Friday, July 31, 2015

One Day More . . .

I'm ready for August 1st.  I just got the total number on my income, and I made one other major cut three days go - to my church pledge.  That was hard to do, but I knew that I had to do it.  I've ordered the last of the things I feel I'm going to need - and for which I can save in the months before needing them again.

Now, with nearly all financial information in hand, it looks like I should have a surplus of around $50/month, give or take.  This is VERY good news, since I don't currently have a line item for medical expenses (and I've already used my entire FSA for this year), nor for clothing (I have a closet full in a variety of sizes, which, for once, doesn't seem like a bad thing), nor for emergencies and/or unforeseen expenses.  I'll be holding on to any monthly overages in the slush fund.  Any "found" money will also go in the slush fund.

After all the bills come in on the accounts where I made changes, I'll have a clearer picture of how everything is going to look going forward.

And after another conversation with my financial advisor, I know how much cash I have immediate access too in case of a true emergency.  In this respect, I'm very, very lucky.  Far luckier than most, but it's truly for emergencies, which I generally think of as involving blood, broken bones, and/or death of some sort.

What's found money, you ask?  In my family, that's what we call it when you get some money you weren't expecting.  For example.  Last week, a lady got off the train as I was getting off the train.  She stopped me and asked if there were cabs at this particular station - she had gotten on the wrong train and was trying to get back to a town two north of me where she had parked her car.  She was travelling at a different time of day than was normal for her, and during rush hour the trains are zoned - she got on the wrong zone train.  There are no cabs at my stop unless you call for one, so I drove her back to her car.  I had to go that way anyway to go grocery shopping, so it was no trouble, and she didn't look like an ax murderer.  She insisted on giving me a sawbuck.  I put it in the slush fund.  Found money is always a happy surprise.  One day last week I actually found a dollar on the ground!  Literally found money  :-D

Linda the Chicken Lady asked me about paying cash for things.  She says she's terrible at having large amounts of cash and uses her cards for as much as she can.  I am falling back on the tried and true "Envelope Method" of budgeting for a number of reasons.  There are certain expenses every month that I feel it's better to deal with in a true "cash and carry" manner:  food, hair/toiletries, car maintenance, dry cleaning, and the slush fund are the main ones.

Here's why:  if I give myself $200 a month for groceries, that's all I can spend.  If I get to the checkout and it's $201.99, something has to go back.  It's too easy for me to use my debit card (which is just like cash and comes directly out of my checking account) and not think about it.  Even though my mom was not great with money, one of the things she ingrained in me from a young age was to never charge groceries.  I never have. I'll use the debit card for them because it's like writing a check, and I'll use it as a credit card for gasoline, but even then it still pulls directly from my checking so there's never any need to "pay it off at the end of the month."  There are a couple of items still rolling to the credit card every month- I'm going to see how that goes for the next month or two.  If I don't like it, I'll shift them over to the debit instead.

I believe I will start using annother old tool again, as well:  a check register.  It was a most helpful tool from back in the day when that's how everything worked.  If I use that, I can make a line entry for half or a quarter of an expense - for example, I have to pay ORKIN every other month - I can spread the total out over four paychecks if necessary, saving a little from each so that the money is there when I need it to electronically pay the bill when it comes due.  That was always one of my favorite tricks when I budgeted like this back in the day.

Here we go . . .

Monday, July 27, 2015

Getting Closer . . .

So today I dropped my NetFlix down a level for a savings of $4/month.  I realize that's not much, but every little bit helps.  The Tour de France is over, so I dropped my DirecTV down to the lowest level, which is a savings of approximately $23/month (in addition to the plan being $20/less, I will no longer have the $3.63 monthly charge for regional sports).  I'll see what it actually shakes out to when I get the next bill.  I checked on the HotSpot on my phone - I thought I was paying extra for it, but apparently I'm not.  It's included in my data plan.

I did have a "cut and color" on Saturday and I've determined that I will color it myself going forward but still have my stylist cut my hair.  That's a savings of $50 every time I go, which was usually every 5 weeks (10.4 times a year).  So, now, I'm going to go for a cut every 8 weeks (that will be 6.5 times a year), and color it myself.  Color costs anywhere from $8-$10, so the savings there is actually a net of  about $40/month.  It still helps.  Plus, I returned the Moroccan Oil products I purchased the last time I was there.  I gave them a good try (3-4 weeks) but I really did not like them.  They gave me my money back!  Hot Dog!  That was $60 bucks, which meant that I did not pay much at all for my salon services yesterday  :-)

I've created a separate page here on the blog for awhile to track the changes I've been making.  You'll see the tab just above.  So far, just by making relatively painless changes, I'm within $71 of getting the new budget to balance  :-)  What it will be like in actual practice is anyone's guess.  It could be more painful than I realize, but I'm keeping a positive spin - after all, I'm brushing up a rusty talent - because believe me, I was a master at this back in the day.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

In the Kitchen . . .

I am finding myself attempting to stock up on things before August 1st.  Stuff I know I'm going to need but there's no line item in the budget for.  They are not regular occurrance items.  Things like night cream.  And eye shadow.  And new running shoes (that I walk in).

I also went grocery shopping on Friday night - if you get the 4 pound size of ground round, you get the sale price.  So, I made a lasagna tonight, and I froze the rest of the ground round in 1-pound increments.  I got some individually frozen chicken breasts, which are ideal for a single person, and they are not the massive size that seems to be the only size available fresh anymore.

Tomorrow night I'm making two batches of Spinach Burritos.  Those will also freeze very well.  I feel like I've got August pretty much figured out in terms of enough to eat, and planning ahead a little feels like it's going to give me a leg up with the grocery budget.  I'd still like to make some Salmon Cakes and freeze them, too.

The biggest eye opener was that I realized that I have no real idea about what things should cost.  I chose things that were on sale, but I'm going to have to keep track of what I paid for stuff so I'll know when it's a good sale, or when it's over-priced.  It's kind of embarrassing to admit, but before when I grocery shopped, I just got whatever I wanted. 

Oh, and O.M.G.  A bag of frozen shrimp is a REALLY lot of money. 


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Explain This . . .

How is it possible that your hair looks one color in the salon and you love it, and then you get home and it's a totally other color?????  WTH?!  What kinda lights do they have there?!  :-D  It's not completely awful and it will fade.  And I'm going to do it myself going forward, and save the $50 bucks a pop that it costs to have it colored at the salon.  That will definitely help the bottom budget line  :-)

I thought long and hard about embracing the grey - but, I'm just not ready.  If you're familiar with the Divine Feminine/the Triple Goddess/the three phases of a woman's life - the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone - I'm a crone.  But for all the supposed wisdom being a crone imparts, I'm just not there yet emotionally. There is a part of me that just flat out refuses.

I think a big piece of this is that I work in the business world and I have to compete with people decades younger than I am on a daily basis - and when I say compete, I mean that I have to be right in there in the mix.  I don't have a good feeling about being  perceived as "old" and what that would mean for me in the long run, doing what I do.  And so, I'm just not ready to embrace the grey.

And, truth be told I don't really have that much grey and what I have is patchy.  I don't have that wonderful salt and pepper that so many women get - or that silvery grey that sparkles - or that bright white all over that at least one of my friends has - or even that cool white Cruella  DeVille streak that another friend has.  No.  My original color is not what it once was, which is the darkest brown, nearly black, with red highlights of its own.  My stylist says that now it's "ashy."  What that translates to is that my own color has faded to pretty much gunmetal grey all over with blobs of actual grey in various and assorted spots on my head.  It's just not a great look, and my stylist doesn't think it's going to go really all over grey for a very long time. 

So . . .  Lady Clairol, here I come.  I guess . . . but you know, gunmetal has a cast of blue to it . . . that could be interesting  ;-)

Friday, July 24, 2015

Steps are Being Taken . . .

Alrighty then.  My friend, Michelle says it's way doable for one human to eat on $200 smackers a month.  She's quite knowledgeable in things of this sort, so I'm going to go with that and not worry about it.  It will force me to plan.  And cook.  I'm quite capable of both.  I went through the pantry yesterday morning . . . it's really awful how many cans I needed to get rid of because they were three years past their expiration date.  Guess I will be learning to actually USE what I have in the cupboards.

I spent the time necessary to go through old bank statements to see where my money has been going.  There are a whole lot of entries that say "Paypal," and "Amazon."  Really A???  I've fallen into the habit of buying without thinking, and part of me wonders if that's why I had So Much Stuff that I took to the Second Chance Shop in the last round of divestiture.

When all the budget dust settled, it became clear that I need to trim about $150 - $200 from my budget.  Like I said yesterday, more goes out than comes in, and I relied on savings here and there to make up the difference.  Today I analyzed my cell phone bill.  I have a data plan that includes 4 GB of data every month.  I've never used more than 2 GBs, and since January, I've used less than 1 GB a month.  I cut the data plan in half, which will save me $30/month.  I may also drop the HotSpot I have on the phone, which would save me another $20/month. I've discovered that I rarely use it.

I also analyzed my DirecTV package.  I don't have any premium channels, but my monthly cost for what I do have seems like a lot to me.  I could drop down to their lowest package and save another $20/month.  I would lose ESPN and most of the other sports channels, but the only one of those that I ever watch is NBCSN (that's the Sports Network - they show the Tour de France), and I only watch it like once a year.  I would lose OWN, the Oprah Channel, which I do watch from time to time, and I would lose The Weather Channel, but I don't really watch The Weather Channel, so I don't think I would miss it.  I'd still have all the channels I actually do watch, so that's pretty much a no-brainer because no, I'm NOT going to pay $20 bucks a month to watch the Oprah channel.  When the Tour is over on Sunday, I'll go online and make that change.

I've brought my lunch two days in a row and am feeling seriously righteous.  :-D

Steps are being taken.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Ch Ch Ch Ch Changes . . .

Been kinda quiet here on my blog for a bit.  Simply, it's taken me a really long time to move out of the craziness of construction.  Just this Monday the very last thing was completed.  Unfortunately the new counter cracked back in May.  I mean, really???  Granite cracks after two months???? Granite cracks at all???  It took two months to get the granite guy to come back out and seal the crack.  He's an asshat.  He jammed up constructions on every phase he was involved with.  Every single time he said he would be there, he cancelled and jammed up the schedule - but it's finally done and I never have to deal with him again and my contractor is never going to use him again.

Let me preface the following by saying upfront that I love everything I had done in the house and I am enjoying everything about it - particularly in the basement, which has stayed bone dry throughout the ridiculous amount of rain we've had here in the Midwest this spring and summer while the rest of the country is burning up.

However - the construction completely and utterly undid me.  I don't know why I didn't handle it better than I did.  Maybe I was still in recovery mode after the car accident I was involved in back in November.  I don't know.  It doesn't help that I'm still finding dust everywhere even though the house has been cleaned thoroughly multiple times.  There is still stuff sitting around in the living room that I haven't quite gotten through, and the basement still needs another clean up - there is definitely still dust down there.  I turned to old coping skills that I thought were long behind me and it's not pretty.

I gained far too much weight, and now my menopausal body has a completely different shape than I've ever had in my entire life.  Again, it's not pretty.  I am uncomfortable and I look awful.  It is what it is - a point in time, and I'm doing the best I can to move forward.  Counting WW points - I'm not ready to attend a meeting yet, but I still pay for my monthly pass so I would imagine that will be on my list in the coming months, particularly since I don't want to waste the $40+ bucks a month that it costs me to have a monthly pass.

Turn and face the strange . . .

The construction also did some damage to my savings.  So, I'm about to embark on a major financial change: living on a budget.  A serious budget.  A strict budget that will help me achieve my own personal goals.  I am very lucky and it's been many years since I have had to live within very specific financial numbers.

The construction ran quite a bit over budget (something about champagne taste . . .).  And now, for a variety of reasons - one of which is that I would eventually like to retire - I am embarking on a budget on August 1st.  I'll go to the end of the year, tweaking and shifting and returning to my old model of cash and carry.  I imagine I will continue in the years to come.  I also imagine it's going to be a bit squeaky for awhile.  I've spent the past couple of days working on gathering expenses and looking at how much I spend on things.  Unfortunately, it's clear that more goes out than comes in.  That cannot continue, and since I've been advised not to touch any more of my savings if I want to retire and not run out of money, I must actually live on my paycheck.

I realize that most everyone does this - and I did it for a very long time, but, like I already said, I have been and continue to be lucky.  I have not had to do anything like this for decades.  But I'm doing it now.  Thankfully, I used to be a master at it.  I'm trusting that those skills will brush back up and drop right into place. It's all good in theory - in practice, it means that I will be keeping track.  Of everything.  I won't be using my credit cards. I will be cooking more.  I won't be eating out at lunch (that's $50-$65 a WEEK right there for lunches in the city.  Yes, it costs that much.  It's spendy to eat lunch in the city.).

I've already taken some painless cost cutting steps - changed from the sleep dentist in Oakbrook to the one in the city office - less car time, no city parking charges (it's $20-$25 a day when you park in the city).  I cut my sessions with my trainer from twice to once a week (that means that it's on me to get the other workout in on my own). On the docket for this weekend:  a trip to the library to renew my library card, and what might be a painful step for me:  my last "cut and color" for quite some time . . . I'm not sure how well that's going to go, but certainly an "every 5 weeks" visit to the salon is not in my future for awhile until I see how everything shakes out and how well I adjust to this new financial focus.

However it goes, it's going to be an adventure, that's for sure.  And truth be told, I'm kinda excited about it!

So I turned myself to face me . . .

The first major question facing me:  Is $200 bucks a month for food reasonable for one human?

Stay tuned, we're about to find out . . .