Sunday, October 31, 2010

October Spending Review

This is my first spending recap with fully integrated finances. Yippee!

Misc Income: $3,189.04 (Pinecone payments, interest, wedding gifts of cash)

Retirement
401(k) $295.40 pre tax (company matches that at 50%)

Total Retirement savings: $443.10

Debt Repayment
Student loans $666.68 
Spending
Business expenses $16.06 (Peanut set up a website for his new freelance business)
Charity $40 (donation along with my wedding dress)
Entertainment $31.69 (computer games and re-upping my Paperbackswap money)
Food—dining out $209.72
Food—groceries $298.98
Household $59.77 (mostly stamps and a few other items)
Hygiene/Medical $20.43
Laundry $44 (ouch!)
Rent $1444.69
Transportation $199 (New passport for me and a metrocard for Peanut)
Utilities $257.73 (this now includes two cell phones, internet, and electric/gas)

Total spending: $2,622.07

Networth IQ updated (see sidebar).

Halloween Linkfest

Happy Halloween!

Rather thank stuffing your pillowcase or jackolantern head with sugary treats, here are a couple of fabulous things around the blogosphere I'd like to share with you. 

Budget yoga tips

Very interesting discussion of the social security wage base over at My Dollar Plan. I never knew anything about this before!

A post on what financial paperwork you can toss, and what you need to keep and for how long, via Consumerist. Thanks to this, I shredded an entire shoebox worth of old bank statements today!

World of Wealth talks about how it looks like the long-term stock return expectation has been lowered -- not a good thing for those of us who'd like to retire someday. 

The most amazing Halloween costume I have ever heard of -- something I'd like to do when I live in an area where kids go trick-or-treating door-to-door (here they go to the shops on Halloween afternoon, and sometimes within apartment buildings if arrangements are made ahead of time).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

SOOOOOOO CLOSE!

I don't think I had ever explicitly stated it here, but I had a goal of saving $30,000 in retirement accounts by the time I was 30. I heard somewhere that that's a good thing to shoot for in terms of making sure you're on track.

Today Peanut and I paid bills and balanced the spreadsheet, and I am at $29,832.44. SO CLOSE!! Unless something really terrible happens in the stock market, I should hit my goal by the end of the week with the next payday.

YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

No Spend Days

I would really like to get to the point of having no-spend days on a regular basis. It's not something we've been focused on, and as a result, we don't have many.

Granted, we're not, like, going shopping. Our spend days are typically when we spend money at the grocery store or something. We don't tend to do all of our grocery shopping in one lump trip once a week, but instead pick up a few staples at the beginning of the week and then get milk, produce, and other items as needed.

Peanut points out that no-spend days don't make much sense. We won't really be spending less money, just spending the same amount all at one time. Still, it would make keeping our spreadsheet up to date a little easier. And I'd probably end up paying all the bills on the same day, instead of how I do it now, as they come in.

But as with paying off debts in the smallest-to-largest balance, I like the idea of immediate feedback, of seeing all those days were I'm NOT spending money just pile up. It sort of reinforces the idea that I'm being frugal, in a way.

Do you focus on no-spend days, or do you figure as long as you're not shopping for the sake of shopping, you're doing okay?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Serendipity's Budget Survey

Serendipity's "First Annual Budget Survey" is underway -- I emailed her my answers, but thought I'd post them here as well. Check out her original post for other answers.
 
1. Do you actively follow a budget? Yes! Oh, yes. I've followed a budget for nearly ten years now, and it's the reason I was able to survive in New York City on such a ridiculously low salary.

2. Do you use any budgeting software such as Mint, Quicken, etc? No -- Peanut and I had developed our own individual Excel sheets, which he combined when we got married. It tracks our savings, acts as a check register to show outstanding transactions, handles a budget, and shows our net worth. (Plus it's not stored on a website or software vulnerable to hacking.)

3. What percentage (or amount) of your money is divided up into expense and variable expenses? I guess I'd say that we can live on half of our income (or my salary) for our budgeted expenditures (which includes some savings for annual expenses), and the rest we use for debt repayment and long-term savings.

4. How much of your budget is spent on living expenses (rent, utilities)? Rent is 24% of our income, electric/gas is about 2%, internet and cell phones are 2.5%. So 28.5%.

5. How much is spent on auto expenses/ transportation ( payment, insurance,gas, toll fees, bus passes) ? Less than 1%. My monthly unlimited subway card is a perk from work, Peanut's was $89 per month before he went freelance; now he'll pay per ride-- probably $40 per month. We don't take taxis.

6. How much of your income is spent on the following categories:
A. Alcohol -- we don't track this as a separate item. Peanut doesn't drink at all, and I have a glass of wine or a beer only two or three times a month. The cost is negligible.
B. Eating Out -- We spend about $300 a month eating out (including alcohol), which is too much in my opinion! We're part of a brunch group and most of our book clubs meet at restaurants, though, so it's hard to avoid. We eat out only as a couple for birthdays or special occasions.
C. Shopping ( books, clothes, wants not needs) -- Not much. We get books from the library, buy clothes only two or three times a year...I'd say we spend less than $100 between the two of us on not necessary stuff that's not food (we spend more than we need to on groceries, I do know that--I guess that's our "shopping" category).
D. Debt Repayment -- Here's the rub! Nearly half of our income right now is going to debt repayment, so we can pay off $35,000 of student loans in one year.
E. Entertainment -- About $50 a month. We like going to movies, but we get discount tickets at Costco.
7. Does following a budget make you feel anxious or more in control of your financial well-being? In control. It allows me to reach my goals and it's easy to tell what I could do to cut back in case of an emergency like a job loss.
8. Age? 29, Peanut is 27

One category we have that wasn't mentioned at all was retirement. Peanut and I max out a Roth IRA each year, and that's a category we include in our budget. I also contribute to a 401(k) at work. When we're done with paying off our student loans, we'll be able to do more in this category, in addition to freeing up tons of money for fun stuff like saving for a house or a crazy vacation.

This was fun! I look forward to seeing the results, and of course, I hope I win the gift card. :)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Acquisitive

Ugh.

I feel so acquisitive, for lack of a better word. Peanut and I were blessed with lots of gift cards and store credit after the wedding, which I've been trying to use up quickly before we forget about them. So last weekend I made two trips to Target, and this weekend we went to Bed, Bath and Beyond AND I went shopping on Amazon. But the list of things we want seems to keep growing, not shrinking!

It's irritating because shopping at these big box stores is a giant pain in New York. We have no car (and are too cheap to take a taxi) so we lug all of our stuff in the granny cart on the subway, up and down stairs, and over blocks and blocks of uneven sidewalks. All for some canisters and garlic presses!

We've been living together for over a year, so it's not like we were missing any essential item from our life. We had sheets, towels, knickknacks, cookware, silverware, etc. But now we have some much nicer sheets and towels, some additional knickknacks, and we're upgrading silverware, drinkware, cookware -- it just sort of makes me want to upgrade everything all at once. Matching dishes! Service for 20! Tableclothes and placemats and cloth napkins, oh my!

I think the worst is over. I still have about $25 on a Target gift card, but we'll use that at some point. We also have a whopping $2.25 on a BB&B gift card, but I had HAD it with the store by the time I realized that and I would have paid them $2.25 to let me leave, so I'll just carry it around and next time I happen by one, I'll pop in for some candy or something. Or not, and I'll call it a wash. I used up all my Swagbucks giftcards on Amazon. We still have a few "non-denominational" gift cards and one for Best Buy, which Peanut can spend to his liking. And we'll spend maybe $200 out of pocket at the Bowery Restaurant Supply to upgrade all of our cookware -- hopefully next weekend.

And then, I would like to be done shopping until Christmas. Seriously. It's not really in my nature to be a shopaholic, but once I get started I get a little crazed. I hardly recognize myself, even though so far we haven't spent any actual cash money, just gift cards. Who is this person who finds herself trolling Amazon just for funzies?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sole Salaried Breadwinner

So, Peanut quit his job two days before the wedding.

He had my full support and encouragement to do this. He's been wanting to go freelance to do some more interesting versions of what he'd been doing at his salaried position. He'd been applying all over town, and finally got enough legitimate interest that he felt comfortable giving notice. We'd already been planning to have him join my health insurance coverage, so really there was nothing holding him back.

However, this has changed up all of our plans for student loan repayment.

We can live off of my salary, including making minimum payments on all our student loans. There won't be much left over to save, but at least we won't be hurting. His freelance earning potential is a lot greater -- if he works two days a week, he'll be making what he was making while salaried, so there's a LOT of upside there!

However, he's now completely dependent on various companies for contracts, and these are short-lived contracts: one day, three days, maybe a few weeks if we're really lucky. And they often don't book until the day before. So our "security gland" needs are a lot higher than they were.

Our new plan is to use my salary to pay all the day-to-day bills (ha, ha, I'm SUPPORTING YOU, darling!) and bank all of his income. Once we've saved enough to both maintain our emergency fund ($10,000) and pay off our loans in one fell swoop, we'll do so. This will still probably happen within our one-year timeframe.

It also might change our plans for staying in New York. We do have a plan to leave the city to settle somewhere else before starting a family.When Peanut was employed in his salaried position, we were waiting for me to pass the six-month mark since my last tuition reimbursement disbursement, so I don't have to pay that money back. Now, if things go really well for him, we might stay here longer so that he can continue adding awesome stuff to his resume.

I'm a little disappointed that we won't be killing loans on a frequent basis. We'll also be paying a little more interest than if we made higher payments every month, but it will be in the tens of dollars, if that, rather than the hundreds. However, I'm thrilled that Peanut gets to do something super-creative and great for his resume, and with the potential to make a lot more money (if he gets booked on longer contracts).

So, new budget, new savings plans, new debt killing plans, and more to come!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Transporation costs going up...maybe

So apparently New York's MTA is going to raise fares 17% on the monthly unlimited subway card, starting in January. Practically that means my transportation costs go from $89 to $104. I do get this as a pre-tax perk, which is nice but still a hefty jump.
 
I may start counting my subway rides to see if it would be cheaper to do a pay-per-ride card -- I'm not clear whether the bonus* that goes along with those cards is going away.
 
I am glad they're going to start allowing the monthly cards to be refilled and reused.
 
Sometimes I look forward to leaving New York. Even though $104 per month for all transportation is still way cheaper than owning a car, it still kind of feels like I'm getting ripped off here. They discontinued one of my train lines, are running older trains in bad condition, removed station booths and corresponding station agents, and they're still raising fares? How does that work out?
 
 
*The bonus currently works like this: if you put $8 or more on your card, you get a 15% bonus, so your $8 buys you $9.20 on the fare card. You have to work out where it actually works out to free rides, though, since the fares are $2.25 each way (that'll be increasing as well).
 
 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Yippee!

I hated those biodegradable bags for SunChips -- and so did lots of other people. The company has stopped making them and will investigate other options.They truly were horrible -- Peanut and I stopped buying them after I got such headaches from opening them. Consumer power!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

September Recap/October Goals

September Goals
1. Get married! Done! And I did in a low-stress way (at least for me).

2. Have a wonderful, under-budget honeymoon. Done! It was wonderful AND under budget, which makes it like twice as good.
 
3. Deal with all paperwork relating to changing my name. I don't know why I thought I could do this before we got back from the honeymoon, but I gathered a lot of links and set myself up nicely to handle it in October.
 
4. Combine finances. In progress! Literally (bank accounts, health insurance) and figuratively (spending tracker, spreadsheets).
 
5.  Dump a pile of money on student loans. More to come on this!
 
6. Update blog to show the new direction we're going in. I didn't even get close to this. Onward!
 
October Goals
1. Wrap up elements of getting married. Change my name everywhere (DMV, Social Security/IRS, and banks to go), combine all bank accounts and close old ones, send thank you cards, donate dress, buy remaining registry items.
 
2. Develop married budget and savings sub-accounts. Big plans...secret plans. Secret until I get around to writing about them, anyway. 
 
3. Catch up at work. Being gone for two weeks wreaked havoc on my office. Time to buckle down -- and I've got no schoolwork or wedding planning to distract me!
 
4. Get my diploma. Once again, Graduate School of the Paperwork Maelstrom strikes again -- my diploma was supposed to show up in September, or at least a letter telling me when and where to get it, and it didn't, and now my student account shows that I never applied for graduation. And this despite receiving TWO graduation audits in July and August which proved that I was MORE than eligible. And being told to look for that letter. I shouldn't be surprised really, as they've managed to somehow screw up, make a mistake, destroy, or otherwise fumble some paperwork every single semester. I can't wait to be done with these people. 

5. Declutter and stock up. Peanut and I will be purchasing some additional items off our registry, and as we do that, I want to do some heavy duty cleaning and decluttering. 
 
Not-so-new monthly feature: New Year's Resolution Recap
1. Max out a Roth IRA automatically. Underway!
2. Pay down at least half my student loan debt. I've paid $7,400 towards a ~$20,000 debt.
3. Give to charity. I have a Goodwill donation pile that I STILL need to take in.
4. Finish graduate school while maintaining a 3.86 GPA and turn in my thesis early. Done! My diploma is ready for pick-up the day after the wedding.  Ha! Right.
5. Read more than 100 books. Done!
6. Cultivate a more positive attitude. Doing quite well right now.
7. Take the stairs whenever possible. Oh, please.
8. Seven minutes of yoga per day. Pshaw.
9. Develop a regular posting schedule for my "real name" blog. Still not updating that one anymore. I need to cancel and delete it.
10. Make less of an impact. Taking cloth bags more often -- we actually started to get very low on plastic bags, which we use for garbage bags. I'm also making sure to wash my grocery bags now!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Honeymoon expenses

Here's the rundown of our fabulous few days in Niagara Falls, the honeymoon capital of the world.

View from the American side of the Falls
$168   Amtrak tickets
$209   Food and tips
$350   Accommodations
$22     Taxi and bus from/to train station
$107   Tourist things (Adventure Pass, Butterfly Conservatory)
$7       Mousse
$7       Souvenir (fudge)
$870   Grand Total

Not too bad!

I'd never been on such a long train ride. The ride up was fun, entertaining, and quick. The ride back was crowded, three hours longer, and I got motion sick. Overall, though, I would totally do another long-haul train trip. I'd just come a little better prepared with a blanket, more food, and never across an international border (we spent hours at customs both ways -- going across solo is much faster).

We stayed on the Canadian side, in a hotel that might once have had a view of the Falls, which had a great deal that included three hot breakfasts and one two-course dinner. The touristy area is REALLY touristy -- we could not find a decent sundries store within walking distance and I finally had to pay $7 for a can of hair mousse which I'm still irritated about. We also couldn't find a place to buy snacks for the train that didn't cost what they cost on the train's dining car. Food was really expensive in general, but at least each meal included a lot of food. We might have been overtippers -- we tipped 20% standard, as we do here in New York, but on our last day I noticed that the tip whenever it was automatically included was always only 15%, whereas here it's at least 18%. Canadian readers, what's the standard tipping percentage for you?

We bought one tourism package, the Adventure Pass, which includes four attractions and two days of free transportation on the Peoplemover, for about $44 each. That seemed like a pretty good deal, and the transportation in particular was great. (Niagara is VERY hilly, and I got tired of walking quickly.) We did the water things on the day it was kind of raining, which was great because we already had ponchos on and got wet anyway. The next day it was sunny and a little colder, and we spent that day walking to the American side and wandering around Goat Island.

I had a great time, and took hundreds of pictures. I'm so glad we took a few days to ourselves, and even happier that we came in under budget!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Wedding Expenses

Here's a rundown of the wedding expenses we incurred for our wedding. Most of these expenses will be reimbursed by my mother, except for the bar bill and personal expenses such as plane tickets, accommodations and car rental.

$9      Mani/pedis for the girls (stepmom paid for most of it)
$309  Cake
$78    Cake delivery fee
$30    Cake pillar and plate fee (will be reimbursed)
$1133 Reception food
$419   Reception bar bill
$395   Dress alterations
$30     Bra to go under dress
$75     Peanut's outfit (jacket and tie -- he had shirt and shoes, and borrowed pants)
$10     Hair doodads (Peanut's sister did my hair)
$37     Shoes
$87     Favors (we made pies-on-a-stick)
$671   Flowers
$872   Honeymoon (full post to come on this!)
$86     Invitations
$49     Postage
$27     Thank you cards
$24     My wedding ring
$59     Peanut's ring
$30     Marriage license
$260   Impressive Clergyperson (bonus points if you get this!)
$375   Accommodations
$200   Attendant gifts
$490   Miscellaneous expenses
$151   Car rental
$448   Flights
$350   Ceremony and reception venue fee
$245   Chair covers
$1600 Photography
$8,548 Total cost

Expenses still to come (estimated)
$200   Another ring for Peanut (this time not from the internet)
$200   Dress cleaning
$300   Photo printing

The biggest unexpected expense was for accommodations -- we were planning to stay with my sister until the night of the wedding, but she has a cat (Peanut is allergic) and my other siblings were also planning to stay there and it quickly became apparent that if we wanted to have a quiet allergen-free hideaway, we were going to need to pay for it. So I contacted the hotel I'd already booked for the night of the wedding and asked if I could extend the reservation backwards by three nights -- and also still get the fabulous Priceline rate I'd gotten ($65 for a $109/night room). And they said yes! Not only that, but when we showed up to check in, they had to double-upgrade us, so we wound up in a huge room with a jacuzzi in it. Unbelievable, and the great sleep we got made it totally worth the expense.

The other expense that I wasn't really expecting were all the miscellaneous things we ended up spending money on. We ate out every meal (I thought we'd do at least some cooking at my sister's). I had to buy hair dye and mousse after finding a bunch of gray hairs the day before the wedding. We bought extra little gifts for some friends who traveled from out of town. I bought cookie sheets in addition to the ingredients for the favors. We had to buy gas for the rental car, and donuts at the apple orchard, and pictures for my new passport, and ice cream to celebrate picking up the marriage license and and and and and...

It's like we forgot who we are and just spent money to fix every problem that existed. I was aware that it was happening, and I didn't much care. It was tremendously freeing to be able to do that for one short period in my life and also a huge relief to not have to do that again, to be able to wait until I get home to fix myself a snack instead of picking something up because I'm not staying anywhere with a kitchen.

I had hoped to spend around $7,000 on my wedding, and I went over that. However, my upper limit was $10,000 and I'm still well below that, even including the honeymoon, so that makes me very happy indeed.

And for all of my ambivalence about having a wedding, I don't regret it. Not for a hot second. I feel so, so, so welcomed into Peanut's family. I was so touched by all the people who traveled and were inconvenienced to come spend an afternoon watching us make a promise to each other. I was so proud to see Peanut dressed up and smiling at me, so glad to have the chance to walk down the aisle on my father's arm, thrilled to see my parents dressing up in front of the photobooth, and bemused now to see all these people befriending each other on Facebook -- all of whom are solely brought together by two people, Peanut and myself. It's powerful and humbling.

Now it's back to reality, time to do all the work it takes to officially change my name and merge all of our finances and find something to do with my dress and order the pictures and write thank you cards. And, of course, finish writing all the recaps and posts that I've been promising!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Almost back to reality!

Peanut and I are currently en route back from our honeymoon. It has
been an amazing week and a half, but to be honest, I'm looking forward
to getting back to normal. Ten days is about my limit when it comes to
vacation, and we're butting right up against that. More formal recaps
to come, including details aboutthe final wedding spending, honeymoon
budget, changes afoot, and how our joint finances will look.

So far, being married is awesome. Although mostly just because I get
to call Peanut husband. We keep waiting for it to hit us but it hasn't
yet.