March 2014 Recap

Alternate titles: How March Kicked Our A$$e$, March Madness, Marching Through Hell, Our Sinking Fund is Sunk

I’m going to do this posting a little differently, because this month was… um, different.

March’s Big Expenses: 

  • $388.06 for car insurance. (This is for two cars, through GEICO, and we pay it twice a year.)

Luckily, we were almost ready for this charge – according to my fancy savings (also called “Sinking Funds”) spreadsheet, we had saved up $325 in that category. Being only two months (and change) in to the year, I’m not worried about the fact that we are “overdrawn” in that category, especially since the charge was under $400, and that means our second charge later in the year should be around the same, and I had budgeted $1,000.

(Note: I’m wondering what to do with any extra cash at the end of the year left over in these budget categories. Snowflake them to savings? Snowflake them to my Roth IRA? Snowflake them to a separate Emergency Fund? Probably the latter is smarter, but I’m feeling kind of crazy about our student loan debt. I really would love to pay off some of H’s higher-interest student loans (mine are at a much lower rate than his).)

  • $96.30 for Audi’s oil change & tune-up

We will need to replace back brake pads sometime in May, probably, but we’ve got a sinking fund to help cover those expenses! (Unfortunately, the sinking fund is not sitting pretty at the moment. More below.)

  •  $718 for food, gas, hotel, and related expenses for the conference H attended this month.

Part of this will be reimbursed, but unfortunately, there are still more expenses to come from this experience. We have a sinking fund account set up for this – the problem is, the budget is only $1,000. For the whole year. THE WHOLE YEAR. I apparently miscalculated or last year’s expenses were way less. We had not built up enough funds in that portion of the sinking fund, but I took out money from the other categories anyway.

  • $293.60 for Mary Kay purchases.

I’m a Mary Kay consultant, but I don’t actively sell. I have a few customers from back when I was really into it, and they order every once in a while. When they do, there are two ways to fulfill their orders – from my inventory (of which I have hardly any, because I’m not investing in the business anymore) or from Corporate. If I order it from Corporate, I either can do it the cheap way or the expensive way. I always prefer to do it the cheap way, of course, but that depends on whether I’ve placed a large order recently. If I haven’t, then I have to place the big order. This will never be cheaper than the above number, because there’s a minimum wholesale purchase number, plus tax and shipping get tacked on. I always purchase products for myself when I have to do this, so nothing goes to waste; however, it’s a huge expense about twice a year.

And what did I fail to plan for? I failed to create a part of the sinking fund for this. Why, you ask? I simply have no idea. Maybe I looked at the $450 that we could put away each month and decided it wasn’t as important as the other expenses we have. ARGH. So, here we are, with this unexpected expense that should have been expected.

I couldn’t turn down my customer (and I had some Mary Kay needs myself, and my mom also ordered to help fill out the required minimum order), so this is what happened. The customer will pay me, too, of course.

  • $330 for more of H’s business expenses.

This was just charged to us today. H says we can just use the $300 that was set aside for his Christmas/Birthday/Graduation gift, but I feel really sad about that prospect. Not sure what we’re going to do yet.

The Results:

If you saw my post a few days ago, you know that I was debating whether to pay down all of the credit cards with our sinking funds or not…. I really despise the idea of paying down last month’s debts with this month’s money, you know? That’s something we’ve been working really hard to get away from. So, yes, we decided to use our savings/sinking fund to pay down the rest of the debt. I went ahead and paid off the credit cards as soon as we got paid (a few days early, actually – Saturday instead of Monday, April 1st).

We’re hampered by an inability to do any more transfers from our savings account to our checking account to cover those costs, but we’ll have to make a transfer of $334.01 on April 1st to reimburse it.

The sinking fund will then be reduced to $189.23. And we won’t be able to put anything into our sinking fund this month from our regular income (because I subtracted the $450 from what we would need to transfer from the savings account to cover the CC debt). That hurts. A lot.

What also hurts slash is awesome: I got paid for my side hustle today, and it’s $1300! I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. That’s the good part. The hurting part: now it appears that much of that money may have to go towards paying for H’s $300 business expense and reimbursing the sinking fund.

I had big plans for that money! I was going to put most of it towards our car payment (which would lower it by 1/3!) and put the rest into savings and my Roth IRA. Now our car loan probably won’t be paid off in June, as we had been planning.

However, there’s some good news: H has a couple of side gigs coming up in April, and we can use that money to reimburse the sinking fund, though it won’t quite make up the normal $450 that we put in, and H will get some reimbursement money (whether it’s actually April or not when we get it remains to be seen).

Honestly, figuring all of this out made my head hurt. I love me some money talk, but this is kind of depressing.

Review of our 2014 Goals

Mintly Goal #1: Pay off our Citibank credit card 

Verdict: We’re keepin’ on keepin’ on (good ol’ Bob Dylan). We put another $500 towards that bill this month, as is our plan until it’s paid off (in June).

Mintly Goal #2: Pay off our car loan

Verdict: Well, it was only a baby step forwards; at least we didn’t go backwards.

Mintly Goal #3: Save for known expenses that don’t occur monthly (sinking fund)

Verdict: Yes… but the sinking fund has been drained anyway (hardy har har).

Mintly Goal #4: Snowflake any extra money to consumer debt

Verdict: Yes… $23.

Despite everything, I did manage to snowflake $23 to the car loan early this month, from a check from our Chase Freedom rewards. I’m pretty disappointed in this.

Mintly Goal #5: Track Goal Successes

Verdict: (…Dramatic sigh….) What successes? Pttthththhhhbbbbbbbb……..

Money Accomplishments this Month:

  • Got my first paycheck for my side hustle!
  • I went to the mall and returned some too-big shirts my mom sent H, and they gave me cash back! For realz! So, that was $30. We’re just holding on to that for some gifts I need to buy this week.
  • Finally got to the consignment store where they gave me $30 for my previous drop-off, and then I promptly spent almost all of that on a business/working lunch (that I’ll be writing off, come tax season again).
  • Took two tubs worth of clothes to the consignment place when I went to pick up my cash – hopefully some of it will be worth something….

Money Setbacks this Month: 

  • I didn’t budget enough for our utilities this month – we’re only charged for water every other month, and our budget is the average of what we pay throughout the year, divided by 12. Looks like I might need to adjust that? Not really high on my list of things to do at the moment, though!
  • Also, everything outlined above.

Life (as in, Non-Monetary) Accomplishments this Month:

  • I applied for a job and did a bunch of networking. I don’t think anything will happen, but it took about a week’s worth of work and was kind of intense.

What I’m Looking Forward to in April:

  • H will have some paying gigs.
  • Figuring out how to allocate that $1300 I just got paid! (Not as much fun as it was going to be, but still fun.)
  • Warmer weather?
  • My spring break is the entire first week of April – starting today! IT IS MUCH NEEDED.
  • The end of this crappy, crappy month.

Did everyone else have a crappy March, or was that just me?

– M.

Personal Finance Spreadsheet Bliss

Spreadsheet BlissFunny story… Typing the title to this, I almost typed “Spreadsheet Bills”: “bills” and “bliss” – so close, yet so far away.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Okay, so I’m realizing that as a personal finance blogger (well, I don’t really feel like one officially – I’m really just a person tracking her money and debt on a blog) kind of straddles the line between normal person and totally weird person. I mean… I can’t really talk to my friends about any of these things. Most of my friends are uncomfortable talking about money in this much detail, or simply don’t have the interest I do in the subject. Plus, while I’m not open to telling most of my friends too many of our financial details, I’m more comfortable baring this information online as a mostly-anonymous blogger. (Not completely comfortable, mind you – it does take some getting used to, but I realized that trying to blog about this kind of stuff was going to be way harder to do if I didn’t use actual numbers!) But, as I was saying, it’s totally normal on the PF blogosphere to discuss numbers so frankly, but not “IRL,” as they say. Anyway, that’s kind of weird. 

Moving on.

I’ve moved beyond just tracking our spending and budgets on; last month, I decided we needed to be putting aside money for the expected expenses (that don’t happen monthly), which I’ve talked about a number of times in other posts. However, I realized to save in multiple categories, I’d need to track them in some way, which Mint wasn’t going to be able to do for me.

Savings Goal Tracker Spreadsheet

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Current status of our savings account – click for a larger image

Back in December, I did a brief Google search for a savings excel spreadsheet, and I came up with this one from Vertex42.com

I love how simple it is (’cause I need simple, people). The only thing I don’t love is that I can’t access it from anywhere – it lives on my laptop, not on my Google Drive. I haven’t been able to copy and paste it into a Google spreadsheet – anyone ever had success with this? I don’t fuss with the formulas – that’s why I have a pre-made spreadsheet, so it does it for me! #lazy

I categorized our planned-for expenditures by looking at what we spent last year and dividing by 12. Then I decided we could put that much away monthly if we managed to spend that much throughout the year anyway. I have categories like car insurance, business expenses, L’s registration fees and school trip $ (looking ahead to kindergarten in the fall), etc. I hear that online banks like Capital One 360 / ING Direct have a way for you to do this right in your account if you have a savings account with them, but the interest rate isn’t higher than our credit union, so I’m sticking with what we have for now.

Debt Optimizer (<— That’s a direct download link)
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Our debts and their interest rates – click for a larger image

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Our payoff calculator – click for a larger image

I don’t remember how I found this one, but it’s similar to Dave Ramsey’s Debt Snowball tool, but you can save your information without having to sign up for his website updates, etc. The site has other spreadsheets I haven’t tried, too. This is a fantastic tool, as it follows the system of paying down debts by largest interest rates first (which is not the same as Dave Ramsey’s system, but to each his/her own), and it actually gives me a date by which I could reasonably expect to have all of our student loans paid off (November 2019). The first sheet has instructions, the second is where you enter all your debts, and the third gives you the payoff dates. Sweet.

However, there are adjustments that will have to be made to it as we go, since we are choosing to pay down our car loan (which is at a great interest rate through our credit union) before we pay down our loan with the highest interest rate, since we don’t want our car to break down and us be on the hook for a car loan.

Google Drive Spreadsheet

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Example of my Google Drive spreadsheet

Okay, I’m including this only because it’s technically a spreadsheet, but it really doesn’t do anything except allow me to clearly show our debt eradication. It is for tracking – it doesn’t do math or use any formulas. I just use it to put on this blog… and also to gaze at every once in a while to make me feel good. Bonus: I can edit this at work, because it’s on Google Drive.

Is this just what happens to a normal person who’s watching his/her budget? Suddenly you decide to take the leap and become a person who is no longer just tracking money but someone who makes it almost an obsession part-time job?

Maybe it’s time for you to make the leap from simple, free budgeting software to something more intense?!

Do you use fancy budgeting spreadsheets? How do they change your outlook on finances and money management?

– M.

My Favorite Tool for Debt Management

If you read any personal financial blogs, you know about

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You probably even use it (or something similar). We started using in 2009, when I heard about it on NPR. If NPR said it was safe, I believed it was worth trying.

(If you don’t know about, it’s a financial tracking software made by Intuit. It can be used to budget, track investment growth, net worth, and transactions. It’s free.)

I log into Mint at least once a week, but sometimes I log in almost every day. I gradually got all of our accounts listed within the program. We have all of our checking, savings, and money market accounts tied to it, as well as credit cards, L’s 529 college fund, student loan accounts, car loan, and our Edward Jones Investment account. I also have my TIAA-CREF ROTH IRA in there (that’s where my retirement funds from teaching before we moved to the Southeast went), and we JUST added in my husband’s TIAA-CREF state retirement fund and my state retirement fund in December 2013. (H’s fund = awesome, my state retirement = NOT awesome. We’re both state employees. WHY IS MINE SO MUCH CRAPPIER?! Yet more evidence that our state hates public school teachers. Anyway…..)

Of course, as you know, just having your information all in front of you doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to make any lifestyle changes, manage your money better, or create world peace. It does, however, give you a place to start. I started by just tracking our expenses and felt really good about having all of our information in one place that was easy to access. As if just having the Mint account made me a better spender, saver, and money manager. Well, baby steps, I guess.

I don’t know how long it took me to realize it, but I finally noticed that, hey, we’re spending more a month than we’re taking in. That can’t be good… or sustainable. Maybe that was why we were now carrying a balance on our credit card from month to month. Some months we were really good and were able to pay off a big chunk of it, but we were committing that Cardinal Sin – borrowing ahead by a month (putting this month’s costs on the credit card while paying off last month’s bills).

Time to actually make a budget that wasn’t just reflecting what we were already spending. Maybe it was actually time to determine what we ought to be spending – or not spending. That’s when we started using to actually help us manage our money, not just monitor it! After determining where our money was going, I set up budgets based on numbers I knew we couldn’t alter (mortgage, car loan payments, student loan payments, gas costs, daycare expenses), then I hazarded guesses at budgets that were slightly under our more flexible categories (food, shopping, entertainment, etc.).

After living with those budgets for a while, I came to realize that while we were doing better (more months in the “staying below budget” than “going over budget” category!), we needed to really make some adjustments. The biggest change we implemented last year was the way we shop for food. (I think I’m going to have to do a post on this soon.) The more recent one (just implemented last month) is doing an automatic transfer of $450 each month for expected (but not-monthly) expenses, so we don’t use the credit cards. Another small change (which I hope may yield big results!) is snowflaking the money I make from online surveys and any money left over in a budgeted category into our debt. I love tracking the changes via, though I think that H – while very sweet to seem interested – is not really excited the same way I am. Well, someone in the house has to be, right? (He’s mostly just happy that I’m happy, I think.)

I’m already super excited about how this year has started with my new outlook on money management, and I hope I’ll see some good-lookin’ numbers by the end of the month. It’s that’s helping me see the positive changes in our debt and net worth, and I know that seeing those changes is what really drives me and keeps me motivated to work hard at this. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve jumped into this personal finance stuff deeply enough to go ahead and use spreadsheets too (though I’ve never really loved them personally). Perhaps another post is due on the two spreadsheets I use in addition to Mint.

How do you use What awesome things does Mint help you do?

– M

P.S. This is not a sponsored post, but if anyone from wants to sponsor me, I’d be all over that, not gonna lie. Dream….. dream, dream, dream….