Monday, August 3, 2015

Crisis Averted. Pretty Much . . .

The car insurance crisis is pretty much averted.  After feeling all-out stupid for forgetting about my car insurance altogether, I tinkered with the budget again this morning, and now have a workable solution. Not ideal, but workable.  I have a Christmas Club at my credit union which I use for presents and charitable donations at the end of the year.  I didn't think I could do this, but it turns out that I can - I dropped the monthly amount that I save in the CC down by 30-odd dollars.

With the $50 give/take surplus that I had last Friday until I got home and got the mail, and the change in my CC I am now coming in with $2/month to spare.  Yay!  That's cutting it really close, but I'm not in the red and I'm praying that I haven't forgotten any other important expense(s).  It's going to be an interesting balancing act for the next few months, that's for sure, but I'm up to the task.  I'm also considering reducing the percentage that goes into my 401(k) to give myself a little more breathing room on a monthly basis.

This sounds like a very stupid idea until you learn that, where I work, they only match a very small amount and it doesn't go up the more I contribute.  As long as I meet the contribution percentage they specify, I get the small amount they match.  I'm well over that specified percentage.  I don't really want to do this, but it's something I am considering.  Thankfully, I don't have to make that decision immediately - and, hopefully, not at all.

I do, however, have to pay the current car insurance bill in the next couple of weeks, and I don't think it truly qualifies as a bonafide emergency - I mean, no one is bleeding, no bones are broken, and death of any sort is not involved, but it may be that I have to touch the emergency fund for this. I mean, you cannot drive without insurance - that's lunacy (as well as being illegal), but I've got an idea or two up my sleeve and I'm going to try a few other things before touching the emergency fund.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Tithing . . .

My friend, Michelle, asked me to remember an Old Testament Bible verse, Malachi 3:10, which is the verse that talks about tithing - the practice of giving 10% of one's harvest/income to the church.

Tithing of money isn't something that I have ever done, and it's not something I could do now without a radical change in everything about my life. I'm not saying this is right or wrong - it just is what it is.  It was hard to reduce my pledge - contrary to my last post, where I joked about the initial reductions not being all that painful thus far, it was very hard for me to reduce the money I give to the church each month.  It was embarrassing and I felt/feel a great deal of shame about it (let me clear that I was not shamed by our minister nor by the financial secretary (the people I had to inform about the change) this was my own shame that I wasn't able to fulfill my pledge). 

I could cut every "luxury" and still not even be close to the amount needed to tithe.  Without selling my home, my car, my pipes, and anything else of value that I have, I could not hope to consistently tithe, and even if I did do those things, I probably couldn't tithe then either, and I would be left with nothing and no transportation, and then no one would get anything. 

In the Presbyterian Church we call it Stewardship, and it's about time, talents, and treasure.  It's not just about treasure (money), there is more to it. A pledge is a faith commitment, not a promissory note, and I had faith that I would be able to give the amount I pledged.  But I can't any longer.  I believe that the monetary amount I am able to give each month is supplemented by the time I give or have given to speak to the PW Group when they invite me, to share in fellowship with my friends there, to lend my prayers and support where I can, to attend choir rehearsals and to sing in the choir on Sundays, and to play my pipes on Reformation Sunday (although probably not this year . . . ). In the past I've led Church Lady Knitting (for many years) and been a member of the Communications Committee.  I'm an ordained deacon.  Granted, I don't do all of these things all the time - but Stewardship is about more than just money - my time and my musical talent are a big part of my 10%.

This is a good conversation - and it's different for everyone.   Thanks for bringing it up, Michelle  :-)  If you go to church, do you tithe?  If you are forced by circumstances to make changes, where do you cut when there is nowhere left to cut in order to make ends meet?  Do you saddle yourself with debt that multiplies by earning interest when you can't pay it to pay a faith commitment that is no longer possible for you?  Good conversation and hard questions.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The First Cut is the Deepest . . .

It's the first day of my new budget!!  Yay!!  The adventure begins!!

For the last few days I've been feeling all smug and pleased with myself that I had gotten a handle on this budgeting adventure so quickly.  You know - it was a snap, really - a bit of mindfulness and a few reductions, but nothing I couldn't handle.  A little belt tightening, and hopefully ass shrinking since I'm not going to be eating out at all for some time.  Looking forward to that, really, since I'm way too large at the moment.

I arrived home yesterday and put the trash barrels back in the garage - I could see my Netflix in the front door along with the mail that I picked up as I opened the door.  Hmmmm, a pretty thick envelope - what's this?  A prospectus?  A bank statement?  As I walked into the kitchen, I turned it over.  Not a prospectus.  Not a bank statement.

It was my car insurance bill.

My car insurance bill.


Jesus H. Christ
I mean CRAP.

How could I have forgotten that one in all my calculations?  I guess because it only happens twice a year, but I have to come up with the money to pay it before September 1st, and I need to build another $83 a month in to the budget for it going forward so I will have enough to pay it again in March when it will be due again.  I'm going to have to rework the budget on Monday and it looks like I'm going to have to rob Peter to pay Paul this month.  Geez.  Right out of the gate . . . oh well.

p.s.  All these years I somehow missed that Yusuf Islam, formerly know as Cat Stevens, wrote this song. 

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  ;-)