September was another overspend month in Checkbook Number One. We had a problem with this in Checkbook Number One for several years, and I finally got it under control about two years ago. To keep it under control I have to work diligently, and it got away from me in May. We’ve been a little bit over every month since then. It’s time to get it back in line.
Checkbook Number One has four budget categories – Groceries, Gas, Church Contributions and Everything Else. (Bills such as Mortgage, Utilities, schooling expenses, and also Christmas are paid out of a different account). Gas was about right, and Church Contributions were accurate. The overspending occurred in Groceries – about 115% of the budgeted amount and Everything Else – about 125% of the budgeted amount.
I reviewed our Grocery and Everything Else purchases for September in detail. As usual it wasn’t one big thing that sunk the budget but an accumulation of little stuff. In Groceries, we spent a little too much in the treat category and I also stocked up on some household staples without decreasing spending in other areas of the grocery budget. In Everything Else. . . a few too many trips to Starbucks. There were some unanticipated cash withdrawls by Mr H. I don’t begrudge him that, but if I don’t know about it until later I’ve spent the money elsewhere by the time I find out. Due to overspending in August this category also had less money in it.
For October, inspired by Denise (Thrift-O-Rama) and Laura (Love the Life You Live) I went through and figured out how much grocery money I’d have to spend each week. Then I allocated how much I thought I would spend where (we get some food items on a schedule, direct from a farm). In the Everything Else category I tried to anticipate expenses for the month (ie, people’s birthdays, Halloween costumes, etc) and write them down.
One week into October this is already putting us on the right path for the month. I’ve already had to consciously choose to spend Grocery money on some items and not others. We are on budget as of October 7th. Only three more weeks to go!
Viewing the 'Checkbook Number One' Category
September was another overspend month in Checkbook Number One. We had a problem with this in Checkbook Number One for several years, and I finally got it under control about two years ago. To keep it under control I have to work diligently, and it got away from me in May. We’ve been a little bit over every month since then. It’s time to get it back in line.
In our two-checkbook system, Checkbook Number 2 is used to pay the bills - monthly, bi-monthly and annual. Money for Daisy’s educational expenses is also put there. Checkbook Number 1 is used for groceries, gas, church contributions and everything else (gifts, yard and garden, clothing, trips to Starbucks, etc.). When I started this blog in April of 2008 Checkbook Number 1 was overspent by $100 to $500 pretty much every month. April was the point at which I realized that we had run out of savings and could no longer do that. Mr H paid the bills - I had dumped that on him about a year or two prior - but was uninvolved in most financial decision making. I finally got spending in Checkbook Number 1 under control in December of 2008. At that time Mr H was oblivious to the problems with it, and has continued to be oblivious to those problems.
Mr H was shaken out of oblivion in July. That's when he learned two things about Checkbook Number 1: if not watched carefully it will be overspent, and there are several hundred dollars extra in the account, not shown in the register balance, to help smooth the rough spots. In other words, while the checkbook register might be showing negative numbers, the actual balance in the checkbook isn't negative. His reaction to this discovery lead to some, uh, discord. But in the larger scope of our financial lives it was a good thing.
Last Saturday he came in while I was working on the spending plan for Checkbook Number 1. When I finished I showed him the numbers. On gas, groceries and church contributions we are doing okay for September. The everything else category is getting spent pretty fast though. Because we’d overspent Checkbook Number 1 in August the dollar amount in the everything else category is lower than usual for the month of September. We may end up doing some shifting around. I do my budget keeping manually, so it was easy to hand him the paper and explain to him how things were falling out. He even asked some questions. I think he is now on board with the issues with Checkbook Number 1.
People reading this blog might wonder, why didn't I ever tell him about this before? Why am I hiding this from Mr H? I have learned through the course of our marriage that unless something is personally affecting Mr H RIGHT NOW he generally doesn't pay any attention to it. He is also very easily overwhelmed and avoids hard things without easy answers.** He does spend money out of Checkbook Number 1, but until it impacted him (Daisy and I were gone for most of July and he was forced to deal with Checkbook Number 1 in our absence) he saw Checkbook Number 1 as my responsibility and nothing he had to be concerned with.
** Single readers, take note. These are hugely frustrating qualities in a life partner.
Our financial life, in a nutshell:
* Mr H's job continues to be stable. I anticipate it will be stable for another five to seven years.
* We haven't had any economic catastrophes. In that way our life is good.
* In March I bought two used curriculum items at the Goodwill outlet for $1 total. I sold them for a total of $8, less 15% (they were sold at used curriculum fair - 15% to the sponsoring organization). Correct my math if it's wrong, but isn't that a 485% profit?
* My brain has been in other places that aren't financial. We have overspent Checkbook Number One for a few months. The big difference between now and a few years ago: Mr H actually knew about it. I have made no progress on any of my goals.
* To counterbalance my lack of progress, Mr H has been consistent in the saving of money for retirement and a replacement vehicle. He has neatly handwritten all amounts in a manual ledger for several months.
* Mr H, on his own, opened up a Roth IRA with the saved money. He has a pretty conservative investment (he's even more risk averse than me) but he is happy with it. It's made more so far than our various savings accounts and CD's. He's tickled by that fact. **
* We meet regularly and have discussions about our finances. Mr H originally said every Sunday night. He's not that consistent, but I take what I can get and I don't remind him. If he "remembers" - great. If he doesn't it irritates me but I try to let it go.
A discussion about finances is really a discussion about future plans, hopes and goals. In that area we have more productive conversations than we have ever had. I wish I could be happier about this, but it feels like the first 16 years of our marriage (we have been married 17 years) were a complete waste of time. But if I set those thoughts aside (hard to do for me) we really have come a long way in the last three years.
** As a side note, I read on The Simple Dollar blog about the blog author's retirement investment strategy. He and his wife vary in their ability to tolerate risk, so they each choose what they want in their porfolio as if the other didn't exist. That seemed like a good strategy for us. It helps that they are reasonably financially sensible people.
I spent the financial part of my day balancing my check book and updating quicken.
Next steps are reconciling Checkbook One - tomorrow - and then figuring out how the money was spent during July, August and the first half of September - tomorrow and Saturday.
How's that for geeky excitement?
What I did with my summer vacation:
* Daisy finished school and we had to keep ourselves busy. And we did. We visited with friends, went places and did VBS.
* Daisy and I traveled. We were gone for two weeks, at the end of July/beginning of August. We went to my hometown, about two thousand miles from our current home. . . and in the middle of no where. It's seriously hard to get there except by car, even harder than in was in my youth. We had a great time. (For those curious, my mom paid for the trip.) Mr H doesn't really like to travel and he stayed home.
* Mr H and I had another fruitless discussion about retirement savings. He did remember our "appointment" but the discussion went about like the last one did. I am working on an alternate strategy.
* Mr H and I came to an agreement on and switched our health insurance. Our discussion opened with Mr H saying, "All of our options are okay with me except for this one with a Health Savings Account. I don't know anything about them and I don't want to learn about them." Should I laugh or cry? With gentle prodding Mr H did learn about Health Savings Accounts and that is the policy we now have. At the moment, the difference between what the old insurance cost and what the new insurance costs is going into the H S A.
What I didn't do:
* I didn't keep up on my budgeting. I think we did spend some extra money, but we didn't overspend Checkbook One. I had no budget for July or August. I don't really have one for September either, but again, we haven't overspent it. I will have that together before the end of the month. I have some plans in the works with regards to our food dollars so I'll need to get back into it.
* I have decreased my Starbucks trips dramatically. I always knew why I went - to have a positive social contact. (Yes, this is sad.) I decided over the summer that both Daisy and I need to get out more - see our friends more, to do more new things, and to go places regularly where we see the same people. The more social outings we have planned, the less need for Starbucks. Right now my friends are the moms of children who are friends with Daisy. Many of us are in the same larger, church-oriented social circle. Mr H has a much smaller need/interest in social contact; most of these outings occur while he is at work.
Well, my blogoversary has passed without much fanfare. I don't post much and I guess I'm kind of a lazy blogger. But even the little I've done in the past year has brought some positive changes in my life.
* While Mr H and I are unlikely to ever be on the same page, we have more productive discussions. I initiate most conversations, but every now and again he'll bring up something related to our financial life. It's progress.
* I've learned that to engage Mr H in almost anything involves stages. First he ignores what I'm saying, then I provoke him**, then he reacts, then I gently tell him that he's reacting and suggest that we look at different options to solve the problem. Then he'll come through. Kind of. It's kind of dysfunctional, but it works better than him ignoring the situation and me finally just solving the problem on my own. (That has been the dynamic for most of our marriage.) Not all of our discussions are this way, but bringing up anything new is.
* We have a budget that balances for Checkbook One. It took several months to get there. It didn't balance, really, for about five years.
* We have a grocery/food budget that balances. We have never spent that little on food. We're eating well. I actually don't mind this part. It's fun to get creative with food, and I have done it for many years. I'm just way more conscious now, trying to use leftovers before they spoil and figure out how to have great dinners with lower cost foods.
* We have an emergency fund, that is designated as an emergency fund. I feel a lot less anxious.
* We have a plan for increasing retirement savings.
Everyone here has been so kind and helpful. I have been so grateful for the support. Thank you all so much!
** Believe me, I really don't want to provoke him. However it seems to be the only way I can get him to engage.
Do we have enough in Checkbook One to buy some bird food? Yes, Mr H asked me this last night. Looks like he's getting with the program.
I just finished running the numbers (I'm behind) and we had a $248.72 surplus in Checkbook One for February. Wow, this budget thing is working!
Unfortunately, the temptation now is to spend. I haven't yet figured out what we've spent so far for March, but I have given in to the temptation a bit. It's so easy to get careless. I'm reigning myself in and getting back into "keeping our money" mode.
I have decided that my tutoring money will go towards our annual Memorial Day camping trip. Expenses for this trip include space in the campground (already paid for), ferry fare for two vehicles, extra gas money and extra food costs. You would think that we would just eat normally but no. . . our camping diet includes things like s'more fixings, bacon, snack foods and beer and wine, and those food items add up.
I love camping. I love sleeping in a sleeping bag in a tent (even in pouring down rain), I love getting up and making coffee and looking at the beautiful surroundings, I love sitting by the campfire on damp mornings, I love Mr H's obsession with tarps, I love our friends who we camp with, I love my camping clothes (wool sweaters, long johns and rain poncho in addition to other layers). I'm getting giddy just thinking about this trip.
These words came out of the mouth of Mr. H on the first day of March.
I'm shocked and thrilled. Mr H seems to be engaging a little more in our financial life. I didn't have the information for him - we had commitments throughout the weekend that kept me busy. But even with a last-minute burst of spending we are still had a surplus in Checkbook One for the month of February. Yay us!
I'm reading an interesting book called Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. It's apparently on the best seller list, and discusses why some people are super-successful in what they do. There are lots of interesting observations made, but the one I am finding useful at the moment is the contrast between Chinese rice-growing farmer's proverbs and Russian peasant's proverbs. (It's on page 237.) Here is one listed as the Chinese farmer's: "If a man works hard, the land will not be lazy." Here is one attributed to Russian peasants: "If God does not bring it, the earth will not give it." Do proverbs express what the cultural beliefs are, or do they shape the cultural beliefs, or both? In a way it doesn't matter. Gladwell discusses the cultures that produced both of these proverbs and how the proverbs might have developed.
I'm not a Chinese farmer and Mr H isn't a Russian peasant, but I think the two proverbs above express our very different attitudes towards life. I am working to make things happen and Mr H is waiting for something to happen that he will then react to. In a way we both have a self-fulfilling prophecy - things happen because of my efforts, but to Mr H it looks like things "just happened". It's become clearer to me over the last year that Mr H really doesn't see much of connection between his efforts and his results.* Which is fine, except when we try to work together. . . which in a marriage is pretty much all the time in one way or another.
Mr H handles Checkbook Two and I handle Checkbook One. I've written quite a bit in the last 11 or so months about Checkbook One - with persistence and changes to some parts of our financial life it's finally not being overspent. Part of these changes involve some real effort on my part to not just spend money randomly. Mr H has noted that Checkbook Two is running a bit low. He's concerned. . . but I'm not seeing much effort or involvement on his part to figure out and solve this problem.
I can't change Mr H's very deeply held beliefs. . . that I'm not even sure he recognizes as having. But I am going to continue to point out cause and effect in our lives, to the best of my ability to do so.
*I should qualify this. It looks like he does see this in very short term efforts, things that can be completed in four hours or less.
We spent a little over a month being sick here in the onion patch - all of us, Mr H, Daisy and me. I finally went to visit my doc and got antibiotics. Normally I'm not in favor of that stuff (plus a doctor visit isn't cheap, even with insurance) but I could feel the difference within one hour of taking the first dose. So it was a good decision. Being sick put me in a stupor. It wasn't a terribly productive month.
Checkbook One had a small surplus in January and looks to have the same in February. That will be three months in a row now that Checkbook One has not been overspent. Pinch me, I must be dreaming!
We had a windfall and now our EF is funded for six months. That would be six *tight* months, but I feel relief about our EF.
I've been soliciting Mr H's feedback on the budget for Checkbook One. Usually he doesn't give much. One day he expressed frustration "because the money's already spent". I went back and tried to figure out what he meant, because isn't that the point of a budget - to prioritize and spend your money on paper first? I never did get a clear answer, but I suspect he wants to spend money on some items and doesn't feel like he can. I added a "wish list" to the bottom of the budget page. If there's a surplus we can look at spending money on those items. Some items Mr H would like are on that list.
I've made good progress on Goals 2 and 3, but none on Goal 4.
Mr H and I have had many, many short and sweet financial conversations in the last two months. The all start with one person stating something they want or something that needs to be purchased and the other person asking how we will pay for it. Fortunately they have been civil and productive discussions. It's definite progress for us.
I've decided that updating the budget for Checkbook One on Thursdays works well. So far so good. We are still under or at budget in all categories for Checkbook One. I think we'll even make the budget in the grocery category this month and not be 21% over.
I've moved what used to be Goal 1 off to a page. It is fun to look at past accomplishments but I don't want to get stuck there!
Goal 3: Decrease food costs. I've given it a dollar figure. Some people here might wonder why the budget is set at $650 for just three people. Two reasons: It includes personal care and cleaning supplies (and also any eating out), and I value organic and locally produced food and that adds up. To bring the costs down I've done things like look for sales on food that we typically buy, change some things about our diets (oatmeal instead of cold cereal for example), and figure out how best to use meat and dairy products which seem to be the most expensive categories in the food budget. Last year's average was higher than this, so it's definitely an improvement.
Future goal: Develop a source of "egg money". Here's a definition I found of egg money:
Before World War II, most eggs were produced by small flocks that scratched their way around the barnyard. The farmer's wife usually supervised the operation. The money received from the sale of the eggs was considered hers. Source: http://www.georgiaeggs.org/pages/eggmoney.html
I started tutoring a couple of weeks ago. . . and I really like it! I'm tutoring math with younger children using materials I'm already familiar with. I'm not charging enough, and both my client and me know that. But as I told her, she's helping train me so we're both winning. We will re-evaluate the fees in a month or so.
While the definition of egg money posted above has it under the control of the farmer's wife, I asked the farmer what he thought we should do with the money. He had no opinion. So I suggested that a percentage of it be set aside for taxes, 15% for the EF or retirement and the rest in to Checkbook One. He was agreeable. It's not a whole lot in to the checkbook but it might be enough to fund our summer camping trips.
I've been giving some thought as to why we suddenly didn't overspend Checkbook One in December. I have been concerned about this problem since I started blogging here in April, but feel like I have been chasing my tail trying to solve it.
I've come to the conclusion that it's just perseverance in trying to figure out where we went wrong each month and correct that. (Having bad weather for about two weeks which limited us leaving the house also helped. When you don't leave the house you don't spend money or use up your gas.) So, I suppose it's not really sudden at all.
Our top three problems with Checkbook One were the credit card, spending during the week between the time that Mr H got his check and the new month started, and not having a spending plan that works.
Credit card: Although we pay off our credit card every month, it's psychologically hard to write a check for one-quarter to one-third of the amount in your checkbook at the beginning of the month. Our credit card usage increased over the years as stores stopped taking checks. I got a debit card a while ago, and Mr H got one a couple of months ago. Where we regularly used to put gas and take-and-bake pizzas on the credit card we now put them on the debit card. "Pay as you go" is working better than "put off the paying until next month". Don't people spend 23% more when they use a credit card?
Spending during the week between the time that Mr H got his check and the new month started: Okay, that was me. . . and it wasn't THAT much. . . but enough to kill the budget. I wrote about this last spring. I called it "The Dead Zone". My brain kind of went on holiday during that week. What was I thinking? I wasn't thinking, and that was the problem.
Not having a spending plan that works: There are so many ways to write a budget. For this checkbook and us, having a limited number of categories and looking at the amount left in each category weekly, on Friday, seemed to do the trick. We have the following categories: Grocery/Personal Care/Cleaning, Gas, Church Contribution, Bowling, Master Card and Everything Else. (Regular bills like mortgage, insurance etc are paid out of another checkbook.) The Everything Else category scares me - the dollar amount is limited and it covers a huge number of other categories like clothing, gifts, office supplies, household items and yard and garden. But lumping these into "Everything Else" works better than trying to allocate a few dollars into each of the sub-categories. Or at least it did this month.
January is looking good so far.
I have spent some time the last couple of days figuring out where we went wrong on the Grocery/Personal Care/Cleaning budget last month. We spend 20% more that the amount budgeted.
Because I rank among the world's biggest nerds, I actually went through each grocery receipt, categorized each purchase and wrote the purchase down on a sheet of paper with the category heading at the top. Christmas food purchases sank our food budget. Like most people we have special food items we buy during the Christmas season and some of them are expensive. The dollar amount of these purchases was almost equal to the dollar amount over food budget last month.
I showed my sheets of paper to Mr H. First he said incredulously "You went through every grocery receipt?" Yes, there were quite a few, and while I tend to be organized with receipts I wasn't last month and had to spend some time finding them. He came to the same conclusion regarding Christmas food purchases, then he said something like, "This looks pretty much like what we eat. I don't see how we can spend less money on food." I didn't say anything but I thought, "Them's fighting words - sounds like a challenge to me."
Overheard at our house a few days ago:
Mr H: When are we going to look at the budget for Checkbook One? We haven't done that since before your mom was here.
And (at about 4:45 in the afternoon yesterday):
Me: Do you have any suggestions for dinner? (I spent my day sewing and driving kids around, and not on cooking dinner. Oops.)
Mr H: (Gives some suggestions and then says) or we could go to the burrito place.
Me: With what money?
Mr H: I have $20 in my wallet.
Me: Do you really want to spend your money that way?
Mr H: No.
Me: Then let's eat the leftovers that are in the refrigerator.
A few weeks ago I reviewed all my blog entries, which started in April. I thought, Geez, I really haven't gotten anywhere this year. I'm still talking about trying to get Checkbook One to balance and I'm saying the same things I was saying in April! What is wrong with me?
When DH and I sat down to look at the budget for Checkbook One a few days ago, we still had about $2 in it. (The actual checkbook balance says $6. There is some additional money in the checkbook which is not included in the balance to be padding in case of arithmetic errors.) This is the first time in I don't know how long that no additional money has been added to this account - it was not overspent. This is not to say we don't have some spending issues with this account, but for us this is a huge accomplishment.
Well, maybe I did get somewhere this year.
We aren't going anywhere tonight, and when I told Daisy about a "New York New Year's Eve"** her eyes lit up and she asked if she could stay up. I think I will go get a bottle of sparkling cider - I believe they are about $2 - and we'll toast the new year in style.
**When you live on the west coast, you stay up until 9 and celebrate the new year with those in NY because when it's 9 here it's midnight there. Then you go to bed. Daisy's normal bed time is 7:30. We have been known to celebrate a "New Foundland New Year's Eve" - 8 here, midnight in New Foundland - we've had some tired years.
My mom visited this last week and it curtailed my blogging. Fortunately (for me) she didn't have any comments about my spotty looking carpet.
Mr H received a bonus check the day before she arrived. At his work place they have something like a profit sharing bonus that usually turns out to be a significant amount of money. I'd guesstimate the take-home amount of it this year is equal to one-fourth of Mr H's annual take home pay. "What would you like to do with this money, Mr H?" was the first thing I said when he told me he'd deposited the check. "We'll talk about it after your mother leaves," was his response. We agreed on a date and time, and this conversation sat for a week.
We discussed it the day she left, just hours after she went to the airport. Mr H surprised me: he had a list ready of things he'd like to spend the money on. The Emergency Fund was at the top of the list! It looks like we will complete the Emergency Fund goal by December 31, well ahead of the July 1 date we'd set. I plan to set further Emergency Fund goals though, and Mr H agreed to that. We also tentatively agreed to replacing the sliding glass door, and replacing the carpet in the family room with a hard surface. Mr H can put in the new door and he has some work connections with a flooring company so even with doing both of these projects there should still be some money left. No firm decisions were made, except for the Emergency Fund. For us this conversation went very well.
Later I showed him a Checkbook One budget update. He didn't have much to say, except to note that the money for Grocery/Cleaning/Personal Care category was almost gone. But - we still might squeak by for the month, if we end up spending less on gas. Usually by this point in the month I've transferred $100 - $500 from savings to cover spending in this account. This savings transfer has been going on for years, so to even get this far in to the month without it is a huge development.
My current Goal 1 of getting the EF to $8625 by July 1 and Goal 2 of a Budget for Checkbook One are progressing nicely.
I sat down with Mr H on 12/5 and did a budget review for the month of December (so far).
With the budget comprising only Checkbook One, and having just seven categories it's a very limited amount of information. Perfect amount for this type of conversation. (For future reference the categories are Grocery/Cleaning/Personal Care, Gas, Church, Master Card, Bowling and Everything Else.)
I showed him the figures - each category had budget, amount spent and amount remaining. Right away he pointed out that the dollar amount I had started with did not include the Emergency Fund money, but that I had included it on the budget. So we're down to six categories.
He'll be bowling fewer evenings this month because of the holidays. I requested the surplus money go into the "Everything Else" category. Frankly, that category scares me. So far we've spent money on batteries, school pictures for Daisy and a newspaper from that category.
He also noted that the amount we spend on gas should be down with Daisy's school vacation. I won't be driving to school or the extra curricular activities during those days. I haven't paid the master card bill yet, and we've incurred some charges that will be paid from Checkbook Two. He suggested that I just go ahead and pay them now.
We haven't yet gone over budget on any items. It was only the 5th of December, so I should hope not! I plan to take this sheet of paper to him every week.
I guess the frustrating thing for me is that if I didn't bring him the information he wouldn't seek it out. If we are going to stop overspending this account we have very little margin for error, and if we aren't on top of it all the time we will overspend it. But perhaps I'll just be thankful that he engaged at all. That doesn't always happen.
The Everything Else category has just $154.55 in it this month. I've projected January and it should have more since we shouldn't have a master card bill next month.
I mentioned what items we've spent this money on this month. Here are some of the items we didn't end up spending this money on:
* Tickets for Daisy's dance performance and the costume fee for that performance. $56. I did some volunteer work for the dance school and didn't expect to be compensated for it, but was given three tickets and had the costume fee waived. Not having to pay for these items was a nice surprise.
* Chicken nuggets at McDonalds. Admittedly this was a completely impulsive thought, but I squelched it. Not sure how much these cost.
* Carpet cleaner. About $20. Our only carpet is about 13' x 10' and old. We are going to try to "clean dangerously" (ie, try carpet cleaning experiments that don't cost anything) before spending the money on cleaner.
* Renewal of annual zoo pass. At $95, this will have to wait.
* Renewal of a magazine subscription. $20. Again, this will have to wait.
Mr. H caught me about a week ago, and told me he had deposited his paycheck. He deposits set amounts into Checkbook One and Checkbook Two. Generally speaking, he manages Checkbook Two (mortgage, regular bills, medical expenses) and I manage Checkbook One (groceries, gas, clothing, gifts, yard and garden, household expenses, hobbies and other miscellaneous stuff). But we both access each account - I'll pay a doctor out of Checkbook Two, or he'll write a check for bowling out of Checkbook One. "And I put $50 in the Emergency Fund like we talked about."
"Which account did the $50 not go into?" I asked. When the words came out of his mouth I already knew the answer to this one.
"Checkbook Number One," he said. It's kind of like when he takes me out to an expensive restaurant for my birthday, and then later I'm juggling expenses to try to figure out how to pay the credit card bill.
"Mr. H, you're giving me $50 less to work with in an account that's overspent each month," I said.
"Oh. I guess we never talked about it," Mr. H said, some part of the light bulb going on over his head. "Fine! I'll just put it back."
"That's not what I said. I suggested that we work together to figure out where this $50 could come from. When you decided to take the $50 from Checkbook One, you're taking our problem and making it my problem. I'll have to make the hard decisions about what to cut out of our expenses." Unsaid was that, to keep peace in my home, I would probably not cut anything that would have an effect on him. So any uncomfortable effects would be on me.
Later on I showed him my post-it, on which I had written the dollar amounts of money I knew would be spent during December from Checkbook One. I assumed that we would spend about 2/3 of our typical food budget (which I'll admit needs to be cut back), I'd cut my coffee allowance to zero, and nothing would be spent out of that account that wasn't groceries, gas, church contribution, credit card payment or bowling (his hobby), plus the $50. If we can stick to that, which admittedly is fairly unlikely**, we'd have $150 in Checkbook One at the end of December. There is very little margin for error. But I do plan to take this up with him again.
** Christmas expenses have generally come out of Checkbook Two.
Goal 1 on the side bar used to be: Get Mr. H more involved in our financial life. At some point after I finish posting this I'm going to change it.
I've been giving some thought to what I might mean by "getting Mr. H more involved in our financial life". To be a goal it has to be measurable and have a deadline, right? So I started by trying to figure out where we are:
* Mr. H pays the regular bills and handles that account (Checking Account Two), I handle the account that pays for groceries, gas, clothes, gifts, etc (Checking Account One). I also figure out how to pay the credit card bill each month.
* We now both have debit cards for Checking Account One. I requested this. Mr. H gets paid once per month, and I hate writing a check to the credit card company for 1/3 of the money that goes in checking account one right off the top. I'd rather pay as we go. Gas is the main expense put on a credit card. We are likely to have some glitches with this, as we have not had to work together very much with this account.
* We have one tiny joint goal regarding the emergency fund.
* If some unexpected money comes in, we usually discuss it. We don't always come to a conclusion about it but at least we're both aware of it. Mr. H has also started to initiate these conversations.
* If something needs to happen regarding our financial life I usually bring it up, and have to follow up on it. Where Mr. H used to always agree with me during these conversations but not follow up with action, today he's better about bringing up what he wants, and he's better about the follow up.
To Mr. H's credit, he's very good about the regular bills. Where I frequently get bored and restless with too much routine he seems to thrive on it. (It's probably not too much routine for him, LOL.) It also helps that that account has some padding.
Contrast this with where we were about five years ago:
* I paid all bills, reconciled all accounts, made all decisions about investments and saving. Mr. H never asked about it, and pretty much agreed with everything I proposed. I actually became very depressed at one point and didn't reconcile any of our accounts for 18 months - and Mr. H never noticed.
I think what I mean by "getting Mr. H more involved in our financial life" is "get Mr. H to take initiative both in his life and in our life together".
Well. . . hmm. . . I can't change his behavior so that's not a very workable goal.
But maybe something like "encourage Mr. H to work together with me to build up our emergency fund" and "work with Mr. H to get a monthly budget that balances, that we agree on, that we follow and that doesn't cause us huge problems". While neither of these steps address the big picture (What do we want to do with our lives and how does our financial life support that?) they are steps in the right direction. I'll continue to flesh out these goals. I guess it should be noted that I can also work on them (EF and budget) somewhat independently of Mr. H if need be.
I suppose some people drop off on their blogs because they don't have much to say. I have plenty to write about, but a bunch of Real Life stuff to take care of and so have had no time for blogging.
The abridged version, with more detailed entries to follow:
* We went out of town for Memorial Day weekend, plus one extra day. We are keeping busy with end-of-the-school-year stuff.
* DH finished the Dave Ramsey book.
* DH has decided to replace his 1992 full-sized truck with a 2004 Honda Civic. He did all the leg work (insurance quotes, talked w/mechanics, worked with sellers) plus he's figured out how to pay for it. I'm shocked. Go DH!
* We are looking at Away School (as opposed to Home School) for Daisy next year.
* DH used Quicken to create an expense report for the last year. Neither one of us are really sure what to do with it, but he is interested in some kind of a budget.
* We still ran a deficit in Checkbook Number One in May. Despite my attempts to pin our money issues on DH, I'm definitely the culprit on this one.
It's May 20th, and Checkbook Number One is looking pretty empty.
We got rid of The Dead Zone, so what happened?
Well, several things: the grocery/eating out dollars spent is way over budget, less is being put on the credit card (and thus being put off until next month) and there were some math errors.
I'm hoping and anticipating we'll be able to squeak by until June with another fill-up for both vehicles, and about $100 for our Memorial Weekend Camping trip (this includes about $60 for a ferry ride).
DH and I had a discussion about this last night. He had a pretty negative reaction. In reality though, this is nothing different than what's happened here in the onion patch for the last several years. The main difference is that he is now aware of it. While it's challenging to deal with his reaction, we are talking and that is a huge improvement in my book.
DH and I did talk, on Sunday evening after Daisy was in bed.
I have taken the information that I had on a file card and put it in a pocket-sized notebook. What you see on the side bar for April fits on one page.
On the next set of pages are the May spending plan (looks a lot like April) and the month-to-date totals. The next two pages after that hold the things that we talked about spending money on May, with estimate and actual expense columns. These are items that fall in the "Everything Else" category. There aren't many, or the list wouldn't fit on one page of a pocket-sized notebook.
DH wanted to see the April figures. I had already told him about The Dead Zone, so that even though it looks like we under spent by about $200, we actually over spent by about $100. He looked at May. Then he told me about a few expenses he could see coming in June. I wrote them down, although only one of them has a dollar estimate.
That was pretty much the end of the conversation. It took about 10 minutes.
Even though we have a long, long, long way to go, this conversation was way more than I would have anticipated back on April. I need to keep reminding myself of that when I feel completely frustrated by his non/under-involvement policy.
Here's the update for April for Checkbook Number One:
The Rest 372.55
The Rest 326.86
Looks good, doesn't it? We appeared to spend 205.46 less than we made. However, we seemed to run about 100.00 short this month. How can this be?
I've determined it's because of The Dead Zone.
DH gets paid once monthly, but usually his paycheck comes in and is deposited 3 to 5 days prior to the end of the month. That paycheck is then used for next month's expenses. Those 3 to 5 days were The Dead Zone - before the end of the month, so anything spent during The Dead Zone didn't count for the current month because it was next month's paycheck, and didn't count for next month because it wasn't next month.
Clear as mud, eh? Basically some of April's money was spent during the last few days of March. It didn't "count" for March - partly because I wasn't really counting then, and partly because it was a new check. And it couldn't *really* count in April because it wasn't there.
The Dead Zone should disappear this month - all expenses now count for the month in which they are incurred. The tricks we can play on ourselves are mind boggling.
DH and I have talked about our finances twice since "the sky is falling" conversation last week.
The first conversation was the next night. DH now realized that the sky was not falling, but was not entirely clear on where to go from here, except that we should spend less.
The second conversation happened yesterday. The mood was right so I asked DH what he thought we'd be spending money on in May. With our two-checkbook scheme the regular bills are already covered, so this would be the other categories, like food, gas, clothing, recreation, household items and the like.
I made a list of everything we thought of. That came up to $410. Then we looked at what we had to spend money on. Looking at the cost of gas was rather shocking - between our two vehicles we estimated about $500 next month. Combined with groceries at $500, and church contributions at $100, we are left with $272.55.
Even though $272.55 doesn't equal $410, we stopped our conversation there, both realizing that the work is not done. The awareness is raised though, and I think that's key. With these items on our minds we're more likely to figure out a way to get them less expensively.
I caught DH in a good mood this afternoon, and showed him my spending plan for Checkbook Number One. I wrote it on an index card, and since it's not terribly lengthy or complicated it's easy to digest. Also included on the index card were this month's expenses in each category so far.
His reaction about it was positive.
That was nice but meaningless. Based on past behavior, I don't expect him to actually follow this plan. I just wanted to tell him what I'm doing.
He's pretty visual - perhaps I could make this information available as a pie chart? Anyone had any success with communicating information in that way to a spouse?
With a fair amount of savings to draw on it was easy to be in denial about overspending from Checkbook Number One.
I've gradually been realizing that we can't keep doing that. Now I'm taking a bit more action.
All of our financial stuff is set up on Quicken so it's easy to see where the money goes. You can set up reports to dissect the data anyway your analytical heart desires.
From that I've come to the following plan:
Money coming in to this account each month: $1372.55
Money going out of this account each month:
Credit Card: $500
Everything else: $372.55
I expect to tweak the numbers as I actually use this plan.
A few comments:
We could probably spend less on groceries and eating out. (In fact, we've always spent more.) I like to eat organic and local as much as possible though. . . but I can cook from scratch. We'll come to some sort of balance with it.
The credit card is likely to have at least $300 on it per month. Some regular expenses are put to the credit card, and we use it to purchase gas. I would love to see it at less than $500 per month.
Right now we operate using two checkbooks.
Despite what's going on with us, they are not "his" and "hers".
One checkbook, Checkbook Number Two, is for paying regular bills and saving for certain annual expenses. These include the mortgage, insurances, property tax, medical expenses, auto repair and maintenance, phone bills, utilities, garbage, cable (basic only!), Daisy's school expenses and some of her recreational activities, the newspaper and Christmas.
The other checkbook, Checkbook Number One, is used to pay the other expenses. These include groceries and gas, clothing, gifts, church contributions, household expenses and the credit card.
I originally set up this system when I left paid employment and we dropped to one income. I didn't want to get caught short and not be able to pay the mortgage or fix the car (or my teeth - sigh). Using a spreadsheet and a year's worth of bills I determined how much should go in Checkbook Number Two. What was left was put in Checkbook Number One.
This system has worked marvelously. We basically ended up with a built-in emergency fund in Checkbook Number Two and have not run short when needing the car (or teeth) fixed. The shortfall is not in this account.
The shortfall, about $200 to $500 per month, is in Checkbook Number One. A couple of months ago we got to the point where prior savings (except DH's bonus from 2007) was depleted. We did have a discussion about it but it wasn't very fruitful. I'm determined to do something about this shortfall. More to follow.