The week of the cold and other miscellany

Hi all! Sorry for the radio silence around here- both F. and I have been sick since about Saturday with some cold bug.  I’ve been going to bed right after putting F. down at night, which is my usual blogging time!

Anyway, a few random thoughts about the week thus far.

1. Budgeting for doctor bills

I am extremely glad that I have continued to budget for doctor bills, even though up to this point we haven’t really been using them.  In the last week, F. has had a cold, two infected eyes and now an ear infection, all of which have required medicine of some variety.  Here’s hoping for a generally healthy month going forward though, as our budgeted doctor money is just about gone.

2. Stretching my dinner budget further

Mrs. Frugalwoods, over at the Frugalwoods blog (which you should check out, it’s awesome), recently posted about how she and her husband usually eat their dinner every night over rice or a bed of greens.  This got me thinking about new ways to streamline the dinner process (which I am always on the lookout for).  I’m thinking about trying to cut up some various meat and veggies and mixing up some various sauces (Thai, Mexican and Italian inspired) that I can use to make stir-fries at night.  This would, ideally, introduce a variety of meat, veggies and flavors to our diet as well as cut down the nightly “what are we going to eat?!”  Even meal-planning has not been helping with this cooking apathy.  I’m going to give this a try next week, so I’ll let you all know how it goes.

3. Birthday day of fun!

That sadly, never was.  F. and I had a marvelous day of birthday fun planned for her on Saturday, when she came down with a nasty little cold.  I still took her out for breakfast (in her pajamas, to IHOP, for pancakes, which made her very happy), but the rest of our day pretty much devolved into playing with toys, snuggling on the couch and sleeping.  However, even though we didn’t go and do anything, she was still clearly having a great day hanging out with me, even though she didn’t feel good. It was a timely reminder that she doesn’t need me to go out and do things with her- she just wants dedicated time that we spend together.  Making memories with her doesn’t have to cost money- it can be as simple as sitting and putting together seven different Thomas the Tank Engine puzzles 🙂

Anyway, I think that’s about it (and I need to work on ordering groceries for next week) so hopefully I’ll be back at it strong next week.  Assuming we both can stay healthy…



November Budget

It’s November budget time! Since Christmas is coming up (along with some other holiday stuff), we’ve got a few more expenses than normal.  Which is ok- we could save more for Christmas throughout the year, but this way works for us, right now.

Yucky Yucky Debt

  • $135,225 – Progress is progress.  Dave Ramsey calls them baby steps for a reason.
  • Planned payments: $1200
  • Planned over-payment: $1200 (I’m hoping this ends up being more. I think I’ve over-budgeted in a few areas, but a few things this month have some cost uncertainty associated with them. I prefer to over-budget and be pleasantly surprised than under-budget and be left scrambling.)


  • Rent: $1300
  • Utilities: $280
  • Phone: $51
  • Groceries: $600- This is high to account for both a tentative “welcome home” party we might be having for B. (who is returning sometime this month!!!) as well as an extended visit from my sister and brother-in-law (and my adorable nephew).
  • Gas: $300- Once B. is back stateside, F. and I will have to drive a bit (4.5 hours!) to go collect him.  So gas will be required to do that.
  • Daycare: $1003
  • B. Cash: $500- this will hopefully cover what he needs as he returns. We shall see.

Other Items

  • Netflix: $11
  • Restaurants: $100 – With so much traveling and family coming in from out of town, this may be hard to stick with.  But I’m going to try!
  • Pet care: $800 – Ah, the joys of owning a pet.  Due to some elevated values, R. has to have an ultrasound done as well as some unknown other testing.  The ultrasound is $500 (ugh) but I’m cushioning that amount for any other testing/charges.  Just like people, pets generally tend to incur more medical expenses as they get older.  Since R. is 13 years old, I’m guessing this might be the new normal for a bit.
  • Clothing: $150- The weather has turned to slightly warmer than frigid here and I realized that I am in dire need of some winter-appropriate shoes for work.  I had shoes to make it through last year, but pretty much all of them developed un-fixable holes at the end of the season, so I need to re-stock my wardrobe with some work AND weather-appropriate footwear.
  • Sports and Entertainment: $75
  • Miscellaneous: $200
  • Hair care/cosmetics: $75 – I need a haircut and some make-up all in the same month.  I don’t think it’ll cost $75, but I’d rather estimate too high.
  • Fun money: $100
  • Doctor: $50
  • Maid: $200
  • Lawn service: $400-  I think this is high as well.  $250 is for the bush and tree trimming they did last month. I still haven’t gotten an invoice for that yet.  However, I think they may have also cut our grass once or twice.  Fortunately, I think we’re done with yard work for the year.
  • F. Birthday: $75- Instead of a party this year, F. asked to spend the entire day with Mommy, doing fun things 🙂  So we’re going to do whatever she wants to do.  Currently, she wants to “eat pancakes,” “fly on a rocket ship with Mommy,” and “go to the park by our house.” I’m really looking forward to seeing what she comes up with on the actual day.
  • Hotel: $250- As I mentioned above, B. is coming home! After six months of  being deployed, I am eagerly anticipating his return (and yes, compared to most military deployments, we are very lucky). However, he’ll be returning to a location 4.5 hours from our house and will need to be picked up. This will likely necessitate at least one night in a hotel (since traveling with a toddler is challenging) but I budgeted for two, just in case.
  • Christmas presents: $300- This should cover the majority of our Christmas spending. We try really hard not to go overboard with F.  Sometimes we’re more successful than others.  I try to stick to a little maxim I read somewhere long ago: “Something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read.”  I’ll check back in after Christmas on how that went…
  • Charity: $50- A holdover from last month.  We generally do most of our charity spending in December, but I’m always on the lookout for other opportunities throughout the year.

Total Planned Expenses

  • $6870
  • Percent of total income: 73%

Oof. I knew this month was going to be bad, but ugh.  For those of you not keeping track, this is roughly $1800 more than we aim to spend in a month. I actually think December will be better, which is just sad since, you know, Christmas.


Monthly Budget Roundup- October

It’s the beginning of a new month, so time to go through the budget I posted at the beginning of the month and see how I did.  For this post, you’ll get to see the amount I budgeted in black and the final amount I spent in red or green (depending on whether it’s over or under budget).

Yucky, yucky debt

  • Planned payment: $1215 + $2800 = $4015
  • Actual payment: $4737



  • Rent: $1300                                  $1300
  • Utilities: $280                               $244
  • Phone: $51                                    $41
  • Groceries: $500                            $499
  • Gas: $300                                       $103
  • Daycare: $996                               $996
  • B. Cash: $500                                 $356

Other Items

  • Netflix: $11                                     $11
  • Restaurants: $100                          $73
  • Pet care: $500                                 $461
  •  Clothing: $75                                  $71
  • Sports and entertainment: $75   $63
  • Miscellaneous: $200                      $244
  • Hair care/Cosmetics: $50              $47
  • Fun money: $100                           $80
  • Doctor: $50                                       $0
  • Maid: $200                                      $216
  • Lawn service: $150                       $148
  • F. Birthday present: $50               $59
  • Tree/Bush Trimming: $250          $0
  • WOW subscription: $78               $78
  • Charity: $50                                    $0

This month wasn’t too bad! I think I might be under, although that’s largely due to some un-cashed checks and a bill that never showed up. I’m guessing that the charge for trimming our bushes will show up on our next monthly bill, so that expense moved to November.  Additionally, the food bank has yet to cash our check so that will also move to November (I realize this is a weird way to budget, but carrying over money, especially relatively small amounts, is confusing and hard to remember).

I did pretty good with shopping for F. for her birthday, although I’m a little bit over. In my defense, some of the things I bought I’ll give to her for Christmas, but we have a free Prime trial right now, so I wanted to take advantage of free shipping while we have it. Plus, how could I resist the lure of these totally amazing (i.e. hideously ugly) shoes??

70% off, for some reason…

My other (way over) category was miscellaneous spending.  I’m honestly not totally sure what happened here, but a last minute package shipped overseas + a birthday present shipped to my grandmother sent this into the red. Oh well.

Overall, I was under on a LOT of budget categories this month, so I’m going to count it as a win!

Final Spending Tally (excluding debt) 

  • Planned: $5941
  • Spent: $5090
  • Percent of total income: 53%

Woohoo! Almost $1000 under budget.  How did you do this month?

Random Musings: Doing a Job for the Money

Today over at Ask A Manager (one of my all-time favorite workplace blogs.  Go read it. Then come back here), one of the letter-writers wrote in asking if it was a bad thing that she was motivated to do good work at her job because they paid her (hint: no. Most of us work so we can get paid).

But it did get me thinking about the idea that work should be something more than a way to make money.  To some extent, I like the idea of that, but the reality is that I would not be going to work if I wasn’t going to make money doing it.  And I’ve done some really weird/crummy/interesting jobs to make money.  So instead of deep thoughts on the relative merits of only sticking with a job because it pays money, I want to hear about the worst/weirdest jobs you ever had, simply to make money.

Here’s my list: five weird/awful jobs I’ve had, solely to make money (from not so bad to absolutely terrible).

5. Wading pool attendant

This one wasn’t actually awful at all, just weird.  I got paid to sit at the wading pool for four hours each day and turn it on/off.  That was pretty much it.  It was a pretty sweet gig during the summer in college and I read a LOT of books, but I’m not really sure why they had to pay someone to sit there for four hours.

4. Waitress at Village Inn 

If you aren’t familiar with Village Inn, it’s exactly like Perkins or IHOP. Or Baker’s Square.  Lots of pie, lots of breakfast, standard American fare.  This job sucked becasue a) everythign you wore to work always ended up covered in syrup, even if you worked the dinner shift and b) tips were crap.


3. Early morning gym opener

For awhile, I used to work for my city Parks and Rec and I was in charge of opening the gym in the morning.  At 5:45 am.  I am not a morning person.  This was way to freaking early for me.  I didn’t have to do much once I got there, but one mroning I got there at 5:46 and got yelled at by some crabby old man for 10 mintues straight.  It was really fun. Or not.

2. Cashier at Wendy’s

I did this for two years in high school and it was- not as bad as you might think.  The owner was a super duper sexist a**hole but also wasn’t around very often.  I really liked the people I worked with, which made it a lot better.  Smelling like grease after every shift was less fun.  So were customers.  My best story from this job- I was working on front register and a guy came in and ordered some chicken strips to dine in.  The chicken strips were slightly too big for their container, so it wouldn’t close properly.  He insisted that the box needed to close, but refused to let me put one of the chicken strips back and replace it with a smaller one.  Spoiler alert- this particular incident ended with him screaming at me about his chicken strips.  And the box still never got closed. Oh food service.

1. Head cook at a boy scout camp 

This was hands down the worst job I have ever had.  I worked the AM shift in a boy scout kitchen, which was every day, M-F from 5 am to 2 pm.  Not only is mass food prep messy, stressful, and heinously boring, but the head cub scout counselor and I….did not get along.  Her favorite method of communication was standing in the kitchen yelling at me and I was not invested enough in keeping my job to let her.  Sometimes I think it’s a miracle I didn’t get fired…

What job(s) did you have that you only stuck with for the money?


Five Frugal Things

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Hi all! For those of you following along, I know I still owe ya’ll a final installment in the KISS budget series.  It’s coming, I promise! A variety of random busy-ness has kept me, well, busy the last week and blogging just hasn’t been making the cut at night.  I used to really enjoy being busy, but more and more I find myself longing for my couch and a cup of tea at night. I think looking after a toddler is so constantly busy that being busy no longer feels satisfying.

Anyway, I haven’t done one of these posts in awhile, so here are five frugal things I’ve done in the last week or so.  What frugal things have you been up to?

I turned random leftovers into soup

I made a roast on Sunday for company and had a bunch of roast and carrots/potatoes left over.  So today, I dumped all of that, plus some beef broth and a bunch of random leftover veggies that were hanging out in my fridge and freezer in my crockpot and voila! Vegetable beef soup for dinner.  F. and I ate it with some leftover rolls I had lying around and now we have an abundance of soup left over for the week.

I made icky bananas into yummy banana bread

I had two bananas that were going bad and one sole banana hanging out in my freezer, so I used them to make a couple of loaves of banana bread.  So very yummy. Also, a fun toddler activity, as F. currently loves helping me cook.

I returned library books on time

F. and I head to the library every three weeks to return books and get new books.  My library very helpfully sends me an e-mail reminder when our books are due, so it’s easy to remember to return them.  F. loves going to the library and I love getting new books that we don’t have to pay for.

I bought chicken on sale at the grocery store

We eat a lot of chicken in my house, so I’m always on the lookout for a good sale on chicken.  Aldis has pretty good prices on chicken, but they often add salt water to their meat, which I’m not a huge fan of.  A regional grocery store around here had boneless, skinless chicken breasts on sale for $1.88/lb so I stocked up.  My newly emptied freezer is now bursting with meat again.  I shouldn’t have to buy meat for another couple months!

I bought F. some used shoes at Once Upon a Child

When F. moved shoe sizes, we got a bunch of hand-me-down shoes from a friend.  However, the shoes had been through quite a few kids by the time they got to F., so she had worn holes in nearly all of them.  However, I’m real averse to paying full price for a new pair of shoes.  So we headed over to Once Upon a Child, which is a resale shop for kids clothing. I got F. a new pair of tennis shoes for $4! I’ll call that a win.  That’s about $15 cheaper than a shoe store and keeps another pair of shoes out of a landfill somewhere.

What frugal things have you been up to??




The KISS Budget: What do you actually WANT to spend?

Welcome back to this week’s series on getting started with budgeting.  Yesterday, I walked through my “process” for conducting a spending audit.  Go read it if you missed it. It’s really just a fancy way of saying “figure out what you currently spend money on.”

Today’s step is more fun. The next step in the KISS budget is to figure out what you actually WANT to spend.  However, that’s often easier said than done. I can’t tell you how many times I performed a very comprehensive spending audit, only to get totally overwhelmed by all of the data and stop entirely.  So here’s my step by step breakdown of figuring out what you actually want to spend.

Step 1: Classify spending categories

Each category gets a prioritization level assignment.  I don’t believe in making things complicated, so there are only three priority levels:

  1. Problem spending– this is any spending that is actually creating a financial problem for you.  Going out to eat so often that you can’t save money or afford gas? That’s an area of problem spending.  Is clothes shopping preventing you from saving for something you want or need? That’s an area of problem spending.  If you’re already living on a shoestring budget, you may not have any areas of problem spending.  But in that case, you’re probably also already on a budget!
  2. Nice to change– this label applies to any area where you think you could spend less, but it’s not currently impacting your ability to meet your financial goals.  I often think of things like utilities and cable in this bucket, because most of us could probably do better in this area, but it’s also usually not a high problem area.  Groceries is a category like this for me- I’m not likely to vastly overspend on groceries, but I could probably do better than I currently do.
  3. No change needed– this label applies to any area where you either can’t easily change the amount you are spending (i.e. debt, rent) or you don’t see this as a problem spending area (B. and I are both introverted, so spending on non-restaurant entertainment was never a problem in our house.  Netflix all night? Yes please!)

Step 2: Pruning your problem spending

Note: If you don’t have any areas that you consider to be problem spending, skip to step three. 

The next step is to look over your problem spending.  What area needs the most work? Where are you overspending the most?  Look at what percentage of your money is being spent on a given category*.

If you aren’t sure whether you’re spending too much in a given area, I’ve (very hesitantly) included some averages below (courtesy of Dave Ramsey). I just want to caveat these by saying that each individual situation is different, so take your needs, preferences and cost of living into account for each of these averages.

  • Rent/Mortgage/Utilities: 30-35%
  • Childcare-: Dave Ramsey suggests 10%. I think this is a joke.  About 20% of our monthly spending is spent on childcare
  • Groceries/Restaurant/Household products: 10-15%
  • Transportation: 10-15%
  • Insurance: 10-25% (note- this includes home, auto, life, short-term and long-term disability, long-term care insurance, health insurance, etc.)
  • Personal care: 10-15%
  • Non-restaurant entertainment/Miscellaneous: 5-10%
  • Doctor/Vet: 5-10%

Once you’ve decided where you’re overspending, your first goal is to work on one problem area only (if you have the luxury of being able to gradually work your way into budgeting).

See, humans are funny, in that we routinely underestimate a) how hard a task is going to be and b) how well we’ll be able to sustain behavior over a long period of time.  So we may think “oh, hey, cutting out all clothes shopping and eating out is going to be fine. I can do that, it won’t be that hard.”  But after a few weeks, reality sets in, we get busy, we get bored, it rains for three weeks straight and suddenly we’re back at McDonalds with fifteen shopping bags in tow. Because when things get stressful, our control breaks down and we’re right back into old, comforting, familiar routines.

It is much easier to change behaviors if you focus on one behavior at a time.  So in this case, pick one behavior that you’re going to change. Maybe it’s eating out. Maybe it’s going to see movies.  Maybe it’s going shopping on the weekend because you’re bored.  Pick one thing and work on only that, for at least a month. The idea behind this method is that after a month, you’ll have replaced a not-so-great financial habit with a better financial habit.  And once behavior becomes habit, it’s much easier to a) stick to existing habits and b) work on new habits. Finally, you slowly add new goals (no more than one each month) until your problem spending has been addressed.

Step 3: Look for ways to save on “nice to change” budget items

This step can happen simultaneously with step two, but if you have a lot of problem spending areas to tackle (3+), I wouldn’t recommend that.  It will start to feel really overwhelming and not very simple any more, which defeats the entire purpose of this budgeting method.  If you need ideas on how to save money for certain budget categories, I highly recommend Google.

So there you have it- the second phase of the KISS budget.  The third, and final, installment will be tomorrow and I’ll be talking about how to track your spending throughout the month.

*If you aren’t mathematically inclined- take the amount of money you spent on a particular budget category and divide it by the total amount of money you spent in a month. Then multiply times 100 and you’ve got your percentage of monthly spending!  For example: I spent $500 on groceries and $5000 overall a month.  500/5000) * 100 = 10%.  So 10% of my money each month gets spent on groceries. 


The KISS Budget: Budgeting made simple

This week, I’m going to be talking in greater detail about my approach to budgeting.  It’s loosely based off the Dave Ramsey method, but a little bit simpler (hence the KISS budget).

Have you ever wanted to have a budget, but didn’t know where to start? Have you ever wanted to know where your money is going? Have you ever gotten to the end of the month and wondered where the heck all your money went? Have you ever felt incredibly overwhelmed by big, long books about budgeting? This week of posts is for you!

I know how you feel because this was me, until about six months ago, when B. deployed. Before that, budgeting was his “chore” and I just let him do his thing. But I took over budgeting once he deployed and have been responsible for keeping our spending on track.  The budget method I’m going to share with you this week is one that I have managed to keep going while a) working full-time and b) parenting a toddler full-time, so you know that it takes very little time or effort on my part.

Today and tomorrow are all about the pre-work that goes into “developing” a budget.  Wednesday and Thursday are all about the day-to-day budgeting experience.  Sound like fun? Let’s go!

Conducting a Spending Audit

Still here? Excellent.  I know this sounds big and scary and a lot like getting audited by the IRS, but I promise it’s much better than that.  Conduct a spending audit is really just a fancy way of saying “figure out how much money you’re currently spending.”  To do this, you’ll need bank statements (either online or paper) for the last 3-12 months and probably a calculator, pen and paper. Or some slightly better than basic Excel skills.  Your choice 🙂

The goal of the spending audit is to take everything you’ve spent over the last three to twelve months and figure out how much you’re spending on different budget categories. This doesn’t have to be complicated!! If this is your first time conducting a spending audit, I recommend the following categories:

  • Rent/Mortgage:  Your housing costs, not including utilities
  • Utilities: Water, sewer, garbage, electricity, recycling, gas, internet and cable (including subscription services like Netflix or Hulu)
  • Childcare costs
  • Groceries: Excludes eating out- only food you buy in the grocery store.  You can choose to include cleaning products and personal care products in this category or not.
  • Transportation: Gas and car maintenance- do not include any car payments here
  • Cleaning/household products: toilet paper, dog food, toilet cleaner, paper towels, sponges, etc.
  • Insurance: Home, auto, life, etc.
  • Personal care: clothing, haircuts, waxing, make-up, pedicures, etc.
  • Restaurants: eating out, including convenience food
  • Non-restaurant entertainment: movies, shows, anywhere you take kids that costs money
  • Doctor/Vet: All medical care for you and your family, including pets.  This includes any prescription medications
  • Miscellaneous: Things you aren’t sure of that don’t easily fit in any other category
  • Debt: Credit cards, car payments, student loans, etc.  Includes all money owed to others except your mortgage.

That’s it.  I wouldn’t try and refine these categories any more at this point- the point of the spending audit is to get a first-pass look at where you spend your money.  If you find your miscellaneous category is getting big, don’t worry. We’re going to sort that out together tomorrow, because that says something about where most of your money is going.

Step One: Assign expenditures to spending categories

The first step of the spending audit is to assign each expenditure to a spending category. There is not right or wrong way to do this.  I personally have an affinity for markers and paper, so I started out by printing out all my monthly bank statements (sorry trees!) and physically wrote in the category of each expenditure.  You can do whatever works for you.  This doesn’t have to be perfect. You can see my expenditure assignment exercise below:

See? Not pretty! It doesn’t have to look nice to be effective.

Step Two: Add up your categories by month

Most people get paid on a cycle that makes monthly budgeting make sense. This may not be you- adjust as needed.  But we budget on a monthly basis, so that’s what I’m going to detail here.  Go through for each month (I recommend going back at least three months, but a full twelve will give you a good picture of seasonality) and add up how much you spent on each of the above categories.  Again, this doesn’t have to be fancy, as you can see from my scribbles below.

Sorry for the truly terrible lighting!

That’s it! We’re going to do something with all these numbers tomorrow, but for now, you’ve completed the first phase of the KISS budget.  You now have a fairly accurate picture of how much you spend on what for each month.  Congratulations and stay tuned for tomorrow’s installment!