On My Own (For A While)

My husband left me!Yesterday, before the sun even came up, Eric was on his way to the airport for an extended trip. 2 weeks. He doesn’t even get to come home over the weekend. It’s the longest we have been apart since we have known each other.

It’s going to be a lonely few weeks while I hold down the fort.

When Eric goes on business trips, I find that my “alone self” faces several challenges that have the potential to affect my budget. I think we all have little things we do (or don’t do) when our partners leave town. The changes in your behavior when you’re on your own can be subtle or obvious. Maybe you leave the dishes in the sink or rent lots of movies when you are alone. Maybe you enjoy shopping sprees or rounds of golf at the country club.

Eric’s typical business trips are about 3-4 days long and the slight changes in my habits don’t usually cause any issues. But what about 2 weeks worth of that same behavior? That could cause budgetary distress.

This time, I decided to come up with a way to battle my quirky “on my own” habits before they add up to a problem.

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Problem #1: The allure of the quick and easy
For me, it’s the evenings that are the worst. While I’m normally busy preparing for dinner, I now find myself no longer cooking for my usual audience. I love to cook, but mainly for other people’s pleasure. If it’s just for me I lean more towards making something quick and easy or getting take-out. Without an audience I won’t be in my normal dinner routine and making my typical economical dinners.

Solution: Keep on cookin’
I will invite several of my friends to come over in the evenings for dinner. By cooking for them I will maintain my normal cooking routine and keep my food costs down. I can also microwave the leftovers the next day to make quick heat-and-go meals. In order to resist the temptation to order out I will go to the store and get a few cheap and easy meals (like mini pizzas) for when I really want something bad. I expect the prepackaged food will raise my costs but not nearly as much as dining out would.

Problem #2: Fear of the boogeyman
I tend to be a little nervous at night when I’m home alone. I was afraid of the dark as a child and that same fear still affects me when I’m by myself sometimes. Because of that I find myself keeping way too many lights on. Eric tells me that there is no reason to be afraid of the dark and while I understand that, it doesn’t seem to help when he leaves on trips. At least I don’t need to keep lights on all the time (it could be worse).

Solution: Make it cheaper to be irrational
This weekend we made sure to change out all the light bulbs for CFLs in the key places that I would want to leave on if I’m spooked (front door, back door, living room, kitchen). I will also make sure that I turn off any extra lights as soon as I’m up in the morning. I expect that I’ll be able to wean myself off the extra lights over the course of the 2 week period but if not, at least I’m only using a fraction of the energy I would have been with the regular light bulbs.

Problem #3: Staying connected
We like to stay in touch when one of us is out of town but to keep our cell phone costs at a minimum we keep our minutes at a minimum as well. One trip out of town and the whole month’s minutes can be used up if we aren’t careful.

Solution: Chat it up online
After work, we talk on the phone briefly to say “hi” and touch base. Then we both get on our computers and continue to talk about our day using instant messenger. This helps us to be able to chat for longer periods of time without blowing all our minutes. We already have unlimited online access so it works for us. As a bonus we can still get other work done on the computer while we chat. I love multitasking!

So, do you have any little habits that pop up when your partner goes out of town? Please share!

Image Source: malias

Show Me The Damage!

C'mon down!I’m finished with the postmortem accounting of the last two months.  I ended up tossing my budget out the window during the move and was putting off doing the math to see how bad the damage was.  After crunching the numbers I’m pretty surprised!

First off, let me say how difficult it was to do my detailed accounting after the fact.  It took me an entire half day just to get current!  It’s so much easier when you stay on top of things.  Especially when your husband forgets to keep track of some of his receipts and you have to try to remember what was spent on groceries vs. household.  :-)

November

I did go way over budget in several areas: Dining Out, Cash, and Household.  In the months before the big move we kept ourselves on a very strict food allowance, only giving ourselves $20 for dining out.  We blew that away in November, spending more than $300 over budget.  We also withdrew more than the $50 I allotted for cash – $400 more to be exact.  Buying cleaning supplies and other related essentials catapulted the household category to $200 over budget.  A total of about $900 over budget.  Ouch!  That’s pretty painful.

Despite those horrific figures we managed to do ok.  Actually, we were more than ok – we were still in the black for the month.  I couldn’t believe it!   Turns out, we came in under budget for many of our other bills (utilities, phone, etc), vet, groceries, and personal care by a whopping $500.  That’s very unusual for us and those areas helped to make up for the other indiscretions.  But the big thing that kept us in the black for the month was the extra paycheck in November.  Typically, I pretend those extra paychecks don’t exist as a way to save extra money and simplify my budgeting.  This month I made sure to count it in our income to help defray the overages.

December

As expected, we also went over budget in December and even the leftovers from the extra paycheck in November couldn’t keep us above water.  To my surprise, it wasn’t the dining out budget that did us in – it was the household budget!  All of those trips to Home Depot and Target to get tools, supplies, or whatever we needed really added up to the tune of about $1000 over budget.  Thankfully, most of that can be considered moving costs and can be paid for with the money we saved up in our house fund.  We did go over in the Dining Out and Cash categories by $250 and $450 respectively. 

We had many expenses related to getting the new home ready for move in, like the exterminator, garage door opener, alarm system, and deposits for new service.  December was the first month we incurred double household expenses, too.  We had to start paying two utilities, two mortgages, etc.  You get the picture.  Pulling from the house fund helped cover these “carrying” costs as well.

After covering the moving/house related costs (~$4K) with the house fund and factoring in the rest of the extra paycheck we still ended up overspending our budget by about $425.  We used the cushion we keep in our checking account to cover those costs.  We keep about $800 as our non-emergency emergency fund for overages like this.

The Bottom Line

We are still financially secure despite the temporary budgetary meltdown.  We have enough money left in the house fund to cover several more months of carrying costs associated with the old house.  After we pay back the $425 to the cushion in our checking account we might even have enough left over in the house fund for a sprinkler system if we stay on track.  But we won’t look into that “want” until all other priorities are met.

Even though we didn’t go into debt from the experience, losing our commitment to stay within our budgetary guidelines was not a positive thing.  We need to be able to stick our budget during times of stress, too. 

Looking back, I probably should have formulated a special budget for these two months.  I could have pumped up the Dining Out and Household budgets and funded it with money from our savings ahead of time.  That way it wouldn’t have felt so much like I lost control of our spending.  It wasn’t that we didn’t anticipate these added costs, we just didn’t use our budget to help us manage these unusual purchases.

If we hadn’t built up our house fund over the last year we could have been in real financial trouble by this episode.  I actually thought the monthly totals would be much worse, to tell you the truth.  I guess when you lose track of how much you spend you might begin to imagine the worst.  I’ve learned that being aware of my financial standing (for better or worse) is much less stressful.

I’ve decided I’m not going to feel bad about it any longer.  I’m keeping a positive outlook and I’m excited to see what financial goals we can reach in 2008.  I’m working on revising the budget to fit the current home and it’s new (larger than anticipated) utility bills.  Once that is fine tuned I expect it to be smoother sailing for sure. 

My Resolutions: Getting Back On Track

Happy New Year 2008!I rarely do resolutions for the new year.  Sure, I think of some of the things I’d like to accomplish going forward but I never formally write them down or even discuss them with others.  This year I felt it was time to put them in writing.  Many of my resolutions are financial and that makes sense after the last few months.

Here are my five resolutions for 2008:

1.  I will track my spending for the months I let slide and I will pick up my normal budget tracking in January.  I need to look at the numbers and see the actual damage from those moving months.  I’m already predicting that the overage in my food budget from eating out all the time will be to blame for busting my budget.  We will see once I crunch the numbers.

2.  I will carefully monitor our budget in the next few months. This will help me get a better a feel of what our expenses really are in the new home.  I have a estimated budget that I developed prior to moving but estimates are not necessarily accurate.  The next few months will give me real figures for electricity, gas, and water and I will adjust the other areas of our budget accordingly to develop an actual working budget for the year.

3.  I will get back to cooking and minimizing my food budget.  No more fast food, period.  I have already started on this resolution and I’m thrilled about it.  We haven’t ordered a pizza or picked up fast food since for a few weeks now.  The first thing I cooked in the new home was the budget breakfast sandwich.  Christmas day was the first day I felt like I was starting to feel comfortable cooking in the new kitchen.  I guess it takes a bit to adjust to the new layout and everything.  I’ve even taken photos from my recent cooking adventures for a slew of new reducipes!  I can’t wait to share them with you!

4.  I will use coupons and start comparison shopping again.  I will get back to my old routine of clipping coupons and comparison shopping.  I will also start basing my meals and household purchases around the sales again in order to maximize my budget.  It won’t feel good to have to toss all the expired coupons from my file but starting fresh can be a good thing.

5.  I will make setting up my office area a priority so that I can comfortably keep track of the household and website.  Right now, the only the kitchen and living room are close to being completely unpacked.  I need to make unpacking my office area a top priority so that I feel like I can resume my old routine with ease.  It’s hard to get back in the saddle when all your things are still in boxes.

So, now that you know my New Year’s resolutions, do you have any financial resolutions that you want to keep in 2008?

Image Source: Clearly Ambiguous

Confessions Of A Busted Budget

Do I have to get up?I must confess that for the past month our budget has flown out the window.  I have not even done the math to see the damage yet.  I’m avoiding it because I know it will be ugly. 

The stress of everything surrounding the move got to us and we lost ground with many of the positive changes we had made in the year leading up to getting the new home.  We saw some of the bad habits creeping back into our lives but we seemed to have a lot of excuses (stress, lack of time, too tired, etc) to justify the behavior at the time.  I guess things like that are bound to happen.  The real test will be making sure we work hard on restoring our frugal habits now that we are getting past the worst of the moving ordeal. 

After contemplating the whirlwind of activity that has happened this last month (and still continues actually) I believe that these stress-induced bad habits led to our busted budget during the move. 

All home cooking came to a grinding halt.  I simply stopped cooking and opted to pick up most of our meals while out and about.  Sadly, cooking even simple meals at home lost all priority.  Eating out all the time not only affected our budget in a huge way but it degraded my sense of well being (physically and mentally).  Cooking brings me genuine happiness and during the time when I could have benefited from the stress relief most I felt I had bigger concerns to deal with.  It’s ironic.  “Forcing” myself to cook during this move could have saved more than just money; it could have helped save some of my sanity.    

We stopped using coupons and comparison shopping for the small things.  We still comparison shopped for the big things like our new refrigerator but I stopped looking for the best deals for the small things like paper towels or trash bags.  Clipping coupons went by the wayside and I shopped for convenience rather than savings.  For instance, instead of getting the cheaper kitty litter I normally get at Sam’s I took the easy route and got the brand name version at Target.  When faced with finding the best deals on the rare big ticket item purchases suddenly putting the time and effort to save some change on a bottle of dishwashing liquid didn’t seem to matter as much.  The problem is that those little things add up.  The extra money I paid for convenience could have helped pad our budget, especially when so much money was being spent everywhere else.

We lost our normal schedule and stopped waking up early.  This one bothers me a great deal.  I feel the most productive and happy when I’m waking up early and getting a good start to the day.  Rolling out of bed at 8:30 or 9am when I have pressing matters to take care of doesn’t feel good.  Instead of feeling proactive I feel reactive to my day.  It makes me feel lazy, and worst of all, it makes me feel bad about myself for not being as productive as I know I can be.  This affects the way I look at many aspects of my life, including money.  I stop having that sense of pride about managing my money closely because I feel I have bigger fish to fry and less time in my day to accomplish it.  It’s funny how something “unrelated” can touch so many facets of your life.

Although I wish we could have maintained our frugal ways a little better during this upheaval we realized a possible financial regression could occur and put aside extra money in the house fund for “miscellaneous moving expenses”. I know fast food and expensive kitty litter aren’t traditionally considered moving expenses but thankfully we have that savings to help cover these overages.

What’s important now is that I take back control of my budget and my habits.  It’s time to get back on track and develop a plan for the new year!

Image Source: GoldenEel

Pay For Professionals Or D-I-Y?

We’re gonna need a lot of sealant!This week we are getting bids on work that we want done for the new house before we move in.  After receiving a handful of quotes (many of which are higher than expected) we are starting to run into a dilemma. 

Do we pay someone to do the work or do we try to do it ourselves?

We are finding that the answer to this question is that it “depends”.  Most of the stuff we are doing to the home is somewhat specialized.  Although we would love to leave it to the professionals we are finding that the money we saved up by test-driving the new mortgage might not be enough to cover all these things unless we cut back.  So do we save the time or do we save the money? 

This is how we are breaking down some of our labor needs:

Professionals Only

Do It Ourselves

Still Not Sure

If money gets too tight we may just drop out landscaping until later, but most of the other things we are pretty set on.  If you have any suggestions or install know-how please speak up and let us know ways to save money!  We could certainly use the help!

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