Tag Archives: spending

Ronnica’s 2016 Goal Updates

Now that we’re half way through 2016 (!), it’s time to look back on the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year. To be honest, I haven’t really thought about them too often, as my life plan has taken over my focus, so I was a little worried.

In January, I set 2 goals as well as spending goals. My first goal was to spend 30 minutes each day to cleaning/straightening my apartment. I’ve been pretty successful with this goal, and my apartment shows it. Accompanied by getting rid of things and organizing, my apartment looks better than it ever has. I still have work that I want to do, but I feel much more comfortable at home.

My second goal was to do my Bible reading first thing in the morning. I still spend too much time on my phone (usually 15 minutes) before I get to it, but I am regularly getting to it. I would like to keep working on keeping the phone down first thing in the morning.

As for my spending goals, here’s how I’ve done through May (haven’t calculated for June yet):

Groceries
2016 goal: $1,820, 2015 actual: $2,026.04
2016 YTD: $888.75

I’m currently on track to be a bit higher than last year, but as I’ve radically changed what I’m eating, that makes sense. I think this will balance out a little lower, probably on track to be the same as last year’s spending.

Travel
2016 goal: $1,400, 2015 actual: $743.35
2016 YTD: $847.35

I’m currently above my goal, but as my two plane trips were in the first half of the year, I’m really on try.

Hobby
2016 goal: $260, 2015 actual: $625.93
2016 YTD: $24.99

Well below goal, yay! I am saving up right now for a backpacking pack, but will probably wait until next year to get it as I’d like to fit it to my new body, not my in-between one.

2016 gardenGarden
2016 goal: $75, 2015 actual: $319.60
2016 YTD: $68.18

This has taken a lot of self-control, but I did it! My gardening expenses are probably done for the year.

Eating Out
2016 goal: $200, 2015 actual: $281.98
2016 YTD: $37.09

I’ve eaten out twice this year (while not traveling). I was already not eating out a lot before, but making my own food from scratch goes a long way to not wanting to eat out.

Gifts
2016 goal: $120, 2015 actual $179.61
2016 YTD: $62.94

I’m over my goal, and will probably end over my goal by the end of the year, but we’ll see.

Clothes
2016 goal: $20, 2015 actual: $60.86
2016 YTD $4.30

Doing great so far, but I have a feeling I’m going to need to spend more than $20 this year. I do plan on buying my newer wardrobe as cheaply as possible, getting by with as little as possible and buying most of it at thrift stores.

Groceries Update

My trusty grocery sacks.
My trusty grocery sacks.

As has been mentioned here on more than one occasion, groceries are one area of our budget that we have a good amount of control over.  As the primary grocery shopper in the family, I am always on the lookout for new ways to cut costs but still keep some semblance of nutritional value.

To that end, I wanted to give you a little update on two modifications to my grocery shopping habits–while one has worked remarkably well, I am still on the fence about the other.

First up: being more flexible with how often I go shopping.  For the longest time (we’re talking years), I stayed true to grocery shopping every two weeks.  Any longer than that and we ran out of fresh produce and dairy, and any shorter than that was a scheduling inconvenience.

These bananas fell victim to my "old" way of shopping.
These bananas fell victim to my “old” way of shopping.

For the last couple of months however, I have only gone when I needed to.  Sometimes that’s once a week, and sometimes that’s longer than three weeks.  I make it a point not to go for one tiny thing, and still continue to go by the grocery list. But if we need, say, diapers and milk, I won’t hold out–I go out and get what we need, plus whatever is on the list at that point in time.

What I’ve discovered with this modification is that I wind up spending less because I’m not as focused on stocking up on things we don’t need for the immediate future.  We also waste a lot less because I’m not as determined to stretch the food for longer periods of time (which meant that produce often went bad before we used it).  The verdict:  I think I may keep doing this…it’s working well for us.

Also, we have paid for some groceries using cash.  A quick search for how to save money on groceries will invariably point you to the cash-only route.  While I love how this method forces me to stick tightly to the list and all but eliminates impulse purchases, I find that I am a bundle of nerves when it comes to checking out, because I am fearful that my cost estimates are off and I won’t have the right amount of cash on me.

If we decide to continue this grocery shopping modification, I am going to have to continue to carry my debit card on me, just in case.  This will be especially critical with larger purchases, at least until I become more confident in my math skills!

So once again, I am reminded that flexibility is a key trait to exercise, especially where groceries are concerned.  How do you stick to your grocery budget?

Amanda’s Christmas Secret

69681668-3243-45d2-8de0-15cd197bc0dfI have a secret to share with you.

I went into this holiday season without a set budget for Christmas gifts.

So now that the big secret is out, let me explain.

I’m not proud of this tidbit.  Initially, I had a budget lined up (if little else), but that was before the recipient list widened considerably.

Due to many factors, there wound up being seventeen people on our Christmas list this year, and three December birthdays to plan for.  That is a whole lot of dough to spend, particularly if one is an “average” American.  Let’s just say we didn’t have several hundred dollars at our disposal.  (In that respect, I suppose our budget was, “As cheap as possible.”)

I briefly considered going the craft/homemade gift route, but realized I did not have the time necessary to create a thoughtful and creative gift.  Instead I opted to do one of four things for each recipient on our list.

We had family pictures taken and ordered prints. With a coupon coupled with an amazing online sale, this turned out to be a really great idea.  The recipients of this gift (grandparents, etc.) are always appreciative of a personal gift…especially where our kiddos are involved. Bonus:  we got family pictures for ourselves as well, which were long overdue.

We gave a donation.  Using points sites, we were able to give charitable donations in the gift recipient’s honor.  Bonus:  it made us feel like we were contributing to something greater than ourselves.

We gave an experience.  Nothing says “Happy Birthday” like taking someone out to eat at a favorite restaurant.  Bonus:  the restaurant is a favorite of all in attendance!

We gave gift cards and cookies, or traditional gifts.  Although these were among the more expensive gifts on our list, for these recipients, gift cards were preferred gifts, and the cookies added a personal touch, as well as something to “unwrap.” We were able to choose our denomination for the gift cards, which helped keep costs down.

Our kids (and Riley) are the primary recipients of the traditional gifts.  To keep things simple, I adhered to the, “Something you want, something to read, something to wear, and something you need” gift-giving philosophy, so each kiddo is getting just four small gifts from us.  Bonus:  We get to see their little faces light up when they see their gifts. (Although they are very easy to please.  Peanut, for example, would be thrilled with just the wrapping paper.)

Each recipient has either already received their gift, or knows of it, or (as in the case of our kids) can’t read yet, so this post should not spoil anyone’s surprises. But I do want to share one more thing.

We spent around $250 total.

While certainly far below the national average, that is still a lot of money to spend in the span of just a few weeks, and I blame going into it without a Christmas budget.  Note:  there are a couple of gifts under the tree for me from Riley and the kids, and those are not factored into the total…because I have no idea what was spent (though Riley and I are on the same page as far as family finances are concerned, so I doubt it is a huge sum!).

Bonus:  now we know just how important budgeting is.  And this has also served as a great reminder of the true meaning of the season…and reminded me how important simplifying the holidays is.

Breaking Rules

52501482_fcd5405228_mI think it is a pretty accurate statement to say that I follow the rules.

If a doctor tells me to do something, I will typically do it.  In school, I was the girl who adhered to every single dictate put forth by the teacher.  As an adult, not much has changed.

…except when it comes to a few financial rules.

I realize that rules–especially financial rules–become such because they tend to work well when followed.  For most people.  I also believe (and hope I have effectively conveyed on this blog) that there can be exceptions to many rules.  Each family may have a different way of going about their different priorities.  I know our family does!

What follows is just a sampling of some of the rules we don’t follow.  It should be noted here that 1) this is simply a short list of rules that first came to my mind that we also happen to break, and 2) I am not a financial “expert”–your own situation will vary, so when in doubt, get to a professional!

Rule #1:  We save more.  

Depending on which financial guru you follow, the number in your savings account should range from $1,000, to 3-6 months of salary, to many times that.  Since our family has one breadwinner, we have experienced job loss before, and we have little people looking to us to provide for them, we have always aimed on the higher end of savings.

For example, $1,000 would not provide nearly enough of a safety net in the event of a major life event, so we have made our goal higher than that.  That doesn’t mean that our savings account always reflects where our goal is (we have had to dip into emergency savings some this year), but the peace of mind this affords is priceless.

Rule #2:  We use credit cards.

This one is a tough one, because obviously one wants to avoid debt as much as possible.  One could also argue that the credit card rewards are either rarely (if ever) cashed in on, or that the potential rewards do not outweigh the drawbacks (high interest rates, crushing debt, etc.).  I do believe, however, that credit cards can be a helpful tool…when used correctly.  Obviously paying off your balance in full each month is the ideal.

Rule #3:  We pay our retirement accounts first.

I’ve mentioned here before that we have worked to find a good way to fund our children’s education.  It’s still a work in progress, but here’s the important thing to note:  our kids have many options available to them when it comes to paying for higher education.  Our retirement?  Not so much.  So, as much as we love our littles, we pay our retirement accounts first.

These are just a sampling of some of our rule-breaking ways.  While rules may be in place for a reason, it’s important to remember every rule may not be the best fit for your life situation.  And when in doubt, consult with an expert!

Photo by Jem Stone

Christmas Prep

156362_904223042779_1338120_nI don’t think there has ever been a year where I have waited so long to start planning for Christmas as this one.  (Yes, even a Striving Stewardess procrastinates.)

That is not to say I haven’t determined various aspects of the holidays–the logistics, for example, likely won’t deviate from holidays of the past.  We know where we will be and when.

No, I mean gifts.  Experience-based or not, I have dropped the ball in this arena.  About as far as I have gotten in this is the budget and a few ideas for each person on the list.

I have figured out a common gift for extended family that will serve the four of us as well; now I just need to execute my plan!  The challenge I am running up against is buying for those in my own household:  my husband, two children, and yes, budget permitting, the pets.

It’s not that I don’t have ideas–as noted above, I absolutely do–but the budget is pretty tight this year.  Saving a lot throughout the year was next to impossible for a variety of reasons, so the gift budget is coming in at a pretty small sum; I won’t disclose the amount here (yet), but suffice it to say that it is what most people would spend on one gift for one person…not several gifts for several people.

Stay tuned to see what we wind up doing for gifts.  Experience-based?  Traditional gifts under the tree?  Forgo gifts altogether?  We shall see!

Are you ready for the holiday season?

Avoiding Ads

zillions cover
Yes, it was a very 90s magazine.

As a kid, my favorite magazine was Zillions. This was a magazine produced by the makers of Consumer Reports designed to mold kids into being savvy consumers. My favorite part were the cartoon-like illustrations of the hows and whys of advertising.

We all know (if we stop to think about it), that advertisements are designed to make us act in a specific way: buy a product, watch a show or desire to be associated with a specific brand.

Globally, companies pay $500 billion a year on advertising. These companies are smart: they use advertising because they know it will help them sell more product.

I have nothing against advertising necessarily, but I want to choose for myself what I buy (or simply choose not to buy). Whether I acknowledge it or not, advertising has a strong pull on me, particularly ads designed to evoke an emotional response. I’m not especially gullible, but ads often dig in deep to accomplish their goals.

Advertisements are everywhere. In almost no practical context would it be reasonable to avoid them altogether. Still, I can take action to limit my exposure wherever possible.

For example, I do not watch television advertising. If I can’t fast forward through it, I mute the television and turn my attention elsewhere until they’re over. No, I don’t even watch the ads during the Superbowl.

When I do experience an ad, I often pick it apart to weaken its grip. How does this ad want me to feel? What does it want me to do? What cultural lie does it depend on (or what truth does it distort)?

These questions are good for other forms of media. If we’re going to fight our culture’s over-consumerism and me-first attitudes, we’re going to have to question what messages we take in.

Eating Out Rules

3773196199_6094c7d815_mAs much as I have come to enjoy cooking healthy, tasty meals for our family, I enjoy a good meal out too.  There are times when we want to celebrate something special, and call for a meal out (and I want to enjoy a night off from cooking).

How do we make that happen on a tight budget?  Here are a few of our eating-out rules:

We only eat out for special occasions.  And we have outlined exactly what those special occasions are (birthdays, anniversaries, recognition at work), so there is no room for debate later on.

We go where the deals are.  See if your favorite restaurants offer birthday coupons, “Kids Eat Free” nights, or deals online.  It’s worth signing up for emails (use a designated email address for this, so as not to clutter up your regular email address) to get a good deal.

Cash has benefits.  Namely, you have a designated amount for eating out, helping to rein in any unnecessary spending.  When the cash is gone, it’s gone.

Consider alternatives.  Craving the pasta dish from your favorite restaurant but its not in the family budget?  Have a hankering for the scrumptious dessert from that bistro down the street but no funds?  Consider checking out options online.  You may be surprised at the number of recipes you can find online (or in cookbooks from the library!) that mirror your favorite dish.  The perk of this is that you control what goes into it, and you will almost always have leftovers for the next time a craving hits.

Bonus Tip:  Order the kids’ meals first.  Before you even look at the menu for yourself, order for the kids at the table.  It generally works best to look at the menu before you arrive at the restaurant so that when your drink order is being taken, you can also place the order for the little people in your midst.  Not only does this help prevent meltdowns from hungry toddlers, but it also helps keep costs down, as you won’t be tempted to order appetizers to appease hungry little tummies while you wait for the main meal.

Your turn!  What are your eating out rules?

Photo by Jim G.

The Quest for $150

unnamed (16)
These grocery bags are my constant companions.

I recently mentioned here that, with the cost of food steadily increasing and through my own attitude shift, our grocery bill has jumped.

As a stay-at-home mom, this wasn’t going to fly as a long-term trend. Mama is on a tight budget.  So, I made it my mission to reduce my bimonthly shopping excursion bills by $150 or more.

This number was arbitrary; it was not the difference between Amanda’s grocery shopping trips of a few months ago and the trips of today, nor did it represent the amount of money we needed for X each month.  It was a nice, solid figure to me–doable, but challenging for us–that represented a drop in the average cost of the last several grocery runs.

I went grocery shopping last Friday, and I’m happy to report that, while I didn’t quite make it to the $150 mark, I did make great strides in cutting our costs.  Upon reflection, I determined the following helped made that decline in cost possible:

I went back to my “old ways.” Enough said.

Really, there’s no list I could compile that would sum it up better.  Things are getting a bit more expensive, but shopping as I have in the past (that is, thoughtfully, sticking to a list, price-checking, etc.) really made all the difference.  And those impulse buys (which is where a large part of our budget overage originated)?  They stayed on the shelf where they belong.

This may not work for us for much longer; as I’ve noted, the price of food where we are is steadily increasing.  And we’re still working on the “milk thing.”  But for now, I’m reveling in this not-so-small victory!

August Project Check-In

6757849129_54c4f1ab10_mAlthough this post is set to be published on August 14, I am writing my first Amanda’s August Project Check-in on Tuesday, August 4.

The reason:  holy smokes, y’all, I’m learning a lot about where our money goes.

Some highlights thus far:

1.  I spent all of my “fun money” for August by Day Three.  Husband and I both get a few bucks each month to spend (or save) on whatever we want.  This isn’t a huge amount of money, but I learned it can go up in smoke pretty quickly.  I chose to spend mine on morning coffees and treats, and before I knew it, poof!  There went my money for 31 days…on the third day of the month.

Lesson learned:  Taking a few minutes to plan where I want my money to go can result in less impulse purchases.  Or I can quit coffee, but that’s not likely to happen anytime soon.  I can also make my own coffee at home for a lot less…and still get caffeinated.

2.  Communication with others in the household is crucial.  This one is more of a reminder than a lesson learned, but it was great to get a refresher.  If only one person in the household knows where the money is going, or spends without consulting the other people in the house first, then it can be all too easy to 1) be left in the dark, and 2) see your bank account dwindle rapidly.

3.  Budget.  You had to know this was coming, right?  Also more of a reminder, but if you don’t tell your money where to go, then it will be gone before you know it (see Highlight #1).

Stay tuned for more take-away lessons from AAP!

Photo by http://401kcalculator.org

Where Does My Paycheck Go?

depositing checkA couple of months ago I read a post of the same title on The Single Dollar. I found it fascinating, so I decided to break my own paycheck down!

I waited until I had 2 months of post-debt-payoff data (yes, I’ve been 2 months debt-free!), as my budget has changed since then. My goals have changed: instead of throwing every spare dollar at my student loans, I’m now throwing every spare dollar at savings: for emergencies, retirement and a new car (though I still hope to go without).

A short note on how I made these calculations: they are an average of 4 bi-weekly paychecks. The amount I earn varies greatly each paycheck, so I thought it would be more useful to use these averages.

So where does my paycheck go?

14.2% goes to taxes (10.8 % federal, 3.4% state and local)
7.4% goes to FICA (6% social security, 1.4% Medicare)
4.5% goes to my 401(k)
2.4% goes to my share of health insurance premiums

All the above (28.5%) are taken out of my paycheck before the remainder is direct deposited into my checking account. So that leaves me with 71.5% of my earnings as take-home pay. This is where that goes (as percentages of my gross pay):

26% rent (painful)
13.3% emergency savings
8.2 % giving
5.7% new car savings account
5.4% transportation(gas, car insurance, car repair fund and public transit fares)
4.8% freedom fund (cell phone, discretionary categories)
4% utilities
4% groceries (ridiculous low, primarily due to other factors than my budgeting skills)

All told, I’m saving 23.5% of my gross pay (including 401(k), emergency and new car funds). I want to keep increasing that percentage.

When I take out savings and giving, I’m living on 62% of my take home pay. I think that’s an excellent place to start, as a single-person household earning median income.

I found this a very helpful calculation. I want to do this periodically to encourage myself not only to save and give more, but also to increase the percentage of my income that I’m saving and giving as my income increases.

Photo by David Goehring