I’m not really budgeting right now…

…and I can’t decide if it’s a problem, or rather, how much of a problem it is.

If you’ve been around for a while, you know that I’ve been a big fan of YNAB. I stopped linking to it with my referral, because I didn’t have any interest in making the transition to their subscription-based web service; instead, I’ve continued to use the desktop software, and still love it.

One of the things that’s great about it is that it lets you allocate income into a variety of sinking funds. You can set up your own categories, but I have things like “personal/health,” “maintenance/repairs,” and “travel.” So, if I make say $1000 in a month, I have to allocate $400 to rent, but I could spread the other $600 out among these sinking categories and not necessarily spend it, but let it build up until I’m hit with a car repair or whatever. Some people do this kind of thing with a million savings accounts, which also works, but I do like the simplicity of letting the software handle the categorization instead of spending a lot of time transfering $$ from one account to another. (I do enough of that with the savings accounts I DO have.)

But despite my recognition that this is a superior budgeting system, last year I quit doing it in order to build up what I was then calling my down payment fund and now call my life fund. Instead of letting the sinking categories build, I diverted any spare cash to that savings account, and cash-flowed all my expenses every month. I’m still doing that, because I want to keep building up the life account, and I don’t have enough income every month to do that AND the sinking funds. Actually, it’s been an expensive enough summer that I’m not even really doing the life buildup. I put $300 in last month and am putting $300 in this month, which is way off the pace I wanted to be going at. But if I decided I was ok with keeping the life fund at around $10,000, I could actually go back to budgeting the YNAB way — I could take that $300-500/month of ‘give’ in my budget and spread it out to the sinking funds. I guess I’m a little worried that doing this would encourage me to spend the money on things less essential than a car repair or (this month’s big expense) dental work. It’s a lot easier to subtract $50 from the maintenance budget and move it into slush to cover an entertainment outlay, than it is to actively take $50 out of my savings account.

On the other hand, when I think about budgeting properly, with sinking funds, instead of just putting all available cash in a big savings account and spending the rest, I feel more grown-up. Maybe I should let that guide me?

About Those Savings Accounts

Whoa, look at this, a post that’s not just a net worth update! Haven’t done one of those in a while. It’s been busy around here this summer, what with all the canning/preserving and with my having some big projects at work coming to completion this fall — and what with all the presidential election stuff going on, though we probably shouldn’t start talking about that on our PF blogs, really 🙂

But I have a quiet moment and I want to talk a little bit about my cash savings accounts. I have three. One is for travel, though I’ve been using my budgeted travel money at a pretty good rate, so I haven’t actually bothered to transfer cash into that account in a while.

The second is for emergency savings. My emergency fund currently consists of roughly $1000 in a taxable account at Vanguard, which I’d rather not touch but which I do consider part of my EF, and a savings account at Capital One 360 (<–referral link, just in case there’s anyone in the universe who doesn’t already have one.) Longtime readers of this blog will recall that for about a year I worked on getting this account up to $5000, by dint of putting in $500 every month. I succeeded, but I found the whole process amazingly boring. Then I raided it and put $3000 in my Roth IRA and $1000 into that taxable account, leaving only $1000 in cash. This year, I decided to try to make the savings more interesting by doing the 52-week savings challenge (that thing where you save $1 the first week, $2 the second week, and so on until you get up to $52 in the last week of the year, for a total of $1378 over the course of the year.) I’ve actually been doing a transfer every month instead of every week, but so far I’m on track to complete the challenge and it is actually more fun than just moving  $120 over every single month, which would result in about the same amount of savings, but is boring.

By the end of the year, I’ll be up to about $3500 between the two accounts — plus or minus $100 depending on how the taxable account is doing. My intention is to do another 52-week challenge next year, except in reverse, so I save $52 in the first week of January, $51 in the second, etc. Just for some variation. If nothing intervenes and I don’t have to use the money, by the end of 2017 I’ll be back up to nearly $5000, which for right now I consider fully stocked. It doesn’t really bother me that I’m re-growing this account slowly, since I also have a pretty healthy stock of cash in the third savings account that obviously I could draw on if necessary.

That third fund is what for a while I was calling the down payments fund, and then switched to calling the “Life Fund.” It was up over $13000 briefly earlier this year, but I decided to start filling up my Roth IRA for 2016 since I hadn’t touched that yet, so right now it’s at $10120. I’m trying to add about $500 a month to it for the foreseeable future, but since at the moment I don’t have a specific goal in mind for it, I’m not as motivated to hit that number every month. Last month I ended up putting in $300, and this month I think I’ll put in about $350-400 — saving during the summer is difficult for me since I love buying fresh produce and going to festivals and whatnot. Once things cool off and the farmer’s market isn’t so abundant anymore, I shouldn’t have trouble hitting that $500 figure again.

So, what is it for? Like I say, I don’t exactly know right now. I can envision several uses for $20,000 (the figure I envision getting up to with this fund, although circumstances could change that.)

–I could buy a car

–I could put a down payment on a house after all

–I could move somewhere and fund my basic expenses for a while as I get established, get a job, etc

–I could put down a security deposit on an apartment and buy furniture

–I could buy a bunch of stock if the market crashes (on top of what I invest normally every month through my retirement account)

You know, life.

What I don’t want to do with this money:



–basic medical expenses, car expenses, clothing, entertainment

I just want it to sit there until I want to do something really big — I don’t want to put it down on smaller expenses, even though they might be worthy in and of themselves.

For the moment, I’m keeping it in another Capital One 360 savings account. I could envision moving all or part of it into a CD ladder, except the CD rates are so awful right now that there’s just no point. Of course, I could also put all/part of it in the market. But I feel like I’m probably going to want to use it for one or more of those big things within the next few years, and so it would be more risky than I want to move it into my Vanguard account. So unless I can think of anything better to do with it, it’s just going to plug away earning $7ish a month for now.

Curious: do any of you all have an analogous account that’s not for emergencies but also not in the market? Are there any big life expenses I’m missing that you’ve spent on?

Net Worth Update: July 2016

networthupdateWOW, what a month. This just happens every now and then — nothing spectacular went wrong, and yet I still spent $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$. If the markets hadn’t had such a good month, I would actually have had a loss, for the first time since I started tracking. But: they had a great month, and here we are, including even inching across the $50,000 mark! Want to know all the messy spending details? Read on!

Continue reading “Net Worth Update: July 2016”

Net Worth Update: June-ish, 2016

networthupdateHello, savers and scholars! I was super busy over the 3-day weekend, hence the lateness of this post — and the numbers are kind of fuzzy, because they’re numbers from July 3, after I’d already made a contribution to my emergency fund and seen my retirement contribution go through. So the monthly gain is a bit high. But it’ll come out in the wash of the next month’s update.

Also, after the post-Brexit chaos it’s good to see an increase at all! The US stock market bounced right back, and in the meantime I took the opportunity of the brief decline to move $3500 into my Roth IRA from the newly designated “life” fund, since I’m no longer frantically saving against an immediate down payment.

The weekend was a lot of fun. I really like the Midwest in the summer; I picked fourteen pounds of sour cherries and four pounds of raspberries on Friday (which I took off from work because I’d worked through the previous weekend) at a u-pick place near here. On Saturday, I headed back to a wild raspberry patch I’d scored from last summer, and grabbed enough to make a small batch of jam. On Sunday, my housemates and I drove up to Traverse City, MI, for their annual Cherry Festival; it was a long drive for a day trip, but we had a good time, ate a lot of cherries and purchased cherry-flavored products, and took in a classic car show, a craft show, and the Blue Angels airshow while we were at it. The weather was gorgeous, too! Then, yesterday, I baked several cherry pies to take to a potluck.

Anyway, what with all that, it just took some time to crunch the numbers, but here they are:

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This is a little high, but not crazy, especially considering that I was away from home nearly all month and let myself go on spending while I was traveling. I was at a professional development thing, and I ended up eating a lot of lunches and dinners out, as well as doing some grocery shopping, and also bought some souvenirs for various friends. I spread the money around, though; some is under “cash,” some under “slush,” some (mostly book purchases) under “Professional expenses,” and some under “travel.” Plus, of course, the gifts category. On the upside, I didn’t really do any OTHER random spending — no gremlins, car repairs, clothing, or misc shopping — so even though I felt pretty extravagant during these weeks, the damage wasn’t that bad.

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Like I say, these numbers are a little high — maybe by $400 or so — due to having run them on July 3 instead of at the end of the day June 30, because of when my retirement contribution hits plus the markets having gone up on July 1. My EF also won’t show an increase when I do the July numbers at the end of this month because I’m counting the July contribution here — doesn’t affect the bottom line, just the EF number.

Regardless of fuzziness, I can’t help but be pleased by a substantial increase in a month where I was traveling almost the whole time!


Update on all that work stuff

Well, I can’t actually discuss the details, of course. But I finally have a quiet moment to update, so I figured I would 😉

It really has been an insane spring. First of all, I was proposing two books to publishers. I finished the first draft of one manuscript and sent it off for review in March. But instead of getting to take a breath, I then turned to the proposal for the second book (which is actually a second revised edition of an edited collection I worked on a long time ago.) I sent that proposal off and it came back quickly with suggestions for revision, which I made.

As of earlier this week, I have a contract for the edited collection in hand, and the strong likelihood of a contract for the other book next month. This is all great, but it means, you know, that I actually have to do the stuff. Permissions, pictures, revisions, and those are just the big things; there will be a million details to take care of as well.

On top of this large-scale work, I’ve been organizing some events for my workplace, which requires a lot of picky detail work because nothing is ever easy.

I also got deeply involved in some local activism, which I had to step back from after mid-March but was a huge part of the winter/early spring and has occasionally required time since.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been off-site taking a seminar, too. I didn’t plan to be doing heavy correspondence with publishers while taking it, but here we are…. It’s cool, and good networking, but it’s also a lot of work (reading and conversation, so fun work, but still.)

And then…there’s the question of where my career is going.

I spent most of the year applying for an academic job which I ended up not getting — but really, I applied in October and didn’t find out for sure until the middle of May. That’s crazy. (So is the school I was applying to, long story.) The original fallback plan was a 3-year job in my current location. However, things have changed there, and there’s just not as much work available as they were anticipating. I do have a contract for next year, but I decided that I’d rather officially go to 3/4 time and use the balance for volunteer work and reading than pretend I was actually working full-time.

I was settling into that idea pretty well when, out of the blue, an opportunity came up for another job back in New York. It’s an interesting dilemma. The job itself would be pretty enjoyable, I think, and the money is quite good by my standards. And it’s a permanent job, meaning that I wouldn’t have to spend all year wondering what I was doing next! However, it’s not the type of job I ultimately want to end up in. And I’m concerned that if I were to take it, I would not be able to switch back to the track I’m on now. Anyway, I’m going to interview in July. So I guess my situation for next year is not settled after all. But no matter what, I’ll be employed. That’s good. But wow, I’m really kind of ready to get my career a bit more settled than this.

On the plus side, my financial life is kind of rolling right now. Even though I feel like I’m spending money like a drunken sailor while I’m on this seminar (going out to eat with people constantly, buying gifts/souvenirs) I’m still under budget for the month right now. Investments are looking good and dividends should show up this month (I love dividends so much, you guys.) I have plenty of cash in my combined life/emergency funds. I don’t have any near-term huge goals I need to make. Everything’s just…kind of ok. That’s pretty nice.

Net Worth Update, May 2016

networthupdateHello all! It’s that time again. Actually it’s a day or two after that time again. I did my calculations and spreadsheets on May 31, but it’s been busy (hence the radio silence for the last month!) and I’m just now getting around to actually uploading and narrativizing. (I don’t know if that’s a word, but I guess it is if I say it is.)

As I predicted last month, this month looks really fantastic from the net worth perspective. I had no major expenses (no car repairs, no contact lens purchases, no nothin’) so not only did I have all the benefit of my normal paychecks, but I also got to add extra cash from Ebates ($64.94), Swagbucks, ($25), freelance writing ($70), reimbursements I’d long since written off because I thought I’d never get them back ($230), and, drumroll, a $2700 stipend for the seminar I’m taking. Basically, I made about double my normal income this month. That is very unusual!

Continue reading “Net Worth Update, May 2016”

Net Worth Update: April 2016

networthupdateWow. Does anyone else feel like April went by SUPER quickly? I spent the first part of it traveling and being sick, and the second part with my head buried in work (in a good way; the last two weeks have allowed me to dig deeply into a project I love) and I can hardly believe it’s May already.

Financially, it wasn’t the greatest month, courtesy of a $775 car repair (most of that was the cost of the part they needed) and a last-minute plane ticket when I got sick and had to come home early from a trip. However, since I’m waiting for a stipend check for a summer program I’m participating in, next month ought to show a significant improvement (I am going to use the check to fill my e-fund back up to where it should be.) Also, I had significant freelance income this month — $460.82, to be precise — so that was helpful in offsetting the damage. All the details are behind the jump: to the numbers! Continue reading “Net Worth Update: April 2016”

I actually used my emergency fund!

I think I’ve hit an exciting new milestone in my personal finance development: I actually used my emergency fund to pay for an emergency!

The backstory on this is my lengthy love-hate (mostly meh-hate) relationship with my EF. In short, I have had trouble getting excited about an EF. I didn’t have one for a while, then I slowly built it up to $5000 in the world’s most boring savings campaign, then I promptly nearly drained it in order to fill up my Roth IRA when the markets were very low, and at some point in there I discovered that I would rather be in debt than use my EF cash.

So it actually totally does feel like progress that this week I was very uncomfortable with carrying a $775 car repair on my credit card into next month — so uncomfortable that I took the cash out of my EF and paid the credit card right away. I am expecting a big stipend check sometime in the next few weeks (long story, it’s for an academic project) and plan to fill the EF right back up again. But I’d originally intended to just keep the money sitting on my card and pay for it out of the stipend check. It kind of feels cool that in the end I just couldn’t stand it. I wanted my card back to “normal” — which is now hovering between $0 and $200, instead of routinely being up in the $1000-2000 range. And in order to pay it off, I didn’t have to scramble, or dip into my down payment savings, because I literally had an entire savings account set aside to handle just such situations.

Y’all, I think I get why this is cool now.


Shopping My Values: Sugar

This is kind of a funny followup to my lamentation about my car (which turned out, once they replaced some other things as well as the o2 sensor, to be over $700, sigh) but the other thing going on in my financial life right now is that I’m spending more money on food.

Food shopping is kind of a weird topic in the PF world because people have really different takes. Some are clearly spending as little as possible; they buy pasta and dried beans in bulk from Costco, and fruit at Walmart, and so on. Some don’t cook, so their food budgets are large because they go out to eat and/or buy convenience foods a lot. Some eat meat every meal; others don’t. Some are focused more on quality than on price. Etc. Continue reading “Shopping My Values: Sugar”

When does a car become a money pit?

Don’t worry, it’s not such a disaster! But last week my check engine light went on. I needed an oil change anyway, so I dutifully took it over to the local garage I use, and it turns out I need a new oxygen sensor. Not sure yet how much that will run — they estimated $300-400 depending on how much the part itself costs.

Again, it’s not such a big deal. But it got me thinking about how long I plan to drive this car. I’ve had it for not quite three years, and a little over 20K miles; it’s had about $1200 of work during that time (excluding routine oil changes) so let’s call it $1600 of repair work in three years once I get this o2 sensor done. That’s certainly a heck of a lot cheaper than having a car payment, and it’s only at 112K miles altogether; it could have another 80K to go, 8 years at my current pace. On the other hand, it’s 18 years old and I think things are just going to keep breaking and/or wearing out from now on.

At what point do you decide to quit? Do I just wait until I’m confronted with a $2000 repair instead of a $500 one? Or do I decide at some point to sell while it still has value (I figure I could get $2000ish, maybe $2500, for it now), stop putting in an average of $500-600/year in repairs, and roll that money into paying for a new(er) car?

I’ve never liked this car much — it was available and cheap when I needed a car, but I want a four-door hatchback, not a two-door sedan, and I don’t like how low to the ground it sits. On the other hand, the virtues of not having a car payment are pretty abundant….