Urban Adaptation

Sustainable urban living, rural dreams, and daily change for a homemade life.

Posts Tagged ‘money

Bigger plans

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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.

Written by Jenn

April 15, 2011 at 7:16 pm

How low can you go – week two

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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.

Written by Jenn

April 15, 2011 at 6:00 pm

How low can you go – week one

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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.

Written by Jenn

April 8, 2011 at 3:27 pm

How low can you go?

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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?

Written by Jenn

April 3, 2011 at 4:06 pm

February shopping and spending

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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.

Written by Jenn

January 31, 2011 at 6:22 pm

September budget, part two

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And now, for the challenge.

I’ve set myself caps for most of my expenses – amounts that I will not surpass unless there’s an emergency.  These caps are pretty generous, to make sure there’s room for needed expenses without things feeling too tight, but also room so that I feel like I’m saving extra (a bit of built in flexibility is a tricky way of letting myself feel like I’ve accomplished something when I’m likely to not spend all of the money allocated to a category).  It’s really this latter feature that I’m most interested in, and I’m challenging myself to spend as little – and save as much – of the set amount as possible.

Rent    610
Insurance    30
Phone/Internet    100
Electricity    40
Food    100
Play    60
Transportation    40
Education    60
Health    60
Gifts    15
Clothes    10
Savings     125

Total: 1250  (just shy of what I should be making monthly just from teaching)

The idea is that I won’t go above these amounts.  However, in order to ensure I can have access to money if I need more of it at one time than another, I am allowing myself to transfer remainders from month to month within the same grouping.  For instance, buying Christmas gifts will take up not only December’s allowance, but also the amounts from a number of months beforehand.  I’m also allowing myself to borrow from other categories in the same month, although I’m limiting myself to covering only food, health, or education in this way, since I’m anticipating a few bigger expenses.  If I need to buy an expensive textbook, for instance, I can take unused play money to help cover it.  I’m expecting that these will be the exceptions, though, and not the rule.

The rest will go into savings every month.  I have a built in $125 (1/10 of what I should be making) going into savings each month, plus the amount that’s automatically deducted into my pension, but I want to continue to build this up as much as I can.  By ensuring that I’m spending below my means, through a budget and by challenging myself, I think I can manage this year – even without a scholarship – to continue adding to my savings as much as possible even beyond the basic amounts that I’ve set for myself.

I know this probably sounds rather dry – budgeting frequently does, in my experience – but I’m excited about the challenge.  I’d like to stop spending as much as possible, and focus on other things.  I’d like to see my savings grow even as I keep on with grad school.  I’d like to know that my finances are relatively stable, and that I can continue to live in a way that doesn’t put me into debt.

And…here I go.

Written by Jenn

September 1, 2010 at 1:05 am

September budget, part one

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For me, a new school year usually means a new budget.  I’ve spent some time recently working my way through my budget in preparation for the school year, especially now that a bunch of my finances have changed (new work, end of a scholarship, and so on).

I think budgeting is important for a few reasons.  First, knowing what my budget is means that I can spend below my means.  So long as I keep doing this, I can avoid depleting my savings or going into debt, which is a comforting feeling.  Having a budget also means that I can build in savings.  By doing so, I’m almost always sure – barring an emergency – to be contributing to my savings account on a regular basis, and making sure I’m in good shape should anything happen. Finally, having a budget means I have a really clear idea of where my money goes every month, and being aware helps to keep me even more in check with my spending, such as it is.

I know a lot of people don’t like budgets because they can feel restrictive, and in some cases they really can be – I’m more than willing to admit there’s a huge difference between needing to be on a budget and choosing to be on one.  There are, however, some ways of feeling better a budget.  This may not work for everyone, but in order to avoid feeling this way I try to view mine as a challenge.  I regularly challenge myself to stay under the monthly amounts that I’ve budgeted, or to see if I can save a certain amount above and beyond what I usually save.  The challenge makes it a bit more fun, and really lets me feel like saving is far more rewarding than spending could be.

Given that I’m no longer on scholarship – them’s the rules, and I simply can’t be anymore – there have been some adjustments to my budget.  I’m working really hard to not only live off just my teaching income, which isn’t a whole lot, but to generate some savings from it as well.  I’ll be paying tuition this year as much as possible from a few other income source (as well as a bit from savings, if need be), and the more I can save from teaching, the better off I’ll be in terms of covering and moving beyond what is easily one of my biggest expenses.

While I may go into more detail later (I’m concerned this sounds a bit vague), for now I’ve worked out a budget that incorporates savings and a generous allowance for each of my living expenses, plus a bit set aside for more fun-ish things.  If I spend all of the money I’ve allocated in a month, I’ll still be living under my means and putting away some money for savings.  But, with the cap that I’ve set there’s a lot of room for flexibility, and hopefully a lot of room to save even more – what I don’t spend every month will get put into savings.

I will admit that I’ve been a bit lax in these last few almost-heady days of having a scholarship, research work, and extra teaching at the same time.  I certainly haven’t strayed into dip-into-savings territory – not by a long shot – but I could probably be even a bit more careful.

At this point I’m actually looking forward to having a plan and cutting back a bit more, especially as I challenge myself not only to save money, but to work on finding more ways to creatively avoid spending where it’s not necessary.  This could, of course, be an interesting challenge.  This circumstance is, I think, the closest I’ve ever been to needing a budget rather than just wanting one, which makes me a bit uncomfortable in some ways.  That said, I have a plan for the money that I know is coming in, whetever I can make or save on top that will be a savings bonus, and I’m looking forward to seeing how this works out and reporting back as I go.

Written by Jenn

August 29, 2010 at 1:07 am