Happy New Year!
Still here, same goal for 2020- pay down the student loans! Will post updated totals when the current pending payment finishes processing.
Recently realized that my 401K match vests 100% at 3 years, which is a bummer. I’ve been there 1.5 years so far and don’t currently have any plans to leave, but life is unpredictable.
Today I made a batch of lunches for the freezer using things I already had on hand. I used this recipe (https://www.budgetbytes.com/cheesy-vegetarian-chili-mac/) but swapped out some types of beans and fusilli for the elbow macaroni. Didn’t have tomato sauce but had a 28 oz can of diced tomatoes, so I added that and tossed in a teaspoon of taco seasoning and two packets of leftover taco bell sauce that were lurking in a drawer. It used up the last bit of a bag of shredded cheddar that has been lingering in the freezer.
Viewing the 'Food / Groceries' Category
Happy New Year!
This has been a pretty spendy month so far, with variable spending at $778.25. This doesn’t include regular bills, charitable donations, extra debt repayment, or work-related expenses, some of which will eventually be reimbursed, but it does include discretionary budget categories like groceries.
Unusual extra spending: $75 for a nice used desk chair to replace an old one that broke. $30 for a filing cabinet for my home office area. $70 for a nice Valentine’s dinner and drinks, with tip. This is more than a typical date for us, but every once in a while it’s fun to dress up and splurge on trying something new. (We roughly take turns paying for things.) $65 for some new bras and a dress to replace worn-out items.
Grocery spending was around $200, which isn’t too bad, although it could probably be lower for one vegetarian who doesn’t buy imitation meat and cooks at home a lot. Buying coffee and cafeteria snacks remains an area for improvement, even though I do keep some snacks at my desk and avoid pricey Starbucks coffee. Even the cheap stuff adds up!
Other spending included things like gas, forever stamps, mailing packages with Valentine’s candy for friends, liquor for a social gathering, a copay for dental work, and Hulu and Washington Post online subscriptions (don’t count these in the regular bills category because they’re definitely discretionary entertainment expenses) .
Contributed $200 leftover in other budget categories to the IRA, bringing 2017 contributions to $2140. I have a $150 check in hand to deposit and send in as well, so after that the I’ll need $710 to meet my goal of $3000 for the year. My employer still owes me an additional $150 for overtime, they’re just slow to pay since it comes from a separate cost center. Still need $560 after that. Would love to get this done this month so I can file my taxes at the end of January. That will make it easier to reapply for IBR in February. Really looking forward to knocking the retirement goal out so I can go back to chipping away at my student loans. As a side note, my IRA balance reached $1,000/year of age for the first time ever with how high the market has been lately. It will probably dip down again, but kind of a neat milestone.
Today should be a low spend day. Currently making food to bring with me to work this afternoon. I plan to stop on the way in and get a replacement travel mug (mine disappeared, probably because a lot of us had the same style which caused confusion). This should also help cut down on splurging for coffee on long days, or at least get me the refill rate.
Merry belated Christmas! I've been away visiting relatives this season, but now it's back to work and back to more ordinary financial matters after an expensive time of year!
Although there were increased holiday expenses (gifts, uber to holiday parties that had alcohol, extra gas for travel, etc), there was also some financial good luck. In December I was able to pick up some overtime that should be about $150 after taxes and received a couple of gift cards. I also talked to a salesman with some questions about one of the bigger, more practical presents for a family member, and he gave me a $75 discount that I didn't even request!
I'm hoping to keep the rest of the month as frugal as possible by continuing the battle against high utility bills; using my efficient space heater, lots of blankets, and dressing in layers to minimize turning on the central heat. I'll also be weatherstripping this week.
Today I slept too late to make lunch, but managed to grab coffee from home on the way out the door and just spent $1.10 on a snack in the cafeteria to hold me over until I got home to cook dinner. I cooked from the freezer and pantry since I just got back into town and may try to put off grocery shopping for a few more days.
Did some calling around and decreased my phone bill by about $8 by removing insurance I don’t need on my 5 year old phone (I buy these in cash when they need to be replaced since I found out the “free” phone on most plans is just billed to you in monthly installments). I also bought a router/modem for $100 that will remove a $10/month modem rental fee from Comcast- wish I’d done this years ago, it would already have been so cost effective!
Disputed a fraudulent $99 charge I noticed this week successfully- it pays to read your statements!
Today I got out of work early and actually paid $10 to get my eyebrows done (I usually do this myself, but when I neglect it for too long it is hard to shape them correctly, so it was worth it. Plus sometimes it’s nice to get a little self-confidence boost from looking your best). Picked up milk, yogurt, and noodles at the grocery store, where I resisted the spray-on olive oil because I know those cans are terrible for the environment. Luckily the dollar store next door had a spray bottle I’m going to try using instead, plus ear buds, two packs of pens, and a USB/phone charger cord (can’t beat this place for electronic accessories, and the quality is the same!).
On the earnings side, a raise became effective this July and will net about $148/month. Also completed a side job that should pay around $200 before tax- will have to wait to see the final amount when the check arrives, but it’s going to be thrown at debt.
The current high interest loan balance is $1156. I am sending in $130 left over from the June parking category and $55 from the July loan difference category, so it should go under the $1000 mark!
Just a quick mid-month update. My last paycheck contained $290 from overtime, which went to the Roth IRA. This brings total contributions for the year to 1320/5500.
Trying to minimize spending for the rest of the month to stay on-budget, but I did need to get some groceries today. I know I’ve said this before, but ethnic groceries are AMAZING for value in the city. I stock up there about twice a month. Today I spent $31 and got:
8 kiwis (on sale!)
1 large cabbage ( 4.7 lbs)
8 oz mushrooms
3 small tomatoes (89 cents/lb)
2 sleeves of garlic bulbs
1 lb fresh ginger
2 bunches fresh cilantro
4 16 oz bags of rice noodles
1 16 oz package of regular noodles
4 10-oz cans of vegetables
2 small cans of water chestnuts
1 dozen eggs
1 bottle seasoned salt
I looked for chickpea flour to experiment with socca, but didn’t see any. Plans include lots of stirfry with egg for protein, grilled cheese with tomato, egg fried rice with veggies, cabbage with noodles, pesto pasta, spicy lentils with garlic, potato, and green peas, and delicious kiwi for snacks. Will need to pick up more yogurt and a few other odds and ends.
I watched The Big Short on Netflix, which was pretty interesting. It's about a few investors on Wall Street who caught on early to all the mortgage fraud that led to the 2007-2008 housing collapse and bet against the big firms like Goldman and Lehman Brothers. Based on a true story. I had kind of forgotten how ridiculous lending used to be- no money down, bad credit? Mortgage approved! It just goes to show you that if you don't think you can afford something, don't let anybody talk you into going against that instinct.
Doing some meal planning and freezer cooking tonight- I've been a little lax on bringing enough food to work, and haven't done a major grocery run in a month. Tonight I walked to the small local grocery store and spent $26 stocking up on noodles, rice, and vegetables (fresh and canned for quick meals). I picked up eggs yesterday. These are all kitchen staples for me. I buy broken rice- much less expensive, and it tastes the same.
From the current groceries I have/ can make:
1 serving yogurt (breakfast)
1 serving fish sticks
Popcorn, naan bread, ice cream for snacks
4 frozen veggie burger patties
1 package frozen soup
1 frozen personal pizza
Fried rice with carrot, egg, and cilantro- multiple meals
Noodle/vegetable stirfry, can add eggs for protein- multiple meals
Cauliflower/potato Indian curry over rice- makes two meals
Microwave spicy noodle bowl to bring to work
Seasoned potato pancakes
Haluski (cabbage dish)
Mexican beans and rice
I have the window open and a load of laundry drying on the drying rack because the weather's nice. I'm having company this weekend, so I'll need to do some deep cleaning on Friday!
Now that life has temporarily slowed down I've been catching up on some financial housekeeping. I recently found a little cache of savings from years ago, $74.28, and will apply it to debt. I received some long awaited reimbursement for travel expenses and have earmarked $500 of that for loan repayment also. Finally, I confirmed that the February student loan autopay was never taken out of my account because they put it into temporary forebearance while the IBR paperwork was processing. That's budgeted for, so will send that in as well (386). Altogether that's $960.28 for the high interest loan.
I managed not to spend any discretionary money today, though I did pay some planned bills. Over the weekend I spent some money on potluck dinner with friends I haven’t seen in a long time (worth it!). While I roadtripped home from that visit I stocked up on staple groceries and toiletries in the distant land of Reasonable Cost-of-Living, which should save money overall this month. I'll need to order more contact lenses, but that comes from a catch-all "recurring expenses" budget category.
Haven't done taxes yet- waiting for one last transaction to process so I'll have an accurate retirement contribution figure for the year (was told this should only take three business days). I don't expect a refund, but will hopefully not owe money.
First update in a while, though I do keep up with how everybody else is doing!
On the debt front, I'm waiting for approval on my income-based-repayment renewal. Trying to be patient, but I'd like to get the new monthly payment numbers to update my budget. Today I sent $260 to the high interest loan- $160 from an overtime project at work and $100 from Christmas. (No matter how often I try to gently remind certain relatives I'm an employed adult and they don't need to give me anything, a couple of them always send me money at Christmas. I feel a little guilty about it, but anything other than accepting thankfully would cause offense.)
As far as cost-containment, been doing a fair but not outstanding job limiting coffee and food purchases at work. Taking advantage of free coffee and breakfast at recent morning meetings has really helped in this category : ) I always cook at home at dinner and on weekends unless it's a social occasion with friends.
Currently I'm working on controlling the electricity bill. I love my place, but the building is quite old (historic) and very drafty. A loft setup also creates a lot of unused space to heat. So far I've covered the windows with that plastic wrap to create a layer of air insulation and bought a small space heater. (Got the one recommended by a fireman acquaintance, and never leave it on unattended!). When I do turn on the heat, I keep the thermostat between 55-57 F, dress in layers, and use throw blankets for extra warmth. Even with these measures, winter has caused the utility bill to shoot up to $170 this month. My last apartment was very well insulated with new windows and wasn't on the corner of the building like this, so it retained heat from the building and I almost never had to supplement that, so this is a new issue. There's a local organization that provides emergency funds for utility payments to people with low income, and the recent blizzard motivated me to start donating there this winter.
I'm still lurking around, trying to be frugal and sending little extra payments to the student loans and Roth IRA when there is a surplus in a budget category. So far I've contributed about $1000 to retirement and paid about $4500 extra on the highest interest loan this year. Currently floating a lot of money from the checking account buffer for some work expenses and a big joint wedding gift that a few of us went in on for a close friend. I know this will be reimbursed in the future (very reliable friends, and have done this for work before), but it sure makes my current balance lower than usual!
One area with potential for a lot of improvement is buying food and coffee at work, or on the way to work. I don't go "out" to eat at lunch often, but if I don’t plan and cook ahead I’ll pick up a frozen burrito or a microwave noodle bowl for lunch on the way in, which adds up to a lot of little purchases. Today I managed to eat breakfast at home, brought teabags to make tea at work for free, got a free sandwich at a catered lunch meeting, and resisted buying coffee there. For dinner I rescued the last 1/3 of a wilting green cabbage and some leftover noodles to make haluski.
I also picked up a small one-time side job with the potential to earn maybe $100 or so. Little extra boosts to the budget help me feel like I'm getting somewhere!
The budget totals for August are in and they're ugly. I blew way past my $350/month general spending cap at $588.83. This wiped out the "cushion" category and cut into the parking category as well. Unusual expenses this month included
About $45 in medical costs (visit and prescription copays, dressing supplies)
A friend came from out of state and stayed with me for a few days. I treated her to a couple meals out because she had to buy a train ticket down, which has worked pretty well for us in sharing the cost of visiting. Also got some snacky groceries to keep around the apartment while she was here that I don't usually buy. It's rare that we have any matching days off to visit, so this was totally worth it.
Another close friend got married in August, so that meant traveling out of state, extra gas costs, etc. I wore a dress I already had, so no extra spending there. Again, totally worth it.
Some long stressful days at work that ended with me buying dinner there after only bringing a lunch. This is an area for improvement.
I worked a few hours on a side job this month, but since payments are very slow from these projects, I just count them as snowflakes when they actually show up in my bank account.
Won't post the whole boring spreadsheet, but I have $140.88 to send to debt repayment after balancing the budget, in addition to the $50.50 already sent in from the utility and internet category earlier this month.
It's time to get back on track for September. Today I need to clean out my kitchen/fridge and make a menu plan to limit waste and eat from the pantry. Otherwise it was a low key day off- chores, lots of paperwork for my job (can do online), studying, writing a letter, taking a walk with a friend and catching up.
Meal options from a preliminary look at the pantry:
Halushki (a cabbage and noodle dish, delicious. I make it without onions from personal preference) Have a large head of cabbage that will make several meals
Stirfry with noodles
Vegetable fried rice (have some seasoning mix packets to use up)
Cereal with milk
Potato-lentil Indian curry
Frozen bean burritos
Samosas (use crescent roll dough and fill it with a mixture of spicy garlic mashed potato, peas, garlic, ginger, and Indian spices)
I also moved an extra $100 from the emergency fund to my Roth when I saw how low the market had dipped- love when the stock market goes on sale! As I've mentioned before, my EF is actually higher than it rationally should be, so it's a good thing when I bring myself to put some of that cash to work on investing or debt : )
Today after getting my first quarterly water bill I confirmed with the landlord that yes, water here runs nearly thirty dollars a month! I pulled out my last two years of utility statements before I moved and I was paying around $8/month in an individually metered apartment. My new building just divides total water bill for the building by number of units, regardless of use or how many people live there, it seems. Oh well- to account for this, I'll be adding $32 per month anticipated water cost to each utility bill going forward, which will build up in the account until each payment comes due.
On a happier note, I finally received a reimbursement check for some work-related expenses totaling $370.99. Since I paid for this upfront a few months ago and haven't missed the money while reimbursement was taking a long time, I decided to use $65 of it to cover the first water bill (prorated from the move) and send $100 to retirement savings and $100 to debt. The remaining money will go back in the general savings/emergency fund.
Stopped at Trader Joe's on the way home from work today to pick up a few odds and ends- I've been craving pesto and ran out of milk for cereal in the morning, etc. I'm grateful that even with an unexpected utility expense, getting near the end of the month doesn't mean not being able to buy any more food until August comes around. Not everybody gets to spend $13 on groceries just because it's a convenient time to go, without thinking twice.
The summer is flying by! Time for a quick financial check-in. The high-interest student loan balance is currently $10,222.84. Should be able to get it down under the $10,000 mark by the end of the month, if everything goes according to plan. So far I've already paid the internet and electric bills for July. The electric bill was $35.23. Since I budget $100/month for this, that leaves $64.77 left over for extra debt repayment. The Comcast bill was $22.73, out of a budgeted 80. Don't totally understand how they arrived at this number, as my new monthly plan is more than that, but it looks like some money was credited back from switching plans midmonth. That's another $57.27, so I'm sending a $122 extra loan payment.
Still doing pretty well with bringing coffee from home in the morning- haven't managed to do this every day, but definitely more than before. I did coddle myself a little this weekend after catching a nasty cold that knocked me out most of Saturday- turned the AC on to 83 degrees, ran a load in the dishwasher, and used the dryer to speed up the laundry process. On the frugal side, no appetite and no energy = minimal spending. I'm feeling better now, so I made a noodle stirfry for dinner which used up some odds and ends from the fridge- leftover red cabbage, the remains of a bag of frozen broccoli, and half a can of sliced bamboo shoots from earlier in the week.
Frugal efforts this week: Had a great time visiting some friends (only costs were gas and home-cooked food I brought) and enjoyed an awesome company-sponsored barbeque over the weekend. Also got coffee and caught up with another friend I haven't seen in a while ($3). Otherwise I tackled some cleaning and organizing projects at home (cost: $6 for file folders).
During a recent grocery run I stocked up on supplies to make a bunch of freezer meals to take to work for lunches. Planning to make vegetarian bean burritos with cilantro, vegetable stir fry with rice noodles and egg whites. vegetable fried rice, and spicy fish stew (the base is a mix, and I add in additional spices, vegetables, and the frozen fish). Each one makes 2-3 large portions. Snacks will be carrot sticks and apple/pear slices with peanut butter. There was a great sale on mushrooms, so I'll also be trying out a chickpea/mushroom burger with Indian spices. I got ground coffee (store brand) and flavored creamer to make at home and have been attempting to curb my coffee buying habit a little. So far, so good, and even cutting down by half would be a good start.
On the utility front, vindication! Got the itemized bill from last month instead of just amount due email- apparently $20 of the $58 last month was a one-time application fee. The electric company ingeniously provides a comparison of your average usage compared to your neighbors (100 similar occupied units in your immediate area) and your "most efficient" 20% of neighbors. Of course it is making me nuts that the "efficient" 20% are beating me, even though I am well below the average user : ) So far I've resisted turning on the AC even though it's been 88 degrees INSIDE my apartment for the last five days. If it hits 90 degrees I'm turning the AC on at night and setting it to 85- I try to be environmentally friendly, but there is a reason this technology exists! I have been making heavy use of the ceiling fan, especially at night, so usage will be up a little anyway. Have been using the drying rack instead of the dryer lately, and I really like it so far.
Car-related spending already totally wiped out the "recurring expenses" category for this month. First I had to renew the registration ($135- ouch!) and it was also due for an oil change- $29. The mechanic told me that the front tires are worn and should be replaced before next winter, and the rear brakes will need to be fixed around that time too. Something something breakpads? He explained the actual process, but I don't remember the details. He said it is all safe to drive with for now and recommended holding out until they have their big annual sale in October. He quoted around $125-150 for each new tire and didn't tell me what it would be with the October sale except to say I could get a better deal. Of course I'll shop around for the tires, but since $150/month for this kind of thing was a total guess anyway, I may need to bump it up. Maybe $175/month? More? These are expected occasional expenses, not emergencies, so I want to budget enough money to cover this stuff.
The security deposit refund from my last place came yesterday, and it was a pleasant surprise. It's been a few years, so I couldn't remember exactly how much it was, but expected around $250. It was 504.67! ($500, plus a small amount of interest, which is nice, less the last few days of water and electricity there before the move).
I think you know where that went… Already made the payment online, but the website said it won't be processed until Monday, so I will update the balances when that comes through officially. And maybe spell "principal" correctly this time around : )
Otherwise I spent $29 at a small local ethnic grocery store. This covered 5 multi-meal bags of rice noodles, four large 2-serving cans of bamboo shoots, 2 sleeves of garlic bulbs, a 2 lb bag of carrots, a 3lb bag of apples, 1 bunch cilantro, a 5-pack of authentic Asian ramen-style soups for lazy days, 18 eggs, and probably a couple of other things I'm forgetting. I already stocked up on frozen vegetables during a sale last week when I found myself driving to a less expensive town to visit some friends, and I have a box of waffle/pancake mix I've been craving lately. Hoping to keep additional grocery spending to a minimum for a while, apart from probably needing to pick up some coffee in a few days. I made a large batch of stir-fry for lunch yesterday and froze two Tupperware containers of it to take to work later this week.