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.
I’ll tell you up front that I ran a deficit in November. Happily, I was able to cover the shortfall with savings and anticipate a rosier December. Here’s how it broke down:
Support, minus my share of utilities for old house: $634.29 (this number excludes $183 that went to the XFP’s share of kid spending, which I do not count as either income or expense)
Library take-home pay: $1338.69
Substitute teaching take-home pay: $254.68
Christmas money: $200
Selling snow tires on Craigslist: $100
Total income: $2527.66
Home supplies and furnishings: $158.47 (includes an electric blanket for me, counter stools from Craigslist, and a variety of miscellany)
Laundry: $45 (still have several loads left on the card)
Bike supplies: $25.97 (I keep bleeding on this category! This is new tubes for me–3 for the price of 2–and lights for Big Brother’s bike, minus some Amazon credit I had lying around)
Car things: $1072.90 (Junkyard OEM wheels to put my snow tires on, plus I went $700 over my budget from the Frugal Patriarch)
XCel Energy: $17.45 (includes start-up charge)
Internet: $9.95 (OK, it’s slow and not that reliable, but I LOVE charity internet!)
Annual life insurance bill: $116 for $100K coverage
Groceries: $221.26 (Finally some improvement in that category!)
Gas: $62.65 (Because I absent-mindedly put a full tank of gas in my car right before I traded it in!)
Boys’ allowance: $9
Work childcare: $8
Kids’ health: $175 (That’s half of a $250 ER copay plus half of $100 in babysitting for the lady who came to pick up Little Brother while Big Brother and I stayed there until 2 AM. BB’s tongue is all better now but it sure was grueling. I expect a bigger bill later.)
Coffee shops: $17.18 ($13 below my average! Look at me showing some restraint!)
Sewing supplies: $17.44
Artificial Christmas tree: $39.14
Miscellany at Target: $16.48
Annual rec center membership: $221.40 (WOW that’s a good deal!)
Shredding at Office Depot: $2.97
(Note that the figures above do not include the ten thousand dollar gift which which I paid for almost all of my new car.)
Well, that’s a little alarming, a deficit of over eight hundred dollars. I had to just about drain all my savings categories. Obviously, having large car expenses was a major causative factor there. My earning power was limited by last month’s fall break (couldn’t sub) and a variety of ill-timed illnesses that fell on days I normally would have subbed or done on-call. I have sick leave at my regular job, but that wasn’t what I was missing. Ouch.
Fortunately, December is a three-paycheck month and the month in which I get my wellness bonus from my employer, so hopefully if I get my average hours-per-up before Christmas, I will be able to put on Christmas and still wind up in the black. And there are things I could have not skipped buying in November had I realized how short I was going to fall, so I think I’ll try more of a zero-based budget throughout the month. There is cause for caution, but not panic.
How was your November?
Thursday, I stopped by the courthouse on my way to work and finalized my divorce. The whole process was, despite the mountains of paperwork, surprisingly brisk. About four months from first serious discussion to finalization, and the hearing lasted all of twenty minutes. The judge commended us on our “professionalism” and the care with which we had filled out our forms, gave us some orders he had typed out based on them, and sent us on our way. I was at my post at the library when the doors opened for the day.
Now, that doesn’t mean that we have finished tying up our loose ends–far from it. Now that the XFP and I are officially separate legal entities, I thought it would be a good time to take stock of where I am financially–and some remaining pitfalls.
Frankly, disaster looms on this front. We had a contract. Buyers backed out fairly quickly–changed their minds about the neighborhood. Got another contract, cash from an investor, almost immediately, with a 21-day close. I moved out and signed a lease on an apartment. Then the investor changed his mind, too. (We got to keep $500 of the earnest money that time, which is better than a nail in the foot.)
We have both signed leases and have rent to pay, so now it’s a race to see if we can find another buyer before we default on our mortgage. Fingers crossed. We are getting a lot of showings and a fair bit of interest and we still have room to drop the price, so I am optimistic about our chances. Our arrangement calls for me to receive the first two thousand dollars of proceeds with the rest being split, so hopefully I’ll get a little money out of it.
Exchange of retirement accounts
We accidentally made a settlement that we can’t implement yet. The XFP agreed to transfer some of his 403(b) to me. However, he had borrowed against it, and so his bank will not divide it. I will need to monitor the XFP’s progress toward the loan; since all indications so far are that he is acting in good faith, I’m willing to be a little patient. (The plan is to pay it off with the proceeds from the house, assuming there are any.)
This is a big question mark. Can the almost 18-year-old Auto Paragon last a few more years if I sink some money in it? Is it reliable enough transportation for a single mom? It seems to be making a peculiar noise and the transmission could be going bad. I will bring it to Dave the Acerbic Mechanic for his assessment. If his opinion is unfavorable and the proceeds from the house are adequate, I might consider replacing it. (I am imagining something similar to the XFP’s 2008 Fit.) If he thinks a moderate cash infusion could keep me driving in reasonable safety (if not, by any stretch of the imagination, in style) for a bit, then I’ll have it fixed up.
Currently, it has bits of tape and cardboard and scraps of packing paper all over the floor, the ottoman is blocking the patio doors, my dresser is wedged unsatisfactorily into the children’s closet, and my daybed/the couch (thanks again, Grandma FP) is covered by a mismatched full-size quilt that I’ve owned for twenty years.
I’m working on it.
I’m also working (in the form of trying to save money and increase my earning power) on getting us a place to live, in the future, where I don’t have to sleep in the living room or go outside to do laundry.
Well, it could be worse. I have $600 in my HSA that I could access at any time (by submitting the receipts I have saved). My intention is to build this up as an investment instead, but it provides a little extra security.
According to YNAB, I hang on to each dollar for an average of 36 days before spending it, so I am not living on credit card float–pre-YNAB, I’m not sure I could say that. I have seven hundred dollars earmarked for paying the lawyer who helped me with my divorce paperwork and I may be able to add a little more at the end of the month. For good measure, the Frugal Patriarch* is, I hear, sending me a check to help jump-start my new life, and that will provide an extra cushion.
I also have nearly twenty thousand dollars in personal retirement savings, not counting the share I hope to receive from the XFP. It’s not much, but it’s more than nothing.
Lots of balls in the air. Lots of question marks. But I have a lease on an affordable apartment, a car that runs, and enough money to cover a couple of minor emergencies. That’s a start.
*AKA my grandfather. Yes, he refers to himself as the patriarch, and I am sorry if you do not personally know him, because he is a millionaire next door and master storyteller and just simply a great person to sit around with drinking wine and shooting the breeze.
Where do you stand this month? What are your looming question marks?