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.
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?
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?
When I was a teenager, my older sister would sometimes ask me to do something with her–go to the mall, say–when no more-interesting company was available. “I have to do homework,” I would say. Somehow, twenty minutes later, I was always in the car going to the mall.
This story is by way of explaining why I had over $500 in travel expenses this month. I impulsively flew home to spend the weekend with my sister and middle nephew, surprise my mom (successfully!), and attend Sis’s 40th birthday party. It was a tad irresponsible, but, to quote Arlo Guthrie, “You can’t always do what you’re s’posed to do.”
Child support: $350
Spousal support: $383
Take-Home Wages: $1383.63
Dependent Care FSA reimbursement: $138
Selling stuff: $40
Kid reimbursements from the XFP: $116
Total Income: $2272.63
My half of mortgage: $837.67
Total housing and utilities: $1040.89
ATM fees (reimbursable) and divorce-related miscellany: $15.20
Bike maintenance: $82.31 (ouch!)
Apartment application fee: $50
At-Home Food: $283.78
Parking and transit: $29.50 (lots of extra bus tickets)
Total transportation: $68.09
Used bike for Little Brother: $50
Kid clothes and shoes: $74.51 (uniform pants, winter PJs and Halloween costumes)
Before- and after-school care: $73
The XFP’s share of things: $134 (some I have already gotten, some I will get on 10/20)
Doctor visit for LB: $98.36
Total kid spending: $429.87
Adult health (asthma meds): $165.88
Coffee shops and snacks: $33.79
Snacks at otherwise free Corn Maze: $12
Total entertainment: $64.01 (having the house on the market is still keeping this category high)
Haircut for me: $53
Clothes for me: $35.74
Misc. shopping: $8.99 (car charger for cell phone)
Total “me” spending: $96.78
Grand total spending: $2823.22
So, first I need to confess that I am confused about how much my shortfall is. YNAB calculates things a little differently because of the way money actually changes hands. See, I didn’t receive a check or spousal support or write one for the mortgage–the XFP and I just added up everything we owe each other and I wrote him a check for a couple hundred dollars, then I tried to reverse-engineer everything on here. YNAB shows a shortfall of more like two hundred dollars, as opposed to the over five hundred shown here. Hopefully this is something that will become more clear to me as I get the hang of how my monthly finances work.
Obviously, I can’t overspend myself every month. I had to shift around money that was earmarked for other things (eg, paying my lawyer), so refilling those stashes will be a priority next month. My before- and after-care charges reflect an increase in my hours that hasn’t shown up in my income yet, so that’s a factor as well–things should look better next month.
Considering the medical expenses and the amount of fun I had on the trip, I’m pretty satisfied with the month.
How was your September?
I haven’t always posted my monthly spending on my blog, for this reason: I have often been embarrassed by it. I mean, for heaven’s sake, I’m a frugality blogger. How could I come on here and admit that we overspent our income for the month… again? I won’t bore you with the details, but the financial dynamic in my marriage was unproductive, and that’s not something I was comfortable exposing to the interwebs.
But… it’s all me now! I did a “fresh start” budget in YNAB, started a new YMOYL “wall chart” (actually a line graph in a Google Sheet), and here you have it, my unadulterated income and spending for August.
Net Earnings: $1012.79
Selling stuff on Craigslist: $50
Child Support: $350
Spousal Support: $383
Reimbursement: $210 (from Mr. FP for boys’ July health insurance)
Total Income: $2005.79
Total housing/utilities: $844 (This is my share–Mr. FP covered the parts of these billing cycles that dated to before his move-out.)
Home supplies: $83.55 (flannel sheets, Goodwill vacuum, parts to fix vacuum)
School lunches: $41.83 (This is 2-3 months of lunches as the boys are now on reduced-price lunch at $.40 per meal)
Total home/school food: $245.40
Parking and bus fare: $12.55
Total transportation: $57.36
Bike supplies and maintenance: $59.95 (this is a floor pump, Mr. FP having taken his, and new brakes for my bike–parts only, labor to follow in September)
Boys’ allowance spending: $6.78
Clothes and shoes: $49 (new uniforms)
School supplies and swim lessons: $63.87
Total kid spending: $119.67 (Again, this is my share–Mr. FP reimbursed me an approximately equal amount as I had done all the back-to-school shopping.)
Adult health: $8.70
Coffee shops and snacks: $40.07 (Higher than usual because of house being on the market and me having to leave at weird times)
“Out” entertainment: $22.60
Total Entertainment: $86.46
Adult clothing (Thinx): $60
Can’t remember what I bought at Target: $20.42
Total Shopping: $154.15
Travel: $76.38 (My budget for family vacation was $100. That’s almost exactly what I spent–I paid for my own Uber, slipped my niece a twenty for babysitting, and bought some booze, but then my aunt insisted I take a twenty when I got on the airplane. Thanks, Aunt B! Giant thanks to Great-Grandfather FP for the funding and Grandma FP for the planning.)
Cat food: $24.75
GRAND TOTAL FOR AUGUST: $1759.39
First of all, I think that a 12% savings rate on such a low net income is nothing to sneeze at. And I participate in a mandatory defined contribution pension plan at 8%, so my actual savings rate is higher.
That said, I’ll need to be putting away more than a couple hundred dollars a month if I’m ever going to pay off my lawyer, rent an apartment and rebuild my life. So I’ll obviously be working to reduce the categories of Coffee Shops, Frippery, Adult Clothes, and Bike Supplies and Maintenance. All of those categories had non-typical charges in them.
And I’ll need to make more money. I am in the process of signing up to substitute teach and have been picking up on-call library shifts. After-school child care remains a big hurdle–more on that later.
How was your August spending?
For years, since way back when I was a full-time middle school teacher, I’ve worked writing and fact-checking trivia questions for a company that runs “pub quizzes.” For most of that time, I was the editor; I worked directly with writers on the question mix and structure and was a liaison between them and the main office. I was proud of my ability to maintain friendly relationships conducted exclusively over email.
Nearly every question went across my desk, from my years as a full-time teacher to my first years of motherhood. I took off a couple of weeks when Big Brother was born and a whopping six days for Little Brother. (He slept a lot and I couldn’t get off the couch. I got bored.)
When I got a job, I started getting behind. My favorite writer filled in as the backup editor. Well, now he’s the editor and I’m the favorite writer and the backup editor.
It stung. Of course it did. No one likes to be taken down a notch. (I was given the news nicely enough, with respect for my years of service, and asked kindly to stay on as a writer.) If I had been able to put more effort into the editing, especially over the summer, maybe things would have been different. And it’s worth noting that the writing doesn’t pay as well as editing on an hourly basis. But within perhaps a few days, I felt immense relief.
For one thing, I like writing. It’s more creative than editing. And for another thing, as much as I enjoyed the work, I am so happy not to have the responsibility any more.
Now, if I’m tied up with other things, I just don’t work. Unless I accept a special assignment (like a Christmas set), there’s no looming deadline. I don’t feel like I have to stuff my mornings (when the kids are at school) with as much editing as possible; the house is a little cleaner and we eat a little better.
And I’m free from the constant sense of failure I felt from my inability to keep up, every time a week ended (and it was most weeks) and I had finished only three shows when I knew we needed four.
I loved that job. I miss it. But no one has time to do everything that they might love. Trying to squeeze in that one thing too many was taking away from my enjoyment of other things.
How have you pared down your responsibilities?
It was bound to happen sooner or later. I have been doing just the minimum to get by with Leapforce at Home–frankly, mostly to try to keep getting referral bonuses–but then my smart phone died and “minimum” became “nothing all month.”
I received a notice this week that I am no longer an active agent and would need to re-take the qualification exam. (No word on whether if I did so, I would retain my preferred agent status and pay rate.)
I was actively trying to keep myself alive with Leapforce, but now that they’ve let me go, I have no plans to try to get back in. With my new job, I have barely been keeping up with my other, better side gig (fact-checking trivia questions) and don’t need the money as much.
It’s a bit of a relief, really. Besides having to steal the time from other projects, I haven’t been performing very well on the new rating tasks using one’s smart phone, so that was an added source of stress. No one likes to get unsatisfactory performance ratings from anonymous algorithms. Now, since I have already failed, I don’t have to worry about it any more! What I feared has already come to pass, so I’m free.
I was active with Leapforce at Home for over four and a half years, and I continue to recommend it for at-home parents and others who want to make a little extra money with not too much commitment.
It gave me something to do during naptime and (back when I was doing more hours and thus performing better) let me feel like I was still pretty good at something besides deodorizing cloth diapers and loading babies into back carriers without assistance. It kept my brain active and introduced me to some funny YouTube series and a few interesting factoids. (Did you know there’s a part of the human spine that looks like a Scottie dog?)
I might have more free time in the fall if we succeed in getting Little Brother into our local public preschool. But if I do, I’d like to use that time for more creative, productive endeavours, like sewing or getting back into writing fiction.
Have you ever felt immediate relief upon “failing”? What have you trimmed from your life recently?
It’s official: I’m an employee again! Having finished my master’s of library science back in December, I started sending out applications as soon as we knew where we were moving to. And I sent out a whoooole lot of applications, most of which were ignored completely. Finally, a chance playground encounter led me to a valuable contact who really stuck her neck out for me (meanwhile, I volunteered at her library) and got me a couple of interviews, and I finally landed a part-time entry-level professional librarian job.
I really think that for me, personally, right now, having a part-time job is the best thing for both me (I count, too!) and my family. It will bring in some welcome extra money, even when the not-insubstantial child care bill is paid (partly because my new employer has such generous part-time benefits, we’ll be saving close to $300 a month on benefits and actually getting more coverage). By an even wider margin, it will increase our income, which we’ll need if we do look at buying a house in the next year or two. And it will get me started on a career that I can continue to develop as the boys get older.
Full-time would, I think, have been a little uncomfortable for all of us right now. Too many long days for the boys, no time for laundry and meal planning and all those thousands of little tasks.
The catch is that the money will only work out if I continue to be a Frugal Paragon when I’m at home. If I slack off on the grocery budgeting, yogurt-making, laundry detergent-making, home mending, etc., then my job won’t pay off. If we can’t make one car work and we buy a second one, then I’ll be working just to pay for the car.
So either I’ve found a brilliant way to have just enough career while still being a part-time homemaker, or I’ve bitten off way more than I can chew! Stay tuned to find out which one or make your predictions in the comments below. Or tell how YOU are balancing your career with your other interests and your domestic responsibilities.