On Budgets and Budgeting

“This planet has – or had – a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much all of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.”

"Parable of the Rich Fool" Rembrant, 1627

“Parable of the Rich Fool” Rembrant, 1627

 – Douglas Adams (1952 – 2001), “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” 

One might think from my choice in artwork and quote that I’m in the “money doesn’t matter” camp, however, that is far from true. I just also see the humor in it all.

I have a good job and I make a decent living, but there was a time right after my divorce when I was broke. So broke that I thought I might lose my house… and a lot more. Many things helped me get through – the love and support of friends and family, a fierce determination not to go under, and a budget. It was a budget that I lived and breathed by. I didn’t make any decisions without consulting it. It was my Ten Commandments, my oracle, my Magic Eight Ball.

Eventually though, things worked themselves out and I didn’t need to watch my pennies quite so closely. Things have been running fairly smoothly for quite a while, but over the last year, I’ve started thinking about using a budget again. Part of it has to do with the fact that fitness is expensive. I don’t see it written about all that often, but being fit costs money. Take running – people say it is great because you don’t need any equipment: step out your front door and just go. Then in the very next breath they’ll say, “Well, you should get good shoes. And,” they’ll admit, “good shoes are expensive. But it is worth it.” I agree, it is worth it, but what they don’t mention is that if you are a woman you are also going to have to shell out for a sports bra, and if you are a woman who is larger in the chest area, those don’t come cheap. You can compare them to cheap running shoes – sure, you can get some for under $20, but you don’t want to. Then, once you have those, you should get some decent socks, because good shoes are no good with bad socks, and really, you should have some kind of light for night running, and then…. you get the idea.

Here’s something else – in my case, getting fit helped me significantly change sizes. So, all the running clothes I bought when I first started running? I had to buy all new ones a few months later because the old stuff was falling off me. That includes that very pricey sports bra – they only work when they fit.

So yeah, costs. There is weight lifting: I bought a weight bench at a garage sale for $10 and borrowed a bar for the weights, but weight plates are running roughly $1 a pound, and I keep needing more of them! Of course, there were also the books I bought to learn how to lift in the first place. Then there’s cycling. A friend gave me a free bike, but I still had to have it tuned up, have new tubes installed and had to buy a helmet. I’m still saving up for a bike rack.

On top of all this, there are other things I want to do – I want to do some home improvement projects and I’ve been considering a career change. If so, I’ll want funds in the bank. As things are now, I am fine. I am able to do what I want to do and pay all my bills. I’m setting money aside for emergencies and Hermes’ vet bills, but I want more. And I don’t want a second job.

I’ve decided to go back to the budget and see what it can tell me. This month I’ve been starting to collect the numbers. Of course, November and December are ridiculous months to create a budget in, there is so much holiday spending, food buying and socializing, but I’m just plugging in figures and seeing where they go. On my Lift app, I am tracking “saving money” and trying to make sure that I get in some No Spend Days and use my coupons – I am trying to build more shekel saving habits.

I have decided not to make any decisions or significant changes until January or even February. I’m just using this time to help me create a starting budget. Then I will see where that leads. I’m hoping I can find some way to make the pennies squeak – I’ve got a whole lot of goals ahead for next year!

Finances and Fitness

BudgetThis week I started working on my financial budget draft. I always make my own. I’ve tried using other people’s templates, but I always need so much customization that they never work for me. I start adding fields and changing records and screwing up the built-in functions, and by the time I’m done, I might as well have started from scratch. So, that’s what I am doing.

It’s good work and I am glad I am doing it, but it does make you look at the realities of life. Already I have caught a couple little rough spots. For example, I prefer to think of bills on a month to month basis. Some bills, however, are quarterly or semiannual; insurance is a good example. My life insurance bills quarterly, my auto semiannually. Since I hate “surprise” bills (I always forget when those are going to hit), I simplify things by adding up everything and dividing by twelve, then each month I direct that portion to a separate savings account. Basically it allows me to account for them all on a monthly basis – and I know I always have funds available. The bill comes and I just pull it out of the account. It’s nice, but what I realized this week is that my auto insurance went up a bit recently and I wasn’t accounting for that increase. Not a big deal, but it is a danger with the “set and forget” method.

For several years I lived and breathed by my budget – day in, day out. I went through a rough patch after my divorce and I had to really keep an eye on things for a while. The last few years I haven’t been tracking it as much. Now that I have some goals that involve sums of cash, it’s time to get back to it. I’d like to look at joining a gym or taking classes, but I need to see how much I can swing. I also am determined to have that roof rack for my car by early spring so I will be ready to bike and kayak when the warm weather hits.

Here’s what I can tell so far – on my base salary I am fine. There isn’t a lot of extra wiggle room, but it’s fine. However, my company also offers quarterly profit-sharing. Presently I’ve been using that for my discretionary spending. If I have goals I want to meet, I am going to be a lot more deliberate in how that money is handled.

I’m planning on handling my finances more or less like I handled my weight loss. I’m figuring out my goals, looking at my options, and am going to move forward using a combination of tried and true wisdom mixed a fair amount of gut instinct. I’ll let you know how it goes!

 

Photo credit: Tax Credit on flickr

Water Dreams

Kayak summer by Ted SakshaugLast night I had a crazy mixture of wild dreams. They were so vivid they woke me up roughly every hour, on the hour. I’d get up, get a drink of water or use the restroom, and then try to get back to sleep, only to be shot back into another vivd dreamscape.

The last dream, right before the morning alarm went off, was actually awesome. I dreamed that a friend of mine and I ran into each other at a fitness shop/gym and were both looking for some ways to increase our strength. We were talking to a saleslady about what to get, when a another salesperson came up and said, “If that’s what you guys want, you need to try our kayak slide.”

You know how some shops that sell boats have a small pond that you can try them out on? Well, this gym had a kayak river course. The goal was to get through it as quickly as possible. It was a cross between a full scale river and a video game (There were also animated penguins – don’t ask me where they came from.) It was great! I was flying down the river course, all the time knowing that I was fairly terrible at it, but having a blast. I knew I was going to sign up for a gym membership to this place immediately, and I was going to conquer that course.

Then I woke up. The dream was so vivid that for a moment I actually wondered if I could still kayak. A glance at my phone, and the weather app which was predicting snow, quickly shot that down. (I am sure there are folks that kayak in wet suits right up until the water freezes, but I am not that hardcore. (yet.)) But I had a new resolution.

This spring, I am buying a roof rack for my car.

I had money set aside for a rack awhile ago, but when my dog ended up having to have emergency surgery, all my extra cash went into helping him get better. That was fine, goodness knows I want my dog to be healthy more than I needed a roof rack, but now that he seems to be doing okay, it’s time to replenish those funds. I am determined in the next six to seven months to save up for a roof rack that will carry my kayak and my bike – the two summer sports I adore.

It isn’t a gigantic expense, but it isn’t exactly cheap either. I’ve priced out some of the components and I’m looking at several hundred dollars. I’m okay with that, I know exactly what I want and I want it done right, so now all I have to do is put aside the cash. To that end, this week I am going to get out my old budget. I used to use a budget religiously, but the last few years I have gotten away from it. Since I have some goals for 2014, (the roof rack being just one of them,) it’s time to figure out where I can pinch a few pennies.

In the meantime, I am going to hope I have that dream again, because man, that was fun!

 

Photo credit: Ted Sakshaug on flickr

A Wonderful Weekend

dinner table art by danehavI had a wonderful weekend. It was relaxing, calm, productive and fun – what more can you ask for? It was a lazy sort of weekend, with plenty of time to kick back and read a book, but also some really nice time with friends. Plus, I got to do those little things around the house that make me feel good: laundry, cleaning, working out, and preparing food for the upcoming week, that kind of thing.

One of the great moments was having a long talk with my boyfriend about my goals. He is so supportive. He immediately volunteered to help with my Jump Fund goals. So this weekend, we ate in. We made our meals together – pulling things out of his ‘fridge and mine. In fact, the only money either of us spent on meals for the weekend was picking up some broccoli from the local organic market.

We both love to go out to eat, but honestly, both of us have really changed our diets of late, and eating out can be tricky. Eating in, however, was pretty simple. So, it turned out to be less hassle, more fun, healthier and less expensive. Awesome!

I am not cutting out dining out all together – not by any means. In fact, we went out one night to celebrate a friend’s birthday, but we had dinner at home first, and then just had a couple of drinks at the restaurant. I think that is how I would like treat eating out – as an occasion. I want to go out to for a reason – to try someplace new, celebrate with a friend, or enjoy a special event. What I don’t want to do is go out just because I can. That means means meeting friends for lunch, but packing my own when I am not. Since I have been tracking calories I haven’t gone out that much, but before this, I would regularly go out somewhere on my own. I like solo dining, and I like getting out of the office, but there are better ways for me to do that.

All this fits really neatly into my Health and Wealth goals. I want to treat myself better, but that doesn’t always mean buying something. Just as often as not, it means eating quality food, prepared with someone I love. It means taking a long walk on my lunch hour to get out of the office, rather than fleeing to a restaurant. And when I go out? Really making it about sharing time with people I care about.

 

Photo credit: danehav

Selling and Buying

Money by AaronPatterson“Expenditure always rises to meet income.”
– C. Northcote Parkinson (July 30, 1909 – March 9, 1993)

That’s the law of finance that I am trying to beat. It is not that I don’t believe it is true – I know it is true. My goal is to try and do something about it, and I’ve made a couple of more steps in that direction.

First the selling – In addition to trying to sell some of my clothing through consignment, I just sold a ring my ex-husband had given me. It was a cute little ring and I liked it, but there were too many memories associated with it. I took it to a jeweler that bought it for the gold. Those dollars went straight into my Jump Fund. I could have probably sold it through eBay or something like that, but this was simple and easy and I was happy with it.

Now the buying – A couple of years ago I switched most of light bulbs over to cfls. I happened to get my electrical bill last week and noticed that my electrical usage is climbing. Since doing my big change over, a few (new to me) lamps have snuck their way into my house with standard incandescent bulbs, so I popped over to the store and picked up some new bulbs.

Dryer balls

When I was at the store, I noticed these dryer balls. I’ve heard good things about these in the past, and since I am nearly out of fabric softener it seemed like a good time to try them out. Plus, if they decrease drying time, that will also help the electrical bill.

I also dusted off the old drying rack. There are certain things I really like to put through the dryer, like towels, but there are plenty of others that can air dry. Or even dry partially in the dryer and then finish up in air. The first load that I ran with the dryer balls really seemed to work well, so I feel good about that.

Of course, unlike selling that old ring, these little purchases aren’t going to let me take cash and put it directly in my Jump Fund. First they have to pay for themselves (though they were pretty inexpensive) and even then, tracking the actual change they end up making is going to be tough to do. However, my goal isn’t just to put money aside for when I decide to change my life, it is also to see if there are some simple ways I can decrease my monthly bills. The less money I am spending on day to day things like utilities, the more flexibility I will have.

My boyfriend and I were talking about this a little the other night. The truth is, I don’t know what it is that I want to do, I just know that it isn’t what I am doing now. That isn’t to say my life is bad, it isn’t! It is full of great and wonderful things. I just get the feeling there is more out there… and I am going to find it.

 

Photo credit: Aaron Patterson