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.

** I’ve been writing, and editing, and rewriting this post for months, putting off actually hitting Publish. Why? Because it’s very personal. And definitely TMI. And has nothing to do with personal finance. And involves… girl stuff… And it probably won’t be relevant to most of the readers here. So, feel free to skip this one! You’ve been warned!

I actually left work on time that day, desperate to make it to the Vitamin Shoppe before they closed. I’d discovered the night before that I was down to my last pill. Driving 20 minutes out of my way was more than worth it. I made a bee-line through the store to the back wall, and grabbed two bottles of reishi mushroom extract. You can buy it at most health food stores, but Vitamin Shoppe is one of the few places that sell an affordable store brand; I’d likely pay anything for them, but why pay $20-50 for 60 pills (or less!) when you can get 100 for $12?

The gray-haired man behind the counter seemed very friendly. Maybe a little too friendly. I’m the type of person who prefers her purchases not be commented on. No such luck. I could feel it coming as he started chit-chatting.

Him: So what made you decide on the  reishi mushroom?

Me (feeling the redness creeping up my face): I have… uhm… an… allergy.

Him (look of confusion): Huh. Reishi mushroom is generally recommended for immune support. I myself follow a mushroom regiment. But if you’re suffering from allergies, I’d recommend: blah, blah, blah.

I stood there for a second, ready to just thank him for his advice, pay for my reishi and go. But then I reminded myself how hard it was to find a solution to my issue. And I’d promised myself that I would share that information. Maybe by sharing, I’d help someone else? After all, don’t many people turn to herbal medicines when modern science fails them?

I took a deep breath and replied: I have a sperm allergy.

Well, that’s one way to shut a middle-aged man up! Mr. Chatty just stood there, mouth open, staring at me. It was obvious I’d caught him off guard. Just when the silence started getting uncomfortable, the sales girl a few feet over, who apparently had been eavesdropping on our conversation, jumped into the conversation. She seemed genuinely interested, asking several questions. Eventually, her male counterpart was able to recover, as he looked at me in awe and whispered: I didn’t even know that was possible.

I’m not even sure if my sperm “allergy” is technically considered an allergy. No, my throat won’t swell closed if I give a blow-job (my sister was dying to ask that question!). And Benedryl provides no relief at all; Although I’m guilty upon occasion of taking a few so I could sleep despite the discomfort. It’s more that my vagina views sperm as a foreign invader that must be stopped at all cost. The immune reaction results in swelling, burning, and discomfort that can last for weeks. Weeks! This reaction creates an imbalance in my system, which often will lead to some type of infection.

I’ve spent many, many years being brushed off as just having an “overly sensitive” system. It wasn’t until Bryan and I had been dating about a year that my gynecologist brought up allergies as a possible culprit. After a battery of allergy tests, the Allergist gave his recommendation: My skin was too sensitive to draw many conclusions about food, but I definitely had a lot of reactions, so I should stay away from using anything natural on my body (or Bryan’s body). The chemical tests were better: Nothing with propylene glycol or cocamidopropyl betaine (found in most body washes, shampoos, conditioners, etc.) for me (or Bryan!). No condoms, of any kind, ever. I already assumed those were an issue from previous relationships. And a list of other recommendations that didn’t apply to my, uhm, “issue”: No cobalt. No formaldehyde. No whatever-chemical-they-use-in-hair-dye. I have a list… somewhere…

Changing both of our shower products, and steering clear of all condoms and lubricants, made things better. Much better. Instead of feeling like I had an infection all the time, I was only having issues about once a quarter. Better, but it still sucked. Especially since it took weeks to figure out; It usually just started off as irritation and inflammation, so there wasn’t much the doctor could do about it. I had to wait (usually several weeks) to figure out if it would turn into an infection, or go away on its own. Miserable!

My doctor was out of answers, so I did what most people do, and started scouring the internet. Turns out, there are thousands of women who have the same issues. Thousands of women who have been suffering for years. Women whose marriages and relationships end over something that makes them miserable, and they have no control over. Women who are trying unbelievable remedies to find some relief. I was shocked to see what some women were doing to find relief. There are just certain places a clove of garlic should never go!

I started to pay attention to when my issues would start; Honestly, it wasn’t hard to do, since the reaction is pretty much instant. It didn’t take long to figure it out: sperm. Was that even possible? The internet said it was, but just be safe, I asked my doctor. Turns out, it really is possible! Because of the type of reaction it is, there isn’t an easy way to test to be sure. I try to avoid what’s causing the reaction. It doesn’t always work out. See above comments about condoms. See any high school sex ed book for statistics on how well “pulling out” helps you avoid sperm. And to some extent, my original doctors were right: My system is so sensitive, I react to anything the least bit different. Try as we might, we couldn’t completely avoid causing a reaction.

Somewhere in the vast web, I finally found an answer: reishi mushroom extract. It’s widely known for supporting the immune system, and is commonly used by people with cancer, or who are avoiding cancer risks. I assume that’s why it works, since my sperm allergy is an immune reaction. And it seems to work for more than just sperm related issues: it’s helped in situations where someone decided to try a new body wash, and a few other mishaps we should have been more careful to avoid.

I don’t take the pills all the time; I usually just take 2 pills morning and night for several days when I need them. That being said, I’d gotten to the point of being overly confident with how well they worked, and wasn’t taking them often enough or long enough when I did need them. Lately I’ve been taking two a day, just to get my system back on track.

Which brings up another good question: Fertility. Obviously, sperm is a necessary part of creating a baby. There isn’t much (maybe any) research on the subject. Everything I’ve come across (on the internet) has basically said that, with a sperm allergy, your only hope is in-vitro. If the reishi mushroom stops the reaction, does that mean pregnancy is possible? I haven’t found anything that says one way or the other.We’re pretty well settled on the idea that we won’t be having children, so we aren’t really trying to figure that part out.

See, I warned you this post was TMI! Why am I posting about sperm allergies on a personal finance blog? Because it’s my blog, and I’ll do what I want! I kid! I’m doing this because I know how miserable it is to suffer through, without any answers. The toll it can take on relationships. The desperation to find an answer! While I don’t get a lot of traffic here, this blog is a public format, where women might be able to come across the answers they need. It may not work for everyone. But maybe I can help one other person who is suffering.

And then it would totally be worth the embarrassment of sharing my vaginal issues with the world (and the horrified sales man at Vitamin Shoppe)!

  • Cindy W.

Note: I am NOT a doctor, and this is in no way medical advice. Talk to your own doctor, and do your own research before trying any new supplement. While I haven’t noticed any side effects in the year plus that I’ve been regularly taking reishi mushroom extract, I can’t guarantee that there aren’t side effects or dangers in taking this supplement. I am in no way associated with Vitamin Shoppe, and am in no way compensated for my statements.

I was really nervous about hitting “publish” on my last post. Retirement has been at the forefront of my mind ever since Bryan and I started dating and he uttered the shocking words “I could retire next year”. I looked at my small 401(k) balance, all of our plans and dreams, and worried about the security of my future.

Surprisingly enough, no one responded with shock or disgust. No one implied that I’m selfish, or acting entitled. Over the past week (and a half), I’ve felt like this huge weight has been lifted. Maybe what I’m feeling is completely normal? A lot of couples start off on uneven ground. Maybe, despite our large age difference, this was something that many other couples could relate to?

With the worry of how I’d be perceived gone, I’ve finally been able to really think about my future, and start making a plan. I’m finally completely debt free. The last few weeks I’ve been putting money aside for a vacation ($1,000) and working to build my emergency fund back to $5,000. At $330 a week saved (at least), I expect it to take less than 10 9 more weeks to accomplish both goals.

And then? I think I’ll bump up my 401(k) contribution. Right now I’m contributing 4% per week, which equals out to a little over $39. My employer contributed an additional 6%. Bumping my contributions up from 4% to 25% will leave me putting just under $250 in every week. Depending on how taxes shake out, that should leave me with $100+ each week for… whatever. Vacations. Extra savings. A side hustle fund. Whatever!

I’ll admit, putting $1,000-ish every month away for the distant future makes me a little nervous. What about our short and medium term goals? But, I’ll still have $400-ish every month for whatever else. And, right now, we don’t really have concrete short or medium term goals. I can change my 401(k) contributions whenever I want. It isn’t like I’m stuck with that choice forever! And I seriously doubt future me will regret that decision!

I also keep reminding myself that we aren’t a one income family. Although I’m currently the more solvent partner, Bryan actually makes more money than I do. And this year should be a much better year for him, since he no longer has a house payment.

One thing that I’ve been very honest with Bryan about, if he’s considering retiring early, or becoming a snow bird, and wants to do that with me (which he does), then we have to work together to make sure both of our futures are secure. If we’re each working towards different goals, we won’t be able to share in the same things. He wants to spend the Winter months in a warmer climate. And I do too! But I can’t do that at the expense of my own retirement!

I don’t know what the future holds. But I’m finally starting to give myself permission to plan for the future. And just telling myself it’s okay is a huge sigh of relief.

  • Cindy W.

 

Now that my car loan is paid off, I’m finally starting to let go of my financial past, and look ahead towards the future. Bryan and I are beginning to discuss our plans, and how we’ll begin combining our finances. We’re talking about our hopes and dreams, both long-term and short-term: Vacations. Buying a Home. Retirement.

It’s hard to deny that we’re starting out on uneven ground. Bryan sees himself as being painfully behind. He has a smattering of credit card debt, and a car loan. At the end of the Summer, he’ll likely be trading one car loan for another. He has no savings to speak of. He doesn’t own any assets. Losing his job several years ago took a major chunk out of his annual salary, and left him back in a seasonal career that is extremely weather dependent. He’s never learned how to tell himself no, and struggles to control his spending. And, like so many people, he fears money: A lifetime of financial failures have left him feeling as though he isn’t “smart enough” to gain control of his financial future. Only the smart and rich get ahead. The rest just keep their heads down and try to survive.

Bryan looks at the progress I’ve made over the last few years, and views me as some sort of financial genius. I try not to trivialize his fears, while convincing him of the great things we can accomplish together. Over the past couple of years, we’ve slashed both of our living expenses dramatically, while still living a life we both enjoy. We eat at restaurants. Have drinks with friends. Take vacations. And yet we never have to worry about being able to afford our cost of living. When he isn’t working, I can easily pickup the extra expenses. We talk about everything, and he sees how I’ve been able to pay off a large amount of debt, and even set some money aside, despite the fact that I make $10,000-20,000 less per year than he does (even with all of his layoffs).

Bryan feels as though he is starting again with nothing. But the reality is, there’s something he has that is worth a tremendous amount: A fully funded pension, which he can claim at any time.

After 30 years in a union, Bryan has reached the age where he can begin considering retirement. But, like many pensions, the information that is readily available is intentionally vague. I often feel like they give minimal information so that people won’t be able to maximize their benefits.

If Bryan were to stop working now, but wait to claim his pension until age 62, his benefit would be $5,000 per month. That isn’t hugely different from what he’s making now. Plus, he’s at an age where he can assume he’ll be able to get something from Social Security. Unlike some other union pension plans that have been in the news recently, his pension is solidly “in the green”, meaning the total value of the pension is capable of covering future distributions. I still don’t love having all of his “eggs in one basket”, so it’s something we’re keeping in mind for the future.

Bryan became eligible to take an early retirement a couple of years ago. If he decided to retire before age 62 (full retirement age), he’d lose 3% for every year until his 62 birthday. So, if he retired this coming January, when he turned 58, he’d lose 12% of the $5,000. Of course, every hour that he works between now and then adds to his pension, so the total amount before the discount would be more than $5,000 by then. Even with the discount, it’s still a livable amount.

Oddly enough, I feel the weight of that pension constantly. It’s like a dark cloud hanging over me. Bryan feels insecure about his current financial position. I feel insecure about my future. I see Bryan’s debt as a temporary issue: After all, I paid off $17,400 on my car loan over one year on my own. If we join forces, we could easily knock out all of his debts in a very short period of time. Covering layoffs? No big deal! Buying a house? Pffffth! Our combined income is more than enough to wipe out his debts, cover our needs, and most of our wants.

In a year or two, Bryan could be in a great position to retire: No consumer debt. Large pension. Small living expenses. He talks about becoming a snow bird, even before he retires. After all, his layoffs would allow for it. We’ll travel to Florida every year. Or Arizona. Or maybe even South Carolina. And it will be great!

And that’s when I feel the weight of our age difference, and all the financial decisions I’ve made up to this point. We could easily live on his pension alone. But then what? I’m 20 years younger, which means I’ll likely have 20 years of life after he’s gone. I look at my $21,000 401(k), and feel woefully unprepared. Even if allowed to grow for the next 20-30 years, it won’t be enough to support me in the future. Accounting isn’t exactly a “snowbird” friendly career. What if his health fails, and I need to take time off in the future to care for him? Rejoining the workforce in my 60’s or 70’s doesn’t exactly sound promising.

Of course, his pension statements remind us that he can leave his benefits to a spouse, or qualifying dependent. But it would discount the monthly benefit amount. By how much? It doesn’t say. It also vaguely references additional penalties for age differences. Our twenty year age gap could come at a huge cost.

We don’t know what those costs are. Bryan is ever the optimist, convinced that it won’t be so dramatic. I’m ever the pessimist, planning for the worst. My fears were bolstered when I recently helped my mom with her pension forms. Granted, it’s a completely different industry, and her pension is much smaller. Her options were to claim her entire monthly benefit, and leave my dad nothing, or leave my dad 50% of her monthly benefit if she were to die first, and lose 1/3 of her benefit. In Bryan’s case, that would lower his benefit to around $3,300 per monthly, and leave me with $1,650 if he were to die first. Ouch! In addition, her pension stated there would be a 40% penalty for an age gap of twenty years. That would lower those amounts to $1,980 and $990.

Of course, all of that is just assumptions. His pension could handle things completely different. Or, by the time he decides to retire, we could be looking at drastically different numbers. But, even still, I feel the weight of those numbers. It makes me feel selfish for even making my needs a consideration in his pension plans. I think of all the stereotypes of women my age dating men his age. Gold diggers. Not that there’s any gold here to dig. But then, I worry about his health failing. He’s very active now, but he isn’t always careful. He smokes, drinks too much, and pretty much refuses to go to the doctor, or get any type of preventative testing done. It isn’t that I can’t take care of myself financially now. But I worry about having to step away from my career to care for him, and then struggling to make ends meet as I age, or trying to reenter the workforce as a senior. And, being childless, there’s no one I can fall back on (Not that I agree with depending on your children for your care anyways). Or him not being able to live out the retirement he wants, because I’m unable to step away from work.

The more I think about it, the more overwhelmed I start to feel. And selfish. It would be irresponsible of me NOT to plan for my own financial future. I can’t just throw caution to the wind and assume everything will work out. But the reality is, despite his current financial situation, Bryan is in a MUCH better overall position than I am. One way or another, being with me hurts his retirement plans. And I feel the weight of that. If he leaves his benefits to me, I feel selfish for drastically cutting into his monthly income. If I start throwing everything I have into my own retirement, I feel selfish for prioritizing that over all of our other goals.

All of this would be much easier if we were closer to the same age. But we’re not, and age isn’t something we can change. The best we can do is be open and honest with each other, about our fears, our dreams, and what we’re willing to compromise on. I think that we both agree that our relationship benefits each of us in ways that are more than financial. And in the end, it’s worth whatever sacrifices we’ll need to make.

  • Cindy W.

April was another interesting month as far as spending went:

Where the money went: April 2016

Where the money went: April 2016

All told, I spent $4,538 while earning $2,624. Of course, I pulled nearly $3,000 out of my emergency fund to pay off the remainder of the car loan, so that number isn’t nearly as bad as it seems. Being debt free means my spending updates should look very different from here on out: I’ll no longer have the vast majority of my money going to “Car Payment” and “Extra Car Payment”, and I’m not likely to have months where I spend more than I earn.

How big of a difference will it make? Well, without those two categories in April, I would have only spent $1,076. That’s less than half my earnings! Spending for the remainder of 2016 should be drastically different than what I’ve become used to.

Gas was surprisingly high this month. Then again, I had $0 in gas spending in March. The way it fell, I fueled up the last day of February, didn’t drive for 9 days in March, and then fueled up the first day of April. So, in a sense, March’s gas costs leaked over into other months.

I was shocked by how low our grocery spending was this month. Since I’ve been tracking, we typically come in between $350 and $450. Spending only $234 seems ridiculously low. But, we are getting better about what we buy. And the $62 in “Personal Care” somewhat offsets that amount. I don’t break out our grocery expenses. If it’s bought at the grocery store, it goes into “Groceries / Household”. If it’s bought at the drug store, or I remember only buying personal care items (like trips to Target), it goes under “Personal Care”. I’m really a convenience shopper, and try to make as few trips as possible. So, if I need something, and can get it at the grocery store, I do that. But, the drug store is closer, so if I have to make a special trip, I’ll usually swing by there on my way home.

Things admittedly got out of hand this month with restaurant spending. It started off innocently enough: I paid off my car loan, and got Starbucks to celebrate. Have I mentioned how much I love Starbucks? A gesture of celebration quickly turned into a coping mechanism: I hate my job, I’m feeling lost about where I focus now that my loans are gone, so I’ll deal by treating myself to Starbucks. EVERY.SINGLE.AFTERNOON. Bad from a financial perspective. And bad for my waistline (although I did count the drinks as “lunch”, avoiding a few extra calories). Bryan of course doesn’t understand my Starbucks inclination, so I only did this during the week.

I’m hoping to get that under control this month. I’m just struggling with fighting my entitled attitude. And honestly, my day goes better, and I go home in a much better mood, when I have Starbucks in the afternoon. I know that getting a Frappuccino every day is a bad thing. I just need to figure out if there’s a healthier (and cheaper!) way to replicate the effects.

I also finally decided to renew my Passport. It definitely cost more than $21, but the $140 check I wrote hasn’t cleared yet. I used my debit card to pay for the photo and postage fees, so those cleared in April. The rest will be a May expense.

Overall, I’m happy with my spending during April. There are places where I could have done better, but all in all, I don’t feel like anything was completely out of line. And I’m really excited to see what May looks like, now that two of my biggest categories are gone!

  • Cindy

* Lottery savings is the $16 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. Health insurance is taken out of my weekly paycheck; 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 April, 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

April was a huge month for me financially: It was the month that I officially became debt free! I had to pull some cash out of savings in order to make that happen, but I decided getting rid of my car loan was more important than having a larger emergency fund. Not to worry, I’ve already started building the fund back up!

April 2016 Net Worth:

Net Worth update as of April 30, 2016.

Net Worth update as of April 30, 2016.

As far as April goes, paying off the car loan was more of a “shell game”: It didn’t affect my net worth overall, it just moved the things from one row to another (less cash, less liability). From here on out thought, it should have a positive effect, as I won’t be paying anymore interest. It isn’t a huge amount, but $30-40 each month still makes a difference! And I’d rather have that money in my own pocket than in the bank’s.

I saw a net worth increase of $1,799 in April. It’s weird having so few categories that make up my net worth, now that I’m debt free. In the short-term, most of my growth should be in my “liquid assets”, as I’m growing my emergency fund back up. From there? I definitely need to concentrate more on my retirement accounts.

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).

I’m excited to see how the rest of this year plays out. Aside from a few vacations, I don’t expect any large expenses, so those monthly numbers should continue going up. Just the way I like it!

  • Cindy W.