Wednesday, February 28, 2018

February's Budget Numbers

Well friends, I am one month into my six month shopping ban and things are going well!  I have not had too much of an urge to shop for things not on my approved shopping list.  When I think of something I would like to buy that isn't on the list I write it down, and I'll see if I still want those things at the end of July when my shopping ban ends.

I've had a few questions regarding our emergency savings, so I thought I would explain what it is to us. Our comfort level emergency savings would be roughly about 3 times our full monthly expenses. Because we have income from several different areas, it is unlikely we would lose them all at the same time making us unable to pay our bills, so three months expenses is what we feel comfortable with, as a minimum. With our move in December and kitchen remodel, we had dipped significantly into these funds, which is why we need to build it back up. Once we have 3 months expenses saved again, we will devote more money to home improvements, but continue to save at a slower pace, eventually reaching 6 months of saved expenses. Home improvements are also an investment of our money since they add value to our home. Additionally, we save for retirement and healthcare in accounts separate from our emergency savings.  Both of those are taken out before taxes, so those percentages are not included in the numbers below. Our budgeting numbers are based on take home pay.

So now, on to the numbers for the month!

Savings - 14% - We are very pleased with this amount! It was nice to see a decent size jump in our savings account balance after so many months of seeing it get smaller and smaller.

Monthly Bills - 42.5% - This was lower this month because two of our bills (garbage and water) are quarterly, thus we did not have to pay them this month.

Groceries - 15% - This percentage is a bit off because I started spending my grocery money at the end of January, but didn't start this challenge until February 1.  The money is gone, but my money app shows me I technically only spent 11% in February. This gives me hope that I may be able to lower the grocery budget by 1-2%, but we shall see.  Some months I have to order vitamins or buy more things in bulk, which make it more expensive.  Also, since one of my personal goals was to not buy beer last month, that has been a savings as well.

The remaining 28.5 % were split up between the envelopes (18.5 %) and saving for Remington's school and expenses for him (10%).

Personal Spending - I bought only two things in February with my personal spending. I am allowed to buy one book per month on my shopping ban, so this month I chose Soulful Simplicity: How Living with Less Can Lead to So Much More. The book was excellent and I highly recommend it if you are looking to simplify your life or career. Courtney's story of simplifying her life after her MS diagnosis was very relevant to me and my life with fibromyalgia.

I also bought a chair for our deck.  The wooden rockers that sat on our porch at the farmhouse had to be moved down to the lower deck because I didn't like them getting rained on. The upper deck is where we usually sit and is not covered so we needed a waterproof chair.  We already had one, so I bought another one so Chad and I can sit on the deck together. We enjoyed a few hours last Saturday on the deck with a beverage, and can see we will get much use out of the chairs this spring and summer!

I have a bit of my money left in my envelope to carry over to March. My birkenstock's broke completely this week so I am trying to decide whether to replace them next month, or wait 1 or 2 more months.  I really want to buy a plant and book in March, both of which are on the approved shopping list.

Envelopes - All the remaining envelopes, Date, Mocha, Fuel, Car Repair, House Repair, Gifts, Donations, and Travel/Hosting have money left which will carry over to next month.

March looks to be a little more expensive.  We have two birthdays and our anniversary, but all of those should be covered with the appropriate envelopes. I also have been considering doing a float session in a sensory deprivation tank.  Have you heard of those or have you tried a float before? The tanks a are filled with 900 pounds of Epsom salt which causes your body to float. The water is heated to skin temp and the tank is sound proof, so it is supposed to be highly relaxing and good for anxiety and pain. It sounds interesting, so I may work it into the budget. I need to see if I can use our healthcare funds for it first though.  We will also continue the shopping ban and approved shopping lists.

Month 2, here we come! I will update April 1 to let you know how March went. How did your month go, friends?

Friday, February 23, 2018

Frugal Friday Fun 2/23

Hi, friends! I thought I would start a new series on Friday - a short post telling what's been fun this week or frugal things we have done. Join me!

Last week week was Valentines Day and while Chad and I have never been huge on the holiday, we usually celebrate in a small way.  This year was no different, but we may have set the record for having it be low cost with a great opportunity to connect. I picked Chad up from work, we grabbed a buy one get one free pizza at one of our favorite spots, and headed up to the mountain overlooking the city.  I had packed linens and drinks, so for less than $10 we had a romantic date where we were able to connect in quiet and have intentional conversation about of life and future.  It was SO great we decided we need to do it more often.

Another one of Chad's and my favorite dates is to Givens Books.  Their cafe is excellent and we can get a meal and coffee for less than $20. We also love browsing through the used book section. Last summer I picked up a used copy of Monarch: The Life and Reign of Elizabeth II, but just now got around to reading it this week.  For those of you who love Netflix's "The Crown" and PBS's "Victoria", this book is a must read! Although it was written in 2002 at the time of Queen Elizabeth II's golden jubilee, it's fascinating to read the history up to that point.

One of my favorite bloggers and online friend, Andrea, of Seasons and Salt, gave a heads up that you can buy Fiddle Leaf Figs through Home Depot online for less than $30!! I am beyond excited! I have been looking for a Fiddle Leaf Fig for years.  I found one a few years ago at a local garden store, but it was over 6 feet tall and was $100! I am allowed to buy 4 plants on my shopping ban, so you can bet this will be purchased soon!

One of my favorite reads this week on gratitude.

Phoebe is gone this week visiting her Dad and grandparents, so I am supposed to be painting trim (with paint I already have). The weather has been SO nice I have been procrastinating.

Hope you have a lovely weekend, friends!  Have you done anything frugal or fun this week?

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Shopping Ban and Stretch Goal

Hi Friends!

As I wrote about in a previous post, since moving to our new home, Chad and I set a stretch goal to have a fully funded emergency fund in six months (July 2018). After further looking into our budget this looks like it will be unrealistic because some bills in our new house ended up being higher than anticipated.  (It really does cost twice as much to heat a home two times bigger, even if it's 100 years newer than your last one. Bummer!)

However, since we made a 6 month plan, we wanted to stick with it, even if we don't quite fully fund our emergency savings.  Our goal is to save 12.5% of our monthly income, plus, 50% of our tax refund. To some people, 12.5% doesn't sound like much, but if you consider the money we save for retirement and healthcare before taxes, Remington's school, and our envelopes that carry over, we are saving quite a bit more for the future. While we would love to save 30% and fully fund our envelopes, that isn't feasible at this time of our lives.

To succeed at saving 12.5%, we need to clean up our spending and tighten up the budget. Following Cait Flanders book, The Year of Less, we talked about a shopping ban and what it would entail both personally and as a couple. Today I am going to share a what our budget looks like.

We start by evaluating our income each month. We have several different areas of household income, but one area is strictly used for Remington's housing, food, school, activities, and so on. Our monthly income also includes Chad's paycheck, renting the apartment, and any money I make from sales either locally or online.

Once we know how much money we'll have for the month, we follow by paying our monthly bills such as our mortgage, utilities, insurances, gym membership, nexflix, and cell phone.  Chad pays these bills online or with a check every month. These bills are around 44% of our household income. We would like to get them to the 40% range so we may eventually look at how we can lower the amount spent in these areas.

We then have categories where we set money aside in envelopes, which is funded with cash. This system has worked well for us in the past and setting aside a certain sum every month in these areas helps us avoid having an unexpected bill throw off our whole budget. Below are the envelopes and what we allow ourselves to buy in each category.

GROCERY - Essentials such as, food, supplies for cleaning, and toiletries like soap and shampoo. This also includes products for the hair and haircuts. Usually there is no money left in this envelope at the end of the month. I've been trying to clean up the grocery spending since we moved.  That means meal planning, shopping weekly so there is less waste, and buying only what we need for the week.  Eating Vegetarian 70% of the time also helps keep our budget low. Additionally, I make about 75% of my cleaning supplies, which is much cheaper than buying store-bought. If we stay on budget in this category, it will be reduced by 25% since last fall. We spend about 15% of our household income on food. As a person who loves to cook with quality ingredients, I'm not sure if I'll ever get this percentage lower.

FUEL - This isn't technically an envelope, but a separate account with a debit card so we can pay for gas at the pump. We set aside 4% of our income for fuel, but we don't always use it every month. Carry over is nice for months when we travel.

MOCHA - I set aside a sum for Mocha's dog food, grooming, medicine, and vet visits.  There is often money left over so it carries over for months when she may have a vet bill. Mocha takes up 2.5% of our household income. We may lower this at some point, but she is due for shots in the spring so that will mean a vet visit.

CAR REPAIR - Oil changes, other maintenance that may need done to the cars, and savings for tires. Usually there is money that carries over from month to month. Once we have a fully funded emergency fund we will increase the amount in this envelope each month and begin saving money for a different car in the future. Car repair takes up about 1% of our household income.

HOUSE REPAIR - This is not house updating, but repair, such as when the washer quits, the air filter needs replaced, or an outlet doesn't work. Again, there is usually money that will carry over from month to month. House repair is also 1% of our household income.

GIFTS - For birthdays and Christmas. We decided how much we wanted to spend this year and divided this by 12. We may reevaluate this envelope next year and increase the amounts. Gifts are 1.5% of our household income.

DONATIONS - We set aside a sum to be used where we feel led. Sometimes it gets used in a month and sometimes it carries over. Donations take up 2.5% of our household income. Obviously, this is an area we need to increase, although there is more to donating than simply money.

DATE - As a married couple, we know dates are a very important part of a healthy marriage.  We lowered the amount by 33% during our challenge, so we'll need to go on cheaper dates or no money dates like hiking or picnics. Date is 2.5% of our household income

TRAVEL/HOSTING - This is a new category for any trips we will be going on and also extra expenses that occur when we have guests, such as a meal out or activities. Eventually, we would like to increase this amount because we love to travel and have people visit. In the past, these expenses would throw off our monthly budget so hopefully this will help. This category is 1% of our household income. 

PERSONAL SPENDING - For things we want to buy such as books, clothing, and other fun things. Chad's is 1.5% of  our household income and was decreased by 40%.  Mine is 1% of our household income and was decreased by 50%.

The remaining 10% is used for Remington's school, activities, clothing, and other expenses for him not covered in our budget above. The funds are in a separate checking account with a debit card that I use for paying for these things.

Personal spending is an area I would often go over on when I wasn't on a strict budget. Chad is pretty good at not spending over his allotted monthly spending and is allowing himself buy whatever he wants with his spending.  My personal spending, unlike Chad's, is strict.  The reason why is I find it's easier for me to just say no shopping other than my list. Say I have $50 to spend and I go into TJ Maxx for a picture frame....I come out with a top, throw pillows, soap, and socks and NO picture frame and having spent $60 and robbed $10 from another envelope.  This, in turn, leads down a slippery slope and usually ends up with too much month left at the end of the money, which is why we were not the best at saving the last few years.

I DO have an approved purchase list I can spend my personal spending on though, very much like Cait Flanders has in her book......and none of it involves going to TJ Maxx! (Although Lowes can sometimes be worse!) Below is my list of approved purchases.

Rebecca's Approved Personal Shopping List February - July

Fixing my Birkenstocks or buying new ones

Flowers + dirt for pots in spring

New chair for deck

4 plants either for the house or outside

1 book per month

1 lunch out with friends per month

As you can see, other than the Birks, I am not spending money on clothes. My inventory showed me I have plenty of clothes and about 10% of what I bought last year never was worn!  What a waste!

I also did not include house decor in this list. I have plenty of decor, and this will hopefully make me be creative with things I already own and find new ways to repurpose my heirlooms, which I love to do.

Things I'm Not Allowed to Buy

(Other than Birks)

House decor

New pots for outside plants
(I have plenty. I may buy a can of spray paint to freshen up the ones I already own though.)

(Except for a new bed)

Meals out by myself, including coffee.
(This does not include if I travel, my 1 meal with a friend, or dates.)

Essential oils 
(I have plenty and I need to experiment with what I have rather than buying new ones.)

New kinds of makeup, nail polish, or hair stuff
(I can buy the basics only if I run out.)

(I need to continue making my own.)

Linens for my home.
(There are some that need replaced but this can wait 6 months.)

We will be a getting a tax refund back this year and will take about half of it for home improvements that need to be done before July. Our backyard is dirt so every time it rains, (which is several times a week in the spring) Mocha comes in with dirty paws. We want to lay sod in the backyard to help combat this issue. I also recently ripped the carpet off of one flight of stairs with the intention of refinishing them.  I will need to buy stripper and stain and I already have sandpaper and paint. Also, after months of waking up hurting, it's time for a new bed! If there is any money left after those two projects and the bed, we may also replace the carpet in the family room with something more dog friendly, or, replace the tile in the hall bathroom. They may need to wait until later in the year, though. The other half will go into our emergency savings fund. Once our emergency fund is fully funded, we will add a saving envelope for additional house updating.

Whew! That was long! I hope to update every month how we did on the goals. Did we stay within the budget? Did we save 12.5%?  If this post is helpful in your own personal budgeting, is there other content you would like me to include? Let me know in the comments.

I also will update my personal and health goals at the end of the month.  Plus, I will try to post some recipes and other life updates.

Have a great week, friends!

Friday, February 9, 2018

Personal Goals for February

Hello, friends!

Before I get into the post about our stretch goals for the next 6 months, I thought I would share my personal goals for February, seeing that the month is a third over! I want to set monthly goals for myself for a few reasons: I feel that even though I may not meet my goals, I am much better at striving towards them when I write them down.  Publishing them for my friends (really the whole world) to see adds another reason to get my butt in gear. Also, it's easy to get discouraged living with chronic pain, so working on achievable goals helps me to stay more positive in the midst of pain.

Health/ Personal Goals for February

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Eat vegetarian 70% of the time.

Last September, shortly after my fibro diagnosis, Chad and I went vegan for a month. Honestly, for a person who loves to cook and eat, it was too much for me, although I DID notice a reduction in inflammation in my body. (Although I think that was from cutting out dairy, not meat.) It wasn't enough to continue, though.  I did decide, however, to eat less meat and have been good about it since then. So far I have been meeting this goal this month. I really need to set a goal to cut out dairy...but I love cheese.

Walk Mocha Every Nice Day

I can tell you right now I am failing this goal.  My pain has been bad this month, and some days I am not loosened up to deal with a pulling dog before Nakoma goes to work and I need to watch Phoebe. It's also been cold. I think I need to change this goal to just moving every day.  I can do yoga or a workout in the house while Phoebe naps on days I don't walk.

No Beer Other Than The Brewery

If I have beer in my fridge I drink one or two almost every day, which probably isn't the best for my health, not to mention our budget.  So I have decided to cut it out with a few exceptions. I can drink the beer I have left in the fridge from last month.  Also, I can drink it if we go on a date to the brewery, which most likely not happen because it's cold and the seating is outside. Since I am not buying any, I'm making my last three in my fridge last! I'm also not going to drink beer when we go out on a dinner date, but drink water instead. We still enjoy a bottle of wine on the weekends.

Journal/Blog 3 Times a Week

I have been working on upcoming blog posts so I am doing great on this goal!

Health Journal Daily

Writing down what I eat and drink, my pain level, medication, and exercise. I eat a lot better when I write it down.  Something about the thought of writing down that I ate an entire bag of jelly beans makes me only eat a handful instead! :-)

Drink 1 Gallon of Water Each Day

My friend, Ashley, is doing this and I thought it would be great to join along.  It is an easy goal for me as I have always drank a lot of water, but it does make me more mindful to drink throughout the day.

Go To a Yoga Class 2 Times Per Week

I should be able to meet this goal.  I was going to yoga 4-5 times a week in the summer, but with Phoebe it's a little more difficult now. I am happy to say I am much more flexible since I take 2 Yin Yoga classes each week! I also try to add in 1 power yoga class.

Read 1 Book (At Least)

Currently reading, Soulful Simplicity: How Living with Less Can Lead to So Much More">.

So those are my goals for February!  Do you make monthly goals?  If so, how are you doing on yours this month?

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Contentment - Inventory, Decluttering & Goals

Since moving I have found myself feeling discontent.  The house is quite a bit larger than our farm house and our possessions, which looked good in our shabby little farmhouse, looked just that here in our new home - shabby. Within weeks of moving I had pinned rugs, furniture, decor, and more on my Pinterest account.

We also have so many projects we want to do to the house.  New tile in the bathrooms, floors in the family room, new counters in the kitchen, paint, and yard landscaping to name a few.  Oh, the joys of home ownership.  What were we thinking??

In the midst of all this I was feeling anxious. We had just bought a home, our savings had dwindled down to a scary sum and here I had a list of things that were $20,000 to $30,000!

I knew the first thing we needed to do is to get our savings built up before we spent any more money on the house.  But, of course, that isn't fun.  Who wants to put themselves on a strict budget when they just moved into a bigger home that need updating?

Since we began our journey many years ago with paying off debts and saving for what we want, there is one thing I have learned: I enjoy something far more when I budget and save for it rather than buying things willy-nilly to fill a void or because I'm bored.

So I have been working on being content with what I have. Moving was a good time to go through all of my belongings and to see what I use and love and those things I had simply carted from home to home the last 16 years. I have been working on making lists of boxes I want to go through and things I want to get rid of.  Many things are family heirlooms, so they cannot simply be shipped off to Goodwill. I need to contact other family members to see if anyone wants them before I get rid of them for good.  Some things my children may want as they get older and established in their own homes. However, some can be repurposed and I can enjoy them in a new way. Taking inventory is a good way to show me what I own and to help me be content with what I have.

In the midst of my inventory on our possessions, Chad and I also took inventory of our bills and spending habits. Although we have been good about avoiding debt for the last 7 years, we haven't been the greatest at saving since Chad began working full-time again a few years ago.  We've maxed out his 401K, but actual savings in a savings account was basically non-existent. While that may have not been a huge deal while we were renting and our bills were pretty much fixed, as home owners again we really needed to have a nice cushion for emergencies. So a couple weeks ago we sat down and mapped out our new budget. We continued to be generous in our date and fun money, as well as budgeting for house projects, and we budgeted for emergency savings as well. It was a good budget......BUT it still didn't really get our emergency savings up very fast to where we feel comfortable now owning a home. With this budget it would have taken a couple years to have a saving where we were both comfortable .

Shortly after, I read Cait Flanders's book, The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store. The book covers Cait's decluttering and year-long shopping ban she began in 2014.

The book was inspiring to me to only spend money on essentials so we can build up our savings account, by implementing a shopping ban of our own. In the book she talks about stretch goals.  A goal that stretches you to do something that will be difficult, but not impossible.

Chad and I talked again and decided to redo our budget and set a stretch goal for ourselves - A fully funded emergency fund by July 2018.  Basically, 6 months away. We also talked about our own shopping ban and what it would look like for us. What would we include and what would we go without for 6 months?

Next post I will cover what exactly we are going without or what we have decreased to make our stretch goal.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Update - January 2018

Hello friends!

When I posted back in August that I planned to get back to regular posting, I had every intention of fulfilling that promise! often happens, life got in the way and our lives drastically changed the last 6 months. I will try to summarize!

I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in September. While this was a welcome diagnosis because I finally had an answer that went with all my health issues, the knowledge still caused a great deal of anxiety and depression for several months after. Fibro cannot be cured, only managed, and while my health has been up and down since 2010, I always had hoped I would "get better" and resume my activity level of the mid 2000's.  I have come to terms with the diagnosis now, six months later, and have found ways to manage it without too much medication.

I celebrated my 41st birthday in beautiful Vermont in October.  It's odd that I'm 41...I remember my mom being 41.
I sometime forget I'm not in my 30's anymore but then I am reminded I have daughters in their early and mid 20's and a granddaughter who is 2! Aging hasn't bothered me like I thought it would and I'm thankful to be comfortable with who I am, my body, and the life I have.

Towards the end of October we received a call from Nakoma saying she and Phoebe had decided to move out to Virginia. Being a single mom is difficult, and she really missed the support of having her family close by. For the time being she and Phoebe are living with us while she builds her savings.  We are grateful to have the opportunity to help in raising Phoebe and being a part of their daily lives.  I watch Phoebe while Nakoma works full-time.

We went out to Phoenix again for Thanksgiving this year and I saw all my children in one place for less than 24 hours.  I enjoyed every minute of it, and look forward to spending time with each of them individually throughout the year.
From L-R, Oksana (her husband Derek had to work), Naomi, Nick (Naomi's husband), Remington, Nakoma

With Nakoma and Phoebe moving in with us, it became apparent that our little farm house was too small for a family of 5 for more than a few weeks. We considered moving to a larger rental house, but around the same time, Chad got a promotion at work, so we decided to put down some roots and buy a home. Before we did that we enjoyed one more lovely fall on our little acreage. I will miss our quiet country life!

I honestly didn't know if we'd ever buy a house again. Since we have owned two homes in the past, we knew the perks of renting and not having to worry about upkeep like replacing a stove or air conditioner when the old ones quit. However, because we live in a college town, rent is expensive for larger homes, especially in the area we wanted to live. So we decided to take a peek at what was for sale and enlisted the help of our good friend who is a realtor. Three days later I walked through a multi-level house in a neighborhood close by our little farmhouse and walked out the dining room to this view.

I was sold.  Add to that a separate apartment in the lowest level that would be ideal for Nakoma and Phoebe now, and Airbnb later, and more than one bathroom, it seemed perfect for our family during this time in our lives. We made an offer and it was accepted and we closed in December.  The house was quite dated so we spent the entire holiday season painting.  We also enlisted the help of my brother and sister-in-law to knock out a wall, install new flooring in two rooms and an island in the kitchen. Chad and I (well...mostly Chad) painted 7 rooms and the kitchen cabinets. Below are some before and after pictures of the spaces.

Before and after the wall removal, flooring, and paint in the kitchen and dining room.

I love this space now!

I love the light and views in this room.  We have no neighbors behind us and to the right they are many trees that separate us.

We painted the paneling in the family room. Still debating on whether we should paint the stone fireplace, and we still need to paint the trim, windows, and doors, and replace the carpet.

We also painted the hall, the entryway, the room we'll use as a library, and our bedroom. We have lived here a bit over a month now and are finally feeling settled, although there is still some painting to do and art to hang. As I said, I miss our quiet country life, but am working on being content where I am at this time in my life and trying to focus on what I love about our new home.

One thing that helps me refocus and find contentment is taking inventory of what I have, decluttering what I don't love or use, and budgeting and planning for the future. Hopefully I can get back to regular blogging with the focus being those things.

To my friends who have followed my journey the last 4 years of living my little country life, thank you. I love going back and looking through my posts and sharing my story.  Let's hope I can continue with the little brick house in the woods. :-) really isn't a "little" brick house in the woods. But "great big brick house in the woods" doesn't have the same ring to it! While the house is twice as big as our farmhouse, at 2600 square feet, including the basement apartment, it really isn't quite as massive as it feels to us.