October marked the one-year anniversary of my divorce being finalized and also the one-year mark of my living on my own for the first time. Seems like a good time to take stock of how far I’ve come and where I am now.
Still in the Living Room
I gave serious thought to moving, especially as the XFP landed a stable job (phew). Right now, I live in a one-bedroom apartment about a mile away from my kids’ school, over a major road. For about $400 a month more, I could have two bedrooms and my own washer and dryer and be just 2 blocks from school.
Probably I could swing that if I really worked hard to find paid work for all my scraps of time. But… $400 a month is a lot of money. And I don’t actually like living in apartments. I want to be living in a townhouse or detached house sooner than later. Paying extra for a fancier apartment puts me further from that goal and only gets me… a nicer apartment.
I was able to renew my lease just through August. Even if I wind up paying for a month that I don’t use, I’ll save around $2600. With moving costs I’m not spending, let’s make it an even $3K. That’s a lot of money for a girl like me.
I’m making some minor changes to make apartment living more comfortable and have hunkered down for the duration.
About to Be Mortgage-Free?
The XFP has been living in the house with his wife, but has not been able to refinance. The house is currently under contract for a nice amount of money. Fingers crossed that it all goes smoothly. I am anxious to have this chapter wrapped up–my share of the equity under my own control, my credit unencumbered.
Still Looking for Full-Time Work
I have managed nicely on the hours I scrape together, but I’m still receiving support from the XFP and still paying the part-time rate for health insurance (the difference is a couple hundred dollars a month). I have been working hard to raise my profile at work and am optimistic my efforts will pay off soon.
Finances: Holding Steady
Without a full-time income, I haven’t exactly leaped forward in the world, but I have been able to scrape together some savings. I have some money in my HSA, some tucked away in an Ally account, and I generally “live on last month’s money.”
Having enough money to handle one really bad emergency or several minor ones is an enviable thing for a lady with my income level. I have budgeted carefully, lived within my means, benefited from the safety net provided by my family (still loving my reliable Honda courtesy of the Frugal Patriarch), and enjoyed luxuries when they have come my way as gifts.
Almost all of my savings have come from windfalls like third-paycheck months, gifts from family, and my tax refund, because normally my spending and income run verrrry close together. I received the Earned Income Tax Credit earlier this year and am cognizant that that’s other people’s money. Thank you, fellow taxpayers. I do not take it lightly.
One Big Happy Family
The XFP remarried very soon (one might say impulsively, but who am I to judge?) after our divorce. I used to say, “I like [stepmom]” because I thought it made me sound cool and self-confident. But you know what? I actually like her. She’s funny and she loves my kids and they love her and she adds something to their lives. She bought Big Brother Converse shoes to go with his super-stylish vest and tie, for instance, which I wouldn’t have thought of.
Stepmom has two little boys of her own, close in age like mine and a little younger. I actually had all four boys over for a sleepover last week and it was fun. Really. Stepbros are adorable and they were super-polite guests and it was nice to spend some time with these small humans who are such a big part of my kids’ lives.
The XFP and I have our bones of contention from time to time but I’m really happy that we all get along so well. I have a… friend… myself, whom the XFP seems to think highly of in turn.
Sometimes I wish things were different. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to share my kids. Or had more money to buy things. Or still lived in a house.
But life is good. I am enjoying being single–it’s kind of like going back in time to my 20s (when other people were dating but I was married) and having a do-over. I do things like sit on the couch/my bed drinking wine, eating caprese for dinner, and watching a French lady on YouTube give fashion advice that I will never follow because I’m lazy. It’s not a stage that I want to last forever but I’m enjoying it for what it is.
I won’t go into detail, but people whose marriages are working do not get divorced. Many things were not working, and those things are out of my life now, and that makes for a much more relaxed, confident, and happy FP.
I wouldn’t go back, I’m enjoying where I am now, and I am excited about going forward. There’s nothing else I could ask for.
How has your year been?
August was all right. Not too expensive even though I kinda bled money on school uniforms and whatnot. I felt quite broke because I live on last month’s money, so for August I was limited to what I had earned in July (and some of my purchases came from a particular savings category). But it came out OK. And when I compare August income to August expenses, which is how I usually do my blog posts and my Your Money Or Your Life chart, it looks pretty good. Here are the figures.
Amazon return: $38.20
Library take-home pay: $1921.81
Child/Spousal Support and Reimbursements: $652
Total Income: $2619.84
Rent and included utilities: $1083.75
ATM fees (reimbursable): +$5
Conference registration: $55
Haircut and brow wax: $71
Household items: $94 (Includes Instant Pot from Craigslist, $48, a mop, and some other odds and ends)
Speeding ticket: $40 (Not a real one, a camera one–that’s why it’s cheap)
Home entertainment (Amazon music and HBO Now, because Game of Thrones): $20.19
Coffee shops: $8.82
Rocky Mountain National Park day pass: $20 (grand adventure worth every penny)
Other parking: $23 (Unusually high because of failure to adequately plan for parking for Jeopardy! audition)
Miscellaneous kids: $41.34 (things like a Thermos for LB, their allowances, etc.)
School uniforms and new shoes: $120.55
School supplies: $12
School fees: $60
Babysitting: $48 (Some of this time I was working, and some of it I was auditioning for Jeopardy!)
Pink Chucks: $21.52 with Zappos coupon. I love them. I have to remind myself to wear the other shoes.
Sewing notions: $28.05
Cat litter: $10
Total Expenses: $2212.93
Well, I’m in the black, so yay. In YNAB I wound up with like $20 left to budget. I set it aside for having Kitty Paragon’s teeth cleaned, an expensive project for which I am saving up. Because the vet said her gums probably hurt and I like the cat.
It’s nice to see the income going up as I can pick up school day library shifts again now that school is back in. Here’s hoping that my job situation improves and the XFP gets his act together and settles the house so we can finally close out our divorce.
How was your August?
Since I’m paid every two weeks, June was a three-paycheck month for me. Which works out nicely, because it was also the month my car insurance payment was due. Since I knew they would coincide, I didn’t worry about saving up to pay my whole car insurance. They will align again in December and I will reevaluate then. Anyway, here’s how it broke down for June.
Library take-home pay: $2546.12
Money that I am not sure why Amazon sent me: $11.05
Trivia income: $70
Travel money: $50
Reconciliation adjustment: $5.95 (my record keeping, it is imperfect)
Total income: $3265.08
Rent and included utilities: $1085.45
Replacement bowl for Cuisinart, secondhand: $21
ATM fees: $2.50 (reimbursable)
Renter’s insurance installment: $33.50
Electric: $17.43 (My AC doesn’t work very well anyway, so I just… sweat)
Car insurance: $451 (6 months of full coverage on my Fit)
Kids allowance and miscellaneous: $50.14
Asthma medicine: $184.01 (Every time a pharmacy clerk rings this up for me, they visibly recoil when they see the price. Fortunately, it lasts three or four months.)
Amazon music: $4.30
Coffee shops: $19.35
Gifts and miscellaneous shopping, including some workout equipment: $91.38
Travel: $150.16 (the rest of my Vegas trip from last month)
Charitable donation: $3.20
Total expenses: $2577.87
Well, I still had a good bit of that third paycheck left over. Under $2600 for the month in which I paid my car insurance seems pretty fabulous, spending-wise.
July is already shaping up to be much spendier–I have been buying more entertainment than usual–but I’m happy with how June turned out! Aside from continuing to improve my wardrobe, I’m saving up for when I can hopefully move and will need some new furniture. (Being as I currently have a combined couch/bed situation, and the goal of moving would be to have my own room, logically I would need to purchase either a bed or a couch.)
In exciting budget and parenting news, Little Brother, who turned 5 in May, no longer sleeps in Pull-Ups! That will help my grocery bill. I have eleventy billion left over, which I have donated to the XFP and his wife for the younger stepbrothers. Having my kids finally totally potty trained makes me very sympathetic to those whose children are not.
So… it’s June 21. And I never totaled up my May spending. I almost didn’t at all, but I’m glad I took the time–while everything gets added up by YNAB, I learn a lot about myself and my habits from typing it all out. So here’s May.
Library take-home pay: $1795.50
Returning things to Costco: $82.97
Subbing take-home pay: $44.05
Interest income: $6.48
Trivia income: $35
Total income: $2540.95
ATM fees (reimbursable): $.50
Rent and included utilities: $1079.02
Home supplies: $83.32 (mostly a vacuum cleaner, plus odds and ends)
Groceries: $212.24 (I was out of town for a few days and also had a gift card)
Parking ticket: $50 (Forgot to read the damn street sweeping sign. This happens to me at least once a summer. I think of it as a sort of urban road maintenance tax.)
Parking: $6 (reimbursable)
Children’s allowance and ice cream: $14.62
Amazon music: $4.30
Coffee shops, burrito runs at work, etc.: $18.52
Clothes for me: $78.47
Fabric and sewing notions: $83.73. Because patterns were on sale and I may have gotten carried away at Joann.
Gifts: $73.81 (There was a birthday)
Miscellaneous shopping and spending, including a haircut and some ebooks: $108.50
Travel: $325.87 (for Vegas trip; there was another hundred-ish in June)
Cat food: $24.75
Total Expenses: $2352.65
Well, if you’ve ever read one of my spending reports before, you know it always starts out, “I need a full-time job.” But somehow I keep managing. I enjoy some luxuries, even, thanks to careful money management and the generosity of family and good friends. (I got my eyebrows professionally waxed, for instance. That Vegas trip? Heavily subsidized. Thanks, Mom! And I received some lovely gift cards as a Mother’s Day present, which I spent on things like non-pre-owned sheets for my bed, new cutting boards, and Frappucinos.)
Goal: Secure more hours before October so I can comfortably afford a second bedroom.
How was your May?
Well, I had some nasty surprises in April. Here’s how it breaks down.
Library take-home pay: $1462.92 (Why so low? I upped my HSA contributions, and the boys’ spring break hurt my earnings)
Costco return: $10.76
Substitute teaching take-home pay: $44.06
Total Income: $2266.69
Rent plus included utilities: $1085.31
Home supplies: $10
Speeding ticket: $305 (So frustrated with self! I was driving an unfamiliar road and didn’t see the school zone sign)
Auto maintenance: $153.31 (When I went to have my summer tires put back on, one of them turned out to be broken and had to be replaced. It was new enough they said I could just do the one.)
Parking (reimbursable): $11
Kids, misc. (allowance, field trips, ice cream): $27.62
Kids, clothes and shoes: $82.10 (2 pairs new sneakers, 1 pair Batman PJs with cape)
Restaurants: $101.70 (Yowza! My boyfriend had a birthday and a cousin visited from out of town in the same month.)
Coffee shops and snacks: $22.88 (I promise there were a lot of times I wanted it and didn’t get it.)
Tickets to special Viking exhibit at museum: $20.85
Work clothes and shoes for me: $271.40 (Because if I want to be taken seriously, probably should not wear hiking shoes to work, right?)
Some things from Target: $20.12
Cat litter: $14
Total Expenses: $2577.83
Income minus expenses: -$311.14
Eh, I can live with it. By now, I’ve gotten used to my low-income, low-expenses balancing act tipping sometimes into the black and sometimes the red. It’s more often black, so I’ll live. I had enough money to cover the shortage without dipping into my emergency fund. And I still have money set aside for various projects (like an upcoming trip and taking the cat to the vet).
Possibly, however, I sobbed when I got the speeding ticket. There is a definite mismatch between how long it takes me to save $305 and how long it took me to lose it! At least I had the money. I blew my nose, mailed a check, and lived to fight another day.
Library take-home pay: $1771.47
Trivia income: $35
Refund from Children’s Hospital: $466.72
Colorado tax refund: $481
Shopping return: $74.27
Total income: $3617.48
ATM fees: $2.50 (reimbursable)
Household items: $20.81
Renter’s insurance (quarterly): $33.50
XCel (electric): $18.47
Oil change plus car wash: $82.44 (Evidently my car runs on synthetic oil and this is very expensive)
Miscellaneous kids (allowances plus a field trip): $40
Occasional after-school care: $68
Adult health spending: $189.44 (asthma medicine–OUCH)
Coffee and donuts: $42.36
Adult clothes and sewing notions for making adult clothes: $124.20
Haircut, hiking poles, something from Target, and other miscellany: $147.59
Child care punch card at the gym: $15
Cat supplies: $27.45
Total spending: $2363.10
This was another windfall month, and I both bolstered some savings/spending categories (setting aside money to refresh work wardrobe, for instance) and set aside some money for investing. I would like to point out that my spending, though not particularly restrained, was under my “regular” income.
Groceries continue to get away from me. I drank only one bottle of wine all month but apparently spent an unreasonable amount of money on coffee and donuts.
My paychecks have dipped a little because I have more money going into my HSA, which I am trying to grow as an investment vehicle but which doubles as an emergency fund.
So, not an exciting month, but everything on track. I still need a better-paying job. While I see places I can trim a little, let’s be honest: My spending is killer low. The income side is where the improvement is needed. Especially as I would like to be less dependent on support from the XFP.
How was your March?
If you’ve read, well, anything I’ve posted since last summer, you probably know that I live a little close to the bone by the middle-class standards I’m used to.
My regular monthly income is generally adequate to my regular monthly expenses and even most of my irregular expenses. It does not, however, leave much over for savings.
That’s where my windfall strategy comes in. I get two main kinds of windfalls: the Earned Income Tax Credit and three-paycheck months. The EITC is a doozy, and it came at a perfect time for me (February).
See, in January I was totally tapped out. I had taken money I didn’t really have yet, plus all the money I did have (Christmas money, December’s third paycheck, everything I could cadge from my HSA) and used it to pay off the divorce lawyer I had consulted. Nothing left, period, and with my monthly earnings so low, reaching a comfortable savings cushion felt very far away indeed. Then I found out the size of my tax refund.
Side note: I’m not sure “refund” is really an adequate word because it is money I did not pay. The EITC is really other people’s money, which makes it more like welfare. I am grateful to receive it, and look forward to paying my share in the future.
I did buy a few things, but my February income turned out to be totally adequate to cover my purchases, leaving my entire EITC available to create savings.
Step one was to budget for March. I have not been following the general financial principal that you should live off last month’s money. I have been living off the money I was earning in the present month, leaving me in the red until I received my support check and last paycheck. Not a pleasant feeling.
So first, I budgeted for March, generously–March’s rent, groceries, everything, and with some left over because I know I probably forgot some things. I was realistic but moderately ambitious; I said I would keep groceries under $300, for instance. I will see how much money I earn in March and that’s what I will budget to cover April.
That took a good chunk of it, but there was plenty left. So I earmarked about 1 months’ expenses as an emergency fund. This is my liquid emergency fund, the money I would use if my car broke down, for instance. More of a rainy-day fund, if you will.
There was still some left over. I earmarked $500 for travel, aspirationally. Some day, I’m going to Paris. Because February was a good month for me, I STILL had some left over, which I earmarked as “investment holding.” I used to have a Roth IRA. It all went into the house we bought in 2015.* I would like to open one again as soon as I have enough money ($3000) to buy into the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index.
*The house where my ex-husband lives with his new wife and stepchildren and my name on the mortgage. This is a sore point.
That will leave me with three potential sources of emergency money, in the order that I would most likely tap them:
- Cash (in my Ally savings account);
- HSA (for medical, sure, but since I pay for things like my $185 asthma medicine out of pocket normally, I could submit those receipts later if I was in a bind for some other reason);
- Roth IRA–you can withdraw the contributions at any time, so again, if I was in a bind I could do so, unless the market had tanked quite spectacularly.
With my savings pretty well covered, I felt comfortable increasing my HSA contribution for the year to $4000, which will put me well over the investment threshold (right now that money is not earning interest, but I’ll have some options once it tops $2100).
I feel good about where I am, savings-wise. It’s not exactly putting me on the fast track to retirement, but it’s adequate for my current standard of living. Which could use a little increase, to be frank, and feeling a little more secure in my savings makes me feel like I can afford, for instance, new mixing bowls, when the old ones start moving past “gross” and into “health code violation.”
How did your tax season shake out? If you got a refund, what did you do with it?
In January, I found out that I qualified for the Earned Income Tax Credit and would be getting a sizable tax refund. Now, most of that money is intended for saving, and I’ll write a separate blog post about that. But I did think, well, I’m getting a good amount of money back, I can loosen the purse strings just a touch. And I bought a few things I’d been wanting for a long time.
The great thing is, I have been getting so many hours at the library, I am in the black even without touching that windfall. The other great news, money-wise, is that our CICP (Colorado Indigent Care Program) came through. I am getting refunds for a lot of the money I paid for Big Brother’s November ER visit and won’t have to make any more payments. Instead of owing about $2200, our bill became $70.
We were back at the ER in February getting Little Brother’s forehead stitched up, but no big deal–again, we will owe just $70, if I’m not mistaken.
With no further ado, here’s how February looks
Returning things to Costco: $69.75
Library take-home pay: $2187.22
Subbing take-home pay: $44.06
Interest: 61 cents
Trivia writing: $95
Gift and travel money from Grandma FP: $125
Child and spousal support: $767
Medical reimbursement: $156.38 (more on this below)
Non-windfall income: $3443.01
Rent and included utilities: $1084.08
Household oddments: $9.54
Stop-payment check fee: $35 (my rental office lost my check and will take this off of next month)
YNAB renewal: $45
Groceries: $456.40 (Holy smokes! What happened here?!)
Car wash: $10
Kid allowance: $18
Walkie-talkie batteries: $4
Boy clothes: $91.38
Children’s museum membership: $117.25
After-school babysitting: $88
Kid health: $160.86 (about $125 of this has since been reimbursed)
Adult health: $38.87 (meds and a dentist copay)
Coffee shops and snacks: $30.98
Shoes and underwear: $293.81 (When I got my tax refund, I figured I could replace all 3 worn-out pairs of exercise shoes and stop wearing hand-me-down underwear.)
Year subscription to Washington Post online: $99 (I’ve been stealing their articles for like 10 years. Journalism costs money.)
Something from Target: $14.04
A non-leaking, non-disgusting travel mug: $2 (plus reward points)
Southwest credit card fee for a bunch of bonus miles: $99
Total spending: $2907.70
I can’t count on always getting so many hours–I still need a full-time job. And over the summer, I will probably either have child care costs or way less income, so I need to be prepared for a few lean months.
But I feel great about February. I earned enough money. I spent some money on things that are important to me. I came out ahead, and I used a windfall to bolster my savings.
I participated in an Uber Frugal Month Challenge this month, but my normal spending is so low, it made little difference. Actually I had a lot of nonrecurring expenses and my spending was, for me, wildly high.
In fact, according to YNAB, I am now entirely out of money and then some. I don’t mean that I spent more than I made. I mean I spent more than I have.
I only know this because YNAB told me. See, I still have lots of money in my checking account. I just don’t have enough to simultaneously pay all my credit cards down to 0. I am reasonably optimistic that I will be able to pay them by the end of the month; if not, I will carry a balance on my lowest-rate card.
What happened? Well, I paid off my lawyer. They sent a bill for $4400. I said, “Didn’t you say there was a discount if I paid in full?” They said, “Do you have three thousand? We take Visa and Mastercard.” I could carry that bill on my MasterCard for a long time before the eleven-point-something-percent interest would come anywhere near the $1400 discount, but I do not expect to carry it long at all.
My car also cost me more than usual this month. Read on for the full breakdown.
FSA reimbursement: $240
Wages: $1224.92 (Low because of not picking up extra hours around the holidays)
Cash gift: $20
Trivia earnings: $70
Money I raided from my HSA: $1203.91 (I submitted medical bills that I had long since paid out of pocket to access funds to pay my lawyer with)
Total income: $3508.48
Rent and included utilities: $1070.77
XCel (electric): $25.41
ATM fees: $6.99 (reimbursed by my credit union next month)
Legal bill, blog hosting, a few other things: $3048.50
Groceries: $360.85 (OUCH! But includes $55 Costco renewal.)
Auto maintenance: $96.87 (I now own a charger capable of starting a car without another car. Y’know, in case your kids leave the dome light on and your battery runs dead and you are blocked in by other cars and have to walk to AutoZone in the snow to buy something to solve this problem.)
Annual vehicle tax/registration: $145.64
Boys’ allowance: $5.46 (I appear to have shorted them)
Boys’ clothes: $12 (winter gloves for Big Brother)
Daycare: $247 (I had to buy a daycare package to use up FSA dollars)
Boys’ health and dental: $168.61 (still paying off Big Brother’s tongue)
Restaurants: $33.46 (includes 1 special occasion lunch and Big Brother’s birthday dinner at Chipotle)
Coffee shops and snacks: $27.19 (OK, OK, maybe not uber-frugal, but includes some lovely social outings)
Clothes for me: $67.51 (needed black pants to wear for subbing and a thing to keep my ears warm)
Kindle book not available at library: $3.22
Birthday presents for Big Brother: $30.99 (also used credit card points)
Used cell phone and accessories: $135.16 (Yes, I just repaired the old one, and it broke again, and sometimes that’s how it goes. Got a Galaxy S5 from Craigslist for $110.)
Travel: $136.62 (Includes ticket to Las Vegas for May and Lyft home from airport)
Total Spending: $5772.26
Well, of course that sucks. No one likes to come up that short. But let’s look on the bright side: I was able to pay a three thousand dollar bill almost completely out of savings. Yes, I am now quite tapped out and have exhausted resources that I can’t use again this year (like my HSA), but how many people can’t cover that kind of bill at all? Because I had money from last month budgeted for the legal bill, the actual shortfall was $250.08. That’s how much more I spent than my liquid resources.
Other reasons for optimism: I have been working like a crazy woman this month, getting lots of library hours, and should get good paychecks in February. AND I have applied for a program (CICP, Colorado Indigent Care Program) that would reduce Big Brother’s hospital bill. I should qualify, so fingers crossed.
I’ve been reading this book The Unbanking of America: How the New Middle Class Survives. While the point is to learn more about poverty and middle-class financial insecurity, I’m also finding that it makes me, well, feel pretty good about myself. Sometimes I have savings! I understand my bank account and never accrue fees! That already puts me way above average. Seems like I should be able to hang in there for a while longer.
How was your January?
Well, I’m a little behind the eight-ball analyzing my spending. Took a while to recover from my Christmas trip home.
Let’s take a look.
Support : $690.67
Library take-home pay: $2797.85! Holy cow! That’s 3 paychecks plus a wellness bonus.
Substitute teaching take-home pay: $215.64
Trivia pay: $70
HSA reimbursement: $595.09
Christmas money: $550
Total money in: $4919.70
Rent and co-billed utilities: $1050.97
Renter’s insurance (quarterly): $33.50
Xcel (electric): $22.31
Cell phone repair: $86.18 (Plus parts–see below. I, uh, smashed it, and also it needed new prongs in the part where you plug it in. Now my Galaxy S3 is running great again. Total repair cost was about a hundred.)
Groceries: $187.99 (Low because we traveled at the end of the month)
Auto maintenance: $274.15 (My
#$@&%*!? windshield cracked. Also snow tire installation and a wash.)
6-month Geico bill: $489.42 (I have full coverage for my “fancy” car)
Miscellaneous kids: $29.92 (includes their allowances and a birthday party gift)
Kid clothes and shoes: $23.34
Kid health: $95.69 (Just the tip of the iceberg. This is a payment on a $547 chunk of bill and we got another from the hospital for $1500.)
Coffee shops and snacks: $12.12
“Out” entertainment: $45 (Did one of things where you drink wine and paint)
Frippery: $59 (haircut and razor cartridges)
Adult clothes: $26.44
Christmas presents and general festivity: $355.02
Miscellaneous shopping: $19.87 (About $15 was a new battery and screen protector for my phone.)
Uber to airport: $29.92
Salvation Army kettle: $2
Cat food: $26.90
Total money out: $3066.66
Well, it’s certainly nice to have money left over. But it seems to me that all the surplus came from extra money, so I still have a ways to go to be living comfortably within my means. January will be tight. I will have no subbing check at all (the sub paycheck runs from the middle of one month to the middle of the next, and winter break means I didn’t sub) and not all that extra money. I’ll have to hope I don’t have any “oopses” this month–if I can keep from smashing from cell phone, cracking my windshield, or letter either of my kids injure themselves, it might turn out okay.
I had intended to spend some of the Christmas money on “stuff.” But then I realized I was actually pretty close to being able to pay off my lawyer, so I just earmarked the entire overage for my “professional services” category in YNAB. I will liberate some more money from my HSA (by submitting receipts I already paid for) and set that aside for the bill as well. I have no emergency fund.
Bottom line: I got a little breathing room this month, but I’m going to be skating on thin ice until I get a full-time job.