How do you manage your monthly spending?

Long-time readers of the blog will know that #1 hates hates hates budgeting.  So she doesn’t do it.

While DH was employed, what I had been doing was funneling his take-home pay to checking and mine to savings.  Back when we were still paying the mortgage, I’d move 1 or 2K from savings to checking each month if the checkbook register became negative.  If I had to move more than 2K, I would re-examine our spending habits (though usually such expenditures were reimbursable and would be reimbursed).  Since we’ve finished the mortgage I haven’t been having to do any moving from savings to checking.  We pretty much just spend DH’s take-home pay each month, give or take.

(It’s actually a little more complicated than that since we funnel DH’s reimbursement checks and my freelance checks to Wells Fargo and I take most of the children’s lesson costs out of that account.  But we can ignore that oddity.  Also 529 money comes out of my take-home pay and gets pulled directly from savings.)

Of course, DH is unemployed for the full month of June, likely employed in July (but without a firm start date meaning not drawing unemployment this month, by state law), and then we don’t know what will happen after that.

We saved up for this so there’s plenty in savings.  The question is how to allocate it.

My two thoughts are to either:  1.  transfer the equivalent of DH’s former take-home pay to checking at the beginning of checking each month or 2.  only transfer the amount necessary to keep checking in the black above our minimum requirement for the bank after bills have been figured out for the previous month.

I’m leaning towards the second option so long as the amount I’m transferring is smaller than DH’s former take-home pay because I’m hoping that will decrease the amount we spend each month.  However, if it turns out we’re spending more, then I will do the first option instead and make sure we don’t have to transfer more without a really good reason.  I foresee a lot of eating down our pantry in this scenario.

I honestly can’t remember what we did the last time he was unemployed.

Sigh, once again I am reminded how the way I know we’re going to have an income setback is when I think to myself, “Gosh what are we going to do with all this money?”  The answer always comes.  Kind of like how new referee reports know when you’ve finished the last one in your queue.

But we’ll be ok.  This is why we paid off debt and have saved so much.  And it helps that I’m still driving my grad school car, we don’t really vacation, and we never did get around to renovating the kitchen.  A large emergency fund and low expenses mean that a potentially long-term unemployment spell doesn’t come with frightening money worries.  And we will still be able to buy whatever we want at the grocery store (which is how I feel rich).

Do you budget?  How do you make sure your spending doesn’t outstrip your income while still allowing for savings?

Musings on decreased childcare costs

With DC2 going to public school right away instead of private school, we’ll be paying a lot less for childcare.  DC2 will be in the after school program, but that’s only $120/month give or take, and DC1 has aged out of that program so really it just cancels out what we had been spending on DC1.  There will also be 3 months of daycamp next summer, but that shouldn’t be much more than the cost of daycare would have been.

What to do with the extra money?

The mortgage is gone.  We’re maxing out our retirement options (except we’re not doing backdoor Roths).  We currently have no debt.  We have a healthy (one might argue bloated) cash emergency fund and a secondary emergency fund in taxable stocks.  We’re not saving for anything in particular.  DH’s job situation is highly precarious, mine is very stable.  We spend a little bit more than half our take-home pay each year now that the mortgage is gone.

Here’s some possibilities:

  • The amount we’re saving annually  is about equivalent to 1.5 months of DH’s take-home pay.  If/when he loses his job, the money can go towards regular expenses.  (He’s on break this month, but we had already saved up for June/July/August.)
  • We could up our 529 saving by another $500/month to 1K/kid/month.  (Currently ~106K in DC1’s and 38K in DC2’s.)
  • We could put it in taxable stocks.
  • We could spend it.
  • We could just let it continue accumulating in savings until we decide to do something about it.

Right now it looks like the most likely option is the one where DH’s company goes out of business and we live on my takehome pay.  Dropping to one income will be a bit easier this time around now that my salary is higher, our mortgage is gone, we have a substantial emergency fund, and nobody is going to be in private school next year.   And yet, we’re still going to be at a point where we spend about what I take home just the same as last time DH was unemployed.  How is this so?  We upped the 529 contributions, we’re fully maxed out on my retirement now, and we’ve upped our charitable contributions substantially.  DC1 is in more expensive summer camps now that zie is older and there are more interesting options.  Both kids have more lessons.  Also they eat more.  And inflation + local (mostly demographic) changes have made our regular expenses like local taxes, utilities, and grocery bills go up.

So I guess this reduced expense is good timing for us.

What have you done when a regular monthly expense (loan payments, childcare, etc.) goes away?

Child family labor: Do you let your kids help with your work?

It is legal in the US for kids under the age of 14 to work if it is for the family business.  Even when they’re older, it is legal for them to work for less than minimum wage if it is for the family business.  Labor laws don’t apply the same way when your employer is a parent.  (Note and disclaimer:  consult a lawyer/do your own research before making employment decisions.)

When I was younger (including when I was on break from college and an experienced grader!) I used to offer to help grade my mom’s stacks of homeworks for free.  She would never let me, even when it was just multiple choice and required no specialized knowledge to mark.  I was never really sure why she wouldn’t.

I have friends whose parents are famous economists who learned Stata practically in the cradle.  These skills came in handy when they were old enough for paying work as students and then later when their humanities degrees didn’t really pan out and they needed to change fields.  Data analysis is a valuable skill.

DC1 has played around with programming in Python and likes building things in minecraft.  Zie has also done some Scratch and some lego-robot programming.  This summer I suggested zie might like to try a little Stata and zie said that sounded fun.  We’ve done about three hours now (1 hour of showing how excel works using our mortgage spreadsheet and 2 hours of creating a numeric variable from a text variable from an incomplete but already created .do file) and zie seems to be enjoying it.  Once we’re done with the variable generation (that I actually do need for my work and would normally have an RA do but they’re all off for a week), we’ll start going through A Gentle Introduction to Stata.  Right now I’m paying $7.50/hour which is much more than zie gets for hir allowance.

Zie is mostly booked all summer with summer camps and a keyboarding class and books and sleepovers and games and traveling and so on.  But there are a few days free here and there, so we’ll put in a little Stata training on those days, and if I have scut work to do and no RA to do them, zie will be able to help out if zie stays interested.  Especially if I’m out of Here to Make Friends podcasts to listen to while copy/pasting.

Did you ever help your parents with their work?  Did they pay you?  Would you let your children help?  Why or why not?

Do you need work or would you love 100% leisure time?

#2 and I were talking the other day.

She is happiest when her money needs are taken care of but she doesn’t have a job.  She reads.  She rides horsies.  She plays with kittens at the animal shelter.  She enjoys life.  Employment requires a higher dose of anti-depressants.

Her DH is the same– he enjoys not working.  He has no work stress if he has no work.

If they were independently wealthy they’d never work again!

I, on the other hand, vacation very badly.  I hate not working.  I mean, I love not working on weekends except to read novels, do chores, and hang out with the fam, and probably a 30 hour work week would be ideal if I could just get everything done I needed to get done in that time, but I like having a job.  Depending on where I am and what the activities are, after a week or two weeks of forced vacation I start getting depressed.  Whenever I get 3 months off, I start writing a (very bad) novel.  Thankfully a summer is the most I’ve ever not had either school work or research to do.  These days, summers mean I get to work on research with fewer interruptions.  I’m happiest when I have a manageable to-do list that I can just crank through.  It is true that I prefer having done things to getting things done, but it’s hard to have one without the other.  And I love the feeling of flow.  I like helping people and things grow.  I like getting checks for things I would have done anyway.  I love money and income so much.  I love not having to think about our expenditures.  I don’t know that I’d do this job without this paycheck, but I would be doing something work-like.

My DH needs work too, but his reasons are that he needs regular feedback and validation on what he’s doing and he needs to feel as if he’s making the world a better place.  He doesn’t actually need paid employment, but he does need a regular occupation.  It is no surprise that whenever he shows up at a non-profit meeting (be it activism or DC1’s former school) he’s immediately given assignments which he carries out faithfully.

What about you?  Do you need work or would you be perfectly happy entertaining yourself non-productively?  Or are there productive things you’d like to do outside of the work framework?  (To be fair, petting shelter-kitties is both enjoyable *and* productive, though not lucrative.)

Giving money instead of stuff to school events

Schools often seem to be really into the idea of kids bringing stuff from home for parties and for crafting.  (DC1’s middle school probably spends more class time making pointless crafts than any prior school year experience, even back when ze was taking a daily art class at private school.  *grumble*.  Also they seem to have a ton of pot-lucks.)

One of our new discoveries this year was that instead of trying to figure out how on earth DC1 is going to get a pie on the school bus and to an appropriate teacher without destruction (or worse, one of us having to drop it off at school!), was that we could just write a check or send DC1 with a $20 bill for these events and the teachers will use it to purchase whatever it is they’re asking for.  This has improved our lives tremendously.

I do wish they could be a little bit more like the school back in paradise and just ask for a lump sum donation at the beginning of the year instead of these small sums throughout the year, but I also realize that where we live now doesn’t exactly have the same donations base that Paradise had so it’s not quite as easy just to ask for $500 and then have that be enough to cover all the kids who can’t pay or whose parents won’t pay.  It turns out that there’s even a state law of some kind that says the orchestra can only do fundraisers to cut the costs of all tickets to events, not to make the events free for kids whose parents can’t pay.  (It turns out, however, that directed donations can still be used for that purpose– I got a nice note of thanks with a receipt when we wrote a $64 check instead of a $32 check for DC1’s most recent orchestra field trip. $32 is a lot of money when you’re trying to make ends meet!)

So yay, even if they don’t always ask for cash, cash can still be king.

If you have school children (or if you teach), how does your school deal with needed stuffs?  What would you prefer they do?

Purple Carrot: A Review

This review is not sponsored or anything at all.  #2 has just been nagging me to do it since everybody else is doing blue apron [which #2 still doesn’t really understand] and we’ve been doing this one instead.  We get no money from this post.

Purple Carrot is like Blue Apron except it’s vegan [#2 understands this a little better because she imagines if you’ve grown up in a meat-eaters culture, it’s harder to come up with tasty new vegetarian recipes all the time].  Each week we get a box with 3 meals (for 2 people) in it.  The servings are frequently on the small side, though.  Currently our plan is that my partner cooks on Wednesdays and Sundays, and I cook on Fridays.  (The rest of the time we fend for ourselves.)  Neither one of us is actually a vegan, but we couldn’t find good vegetarian options for my partner (he’s ovo-lacto veggie) because most other services had one dumb vegetarian option each week (pasta and a salad, we already know that, duh!).  A nice side effect of it being vegan is that I never worry whether the food is staying cold enough in the cold box while waiting outside our door for me to open it when I get home from work: no meat, no dairy, mostly stuff that won’t give you food poisoning at a picnic if it gets a little warm.  It does stay cold in that box, though.  Even though I eat meat, I’m not sure I want raw meat in a box that sits.

We have been using Purple Carrot since June 2016.  The fact that we’re still using it almost a year later is a review in itself, I guess.  Like any meal service, you can pause your subscription or skip weeks if you’re going to be out of town or just don’t like the upcoming menu.  Unlike other services, you don’t get to pick the food– you can either get all the food that week or none.  That’s it.  We’re doing it this way in order to eat more vegetables and try to have at least some healthy food.  Also to avoid decisions — all we have is go/no-go and not “what do we pick?”

Some recipes we both end up not liking (rare).  Sometimes one of us likes it more than the other.  Sometimes we agree that the food is just a bit… odd, though not bad.  And sometimes we have a BIG hit that’s delicious, nutritious, and that we didn’t have to think up ourselves (or shop for, or decide among millions of recipes, resulting in paralysis).

For us, it’s worth the cost 3x/wk, at least for now.  We might stop at some point in order to save money, or if it stops being worth it for us.  Below I’ll put a few of our favorite recipes that we loved.  (it helps if you like German food, which I do and my partner doesn’t) (easily modifiable with other veg you have lying around) (one of the highlights of all time) (surprisingly delicious, though it would be better with cream) (eat this every day) (not actually a risotto but very tasty) (#2 tried this with CSA veggies replacing sumac with lemon zest and liked it too.  Add some feta and you’ll increase the joy.  Noms!)

Grumpeteers, has anyone tried Hello Fresh though?  I’m thinking of trying that one day.  Other thoughts?  Who likes to eat veggies?  How do you get veggies into your life?

What to do when they dryer stops drying: Or why DH spent some time on the roof

Our dryer was taking longer and longer to get clothes actually dry.  A regular load was starting to take upwards of 2 hours to finish.

We vacuumed out the inner workings of the lint trap (as one does on a somewhat regular basis).  That didn’t help.

We vacuumed out the vent tube and vent area behind the dryer (something we do about once a year, give or take).  It wasn’t particularly clogged. That didn’t help.

Then DH did something he has never done before, despite us having lived in this house for >10 years (give or take).  He followed the vent to where it spits out.  Growing up, our dryer vents had always vented somewhere on the first floor on the side of the house … I’d never thought about that being one floor up from where the dryer was (DH’s laundry room was in the basement, while ours was on the lower ground floor of our split-level).  Turns out our laundry vents out on the roof.

So DH went up to the roof and cleaned out that end of the vent.  It was completely clogged and he doubts that the previous owners ever cleaned it either.

One immediate side effect was that timed dry regular didn’t heat so hot as usual the first time we tried it (DH suspects the heat wasn’t blocked getting out at all).  So DH tried the sensor dry which has NEVER worked since we got the dryer 10+ years ago.  It worked way too well this time, with the clothes ending up hot and bone dry.  So then he tried sensor dry slightly damp and that was perfect.  A few weeks have passed (and the weather outside has gotten warmer) and we’re back to being able to used timed try again.

So yay not having to buy a new dryer because it was just the outside vent being clogged.

Do you have any appliance repair stories to share?  What’s your process when the dryer stops working so well?