Summer Budget Project Week 5

Well, that was a banner fucking week.

I’m feeling pretty sulky about how much I keep managing to spend every week, even when I’m trying to make good choices. Spending less is clearly going to require a much bigger shift in my perspective, all around. I can’t just change one or two things about how I spend money, EVERYTHING has to change, and I’m not quite sure how to do that.

Also, watching my husband throw down his credit card all weekend makes me realize that I can’t make substantial changes in our spending without him on board.

The only good news I have to report is that we applied for joint checking and savings accounts at my bank. Once the paperwork arrives in the mail we can get the ball rolling. I’m hoping I’ll have all my auto-drafts moved to the new account before school starts. We also are in the process of making my husband’s Credit Union account joint, though I’m not as confident that I’ll be able to put much in there next year.

So, here is my list of purchases. I didn’t realize I was spending so much until it was all over. It’s amazing how quickly $50 here and $45 there adds up (that’s the whole point of tracking though, isn’t it). Also, student loan payments suck.

WEEK 5  
7/11/2015 Swing (for daughter) $86.78
7/11/2015 Groceries (milk, bananas, strawberries, eggs, $6.95 sushi lunch) $25.87
7/11/2015 Book-on-tape (for daughter) $5.95
7/12/2015 Preztels (at zoo) $9.98
7/12/2015 In-n-Out $24.47
7/12/2015 Hardware to mount swing (Home Depot) $20.60
7/13/2015 Parking (Happy Hollow) $10.00
7/13/2015 Happy Hollow (Admission x2) $26.90
7/14/2015 Parking (on street) $1.25
7/15/2015 Costco (groceries) $139.40
7/15/2015 TJs (groceries) $145.31
7/16/2015 Student Loan Payment (automatic) $350.00
7/17/2015 Gas $45.00
7/17/2015 Present for husband $49.11
7/17/2015 Food for birthday (from Filipino restaurant) $99.19
 TOTAL $1,039.81


      1. That’s what my grad loans are at. Reading your posts have motivated me to start writing everything I buy down and then throwing all of my extra money at those loans (I don’t have credit card debt). It’s depressing to think how many months it will take to pay off even at $500 extra a month.

        1. That’s a pretty high interest rate (not as high as credit card interest, but the rate of return on paying it off is better than the average rate of return of investing)– may be worth doing a short-term blitz to get it down so you can stop losing money on interest.

          1. I have been thinking about throwing more money at my final $6500 worth of student loans. I think I calculated that if I put $500 a month toward them, instead of $350, I could pay it off 3 or 4 months earlier. I remember it didn’t make a huge difference and I was kind of depressed about that.

        2. Yeah, at one point I looked at many months faster I could pay off my debt if I threw $500 a month at it instead of $350 (I actually only have to pay $250 a month, so I’m already paying it off faster than is necessary) and it was only a 2-4 month difference (I can’t really remember the exact number, just that it wasn’t enough to motivate me to actually pay the $500 a month).

          1. But that really is a big difference– think of it in dollar terms instead of month terms– $350*3 months is more than $1K, which is a pretty big chunk of the loan amount.

            We wrote about this idea on Monday, but this kind of thing is another way to increase your income– getting rid of higher interest debt gets rid of a big drain on your money (plus in the all your worth sense, you’d have $350 no longer in the “needs” category).

    1. That was our first time to Happy Hollow. It’s pretty far south so we won’t be going again, but the kids loved it and my daughter has been asking about it.

      1. sounds fun!

        Do you think writing down your expenses has helped you? Where do you think you can realistically cut? It’s so hard.

        1. I do think it’s helping me, in little and big ways. I’ll write more about that at the end of the summer.

  1. Once again you are a better person than I am. I would have combined the two weeks.
    I looked at your list and I feel depressed and discouraged. I (single parent, 2 children, working 60 plus hrs per week) couldn’t afford to take my children to the zoo much less buy them a pretzel but it ought not be that way for you (2 parents with normal good jobs and 2 children) Going to the zoo and having a pretzel ought to be normal not an extravagance.
    I wish I knew answers.
    I hope some of your readers do.
    We are the richest nation in the world. It is absurd. Today I don’t even feel that saying ‘Vote in the next election’ (& I think you already are voting) will help.

    1. I don’t know the answers either. As far as fun things with the kids, I think I have to get a few annual memberships and only go to those places, and pass up anything else that requires an admission.

    2. Purple and rose, I feel the same way, and we have 2 working parents in our house. I share a zoo membership with two other families (so, instead of me and my husband being the 2 adults named on the card, it’s me and another mom), so I only pay $54/year for it. But still, I’m trying to teach my kids that we cannot buy snacks every time we go, as it defeats the purpose of membership, which is to be able to just show up and not have to pay anything. Food out really does add up!

      1. Thank you Deborah. And brilliant of you to have come up with a way that works for your family to bring the cost of membership for a family down.

      2. I’m embarrassed to say that it’s always me who wants to get food at the zoo or other places. My kids hardly ever ask for anything. (Well that’s not true, they ask for cotton candy and ice cream, which I would never get them anyway.) I’m probably lucky that my kids are so particular–they won’t usually eat a meal when we’re out even if I wanted them to. So it’s just me that needs to reign it in. I’m the problem, not them…

      3. This is actually brilliant Deborah. I NEVER thought of that option. Some museums even have the premium membership with 4 adults, 4 kids (which only costs 25-30% more than the regular membership, not double) and we could totally split that with a friend or neighbor so even if both parents want to go, we can do that.

  2. Student loans do suck. Sucks the life force out of me everytime I get that email that there’s been a deduction to me bank account. Ugh.

    But I agree with you; You can do ALL you want to save & make efforts to save money but The Hubs needs to be on board. Especially when you guys merge accounts, you’re going to feel the pain/struggle/anger….the list goes on. (I only know b/c The Hubs pays his credit card entire balance without thinking where I just pay a portion of mine in order to have money left over for like groceries)

    And give yourself some credit…you did great! and it was birthday week for you two. Good job.

    1. The hubs definitely needs to be on board and I don’t know how I’m going to get him there. We were talking about it last night and he seems to have a similar mindset on money stuff as he does on general happiness stuff-while our kids are young we just can’t save money so why try? I asked if that meant we didn’t get to start saving until we are 40, when our son is in grade school and he wasn’t sure how to respond. I don’t know. I’m hoping that as I make a more concerted effort he will too. We shall see.

  3. ” Spending less is clearly going to require a much bigger shift in my perspective, all around”. This is the key, and where I get tripped up over and over. Reading those uber-frugal blogs makes me realize how far away I am in mindset from those that NEVER eat at restaurants or buy clothes or whatever. I feel like if I was going to do that, we would NEVER leave the house and also be miserable and deprived. I know that kind of thinking is exactly what keeps us from optimizing our saving, but I don’t know how to change that feeling.
    I think you are doing really really well overall. If you compare to what you were spending before this exercise, I’m sure you will see a huge decrease.

    1. I think in this situation it isn’t just the big things– it’s both big and little things– there’s a lot of little things that add up, but there may also be big changes. It’s definitely worth sweating the little stuff and thinking about, well, what could we do in the future to get similar amounts of happiness from different less expensive stuff.

      And I think the OP is already doing that somewhat– it would be interesting to compare specific expenditures, like taking the kids out over time, or eating meals out from home over time to see if either the frequency or the per-trip/ per-week amount has changed.

      1. I definitely plan on adding up stuff in certain categories, to show my husband, ESPECIALLY once our accounts are joined and I can see how much he spends on us getting take out or ordering in…

        1. Not just adding them up, but looking at how they’ve changed over time, like yes, you’re still going out places that cost $ and yes you’re still buying food when you’re out, but has thinking about it lowered the numbers you’re spending on these items.

          It’s great for people who want to be 100% frugal or for people who really can’t afford to spend anything to not spend on extras, but by far the majority of middle-class people need to make decisions– we can have some treats, but not all treats. We can eat out rarely or get really expensive stuff when we eat out, but not both. We have a bunch of really popular posts on this topic about moderation (one is called laura vanderkam vs. mr money moustache, I don’t remember the other titles).

          We just got invited out to a birthday celebration where the least expensive meal without wine is $220. We said sorry, we can’t make it. But, the guy who invited us is making well over 6 figures and lives in an efficiency apartment over his start-up, so he spends what he’s not paying in rent on food. We’re paying rent!

          1. Ah I see what you mean. I’ll have to start adding them up every month and seeing what trends develop over time. Very, very interesting.

            I will definitely read your posts on moderation. I think my problem is that I have always felt we lived a relatively moderate lifestyle, that we were making choices so that we could afford what we had. But I think I didn’t realize that those choices had to be harder than the ones I was making. I’m used to not going on vacation, and saying no to BlogHer every year, even though I really want to go. I thought saying no to those big things was me living moderately. Now I’m realizing that I need to say no to more immediate wants that I always indulged in.

    2. I think you and I feel VERY SIMILARLY about the frugal blogs. I’m actually going to write a post about minimalism/frugal/budget blogs soon because I’ve been surprised by how I feel about them. It’s been interesting to see how I react to certain posts.

      One thing I’m sure of is that I never want to live the way the super-frugal live. I know they say it doesn’t change your quality of life, but for me it would. I don’t know if that makes me a less enlightened person (those blogs seem to imply that), but it’s the reality of the situation so less-enlightened or not, it’s my reality. I am also at a loss when it comes to how I’m supposed to make this massive shift in mindset. So many of the minimalism/frugal living blogs suggest that once you decide you want to live this way it all just clicks and you never miss the old way of doing things. It’s like once you’ve tasted the kool-aid your hooked. But that has not been the case for me. Or maybe I’m just not at that place yet, or haven’t been there long enough. I don’t know. I need to write another post about this too.

      1. I can’t wait for this post. I am obsessed with frugalwoods. I think I’m a different species than her. I just can’t eat the same lunch every day for months. Or give up entire food groups because they cost to much. Or only ever go to a museum or cultural event that’s free. I mean, I’m also not saving for early retirement so it doesn’t really apply to me.

      2. This is exactly how I feel. I just haven’t experienced (yet) the mind-shift everyone seems to have. Maybe I need to drink more Kool-Aid? Maybe give it more time? Maybe its just NOT FOR ME, I dunno. Part of it, I think, is that the longer you live/spend a certain way, the harder to break those habits. If you came out of college and started off uber-frugal from the beginning, it’d be easier than when you’ve convinced yourself that certain luxuries (like take out or pretzels at the zoo) are “normal” or even necessary. And who you surround yourself with matters a lot, too. Everyone I know goes to restaurants, gets take out, goes to the zoo/museum etc… and gets snacks and food. I don’t know ANYONE in real life living uber-frugally right now, though I did grow up that way (and it annoyed me, because my friends didn’t grow up that way, only MY parents were that frugal. I would’ve been ecstatic to get popcorn at the movies!). Its hard to overhaul your entire life based on what you read in blogs of people living halfway across the country with different life situations, you need to see how people in similar situations that think more like you are doing it.

        1. I grew up that way too. That is probably part of the reason that my sister and I went into really lucrative fields. Like, yes, it’s great that we never got a VCR or microwave (etc. etc. etc.) and were thus able to graduate without student loans… but wouldn’t it be nicer for our kids to have “standard” electronics *and* no student debt? It’s also part of the reason we have so much saved… I do not LIKE being poor or worrying about money, so I had to have a pretty hefty emergency fund before I started loosening up the purse strings, and it’s been worth it– I haven’t had to really worry about money in ages, even when DH left his job and was unemployed. We had to think about money and make trade-offs, but we were never going to have to move into my inlaws’ basement. Security is so nice.

          1. Security does sound really nice. I have never felt insecure financially, though perhaps I should have. Maybe that is my problem, that I have a false sense of financial security, because I grew up financially secure. Maybe if I hadn’t had that I’d be trying harder to built it for myself, instead of just assuming it was there (when really it wasn’t).

  4. I think you are doing great! The goal of this was to see where/how much you are spending so you can develop an appropriate budget, correct? Now you are going to have an outline for next summer to ideally have funds allotted to fun outings with your kids. (This is coming from someone who spends $1000/mo on groceries for a family of 3! so take my opinion with a grain of salt ☺)

    1. Yes, I suppose I am doing what I set out to do. I guess I was just hoping the positive pay offs would be more immediate and require less effort on my part. 😉

  5. I’m finding myself wanting to reply to everyone’s comments instead of writing my own! But I think Ana is really right – I could never be uber-frugal, and I wouldn’t want to be. When I am worried about money (which is often), I always try to look at the big things, because I feel like there are ways to cut costs that I wouldn’t miss. Like getting a better interest rate on our car loan or a better deal on our cable. I know the small things make a difference, too, and I’m always comparing prices at the supermarket, using my gas points, or my CVS coupons (do you have CVS on the West Coast? I’m on their email list, and every Thursday they send me a 20% coupon that’s good through Sunday). But I also know that there are some things I just won’t cut, because they make me happy. Like taking the kids to Dunkin Donuts on Fridays. I’m not sure where this is going, except that it’s okay not to be frugal in every area, if you can afford it.

    You’ve said that you are allowing yourself to buy consumables. I can understand how this exercise is helping you to focus on whether or not you really need something, but I feel like the food eat is 99% of time something you don’t really need and a good place to save money. Yes, you’d have to buy more food to bring from home, but that’s much cheaper. Anyway, if you don’t want to, you don’t have to. You can afford it, and you know whether that’s something that means enough to your quality of life to want to continue it.

    1. First of all, amazing idea to split the zoo membership. My husband so rarely comes with us, this would be a great thing for us to do too. Our zoo membership expires at the end of August. I’m going to see if someone wants to split with us for the next year (or I just won’t renew it for a long time, maybe a whole year).

      I absolutely agree with you that finding ways to save in bigger ways is more effective. That is exactly the message in All Your Worth. The thing is, I don’t think we can save in any meaningful ways there. We already switched insurance carriers for a better rate. We don’t have cable. We don’t make a car payment. We definitely couldn’t find cheaper child care. (We could save $170 a month sending our daughter to the free after school care program but that is like 2-3 more hours of structured learning time and I can’t pick her up until 5pm due to how they are funded–I think especially as a Kindergartener it will better for my daughter to be somewhere after school where free play is the focus, and I can pick her up whenever I am available (usually around 4pm). Also, the five kids from her daycare will be there, so it seems like a good use of $170, at least for this next year).

      I think the reality is that while it looks like I’m focusing on the “little stuff,” that focus is slowly changing my mindset in broader ways. So things like buying food when we go out is seeming less and less reasonable (and you are totally right, it’s unnecessary and a waste of money). Did you know I used to buy a soda and popcorn at the theater! Every time I went! It was as much as tickets. Now I can’t fathom spending that money. I make popcorn at home and smuggle it in, along with water or a can of Diet Coke. Today I went to Great America and smuggled in a ton of food and we didn’t get one snack there, not even a pretzel (I LOVE soft pretzels). So I’m getting there, slowly but surely. I just worry that even that organic change in mindset isn’t going to be enough. More intense restrictions may have to be applied. I definitely want to write about this more soon…

      1. It will be interesting to discover how far that ‘organic change in mindset’ will take you. Our spending has drifted towards frugal. We cut spending in small (no snacks when out) & then bigger ways (no takeaway, no furniture and only thrift shop clothing) which combined with increasing clarity about what we wanted in our lives, meant we gradually got out of the habit of spending & desiring.

        I was in a different city for work last week, which used to be a trigger for spending, but I had no interest in stepping into a shop. My focus has shifted over time & not as a result of a single paradigm changing decision. This isn’t the dominant narrative in frugal blogs but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn it is a common pattern.

        1. I wonder about this myself. I am wondering if once the small things become habits, and I no longer have to exercise my willpower to achieve them (like I just don’t even consider getting a pretzel at the zoo, instead of spending half the time actively talking myself out of getting one), if I’ll have more energy to make the harder financial decisions. And then as those become habits, if I’ll have more energy still. It will take a LONG time to get there (I personally thing it takes way longer than 21 days to form a strong habit), but I’m curious to see where “there” is.

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