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Posts tagged with: budget buster

Budget’s Busted!


We’re nearing the end of the semester at my university and this time of year is notoriously crazy. Fortunately, I’m seeing a light at the end of the tunnel (and the cruise! Can’t wait!!!). But the past 4 weeks have been insane. It hasn’t helped that I haven’t had weekends to catch up on things, either! Last weekend I had a 2-day workshop that I hosted and ran (= TONS of work, not to mention the whole weekend was taken). The weekend before, hubs was out of town the entire weekend for a conference (= quality mommy-daughter time, but impossible to catch up on other household or work tasks because there’s no “time off”). So it’s felt like the past 3 weeks were just one continuous week with no end in sight. I’m really looking forward to this weekend.

But there’s one thing…

I’ve let time get away from me. The first time I sat down to reconcile the budget this month wasn’t until just a couple days ago (usually I enter purchases pretty immediately). I sat down and typed in all the numbers and discovered that we’d already blown our entire restaurant budget for the month…only 1/3 of the way through the month.

It’s kind of ironic coming on the tail of last month, where I’d finally tamed our food budget and was talking about what an impact meal planning and food prep had been making. This month has included far too many nights where I’ve had to unexpectedly work late, resulting in a quick run to a sandwich shop or chick-fil-a on my way home so the kids could eat immediately and not wait for food to be cooked. We’ve also been dealing with more illness (this entire semester has been back-to-back sickness! It’s been tough!). There was a solid week straight that was affected as first one child had a stomach virus, then me, then hubs, then other child. While hubs and I were sick (and our bugs overlapped. Ugh!), it was impossible to cook food for the kids, but they still needed to be fed. Take-out pizza to the rescue! I think you’re seeing the general trend.

Realizing what’s happened, I’m going to buckle down and try to have no more eating out for the rest of the month. That being said, we luck out a little since our cruise is on the horizon. Any “eating out” at that time will come from our cruise budget (not our regular eating out budget). However, my mother-in-law is coming out to help travel with the kids. While she’s here we’ve always treated her to at least one meal out at a local restaurant, so I know there’s going to be at least one more eating out expense.

It’s tough. There are giant peaks and valleys in academia. During summer, things are pretty tame. But right now I’m getting my butt whipped and just barely treading water as I keep battling illness, trying to plan for a vacation, etc. I’ll be honest. Early in our debt-reduction mission I might face this type of challenge with gumption and determination. Right now though…..when I added all the numbers and saw we’d blown the budget….I just felt defeated. Like it’s not even possible to go the rest of the month without any more eating out.

I really am going to try my hardest, but just wanted to be honest about my feelings. Don’t know whether the difference can be attributed to just the craziness of this time of year with work, or whether its a more general issue of being so entrenched in debt-reduction. It’s no longer this shiny new thing that I’m just beginning. I’m still just as dedicated to get out of debt, but I now feel like I’m dead in the middle of an ultra-marathon. I’ve come so far, but still have so far left to go and digging deep to find the energy to continue isn’t always easy.

I’ll just keep pressing forward.

How do you handle disappointment when you realize you’ve blown your budget? How do you continue with resolve rather than simply blowing off the rest of the month? What do you do to keep your spirits high?

January Budget Update


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?

Another big unexpected expense


July has turned out to be quite an expensive month for us!

First, my husband had an emergency root canal. Then my tooth chipped (I still need to go have an exam to see if it will require repair, but I think I’m going to try to wait until August since July has already been so expensive!).

Then on Friday last week I took our Explorer to have an oil change. The light had been on for almost a week (since our Utah trip) and, although the husband generally does oil changes himself, I found a coupon online for $21.99 (by comparison, we usually spend about $20 for the stuff needed for husband to do it himself, so this was a great deal).

Well, of course I can’t get off with only a $21.99 charge. That would be way too easy. Instead, the mechanic comes in to talk to me in the lobby and explains that our car is currently at 59,500 miles. He recommends a whole slew of regular maintenance items that are recommended by Ford at 60,000 miles. To the tune of nearly $900.

My heart rate goes up and I swear my hands start perspiring. That is a LOT of money.

Many years ago, my husband used to work as a salesperson in an auto shop. Even though he didn’t do the mechanical work, he knows a good bit about cars. I call him up and let him speak directly to the mechanic. After their conversation I talk to my husband. He is a big proponent of taking good care of one’s car. Although most of the services aren’t immediate needs, he thinks everything should eventually be done. This kind of routine maintenance is what helps a car to last to 200,000+ miles (which is our hope – to drive this car to the ground!!!)

One other relevant tidbit I left out – the mechanic is a freemason. So is my husband. This may not mean anything to most of you, but freemasons are a very tight-knit group. They always deal fairly with each other. They would never ever rip each other off. Because of this, we had an extra layer of peace-of-mind that the mechanic wasn’t just trying to screw us over to make a commission on the work.

So I asked the mechanic to rank-order what needed to be done and to get started on the first several items. I wanted to spread the work out over a few months and there are a few things that my husband is going to do himself so we didn’t do everything that was recommended.

I waited anxiously, nervous of what the final bill would be.

When I finally went to pay, the mechanic, himself, came to the front to discount some of the labor charges (he took off about 20% total!). Our final bill came to $509. This does not include changing spark plugs and wires (which was estimated at about $200 and will be done probably in September or October since I want to wait a bit), nor does it include the air filter (which hubs can do himself for really cheap).

Out of our monthly car savings (a sub-account in my CapitalOne360 account), I had $260. The remaining of the bill was paid out of pocket. So, the remaining $249 remaining balance ($509-$260 = $249) is going to have to come from the “other” category of our budget (side note:  I’m also including husband’s root canal in this category of our budget. Initially I’d said I was going to simply subtract it from our income – never including it in our budget at all – but Scooze pointed out how that doesn’t give us an accurate picture of our finances, which is important for projecting future expenses, etc.). Sooooo, we’re going to be really REALLY over-budget in our “other” category this month. Just a heads up.

This whole car maintenance thing also makes me worried about my husband’s work truck. You may remember me talking about how old and beat up it is. We were estimating that it would probably have to be replaced this winter (*gulp*). I’m at a loss for what to do. Start funneling more money into our car monthly savings (we’ve been saving $50/month previously)? Just stay the course and hope the truck continues to hold out?

The reason we thought we’d have to replace it in winter is that the past 2 winters it has given us problems with starting when it gets cold outside (making it unreliable in cold weather). It’s A/C has also been out for an entire year now (meaning, husband has been driving around in 110+ degree days with no A/C all summer). The estimated cost to fix the A/C is another $1,000 and husband replaced all the parts associated with the starter last year and still had problems, so no idea what that will cost. Right now no money has been going into it at all, aside from regular oil changes and gasoline (didn’t want to invest money into it when we thought we’d be replacing it soon).

Other pertinent information – Kelley Blue Book estimates its value at $3700 (not too shabby since we paid only $3,000 about four years ago). This could be “off” though, given the problems its having (no A/C in Tucson is kind of a deal-beaker for most buyers).

Why oh why is vehicle maintenance so expensive? And why oh why is everything breaking/falling apart at the same time? Is this a case of “you’ve done too well…now Murphey is coming to visit!!!!”????

Tips, suggestions, advice? What would you do?

Surprise Grocery Budget-Buster


I have always, always tracked my spending. Even before I had imposed a budget or started trying to tackle our debt in a serious way (heck, even before we had any debt at all!), I have always tracked my spending.

So I have known – for years – that one of the biggest black holes of where our money disappears is….food. Whether its groceries or eating out with the family, food is one of our reliably largest monthly expenses. Wouldn’t we all save so much money if we could just stop eating? I joke, but seriously!

Part of my Money-Envelope May challenge has been to really examine where our grocery budget is going so I can try to reduce it further, particularly in light of all the things I have switched to making home-made for much cheaper than store-bought (e.g., tortillas, bagels, bread, pizza dough….lots of bread products!)

And you may be surprised what I discovered.

Many people suggest that meat is the biggest cost in most people’s food budgets. I will admit that meat can be costly. However, I am really good about shopping sales. I always look at the sale fliers that are circulated each week for our neighborhood grocers and stock up on sale meats. Here are some of the sales I buy on the regular:

  • Whole chicken, .88 cents/pound
  • Split chicken breasts, .99 cents/pound
  • Bone-in pork chops, 1.29/pound
  • Boneless pork loin roast, 1.77/lb
  • Pork spare ribs, 1.99/lb.

We buy a lot of chicken and pork because I can find it for cheaper than beef or fish and the cuts I buy often last several meals (e.g., I make a whole chicken as a rotisserie, then use leftover chicken to make chicken salads, chicken enchiladas, chicken tortilla soup, etc etc etc.).

In fact, I’ve gotten pretty good at spending $2/lb or less. The exception is ground beef (which I can find for as little as 2.88/lb for 93% lean). In case you’re wondering how I can spout off these prices – I track prices (and highly recommend it! Then you always know whether the “sales” being advertised are actually good prices or not and you can track patterns of sales).

So meat wasn’t a huge issue for our family. Guess what is……..CHEESE!

OMG, Cheeeeeeese, how I love you!!! If cheese were a man I would run away with him in a heart beat (sorry, husband!)

The problem is, I’m a little sketchy about my cheese selections. First, I don’t like to buy anything labeled with “cheese product” (aka: not real cheese). Second, I prefer to buy rBST-free cheese. I generally buy our cheeses in big blocks from Sprouts Farmers’ Market (they have a different cheese on sale each week). But, even bought in big blocks (often cheaper than pre-shredded), the cheapest I can find is 2.99/lb (that’s for “regular” cheese). Whenever their rBST-free cheeses go on sale I always STOCK UP (the sale price is 3.99/lb, regular 4.99/lb). I can buy 3-4 lbs in a single trip and freeze the extras. BUT, that means I’ve used $16 of my $95 weekly grocery budget on just CHEESE (that’s 17% of the budget!). And sometimes – gasp – I splurge on a special cheese, like brie (6.99/lb)! Talk about eating the budget up QUICK!!!!

Have I mentioned I love cheese (pssst….it’s even in my author bio)???? Just about every meal I make includes cheese in some form or fashion.

So I guess I’ve discovered one of our grocery budget-busters! Looks like we’ll be cutting back a little on cheese around here (not eliminating it…just cutting back a little. I don’t want to go through withdrawal and end up binging, you know?)

Have you ever had a surprise budget-buster??

Saving ‘the man’ money…


When booking out of town travel for work, I get to choose where I stay. We have a generous maximum allowance that most employees use fully – even upgrading room choices for nicer suites.

In my crazy mind, I figure the finance department actually monitors the spending and takes note as to who spends the limit, and who saves the company money. I didn’t want to book a budget busting hotel and chose one a little further away in a less expensive area.

I didn’t say it was a bright idea.

I arrived at the hotel and was pleased to discover it wasn’t too bad. The area was nice and the buildings had been renovated sometime in the last 4 decades – a big plus for me. Remember folks, I stayed in hostels in Europe with mold growing up the walls and dirty sheets. My standards are what some would call… shockingly low. Anyway, I liked the place. I wouldn’t say I felt ‘safe’ but I felt I could adequately survive the night.

At around 7pm, a high pitched scream echoed down the hallway. It was followed by more screaming.

A lot of screaming.

Turns out, the occupants in the next room where the proud parents of a 5 year old who took to screaming whenever she didn’t get her way. That particular screaming fit was because mom and dad wouldn’t let her put the key in the door.

Great. Now, in the event someone decided to murder me, my screaming would be overpowered by a 5 year old.

The screamer eventually gave it a rest and I fell asleep around 11. At 2, the hotel alarms were set off by some kids playing pranks. The alarms blared for more than an hour. The hotel staff was quick to apologize, but their apologies didn’t help me focus in the 8 hour training session the following day.

The rest of the week went pretty much the same way. Alarms, screaming children, car horns blaring. You get it.

Lesson learned.

When traveling for work, save money – but spend enough to keep your sanity.