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Ashley’s April Budget

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It’s my first time in a long time to try to put together a budget for the blog. As I’ve mentioned, we’re still struggling in the budget department. And it’s still not at a place where I’d like it to be. But you’ve got to start somewhere, so I’m putting it all out there today.

Here’s how I’ve planned April’s budget:

PlaceAmount
Mortgage950
Electricity160
Water65
Cell Phones (2 lines)105
Cable/Internet137
Childcare600
Restaurants300
Dream Dinners250
Groceries450
Gasoline175
Student Loans550
CC Payments2000
IRS285
Total$6027

Categories of spending:

Fixed Expenses

Our “fixed” expenses (mortgage, electricity, water, phone, cable/internet, childcare, gasoline) will be tough to lower any significant amount. We can try to conserve here and there, but those are pretty good estimates of what we’ll be paying.

Food

Food has been a huge struggle for us ever since I went back to working full-time. We don’t eat a lot of meals out as a family, but I might pick up some takeout once a week, and I’m likely to grab lunch out at least once a week. I know this is something I can improve on, but $300 is a very realistic (actually on the low-end) estimate for our family. Has anyone heard of Dream Dinners? I first looked into it as a way to try to reduce our eating out/restaurant expenses, and I’ve had good success with it. It costs more than if I were to put together all the meals myself homemade. But often times I’ve fallen into the trap of “I don’t know what to eat” and/or I don’t have time to plan out meals, get to the store to buy the right ingredients, etc. Basically, you go to the store and prep a ton of meals (about 40-servings) and take everything home all ready-to-go, complete with recipe cards and cooking instructions, etc. The cost depends on the food you’ve selected, but my cost is typically between $220-$250ish/month. I could get rid of this in the future to try to save money, but I’ve already pre-scheduled and paid for my April session. And, finally, groceries rounds out the last of our food expenses. Combined, we’re budgeting to pay $1,000 on food in the month of April. I know that for many that sounds like a disgusting/insane amount of money. But for our family, it’s become quite the norm to spend in excess of $1,000/month on food. I know this is the #1 area where we need to cut back. HELP! Comment with your tips, tricks, or any resources you have to offer! We are struggling so hard with food!!!

Debts

And finally…..our debts. We are in a payment plan agreement with the IRS to pay $285/month. And we’re in Income-Based-Repayment with Navient, paying $550/month currently (though it’s re-reviewed in August, so that amount may change). Both of the amounts listed for IRS and Navient are minimums. The credit card payments include payments for all of our credit cards (including one that was actually a balance-transfer from a student loan). The credit card payment is what I’d LIKE to pay (not the minimum). The minimum payments would actually be about $1285. But we’ve got so much credit card debt, we’re not even going to be moving the needle unless we’re paying at least $2,000/month. I’d prefer to pay more!!!

Total Budgeted: $6027

Here’s the problem. On typical months, I only get 2 paychecks for $2550/each. That’s $5100 in the month timeframe. But our totally bare bones budget (not including a single penny for clothing, kids’ activities, family fun, etc.) exceeds our monthly income by $927. That’s a problem, folks.

We do have a little bit of a buffer for the month of April thanks to the extra paycheck I received in March. I’m also going to be receiving some extra money in my April paychecks for childcare (one of the benefits at my job is that I can submit my receipts for childcare quarterly and receive reimbursement of 50% of the care, up to $2,000/year maximum). So I’ll still earn enough money in April to cover this anticipated budget. But this is not an ideal situation and it’s really not where I want to be – shuffling funds around, relying on the random “extra” pay from my benefits, etc. We’ve GOT to figure out a way to get our planned budget down below $5100/month. The only “easy” place to trim from is the food category (but like I said, easier said than done). And we have to be realistic that there WILL be extra expenses pop up – a gift for a kids’ birthday party or something fun we want to do that costs money. We could have a no spend month, but an effective budget long-term needs to have at least a little wiggle-room built into it and we currently have NONE.

What are your thoughts?

I’d like to cancel our cable, but we’re currently under contract (not sure exactly when it ends, but I think it’s in Fall time-frame). Childcare will reduce in August, but there’s still several months to go until then! Any tips for reducing our food budget??

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Student Loan Eradication Plan

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Thanks for your comments on my last post about potentially reconsolidating my student loans in order to qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). I read all your comments, thought it over, and decided that ultimately you guys are right (you’re always right!).

It doesn’t make sense to try to fix a short-term problem by making major long-term changes.

I don’t want a higher interest rate. I don’t want to be locked into stringent terms and criteria. I don’t want to feel the stress that the program could disappear or be discontinued and I’d be stuck with this boat-load of debt (even higher at that point, given the higher APR). In fact, when mulling it over, really there were two things about the program that appealed to me most: (1) locking in a lower monthly payment, and (2) having a definitive “end date” for when the student loans would be GONE!

Are lower payments really that important long-term???

As readers pointed out, the monthly payment problem is a short-term thing. Hubs has started working again (albeit part-time – he’s a personal trainer), but his income is already picking up as he’s gaining clients. If he stays at his current place of employment, he will enjoy a nice bump in his hourly rate at the 6-month mark. For new readers, hubs recently returned to school full-time so he can switch careers. In only a few more years he’ll be graduating and entering into the full-time work force again.

Meanwhile, this is our last year of paying for childcare (our twins are in kindergarten and although they’re in a state-funded charter school, the state only subsidizes half-day kindergarten so we still pay out-of-pocket for “full day” kinder.). We will have to get through the Spring semester and summer, but by Fall of next year (and “Fall” starts in early August at their school) we’ll only have childcare expenses for after-care, which is really negligible. We are currently paying about $30-40/week for after-care. That’s practically nothing compared to the full-time care we’ve been paying the past….oh….since they were born! (side note: they did childcare part-time from birth through age 3, and have been full-time from age 4-5. But even at only part-time, childcare from the time they were born up until this year has been our #1 largest monthly expense – even outranking our rent/mortgage).

Definitive Student Loans End Date

I decided to do a little investigating with my student loans in their current repayment plan (we’re in income-driven repayment). The plan is subject-to-change since it’s based on our income, but with things as-is, I figured out the “Paid in Full” date for each of my outstanding student loan balances. I have 7 loans in total, and their current “pain in full” dates range from December 2023 to August 2028! Now, I know that’s a very long ways off…..but remember half of the “pull” for me to do the PSLF was that it guaranteed an “end date” for my student loans. The end date would be 10-years. Well……as it turns out, my student loans are set to be fully paid within 10 years anyway! And that’s if I don’t get crazy and start paying way extra to get them gone sooner!!!

Long Road Ahead

I know the road ahead will be a long one. We still have a LOT of debt to get through. But, for some reason, seeing these end-dates made me feel hopeful. If they’re being projected at 10-years as-is, there’s NO WAY they’ll actually be around that long!  We’ve got probably another tough 2-3-years ahead while hubs is in school. Hopefully we’ll feel a bit of a relief once our childcare costs go down and his income goes up from his personal-training raise. But once he graduates and re-enters full-time employment we should really start making some headway. If I look out another 7-ish years, well, all our personal debts (credit cards, student loans) should be gone and our mortgage will be low enough that we should be able to knock it out easily (we’re already in a 15-year fixed, as is, with 14 to go at this point). I’m 34 now. With a little luck and some hard work, by the time I’m 40 we’ll be totally DEBT-FREE and able to kick fully into savings-mode. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it!

What’s your Debt-Free date? Are you already debt-free? How long did the journey take you?