Posts Tagged ‘finances’
As I go through the machinations of budgeting – writing the budget, tracking what I spend daily, reporting it weekly here – it strikes me that I spend a lot more time on the budget itself than on why I keep a budget. This isn’t necessarily a problem in itself – I do the budget anyway, because it’s habit, and I know in the back of my mind that it’s hugely important – but sometimes it’s good to remember that it’s for a purpose and it fits into a bigger plan.
Really, it’s pretty simple, though.
First, I keep a budget for the here-and-now, so that I have an emergency fund if anything unexpected happens. By keeping a budget I can live enough below my means to save money. Saving money means there’s some flexibility if anything happens. Also, when I’m used to living below my means, if something happens – like, say, a pay cut – we’re already used to living this way, so while it may be an adjustment, it’s not as much of a hardship as it could be.
The bigger thing, though, is that I have a plan – or at least some hopes – about what I can do with a stash of cash and the ability to lie frugally. I want some land. It doesn’t have to be a lot of land. It could be in the city or the country. I’m not really all that picky. But I want some land on which I can have a home, grow some food, raise some animals, and generally live life a little more on my terms.
This won’t happen immediately, I know. There are too many things up in the air right now, and too much to get sorted out first. But by living on a budget now – thinking and writing and watching and tracking – I can better prepare for this much hoped for dream, even if it is a good ways in the future right now. I’d do this anyway – living below my means is important enough anyway – but having a dream in place makes it even easier, and gives the work a real purpose.
Friday – nothing
Saturday – rubbermaid tub (bought used for starting a worm composter) – $2.50; 4 books for $9 (The Almanac of Rural Living – 3; Rodale’s Garden Problem Solutions – 3; The Foxfire Book – 2; Last of the Curlews – 1)
Sunday – nothing
Monday – air mattress – $41 (the old one broke, and this is a necessity for nights when I can’t sleep and need to be in the living room)
Tuesday – nothing
Wednesday – packing tape – $4 (needed to pack up box to return old computer to manufacturer for a replacement)
Thursday – 4 books for $11 (The Lacuna – 4, How the Farm Pays – 3; The Trade – 1; a Terry Pratchett for The Boy – 2)
So, this was more or less a week of somewhat unexpected but necessary expenses. More in the sense that the mattress, as noted, is necessary to my sleep and sanity sometimes, so $41 was well worth it, I think (I got a reasonable quality one this time that I hope will last longer and not lose quite as much air and require so much maintenance). My computer’s being replaced under warranty, but has to be packaged up in a particular way to ship back, and so I needed to get a roll of packing tape.
The books? Oops is all I really have here. I love books, but I very much need to be better about what I buy. I’m not too bothered by more books on gardening, farming, and sustainable living – they will get used, and I appreciate having them on hand. The almanac is especially fantastic, based on my intial readings of it, and How the Farm Pays looks great too, especially since it’s a reprint of an 1884 manual and uses older techniques. The other fiction books, though, are not really so necessary in the strictest of senses. Kingsolver I love and would have bought new, but held off on until it showed up used (which took somewhere close to a year, as I recall). The Road is dark, but post-apocalyptic survivalist fiction, which I find helps get me in gear. The Last of the Curlews…well, that just feeds into my love of reading naturalist fiction, The Trade looked interesting from a Canadian history and wilderness perspective, and I pick up the odd book every now and again for The Boy to read (although I like Pratchett just as much as he does, I think).
The grand total? $67.50.
I’m not in love with the number, but $41 of that was a new mattress, so I suppose it’s not really all that bad. And, out of the books, I spent only $8 on non-reference materials (and half of that was on a book that I’ve been waiting quite some time for). I’m also not sure I’m thrilled with the amount of things – it looks like a lot of stuff when it’s all typed out, especially for one week. A rubbermaid tub, packing tape, a mattress, and 8 books in just one week is not really that sustainable in this space. Really, I think that I could be better about spending money, but also about bringing more stuff home, so that’s something to look out for for next week, I think – being mindful of money and of space.
In an effort to keep costs down, I’m continuing to track my spending and now I’m reporting it here. Basically, I’m trying to keep my variable expenses down as much as I can right now to save for next year, when I may not be earning much. Rent, utilities, and my one recurring research-related subscription will get added in at the end of the month for the grand total. I’ll have to see if I can keep track of groceries, since The Boy usually pays for those.
In the first week of my how low can you go challenge, I think I did pretty well.
Friday – nothing
Saturday – nothing
Sunday – nothing
Monday – 6 books for $15 (The Road – 2; The Fiery Cross – 2; The Rodale Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening – 3; A Minnesota Doctor’s Home Remedies for Common and Uncommon Ailments – 2; Blue Covenant – 3; World Hunger: Twelve Myths – 3).
Tuesday – toilet paper for $12.
Wednesday – nothing
Thursday – nothing
Total = $27
Not bad, I suppose. In all honesty, as I’ve said before I don’t need more books. I consider this a birthday gift to myself, though, and I appreciate their entertainment value (in the case of the novels) and having them around for reference (home remedies and organic gardening). Happily, the ones on water and hunger will be reimbursed as part of a research project that I’m working on. The toilet paper was found cheaper at a local store than where I usually get it, and will last us awhile.
Next week, I’m going to be more vigilant about staying away from the bookstore (and I won’t have a birthday as my excuse). I need to get a birthday gift for my mom, and pay for a warranty on my computer (expansive, and totally worth it, in my experience), but other than that, I’m still aiming for reducing costs. I also have a pressing desire to do some spring cleaning, so I imagine that will keep me busy (and hyper-aware of how much stuff I have), as will all the grading I have to do.
It’s three days into April now, but at the start of the month, I decided that this will be a month where I see how low I can get my budget to go under normal circumstances.
The goal? To spend as little as possible while I live like I normally would. No eating strictly from the pantry, no putting off things that I need until the next month to skew the spending lower, no making The Boy take on more than he normally would to cover for me. So, normal life, just with less spending, whether that means buying fewer things, or spending less on the things that are necessities.
Seems simple enough, but I suppose I shall see. I’ll update as I go with weekly spending reports. Three days down, 27 left to go.
How low can you go?
I teach sessionally, and this year, with budget cuts and collective agreements and various other things working against me, I’ve been offered only two courses. I was hoping for three, if not four. And for the courses I have, there’s no guarantee that they’ll run if they don’t meet enrollment requirements.
This is…well…upsetting. Two courses works out to just over $11000 a year (before taxes, which takes it down to about $10000), which is not exactly a whole lot of money to live on. I’m putting out feelers for as many other options as I can right now, although I may not know anything for a little while. For now, I’m still making as much money as I can, and putting away as much of it as I can, but I’m a bit shaken still.
To be fair, I have savings. The Boy has some extra money coming in. We will not be destitute, not by a long shot. But I don’t want to dig into savings, if I can help it. It’s always been a point of pride for me to live below my means, and I intend to keep that up as best I can right now. So I’m formulating a plan.
The first bit is employment related:
1. Pull in every reasonable job I can for the foreseeable future. Every little bit of work helps.
2. Finish the dissertation. This means I can finally stop paying tuition. This was the plan for the summer anyway, but it feels like even more of a priority now. Over $2000 a semester buys a heck of a lot of beans.
3. Get published. The more I can do to make myself marketable, the better chance I have of finding a good, more permanent job.
The next bit is simply tightening the budget. While I haven’t exactly been lax recently, I could be better about cutting the fat a bit more. Assuming that I’ll make $10000 next year, that’s about $830 a month to live on (not including groceries, which The Boy usually pays for). $830 is tight but workable (okay, tight doesn’t really accurately describe it, but groceries would make things infinitely tighter), so that’s what I’m going to try for this next month.
I’m thinking I’ll blog this – keep track of what is spent and where, and also how I’m feeling about the whole shebang.
Logically, I know we’re okay. I can look for other work. The bills are low. I have savings. There’s a lot of food here. I know how to eat cheaply. I have all the shoes, clothes, and outerwear that I could need for a good long while. The apartment is full of inexpensive entertainment – books, games, and music. I’m creative and stubborn. We’re just fine.
But still, it’s unsettling.
And so the final step is to try to see this in a more positive light (in the interest of full disclosure, this final step took me a few hours after drafting the rest of this to get to – this was most definitely not an immediate thought). I’m looking for the window that opens when the proverbial door closes.
This is a kick in the pants to get the dissertation finished, and to seek out new work in new places with new people. It’s a chance to slow down a bit. It’s an opportunity (albeit somewhat forced) to step away from consumerism a bit more, and to figure out how to live pretty darn frugally. Heck, if nothing else, it means a light teaching load for the next two semesters and a chance to exercise, read, sleep, publish, write, play music, see friends, and catch up on a whole pile of things that I’d like to do.
But for now, well…blah…
It’s time yet again for more confessional fun at the end of the month.
Despite being well under budget this month, I’m still not happy with my shopping and spending.
I did well on my plans for TGAAD. In terms of clothing I bought only a secondhand suit, an item that was on my exceptions list. However, I did run into some problem areas that are really noticeable now that I’m looking back on what I spent, how much, and on what. The two big problem areas for me seem to be housewares and books. Housewares I tend to justify in terms of making home function better and be a more pleasant place to be, since this is where I spend much of my time. Books, I tend to explain away either as an inexpensive form of entertainment, or as reference materials that I would like to have around, and this month, I got both.
This month, I spent $59 in my play category (the budget is $50) and $52 in my sustainability category (from a budget of $20). Clearly, the amounts spent were higher than those budgeted for. I was aware of this as I was going through the month, and knew that I would be saving more than enough money in other categories to cover it, but it’s still not sitting all that well with me.
One of the things I wanted to avoid with TGAAD was spending money in other places instead of for clothes. I’m not sure that’s quite what I’m doing here, but it might be. Although I am pleased with what I got and stuck to things that had been on my list for ages and was planning on buying new soon anyway, I don’t want to get into the habit of overspending in my set categories, even if it just means moving money that’s already built into the budget around to compensate. Part of the point is to consume and have less, period.
So, I’m trying something new for February.
Part of what I don’t like about shopping is that I buy substitutes. There are certain books that I want, for example. If I see one used that’s inexpensive and on the same topic, but not the exact one that I wanted, I tend get it anyway. Eventually, I’m likely to get the one that I want as well, which is a waste of money, as well as a waste of space if I don’t get rid of the first one.
So now, I’m going to focus on getting exactly what I want. The cost of buying a few books that are kind of what I want could cover, or at least go a long way towards getting a book I really want. So, this February, I’m making a deal with myself. No shopping other than the necessities. At the end, if I stick to it, I get this:
I very much want this. I love his work, love reading his books, looking at the pictures, watching the shows. It’s somewhat pricy, even after the discount. But all the $3 and $4 secondhand cookbooks in the world won’t be this one. So, rather than buy them, I’m going to get this one, and I will enjoy the living heck out of it.
This will take up much of my combined budget for play and for sustainability. In fact, if I attend the workshop on starting seeds that I want to go to this month ($30) I could be a bit over (although I do have some gift certificates). But I will be less over budget – if I’m over at all – than I was this month. I’ll have the book that I most want. And I’ll only have one new book to fit onto the shelf, rather than a pile plus a few new housewares too.
With a new year, I’ve refigured my budget just a bit. With the current financial uncertainties, being on the job market, and just trying to better manage my resources, I’ve made a few adjustments here and there while also trying to simplify things a bit more.
First, since I’ve joined The Great American Apparel Diet (TGAAD), I’ve eliminated the clothing category. Only $10 a month, but that still $120 a year. If I do wind up getting a suit (I’m on the job market, and trying to make sure I have appropriate clothing, so it’s my TGAAD exception), it’ll come out of my education amount for the month.
Second, I’ve raised my automatic savings amount from $125 to $150 a month. Because it’s buried in the budget, I tend to forget it’s there, and it makes a nice addition to the money that I try to save out of my other categories. Adding in an extra $25 makes it an even nicer surprise to remember.
Finally, I’ve started recording my spending by rounding up to the nearest dollar. This way, the amounts I track are slightly higher than what I actually spent, leaving a bit extra at the end of the month – $0.23 here, or $0.71 there. It’s not a lot, since I don’t spend all that often, and it’s $0.99 at most each time, but even an extra $0.50 on 10 purchases is $5 a month.
And just a note on budgets in general. A few people have asked me if I find my budget very restrictive. The short answer is no. The long answer, though, is that although it works well for me, I get that this won’t work for everyone. Not everyone likes to track in this much detail, or have such strict limits on spending. For me, though, it works. It’s interesting, and I see keeping my budget and especally staying within it as a challenge. This makes it more fun and interesting and less like some restrictive drudgery. Furthermore, it’s very much a choice. I don’t have to live like this, but I want to, and choosing versus being forced to do something are two very different things. In general, I like saving a lot more than I like spending, which certainly helps as well, but setting out the numbers and finding ways to stay where I’m supposed to be feels rewarding to me, and not like a chore, and therefore works quite well.
As I continue to declutter (which I’ve realised is a complete pain without a car, since now I have 3 garbage bags full of clothes and 100 or so books along with other assorted bits and pieces that stacked around the apartment as I move them one backpack at a time to the Goodwill donation dropoff) I’ve been considering my stuff.
I have, I’ll admit, a lot of duplicates of things, which is easier to see when everything’s dragged out for sorting and relocation. As favourite things start to look worn, I have a tendency to replace them. Trouble is, the original very rarely makes it out the door because I like it, which means that I regularly wind up with multiples of things (which may or may not be in the most fantastic of condition), and because there’s a replacement, the originals rarely get the care that could fix or help them to last longer. So, in the interest of keeping my apartment clean and my wallet full(er), I’ve decided I’m going to keep the best of my things (which was the plan all along) but care for them better, so that there won’t be such an impulse to replace them, and so that they’ll last longer and serve my needs better.
Today, I’ve polished a favourite paid of clogs, oiled my butcher block (which was very long overdue), and fluffed out my down duvet so it doesn’t compress too much. I’ve scrubbed out the cast iron and will be putting it all in the oven for a good re-seasoning shortly. Up next, the wooden coffee tables are overdue for a dust and a polish, and I have some beloved shearling boots that could do with a good cleaning at the local cobbler’s.
Sadly, I know this won’t prevent things from ultimately degrading – eventually, everything fails or wears down. Because they’re used, favourite and useful things usually can’t last forever. But I’m hoping these measures – all of which are pretty inexpensive and rather easy – will prolong the life of my favourite things and, in so doing, also make it less likely that I’ll need to replace them, or wind up with a home filled with duplicates of things that could be better cared for.
I found out about TGAAD a few months back, but it didn’t really cross my mind to jump on board. Then, a few days ago, I was thinking about the New Year and resolutions (in the loosest sense) – wanting more time for the important things, thinking about getting my finances tightened up even more, and trying to declutter further – and it hit me that now would be a good time to get on board. And, after a month of not shopping, this felt at least reasonably do-able as a project, and it seemed to fit well with my hope for a low shopping year. So, no new clothes (or new-to-me used clothes) until the end of August, 2011.
I don’t really spend a lot, mostly because I shop almost exclusively at thrift stores. But as a grad student, I’d rather be saving than spending, and given how little I currently make, it’s still a higher percentage of my budget than I’d like. Because thrift stores are cheap, I also have a lot of clothing – nice, good quality clothing, but certainly enough, and probably more than I need – and I could use the room. Finally, I spend more time shopping than I would prefer, looking for just the right things at just the right price.
So, for TGAAD my goals are four-fold. Spend less. Bring fewer things home. Have more time for the important stuff. Get creative with what I have (and get rid of what just isn’t working). Pretty simple, I hope.
When I was considering joining, I found myself nervous. Could I really do this? (As a side note, I think the fact that it felt so monumental at the time is probably a sign that this is a good thing to be doing.) Now? I feel excited – not just as though a big decision has been made, but also as though many months of small ones have too. For the next eight months and change there are no more decisions about shopping or not, buying or not, or even just what to get. It feels freeing, which is a pleasant surprise.
Right now, I’m considering whether I need to plan out an exception or two. A suit for job interviews is at the top of that list, and my pj pants are about to go, I think (although there’s some lovely flannel and a sewing machine in the closet that could probably make short work of that particular need).
The only other question left, I think, is whether I try to further extend this diet to other elements of my shopping which, while also not hugely indulgent, add to the time, the expense, and the clutter of shopping (books and housewares, I’m looking at you). While TGAAD is focused largely on clothes, I’m hoping that my perspective not only shifts with respect to this kind of shoppng, but also transfers to other elements as well.
I’m not much of a New Year’s resolutions kind of person. I do, however, like a good challenge (could you tell?) And so, with the coming new year, I’m taking on a new one, and one that fits rather well with some of the other projects that I’ve got in the works.
Here comes The Low Shopping Year.
In my efforts to save some money, prepare to move, clean out the clutter, and just generally sort out my life, shopping isn’t helping. As I’ve said before, I don’t shop a lot, and I certainly don’t spend much, but it still means that things are making their way into my home here and there, money that doesn’t have to is making its way out the door, and the clutter and finances are all the more difficult to deal with as a result. Also, because I almost always buy used, even spending a bit of money can bring in a lot of stuff ($10 at the used book store is usually good for three or four books).
The original thought was that I would start what I called “The No Shopping Year”. Unfortunately, “The No Shopping Year” sounds a bit grandiose. And, given my present situation, there’s no way I can go an entire year without actually shopping for anything, since I like to eat, need medication, and may require an academic book here or there as I plow through the dissertation, so the name’s a bit of a misnomer, cool as it sounds. So, in the interest of accuracy, I’ve reconsidered the No Shopping Year in favour of the Low Shopping Year. (More accurate, but sounds less cool, no?)
The plan? Seriously reduce (my already rather reduced consumption) in much the same way as with my No Spending Month.
The benefit? Less money going out. Fewer things coming in. Less clutter to deal with. Less clutter to move. More time for whatever I want.
There are still details to work out. I need to figure out what’s allowed and what isn’t, whether there should be any exceptions, and if there’s anything else I should be figuring out. I’ll probably wind up working out a new budget to reflect (and possibly reinforce) these changes.