Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Guide to Everything

I have not forgotten this long lost blog! For more financial planning content, find me at Alpha Mom on this week's GUIDE TO EVERYTHING:

How to Start a College Fund

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Catching Up, Moving On

I know I've been remiss with this blog and I have a list of excuses a mile long, but the bottom line is this: I don't love budgeting and writing a blog about a subject I don't love is about as fun as you'd imagine. Especially when no one is paying me to write it. (Hello Universe! Financial Planning Blogger for hire RIGHT HERE!)

Sorry, but I'm being honest.

And now I'll be EXTRA honest and tell you that I have virtually no idea how much we spent on Christmas. I have approximately 437 receipts stuffed into a big envelope, an envelope that I've licked shut and shoved into the bowels of our filing cabinet, never to be opened again. My best guess is: A LOT.

I do know that we intended to spend $200 on each kid and ended up spending more like $300 instead. Dave and I had the same budgets for each other and the same thing happened. So for JUST our little family, the Christmas bill was $300 x 4 = $1200. Not cheap! And yet - it coulda been worse.

The good news is that we continue to save money. Sure, I'd like to be saving even more and we could be if I was more dedicated to budgeting, but it's a big trade off for me. By NOT budgeting, I am actually getting something for the extra money we end up spending: I'm getting to relax and enjoy our life as it goes by. In some ways that freedom is worth more money to me than any extra padding our savings account might get. Either way, we're living well within our means and if you take nothing else from this blog, I hope you take that with you.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Update on Consumer-Free November

Sorry for the huge lapse in posting! I swear I haven't forgotten this blog! In fact, it's quite the opposite, so expect a bigger better Naked Ledger sometime soon.

It turns out we're doing really well with our plan to just stop spending money this month. Here's the damage, by category, as of today:

Booze $100, spent $168
Clothes $200, spent ($68)
Dining out $150, spent $14
Entertainment $100, spent $71
Food $700, spent $547
Gas $350, spent $196
Household $300, spent $131
Kids $50, spent $0
Other $50, spent $0

Total Budget $2000, Total Spent $1,059

I can't remember a month when we've done THIS well. Of course, we DID go over budget on booze, but let's be honest, this was NOVEMBER 2008, the month containing the most critical election in my lifetime. I'm sure we aren't the only ones who drank a little extra (either in celebration or to drown some sorrows). We actually bought a couple of bottles of nicer liquor for our Election Night sleepover and that right there was $70, so it explains our overage. Booze is spendy in Washington.

I think the big thing I'm noticing is that I don't even WANT to be spending money right now. The simple act of just making up my mind not to spend was all it took to curb my desire for stuff and things. Sure, the Christmas aisles at Target are bursting at the seams with shiny pretty things (like mercury glass, gah!), but since I know I'm NOT buying anything, nothing calls my name when I walk by. I wish I could say the same thing for dining out, but I am REALLY itching for a date night with Dave. I've been trying to perk up our weekly menus with more exciting fare, but still, a night out sans kids is pretty much a requirement for us. I think this weekend we'll go out to a movie together since there's no way I can wait until December to see Twilight.

I should note that we HAVE still been contributing to the economy this month. Dave and I both did our bonus spending and I'm typing this entry from my new MacBook ($1200 after discount and sales tax). Dave ended up spending a good chunk of money at the gun store, which was sadly unavoidable given the massive run up on guns before and after the election. It was basically buy now or forever hold his peace. I'm just glad that we were able to contain our regular monthly spending, so the only hits our savings account took were the ones we had saved for and anticipated. That's what good financial planning is all about.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The little things

I've been noticing lately a few small things I've changed that seem to be saving us at least a little bit of money every month.

1. I stopped buying Maple Syrup. At first my kids, the addicts, were ready to stage a coup and find a new mother, but I've slowly convinced them that jelly or brown sugar is an acceptable toping for waffles. Maple Syrup had a bad crop or something this year and we were buying two bottles a month at Trader Joe's, not even Grade A and they were still $16.99 EACH. Total savings $30 a month.

2. I made two small changes to my beauty regiment that seem to be saving me BIG money. Ever since we moved to Washington, my skin has been more prone to breakouts (I blame AGE more than climate, but whatever). I'd been using Neutrogena's line of Rapid Clear anti-acne products, which magically and immediately cleared up my bumpy skin. (Like magic, seriously.)

But the cleanser is around $8. The cleansing pads are around $6 and I was mixing two lotions, the anti-acne lotion ($7) and Neutrogena's Visibly Even SPF 15 lotion ($14). So my total average monthly cost for everything was around $30. (Most of the items last slightly longer than a month, but not much).

Recently I decided to see if I could go back to using Neutrogena's original bar of soap, the soap my high school Dermatologist recommended when I had real teenage acne. And it worked GREAT. I could spend $1.49 a month instead of the $8 I had been spending on the cleanser.

After I confirmed that my soap substitution was working, I switched lotions, substituting TWO expensive Neutrogena lotions for a bottle of Target brand salictic acid lotion (same active ingredient) that I found on sale for $3.45. Again, it's working fine and my skin looks exactly the same as it used to.

Total beauty savings: $25 a month.

3. Next I was planning to brag that I haven't had a Wyder's Pear cider in over a month, but I caved tonight after swimming class and bought myself a six pack. For some reason it just doesn't taste as good when it's cold and rainy outside, so I definitely see myself drinking less. That could save us another $10 a month if I cut my habit in half.

So, overall these three nearly imperceptible changes are saving us $65 a month. Not a TON, but again, these changes were easy and have mostly gone unnoticed (the syrup did take a little getting used to, but kids are easy to brainwash).

And gas? I filled up my SUV for $40 this week. SHOCKING but true. It's a 2005 and I don't think I've ever paid less than $50 for a fill up. At times it has cost me over $80. (Please don't feel the need to chastise me for my SUV ownership, it was one of my biggest mistakes EVER. I LUST after your mini van and wish I'd been smart enough to buy one. Of course, my car is paid for, so the chances of me getting a mini van any time soon are basically slim to none.)

Have you made any small changes that are saving you big?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

An almost consumer-free November

Since we were so extravagant with our Halloween spending this year, I thought for the month of November, we'd go as consumer free as we possibly can, just to see how much we can save. This means I'm slashing some categories until December first. I plan to not buy any:

- Clothes (I did buy Dave a pair of shoes today, but that was only because his only pair of work shoes BROKE). (Savings: $130)
- Non-essential household stuff (no antiques, make-up, hair stuff, decorations, Target dollar aisle crap, etc). (Savings $150-$200).
- No eating out. At all. (Savings $150)
- Nothing for the kids. Sorry. Christmas is only a couple months away, so I think we can go a month without buying any more toys/accessories/junk, etc. (Savings $50)
- Nothing in the "other" category. (Savings $50)

Basically, we'll be buying food, booze, movie rentals and gas. I'll be decorating for Thanksgiving with whatever I can find that we already own. I'll put off buying a new coat for another season. I'll buy household stuff, but only CONSUMABLES like shampoo, paper towels and zip lock bags.

My guess is that if we stick to it all month, we can EASILY save $500 to $600, so that's my goal.

There is one MAJOR exception to all these rules and that is my plan to simultaneously get all my Christmas shopping done this month. I'll be posting my shopping lists and budget soon, but I'm hoping I can get it all done before we even enter the crazy month of December. I'm hoping that by thinking it all through and being rational and thoughtful, we can save ourselves from our usual last minute spending spree.

So, necessities ONLY. Christmas shopping. Should be an interesting month!

Friday, October 31, 2008

In which I admit defeat...

I've spent almost every free moment I've had this week with a yellow tablet and a pencil in one hand and my iPhone in the other hand running the Spend application and I still can't reconcile our budget.

My system isn't working.

This is how I've BEEN doing the budgeting (aka: the way that doesn't work). I spend money and keep the receipts in my wallet until I get the chance to enter them into Spend. Then, unless I might need the receipt for a return or for tax purposes, I pitch it. When I get behind, like I did last week and the receipts pile up, I just get out a yellow tablet, categorize everything and then enter it all into Spend as a single chunk in each category.

When you enter data into Spend, you don't have the option to split single purchases into multiple categories, you have to do that manually, which means when I spent $100 at Fred Meyer, it will inevitably be divided up into groceries, household, clothes, etc and I end up with no record of the TOTAL amount of that purchase, unless I either keep the receipt (which I haven't been doing) or painstakingly go back through all my categories and add up the Fred Meyer entries that are on the same date. This process? NOT SO FUN!

And then... the VISA bill arrives.

I've spent countless hours this week trying to figure out which expenses I've already entered and which ones Dave forgot to give me receipts for and I'm at a loss. I too overwhelmed to even begin to finish it.

I give up! I admit defeat! Our Visa bill was around $2300 this cycle and even though that represents a non-month (why can't the bills just run from the 1st through the end of the month?!?!?), it indicates we weren't HORRIFICALLY off base. Of course, that doesn't include the debit card spending, so who knows.

What I do know is that doing the same thing over and over again, like I've done for the past MANY YEARS and expecting different results is the definition of insanity, so I've already found a NEW MUCH BETTER SYSTEM, thanks to you wonderful readers.

I've signed up for and so far I love it. LOVE IT. Unlike Spend, it has the ability to track my spending online for me AND it automatically downloads all my purchases from ALL my accounts, which means I don't have to maintain separate account totals (debit spending, like at Winco/Costco vs. VISA account spending) AND the best part is that it allows me to subcategorize (ie: SPLIT) purchases, which is why I've generally avoided such programs in the past. Anyone can track OVERALL spending by just balancing their checkbook, but I almost always spend in multiple categories WITHIN THE SAME PURCHASE, so simply keeping an accurate ledger balance never tells me where my money actually goes. (Target isn't a CATEGORY, is it?) seems to be the solution to this problem and best of all: It's FREE.

I've got everything set up so we'll be a go to start the new system beginning tomorrow, the first of the month. Obviously, I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Marriage and money

Yesterday I went through all my receipts and I'll be honest: it isn't pretty. What's worse is that I seem to be missing a SIGNIFICANT number of receipts, so the budget is sadly going to be vague, at best. I need another hour or two to reconcile everything, so it's probably tomorrow's post.

Does this happen to anyone else though? You think you're doing pretty well with your record keeping, but say, a certain MAN can't seem to fork over evidence of his spending? This has been a problem for us literally FOREVER, beginning back in the days when we were in college and flat broke and we'd leave the grocery store and I'd catch my husband pitching the receipt into the trash before I'd even gotten the chance to SEE it, much less write it down in the check register.

He's budgetarily challenged is what he is.

Professionally I've definitely noticed that there's always one spouse that seems to be good with money and one who's, well, not. What's it like in your marriage? And more importantly, do you combine everything or maintain separate accounts?