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?

22 Responses to “What did I learn from the February Challenge: And March’s mortgage update”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    On the cheese thing, I spent a few months virtually cheese free. All I kept on hand was the crappy part skim mozzarella sticks for the kids. I did eat them once in a while. Last week, I bought good cheese again and ate the entire block within 24 hours. There is something to be said about moderation.

    I haven’t done mint or quicken. But with new home improvement expenses in the horizon I will have to start budgeting and tracking again. So sad. I too got used to not thinking about money and it was nice.

    It does have it’s perks though. I allocated many hours of this weekend sorting/entering home improvement receipts for our upcoming house sale and it was like Christmas when I found my “home improvements by year” spreadsheet on my external hard drive. I hadn’t updated it since 2009 but boy it was like Christmas to have 9 years done and over with. I now have a “home expenses” credit card which should simplify the whole process.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It’s amazing how many financial decisions one makes just based on accounting, like having one credit card for all the home improvement stuff. I do something similar with our savings accounts… right now our big bank is doing all the childcare expenses so I can easily keep them separate from everything else.

    • chacha1 Says:

      Home expenses credit card: that’s a brilliant idea, First Gen. I’m gonna do that starting right now.

  2. NoTrustFund Says:

    We started using Mint in December and I really like it. Although I do not have our investment accounts linked.

    Big picture we use a 50:30:20 budget, although we actually save more than 20%. Most of our savings is automated and I used the 50% before commiting to our house payment so everything is an autopilot for the most part. Mint just lets me know how much we’re spending on groceries and eating out.

    Is there a March challenge? :)

  3. chacha1 Says:

    This made me laugh:

    “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.”

    Definitely agree! We recently discovered, at Bristol Farms, a Wisconsin-made Monterey Jack-style cheese with leeks and morels SO DAMN GOOD, and after mowing through the whole wedge went back to buy two more. I am hoarding one, but I predict it will be gone by the end of this week. Fancy cheese makes such a *good* snack, especially compared to something carby, and it’s so Satisfying.

    Recently added half a log of soft goat cheese to a pot of mashed potatoes. That was pretty awesome too.

  4. Leigh Says:

    You could take your investment accounts out of Mint so you don’t see the numbers fluctuating so wildly :) You could just let Mint go on autopilot and update the transaction categories every once in awhile, but not really watch the numbers. It would still be helpful to have the historical data.

    I do track my spending. Despite having a budget last year, I just adjusted the budget a lot when the actual numbers were off. So I spent a lot of money last year. This year, I’m trying to be a bit more conscious of my spending, but Groceries is definitely going up as I switched from buying vending machine chocolate to fancy chocolate. But that’s okay, because that’s worth it. I’ve actually been saving way more of my net pay so far this year. I’ve saved ~66% of my pay so far if you take out the RSU vests. Last year, I was at about 54% overall. An extra 10% is a pretty awesome improvement.

    What do you do with your cash back rewards checks?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Now that I’m no longer doing Feb challenge tracking, I will definitely not be logging into Mint so frequently. But it will be nice to have all the information there in one place to look at.

      We put our cash back rewards checks into savings along with everything else. Lately I’ve been putting them into the big savings account that we pay small checks (childcare and school stuff) out of, but only when it’s convenient. (The credit union bank, our main account, is closer, so we still deposit checks there as well.)

      Real hot chocolate is so worth it. What brand do you get? I really miss Van Houghten, but we’re doing ok with Droste for cocoa powder (and green and black for bars, if we feel like melting).

      • Leigh Says:

        I’ve tried Theo, but don’t like it all that much. I mostly buy Nestle hot chocolate and make it with milk instead of hot water, so much better. Recently, I’ve discovered Moonstruck chocolate bars at my local grocery store. So delicious! I’ve tried dark chocolate but I honestly don’t like most brands. Ritter Sport is a solid favorite too.

        I’ve been throwing my cashback rewards into my checking account, which I “zero out” based on my budget at the end of the month, so they sort of end up creating positive cashflow and thus going to the mortgage. My other card, the only way to get them is by asking for a statement credit, so the FOLLOWING month, I have a smaller credit card payment than what I spent to make, which is kind of confusing, but oh well. I like the card better that just deposits into my credit union savings account each month… Plus, it doesn’t reward me for how much consumerism I practice that month, just for spending in general.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I didn’t like dark chocolate until I cut HFCS out of the rest of my diet. Now milk chocolate seems weak.

  5. Donna Freedman Says:

    I don’t use Mint et al. but believe they’re great tools for people who need to track every penny. Even when I *did* have to track every penny, I just did it in my head. Specifically: My default setting was “no” whenever I wanted/needed to buy something.
    Budget is still in my head. Mostly that means I pay bills as they come in and still try to say “no” a good part of the time (and “oh, hell, YES!” the rest of the time). Now that I’m sharing a household it will be interesting to see how spending shakes down. Since he’s as frugal as I am, it’s been good so far.

  6. Laura Vanderkam (@lvanderkam) Says:

    I just went through a year’s worth of credit card statements as I was figuring out my business expenses. I discovered that I buy a lot of things at Amazon. I knew that, but it was fascinating to see it in black and white. Then I realized that I was not responsible for half those purchases — my husband has been using my account because I’m the one with the prime free shipping. Which I also knew, but whoa! We must really hate to get in our cars and go shop somewhere.

  7. Cloud Says:

    OK, now I’m thinking I need to send you a care package of nice cheese. But the shipping logistics are daunting. Also, it would ruin your experiment. But if you ever get truly desperate… I’d hook you up.

    I’d be brainstorming like crazy for cheap ways to handle the wanderlust. But that’s just me- I have perpetually itchy feet and get grumpy if I don’t get to go exploring.

  8. oilandgarlic Says:

    I think I have the worse use of our “budget”. I kind of keep track of our expenses for the year but then we don’t do any adjustments on a monthly basis for our spending! The only way this budget helps ( a bit) is that I’m more mindful of fixed expenses and try to adjust if that gets out of whack.

  9. MutantSupermodel Says:

    Every time you go on about cheese I get weak in the knees and NEED some.

  10. February is challenge month: I gotta get some @$!& written | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] Prior to that we did a number of frugality challenges, but while DH is still employed we need the time more than we need the money, so they’re kind of exercises in pointlessness. […]

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

    […] 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 fix involving buying a […]

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