Finance Friday: Six Month Check In

Good morning! With July on the horizon, I thought it might be fun to share a six month check in. This check-in is based on our budget, track and spend spreadsheet, which you can download for free and use yourself!

Our sheet has several major categories for spend tracking. We deduct as we spend from each category’s assigned value. The biggest category is just called “Stuff.” From here we deduct, say, spending at the comic book store; gifts; hotel stays; pretty much all the stuff of everyday life. We gave this category $5k for the year, and we’re not yet at the halfway point. Woohoo!

Home/Oil

This category includes any spending on home repairs/home needs. We allocated only $2k, since we’re not renovating anything, and we’ve spent most of it already. The purchase of new dressers for our bedroom last winter is the culprit. I got them on super clearance and they’re nice hardwood bureaus, but still, money’s money. We may well go over our budgeted amount, depending on oil prices in the fall. We’ll see.

Cats

One category we’ve overspent dramatically in is pet-based. This is a sad story, though; we’d budgeted enough for food and cat insurance (yeah, I know) and some vet appointments, but had no way of anticipating how the spring would go. We’d tried to add a third cat to our clan. This went horribly, and put one of our cats in the vet’s office for several hundred dollars’ worth of services; the organization we’d worked with didn’t even offer to refund the fee we’d paid for the new cat. Then our injured cat suddenly died a month later, and we had him cremated and returned to us. His passing then led to a very thorough checkup for cat #1. The overage here is pretty much meaningless to me, given that it was born of so much sorrow.

Other Annual Categories

We’ve barely used our clothing allowance–we’ve spent about $500 this year and probably won’t spend too much more. We keep a running tally of work expenses for deductions next spring, so we don’t worry too much about that area. We’re just about at our usual charitable giving threshold because of the fee paid to adopt the cat that didn’t work, so we’ll likely end up over the top in that area too.

Monthly Categories

Dining Out and Groceries are our major monthly categories. They get a designated amount and we spend that amount down. And down. and into the next month. We’re bad at these categories.

Together, dining out and groceries get about $800. I’m thinking that if I’m honest, I need to budget more here, at least for the summer. Mr. Tenacious and I are both home during the summer, and occasionally we have days where we need to get out of the house as the proverbial walls close in. We have more outings with friends, too. We have no willpower to say, “nope, we’ve hit our threshold” on those days–in the dining category, we just deduct the overage from the next month, and the next month, and so on until we probably won’t have any dining dollars for December. Mr. Tenacious also isn’t as keen on saving so much for saving’s sake as I am, and I don’t like to argue about it at this point. So, um, this area may need some attention.

So there you have it–the Tenacious household’s six month accountability check-in. The good news is that these categories are built for post-saving spending–we automatically deposit into our savings account and 401k, and the extra money I get from work for a program I run during the summer offset the impact of suddenly paying off the mister’s student loans. The only loan we have remaining (besides mortgage) is my car, and at a 3.5% interest rate, I don’t worry too much about it.

So let’s hear your six month check in! How are you doing at mid-year? Are you saving and spending where you hoped to be? What’s gotten in your way?

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Finance Friday: Smarter Spending with Ebates

On this Finance Friday I’d like to introduce you to Ebates, one of my favorite little shopping gadgets on the interwebs. Ebates is essentially a nearly-instant rebate program which mostly awards percentages of the purchase back to the buyer. Those percentages can add up pretty quickly, especially when Ebates features sites offering double percentages. They deposit the money (what they call the “big fat check”) to your paypal account quarterly. Currently I’ve earned $127.51 in a couple of years, and there’s nearly $20 in my account ready for the next deposit. If you’re going to spend money, I figure, opt for smarter spending.

Here’s the way it works:

First, set up your Ebates account and navigate to the site where you’d like to shop from their website or through their app. I’ve learned the hard way they won’t otherwise reward you. You can’t say “rats, I forgot to go to your site first!” and expect they’ll pay you (I tried). I have a handy Chrome extension, though, that lets me know whenever I’m on a site if there’s an Ebate for it–that way I’m far less likely to forget to get my cash back.

Ebates Enables My Laziness

My favorite way to use Ebates is to use it with stores’ order-and-pick-up services. This week, I’ve done that twice. Once, I used it to order a grill part at our local Ace Hardware–I received an 81 cent Ebate and only had to pop over to the Ace counter to pick it up. I also use Ebates for pickup at Target–it’s a paltry 1% Ebate, but hey, 1% is 1%! Once again, I order online and go to Target’s service counter for pickup. I use my Target RedCard, too, to save another 5%. Saving money on necessities (better a $25 regulator than a new grill!) makes me happy.

And let’s be honest: in many households, women are the ones who take care of making sure to stock necessities. (We could probably make a case for the feminist use of Ebates, but I think it might be a stretch.) Sometimes, because I am the one who does the purchasing and puts the effort into making sure we use services like Ebates, I stash that money for use on something fun for me. (Cough, Sephora, cough.) I end up with a nice little sum after Christmas shopping, for example, so I’ll take that and combine it with gift cards to splurge on something I might not otherwise purchase. Now *that* feels like smarter spending.

My other favorite Ebates use is for work travel. I book on my own flights and hotels and whatnot for work travel to be reimbursed later. Ebates partners with Expedia, so I use that service to get all my travel needs met in one place. When I booked a trip for myself and two students this year–about a $2k adventure–by clicking through Ebates first, I received about $35 of free money!

I wouldn’t recommend Ebates if I wasn’t a huge fan.

I love Ebates because I love free money. If you’d like to try it out for yourself, you can follow any of the links herein. They’re affiliate links, and I’ll get a little something-something when you make a purchase. Everybody wins!

Ebates Coupons and Cash Back


*Post contains affiliate links.

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I am The Problem (and that’s ok)

finance fridaySo we’ve had some conversations here about getting honest in our relationships with stuff and with money, and examining our pasts to get a sense of our presents (ha, presents). I like to think that I’ve been honest with you, and today I’m going to take that honesty in a different direction by confessing that despite my love of spreadsheets, saving, tallying and so on, I am the leak. I am the spender. I am the problem.

I have only so much willpower. I generally don’t care about shopping, though my husband sent us into Old Navy last week and somehow I’m the one who came out with three new things. Clearance, but still. I love to cook, but I also love to not cook. When I’m not feeling well in any capacity, all bets are off. I might have planned a week of meals, but I’m not sticking to it if I’m not well. That was last week: I felt nauseous and crabby from a change to a medication I was taking, and the only thing that sounded appealing was greasy pizza. So greasy pizza it was. And eggplant fries—we need a veggie now and again.

Oops

We budget $400 a month for eating out, and we’re well over for May. I’ll roll the overage amount into June’s budget, but I imagine that just means we’ll have a deeper hole as July begins.

Mercifully, our overage isn’t a big deal because we are extremely fortunate enough to not have to worry about what difference the $20 spent on a pepperoni thin crust will mean at the end of the month. But such expenses do make me feel like a hypocrite. I tend to be a very hostile self-critic, and so I’ll beat myself up for a) spending money I didn’t need to spend and b) for beating myself up in the first place. It’s a delightful shame circle.

It’s not that my husband doesn’t spend, but for him, spending doesn’t usually come with shame. I punish myself for $6 on two pizza slices when there’s perfectly good food in the fridge. That’s not his way.He doesn’t seem himself as the problem. He’s on to something.

Self-Forgiveness: I am Not Actually “the Problem”

This scenario reminds me that in addition to perhaps building some good spend-and-save habits, I also need to work on taking care of me, accepting myself for who I am, and not punishing myself when I don’t live up to goals that I’ve somewhat arbitrarily set. Could I do better? Sure! Is not doing so the end of the world? Nope. And when friends whom we hadn’t seen in ages asked us to go out for dinner last week, I would have been crazy to say “No—I want to save $40 and not see you” when it was financially within my power to do otherwise.

We have different kinds of values and I have to find a way to balance the friends I value, the saving I value, and my sanity. I love my tracking spreadsheet, but it doesn’t determine who I am.

So, then, a word to the proverbially wise: it is not enough to simply spend, save, and track. One must also be flexible and self-forgiving in her pursuit of financial awareness and stability. We are more than the numbers we enter as data, and truly, we are not “the problem” when those numbers don’t match our goal every time. Show yourself a little compassion as you work on your financial journey.

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