I’m As Optimized As I’m Going to Get (for now)

So for those of you who don’t follow my twitter, some of the random budget angst from last week turned out to be a little premature. Turns out — ha ha! — I had accidentally hidden a category in YNAB, which happened to have $250 in it, so when I found it I relaxed some and also moved the $$ into my down payment fund, which now stands at $5250. I’ll just have to hustle back the $750 that went into my Roth IRA last week to make it back to the $6000 it was at.

Wait a minute, why hustle?

Continue reading “I’m As Optimized As I’m Going to Get (for now)”

Checking In; And, Being Minimalist Does Not Equal Being Frugal

I’ve been so tired the last couple of weeks — not in a bad way, necessarily. Things at work have just been really absorbing, to the point where, when I don’t have an evening event (we’ve had several since the semester started), I tend to just stagger home and fall over with the dog. Also, I’ve been reading a really fantastic book that a friend gave me recently, Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza. It’s beautifully written, fast-paced, and even made me meditate on some classic PF topics, like the value of “stuff.” The word geniza, as the authors explain early on, can have a lot of different meanings, but it came to mean a hidden place where Jewish communities would put worn-out sacred books, something like an above-ground burial. For some reason, around 1000 AD, the Jewish community of Cairo started to store not only scripture, but anything written with Hebrew letters, and when the geniza was emptied out in the late 19th century it turned out to contain a thousand years’ worth of letters, business records, and other documents that in and of themselves were nearly meaningless in their own time, but now tell us modern people what it was like to be a medieval Jewish resident of Cairo like nothing else could. (The geniza also contained sacred texts like the original Hebrew version of Ben Sirah, which people had thought for centuries did not exist.)

Historians tend to rely on pack rats of various kinds to do their work, but I am not a pack rat by nature at all; I’ve actually intentionally destroyed things like the letters I wrote back and forth with friends as a teenager, because I’m terrified I’ll turn up in a history book hundreds of years from now sounding like an idiot 🙂 But sometimes I do think I have a tendency to let things go too easily. I kind of like the idea of the geniza — you can get all the stuff out of your own house and just pile it up in a hidden room at the synagogue….

The other problem with my natural minimalism is that it really does not equate to natural frugality. I’ve been struggling with this a lot this summer. Take my skin care routine. I have pretty sensitive skin, and have never found a drugstore product that didn’t feel too rough or make me break out a bit, even supposedly gentle lines like Burt’s Bees or Neutrogena (though I do use Neutrogena sunblock.) I never wear makeup, of any kind, so that’s pretty frugal! But I do plenty of damage to my bank account with what I spend on a facial cleanser, a facial moisturizer, and an eye cream. I get them all from Fresh (well, actually, I get them from Sephora these days, using ebates to spare myself a little financial pain (<–affiliate link for ebates, just in case anyone isn’t using them yet, seriously, they are amazing and I can’t believe I didn’t sign up earlier) but they’re made by Fresh) and they are pricy. They do last a long time, but still, $38 for a facial cleanser? $42 for a moisturizer? It’s a lot. My medicine cabinet is nearly empty with just a tube and two jars in it, but I could have basically half the drugstore for that.

It’s not just the skin care stuff either. I’ve been struggling all summer with the cost of buying all the fruit and vegetables and interesting other ingredients I want, and the cost of doing things like going out to dinner a bit more and buying tickets to shows, but I haven’t been doing a great job and it’s really caught up with me now. For the last few months I’ve been borrowing ahead from the next month’s budget, vowing to be really cheap the following month and get back to baseline, and every month I’ve failed to be cheap enough to do that — plus I’ve been frustrated by putting off purchases like face cream and a few other things. It’s just annoying. I started September $140 in the hole, and I think I’m going to end it about $100 over budget.

Sigh, I dunno. I really wanted to make it to the end of the year with a 50% savings rate, both because this is supposed to be the Year of Saving and because, hello, I want to save up a down payment by early next summer, why am I buying $42 face cream on the internet???????????????????????????? I’m at exactly 50% right now on the year, and it turns out that secretly I really wanted not only to “officially” save 50% of my income in savings accounts and retirement accounts, but also to “unofficially” rack up slush reserves. And that’s just not happening as of right now. I know I should be really happy with my “official” savings rate, but somehow it’s hard not to want to blast that out of the water with a 60% or even 70% savings rate.

Blah blah, you are all at FinCon, probably nobody is even reading this right now 🙂 Back in a couple of days with a more cheerful post about my visual motivation for the down payment savings.



Where Does My Paycheck Go?

[I’m traveling for work this week, so this post is pre-scheduled. Responses to comments might be a bit slow. Hopefully by the time you read this, I will be enjoying good weather and not inventing new ways to spend money.]

I got oddly fascinated by the breakdown of my paystub the other day. Sometimes I feel like no sooner do I get paid, than it’s all gone, you know? So, I decided to do a little math. In a standard half-month period (I get paid twice a month), here’s what happens to my paycheck:

  • 10% goes to income taxes (6.6% federal, 2.3% state, and 1.2% county — state/local taxes are way lower here than they were in my previous two jobs)
  • 7.4% goes to FICA (6% Social Security and 1.4% Medicare — interesting, I would have guessed Medicare ate up more of my paycheck than that.)
  • 2.6% goes to health insurance premiums (medical, dental, eyesight).
  • 25% goes to retirement savings

At this point we are up to 45% that disappears from my paycheck before I ever see it! No wonder I feel like it all goes so fast!

The other 55% gets direct-deposited, and that’s what I work with for my actual budget, so at this point I moved away from the paystub and looked at my budget and did more math.

  • 22% goes to various savings accounts (emergency, travel, down payment) — now I’m down to only 33%.
  • 10.7% goes to rent and utilities
  • 7.5% goes to cash for groceries and so on
  • 2.5% goes to transportation (car insurance, gas)

That’s a total of 20.7% for essential monthly expenses, so after all’s said and done I have just 12.3% of my paycheck for spending money and things like medical care, car repairs, clothing and so on. I usually put 2.5% in my slush/free spending account, so there’s just under 10% available for the other stuff.

I actually can’t tell whether that’s a lot, or a little. If anyone feels like doing some similar math, I’d love to know where you’re at.

Let’s discuss my new boots

bootsblogOK, those of you who follow me on twitter or who read my January net worth update have heard that at some point in there I spent a “godawful amount of money on boots.” However, accounting for that was mysteriously missing from the January update! I promised that I’d explain myself “sometime next month” and wouldn’t you know it, next month is practically over (one thing you can say for February is that it moves fast, especially when you spend a quarter of it traveling.) I figured I’d better get down to it if I wanted to beat my deadline. Continue reading “Let’s discuss my new boots”

I need a better traveling system

So, I’m most of the way through my trip — if the weather doesn’t interfere too much I’ll be home tonight. It’s kind of, as it were, up in the air, but luckily I’m staying with friends, not in a hotel, so if I need to extend my stay a day or two it’ll be ok. Wish me luck 🙂 Continue reading “I need a better traveling system”

Why I Budget 4 Ways for “Miscellaneous”

This post is pre-written; I’m away for a few days at a conference. I should still have internet access but responses to comments will probably be slower than usual.

I’ve been refining my budgeting strategy for a while now — as those of you who’ve been following know, since I can’t shut up about it — and there’s one thing I started doing in January that I really like. If you look at my budget categories, you actually see four that could be filed under “misc.” I take out $300 in cash every month; I have a line item for “gremlins” (more on that in a sec) that I’m now putting $100 into every month; I have $500 going into the emergency fund kept in a separate account; and I also have a line item for “slush” that is currently getting about $120 a month. Continue reading “Why I Budget 4 Ways for “Miscellaneous””

January 2015 Net Worth Update

First month of 2015! I’m really pleased with myself; aside from the major planned purchase from my travel savings, I stayed right on track with the tight, savings-focused budget I set up. I feel like a lot has happened since I set my goals up last month, so just as a reminder, my plan is to try this tight budget out through March and see how I feel about it; I may ease up a little at that point if this is leaving me feeling deprived. Continue reading “January 2015 Net Worth Update”

Wednesday Food Post (plus: make awesome lasagne like me)

Y’all, I am killing it on the grocery front this month. Things got off to a good start when I took out cash at the beginning of the month, divided it up, and went shopping…only to come home with $45 still in my pocket from Week 1’s grocery/spending money. So on Saturday I added $60 to my wallet (Week 2’s spending money) and set out to do the shopping.

I made up an additional goal for myself to add to my previously-established 2015 goals. This goal: ZERO thrown-out food in 2015. I’m not going to get too wild — I won’t be composting vegetable scraps or making stock out of all my chicken bones — but I don’t want to toss any perishables languishing in the vegetable drawer, or any leftovers I just didn’t want to eat. Maximizing my food dollar and minimizing my waste: what’s not to like?

Continue reading “Wednesday Food Post (plus: make awesome lasagne like me)”

How I Manage My Money Anxiety

How I Manage My Money AnxietyI just spent a large amount of $$ on plane tickets for a trip I’m taking over spring break. I’ve known I was going to make this purchase for a while, and I’ve had the cash in my bank account for about a month, but I’ve been putting off actually buying because every time I thought about it I had a minor freakout. So much money. What about my net worth goals?!

It amazes me over and over again how much my emotions about money impact my mood on a daily basis. If I’ve just gotten paid, I feel flush and ready to meet emergencies and setbacks head-on; if I’m contemplating a big purchase, my emotions get more complex, as I both want the thing (who doesn’t want a spring break trip?) and worry about the lowered levels in my savings accounts. I definitely don’t have the kind of cushion where I can be all “eh, who needed that $700 anyway?” Herewith, my not-guaranteed-foolproof techniques for pulling myself together and acting like a grownup! Continue reading “How I Manage My Money Anxiety”

December 2014 Net Worth Update

Well, this month started off with a bang and ended up with a schlumpf. Towards the beginning of the month, I paid off the last of my debt (although it took me until the middle of the month to be able to announce it.) Then I got hit with a huge bill for new glasses and contact lenses, and had to pull some money out of my emergency fund along with cash-flowing part of it. So the end net worth results for this month are not too impressive, although I got a last-minute boost via a $200 Christmas gift directed to my travel fund.

To the numbers: Continue reading “December 2014 Net Worth Update”