (since our income is variable, we wait until the month is completely over to assess how much “left over” we have, so our snowflake payments are always a month behind the pay, if that makes sense). Now, onto the budget:

How We Fared in April

We ended up coming in at- or under-budget in all categories except one.

Category Budgeted Actual Spending
Rent 1055 1055
Electricity 100 62
Water Bill 75 53
Gas bill 75 25
Sprint (2 phones) 150 150*
Cable/Internet 85 85
Car Insurance 90 90
Health Insurance 350 350
Waste Management (trash) 35 35
Debt Payments 1500 1622**
Groceries 400 398
Baby Purchases 600 566
Gasoline 100 57
Miscellaneous 250 355
Savings for Irregular Bills 190 190
Total 5055 5093

*Remember, I got a deal on our phones, but I won’t see the savings until our next bill.

**This was our “normal” debt payments (minimums for everything except Wells Fargo bill), but does not include large 1-time snowflake payments (because those were paid using leftover funds from March)

Quick re-cap:  In April we made $8290 – $5093 = a surplus for the month of $3197

As you can see, we barely slid in under budget with groceries, and I want to try to reduce this category so I’ll have to pay close attention to figure out why we’re barely making budget ($400/month). I’ve switched to making so much homemade (bread, bagels, tortillas) and DIY (cleaning spray, baby wipes) that I feel like we should be spending less on groceries, but for some reason we’re not. I’m going to examine this closely during May and figure out WHY. Soooo, the one category where we went over-budget: “miscellaneous.” I budgeted $250/month (down from $350 last month) for this category and broke it down into 4 sub-categories:

Category Budgeted Actual Spending
Entertainment $20 $19
Eating Out $75 $110
Personal Maintenance $30 $7
Other $125 $219
Total $250 $355

Clearly we went way over budget (by more than $100!), with the culprits being “eating out” and “other.” I think some of this was growing pains. I just slashed the budget in this category by almost a third, and you can see that our spending was definitely in-line with our “old” budget(<<link to old budget).

I’ll admit it – I hate the envelope system. I don’t know why (bulky? annoying? inconvenient?). But I have to admit, I think it may help with this situation. If I look in my envelope for “eating out” and there’s only $5, I can’t say “screw it, order a pizza” when I’m exhausted and don’t want to cook (confession: that happened once last month). Instead, I’ll suck it up and make dinner. If for whatever reason I really can’t handle it then we’ll eat PB&Js and live another day. It’s a mindset-change from what I’m used to but it needs to be done.

So….May = Month of the Money Envelopes I’ll let you know how it goes.

Envelopes:

  • Groceries = $380 (trying to cut it by $20, down from $400)
  • Entertainment = $20
  • Eating Out = $75
  • Personal Maintenance = $20 (trying to cut it by $10, down from $30)
  • Other = $125

Have you tried the envelope system? If so, did it work for you? What other system(s) do you have in-place to curb over-spending? Given our current debts and APRs, (and also knowing our variable income and wish to do a debt-sinking fund) how would you appropriate the surplus $3200 from April?


Cutting Costs and Saving Money

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I’ve been diligently working at trying to cut some costs around here, with some mixed-results to share.

First, let me share another of my money saving tricks (see more here and here). This one really isn’t a “trick,” but still fun to share.

Remember how I mentioned that one of my friends was gifting me a hand-me-down dehydrator when she upgraded to a newer one? Well, I inherited the new-to-me dehydrator last week and I have been a FRUIT-LEATHER MAKING MACHINE since then!!!

To be fair, right now the prices on strawberries are at their once-a-year low. For the past 3 weeks I’ve been stocking up every time I go to the store. I’ve been able to get pints for as little as 89 cents, and I’ve bought about 2 pints per week the past 3 weeks. Some of them we’ve eaten (lots of smoothies and strawberries as snacks), some of them we’ve frozen for later (my goal is to really stock up now at the all-time low so we have strawberries still on-hand once prices go back up), and some of them we’ve used to make fruit leather!

It couldn’t be easier! You heat up strawberries on the stove-top with a little water (about 1/2 cup water per 4 cups fruit), then mash with a  potato masher (or throw in a food processor or blender), then add sugar to your desired sweetness, a little lemon juice, and that’s it! You can do it with all kinds of fruit, too. So far I’ve done plain strawberries, strawberry-banana, and strawberry-orange-pineapple. Loved them all!

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When it’s done dehydrating, I put the sheets of fruit leather on parchment paper, roll up, and store in the fridge. I did a calculation to see how much it costs to make my own versus buying fruit roll-ups from the store. I haven’t bought fruit roll-ups (ever), but I found a price for buying bulk online.

  • You can buy a 3 pack (10 roll-ups per pack) for 9.25 = .31 cents per roll.
  • I can make 1 sheet (4 roll-ups) out of 1 pint of strawberries ($1 or less) = .25 cents per roll.

Not a huge savings, but it’s 100% natural. It’s probably even more of a savings compared to the fancy fruit leather that’s sold in individual packages at stores nowadays. In all, probably not something we’ll be doing year-round, but its a fun little Spring treat when strawberries are in season and on sale for cheap!

Now, onto cutting costs….

I’ve been looking at every area of our monthly budget to try to cut costs and one thing I had zeroed in on was our phone bill.

I have a success to share – I managed to lower our phone bill (wahoo!), but perhaps not as much as I could have if we’d switched providers.

In the interest of full transparency, I <3 my phone! For real! I had pined over the iphone for years and finally bit the bullet and bought one when they came out with the 5c, since it was so much cheaper than the regular iphone (I switched from TMobile to Sprint in order to get it). So this is still really new to me. I’ve only had my “baby” for about 6 months at this point and I lurve it! I really do!

When talking about trying to reduce my wireless bill (it was a whopping $150/month!!!) many of you suggested that I switch providers. I looked into a couple of different providers – Ting and Republic Wireless, for example – but no one would let me keep my beloved iphone.

So I called Sprint and told them I need my bill to be lowered. The guy let me know we weren’t using nearly as much data as I had believed, and that we could get rid of our unlimited data and downgrade to 1 GB per line and still have data to spare. This was moving to their “Framily” plan that’s being heavily advertised now. And although we didn’t save $100/month, as we might have if we’d switched providers, I did manage to get our bill reduced by approximately $50/month (down to $100 from $150). The new plan didn’t go into effect until the 25th of this month so I won’t see the savings until the next month’s billing cycle ends but every little bit helps!

But….I did mention “mixed results” at the beginning of this post.

So, where have we done *ahem* not so well?

Well, you’ll have to wait for a full budget update from the month (coming next Monday), but I definitely went over my limit in a couple of categories. Nothing too terrible, but still not what I’d hoped. The only thing I can say in my defense, is that the overspending came from one specific category that I had tried to slash by over 30%. Our spending wasn’t outrageous, but it was pretty much in-line with the “old” (pre-slashed) budget. So I’m hoping this was just a growing pain that takes a month or two to figure out and hopefully we can work harder to spend less in future months.

In the meantime, I’m trying to finish the month strong. No spending of any kind until the 1st of May!

 

What have YOU have done lately to cut household costs and/or save money??