It seems as though Summer is drawing to a close. Most (if not all) of the schools around here are back in session. The heat is starting to subside, if only slightly. And our garden is starting to wind down.

I spend most of the year longing for warm weather, and then always end up feeling like it passes before I’ve really gotten to enjoy it. Blame it on the industry I work in: Construction’s busy season is the warmer months, and my work stress tends to spill over into my evenings. And age: Time seems to pass so much more quickly as you age!

Our main focus in the garden is always tomato plants, which are starting to show a little wear. I’d considered pulling up the cherry tomatoes, since the plants were looking ragged and starting to die off at the base. But then they found a “second wind”, and started blooming again. So, for now, they get to stay.

We got a late start to the season, since it was so wet during May and June. It wouldn’t have mattered, but we extended the garden, and Bryan wanted to till the new soil several times before we planted. Things didn’t get the start they should have before the hot weather hit. And then, the animals hit. Have I mentioned we live across the street from a state park? We have animals traipsing through our yard that I’m not even sure what they are! We put up a gallant fight, pulling out every old trick we could find, but it seems we may have lost the war. They munch on the tomatoes as soon as they start to show the slightest bit of color. They mowed down the corn as soon as little ears started to form. And our poor spaghetti squash plants must have had delicious leaves, as they ate every one as soon as it sprouted. The plant continued to vine out across the garden regardless, with little green stems sticking up where it’s leaves should have been. Eventually it wound it’s way between the cucumbers, which seemed to provide some refuge from the wildlife. We have one little squash that may actually make it!

Despite all of the animals, we’ve still managed to harvest a large amount of vegetables. More than we can eat, which has led to large amounts of canning and preserving. And this year, we’ve decided to try a “Fall crop”, which is a first for both of us. Last night Bryan tilled some of the now barren rows of our garden, while I planted a variety of radishes, lettuces, broccoli, cauliflower, and sugar snap peas, all from seeds. These plants are supposed to do well with the cooler temperatures, and will hopefully mature before the frost hits.

Even if we don’t have great success, it’s nice to feel as though we can extend the growing season a little longer. After all, it won’t be long before the ground is frozen and dusted with snow. I’d like to hold on to the joys of Summer for as long as we can!

  • Cindy W.

It’s been about a month since I received my shiny new Visa credit card in the mail. I’d love to say that the whole thing has been a resounding success so far, but it hasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been a complete failure. But there have been some issues, and a few things I’m going to have to adjust to.

Right off the bat, I felt like I failed at using credit responsibly. We had a pricey weekend at the grocery store ($101.96), which happens from time to time. It always seems like we run out of toilet paper, paper towels, and other pricier items all at once. No big deal, I had the money in the bank to cover that. Except, Kohl’s was clearing out their swimsuits online. And I really wanted a new swimsuit for our upcoming vacation. I’d found three online that I really liked, in my size, and being online, I wasn’t sure which would fit the best. But I’d already spent down my clothing fund, and there wasn’t enough money in my spend account to cover the swimsuits and the grocery store charges.

I’ll be honest, I was really tempted to just buy the swimsuits, and worry about the credit card payment later. Really, really tempted. So, what did I do? Nothing. For eight days, I didn’t do anything. I didn’t pay the grocery charge, or order the swimsuits. I just waited, and thought. Overall, I was really disappointed in myself that this was even an issue. After all, if I didn’t have the credit card, I wouldn’t even be thinking about it. The money just wouldn’t be there!

In the end, waiting it out turned out to be a good thing. One of the swimsuits sold out. Kohl’s sent me some coupons. I squeezed my budget a little bit harder. I managed to find a way to pay off the grocery charges, and buy two swimsuits.

I’m still a little disappointed in myself though. After all, when I got the card, I told myself that I would pay off the charges immediately, so it would be just like spending cash. So, after that first charge, I decided to double down, and do what I originally set out to do.

Except, paying off the charges immediately isn’t an option. I quickly found that it takes several days to be able to pay off recent charges on your account. Even though the charges show up online!

My credit card transaction history.

My credit card transaction history.

There are two charges showing up right now online, both dated for 8/08/16. We actually made those charges on Friday, 8/05, and Sunday, 8/07. It took several days for the charges to show up. But, even now that they are there, I still can’t pay them:

Payment options.

Payment options on my credit card.

I’ve already paid the $57.17 statement balance, so it won’t let me pay that. And when I try to enter an “Other Amount”, it tells me I can’t pay more than the Current Balance. Grrr!

I probably should have expected that there would be a delay between when the charges were made, and when the system would allow me to pay them off. It isn’t the end of the world. But, it does kind of mess up the system I’ve had going for a while now. I don’t exactly follow a real budget; I give myself a set amount of money every week to spend on groceries, gas, and anything else I want. When it’s gone, it’s gone. Except now I can’t just look at my online banking to see what I have available to spend. I also have to look at my credit card balance. And then think about whether there are any other grocery store trips that haven’t cleared yet. And then do math…

My bank does allow me to put money into “reserve” for something, so I’m considering just moving the “spent” money into reserve, so it looks like it’s already gone. It just seems like such a pain to make a purchase, move the money to reserve, then later come back and pay off the purchase. I do so much better when everything is automated, and I don’t have to worry about it!

The rewards also aren’t as rewarding as I’d hoped. If I use my credit card at a Kroger gas station, I can save 25 cent per gallon through September. I’ve done this exactly zero times. I don’t get gas very often. I’d have to go out of my way to get to the closest gas station. And I don’t like the idea of also charging my gas. It’s one more thing to have to keep track of paying, and makes it harder to separate out my grocery and gas spending on my monthly spending updates. We are slowly earning points towards a possible quarterly rewards certificate, but it could take a really long time for us to rack up enough points to actually see a reward. Although, thankfully, the points do roll forward, so if we don’t earn enough in one quarter, we don’t lose all our points.

There is one benefit so far to having a credit card:

Credit Score as of 8/09/2016.

Credit Score as of 8/09/2016.

 

Credit score as of 7/13/2016.

Credit score as of 7/13/2016.

My credit score has gone up 10 points since I applied for a credit card. Which is good, since my credit score was the whole reason I was willing to consider getting a credit card in the first place! I have no intention of spending enough on my credit card to start chasing rewards.

I’d consider myself in the “transition phase” right now. It’s just like any other part of personal finance, be it budgeting, debt repayment, saving or investing: I have to figure out a system that works best for me! My plan right now is to give it a few months, and see how I feel. I may end up backing off to one purchase a month, instead of putting all my grocery spending on the card. Who knows? Maybe I’ll figure out something else that works even better for me. The point is, I’m wading in to something new. It doesn’t have to be perfect right off the bat!

  • Cindy W.

As July was a pretty fabulous month Net Worth wise, it should come as no surprise that it was a fairly uneventful month for spending as well:

Where the money went: July 2016.

Where the money went: July 2016.

I spent a total of $1,255 in July, while bringing home a total of $2,624. There isn’t really anything too out of the ordinary this month. I spent a lot more than I probably should have on clothes; I’ve found myself much more in the mood the last few months for clothes shopping, and have taken advantage of that to round out my wardrobe a little better. I’ve been buying a lot more warm weather clothes, which helps a lot for day-to-day life during the Summer, and will also help tremendously when we go to Florida in a few weeks.

The Grief Expenses in July were for two flower bead chaplets we’re having made for Bryan’s mom and sister, using flowers from his Dad’s funeral. We both come from Catholic families, although the two of us are non-practicing. Chaplets are like mini rosaries. There are numerous companies online that can make beads out of flower petals that you mail in, and turn them into jewelry, or rosaries, or chaplets. It will take 3-4 months for us to receive the finished chaplets, so I can’t really comment right now on whether the money spent was worthwhile, or if I would recommend the company we used. My Aunt did this after my Grandfather passed away years ago, and I still have my chaplet tucked away in a keepsake box.

The garden expenses this month were for more mulch, and straw for our back garden, where we’re growing cucumbers, zucchini, watermelon and eggplant. At this point, we’re mainly just harvesting and weeding in the garden, and making sure things stay adequately hydrated. We have started canning some things, but any canning supplies I’ve had to purchase have gotten lumped in to our groceries and household expenses.

I do technically have a negative spending category this month: Vacation. The total cost so far for the vacation I’m taking with my mom and sisters later this month has come to $3,461. That included the Resort, along with flights and tickets for 3 of us (my older sister is purchasing her flight and tickets separately, since she isn’t staying as many days). My portion of the cost should have been $1,034. That’s what I calculated into my June Net Worth and Spending numbers. However, my mom realized that it would be difficult for my sisters to afford all of the cost for vacation. Since she’s in a position financially to do so, she wanted to help them out. But, it bothers her that she helps my sisters out, but doesn’t do as much for me. I’m in a position to not need the help, and I definitely want both of my sisters there, so it doesn’t bother me in the least who pays for what. But my mom decided that, to make things fair, she would pay the entire cost of the Resort (i.e. the room). I was given $3,000 to cover the Resort, plus her and one sister’s tickets and flight. Which means I only paid $461 for vacation, instead of $1,034.

With all of that in mind, once again this month I tried to back my Spending numbers into my Net Worth, to see if the math worked out. What I finally realized is that, unless I get more detailed in my tracking, it’s never going to work out. Why? Because when I calculate my Net Worth each month, I use the “available balance” on my bank accounts, which includes all the charges that are pending on my debit card. But when I calculate my Spending, the export only pulls forward the amounts that have already cleared my accounts. Sure, I could manually include the pending charges in my Spending figures for the month. But then, when I go to figure the next month’s Spending numbers, I’d have to remember which charges I’d already figured into the previous month’s Spending, and manually remove those. Which starts to make the whole thing more complicated. Over the course of a year, those lagging end-of-month charges should pretty much be a wash. It isn’t like they aren’t accounted for! It’s just that some of the charges from the last few days of July will show up as though they are early August charges. And next month, late August charges might show up as early September charges. I could remove the pending charges from my Net Worth, but I feel as though including that money as already spent is a more accurate indication of the liquid funds I actually have.

Vacation spending will be big for August, but otherwise, I’m expecting a fairly boring month. And that’s a good thing!

  • Cindy W.

Net Worth Icon

Welcome to my monthly net worth post for July, 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

Overall, July ended up being an incredibly uneventful month. We started harvesting vegetables from the garden. Spent time with friends and family. Unsuccessfully tried to combine spending time outdoors with staying out of the heat. You know, normal summertime activities.

As it turns out, uneventful months are great on the finances!

July 2016 Net Worth:

Net Worth as of July 31, 2016

Net Worth as of July 31, 2016.

I had a total net worth gain of $3,722 in July, which more than made up for my June shortcomings. The markets played nice, and I saw a fair increase in my 401(k) balance. I stayed on track with my emergency fund: It’s now at $4,840. By the end of this week, it will be fully funded at $5,000. Even the value of my vehicle is holding strong!

In the first week of July, I surpassed my goal of gaining $10,000 in net worth during 2016. I’ve managed to make a $12,932 increase so far. I doubt I’ll make it to $20,000 this year, but I should get fairly close, depending on what the markets do for the remainder of the year. Actually, in the next few weeks I’ll start putting a larger percentage of my income into my 401(k), which should make things more interesting. Long-term, it’s a great financial move. Short-term? Well, it means my net worth will be much more out of my control, and in the hands of stock market fluctuations. It should be an interesting ride!

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 expecting August to be a less stellar month, since I’ll be spending a large chunk of change while we’re on vacation. I already have that money set aside, in cash, so no worries there. Otherwise, I’m hoping for smooth sailing for the remainder of the year!

  • Cindy W.

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.