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Posts tagged with: making a budget

Ashley’s Bloated Budget

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I have to be honest. I’m totally nervous about this post.

When I first started blogging here back in early 2014, I experienced a lot of backlash. It’s tough to put your entire financial world out there on the internet for a bunch of strangers. And tougher, still, to take in the comments and criticism of very personal financial decisions.

But then the tides changed once I started experiencing some success.

Within 3 months of beginning to blog, I paid off over $10,000 in credit card debt. In total, I paid off just over $25,000 of debt in 2014, just over $26,000 of debt in 2015, and over $30,000 of debt in 2016!!!

Once I was winning with money, the criticisms mostly melted away. I felt more support and encouragement. Not as much judgement or negativity.

Then the summer of 2017 occurred. Poor spending decisions have been made. Income has been reduced. Outflow has increased. I’ve been struggling with some personal mental health issues which have prevented me from spending as much time and attention with our family budget as I should have. Things have just spiraled.

There’s no one single “thing.” It’s more like an avalanche of smaller stuff. Death by a thousand cuts. And all the sudden I look up and realize that our minimum monthly debt payments are so out-of-hand that I don’t know what to do. We’re nickel and diming ourselves to death. To the point that we have no money for food. We have to rely on credit to buy our groceries.

I tried to start over from scratch. I’ve been using YNAB, but I haven’t been able to make the money work for several months now. Our expenses exceed our income, no matter what I do or how I try to shuffle things around, there’s just not enough. So I opened a simple Excel spreadsheet. I wrote my monthly take-home pay at the top and started listing expenses in order of importance. Here’s what I got:

We’re down to $1264 to spend on all of our monthly needs in terms of food and clothing, savings, and/or additional debt payments.  It doesn’t feel like enough….especially since the debt figure ($1098) does NOT include any student loan payments, given that they’re in deferment currently.

On my post about increasing student loan payments, many people tried to give me encouragement that we COULD put $1,000/month toward student loans. That it was totally possible.

Well…..not with only $1264 at the end of the month. Not when we don’t have enough money to buy food or gasoline for our cars. Not when there’s zero wiggle-room because we literally don’t have a single penny in any emergency fund. Not when Christmas is coming up and we have no way to buy gifts for friends or families. Not when our property taxes are coming due!

Can we decrease our fixed bills? The “utilities” line item ($650) includes water, electric, HOA, cable, internet and phone. We can try little things to save on energy, but we’re in a contract with the cable/internet company and same with our phones. HOA is also “set.” So not a lot of wiggle room there.

We do have some debt payments that have lower balances – once we knock them out we can reduce the monthly minimum. But we can’t just be paying minimum payments – we have got to be paying as much over minimum as possible in order to make any headway.

I’m preparing a full debt update so you can see a larger financial picture (give me a couple days to get it posted). But it seems pretty clear to me – we have to find ways to increase our income. $4880/month is not enough for us to achieve our financial goals.

My sister recently added me to a Dave Ramsey Facebook group. It’s been a huge motivational boost to see so many stories of sacrifice and determination. So many debt-free success stories, pictures of fully paid homes, etc. I know we will get there. Our path hasn’t been linear and I think that’s okay. Sometimes “life happens.” Sometimes you have to take a step back and focus on yourself or your family. But we don’t want to live in a state of debt like this forever. The only way out is to put our heads down and plow forward. And that’s just what we intend to do.

As always, I welcome and appreciate your constructive criticism. I’m back to square one here. Googling sample budget plans and just trying to figure out how to survive without taking on additional debt. I’m a little nervous and scared of the path ahead. Our first 2 years of debt-reduction were totally bare-bones. I remember the days well. That was back when I was working part-time from home so it was easier to cook from scratch, meticulously research and shop sales, etc. We’re in a totally different situation now.

It wasn’t easy then. It won’t be easy now. But nothing worth having ever is, now is it?

Give me all your tips! Link to web resources, give me book recommendations. Even just a word of encouragement is appreciated. Thank you all, especially those of you who have been around and seen my story evolve over the past nearly 4 years! It’s been quite a journey and we’re only half-way through it!

 


January Budget Update

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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?


Planned December Budget

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Hi friends!

Is it just me or does the week after Thanksgiving not even feel like a “real” week?? It’s like you’re supposed to be back at work, but everyone is out doing Christmas shopping and holiday planning and things are just nuts! It’s impossible to concentrate! I know I’m definitely guilty of this and I’ve certainly been a bit distracted lately! It’s also hard because most of my “pressing” work (things with deadlines) is done right now and basically on hiatus until January (this is my last week of teaching for the semester, so just a little bit of grading and that’s it). I really, really need to be working on getting some manuscripts submitted to academic journals for review, but its soooo hard focusing on that stuff when there’s no set deadline and I feel like there are so many other things competing for my time and attention….

Anyway, that was a bit of a tangent but I’m sure some of you are in the same boat with me right now!! Onward!

Here’s my planned December budget:

Place Planned Budget
Rent 1055
Electricity 170
Water 60
Natural gas 20
Sprint (2 lines) 115
Cable/Internet 100
Car Insurance 56
Health Insurance 350
Trash 35
Debt 2078
Miscellaneous 300
Groceries 400
Baby Purchases 1200
Gasoline 100
Saving for Irregular Expenses 495
Total Budgeted 6534

 

There are exactly 2 things that are different from last month (see November’s budget and update here). I raised my baby purchases back up to $1200 (where it had been originally), and I raised up the amount going toward debt! Woohoo!! Finally a month where I’m breaking the $2,000 mark toward debt! Last time I paid over $2,000 toward debt in a single month was all the way back in August! Feels good to punch some debt in the face!!!

With that being said, I wanted to remind you that we live on last month’s income and to let you know that we’ve got more to work with this month (meaning, our income was higher last month). Always a good thing! I think it’s largely due to husband’s extra crew. Wahoo!!!

Last month we earned a total of $6550. I’ve budgeted a total of $6534, which leaves us a tiny little buffer. I like to have a little bit of wiggle room, even if its only $25. It helps!

I’m excited and nervous to see how we do this month with income (income that will be spent in January). Even though we’ve decided to go out of town for Christmas, we should still earn some money from husband’s additional crews while we’re gone. There are some good jobs lined up already, so I’ve got my fingers crossed that our income won’t be hit too hard by taking off for a bit this month (we’ll be gone a total of 10 days).

How are your months shaping up? Is your budget drastically different in December to accommodate gift giving and/or travel expenses?


November Budget Update

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Hi all! I hope you’re doing well! November seemed to fly by faster than most. I swear I was just typing up my October Budget Update the other day….and somehow a full month has flown by! I guess that’s how it works, especially around the holidays!

As a quick reminder, we live on last month’s income, so for the month of November we had a total of $5855 to budget and appropriate to various categories. Here’s how things worked out…

November budget (planned & actual spent):

Place Planned Budget Actual Spent
Rent 1055 1055
Electricity 170 168
Water 60 56
Natural gas 20 28
Sprint (2 lines) 115 114
Cable/Internet 100 100
Car Insurance 56 55
Health Insurance 350 350
Trash 35 35
Debt 1498 1498
Miscellaneous 300 867
Groceries 400 419
Baby Purchases 1100 1180
Gasoline 100 75
Saving for Irregular Expenses 495 495
Total Budgeted 5854 6495

 

As a reminder, miscellaneous is broken down into 4 categories:

  • Entertainment: budgeted = $20; spent = $26
  • Eating Out: budgeted = $100; spent = $129
  • Personal Maintenance: budgeted = $30; spent = $5
  • Other: budgeted = $150; spent = $707

Side note: In January I’m going to do a big, formal assessment of my monthly spending all year and re-do my budget/categories a bit. Right now I have miscellaneous broken into these four sub-categories but starting in January I’m going to simply give each of these categories its own line item instead of lumping them together and itemizing separately. It’s so weird, I don’t even know why I did this to begin with!?

I think this is the very first time since I started blogging that I went over in the entertainment category (I went to a movie with a friend, which cost $12 and tipped me over in this category). Obviously the biggest overage is in the “other” category. I don’t feel comfortable divulging exact details regarding the monetary settlement we came to with our landlord (for damages from the Great Flood of 2014), so I’m purposely going to leave out exact numbers here. I will, however, say that the overage is due to a combination of these three things: (1) iphone screen repair, (2) costs associated with the Great Flood, and (3) truck repair. Note that I was, indeed, able to get my phone screen fixed (rather than having to buy a whole new phone – whew!!), and a portion of the truck repair was paid for out of our vehicle maintenance savings account (we didn’t have enough to cover the full repair, so the deficit came from this category).

I also went a little over in our natural gas bill and in our grocery line-item. Nothing too bad. But I was over by a full $80 in the baby purchases category (which includes the cost of preschool, pull ups/diapers, and any purchases that are toddler-specific). Honestly, I generally budget $1200 in this category so I don’t know why I thought I could drop it down to $1100 and not go over. That was unrealistic and I’m bumping it back up to $1200 for next month.

We had a total of $5855, but spent a total of $6495. This leaves us with a deficit of $640.

Ouch!

We’ve had other rough months in the past but this is, by far, the worst since I started blogging. I think I was only over budget one other month, and it was only by about $20. Here we stand this month, over by nearly a grand (I exaggerate, but we’re still over by a lot!) Again – thank goodness for our emergency fund! I think I’m actually going to write a full blog post dedicated to the EF sometime soon because I haven’t talked much about it since I first started blogging.

At any rate, this month we learned some tough lessons. Lessons in preparedness and in the amount of funds we need to have liquid for future “Murphy’s Law” incidents. I’m going to hold off on changing anything at this time (e.g., altering savings for car repairs), but this will be something I look closely at in December and January as I plan and budget for the new year.

 

How did you do with your November spending?