March Mortgage Update: And a challenge update

Last month (February):
Balance: $63,643.06
Years left:4.916666667
P =$954.07, I = $260.34, Escrow = 613.58

This month (March):
Balance: $61,508.58
Years left:4.75
P =$962.48, I =$251.92, Escrow = 613.58

One month’s prepayment savings: $4.64

So how did we do with the challenge month?  As predicted, it’s more fun to do a saving money challenge when you don’t have to than when you sorta do have to.  Especially when you can “cheat” by going out for lunch a few times (or dinner when there’s a speaker or job candidate!)

The first week our grocery bill was crazy low (for us), something like $70.  But then the second week it was more like $200 (which is average/high for us since DC2 started us with hir no wheat thing).  Third week, $90.65.  Fourth week we went into the city and that doesn’t count.  :)  So eating nothing but cheap meals does seem to have an impact on our bottom line.

Other than the arepas and the fresh spring rolls, most of what we made was stuff we ate a lot in graduate school– and most of that was stuff my parents taught me how to make as a kid.  If we had to permanently lower our food budget, I think I’d get bored of mostly the same American/Mexican fare.  For a month, it’s comfy-cozy, but after that I’d need to do a better job with our quick and easy ethnic cookbooks.  There’s a lot of cheap quick healthy ethnic food out there, it just needs to get worked into our repertoire.

I was also reminded how important it is to know what’s in season and to have flexibility at the grocery store when you’re eating on a budget if you want fresh veggies.  I didn’t exercise this option because we’re pressed for time more than we’re pressed for money, but I would be much more careful about the kinds of soups and stirfries and so on that I do make.

And, of course, it’s seriously difficult to eat cheap food when you’re trying to balance not eating refined carbs (because of the PCOS) with trying to avoid gluten (because of the diaper rash).  Mostly we’ve been going the refined carbs route (as you’ve seen), but as DC2 weans (and my metabolism returns to sucking), we’ll probably go the other extreme.  Fruits and veggies, of course, are always good, and it’s nice to be price insensitive to them.

[Update:  On Saturday we hit a sushi place and dropped $73 for comfortably full with no leftovers.  I am reminded that even when we eat out on the cheap, ~$30, the price of one meal is generally about the price of 4 meals from scratch from the grocery store.  I'm still not used to having enough money to drop $73 on a meal out with the kids, but we do have enough and it was really good!  I don't think we'll be making sushi-from-the-good-sushi-place a weekly thing though.]

Most of all, I’m reminded that it’s nice to not spend time thinking about the price of things, and focusing on what looks fun, interesting, and quick and easy to make.  Being semi-mindful cuts our grocery budget a third to a half, but we’re willing to spend more to just not have to think about the monetary aspects of our eating, and to occasionally splurge without guilt.  (Plus, free reign at the grocery store may cut down on our restaurant expenditures!)

How do you balance money and time with food?

February Mortgage Update: And February is Challenge Month!

This month (January):
Balance: $65,769.13
Years left: 5.16666667
P =$945.68, I = $268.72, Escrow = 613.58

This month (February):
Balance: $63,643.06
Years left:4.916666667
P =$954.07, I = $260.34, Escrow = 613.58

One month’s prepayment savings: $4.64

Forget January New Years Resolutions.  February is the best month for challenges because it is the shortest month!

#1 is doing a Cheap Eats Challenge.  She was going to do it because it would have given her more wiggle room in her budget, but now that DH is re-employed, she’s just going to do it for fun.  Because she can.  And because she’d already done half the planning.  So each Monday this month we’re going to have food-related money posts.

For simplicity’s sake, any menu planning is going to be for dinners only.  Breakfasts you can assume are rolled oats, heated in the microwave with raisins or whatever other fruit bits we have available.  Snacks will be pieces of fruit (not cheap, but also not too expensive, particularly the banana portion).  Lunches will either be dinner the night before or you can pretend it will be a sandwich (which it would have been if I weren’t off the wheat thing… perhaps something tortilla-based instead).

Exceptions to the cheap eats rule:  If we go into the city, we can eat out.  If my colleagues are doing a working lunch out, I can eat out.  If there’s catering for an event, I’m totally going to eat that.  This is an intellectual challenge, not a necessary or moral challenge.  No deprivation, just thinking about which meals we eat are healthy but less expensive than others and what makes meals healthy and cheap.  Playing at frugality.

You will also see some wheat-based meals that I will only be partaking in slightly and DC2 won’t be eating at all.  For those, you can assume we’re having leftovers from a previous meal or something corn-based or quinoa-based instead.  If we do a direct substitution, I’ll make a note of it and the additional costs to make it less wheaty.  If I don’t, you can assume we ate something else.  (We won’t be completely gluten-free because DC2 has a mild wheat allergy and can totally handle the wheat in say, Worcestershire sauce, whereas someone with celiac wouldn’t necessarily be able to.)

Split pea soup.  One package of peas ~$1.50, give or take.  You can add carrots, onions, or leftover veggies, and ham or poultry bits, and spices, which will increase the price.  But one package of peas still makes a meal for an entire family of four.  Whenever I’m feeling broke, I buy a bag of split peas and feel virtuous after making it.  (It’s also a comfort food for me, as are black bean soup and mac and cheese.)

Macaroni and cheese with tuna and peas.  Mac and cheese comes in various prices.  If you shop sales you can get a box for under 50 cents.  The gluten-free variety comes in somewhere around $2.00 for a package.  Cans of tuna vary, around $2.00.  A bag of frozen peas, $1.50, double that if organic.  You will use only a portion of the peas, and one or two boxes of macaroni, depending on your family composition.  Cheapest:  50 + 200 + 75 = $3.25.  Fanciest:  $4 + 2 + 1.50 = $7.50.  Organic and gluten free can get expensive!  (Fortunately we’re still in the one box family size.)

Meat Chili.  We’ll have veggie chili later.  Ground beef prices vary, but it’s pretty cheap where we live.  Let’s say $2 for regular and $6 for organic.  I’ll take a pound.  Beans also vary quite a bit in price.  You can get a bag of dried beans for under $1, or a couple of cans of cooked beans for under $2.  You’ll also need a can or two of tomatoes, and these are a little over a dollar each.  And then there’s spices.  Spices can get expensive, but you usually buy a package and only use a small portion.  It’s hard to know how to price it.  We use Penzy’s, which looks like it is going for $4/oz for its smallest size.  But we don’t use an oz when making chili and we buy bigger bags.  Let’s round up and say we use $1 of chili powder when making chili.  Onions are optional, let’s put a big one in for ~$1.  So cheap version:  $2 + 1 + 1 + 1 =$5.  Expensive:  $6 + 2 + 2 + 1 +1 = $12.

Nachos.  These use leftover chili from the night before.  With store-brand shredded cheese from bulk shredded cheese over chips.  Cheap chips are $1/bag.  Expensive ones are $3.49.  Cheese will depend a lot on how much you use and what brand you get and how much you buy.  We get the big bags and stick it in the freezer and only use what we need.  But let’s say you use a dollar of cheese.  If you already have the chili leftover, then we’re talking a $2 meal, give or take.

Stirfry sweet and sour chicken with veggies and rice.  This will be more expensive and the prices will vary tremendously.  A simple sweet and sour sauce is just sugar and vinegar.  Let’s go with $3 for chicken, $1 for the sauce, $2 for veggies (frozen mixed is about that), and $1 for rice (more if using fancy brown rice).  ~$7.

Omelete.  Eggs and frozen veggies.  We’re talking $2, depending on what you put in.

What are your favorite cheap meals?  Anything you recommend that we try?

Residual effects of February challenge

Damn it.

I’m still thinking about spending.  Even though we’re no longer under a challenge, it’s harder to just get something to eat without major pre-planning.  And when I do, there’s some regret.  If only I’d put more stuff for me on the grocery list.  Then I wouldn’t have had to pay for that overpriced mediocre salad at the cafeteria.  Earlier me would have said, it’s only $7, and I should probably get this mediocre $6 california roll too just in case.  Obey my hunger!

I ran out of larabars is the problem.  Also we ran out of any fruit but apples.  And we ran out of rice cakes.  And cheese.  And yogurt.  And tortilla chips.  And EGGS.  And nuts.  And used up the cooked rice and cooked quinoa.  And I think wheat products have started giving me hives on my arms on top of the potentially imaginary symptoms I was having.  (Thursday night, after DH and DC had pizza at a birthday party, DH accidentally got the regular sweet and sour chicken at pei wei instead of gluten free for me because our cupboards were bare, other than wheaty things.  I ate it anyway because I was hungry.)

We obviously didn’t get enough at the grocery store that Saturday and we should probably have gone again mid-week, but I kept thinking, we’re going into the city this coming Saturday, surely we can wait.  In the end we went grocery shopping on Friday anyway after I ate out twice (and again in the city the next day).  If we’d spent enough the previous Saturday, we’d probably have saved more down the line.  Or maybe everything will eventually get eaten anyway and it doesn’t matter when we buy it.  Except that when we have easy-to-transport wheat-free food, I don’t end up eating overpriced wilty salads.

Larabars are expensive at $1 each.  But they’re less expensive than snacks at the cafeteria.  Once I’m no longer nursing I should be able to cut back on them.  We have stocked up.

I did go crazy in the city that weekend, mostly without guilt.  I feel a little bad about what was spent, but also bad that I feel bad.

Also bought presents for people this month and spent what was right for the present rather than cutting back.  Next year the perfect present we think of will be less expensive, I’m sure.  (Thanks, Rumpus, for the TONX suggestion!)

So I don’t think we’re really spending less than we would be without having done the Feb challenge, but we’re feeling worse about the spending we do.  I wonder if this will wear off, or if we’ll eventually tighten our belts or what.

Urgh.  So we need to either spend less, make more, or figure everything will just work out.  It is so much easier when your income is far more than your enough!

What did I learn from the February Challenge: And March’s mortgage update

Last month (February):

Balance: $84,162.48
Years left: 6.833333333
P = $875.17, I = $339.24, Escrow = 621.66

This month (March):

Balance: $82,617.28
Years left: 6.666666667
P =$881.26, I = $333.14, Escrow = 621.66

One month savings:  $2.62

Too bad the stock market didn’t keep those gains– we had been at the point in which the taxable e-trade account was bigger than our remaining mortgage.  Now we’re two months away again.  I shake my tiny fist at Mint for showing me stock market updates more frequently than I want to see them.  It’s a bit unnerving to have one’s net worth fluctuate so wildly.

I spent the month of February with conflicting feelings… On the one hand, I hated having this stupid challenge in the back of my mind and having to be mindful about my spending and DH’s spending.  On the other hand, I had a paper deadline for Feb 28th and kind of didn’t want the month to  end until that got finished(!)

Well, we did it.  Spent $1,227 of non-childcare non-DH’s-allowance out of our take-home pay.  That’s less than $2000.  This makes up for the profligacy of the previous two months and we’re back on track for summer, even if my summer salary gets sequestered (it shouldn’t– it’s from the last fiscal year or something).

Where did it go?  $550 to groceries (that’s a lot for us!).  $303 to utilities (that includes stuff like the insect guy and the internet/phone etc.)  $125 on “shopping” (a catchall for books, diapers and other things).  $86 on gas.  $71 on restaurants (much less than usual).  $34 at the dentist.  $25 on Netflix.  $20 on charity.  $12 on heart medication for the cat.

Now, lest you think we’re an angelic family of four, that doesn’t include bills that we pay once a year (like private school) and it doesn’t include the $1,260 that we spent on childcare and out of DH’s allowance.  This month was full of coffee bean experimentation (DH’s current hobby).

This week, btw, we didn’t spend any money before the month ran out.  (DH ordered parts for the fridge, but that hasn’t been charged yet.  Update:  I spent $26 on gas on the 28th.)  I also got a check for doing a referee report.  And we got a $50 cash back check from the credit card company.

What did we learn?

1.  Not having an emergency is nice.  DH bought an engine/fan set-up for the freezer to replace the one that keeps freezing up (after stalling out).  That should cost around $50 and will hopefully work.  If not, then one of our soon-to-happen emergencies is going to be buying a new fridge.  We’ll probably get something reasonably nice this time around.

2.  We’re kind of tired of the restaurants in town anyway.

3.  We have a lot of food in the freezer.  And some of that food should be thrown out because it didn’t taste good when we froze it either.  (I’m looking at you, disastrous Jambalaya.  I do think we’ll be able to eat the last of the Turkey Turnip Chickpea stuff eventually, but only when someone is craving an ultra-healthy chicken soup.)

4.  Not going into the city saves quite a bit, but also creates a bit of wanderlust.  We may go crazy sometime in March.

5.  Fancy cheeses sometimes go on good sales.  Buy the ones that are on sale when you’re trying to save money instead of not buying any.  Failing that, get one of the inoffensive cheddars.  Don’t come home with no cheese or you will be sad when you need a snack.

6.  After a couple of weeks I stop  the “wanting to buy things just because I can’t”.  I must get acclimated or something.

7.  I still hate having to think about money.  After years of not having to do that, it is nearly impossible to make thinking about it again “a game” or anything other than annoying.

8.  We have a lot of individual bills.  For some reason it doesn’t seem like as many when they’re listed on the cc bill as it does when mint updates with them every few days.

9.  I really want to go into the city and spend a lot of money just because I can.  I won’t though.  Well, no more than usual, anyway.  Well, maybe a little more– I am hitting a milestone birthday.

In the end, I think I’ll keep Mint.  I do like being able to see how much we’ve been spending.  I don’t think I’ll keep such a close eye on the individual items going forward, however.

Do you track your spending?  Do you budget?  How does (or does not) that work out for you?

I don’t get regular clothes shopping and a challenge update

The kind you do when you already have a closet full of clothes still with tags that have never been worn.

The kind where you complain about how your huge walk-in closet is stuffed and you have to declutter and you can never find anything to wear.

The kind where you set yourself a challenge to spend *only* $100/month plus the several hundred you have on gift-cards plus whatever you get from doing consignment for the stuff you declutter so you can make room for new clothes.

Granted, I, like Cloud, hate spending time clothes shopping.  It’s not even that I’m pudgy or anything or that I can’t afford it.  I just don’t want to spend the time.  But even if I had a ton of time, my closet has enough stuff right now, I have plenty of variety, and nothing looks too shabby.

When I do go clothes shopping it’s because I need specific items.  A pair of black pants.  Some new suits.  Colorful shirts.  Anything I buy I have to be able to see in a completed outfit.  When it’s just me, these outfits tend to be very simple (skirt or pants + top), but shopping buddies will often put together something complete and I just have to memorize it.  (I always get compliments when I wear a shopping buddy chosen outfit.)

So I go shopping once every few years, generally at the January or late Spring/early Summer changing of the season sales.  I go with a shopping buddy who loves shopping (and has a closet full of clothes, many still with tags).  I stick to Ann Taylor, Ann Taylor Loft, and Brooks Brothers.  Though in my youth before I had a real job, I was more of a J.Crew, Gap, Banana Republic, and Marshall’s kind of shopper.   (I still wear my Paul Harris Designs suits– wish they were still around.)  And lots of online comic t-shirts, not to mention this guy.

It’s not that shoppers necessarily want more diversity in their clothing.  I actually wear more variety than my shopping buddy.  She has favorites that she wears once every week or two, whereas everything in my closet gets worn or it gets put in the goodwill closet.  (With the exception of a small number of “fat” clothes and an even smaller number of “skinny” clothes because occasionally I do hit size 12 or size 6, but not for long enough to replace the wardrobe.)  I only buy things that I like enough to wear regularly and make me look great.  Since I’m so busy with mental load, I set up my closet so I can just pull the next “teaching” outfit or the next business casual outfit.  (This semester my teaching days are such that each suit will get worn twice.)  Only my weekends take any planning and that’s just figuring out the temperature and which top to wear with my (anthropologie) jeans or (ann taylor) shorts.

It might be something about keeping up with fashion, which is something I don’t tend to understand.  I tend to buy what looks good on me whether or not it’s “in” and never go so deep into fashion that it looks off years later.  I tend towards classic styles.  My friends don’t go crazy with fads either, but they do tend to be aware of the seasonal colors and styles and so on.

It could be something about the shopping itself.  My current shopping buddy loves getting a “great deal” and clothes shops at least once a month.  She’s also single and goes shopping with a lot of other single friends and they give each other hundred dollar gift cards to clothing stores at Christmas and birthdays.  So she gets endorphin rushes and it’s one of the ways that she socializes and networks.

Or maybe clothes are just Gazingus pins for some people.

And now,  a challenge update:

A nasty GI thing kept us out of the grocery store last weekend, and DH made up for it with a mid-week shopping trip on Wed: $60
He went again on Saturday: $120
DH and DC1 had pizza for dinner as a treat because DH had to host a review session right after picking DC1 up from school: $11
DH bought gas: $33
And went to the dentist: $34
Utilities: $35

DH also hit Starbucks but that’s out of his allowance.  We got a little income too– a cash settlement from a class-action suit against Honda and an honorarium for an NSF panel (but not counting that either).

Why do you think some folks spend so much time and money clothes shopping?  If you do, why do you?

The push-pull of spending/saving/not-working

Retire by 40 had a post up recently wondering if he’s too cheap.  Since he quit his dayjob, they’ve had less income and the easiest thing to do was to cut out  extra spending.  No more date nights, less restaurant eating, and so on.

We’re struggling with this right now with DH’s impending job leaving, albeit from the other direction.  As we’ve been discussing (and as we discussed last week), we have the money right now but in a few months we’ll lose 40% of our income.  How much should we cut now?  Should we stop eating out once or twice a week?  Should we stop buying so much fancy cheese? We’re already spending at comfortable levels, but we may have to cut next year.  So do we cut now?  Do we start budgeting now?  When we have a relatively high net worth, do we really need to cut at all?  But our net worth isn’t high enough to generate enough income to finance our spending without drawing down our savings or at least not adding to them (we didn’t hit the financial independence cross-over point before DH quit his job).  That line is hard.  It is much easier to have more money than you know what to do with!

I left that comment on Rb40’s blog, and he suggested that we start living at 60% income now.  But really we have been doing that.  We spend XK/year.  My take-home pay (not including summer money) will be XK/year.  The difference is that we will no longer be putting away DH’s salary in mortgage pre-payments, extra retirement saving, and so on.  (In previous years we banked more than DH’s salary!  But kids can get expensive, especially when you choose private school and daycare.)

The problem is that when you spend XK/year and you make exactly XK/year, you’re living on the edge.  Even when that XK/year is actual money spent including emergencies and not some dream budget, there’s still the worry that some month you’re going to get hit with too big an emergency and you’re not going to make it.  It’s really easy to bank all your extra money when you have almost double what you need coming in every month.  Even if you make a little mistake this month, you’ll just redirect some of next month’s money before the credit card bill comes due.

It’s not so easy when your income matches your expenditures almost exactly.  I know, the standard response is to bulk up the emergency fund.  A large emergency fund is something you can draw on in an emergency

And that leads to the push-pull part.  On the one hand, we can bulk up the emergency fund now without much difficulty (and we are doing that).  On the other hand we could cut spending so our outgo is not equivalent to our in-flow, and in theory we’d get used to that new level of spending.

Normally you need to cut spending to less than your take-home pay in order to bulk up the emergency fund, so you get into that spending-less habit before you have the emergency fund set up.

But our emergency fund is already set-up with our current levels of spending.  We could make it bigger, but that wouldn’t really cut into our spending, just our savings.  And it seems silly to have a huge cash emergency fund when that money could be going towards the mortgage or tax-advantaged savings instead.

So I dunno, we’re just going to keep going back and forth on this.  Emotionally I’m probably going to end up cutting spending because I hate not having that monthly (flow) cushion no matter how much we have in an (stock) emergency fund.  I just can’t handle it.

How about finishing with a challenge update:

So the minute I decide to limit spending, I feel like I need to spend.  Probably because I’m thinking about spending, which is something I’m normally too busy to do.  And then I can’t spend.  I hate that.  (Related: cash flows through me like water, but I rarely use my credit card.)

Our entertainment budget is on track with its automated billing from Netflix.

Went to target once to get  replacement white flappy things for my breast pump, and that is all we got.  Went a second time to get diapers (the mother’s helpers don’t do the EC or cloth) and nuts.  Amazingly did not walk out with anything else.

We went a bit crazy with groceries.  The weekend before last we had a dinner party.  Then we ran out of yogurt and some other things in the middle of the week so DH decided to do a midweek trip before childcare came in the morning.  We took advantage of some good sales to buy a few things in bulk.  This weekend’s grocery shopping hasn’t posted yet, but we’re well over $300 at this point.

We have not eaten out once.  Why not?

Because, to quote Erasmus… “When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.”  I ended up on my amazon wishlist and saw that a geometry textbook that I want to buy before DC1 is in middle school (many years from now) had dropped in price from $111 to $31.  So I bought it.  Couldn’t help it.  I told myself, “That’s one meal out for the family.  We won’t eat out this weekend.”  So we didn’t.  Then DC1 brought home a Scholastic order and we came up with $54 of books that we wanted to buy.  So we did.  And I thought to myself, “That’s an expensive lunch or a dinner out for us.  We will not eat out this weekend.”  And we didn’t.  But really, lentils are quite tasty if you add enough bacon!

And $20 for a school fundraiser.

So, grumpy nation, if you had to choose among spending less so that your take-home income was more than your outflow, staying in a job you didn’t like, or spending exactly what you earn (not including mandatory retirement saving), what would you pick?  What would help you make a decision?

February Mortgage Update and a Minty Fresh February Challenge: Is it worthwhile?

Last month (January):

Balance: $85,701.59
Years left: 6.916666667
P = $869.10, I =$345.30, Escrow = 621.66

This month (February):

Balance: $84,162.48
Years left: 6.833333333
P = $875.17, I = $339.24, Escrow = 621.66

One month savings:  $2.62

As we’ve talked about previously, DH is leaving his position in May at the end of the semester.  That means no more money from his salary.

Our current spending equals almost exactly our future take-home pay from my salary once we stop hyper-saving for retirement and pre-paying the mortgage (though I did get some grant money this summer, which will provide a bit of a buffer).

The worrisome part is that our [non-daycare] spending has been creeping up.  Some of that is more frequent emergencies… our stuff is getting older and starting to wear out.  Our Garmin broke, then broke some more, and then became unusable (we suspect planned obsolescence).  We needed to replace the tires on one of the cars.   The month before we had to call the plumber and replace our sink thingies because of a leak (after DH attempted a fix himself and broke things irrevocably– he’s great with electrical and mechanical stuff, not so much with plumbing).  And so on.  But we need to start planning for these more frequent emergencies if we want to stay within my income next year.

So we finally joined MINT.  I was going to have DH start it this summer when he has more free time, but when I looked into it, signing up was so easy that I just did it.  It downloaded 3 months of expenses from our credit cards and calculated a portion of our networth.  I haven’t put our main bank account in there because our credit union doesn’t play with mint.  One of my retirement accounts and one of DH’s retirement accounts isn’t in there because I would have to look up the passwords.  Ditto my single stock that kicks us big dividends every quarter.  But a good portion of our stuff is in there.

Mint is really neat because it automatically categorizes your credit card purchases.  It makes some mistakes and it doesn’t categorize everything, but that’s all fixable and it has the ability to learn.  (Also, sometimes it can’t download information and that’s annoying but generally it seems to figure things out within a few days.)

With this categorization, it provides an easy monthly budget that you can futz with.  You can also look at your spending in categories for each month.  I can see that we spent $567 on groceries and $610 on restaurants in November.  Of course, some of that restaurant stuff was reimbursed because it was on a business trip.  December shows $330 for restaurants.  January is close to $500, but that also includes a reimbursable business trip.  I think we’ll need several more months to see what a normal pattern is.

It’s also pretty easy to see what your net worth is on Mint, at least including the accounts you tell it about.  We’re doing much better than our age, we’re on track for families with my salary alone, and we’re a bit behind for families with our current combined salary (drat those years wasted in graduate school!)  Next year we stop our hyper-saving and drop to only putting 12% or so of my income towards retirement (well, probably a bit more than that as any extra money will first go towards IRAs… if there is extra money).

My first thought was to do a no-eating-out challenge.  But then I thought:  1.  What if we go into the city (not eating out would totally suck), and 2. Why?  Going a month without eating out when there’s no reason to seems like it will lead to unhappiness.  Cut back, sure, cut out entirely… that seems to be too much pain for too little gain.

So my second thought was to look at the whole rather than at just the restaurant part.  Can we keep credit card expenses under what we will need them to be next  year?  Sort of a mini dry run.

I did a little BOE and came up with $3000/month excluding childcare and the mortgage.  We spent more than that in November and in December according to mint, so it seemed like a good challenge.  Except the November and December spending included both business trips and multiple random emergencies or once a year expenses.  Which shouldn’t matter because almost every month has an emergency (or a one-time big expense)– if it didn’t our spending would probably be under 2K each month.  In fact, it looks like this month of January we’ll be coming under 3K without any effort on our parts [update: it did, just barely].  Heck, we’ll come in under 3K for the month including childcare if it takes a few days for our mother’s helpers to cash their checks [update: it didn't].  So perhaps 3K is too much for a short little month like February. [I know, I know, 3K/month even if you include rent is still a lot of money!  Part of me cringes at how much we spend now, even though we're a family of four and not two starving grad students.  A much bigger part of me never ever wants to go back.]

As I said before, with no emergencies, our regular spending should be something like 2K for food, utilities, diapers, gas, insurance, etc.  (And, indeed, if memory serves correct, the rare months without any emergencies or big spending we have spent less than 2K on the credit cards.)  Chances are there will be an emergency.  But let’s see if we can work around that and cut other spending to adjust for it.  Worst case scenario we can eat off our sizable pantry for a bit.

And that’s the challenge.  Keep non-childcare/non-mortgage spending, aka, our credit card spending, to 2K or less for the month of February.*  And this should be doable without too much sacrifice– let’s see if the little sacrifice hurts or not.  If there’s another seriously big emergency… well, hopefully we won’t have spent all our variable money on food already.  February is a short month.

What to do with the money we would usually spend but won’t… well, um, that kind of balances out November and December’s awfulness.  At the end of the summer I will take stock of where we are and put money toward bulking up the emergency fund, our 2013 IRAs, and possibly pre-paying the mortgage.

Part of me thinks this is a really stupid challenge.  A month is really not the right unit for controlling overall spending.  Spending not done in February may be moved to March.  Emergencies are generally unpredictable and either we get them or we don’t.  On top of that, we have a lot of savings from all those years we were saving 40-60% of our income.  We can always re-amortize our mortgage if we need to cut our monthly expenses in the future, and DH may someday bring in money.  By the time we run out of summer funding for me, DH will likely have brought something in.  We may never need to cut back our spending.  Why make things difficult for us now when time is at a premium?

Still, it’s February and why not?  It’s only 28 days of deprivation and I might learn something.

*Also not including DH’s allowance expenditures, or “his money.”  That is separate and already apportioned out.

Grumpeteers, Do you think this is a stupid and unnecessary challenge?  Do you think it’s ridiculous that we spend so much?

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