I’ve waxed on and on about my feeling on being debt free. My student loans are long gone. The car loan? Gone! Right now, I have zero financial obligations tying me down. Not even a lease on an apartment! No contracts on anything. I could move tomorrow and change my entire life if I wanted to. It’s an amazing feeling!

In all honesty, my financial life is better than it’s ever been. For the first time since the age of 17, when I signed for my first student loan, I don’t have any debt. I have a spending plan. I save money for big and small goals. I live a cash-only life. I don’t make as many frivolous purchases. My financial situation gets better everyday.

Unfortunately, the credit bureaus don’t see it that way.

My credit score was at it’s best right before my sister defaulted on the student loan I had cosigned on. Every time I applied for a loan (for a car, and later a house), people commented on how they rarely saw scores so high. I had a handful of credit cards, with total limits exceeding my annual salary. I’d charge up my cards, never maxing them out, but sometimes acquiring as much as $20,000 in debt, and eventually pay them off. I had no cash savings. No real retirement savings. Nothing much of value to my name. And I was frequently spending more than I earned.

My financial situation was precarious. And lenders loved me for it.

And then, the loan was defaulted on. I didn’t even know what was going on, until my credit score fell. And I only knew that because the credit card rates started sky rocketing, and my available balances plummeted. My financial situation spiraled out of control, and I felt completely helpless to stop it. Lenders didn’t even want to talk to me anymore; the old advice of calling the companies to work out a deal got me no where.

Eventually, I filed bankruptcy. In hindsight, I don’t think that was the best plan, but at the time, it felt like the only option. And just like that, I had zero credit cards to back me up. At the time, I had a mortgage and student loans. Some financial advisors recommend getting a credit card as soon as possible after bankruptcy, to help rebuild your credit. I decided my financial life was more important than my credit score, and stuck with my cash lifestyle.

It hurt when I took out a loan on the Nissan Versa; I was making the most money I’d ever made, and was putting down a nice sized down payment, yet the rates offered to me were terrible. By the time I bought my Ford Escape, my credit score was in the mid 600’s. Bad, but better than it had been. It wasn’t as hard to get a loan, but the rates still weren’t that great. I wasn’t too concerned: My plan was to pay off the loan as quickly as possible. The quicker it was gone, the less interest I’d pay overall. A bad interest rate does make for some nice motivation!

I set all my bills to auto-pay, so I’d never miss a payment. I paid ahead as much as possible. I signed up for CreditKarma, and watched as my credit score slowly rose. Eventually, I made it into the 720’s. I was finally back into the “good” range.

And then, I paid off the car loan.

My credit score, as of 7/13/16, according to CreditKarma.

My credit score, as of 7/13/16, according to CreditKarma.

Okay, it isn’t the end of the world. It was a small hit, and I’m still in the “good” range, even if just barely. But the bigger issue is that I now had zero credit.

The makeup of my credit score, according to CreditKarma.

The makeup of my credit score, according to CreditKarma.

What would happen to my credit score from here, now that there was nothing to report? Sure, the “Derogatory Marks” would fall off in a few years. The “Total Accounts” are all accounts that were closed years ago. I currently have nothing in my name, and don’t foresee having anything in the next few years. Would my credit score continue to fall?

I’d love to adhere to Dave Ramsey’s thinking, that a credit score makes no difference what-so-ever. But, the reality is, your credit score affects more than just your ability to get credit. Insurance companies check your credit score to assess your risk. Jobs can check your credit score. And, if/when Bryan and I decide to buy a house, we’ll have to take out a loan. Right now, my credit score is the strongest of the two, and I foresee that being the case for at least the next few years: His divorce settlement left the mortgage in his name for another two years, while his ex-wife got the house, and is supposed to make the payments every month. A house that neither of them can now afford. So she’s been late on making the payment, every single month. He watches every month as his credit score plummets. I said my piece in the beginning, and have since let it go.

Note: A lawyer is a legal advisor, NOT a financial advisor. It’s very likely they have no idea how something will affect your credit score, or your future financial situation. They’re primary concern is what is LEGAL.

I’ve read so many personal finance blogs over the years espousing the value of credit cards, that I now skip those articles completely. But, I get the idea: If you can use credit responsibly (not buying things you can’t afford, paying off your balance in full every month), there are some great rewards to be had. Some bloggers have made a career out of advice on travel hacking using credit card rewards.

The last few years, I’ve been considering applying for a credit card. But I struggled to find one that I thought would add value to my life. After all, I don’t spend enough most months to qualify for those large sign-on bonuses. I don’t like the idea of putting all my spending on a credit card, just to earn more points. I feel more secure in seeing my spending limits by the amount of cash in the bank. Would we be able to earn enough points to make a credit card worthwhile? Would having a credit card make me feel like I could spend more? I definitely wanted to avoid any type of annual fees.

For a long time, I didn’t see the benefits of having a credit card as being worthwhile for my situation. And then I paid off the car loan, and my credit score dropped. I started reconsidering the value of a credit card in my life. And, eventually, I found one that made sense for us: A Visa card through the grocery store where we shop.

We already earn fuel points through the store’s loyalty program, which Bryan uses to help offset the high cost of fueling the Suburban. With the Visa card, we’d rack up more fuel points per transaction. Plus, we’d automatically save 25 cents per gallon for the first 3 months, and 5 cents per gallon after that. And we could accrue points for quarterly gift cards at the grocery store.

So, I filled out the application. And then I waited. And panicked: What if I didn’t qualify for a card? How would I maintain, or improve, my credit score?

After a few days, I decided it didn’t matter. If I wasn’t approved, life would continue on as it had been for the last few years. So, I wouldn’t have the greatest credit score? It wasn’t a big deal in our day-to-day lives. We’d make adjustments where we needed to, and life would go on.

It turns out, I didn’t need to worry. The card came in the mail, with a $5,500 limit, no less! This is way more than I foresee needing, which is a great thing in terms of credit utilization.

My plan is to only use the card for groceries and gas, and to hopefully pay it off weekly, to prevent overspending by thinking I have more cash available than I actually do. It’s a new venture for me, so I know I’ll need to adjust my plan as needed along the way. And I’ll have to be honest with myself about how it’s working. If I start to feel that my budget is suffering, I’ll change my use of the card to once monthly: Just enough to keep it active. The possibility of rewards is not worth letting my financial progress slip.

Hopefully this will be a good experience, and I’ll prove to myself that I really have matured over the years. Time will tell.

  • Cindy W.

You know, as an Accountant, you’d expect that my numbers would always add up. After all, I spend my days making sure things balance. And yet, as I was glancing over my June Spending Update yesterday, I realized that wasn’t the case. I earned $3,281 in June, while spending $2,936. That leaves $345, which should have been the difference between my May and June liquid assets on my June Net Worth Update. Except it wasn’t; My liquid assets went from $4,713 in May to $4,747 ins June. That’s only $34.

So where did the other $311 go?!?!

I’m not 100% sure!

99% of my spending is done on my debit card or through online banking. I very rarely hit the ATM for cash. Maybe once or twice a year? Yet there always seem to be those occasions where you end up with cash. Most often it’s because I went out to eat with my sister, and we split the tab, with me putting it all on my card, and she giving me cash. Or when I booked our upcoming vacation: I put the entire $3,461 on my debit card, and then the others gave me cash.

For my “Lottery Savings*”, I’ve been setting aside that money in cash, so I can consider that money already spent for net worth purposes. But, as I said, I don’t typically hit the ATM, or go to the bank and pull out cash. My online banking allows me the ability to name “savings goals” within my accounts; It’s like have little sub-accounts, where you can see how much money is going towards what goal. Each week, I move $20 into the sub-account for “Lottery Savings”. When I figure my net worth, I pretend that money isn’t there. Then, when I invariably end up with cash, I put the cash aside with my actual Lottery Savings, and move the money in the bank out of that sub-account to wherever the other money came from (usually spending). That way I don’t have to deal with going to the bank to get the cash.

Except, there are times that I need cash for other things. For example, when I take the dog to the groomers, or I go to the hair salon. For some reason that I can’t comprehend, those places aren’t setup for adding tips on credit/debt cards, unless you tell them before they run your card. They know this, and yet never ask before they run the card. I guess they figure it’s rude to ask about a tip, and I always forget, and then I’m stuck with that awkward moment of trying to figure out how to tip after the fact. I always keep $20 in my car for moments like these, but that just becomes a hassle. So, I’ve just gotten in the habit of always taking cash to those appointments.

But, like I said, I’m not one to go to the ATM/Bank.

So, if I don’t have cash on me, I admittedly will sometimes “steal” it from my Lottery Savings, and then move money around in the bank. No big deal! Except my online banking consists of 4 different accounts. And I move money around a lot. And, sometimes, in all the shuffle, I forget what I moved, and why. It’s easy to track all the purchases made with my debit card. But every week, there’s money being transferred in and out of each account, some manually, some automatically.

But how do you lose track of $311?

Actually, it may not be as bad as I think. In all of my shifting around of funds, I’ve yet to go back and balance my Lottery Savings. I should have $452 at this point (at the start of the year, Bryan was spending $16/week on lottery tickets, but then they raised the ticket prices, so now it’s $20. So I’ve adjusted what I’m putting into Lottery Savings accordingly, so we’re both “spending” the same amount each week.). I know there are 2 $100 bills in that savings stash right now. I have $260 in my bank sub-account for Lottery Savings. But I know that there are smaller bills in my cash stash as well. How much? I’m not sure! Maybe $20? Maybe a couple hundred? I’ve been moving stuff around so much lately, I haven’t reconciled that account. I’m sure I spent some cash that isn’t accounted for, but how much I can’t be sure of. Yet.

So, I may have spent more than I’ve accounted for in the month of June. Once I reconcile my Lottery Savings, I’ll know more about how much. Net Worth wise, it will correct itself next month. $311 is definitely more than I’m comfortable losing track of, so I’ll definitely keep a better eye on things going forward. But, I’m not going to lose sleep over it. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t have much effect.

I’m definitely grateful to be in a place to be able to say that!

  • Cindy W.

* Every week, Bryan spends $20 on purchasing Lottery tickets. If he wins, it’s “our” money. Which seemed a little unfair to me, since I’m not contributing. But, I’m not much of a gambler. I’m fine with him spending $20/week, for entertainment value, but I’m not comfortable throwing more money into it. So, I put $20 away each week, and consider that money spent out of my budget. At the end of the year, we’ll probably use that money towards a vacation, or maybe for something around the house. The point being, we’re each spending $20/week, and we’re each benefiting from the “win”. Except my savings is a guaranteed win!

Several years ago, my mom, sisters and I decided that we needed to start taking an annual “girls trip”. We’re all very close, but as we get older, life gets in the way of spending time together. It’s nice to have time to get away from everything else in the world, and just be together.

Originally we thought we’d alternate years: a longer, more expensive vacation one year, and a shorter, less expensive vacation the next. That way we could vacation together every year, yet keep the costs down overall, and not use up all of everyone’s vacation days together each year.

It started off well: Two years ago we had a fun, but somewhat haphazard trip to Disney World. But then 2015 rolled around, with one tragedy after the next. We jokingly referred to our trip to Louisiana for my sister’s fiance’s funeral as the “worst vacation ever”. But, my older sister wasn’t able to come, and all joking aside, there was nothing vacation about that trip.

We vowed to do better in 2016. But we couldn’t agree on where to go. Or whether this should be a big trip year, or small. My older sister couldn’t commit to going at all. Before we knew it, half the year had slipped away, and we were still no closer to having a plan.

When Bryan’s father passed away, I was reminded how quickly time passes, and that tomorrows are never promised. If we didn’t make a plan, we might never have the chance to vacation together again. And, even on our worst trips, those are some of the memories I cherish the most.

One sister threw out the idea of making it simple, and just going to Walt Disney World again this year. We’ve all been on multiple trips to Disney World, but only twice all together, and on one of those trips two other family members accompanied us. We always have a memorable time at Disney, so why not? At least it got the decision of where to go out of the way.

There’s no denying that a Walt Disney World Vacation isn’t cheap. Especially for four adult women. Making it worse, we insist on staying on property. In the Deluxe Villa Resorts. We eat at expensive restaurants. And drink alcoholic beverages. If we aren’t careful, costs can quickly get out of hand.

But, I do what I can to keep our costs down. I pay for the trip in cash, so I don’t have to go into debt. I’m realistic about what things are going to cost, and understanding that we’re not all in the same financial position. And from there? I let it go. It’s just money, and I’m spending it on what’s important to me.

One of the most important things to help minimize your costs when going to Walt Disney World, in my opinion, is understanding why you’re going. Contrary to most people’s assumptions, we don’t go to Disney for The Mouse. Or the Princesses. Or the countless rides. Don’t get me wrong, all those things are great, and do add something to the trip. But, if those are your priorities, you’re going to plan a very different trip than we are. If you’re focus is to spend as much time as possible at the parks, then you can spend less on accommodations. There are some inexpensive hotels on Disney property, which will save time and hassle with transportation, or you can stay off property for even more savings. If the attractions are your main focus, you can save a lot of money on food. It all depends on what type of vacation you are planning.

So, what is it about Walt Disney World that is worth the cost to us?

1) Accommodations: Every time I’ve been to Disney, I’ve stayed in a Deluxe Villa Resort. I feel snobby in saying so, but I wouldn’t do it any other way. Depending on the number in our group, we’ve stayed in 2 bedrooms, 1 bedroom, and studio rooms. 1 and 2 bedrooms have a full kitchen, whereas studios tend to just have a kitchenette, with a mini fridge, sink, and microwave. We’ve mainly stayed at Old Key West (OKW), but have also stayed at Saratoga Springs. If you’re planning to book a studio, and have more than 2 people, I would choose OKW over Saratoga; OKW studios have 2 Queen beds, whereas Saratoga have 1 Queen bed and a Double sleeper sofa. Call me old, but I prefer a real bed.

OKW and Saratoga are both older Disney World Resort properties. The buildings are more spread out, with more landscaping and winding roads. That means, even during the busier seasons, you don’t notice your neighbors as much. The rooms are bigger. You have a balcony or patio where you can relax and take in the scenery. They’re less expensive than the other Deluxe Villas, and it’s easier to book a room. Both OKW and Saratoga have at least 4 pools, so as long as you steer clear of the main pool, it tends to be quieter. On our last trip we hit the hot tub almost every night, and rarely saw another person.

And, because it’s Disney, the service is impeccable. You can call down to the front desk to request a wine key, or blender, and someone will be there in a flash, no questions asked. Not that we’ve ever done either of those things. The grounds are kept clean. Any issues are dealt with promptly, and the “cast” is always friendly.

2) Safety: We’re the type of people who like to relax and “let our hair down” on vacation. Not exactly wild and crazy, but we definitely have a good time. Drinking is definitely involved. Since Disney is made for families, safety is a priority. Yes, accidents do happen, and you should always be on your guard and take responsibility for yourself and your group. But it’s nice to know that Disney is keeping a close watch on things while we vacation. Disney does a great job of keeping security and cast members on hand, without making it too obvious that they’re there.

3) Transportation: If you’re staying on Disney property, there’s no reason to ever have to sit behind the wheel. The Magic Express will pick you up at the airport and shuttle you to your resort, free of charge. Buses will transport you to the parks, or Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney), or The Boardwalk, from early morning till into the night. You can even get from one resort to another by transferring buses, which is nice if you decide to dine at one of the excellent restaurants at the resorts.

We know that drinking will be involved, so it’s great knowing that we never have to plan for a DD while on vacation. We don’t have the added expense of taxis, although we do occasionally take one to the grocery or some other place off-property. There’s no concern over directions and getting lost, or the extra expense of gas, or finding parking. The buses drop you practically at the park entrance, which cuts out a huge amount of walking. We could even split up and go to different places at the same time. And, if we want to change up the transportation options, there are ferries and monorails between the resorts and parks.

4) Dining: One of my favorite things about vacation is trying a variety of food. A lot of people seems to think Disney has terrible food. And yes, there are a lot of kid-friendly restaurants, and “theme park style” places to eat. But there are also some great places to eat, both in the parks, and on the resort properties. You just have to know where to look!

Epcot tends to be one of our favorite places to go. Throughout the year, you can try food and beverages from around the world in the World Showcase. There are a variety of restaurants, with a variety of price ranges, from quick-service to sit down meals. In the Fall, Food and Wine Fest gives you even more opportunities to sample a variety of cuisines. Disney Springs has grown over the years to include a huge assortment of places to eat.

There are also a variety of dining places you can go for an “experience”. We tend to avoid the character meals, although eating with Cinderella can be great fun if you have a little one. The Luau at the Polynesian Resort is also a lot of fun as well, although the food isn’t all that fabulous. This trip, we’ve already made a reservation at Be Our Guest in Magic Kingdom, mainly out of wanting to see the Castle based on Beauty and the Beast. And we’ll definitely be booking Afternoon Tea again at The Grand Floridian.

I’m really hoping to go back to Kona Cafe at the Polynesian Resort for breakfast this year. We’re scoping out Morimoto Asia and AristoCrepes in Disney Springs. Le Cellier Steakhouse and Tokyo are definite contenders for dinner in Epcot. If we stay long enough at the Magic Kingdom, we may consider eating at the Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen. And, if we go to Hollywood Studios, we’ll definitely hit the Hollywood Brown Derby.

5) Entertainment: Disney is definitely a great place to go for entertainment. There are rides. There are characters. Around every corner is something interesting to see, and beautiful landscaping. No detail is forgotten. And the people watching!

We’ve always gone to Disney during the Spring or Fall, when there is Live Entertainment at Epcot. We’ve seen some epic bands over the years, from the Pointer Sisters and The Grass Roots, to Hanson and Jo Dee Messina, at no extra charge. This year there won’t be any bands at Epcot during our stay, which should make it a different experience.

Those are just some of the reasons that going to Walt Disney World is worth it to us. Sure, many of those things we could get on other vacations. Honestly, we didn’t “grow up” traveling, so this is something relatively new for all of us. Disney makes it easy to book a trip, and almost ensure it won’t be a failure. I’ve booked more than a few hotels that ended up being nothing like they were advertised, or gone places I was sure I’d love, only for it to be nothing like what I thought. It’s nice to know that I’m not wasting my money when I book a trip. I’m sure as the years pass, we’ll branch out more and more. After all, anyplace starts to get boring if you go enough times. But for now?

  • Cindy W.

 

Going into June, I was expecting it to be an inexpensive month. Or, at the very least, a fairly “normal” month. After all, I had already paid June’s rent and Netflix as part of May. That would almost make it a wash with my 6 month car insurance premium, and annual renter’s insurance. Right?

Where the money went: June, 2016.

Where the money went: June, 2016.

I spent $2,936 in June. Which compared to what I earned ($3,281), isn’t horribly bad. Add to that a reimbursement from my FSA account of $105 for Medical expenses, and it looks a little better. But it’s still a lot more than I was expecting!

Technically, I spent $3,461 on the vacation, since I paid for everything at the time of booking. But only $1,034 of that is my cost; My sisters and mom are paying me back for the rest. To make it easier to track, I’m only counting my portion towards spending.

I was shocked to see that our grocery spending was so high in June. And honestly, I don’t have a good explanation. There were a lot of little trips that we made during the week, but overall, there weren’t any big trips that stick out. I guess the little things really do add up over time!

Hannah (our dog) got a hair cut last month*. And so did I! I typically get a hair cut once every six months, although this time around I went a bit more drastic: Nine inches, gone! I’m fairly lazy with my hair, so keeping it long works for me. But it had gotten down to my waist, which was a little ridiculous/overwhelming. My stylist supports a charity that will accept dyed hair for donations, and doesn’t charge children for the wigs. The minimum length they’ll accept is eight inches. She took nine for the donation, plus a little more for evening it out and layering, and it’s still a few inches below my shoulders. It looks great, but it is a little more effort. I’m not sure if I’ll keep it shorter, which would involve getting more frequent cuts, or return to my lazy ways and let it go again. On the plus side, a child benefits from my laziness. I consider that a win!

Gas is high this month because I filled up Bryan’s gas tank while I was driving his vehicle when we were out-of-town for his father’s funeral. That added about $56 to my normal gas spending. Suburbans take a ridiculous amount of gas! Honestly, I feel a little guilty for getting off so easy with expenses on that trip. Bryan spent money for 2 nights in a hotel, plus meals for he and I, and his son and future daughter-in-law. It ended up being a very pricey weekend for him. Of course, we’re cognizant of how much worse it could have been: His parents had their funerals pre-arranged and paid for, so there wasn’t any concern with how those expenses would be covered.

Clothing was a big expense for me this month. I set aside $20 each week in a “clothing fund”. I’m not a big shopper, so it isn’t like I’m buying $20 worth of clothing every week, or $80-100 every month. So the money is already set aside in savings for months where I end up spending a little more. Actually, a lot of my spending works out that way: My renter’s and car insurance premiums didn’t come out of June’s earnings; That money was already sitting in my bank account at the beginning of the month, waiting for the payments to come due. As I transfer money into my “expenses” bank account each week, a little bit of that money is going to cover future expenses. Since I’m salaried, and my weekly paycheck is always the same, this system creates some consistency in what I do with my money. I always put the same amount towards “expenses”, the same amount into “savings”, and have the same amount to “spend”. I may vary what I spend the money on throughout the month, or maybe put it aside and spend it in another month, but I always know exactly what I’m working with every week.

I could have done better, but overall I’m happy with how this month turned out.

  • Cindy W.

* Hannah’s grooming was $47. The remainder of “pet care” was for her monthly wellness plan.

** Lottery savings is the $20 that I put away each week, in cash, for NOT playing the lottery. This is equal to the amount Bryan spends each week playing the lottery. If he wins, the money is “ours”. My “spending” the same amount every week makes things seem more fair. At the end of the year, we’ll probably use that money to take a vacation. It’s like a guaranteed win!

*** Insurance covers two term life insurance policies: One insuring me, and one insuring my younger sister. I pay my car insurance every 6 months, and renters insurance once a year.

**** To make things easier to track, I only list items that come out of my net pay, or what gets deposited into my checking account. My 401(k), health insurance, Flexible Spending Account, and other expenses that are taken directly from my weekly paycheck by my employer are not included here.

 

Net Worth Icon

Welcome to my monthly net worth post for June, 2016. Each month, I post a complete breakdown of my net worth, along with a chart showing the progression of my net worth since the start of this blog. Posting my net worth helps keep me accountable for what I do with my money, and motivates me to make better choices and push to reach new goals. You can see previous net worth updates here

If May was the month of relaxation, June was a month of apprehension and stress. There were serious family talks, and then plans, for putting Bryan’s father into a nursing home. As much as he claimed it didn’t bother him, I noticed the shift in Bryan’s moods and attitude in general. No matter what your relationship with your parent, they’re still your parent, and it still affects you.

Much to everyone’s surprise, two days after Bryan’s dad was moved into his new home, he passed away.

I can’t claim that Bryan’s dad’s passing had any affect on my finances. We did spend a weekend out-of-town, but Bryan picked up the tab for the hotel and restaurants. Other than an extra tank of gas (I filled up his Suburban while I was driving it) and a few clothing items (a lightweight black sweater, pantyhose), it didn’t add anything to my bottom line. But it was another reminder that the future is always uncertain, and time can run out unexpectedly.

With that in mind, I finally booked a vacation with my mom and sisters for the end of August.

We opted for another Disney World vacation. I’ll post more about the planning, hopefully this week. I booked the room, along with flights and tickets for 3 of us; One sister is flying in a few days later, so she’ll book her own flights and tickets. I paid for the everything out-of-pocket, although my portion of the bill is only $1,034. I’m still including the other $2,427 that the others owe me as part of my “liquid assets”, since I’ll get that money back in the next few days.

I had $1,000 in savings earmarked for “vacation”, so this was an already planned for expense. In four weeks, I’ll have my emergency fund back up to $5,000. Which is perfect timing, as it will give me time to save money for spending (food, beverages, etc.) while we’re on vacation.

June 2016 Net Worth:

Net Worth Update as of June 30, 2016.

Net Worth Update as of June 30, 2016.

I only gained $171 in net worth in June. That sounds terrible, especially when you figure I’ve been gaining around $1,500 most months. But I honestly don’t feel too bad about it. The vacation is well worth taking a financial loss. My 401(k) and Roth IRA also took a hit this month. I was expecting it to be much worse, with all the hype over Brexit. I think my balances are still low enough that market downturns don’t have a devastating effect. Thanks to contributions, I still saw a net gain on my 401(k) balance. And my employer contributions for June haven’t hit the account yet, so in a few days those numbers should look even better.

Net Worth Progress Chart:

Net Worth since the beginning of the blog (February, 2013).

Monthly Net Worth since the start of this blog (February, 2013).

Despite a less than stellar month, I still feel like I’m heading in the right direction, and that my spending and planning is in line with my values and goals. And that’s what really matters, right?

  • Cindy W.

In June of 2015, I officially started tracking my spending. I know, I know, most financial planners say that’s the first thing you should start doing when you’re trying to get your financial house in order. But it isn’t like I was spending without a plan: I had a budget! Each week, my paycheck was split into three different accounts: An expenses account to cover all of my set monthly, bi-annual and annual expenses, a spending account for all my variable spending, and a savings account for my emergency fund and extra debt payments.

I kept a detailed spreadsheet on my expenses account, with the entire year’s worth of bills laid out, ensuring that there was always enough money in the account to cover everything, plus a little cushion.

I made sure the amount that I put into my spending account was enough to cover our weekly grocery shopping, gas, and a little extra to keep me from feeling deprived. From time to time I’d adjust that amount up or down, depending on my comfort level and goals. But I never paid much attention to where that money went. I never did well budgeting too strictly. So long as I had the money available to spend, I’d spend it.

But around this time last year, curiosity got the best of me. I didn’t want to budget into stricter categories. But was there anything wrong with knowing where that money went after the fact? How much were we spending each month of things like food, and gas? What percentage of my income was going towards wants, needs, and savings/debt payoff?

Now that I’ve been doing this for a year, I have to admit to really liking tracking my spending. It’s a little bit eye-opening seeing where my money goes. I’m not sure it has a huge impact on how I spend. I do find myself paying a little more attention to prices at the grocery store and gas pump. It’s also made me more aware of things I need to set money aside for, such as clothing and vacations.

As I found myself coming up on a year of tracking, I started wondering what a year’s worth of spending looked like for me. Granted, it wouldn’t be a calendar year, but it would still cover 12 months worth of spending. So, I put together a new chart:

Spending: June 2015 to May 2016.

Spending: June 2015 to May 2016. Click on image to increase size.

Woah!

First and foremost, I spent way more than I thought over the past 12 months. Way More! To be exact, I spent $39,648. And I only brought in $33,500!

Where did the other $6,148 come from?!?!

Well, a big chunk of it came from selling my house in May of 2015. And then I had a tax refund in February 2016. Also, a big portion of the $778 in Medical CoPay spending was reimbursed by my FSA savings. I’ve gone round and round on whether to count that spending. Yes, it’s my money that I’m spending. But, since I save that money throughout the year pre-tax directly through my paycheck, it’s as if the money has already been “spent”. If I was being exact, I’d add that money into my income when it was reimbursed, so it “zeros” back out. But, admittedly, my spending updates are probably rarely exact. While I mostly use my debit card, cash occasionally comes into play, and has a way of slipping through my hands unaccounted for.

$17,492 went into paying off my car loan, with $3,540 being for regular payments, and $13,952 being “extra payments”. Paying off that loan accounts for 44% of my spending over the past 12 months! Craziness! But now, the car payment is gone, which will make my spending look much better over the next 12 months.

My “normal” rent payment is $350/month, and yet I spent $5,950 on rent over 12 months. That’s because I picked up the full $700 rent when Bryan wasn’t working. I’m hoping this Summer he can set some money aside for this coming Winter’s expenses while he’s laid off. Winter layoffs are a given now that he’s back working in the field. But, if need be, I’ll pickup the full rent payment again.

When I first started looking at the chart, I immediately started thinking of the things I could cross off as future expenses, like the $712 in grief expenses, or $521 in wedding related spending. But then Bryan’s dad passed away, and I realized, things like that are always going to pop-up. We have a lot of older friends and family. Maybe we’ll spend less some years, and more others. Bryan’s kids will get married. Someday there will be grandkids. Some years we’ll spend more on vacations, or more on gifts.

This isn’t a full representation of what we spend, since Bryan and I keep separate finances, and none of his spending is included in this. I buy most of our groceries, but he picks up the tab at Sam’s Club, where we buy most of our alcohol and the dog’s food. I pay for Netflix, but he pays for internet. I covered more of the rent this year, but he always pays the electric bill. Our landlord covers the water, sewer and gas.

Without the car payment, I spent around $22,156 over the past 12 months. That seems about right to me. Sure, there are plenty of places I could have trimmed. But overall, I don’t feel that any of my spending categories were out of line. We averaged just under $400/month on Groceries/Household. Right around $50/month on gas. $83/month eating out. $15/ month for my cell phone. It could all be better, but it could also be a lot worse! I’m pretty happy with where we’re at.

On a previous post, I responded to a comment saying that maybe I would set a new goal of trying to save 50% of my income every month. Now I don’t even remember which post I made the remark on. But it’s been swirling around in my head ever since I wrote it. And the big thing I keep pondering is “Why”?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s an awesome goal to have. And I’m sure I’d feel very accomplished if I was able to do it. But when I started thinking about what’s actually important to me, and how I track things, I wasn’t sure how it would work.

You’ll notice that my 401k savings don’t show up on my monthly spending reports. Why? Because it’s easiest for me to just track the things I spend from my net earnings. Besides, that’s savings, not spendings. My goal right now is, once I have my emergency fund back up to $5,000, and some extra money saved up for a vacation in August, to boost my 401k contribution up from my current 4% to somewhere around 25%. That gives me a little extra money in my budget each week to spend or save on other things, while majorly increasing my retirement savings. Especially since my employer already contributes 6% to my 401k.

If I counted that money in as savings vs. spending, I’d have to add it into my earnings as well. So, instead of showing my net pay each month, it would be net pay plus 401k. Which brings up other questions of what should be added back in. Should I count my FSA savings as savings? My health and dental insurance as spending? Suddenly my tracking system becomes way more difficult. And why? So I can try to attain an arbitrary savings percentage? And what if all those things didn’t equal out to 50%? Would I feel the need to restrict my spending even more, just to reach that number? I currently count my “lottery savings” as spending. Should I count it as savings, until we actually spend it? In which case, some months would look really good, and others really bad, and…

Don’t get me wrong, I have tons of respect for people who are able to save 50% of their income every month. And maybe even a little bit of jealousy that they’re able to be disciplined enough to make it work. But I feel like I finally have a system in place that works really well for me, and is working to help me reach our long-term goals. Sure, it may not be the quickest way there. But slowly but surely, we’ll make it. I’m sure with plenty of detours and changes in direction along the way.

But isn’t the journey supposed to be half the fun?

  • Cindy W.

I haven’t posted on here in 19 days, which I feel really bad about! Honestly, I have a lot to say, just having trouble making time.

Bryan’s Dad passed away last week, so we’ve been spending a lot of time with family. It was a really difficult time, but he’s been struggling for a while. He’s finally at peace.

We’ve had to navigate a lot of life changing events as a couple in the past year or so, and I definitely think it’s helped us to grow and see what’s important to us. It’s a reminder of why getting our finances in order is so important: So we can “buy time” to spend with the ones we love. You can always earn more money, but you’ll never get the time back!

I finally booked a vacation in August with my Mom and sisters. I didn’t want the year to slip away without making the time! I’ll post more about that in the future. It’s definitely made a big dent in my June net worth!

The garden is doing great! I feel like we were really late getting things in. May was really wet, and Bryan likes to till the garden multiple times before planting, so that slowed things down a bunch. But, we finally got everything planted. We even have jalapenos that are ready to pick!

Our main vegetable garden.

Our main vegetable garden. Picture taken a few weeks back.

I’d say that I’m hoping things will calm down soon, but I’m always saying that. I just need to learn more balance in life, and to make time for the important things. It’s a work in progress!

  • Cindy W.

Bryan does most of the cooking at our house. We both actually enjoy cooking, and we’re both fairly good. He tends to be a bit more of a traditionalist, whereas I like to try a variety of things. We’re both strong-willed people, but Bryan tends to be the more vocal about his opinions. For that reason, I’ve conceded to letting him cook most nights. I make dinner every Tuesday.

Bryan and I both love pasta, although I try to limit how much we eat. It’s hard to find a good tomato sauce that we both like. At the end of every Summer, Bryan likes to cook up large batches of tomato sauce from vegetables in our garden. We then can the sauce, and try to use it throughout the year. The issue is, it’s never quite right. Straight from the jar, it’s very bland. We simmer it down more, adding a little of this, some of that. Sometimes it’s a little too sweet, or a little too bitter. Try as we might, it’s always just meh! And Bryan hates to buy the jars from the store; he feels that anything pre-made is far inferior.

A few weeks back my parents told me about a quick recipe they came up with for chicken breasts: One large can of tomatoes, drained (in their case, store-bought), half a bottle of Greek salad dressing, and chicken breasts, baked at 350 degrees in a casserole dish. They put it over rice and topped it with feta cheese. It really got me thinking about the idea of using Greek salad dressing as a base for a tomato sauce. Would it work over pasta? How would it taste?

I tend to be the type that sees recipes more as suggestions. Sure, there are some instances, such as baking, when it’s best to follow the recipe exactly. But most of the time? I just use it as a guideline. With my parents’ recipe in mind, I bought a bottle of Greek salad dressing, a small can of tomato paste, and grabbed a pint jar of whole tomatoes that we canned last year. I drained the tomatoes, squeezed them to break them into smaller chunks, and tossed everything into a saucepan. Heat on low until warmed through.

Honestly, this stuff is pretty darned good, and super easy. I used half a bottle of Greek dressing, but in the future will probably cut back to 1/3, because WOAH! that’s a lot of calories! I think it will still have ample flavor using less dressing. And it does take a bit of stirring to incorporate the dressing and tomato paste. Once the sauce is nice and warm, I like to skim the top to remove some of the extra oil that separates out. You know, convince myself it’s a little bit healthier!

So far, I’ve used this sauce on pasta with chicken, vegetable lasagna, and on tortillas with mozzarella cheese as a sort of “pizza roll up”. I like the idea that I’ve found a way to use up some of the tomatoes we have canned from last year. We both really enjoy canning vegetables, but then struggle to eat them throughout the year. The sauce has a good flavor, but it doesn’t take a lot of time to make. It isn’t exactly a healthy recipe, considering the amount of oil in Greek dressing. You can do the same thing with Italian dressing, if you don’t like Greek, but the sauce will be a little bit tangier. Is that even a word?

If you give it a try, let me know what you think!

  • Cindy W.

I was super excited to calculate May’s Spending Update. Why? Because it’s my first month without a car payment! And WOW did that ever make a difference:

Where the money went: May 2016

Where the money went: May 2016

All said and done, I spent $1,728 in May. Which is about $359 higher than it should have been: Because of the Holiday, Netflix took my June payment early, and Bryan cashed my rent check for June earlier than usual, so those payments account for two months. I could have just shifted them over to June, but I worried I’d forget.

I was shocked to see our grocery spending so low this month. Especially considering we spent $120 in one week alone! Although we are getting better about watching what we’re buying, and keeping an eye out for sales and coupons.

Restaurants is a bit deceiving this month. I didn’t really have any big restaurant spending, aside from Mother’s Day, which I made a separate category. So most of that was spent at Starbucks, $5.07 at a time. Sigh. But, I’m happy report that I’ve finally broken the Starbucks habit! For the last couple of weeks I’ve been making iced coffee with cashew milk, coffee, a little sugar, and vanilla extract. It’s much less expensive, and, in theory, is much healthier. Of course, right after I quit Starbucks, my weight started creeping up. WTH?!?! I’ve managed to rein it in, but still kind of peeves me off that I was having an easier time maintaining while drinking a Starbucks Frappuccino 5 days a week!

We have an annual tradition of the women in the family going out for a late Mother’s Day lunch. This year we went to a small, local steak restaurant. Since Mother’s Day falls right around my younger sister’s birthday, my older sister and I typically split the tab for the 4 of us. We went out for drinks afterwards. Throw in a gift for Mom, and I spent $148. Totally worth it!

Hannah was due for some shots, heartworm prevention, and a three-month supply of flea and tick prevention. Pets are expensive! We include her food in with the groceries, so Pet Care typically just covers visits to the vet and groomers. She’s not fond of toys, and despises doggie sweaters, so she’s fairly inexpensive as far as dogs go. She’s happy to just sleep and eat!

The check cleared this month for my passport renewal, and I had my address changed on my driver’s license. Yes, it’s been a year since I sold my house, and I’m just changing my license. I’m a procrastinator by nature! Especially when terrible pictures are involved!

I spent $1,728 and brought in $2,624. Which means I spent 66% of my net pay. If you account for the $359 that is technically June’s spending, I only spent 52% of my net pay. I’d like to see that number drop below 50% most months. Maybe I should make that my new goal?

  • Cindy W.

 

* Lottery savings is the $20 that I put away each week, in cash, for NOT playing the lottery. This is equal to the amount Bryan spends each week playing the lottery. If he wins, the money is “ours”. My “spending” the same amount every week makes things seem more fair. At the end of the year, we’ll probably use that money to take a vacation. It’s like a guaranteed win!

** Insurance covers two term life insurance policies: One insuring me, and one insuring my younger sister. I pay my car insurance every 6 months, and renters insurance once a year.

*** To make things easier to track, I only list items that come out of my net pay, or what gets deposited into my checking account. My 401(k), health insurance, Flexible Spending Account, and other expenses that are taken directly from my weekly paycheck by my employer are not included here.

Net Worth Icon

Welcome to my monthly net worth post for May, 2016. Each month, I post a complete breakdown of my net worth, along with a chart showing the progression of my net worth since the start of this blog. Posting my net worth helps keep me accountable for what I do with my money, and motivates me to make better choices and push to reach new goals. You can see previous net worth updates here

As May comes to an end, I find myself feeling very much relaxed. The rain has stopped, and the weather is turning summer-like. Our garden is in (finally!). I’m settling in to my newly debt-free status, and am beginning to think about my plans for the future. Slowly but surely, I’m starting to shed my anxiety about what my priorities should be. After all, at 37 years old, I hopefully have more life ahead of me than behind. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

May 2016 Net Worth:

Net Worth Update as of May 31, 2016.

Net Worth Update as of May 31, 2016.

Now that I don’t have any debt, I find myself checking my net worth much less throughout the month. Which made it a nice surprise when I saw I’d gained $1,825 in May. It could have been higher, but Mother’s Day is always a pricier Holiday for me. I’ll explain that in my Spending Update for May.

My 401(k) total doesn’t include my last contribution for the month, or any of my employer’s contributions. I think the Holiday weekend slowed things down. If everything posts on time in June, I should see a nice increase. Even so, I can’t complain about $512 in growth, especially since only $118.86 of that accounts for contributions.

The bulk of this month’s growth is in liquid assets. I’m trying to get my emergency fund back up to $5,000. Right now it sits at about $2,400. At $330 in savings each week, it should take right around 8 weeks to get there. The rest of the liquid assets is a vacation fund ($1,000), and what I have left in my checking accounts. I’ve cut back on how much of my weekly pay gets put into my expenses checking account  since I’ve paid off the car loan, but it’s still sitting a little high. Which isn’t a bad thing: It gives me a little bit of an extra cushion, should something happen. Once my emergency fund is full funded, I expect my liquid assets to sit right around $6,500-7,500 each month, depending on any other savings goals I have at the time.

Net Worth Progress Chart:

Monthly Net Worth since the start of this blog (February 2013).

Monthly Net Worth since the start of this blog (February 2013).

If nothing unexpected happens during the month of June, I should hit my goal of growing my net worth by $10,000 in 2016. I’m only $961 away right now. I keep thinking I should up that goal to $20,000 in growth. After all, we’re just entering the 6th month of 2016. But, I’ve also had a tax refund that sped up that progress, among other things. It might make a nice “push goal” though!

Slowly but surely, my financial life is becoming “boring”, and taking less of my daily focus. And isn’t that part of the goal? To get to the point where living in a financially responsible way becomes second nature, and the future feels more secure?

  • Cindy W.