Santa Fe Cactus, 2013
Wowee, what a week. It’s such a blessing to be home all summer with my girl, but such a rude awakening when it is back to work and school. This was our first full week of school and work. By about Wednesday my daughter was longing for a vacation to Washington, DC. I find that when we have the urge to go on a vacation, what it usually means is: “I miss living life without so many obligations.”
We did decide that we could take some money from my checks and put it into a vacation fund that we can watch grow. This might be a good introduction to our budget process for our daughter.
Today we are taking it easy as we are under orders from Laine’s teacher to “recharge our batteries.” This is advice near and dear to my heart. The next best thing to a vacation is being home without a massive to-do list and errands all over the place.
Meanwhile, we had a good week with our budget. I wasn’t enthusiastic about cooking some of the nights this week, but having a meal plan really helps. It is important that I continue to cook most meals at home or my checks will be used up in dining out costs! I continue to monitor Quicken to make sure that my working isn’t causing a rise in grocery spending due to lack of meal planning.
On a humorous note, my most interesting google search that brought someone to my blog this week was ‘getting laid at home’. Pretty sure they didn’t get to the page they were looking for, but maybe they stumbled on a good Jamie Oliver recipe as a result.
The Savers have just returned from a vacation to Santa Fe, New Mexico. We took the Amtrak Southwest Chief train across the country which was wonderfully relaxing compared to the post 9/11 hassle of air travel. No sending shoes through a x-ray machine and you can bring your own wine into your sleeper car to boot!
Commuter train reflected in window of Santa Fe train station
We found Santa Fe to be our perfect combination of idyllic weather, outdoor exploration opportunities, and amazing food from all over the world. Usually I am ready to come home from vacation, but I was prepared to have our neighbors call a realtor, put our house on the market, and send us the check! Sigh.
While we were there we really made no major efforts to save money. We had budgeted for the vacation and enjoyed it freely. We were home no more than an hour before Mr. Saver had fired up Quicken and was reconciling our expenses against our budget. We found we had a decent amount of money left at the end of the trip. We will set aside some for a “Stay-Cation” in August and put the rest into savings.
Mr. Saver carefully looked at our Enterprise car rental charges and found that they had assessed a $24.00 fuel charge despite the fact that the clerk had waived fuel charges because we started with an empty tank. A phone call later, we had our money back.
We spent 5 months saving for our trip, and it was so worth it. We are grateful for our commitment to be debt-free so that we can have experiences like this trip to Santa Fe.
Hiking at Bandelier National Monument, home of the Ancestral Pueblo People
When we last left the ‘Getting out of Debt Story’ we were free of credit card debt – yea! To go back and read the first two installments go here.
The next chapter in our story is called ‘The Era of Good Feelings.’ My 8 year old history-loving child tells me that the Era of Good Feelings refers to the time of James Monroe’s presidency. Monroe was cute, smart, popular, and the country was in the mood to party. We were embarking on our own Era of Good Feelings after paying off our credit card debt. Would you believe Mr and Mrs Saver test drove an Infiniti with intent to purchase? Almost built a bigger house even though we were never home? Got massages every month? Shopped every weekend? All true!
We were both working full-time and technically we could “afford” all of these crazy antics. We weren’t adding new debt (other than our reasonable mortgage), but we clearly had no plan for our money. Sure, we were funding our retirement accounts and bought some bonds here and there, but mainly we were spending.
We somehow managed to escape this period without doing too much damage. We were still using Quicken and had a budget, but we usually spent all of our weekly money and sometimes even needed to take money from savings to cover the spending.
In retrospect, it is hard to believe we were such carefree spenders and it’s a bit embarrassing to think of how much money we must have spent at Starbucks. Yet I do know the Era of Good Feelings is a key part of our financial story. When I look back at it, this period of time shows me that we appeared to be doing all the right things with our money (retirement savings, no credit card debt) and yet we could have been doing so much more had we set specific goals or talked about what we wanted to accomplish with money.
When we come to the next chapter in our story, we meet the man with a plan. . .
…Putting on the coffee pot at home requires no confessions to Quicken!
The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article today. The article compared daily tracking of expenses (with Quicken or Mint, for example) with periodic budget assessments. It won’t come as a surprise to you that I am a firm believer in the daily tracking method to keep my finances under control.
The article mentioned that one of the reasons people aren’t successful with daily tracking is that it “takes more honesty than many people can muster.” Honesty, though, is the main reason that daily expense tracking works! We have a set amount of money we can spend each week, and every lunch out, trip to Starbucks, or tank-top from J. Jill comes out of that pool of money. When we confess to Quicken at the end of the day, we can immediately see that those small expenses do add up, especially with two people drawing from the same pool of money.
Daily expense tracking is like the Weight Watchers method of dealing with finances. I imagine that the food points-system that Weight Watchers uses helps prevent mindless eating, and certainly daily expense tracking helps prevent mindless spending. Daily tracking probably saves us a minimum of $100 a week, or $5200 a year. Unless I become “Oprah Rich” someday, I need that daily dose of honesty to do my part in freeing up money for the bigger goals we have in life.
I would love to hear your take on the article, or learn about your system for knowing what money you have to spend.
From the children’s book “Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin”
Some weeks just come together so well – you intend to have a “cheap week” and find many money-saving opportunities. This was just such a week! We closed out the week by putting 20% of our weekly money back into savings which was great. I do well know that sometimes despite your best saving efforts, Murphy comes calling and you end up having to call a plumber, fix a roof, etc. My October and November were just like that!
- We started the week with a bang. We had scheduled lawnmower maintenance at our home. By talking with neighbors, I was able to find three households who needed the same service and we each saved $20.00!! It was great for the small engine service man because he saved gas and was able to maintain the mowers using a factory line efficiency – he did all the spark plugs, then sharpened all the blades, and so on. You might consider this type of arrangement for snowblowers as well. It pays to ask if a volume discount is possible, especially in these times when gasoline is so expensive.
- Kudos to my husband for thinking to check our Marriott hotel rewards. We don’t travel that often but have had a few (expensive) stays in Washington, DC recently. We had a free night and will redeem that over the holiday weekend.
- I had been procrastinating about getting my oil changed, but saw a coupon on the car dealer’s website that looked good. I checked Quicken and found that the coupon would result in the lowest price I have paid for an oil change in recent years. Savings = $3.00 – $8.00 over past appointments. I will aim to get my husband’s car in before this coupon expires.
- I wrote at the start of the week of my need for a frugal meal plan, or “beans and rice” as Dave Ramsey says. My husband felt he “ate like a king” this week and we really made use of what we had at home. Next week’s meal plan will also try to use what we have and use up what we buy. I would like to put 40% of our weekly money into savings next week.
- We will be dining out this holiday weekend while having family fun. We are not sure where we might end up eating, but we did gather some coupons in advance for restaurants we might check out. Even though our family weekend money is separately budgeted for, it is still our money and if some of it can go back into savings or towards future vacations, we are all for that. See Ben Franklin above!
How was your week? Were you able to keep “Murphy” from paying a call to your budget?
When we last left the ‘Getting out of Debt Story’ we had proudly hit a zero net worth (See Part 1). Our next chapter opens at a new apartment where we now have some furniture – no more eating off a card table! – and two careers with incomes heading in the right direction.
We were still chipping away at the credit card debt every month, however. An eye-opener for me during this time came from a book called “Your Money or Your Life” by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. A key concept in the book is: “Money is something we choose to trade our life energy for.” We have a finite number of days on this earth, and our desire for non-essential things, and need for money to buy them, requires us to spend more and more hours of our life at work. I began to look for things we could do without that were using our valuable money. One was a second car which we never used but we were paying to insure and park it. We sold it.
Another glutton for hard-earned money is interest – in this case credit card and car loan. Interest = Money we were paying because we didn’t have enough of our own money to pay for the stuff we thought we needed. My husband took a temporary second job to generate more money to put on our debt. We also became devoted users of Quicken to track all the money going into and our of our life. To this day, Quicken is the tool we use to communicate with each other about our expenses, and our budget is based on the data in Quicken.
Within about 3 years we had paid off the credit card debt and paid off a car loan, but you will see in Part 3 that we had not yet become savers.
There is an excellent, detailed and free summary of “Your Money or Your Life” on the authors’ blog