Do you budget? How?

#1:  I don’t budget.  We automatically pay retirement and other targeted tax-advantaged savings.  I keep 1 month’s expenses in the credit union account and put the rest in online savings or mortgage pre-payment depending on rates.  If it’s low after we get paid, then we spend much less the next month until it rebuilds.   We do have stocks that could be sold in an emergency, but generally the float on our credit cards will get us to the next payperiod.  I do keep a LOT of cash (like 4x or 5x monthly expenses) in the accounts for the 3 months in the summer because we don’t get paid… just in case.  That can drop down up to one month’s expenses by the end.

Back when I was a graduate student, I knew where every penny was going at any point in time, because there was no money.  Now that there’s slush I am so glad I don’t have to track every penny.  I like looking at my money but making and sticking to a budget takes too much time for not enough benefit.

#2: I don’t really budget either, and sometimes I feel like that’s a failing.  I keep meaning to do closer tracking of where every penny goes.  I think budgeting is working sort of intuitively or implicitly for me, based on the values I was raised with.  My dad, a financial adviser for much of his career, told me, “When you get paid, pay your bills, save some, and give to charity.  The rest is for fun.”  That is basically what I do, but I don’t have spreadsheets or written-down guidelines.  Cash flow in and out of my checking account is carefully recorded, but I don’t earmark certain money for certain things, usually.  I do have automatic retirement contributions.  My savings account has a healthy emergency fund, into which I dump money whenever possible (and have automatic transfers each month, too).

Do you budget?  Should we feel guilty for not budgeting?

ETA:  Nick from Step away from the mall summarizes Liz Pulliam Weston’s philosophy on when it’s ok not to have a budget.  I qualify!

Blogging Boice

Of the many people out there who try to help academics get over themselves and just write the darn thing already, the forerunner of them all, and in many ways the founder of this field, is Robert Boice.

(Note:  This advice isn’t just for academics.  It works for anyone trying to do something like writing.  In fact, Boice has a book or two just for writers and one about getting over procrastination.  His style tends to be a bit repetitive and boring, but if you couldn’t finish Getting Things Done even in the bathroom, he’s got a very different tone.  They’re pretty expensive (except Professors as Writers), so check them out from the library or Interlibrary Loan if you can.  We’re affiliated with Powells, but it looks like Amazon has Advice for New Faculty Members at an affordable $25 rather than the usual $50+.  If you’re a grad student or new faculty, buy it!)

Herein is an extremely abbreviated summary of his advice:

Work in brief daily sessions

Start before you’re ready

Stop before you’re ready

Do the thing you’re avoiding (usually writing) first in the morning (ow ow ow; I hate mornings)

He’s got some other gems that help for teaching, like:  Let others do the work for you.

Here is how we do it:

We set up a Google Site where we poke each other.  It links to a google calendar for each of us.  When we’re rolling (i.e., not during breaks or the first week of the semester), we each update our calendar every day with how much writing we have done.  The other person checks in and we prod each other if we haven’t done it.  On the site we each have a list of projects in progress (so we have a place to put handy-dandy checkmarks and feel good about how many writing tasks we have checked off).  There are countdowns in the sidebar: time to end of the semester, days until tenure binder is due.  There is also a place set up on the site where we congratulate each other when we do well.  I have taken this method a step further by inviting a few of my family and friends to share the site, too, in order to add to the accountability.  Otherwise it is private (not world-accessible).

Accountability seems to be key for me/us.

(#2 says: I like the accountability on this blog.)

Sisyphus has some excellent blog posts on the writing and publishing processes here.

Something I have not seen on other writing sites is an interesting technique that I discovered while working on my dissertation.  This technique probably won’t work for anyone except me, but it got me over a real hump in the writing process.

I call it WTF:  Writing Through Fury.  I don’t know how I psyched myself into this, but it seems awesome.  One night in grad school I was watching my friend’s baby while she and her husband went on a rare and well-deserved date night.  The baby was asleep and I was alone in an unfamiliar house.  I had brought my dissertation stuff to work on.  I was also really mad at someone that night.  Not a friend or partner, but someone else; I honestly don’t even remember why I was angry.  I thought, “That jerk!  I’ll show him!  I’ll write my methods chapter!”  I channeled my rage and pounded out most of that chapter before my friend got home that night.

I realize this strategy makes no sense (especially as the so-called jerk had nothing at all to do with my dissertation), but you may wish to give it a try anyway if it appeals to you.

#2  I do not write through fury… but my placement on the job market did cause many of my graduate school professors and fellow students to think less of me as a researcher.  (Never mind that I solved the two body problem … that just means I’m a less serious researcher, obviously.  Plus I had that kid.)  So much of my ambition has been to SHOW THEM, though I have to balance that out with the extra stress and misery that actually showing them would bring.  So in the end… I’m not sure if it spurs additional productivity or not.

ETA:  Get Rich Slowly’s post today is on exactly this topic.  In the past I think JD has done exactly what Boice recommends never doing:  Binging and collapsing.  People *think* they’re more productive when they work in big lumps, but they’re really not.  Getting bingers to move to brief daily sessions increases their productivity and has no effect or a positive effect on things like citation rank, etc.  Turns out they’re just as creative when they let the subconscious do the heavy lifting when they’re in the shower rather than when locked in an office.

What do you do to keep yourself from procrastinating?  Did you have as much trouble as I did reading Getting Things Done?  Academics– did we do a reasonable job summarizing Boice?  Are you willing to convert to a Boice lifestyle (or at least read his research on productivity)?

24K update

24K sitting in the credit union at 0.55%…

5K went to pay for new mattresses and bedframes (organic natural mattresses, wooden beds, but no headboards)

7K to pay daycare a lump sum to get a 5% discount.  The part we’re not paying during the year will either go to retirement (we could put away 76K extra into tax deferred savings if we had that much) or to pay down the house.  But I’m not sure which… I’m leaning towards retirement.

~1K is going to combat gremlins who decided to go on a rampage since we released this extra money from its previous obligation.  The sprinkler guy, the electrician, the locksmith, an appliance repair person, a car battery… (we did save $600 in furniture repair using a tube of toothpaste).  Oh lord, I just noticed we haven’t needed a plumber yet… I hope that doesn’t jinx us.

$1.5K is going for plane tickets to see DH’s family at Thanksgiving.

$500-$800 will go to buy a gas grill at the end of the season.

$300 to change the locks on the house. (We have a lot of locks on the house.)

$2K for the 529 plans of DH’s cash strapped relations.

That leaves ~6.5K.  That’s not quite so stunning as the original amount.  Mortgage lump sum? It’ll have to wait a month because of the refinance. :) I hope that doesn’t attract more gremlins. :(

Whaddya think?  Did we make bad choices?  Good choices?  Any thoughts on the remaining 6.5K?

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Saturday link love!

I like Dr. Crazy’s new discussion format for these big issues.  But commenting seems like extra work to me!  A good read though.

One of us loves this post on shoes and the other finds it horrific, preferring posts like this one which the other finds horrific.

Nick at step away from the mall had several excellent posts this week.  I’m highlighting this one on not tapping into your 401(k) during bad times.  (I had an interesting conversation with Fidelity this week with the representative lamenting how I couldn’t get a loan on their 403(b) and me explaining how that is a good thing.  We are still allowed hardship withdrawals.)   I encourage you to check out some of his more recent posts too!

I am so glad that the Boxcarkids lady got into a new trailer park.  This one sounds much better and more stable than the ones she had been at before.  Check out the saga starting with this post.

A Gai Shan Life with a vivid reminder on the importance of flossing.

Money Reasons on dream homes.  It’s amazing how what we thought we wanted changes over time.  Do we lose our dreams or just get new ones?

Female Science Prof articulates something that has been bothering me.  What’s with all the suffering academic bloggers?

Someone needs to anonymously send my in-laws this link from Squirrelers on how kids can have fun on the cheap.  You know, like without sending a Wii months away from any holiday giving.

This post on nature vs. nurture from edgeofthewest is something people in my field need to read, along with Failing at Fairness and Why So Slow?.  It’s crazy how many in my profession demand proof for everything, but have some sort of selective blinders when it comes to gender issues.

Oh textbook editions

Why must you change less than two weeks before the semester starts?

And given that you’ve changed less than two weeks before the semester starts, why must your homework problems have changed as well?

And why are you telling students they  must have the newest book if you don’t have instructor solutions for it yet?


Keynesianism 101

Personally, I blame the American Education System.

Econ 101

Governments are not people.  People are not governments.  Governments live forever.   Governments can print money.  Governments get most of their income through taxing.

When times are good, a government should save.

When times are bad, a government should spend.

It’s completely the opposite of people.

If you spend when times are good, you get a bubble.  Those are nasty when they pop, if you will recall from recent history.

When you save when times are bad, you choke off the economy and end up with even less tax revenue.  Apparently nobody alive remembers Hooverism and the Great Depression.  It is tragic (and was tragic at the time, too).

So yes, take all of this hatred of the debt that should have existed when Bush was touting his tax cuts and remember it for the future when the economy is back on track.  But don’t keep food from people who need it NOW.  Don’t cut off education NOW.  Don’t stop spending on infrastructure.  Yes, think of efficient ways to use money that will benefit the entire country 20, 30 years from now.  But paying off the debt is not one of them.  Forcing it to be paid off in the future, sure, but not paying it now, not at the expense of real people’s lives and the ability of the US economy to ever grow again.

I don’t normally comment on or link to the Huffington Post articles my mom sends.  (There’s often a lot of rhetoric without a commensurate understanding of the difficulties of governance.)  But I think Robert Reich does an excellent job explaining what I just tried to explain here.

Blogs made into books

Things are meta up in the blogosphere.  Not only does everyone’s cat have a blog, but these days the hottest thing in bookstores is blogs that get made into books.  Like half the new releases in B&N are made of blogs.  In fact, I can easily think of at least two blogs that got made into books that got made into movies.

What other blogs will get book deals?  You heard it here first, folks: Fifty-Two Weeks of Geek will be next. That’s my prediction.  What else can blogs turn into?  And, more to the point, who’s going to give us money for Grumpy Rumblings?  Sadly, probably nobody, as we are nowhere near as cool as Scalzi.

What’s your favorite blog made into a book?

#2: Ooh, poorgirlgourmet is doing booktours…

Yay refinance!

We were approved for a no-cost refinance.  4.75% over 20 years.  Down from 5.5% on 30 years, down from 6.5% on 30 years when we started.

These no-cost own provider Wells Fargo mortgages are so easy.  Basically you call up, give them a bunch of information, they may decide to do an appraisal or may not, they do a hard pull of your credit (mine is 803!  DH’s is only 760 for some reason– we need to check his record), they send you a few documents to sign, then a few more documents and you’re done.

The one big thing to note is that you skip paying your mortgage for an entire month, so they add the interest that you would have paid into your mortgage, increasing the total amount.  You can get around that by paying extra the month after or even better, before if you have the slush (you pay slightly less interest if you pre-pay before).

The other big thing to note is that the interest rate that they give you will be higher than the interest rate they would give you if you were paying the closing costs.  I *think* that they do these no-cost things to keep you from refinancing at a lower rate with someone else.  Which is a good idea.  If we were still at 6.5% we would have paid someone else to refinance by now.  (Wells Fargo currently offering 3.75% on a 15-year if you pay costs.)

So, very exciting for us!  And no mortgage to pay for the next month… so no prepayments this month.

*dance dance*

ETA: Financial Sam has a nice post encouraging you to refinance, even if it means plowing some extra money into your house.

If you have a house, have you refinanced or are you going to refinance any time soon?  How much of a hassle is it?

This week’s Carnival of Personal Finance

Service 2

See actual post below.  I’m trying to get other folks’ blogrolls to update on this one instead of a post that doesn’t exist.  So far technology is not cooperating.

p.s.  Tomorrow’s post is a personal finance one.  :)

We’re starting to get into a routine… let’s see if it keeps up.  Right now it’s at least one academic post, at least one personal finance post, at least one parenting post, Thursday has the fun post that generally has nothing to do with any of the above.  Right now it looks like Friday is controversial rant day, but that may change.  Saturday hits our link love.  Sunday is a wildcard.  And, as always, at least one joy for every two grumbles.