The Hardest Part

I’ve been a little off my goal of getting a tighter grasp on my finances this year, so between the baby wake-up call and hoping for a happy, successful future with the hubs, we’re doing some analyzing. Perhaps that should be “LOTS” of analyzing. You may recall the pie chart I shared with you when doing my initial financial  analysis, and for the most part, things are pretty much the same (except for the occasional baby purchase or what have you). Oh, yes, and for another guilty secret.

Yes, the dreaded “let me confess” post. It’s something that I know lots of folks do, but between our attempts to eat healthier and try to save some cash, this is simply deplorable. Let’s just say that we’ve been eating out. A lot. Upwards of 3 times a week. (Mind you, most of the time it’s been once a week, but still.) And let’s just say that one example of a one-month bill JUST for eating out was over $200. ($236.80, to be exact…and that’s just my bank account, excluding hubby’s.)

Great googily moogily!!

It SO gets away from you if you don’t sit down and take a good, hard look at it, am I right? And this is all while maintaining a relatively well-stocked kitchen. We haven’t gone on any expensive/extensive trips to the farmers’ market this season yet, and I’m not sure we will until we tighten these reigns.

What the heck’s the problem? I’ll admit to laziness. Most of it does come from being pregnant, in all honesty. It’s caused fatigue and at times a general lack of energy for cooking…and, at times, a teeny bit of depression has crept in, which somehow pushes me to say “Pizza would be great tonight.” At the same time, the fact that we’re traveling a lot means that when a mealtime comes around and I get hungry (wait, the hunger monster inside me wants to reword that realistically: “When da Mama gitt hongwyyy”), I kinda need to eat immediately.

So, after a birthing class, what happened? We took to venting and enjoying a meal or ice cream at the nearby Friendly’s. We even made some friends in the process.

And after yoga on a Friday evening, do I really feel like cooking? Not s’much.

Or any other numbers of excuses that any of us might feel ourselves coming up with.

Compared to folks in other situations (or countries), the fact that cutting back on restaurant-eating is the hardest part of our budget process is a wonderful problem to have. I suppose we have other financial issues, too, but this is the most surprising AND the one that we can have the most control over.

So, what’re we going to do? ESPECIALLY with a little one on the way (tell me I’m not going to want to order in practically every night). Well, I’m not planning on cutting it all out cold turkey. Oftentimes the withdrawal that you go through makes you less likely to stick with it, so we’re not going to cut out “eating out” altogether. I AM, however, going to analyze the heck out of our budget to see how often we CAN splurge – and on what types of items.

I’m also not going to fall victim of the “we have a gift certificate” or “we have a coupon for such-and-such a place” – because, while it’s great to have a way to save on a meal, you end up going out and often over-spending, still. We’ve had generous offers to use restaurant.com certificates and the like, but the pressure to use them by a certain date and the knowledge that it simply doesn’t take $20 to feed 2 people these days (unless you’re going to Subway or something like that…but, even then….) is enough for me. If we’re in the mood to go to a particular place and happen to have a coupon, that’s great! But, it’s kind of like the coupon Catch-22 in the grocery store – if it’s not something I need, is it still worth spending on?

One thing that’s already helped (and is kinda fun, when I’m up for it) is creating meals that we could possibly get in a restaurant. Somehow, they almost always turn out healthier. Last night, I made a couple of grilled chicken wraps (buffalo chicken for Dave, honey mustard chicken for me) and although I couldn’t fold them the right way (too much filling – gettin’ our money’s worth!), it was a way healthier version of a pretty yummy meal that would’ve cost us at least $9 each at a restaurant. And, yes, we even had some fries – organic ones. (And a beer at home is always cheaper than out-and-about. Dave drank it, not me. ;-)) Oh, and he says his was delicious – I think the fact that he repeated it several times while eating it proved this to be true – while mine, eh, the homemade dressing I whipped up wasn’t GREAT. It was still quite good.

Another option I’m interesting in (but, admittedly, intimidated by) is creating weekly menus. The problem with these is that our weekly schedules are often dictated on a whim – say, I don’t know that Dave’s meeting with a writing partner next Thursday until possibly a day or two before. That’s not a complaint; it’s just how our household rolls. So, a flexible weekly schedule might be best for us; ie “we were going to have *such and such* for dinner, but since I’m eating alone (or he’ll just have a salad when he gets home), I’ll eat something lighter or easier (or, tee hee, something he wouldn’t normally eat – can we say mushrooms?)”

There are lots of blogs and communities online that discuss menus. I think the hardest part is coming up with things that the family loves, and that don’t take up TOO much time to prepare. There’s, somehow, always an evening that you feel more like cooking, and inevitably an evening that you simply don’t (which helps you fall into the dreaded “let’s just get pizza”).

So, my search for easy, DELICIOUS (who wants to eat crap, even if it is easy and cost-effective?) possibly even prepare-ahead meals is on! I’ll share any sites that I find (I’ll be looking for all-natural/organic/whole foods sites, but will share those that I find valuable, even if not), so if you have any that you love, please feel free to respond in the comment section!! Your sites don’t have to be crunchy granola, either, but if they are, more power to ya! 😉

Oh, and, BTW, if anyone has some freeze-ahead meals that would be appropriate for summertime that they love, please share! I’ve GOTTA get going on some meals to just defrost/prepare quickly for when the baby comes!!

Mmm…Pie

Just thought I’d check in with my financial progress for 2012. In my mind, every little step is progress, even though I haven’t made my “major” changes yet. My first goal was to observe my monthly spending for January. Well, I did it! (Man, it was tough. You’d think jotting everything you spend down would be kind of…well, child’s play. Not so much.)

Firstly, are we impressed by that pie chart, or what? What can I say – I loves me some pie. I’ve just gotta figure out how to make it look less distorted, but one challenge at a time. 😉

I was surprised by several things – some good, some bad. Otherwise, and generally speaking, there were some purchases that were made that I wouldn’t call “monthly” (more like once in a lifetime…or once every ten years – like an ottoman purchase), but I seem to  have some sort of purchase as such every few months or so, so I included it in the chart. There are other areas that, some months, get more cash put towards it (such as the “Pets” category) – but not this month. Then there are the stationary ones – such as the Visa bill, which never gets added to and always gets paid automatically every single month. The “can always depend on you” bills that will be AWESOME to finally pay off.

What shocked me most, though, was the clothes/home goods/gifts chunk. I don’t BUY clothes that much – I just got a few maternity items. So, much of this was actually purchased for home projects from Lowe’s (and that $179 ottoman from Target didn’t help, either). Secondly, while it doesn’t LOOK like much, our eating out is crazier than I expected. It really makes me think…and think…and think…until I will inevitably change, change, change. 🙂

My groceries are mad crazy, too, but I already knew that. I’ve already set a new goal for myself to get it down to a) a twice-a-month shopping trip, b) for a certain set price (ie such-and-such amount for the month, divided by two), and c) in cash. Let’s just call it getting closer to living simply on cash. Technically, I do that now, but I don’t consider a debit card technically “cash”. It’s still plastic, and it’s still a co-dependent tool towards self-ignorance. There were years that I shunned owning one…man, what happened?! So, anyhoo, it definitely does makes me go through the “I’d like to get that, but…” thought process on pretty much every purchase. Oh, and I’m going to try to go back to an Aldi/Hannaford symbiosis – what one can’t get me healthily and cheaply (ie Aldi’s bananas or all-natural juice or awesomely delicious, cheap hummus) the other will provide. Spending $20 in one place and $60 in the other is fine, especially with how much $20 gets you!

Oh, and I figure this will help provide an economic stability when looking at the grocery budget +1. I’d like to keep the budget at the same amount, actually – totally crazy? Maybe. I’ll adjust as needed, of course. No amount of pride or strictness to self-induced life rules would keep our kid from gaining proper nutrition. You can’t complain with TRYING out a budget, though.

Some surprising “good” pieces of the pie? My “entertainment/phone” (really just my Verizon and Time Warner bills) amount is tinier, by comparison, than I expected it to be. I guess that whole going cable-free thing is workin’ for me. Oh, and the avoidance of purchasing a smartphone, let alone any phone with a data plan. We’re not proud…although, in this case, we totally are.

Cash withdrawals were actually, again, relatively small. That may be shifting, especially when I’ll be using the money to purchase other pieces of the pie (groceries, etc). And, come to think of it, the cash advances went towards certain pieness, as well, so it probably shouldn’t even count. But it does, and I’m pretty happy with it. Always like to have some cash in the ol’ wallet. You never know.

So, there it is – a pretty disjointed (but what blog post isn’t?) public display of…well, pie. What’s next? I’m trying to analyze what parts of the pie are necessary (car, mortgage, etc) and what can be shaved further (groceries a tad, home stuff definitely, etc). And that’s where I’ll leave ya.

Any random budget suggestions that you think we all should know? What works for you? Do tell!

Web of Confusion

As you might have read yesterday, I’m hoping to get a tighter grasp on my finances this year. (It’s not a resolution; they’re just some goals I’d like to work on this year – and in years to come!) I alluded to the fact that I’ll be researching some techniques that may help me, but also to some factors that have me thinking about cutting out some other “techniques”.

That may sound vague, so I’ll let you into my brain. I read an article discussing, of all things, the censorship issue that’s been plastered all over the news and web and how the 24-hours without Wikipedia affected folks. From there, it poses the question of having ZERO internet.

A huge internet fail would be a huge shock in many parts of, well, all of our lives. Lots of our jobs rely on the interwebs, but even the way in which some of us live our daily lives would be blown out of the water. I know mine would…although, there’s an antiquated part of me that hopes, one day, to be able to use the internet for brief positives, but simultaneously be able to disconnect without “jonesing” for it. And, dude, I’m not even a smart phone user.

I thought further about how a major loss of internet would impact my finances, and realized that – holy crap – it really would. While I utilize a local credit union that has very basic, infrequently updated online banking services, I also use them to pay certain bills automatically. Most of these auto payments are made online. I only pay two monthly bills traditionally – with real math, a checkbook, and a stamp.

Many of us use the convenience of payment services (and direct deposit!) to make our lives easier. It’s so easy that I have very little connection between my money and where it goes – seriously, what bills do I pay, anyway? It’s just that easy to get disconnected from your money. So, when it’s nearly gone, you have no idea – or go into shock when you check your account only to realize the amount isn’t what you thought it would or should be. It’s a tough lesson, and a pretty depressing way to live.

Even after doing my best to keep an eye on spending this month so far, I realized that I still wasn’t aware of what my income was doing. It’s a lot like a relationship – if you don’t pay attention to it, you can’t expect it to be all that it can be (fulfilling for both involved, supportive, etc), and before too long you’re in trouble. So, I realized I need to develop a relationship with my finances. I’ve gotta spend more time with it, check in to see how it’s doing, and focus on it – even if it’s inconvenient.

So, rather than changing absolutely everything immediately, I’m going to start (one at a time) getting back to paying bills by check. While I hate the idea of receiving bills in the mail, as long as I’m getting a reminder of a due date, I think that I’ll be much more aware of my finances again. Kind of old-fashioned, but at least I won’t be so reliant upon the interwebs – and hopefully I’ll be more self-reliant, instead. And I’d be if lots of us made changes like these, the postal service wouldn’t be in its current mess.

What method do you use? Auto-pay (but are on top of your stuff, unlike me)? The old-fashioned way? Do tell!

Financial Aid

I’ve been focusing a lot more on my finances in 2012. Between not being as “on top of” them as I’d like to be and wanting to have more of a cushion (thanks to the addition of a new baby in the upcoming year), it just makes sense. And, somehow, with the new year came a new motivation to do way better than I have been in the past.

So far, it’s been the basics for me – writing down what I’ve been spending. I tried analyzing my expenses at the end of December, but admittedly this is an easy way to get an inaccurate account of the truth. Hello, Christmas!

I’m actually excited to analyze where my ka-ching is going. I’d like to put it into a pie chart (since I am, apparently, a visual learner) and make decisions about what spending choices of which I approve and disapprove. I’m sure some will make me cringe (and delve into a deep self-loathing), but some will be an interesting challenge/eye-opener. It’s time to be real and honest with myself, and I’m hoping to drag Dave into the conversation, too. I already know what his challenges are, and what he does particularly well keeping on top of, but I don’t think he’s ever seen ME deal with financial challenges; I’ve always helped him through his. So, I think it’ll be good for him to hear that his wife’s not perfect. Not financially, anyway. *wink*

Since it’s silly to go forth simply to “see what’s what”, I think it’s a good idea to set some measurable goals. These may change or shift or turn into a completely different goals – hey, they’re goals, they’re allowed to do that.

So, the simple few goals I’ve got in mind?

1) Setting a budget. I’d like to have an “individual budget” as well as a “family budget” (ie D+M+baby). Nope, I’m not working off of a specific budget, currently. I’m sure that makes me a shame to my mother and sister – two financial wizards, in my humble opinion. So, I’m gettin’ with it.

2) Building a nest egg. While I have some savings, it’s certainly not the suggested amount that I’m always reading about. I contribute to my 403(b) (the educator’s version of a 401(k)), but I’d also like to be able to maintain a separate account, as well as start some college savings for the little one.

3) Trim the fat. Now it sounds like I’m dieting. Nope, I’m just hoping that with honest analysis comes some solid realizations about my spending. Pretty simple…but easier said than done.

4) Determine the best habits, then make commitments to maintain them. Find out what I’m doing wrong, determine what to do to fix them…then make them part of our lifestyle. And keep it up from there, of course.

So, there are some financial goings-on in my head. I’ve got a couple of methods that I’m interested in learning more about (as well as some that I’m going to cut out/avoid); one of which I’ll be sharing tomorrow. And I truly appreciate having this blog to just blah-blah-blah about this stuff. While I try not to be chained to everything I say here (flexibility and ability to change is a good thing), it does give me a sense of accountability to myself – a positive one, and I like it. So, thanks for reading and thanks further for keeping me in check. Ha! Get it? Check?!