No big wins

Playing around with Mint, you can see where your money goes.  Prior to setting this up, I had the idle hope that I’d look at where our money was going and think, “Gracious, we spend how much on X?  Well, we can easily cut that out.”  And then save thousands with minimal effort.

Of course, it didn’t work that way.  There’s no enormous latte factor.  No big ticket items that we buy repeatedly and don’t get pleasure out of.  Even our eating out patterns seem pretty reasonable.

There’s just nothing obvious to cut.  Even if we never bought any more food ever again, at most we’d save $500/month in groceries and $300 or so per month in restaurant meals.  So if we never ate again, we’d maybe save 10K/year.   And of course, we still have to eat.  Cutting all food out isn’t realistic.  So that gets us down to much smaller wins.  Maybe we could cut 4K/year (or more!) by being super careful and never eating out and cutting down our consumption of organics, fancy cheeses, lara bars, and so on.  Are those cuts worth 4k/year?  Given my income and our current savings, no, probably not.  I would rather have the little food luxuries than another 4K/year of savings.

Similarly with our utility bills (except in August, but you can pry my August a/c from my 82-degree dead hands… and the HOA dictates the summer water bill grrr).  We don’t spend that much all things considered.  We already have an extensive fan system and keep the thermostat at temperatures at a level that is better money-wise than most public finance tips suggest.  We take short showers.  Our dryer is on gas rather than electric and adds at most a few dollars to our gas bill.

Cutting all childcare or all insurance would be a “big win”, but it would also be a big loss to our careers or to our risk-averse well-beings in the event of a negative shock.  (Or the state government finding out, in the case of our car insurance.)

Even though there’s no big wins, we still spend a lot of money each month.  More than graduate school us could ever have dreamed.  So money can be cut.

But money must be cut in unsatisfying ways of cutting a little here and a little there.  Eating out a little less.  Price shopping at the grocery store a little more.  Calling up our regular providers again to ask about discounts (though we already do this about once every year or two).  Smaller Scholastic orders.  More needs on the Amazon wishlist and fewer wants.  Driving on our annual trek to the relatives rather than flying.  And so on.

Of course, we’re already doing all the easy stuff.  Real cutting is going to be noticed.   Spending will have to be more mindful.

And now, another challenge update:

DH made another unscheduled run to the grocery store (he needed ones and the bank wasn’t open yet), but ended up buying things that were on the grocery list.  We’re around $400 at this point.  He also got cleaning supplies and batteries at Walmart for $15.

Our refrigerator is dying, specifically the freezer.  We vacuumed all the parts that could be vacuumed and we’re going to try to eat down the freezer and hook up the ice maker (the people who owned the house before us didn’t cook but they threw lots of parties) so we can save the frozen breast milk should it go completely caput.  We’ve had the fridge for around 10 years now and it was the cheapest one they had at home depot when we were graduate students.  We suspect we would do better getting a more energy efficient one rather than trying to repair this one.  It may not last the month, and if we do get a new fridge we’ll probably get a more pricey one meaning we probably won’t make the February challenge even if we never leave the house.  But we’ll see.  DH is going to try a few more things to see if he can keep the thing alive, so maybe it will hold on until March.  In the mean time, we’re trying to eat down the freezer.  Update:  He seems to have gotten it going, will probably post tips at some future date.  Update 2:  Keeping it going requires vigilance.

I got tired of the books I had and got a hankering to reread a Discworld book.  This time around I’m reading them from first published to last, but I don’t have all of them.  Our local library (surprise surprise) does not have Mort, and the university library has it but it’s on reserve and can’t be checked out.  So I bought it on Kindle.  $6.  I also don’t have the one after that, but the university library has two copies of it.

We went out to eat at the local Korean place.   $60.

I put gas in my car:  $27.49.
Phone bill:  $78.
Vacuum cleaner bags:  $23.
Utilities: $117.
Quarterly insect control:  $72.

DH spent about $75 out of his allowance, but we’re not counting that.  We also spent a little under $600 for two weeks of childcare.  We’re not counting that either.  And of course the mortgage posted.  :)

If you had to cut your budget, do you have any obvious big wins?

43 Responses to “No big wins”

  1. Mados Says:

    Hello Nicole and Maggie. Totally unrelated to this post, I have tagged your blog for the Liebster Award.

  2. Debbie M Says:

    I feel like I’m out of easy wins, too. At least I have no HOA. Last year and this year we’re taking our vacation in August, so that saves us a little dough in electicity usage.

    Your refrigerator problems are just the kind of thing that keep me from doing challenges. Or at least building in exceptions right from the beginning. (And of course it’s why I have an emergency fund–so I don’t have to worry about cash flow problems in non-challenge months.) I’m sure you’ve researched what the problem could be. There are few quite helpful sites online these days.

    Also, check if your utility has a program to help you with getting a more energy efficient refrigerator. (Ours pays us $50 for replacing a still-working refrigerator with a modern efficient model–I’ve decided I’ll save more by waiting for a natural death.)

    Note that you can buy used. If you do that–make sure you smell the fridge first, and don’t assume you’ll be able to get the smell out. Our next fridge will probably cost more to run. It will be a less efficient style (freezer on bottom instead of on top) and probably bigger, plus I got an efficient fridge last time, and I don’t think they are all that much better than they were 18 years ago.

    Good luck!

  3. Steph Says:

    Try getting books through InterLibrary Loan – your university library probably has a good department for it and can get you whatever book you want. I’ve ordered some random ones, and they’ve always found them.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I do ILL for work books, but not for my pleasure reading.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        #2 has no compunctions about ILL-ing pleasure reading. They don’t pay me jack squat here; at least I can have library perks.

      • Steph Says:

        I used to think I couldn’t ask for personal books through ILL, but then I spoke with an ILL librarian because I noticed several romance novels come through the system (I was working at the circulation desk at the time). She told me they don’t really care what kind of books you’re asking for, or why you want them – they just want to find books for you! Aside from enjoying their job (that might vary by institution and librarian), the more requests they get, the better their department looks. Granted, it can take a little while for them to find the book, but I think I’ve always gotten mine within a month, and I got the Victory Garden Cookbook in a week.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I know the librarians don’t care. However that’s exactly the kind of thing our board of regents would be asses about if they ever thought of it.

  4. Foscavista Says:

    It could be due to the mere fact that I am still on my first cup of coffee, but I am unclear when you say:

    “We vacuumed all the parts that could be vacuumed and we’re going to try to eat down the freezer and hook up the ice maker (the people who owned the house before us didn’t cook but they threw lots of parties)”

    When you say that you’re going to hook up the ice maker, do you mean adding the water line? So, your household hasn’t had ice?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      No, we have a separate icemaker that is as big as a dishwasher. It’s hooked up to the waterline, but unhooked from the electricity because we did an energy thing on it and found it uses a huge amount of energy. The previous owners did a *lot* of entertaining and very little cooking. (The walk-in pantry was wall-to-wall alcohol, when we first viewed the house for example.)

  5. Linda Says:

    I think the biggest area of money gain for me would be in eliminating the “stupidity factor.” This past week, I wasted $50 on a knitting class that I didn’t end up taking. I had forgotten to write previous commitment into my calendar and signed up for the class. When I got the reminder of my commitment a day or two after signing up for the class, I realized my mistake and asked if I could get a refund. Nope. Stupid me!

    Last month I had to buy a new battery for the car. I thought the service package I bought last year covered “everything but tires,” as the sales manager said. Nope. Stupid me! (And if I’d just read through the details that came in the mail within 90 days, I could have canceled the plan and gotten my money back.)

    Of course, this kinds of stuff is probably the most difficult to eliminate in a budget, since I certainly don’t spend the money at the time thinking that I’m literally throwing it away. Other than that, I think food is pretty much the only thing I could cut. Like you, I enjoy eating fancy cheese, plus I only buy the more ethical and healthy meats (which are also more expensive). If I just gave up my ethics around meat or switched to eating absolutely no meat at all, then I could save some bucks.

    I think I could bring in more income, though. I have a perfectly good bedroom sitting idle most of the time. If I put more effort into furnishing it I could possibly bring in some bucks through Airbnb. If I had to really tighten the budget, I’d have a talk with the guy and convince him we must take on a roommate, too.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That’s a good point– bringing in more money is always the flip of saving more. Hopefully DH will bring in some extra money. These little cuts are dwarfed by what my income would be with an additional month of summer money from a successful grant, and the work is better for my career! Though dealing with bureaucracy is so frustrating.

  6. TodayWendy Says:

    I could cut grad school. Tuition has gotten ridiculous, my earning potential isn’t really increasing with more school, and I could be spending the time at a job that paid well instead of fighting with writing this stupid paper…

    I know what you mean. We’ve cut all the frivolous spending, there are no great unmined sources of cash. We even live in a place with one of the best library systems ever (and amazing inter-library loans and e-books) so it is very rare for me not to find a book I want at the library. In fact, the reason I stopped buying more books a while back was because I’ve run out of space to store new ones…

  7. Leigh Says:

    The biggest win I’ve found is that I don’t actually need to buy any more new clothes this year, so I’ve cut out my clothing budget completely. If you look at the last two years, that should save me about $2,000-3,000.

    I could cut out travel, but I’m not going to do that when I have no kids. (Yes, I just include travel in my regular budget. It’s not savings – it’s pretty short-term spending…) I ended up trying to trim a little bit of fat out of each line item, we’ll see how it goes.

    Oh, I have one. Not moving! Moving cost me so much money last year.

    The crazy part is that my friends all think I’m frugal, so I don’t even want to imagine how much they spend each year. And omg, I hate reading about what people plan to buy with their tax refunds on social media. So painful. Save it! It was your money to begin with!

    I’m hopeful that actually programming my thermostats will cut down my ridiculous electricity bill for the last few months…

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yes on the not buying clothes… I have all this brand new clothing from my last wardrobe reboot (the weekend before I got the positive pregnancy test). Now I’m able to wear it again. :)

      I swore I would not buy any more work clothing until I get the two suits I bought um.. 2 years ago… hemmed so I can wear them. That’ll probably cost around $40 if I ever get around to it.

      • Leigh Says:

        I hate getting stuff altered. So many more errands! One to buy them, one to drop them off, one to pick them up. Why can’t I just buy them???

        My biggest clothing expense is when I gain or lose 5 lbs and none of my bras fit anymore. That is so annoying and happens once or twice a year.

        Wait, you wear suits to work???

    • Leigh Says:

      I’m going through this exercise because I’m considering leaving my big company for a smaller one at some point in the next few years where I likely wouldn’t get any bonuses but I’m guessing they would match-ish my base pay. So I want to make sure I can still save a good chunk of my base pay. Oooooh if I didn’t have my bonuses, I could contribute to a Roth IRA!

      I don’t want to be quite as extreme as MMM, but I’m trying to at least think about things a bit more consciously instead of just dwiddling away money easily? Though I did spend $2.72 on cinnamon knots last week and they were DELICIOUS. But that’s all the non-work eating out I’ve done this month so far.

  8. NoTrustFund Says:

    Big picture we’re in a similar situation. We spend a bit more than you on eating out, and in some ways that would be an easy win, but we really enjoy it. And we could probably get our grocery bill down, but right now we don’t need to so I try not to worry about it.

    Oh, and we need to get a new car insurance quote. Not sure that would qualify as a big win but it would save is some money.

    I will say, the few times we’ve really needed to cut back, I do find the little things add up quickly. But when we can afford them, I really enjoy the extras of going to plays, eating out, and buying quality food so try not to worry about them too much.

    At least you are having refrigerator issues while DH is still working!

  9. MutantSupermodel Says:

    I think it’s pretty awesome you found no big wins, but it’s also unsurprising given what you’ve shared about your way of life. I’m in the same boat, many things that are currently cut have already impacted my daily life and what’s left will significantly impact my daily life. Things are already psychotic enough for me, do I really want to add to that? One thing I did have to do was have a talk with my boyfriend about his financial contributions now that he has more stable work. I hate having those talks but I can’t afford financially supporting him on top of the kids and myself. Summer is coming and I’m itching to see the announcements for the various programs to do some price-comparison. My father has a camp at his school that would be $1500 for all three kids for six weeks. Problem is it’s about 30 minutes out of the way to get there and coming back from it would probably mean an hour commute to the train station since I’d now be with traffic. That’s significant. Also, my son had gone a few years ago and found the camp to be boring. The one they have been going to is about twice that cost. I am trying to figure out how to come out with a healthy mix of affordable options that will not bring a detriment to daily life. My tax refund as it is now will cover the cost of the pricier summer camp but it will also leave me with less money to put into savings and it’s obvious I need to have that in place.

  10. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    #2 here. My big, easy cut would be to cut back on horseback riding lessons. However, I love them, and it’s still cheaper than therapy for me going insane. So for now they stay. I could buy less coffee outside the house. My cash flow is ok so I don’t have to cut right now, but I could also try to cut travel. That sucks, though, because we’re so far away from family and friends in our current location. Hm. I guess I could try to convince my partner to pay for more things instead of splitting them? Ha ha.

  11. oilandgarlic Says:

    Our “obvious” big wins are cable and probably our pets (old dogs = high vet bills). As much as we enjoyed the emotional aspect of dog ownership, we don’t ever plan to own dogs again so once they’re gone, that will be a big save (although who knows if we’ll change our mind once kids are out of the nest)… Anyway, right now we don’t have cable but are planning to add it back at some point. When we don’t have that bill, it’s an obvious save.

    I do find that just being more mindful of spending from groceries to clothing/cosmetics to eating out, does actually help a lot. A few years ago, I switched to mostly drugstore brand cosmetics and skincare (which works great!) and saved $$. I also have a very small clothing budget compared to most women I think. At least on blogs and IRL, people seem to budget way more for clothing and shoes than I do! Even if I do spend in cycles, it doesn’t add up to the amounts I’ve seen posted or talked about in terms of clothing budget.

    • becca Says:

      The number I’m finding is $680/person/year as average (i.e. 2.8% of income), but women are 2x men so presumably it’d be about $906 for women (assuming a 50/50 population in the household income figure). I can’t even imagine spending $450/year, but that’s just me.

    • chacha1 Says:

      I tell my aging cats that when they are gone, I am getting guinea pigs instead.

      • Rosa Says:

        guinea pigs are surprisingly expensive. Or at least suprising to me, since i thought of them as basically giant mice. The price of hay skyrocketed this year because of the drought.

  12. First gen american Says:

    I go through spurts of non-spending. Isn’t the whole pint of getting educated and a good paying job so that you don’t have to do the scrimping anymore? I have learned to be okay with certain splurges like eating out and vacations. What’s the point of working so hard if you don’t have a few perks.

    I know this comment wasn’t terribly helpful, but if your biggest vice is fancy cheese, then I think you are fine the way you are. I still don’t know how people can spend $200 a month on groceries.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I think really I’m hoping to find a cushion so I don’t have to recast the mortgage or so we can go back to saving for college etc. Or more so I don’t have to worry about bringing in more money (either me or DH).

    • Leah Says:

      When I spent less than $200 a month on groceries, I was single. I cooked everything myself (lots of free time — only working 40 hours a week and saving like the dickens). I only drank water, and I didn’t buy a lot of pre-packaged stuff. I menu planned. And I didn’t eat a whole lot of meat. This was also 7 years ago, so money went farther then.

      Pretty much only commenting to say that I agree with you — I’m not sure how people keep their expenses that low. My husband and I aren’t sure how much we’re spending now (we each have our own CC and somehow still haven’t parsed it out), so we’re saving receipts from groceries to get some sort of baseline.

  13. Funny about Money Says:

    Nice post… Come to think of it, I can’t say I’ve had “big” wins, at least not in any immediate sense. To my mind, the savings to be gained in budgeting come from accruing a lot of small savings.

    I rarely eat out (okay okay, I probably wouldn’t anyway because nothing’s less fun than eating out alone). That saves at least a couple hundred bucks a month.

    But…I love to eat, I cook well, and I don’t skimp on groceries. So what was saved on restaurant meals is probably lost in gourmet grocery aisles and in Costco frenzies.

    High style has never been my thing, and pretty shoes have made my feet hurt ever since I injured my idiot young self that time I decided to run down the block in a pair of heels. So there’s not much to be saved on clothing because I don’t buy things that have to be dry-cleaned or, by and large, very many higher-end outfits. I live in Costco blue jeans.

    Driving an antique Toyota Sienna means I don’t have many repair bills but the gas bills are such that yes, I do have to schedule shopping trips so as to keep the driving under control.

    Not running the heat in winter means I save about $200 a month on the power bill during November, December, January, February, March, and part of April. But who would run the heat on a 70-degree day, anyway?

    Don’t pay for cable…because when I look at the listings I see a jillion channels with nothing on. I can get broadcast and Internet programs for free. How much do I save? Probably nothing, because I wouldn’t watch cable TV anyway.

    Few of these economies (to the extent that they are economies) save large amounts each month. But I guess they all add up.

  14. darchole Says:

    For me, it’s new book purchases, which I can cut down with going to the library more and buying used books or waiting until the paperback edition comes out. For SO and I it’s eating out, which we do a lot, since both of us have highly unpredictable schedules. However since we both need to diet and exercise more (which was totally derailed last week by BOTH of us getting sick), eating out will be severely cut back. Of course both of us need new (used) vehilcles, which means spending will probably go UP this year instead of down.

    For a referigerator, a french-door style costs more, but finding things and fitting large things in it is much easier (SO shouldn’t have asked what kind I wanted when we moved.)

    Also Amazon Prime is evil. It’s way too easy just to buy something on Amazon, because of the free shipping part.

  15. plantingourpennies Says:

    If we needed a big win, we could stop gym memberships and me buying race entries (that’s $100 per month between the two). In a year when our cell contracts are up, we’ll probably go with pre-paid smart phones rather than two iPhones with Verizon. Mr. PoP also drinks about $130 worth of beverages (coffee and beer) in the house every month. That’s a lot to me, and if I really wanted to give him hell about it, he’d probably cut it down, but I’m not sure it’s worth it.

  16. femmefrugality Says:

    You are so responsible with your finances, it’s no wonder that there’s no big win at this point. While that’s disappointing, it should be a little bit rewarding, too, to know that you’re already on top of it! We’ve cut our latte factors out. And a long time ago. We shave bits off our everyday, normal spending as we can like you talk about. But once you get to a certain point it’s either recognize that you’re doing all you can do or completely deprive yourself of things like… Haha.

  17. chacha1 Says:

    Our single biggest expense is our ridiculous rent, but there’s no cutting that without moving. :-) I am hoping to get another $200 off our auto insurance by the end of this year (this entails DH getting rid of his unused-for-fourteen-years motorcycle. Wish me luck).

    We are in training coming up to a national championship, so our coaching and travel expenses are going to continue. After April 7, though, those will stop for a while. I’m going to try to save as much as I’ve been putting into our dancing for three months.

    Our food costs are where we could, and probably should, go for a more continuous big win. I am presently in a home-improvement mode but am anticipating a “no-spend” month fairly soon and during that month I hope to keep our food spending within $600 for the month (which would be a $200-$400 savings). If I can successfully do that without us feeling deprived, I’m going to try to repeat the protocol at least twice more over the course of the year.

    It made a big difference when we switched from Going Out to Steakhouses to Broiling Steaks at Home, but being carnivorous is expensive. Being a carnivorous wino, even more so. Our bar cabinet is full and I am not allowed to go near BevMo until it is at least half empty. :-)

  18. In which we fix the 15 year old fridge again rather than buying a new one | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] Our 15 year old fridge is making whiny noises again.  It last did this (and apparently worse) 3 years ago and DH replaced the freezer fan and everything was fine until just now.  It’s a pretty quick […]

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