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Home > Archive: December, 2008

Archive for December, 2008

Maybe we did get somewhere

December 31st, 2008 at 07:44 am

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.

Endless Winter and Hog Wild

December 22nd, 2008 at 05:42 am

Endless Winter

Snow, snow and more snow. I live in an area that doesn't tend to get much snow each winter, or even be cold enough to snow. But some years we get dumped on and this is one of those years.

We had a snow last week which closed schools for three days. We have about 10 inches on the ground now. It's been cold enough to freeze the hummingbird feeder.

I've only gone out driving three times in the past six days. It does look like gasoline consumption will be lower than usual this month and (hopefully) allow Checkbook One to balance for the first time ever. . . or at least in several years. I don't think my navy showers and lowered thermostat will offset the extra power and gas usage caused by prolonged low temperatures though.

Hog Wild

Partially owing to the impending snow I did go a little hog wild in the store the day before yesterday. No, I wasn't at the grocery store buying milk, bread and batteries. I was at the fabric store buying polar fleece and patterns. I will use a lot of this fleece for Christmas gifts.** While there was some thought put in to this shopping trip there clearly wasn't enough. Here's what I see as the problems:

1) Too little advance planning. I did go through my patterns to see what fleece-type patterns I had, but there are many free patterns available on the internet. About 33% of what I spent was on patterns. Also, it would have been better to decide to do this months ago. Patterns go on sale for $1 each very regularly, so I could have spent next to nothing on them.

2) Went to the store without a dollar figure in mind. It really helps the budget to decide in advance how much you want to spend.

3) Did not keep a running tally of how much I was "spending" as I pulled bolts of fleece off the shelves.

4) I was in a hurry. I asked Mr H to take me to the fabric store since some of the roads were kind of icy. (I'd already slid to the corner on one street during a previous errand.) Mr H HATES the fabric store and early in our marriage swore off ever going there. Since he agreed to take me (and Daisy) and we were trying to beat the weather I tried to shop quickly.

I've had this type of shopping experience before, so I have an idea of What Not To Do. Sometimes it's hard to recognize when your brain is taking a holiday though. I think the number one thing that would have helped me out (besides applying forethought to Christmas preparations, something I didn't really do this year) was to go to the fabric store with a dollar figure in mind.

** Yes, it's three days until Christmas and I'm not prepared. Most of the gifts are for after Christmas get-togethers.

Bonus and Budget Update 12/18

December 20th, 2008 at 05:54 am

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.

Budget Carpet Cleaning

December 8th, 2008 at 04:15 pm

I'm trying to figure out how to clean my carpet without spending any real money on it.

Our house was a rental before we bought it 11 years ago, and had cheap neutral-colored carpet in all rooms except the kitchen/dining area and bathrooms. We pulled up the carpets in all rooms but one and had the hardwood floors which were underneath refinished about 9 years ago. The family room had plywood under its carpet so the carpet was retained.

The family room has a sliding glass door to the backyard on one wall and a door to the garage on the other. There is a dirt trail on the carpet where we walk. There is a tree with berries in the backyard, and every fall the berries fall off and the berry juice comes in on all shoes no matter how carefully we wipe them. So in addition to the dirt trail there are also dark dots all over the carpet.

I've had a carpet cleaner come in a few times and the carpet looks much better when he's done. Trouble is it costs $60 to do this 13' x 10' room. At a minimum we should have it done twice a year. A few years ago I became convinced that we should pull up this carpet and put down a hard surface and a big rug. Both would be easier to clean than this carpet. I have finally convinced Mr. H of the soundness of this plan. Actually, I think rearranging the family room a bit in a way that forced him to spend more time looking at the dirt trail on the carpet is what did it. It's likely that we'll choose a surface that he can install, cutting the labor down. But it's not going to be done any time soon.

Enter my carpet cleaning attempts:
1) Google manual carpet cleaning (or something similar). Get a list of ideas.
2) Read that hydrogen peroxide can take spots out of carpet. Hey, that stuff is cheap and we have it. Grab the bottle and some cotton balls and start dabbing. Hey, it's taking up some of these spots! Great! Later that evening I realize that I'd created clean, light colored polka-dots on my carpet. Hmm. Well it kind of worked.
3) Read that you can scrub your carpet with a scrub brush, water and a tiny bit of soap and then use a shop vac to suck up some of the water and put old towels on the carpet to absorb more water. Hey, I have all these things! Mr H is in charge of the shop vac though. He goes after the worst of the dirt one day when Daisy and I are out using just water (no soap). Later he shows me his efforts, but notes that there are now dirt stripes where the dirt blob used to be.
4) I go after a part of the rug using a small amount of soap in the water this time. It works! I created a 2' x 1' clean patch on the carpet. Mr. H suggests we clean in a checkerboard pattern.
5) Today Daisy and I went after another spot. We scrubbed, vacuumed, rinsed, vacuumed then toweled a spot. Then two more adjoining patches. Daisy danced on the towels to help pull the water up. Another, larger clean spot was created. I just looked at the clean spot - it has dark stripes in between each section. It's kind of hard to tell where you started and stopped so we missed that part.

I'm not sure how this is really working out. The carpet is looking cleaner in spots. . . but it is a lot of work to do even a small patch. Instead of looking dirty it just looks kind of strange now. But I guess we'll just keep going.

Budget Review - 12/5

December 7th, 2008 at 06:56 am

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.

Navy Shower Analysis

December 5th, 2008 at 10:47 am

Curious to know what effect my navy showers would have on our water bill, I went into heavy-duty analysis mode.

* Got a five gallon bucket and measured the amount of water that runs from our shower head in one minute.
* Timed an average navy shower. Used the measurement to calculate the gallons of water used in an average navy shower.
* Guessed at the amount of time showering with a non-navy shower. Calculated the number of gallons used for that.
* Calculated the number of gallons used for a month of navy showers and a month of non-navy showers. Subtracted the navy shower gallons from the non-navy shower gallons to get the number of gallons saved per month of navy showers.
* Used the 7.481 gallons per cubic feet figure found in the Tightwad Gazette book to convert the gallons into cubic feet.

At this point I got out the most recent water bill, which covers two months, and made this startling discovery:
* Of the $87.51 bill, $57.20 are flat charges. No amount of decreased water usage will change them.
* In 56 days (per the bill), the amount charged for consumption was $30.31. That's 54 cents per day.

Further calculations revealed that taking navy showers, at least in my part of the world, will decrease my water bill by about 0.83 per month, or about $1.66 per bill.

I guess this experiment was not a stunning success. Nevertheless, I'm going to continue with navy showers. They help keep me in the frugal mindset.

I also plan to estimate the dollar savings of turning the heat down during the day while I'm home.

More for the EF

December 2nd, 2008 at 11:52 am

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.