Well, unfortunately it has been a while. I'm getting closer and closer to the whole dissertation process, so that ends up eating a lot of my time. Anyways, a great deal has happened over the past month or so, in terms of my (probably one of many) breaking points with money.
Basically, one of our cars needed a transmission replaced. Yeah. I was ready to panic when they told me. For those who don't know, to replace a transmission of a car it can cost upwards of $3500. Luckily, the repair shop we used also provided used transmissions (which is always a good thing to ask about should you ever be in that situation). However, I spent a lot of that day looking at potential new cars. The car we have is a 1998 Nissan Maxima, so it is definitely a good car, but we have no idea how long it will last, and I wasn't sure the investment was worth it if it would break again in a few months or years.
But going through this, I had a very huge sense of failure. Much of our savings were depleted after the move to our new house, as well as myself adjusting to a lower paying job and having a higher living expense every month. For some reason, I had not glanced at our budget for quite some time. After my father gave me that "you need to be saving money" talk (to which I also got quite defensive) I took out the excel spreadsheet and listed our income versus the amount of bills we have each month. I then examined the remaining money, and what should be going into savings accordingly. Additionally, I felt overwhelmed by my car insurance bills this month, and decided I instead would save $20 each week to put towards the car insurance bill, rather than trying to find 200-300 for two months in a row. Since I had to put the car repair on our credit card, I also outlined a strategy of how this would be paid back each paycheck.
With credit cards, the sooner you pay, the better! Even if it is in small amounts, all of your recent payments show up on a credit report, which can show your good faith in paying off your credit card, rather than waiting for some big amount.
I was surprised by the time I had finished how sophisticated it looked. It was a map for our money, where everyone had their appropriate place. Another rule I am beginning to use is a page from Dave Ramsey's books - pay for things in cash. Each week I take out a certain amount for food, in cash. This is all the money we are allowed for the week, and what I am already coming to find is we don't need as much money for food for another part of the plan: planned meals.
First, I wrote down a full menu of all the meals I can make, with a column for lunch meals and dinner meals. I then sat down after printing out a blank Google calendar, and wrote down what meal I will cook each day, and lunches for weekends. Next, I wrote a shopping list of all of the ingredients I would need to make these meals, and any other food items like snacks we may like to have over the week. I keep this calendar on the side of the fridge, and I have already found that my husband will get excited over certain upcoming meals and tell me earlier in the week. If your family doesn't like what you serve, then ask them to be on the meal-planning committee!
After going to the store, I could not believe how simple it was. I buy things accordingly, and feel I nearly cut my grocery bill in half, because I don't buy things I don't need or wont use. So many times I would go through the grocery store just buying things that sounded good to eat or thought I would make for that week, and I would end up with a lot of expired food. I'll admit, buying only what you need is still difficult, because you do see sales and things you didn't think of, but as long as you limit yourself to that one snack, rather than 2 or 3, its a start!
So my plan of action has only been in place for a week, but so far I am coming out under budget. If you are looking for more ways to see where your money goes every month, there is a great free version of Quicken called MoneyStrands, located at www.moneystrands.com