Finances

What I spent: February 2017

What I spent in February 2017 | RISING*SHINING

After Chris and I both did a great job in January of staying within our personal allowance budgets we decreased our budgets. Chris decreased his from $150 to $80 and we decreased mine from $150 to $100. Note that we also have a joint personal allowance budget each month of $150 which covers any date nights plus babysitting and family outings including eating out.

In February I continued my new habit of tracking every purchase in Mint and making sure it was appropriately categorized. I'm even going to far to split transactions if needed and allocate to different budgets. 

I used to track things in Mint in waves. I'd be really into it for a while but fall out of the habit. Cleaning up all our Mint budgets and making sure we have the right budgets set at the right amounts has helped get me back into the tracking habit. And I'm sticking with it in a way I never have. The more Chris and I track our spending the more we are sticking to our budgets, which is so satisfying, and reinforcing the tracking behavior.

Personal allowance spending for February 2017:

$5 - one box of Thin Mints, which because I'm a moderator I will make last all year! I know this is ridiculous but I stash them in my drawer at work. I'll eat a sleeve when I finish my crazy report season in August and another sometime this fall.

$18 - two-year renewal of Sunset Magazine

$2.96 - coffee at Starbucks while I worked and killed some time before volunteering at preschool.

$3.50 - a protein shake as part of Chris's Valentine's gift

$2.96  - coffee at Liberty Market by myself when we had run out of coffee. I just sat for 10 minutes with no book or phone. Such a minor-seeming thing but I remember it being so calming.

$7.34 - breakfast with book club gals at a favorite spot

$10 - a get well gift for a friend

$11.50 - tsoynami date to treat my amazing co-worker who is moving to Boston. Sad face.

$17.31 - happy hour + snacks with my book club

Total spent: $78.57 of $100 budgeted

+ + +

In January 2017: $126.25 of $150 budgeted

 


What I spent: January 2017

Jan2017_final

In December, Chris and I had our annual goals and budget meeting. We reviewed our budget (kept in an Excel spreadsheet) and made sure each category of spending aligned correctly with a budget in Mint. We made a few changes and did some general tidying to our budget - it was so satisfying!

So January felt like a "fresh" start to our budget (always appealing) plus Chris and I made a goal of spending very little of our personal allowance money. As a result I've been tracking every dollar we/I spend in Mint - and I have been loving it.

We are each budgeted $150/month of personal allowance money. It's what we use if we buy coffee or a meal out or want to buy anything beyond groceries and what we need to have around the house. Even though $150 seems like a lot to me we both find ourselves over-spending most months. While at the same time neither of us feels like we are extravagant spenders! 

By tracking every dollar we spent this month we have both stayed well within our personal allowance budgets. PLUS we've stayed within other budgets like groceries, household services (lawn care, cleaners, other things that come up) and for home supplies (lightbulbs, etc. plus disposable diapers and wipes).

Our month of "no extra spending" was a failure in that we did each spend personal allowance money. But it was a huge success in that neither of us over-spent and it feels like we're establishing new habits of tracking every dollar. Something that helped me stay within my personal allowance budget was making sure that I reimbursed myself for things like gifts and business expenses (for my podcasts). We have separate savings accounts for those and I always mean to rectify the spending but often think, "Oh it'll work out." And what works out is that I overspend my personal allowance. No more!

Anyway, I thought it might be interesting to share how I spent my personal allowance money this month. Perhaps it will be a recurring monthly feature. It's certainly a good way to stay accountable to my budget!

Personal allowance spending in January 2017: 

$24.33 - 2017 Nikki McClure calendar for my office

$17.32 - brunch out with a dear friend in Tucson. This charge is a little annoying because we actually went out at the end of December so it should have been a December expense but it didn't hit until January. 

$10 - Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art to see Push Comes to Shove: Women and Power (amazing)

$7.20 - coffee and gelato post-museum with a feisty friend

$3.76 - hot tea at book club. Normally I'd get a beer and I definitely could have bought nothing...but I didn't.

$6.27 - Phoenix Women's March small registration donation + online service fee.

$39.97 - printing my Women's March poster and having it mounted on foam board at Office Max 

$10.78 - beer and a slice of pizza at book club happy hour

$7.20 - iced cold brew + delicious blondie during a Girl Next Door Podcast work session

Total spent: $126.25/$150

Even though I ended up spending more than I thought I would I feel good about it! My Women's March poster was a bit of an unexpected expense and the most expensive thing I bought. Totally worth it. I'm saving the ~$24 "left over" in my personal savings account for a rainy day.

I'm interested to see if I can remain on budget for my personal allowance going forward. One-hundred and fifty dollars can go alarmingly fast, all the more reason to track every dollar.


Home style Photo Streams to collect ideas and save money

Collect home ideas + save money | RISING*SHINING

I love making our home cozy and functional. It's essentially a project I'm always working on. And finally, after eight years, I'm starting to feel confident in how I want to decorate and style our home. I have a lot of ideas about the yard, too. But all these ideas often lead me to want things for the house, which can quickly translate to spending money.

This year, Chris and I have an aggressive savings goal of $20,000. We chatted our our 2017 budget and savings goals in a recent Matrimoney episode if you'd like all the details. Our savings goal is possible but it requires sticking to our budget. Lots of spending for this and that around the house won't help us get there. 

Even though I can't spend a lot I still love collecting ideas for our house and yard. It helps me learn how to get the look I want, or to figure out a cheaper solution than buying new. Sometimes just capturing an idea and sitting on it lets me let go of the desire to change something or get something new entirely; I realize that what we've got is just fine.

Pinterest is great for collecting ideas, and I love to use it, but it doesn't help me when I'm browsing Target, an antique store or a plant nursery. Me at all of these places: "I want EVERYthing!"

So I figured out something to help: take a picture!

Collect home ideas + save money | RISING*SHINING

Apparently I'm REALLY into giant pinecones. So if you're looking for a gift for me...

I had this idea while using iPhone Photo Stream, the shared photo album option in your Photos app if you're rocking an iPhone. If not, a shared Google Photos album is the same idea. And you know I love organizing photos with Google Photos

I already use Photo Streams for sharing pictures of the boys with friends and family, and for sharing podcast photos with Erica. I realized that I could create home style Photo Stream albums that were just for me, and that they would be a great way to "park" things that I want to buy. It's a similar idea to Pinterest except with my own photos.

So I created two home style Photo Streams for myself: DECOR and PLANTS. Essentially it's for inside the house and for our yard. I'm happy to report that these are helping me so much!

Collect home ideas + save money | RISING*SHINING Collect home ideas + save money | RISING*SHINING

Now I take photos to avoid buying impulsively or when I see something that inspires me. Recently I've been leafing through old issues of Sunset magazine to get ideas for our yard. When I see something I like I just snap a photo and add it to the PLANTS album. And when I visited a friend in Tucson we walked around a cute neighborhood and I snapped lots of pictures of desert-scaled yards.

Taking a photo is strangely satisfying and removes the back and forth worrying over "should I get this?" Now the answer is, "Not right now."

The impulse to buy is so crazy. In the moment acquiring something new feels so important. But for me, making the decision not to buy and walking away without spending extra money is much more satisfying.

 


2017: CHOOSE

2017: CHOOSE | RISING*SHINING

In October, even when it was still hot, my thoughts were pulled towards the new year and what goals I would set. My day to day was feeling too busy and I was craving reflection and focus. In six years of developing a practice of goal setting I've found that a few quiet moments, a blank piece of paper and a pen (or even a fresh note on my phone) can be incredibly calming and powerful.

By my own design and doing my life is full. In 2016 I filled my plate more than I ever have. I got a sense of where the edge is for how much I can handle without sacrificing (too much) from what matters - taking care of myself and being healthy, being the best parent I can be, and being a supportive, present partner to Chris. 

A new year is an opportunity to reflect and focus, or refocus. Recently I came across a quote from Nikki McClure, the artist of the beautiful calendars I buy every year. She says:

"'What should I do differently?'  sounds much better than 'What should I have done differently?'" What a perfect sentiment for starting a new year.

All this was on my mind when deciding on my word and intention for 2017: CHOOSE. 

Here's how I want to practice CHOOSE in 2017 the goals that will support my intentions...

CHOOSE family and writing

When I ask myself what truly matters to me, what brings me fulfillment above all else, the answer is so clear to me: family and writing. When I'm faced with a new opportunity or a request for my time I want to choose family and writing above all else. For new commitments that would take away from time with family or writing I want to be ready to say "no," unless they return significant fulfillment (or are required of course).  Ultimately how I spend my days is how I spend my life and I want my days to reflect family and writing.

In addition, I want to lean in to my writing craft. I'm hoping to blog consistently at least once a week, or more, and to explore submitting essays or ideas for publication. This inspired a daily writing goal:

+ Practice creative writing for at least 15 minutes each day. Any writing for work doesn't count for this. My creative writing includes blogging and writing in the memory journal that I keep for the boys. I plan to use the same daily goal tracker that I did last year to establish a daily sunscreen habit.  

CHOOSE gratitude

Gratitude, like goal-setting, is a powerful practice and one that can be done anywhere without anything. I've written before about cultivating gratitude, like appreciating our house as it is, and while I do feel that I've cultivated a practice of gratitude, it's one that can always be strengthened.

For example, even though I've come to really love our home I'm always seeing things I'd love to change. It's a fun ongoing project for me, and especially so as I'm starting to feel more confident in expressing my taste and style in our home. But it's a fine line of being excited to make changes reflective of our style versus falling into the "want, want, want" and comparison mentality or to see every single thing that needs a fix or update.

Parenting two little boys can certainly bring frustration. Especially when I feel as if I can't complete a task or the house is a wreck. I want to choose gratitude in those moments as well. I can be thankful for my boys and being their mother, and remember that the house being clean isn't what matters. I know these years, while so demanding, will be what I look back on with nostalgia and longing, and I'm grateful to be living them now.

+ Be cognizant of thoughts of comparison or frustration and actively choose gratitude. 

CHOOSE action

I'm anxious and at times overwhelmed by the events in our country and around the world. I have mostly disconnected from the news for this reason although I do want to be aware. As we head into a new year I'm anxious about the new administration and president of this country and about the atrocities taking place abroad. Instead of dwelling in worry or sadness I want to CHOOSE action towards creating the world I want to see. This will include:

+ Creating a contact sheet for my local and national representatives. I want to make my voice heard and to pay more attention to how my representatives are voting. I learned from Pantsuit Politics that a phone call can be more impactful than an email. 

+ Make a list of nonprofit organizations to support. I can make a donation in a matter of minutes and support the people doing good and heroic work around the world.

CHOOSE savings

In 2015, Chris and I laid out an aggressive savings plan for ourselves. We want to save close to $100,000 in five years so that we can pay off our mortgage or achieve some kind of significant financial flexibility. In 2015 we saved $20,000, in 2016 we saved $16,000 and we have a goal of saving $20,000 in 2017. 

We had a little breakfast goals meeting recently and went over our budget and savings goals. We both need to commit to sticking to our personal allowance/entertainment spending each month, and to be better about tracking spending on gifts and the house. I want to be very intentional about spending and tracking my money. I want to CHOOSE savings over buying, knowing that saving will get us closer to our big goal. To CHOOSE savings I want to:

+ Check Mint at least once per week, categorize transactions, and assess monthly budget spending.

+ Have twice-monthly budget review meetings with Chris. We talk about finances all the time but have gotten away from sitting down with our computer, looking at Mint and the budget, and having more in-depth conversations. These budget meetings always make me feel more committed to our budget and saving so I think it would be a great tool as we work towards our big goal.

2017: CHOOSE | RISING*SHINING

And that's it! I'm excited about these CHOOSE goals but also curious how my intention will manifest in other ways this year. 

Wishing you light and love as we start a new year together! Happy 2017!

2016 (ha! Dash is wearing the same sweater!)

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011


Our 2016 financial summit

Our 2016 financial summit | RISING*SHINING

Recently, Chris and I sat down to assess our finances and to make financial goals for 2016. Planning across an entire year felt loftier than a budget meeting and so we dubbed it a financial summit.

We compared calendars and found a time when we could sit down together for at least an hour without being interrupted by the boys. Scheduling time to talk about finances is such a great way to head off sudden and stressful conversations about money and in fact can make budgeting fun. We usually have dessert (chocolate cupcakes above baked by Chris!) or a drink, or might even go out for coffee and scones.

We started our financial summit with assessments of our 2015 financial goals and how we are doing managing our finances overall. Then we talked about what 2016 looks like for us financially. From there we talked about what's working financially, any changes we want to make and set our 2016 financial goals.

Here are the outcomes of our 2016 financial summit...

2015 ASSESSMENT

Savings

2015 was our first year working towards our 5-year goal of saving/investing $20,000 per year to enable significant financial flexibility, such as being able to pay off our mortgage. I'm thrilled to report that we made our goal and were able to invest $20,000 into our Vanguard investment account so we're 20% of the way towards our goal. There might have been a high five.

Spending

We had a few big house expenses in 2015. We had to unexpectedly replace the motor of our garage door (~$450), we had the interior of the house plus kitchen and bathroom cabinets painted ($2,500) and we had the block wall around our backyard gate rebuilt and the gate reset ($500). Unfortunately the garage door and block wall expenses were not "fun" money to spend but that's homeownership.

2015 was the first year we made a dedicated budget for gifts and Christmas. We overspent on both categories but it's a great improvement to be tracking this spending. 

Big changes

In 2015 we switched my cell phone service to Net on the Run which Chris had already been using (unfortunately, I don't think they are offering service to new iPhone customers at this time, but it could be worth calling to ask). This cut my cell phone bill by more than half (I was paying $70/month) and now our combined bill is $50/month. Fifty dollars per month!!

Last summer, when we had the interior of the house painted, we ditched our television and in doing so our Netflix bill and occasional iTunes movie and show purchases/rentals. I'd love to share an update soon on being television free but the summary is: love it so much, haven't missed the television at all.

Finally, last November, I was thrilled to get a 4% raise, which went into effect last month January. My paychecks increased by about $50. I decided to put all of my additional earnings into my 403(b) retirement account, a voluntary retirement account in addition to my 401(k) account, which is matched by my employer. It felt so adult to make that decision.

 

2016 PLANNED BIG EXPENSES 

Paint house exterior + backyard block wall - $2,300. Our house is due for an exterior coat of paint and we plan to have this done in the next couple of months. 

Chris's best friend's bachelor party in Tahoe/Napa + wedding in Dallas - $3,000.

Trip to New Zealand! - $2,000. Chris will be on sabbatical in the fall and plans to visit a collaborator in Christchurch, New Zealand. We're taking this incredible opportunity to make a vacation of it. Chris has some funding he will use for his flight plus we have been accumulating credit card points for about three years that we'll cash in for my plane ticket.

We initially considered taking the whole family on this trip but flying with two small boys on an 18+ hr plane trip half way around the world plus adjusting to the time change and general toddler management felt much more stressful than fun and adventurous to me. Instead, Chris and I are planning to make the trip just us (!) and be gone for about a week. We still have ALL of the planning to do for the trip; I'm half stoked and half dreading being away from the boys.   

 

2016 FINANCIAL GOALS

Save/invest $16,000 in our Vanguard account (it's this total stock market index fund). We went into our financial summit wanting to stick to our goal of saving $20,000 each year. But when we crunched the numbers it just did not look realistic.

We felt a little bit bummed but then considered the big planned expenses we have this year - they are all things that will bring us happiness through investing in our living environment or relationships. And so we are OK with a curtailed savings goal this year. The plan is to make saving $20,000 in 2017 a top priority. To do this we will plan minimal travel and no big expenses for the house. 

Stick to our birthday gift + Christmas budgets this year! One idea I have for this is to buy Christmas presents throughout the year and even to slowly accumulate gift cards, which we always give to the boys' daycare teachers, instead of buying Christmas gifts all in December.

 

I'd love to know what worked/didn't work for you financially in 2015 and what financial goals you have for 2016!

 

If you enjoy honest financial discussions like this one, tune in every other week for my podcast with Chris - Matrimoney! On the show we talk openly about our marriage, life and money plus answer listener questions. A new episode is out today and we're giving our advice to our first ever featured Matrimony listener.