Q1 2014 Update: Life and Finances

I’ve been pretty silent on this blog so far this year.

I spent most of my energy in the first quarter on work, getting involved in my new job and ramping up. Things are definitely going a lot smoother now and I no longer feel so new – a great feeling! After work, my energy went to cooking with my boyfriend. We’re still tweaking that, but we’ve definitely gotten to a really awesome place with our cooking! And I think we should settle in at around $300-350/month on groceries, which makes me feel a lot better than the first month’s $500.

The second quarter is going to be about finding myself again: getting back to the gym and finding myself (and us) a good routine. I paid for an annual unlimited membership at a gym in December. It’s an amazing gym: fitness and yoga classes, a full gym, and more for a pretty reasonable price. The caveat? It’s a 10 (ZERO traffic) to 35 minute drive, or about 25-30 minutes on average, and it’s always impossible to find parking. So sure, it’s a reasonable price and awesome once you get there and parked, but it’s not super convenient, so once I fell out of my gym routine with my injury in September, I just never got back into my routine. Now, I don’t think it’ll be a complete waste by the end of the year as its effective cost will probably come out close to buying punch cards throughout the year, but it’s still a good lesson.

Fitness

So, my project for this quarter is to re-acquire a fitness routine. I walk to/from work, which gives me about 5 miles of exercise per day, but that’s not enough for me to de-stress from work. I could never have a drive commute – even a bus commute stresses me out. I’m not good at motivating myself unless I have a commitment to a specific time / people, so running only works when I’m meeting friends, which leaves me with fitness classes. I identified several yoga studios and alternative fitness classes such as barre and cycling that are convenient to both work and home and have been trying them out. So far, I’ve tried one barre place, am on a week at a yoga place, and want to try out one more barre place. The first barre place I tried, though convenient to both work and home, wasn’t very me as it was super women-marketed. It’s still not bad for a weekend workout, but I’m hopeful that the barre place close to work will fit me better, though I wish it had yoga as well because then it would be basically perfect! I’m really loving this yoga studio I found!

You know what I hate about fitness places? Trying to decide which membership ‘package’ to buy! Do you buy a month? Three months? Monthly renewal? Annual renewal? 5? 10? 15? 20 class punch card? There are way too many options. Most places have a free session or week or some period of time, which is really great for seeing if it works for you without having to put up any money up front. The way I’ve always looked at these in the past is buying a membership equivalent to how long I want to commit to doing this thing.

Punch card at a place I feel like my friends will drag me back to once a week for a while and the punch card never expires? Go for it!

A place where I don’t know when I’ll return? A single visit.

A place where I feel like I can commit to going enough in the next month for it to be worth it over the longest punch card? Buy one month.

Oh, I enjoyed the first month? Maybe I’ll buy another month or three (depending on the place). After doing that for a few months, re-evaluate the commitment again and maybe buy a year.

It’s much easier to do make this evaluation when you’re just looking at one gym too. If you’re looking at multiple, a punch card is often the easiest commitment. By the end of this month, I’ll be looking at what I want to do going forward after evaluating all of these places.

Where is the budget coming from for these new fitness plans? I have been setting money aside each month to pay for an annual membership in December at my “old” gym aka sport #2, so there is $219 stashed there. There is also $199.76 stashed for sport #3 that I probably won’t end up doing this year. I also have $235 stashed for sports tournaments and with the injury last fall, I didn’t actually play in any! Lastly, I have $134.39 set aside for equipment because I’d been planning on buying something for sport #3 and some maintenance costs for sport #2. So I should be able to re-allocate that $788.15 somehow!

Finances

Okay, now back to what this was supposed to be…my first quarter financial update! So finances consist of income, saving, giving, and spending.

Income

I don’t have any bonuses in first quarter this year, so income chugged along as expected this quarter. I don’t know yet if I will get a raise this year or what it will be, but that would go into effect in April. I’m actually pretty convinced at this point that I will get no raise. Thankfully my bonuses are from prior year reviews and I only live off of about half of my regular pay, so the possibility of not getting a bonus won’t hit me very hard either.

I’ve had some troubles getting my W-2 allowances just right, but that’s always a work in progress, isn’t it?

I’ve been doing pretty well with credit card rewards so far. Between the Barclaycard Arrival bonus and the regular cashback rewards, I saw over $700 in credit card rewards in the first quarter. The Chase Freedom and Sapphire Preferred bonuses should hit next quarter, but things will probably slow down in that department for the rest of the year.

Saving

This is the easy part! In Q1, I saved 61% of my net pay.

My 401(k) contributions have been chugging along, as expected. Since I no longer have a high-deductible health insurance plan as of my April paycheck, I’m going to redirect part of that money to my 401(k) each month to max it out a little bit by the end of November instead of December.

I finished maxing out my Health Savings Account for the prior plan year and there’s a nice balance in there that I can still use for health expenses that I have to pay out of pocket!

I made my 2014 Backdoor Roth IRA contribution on January 2nd, so that is done already! I’m unsure about when I will do the 2015 contribution – I may wait until the mortgage is paid off, so I likely won’t set aside money to do that this year.

I’ve also been paying down the mortgage. So far this year, I’ve paid down $10,575.54, which is about 3.7% of the original mortgage balance. I can’t wait for my next bonus to hit – that’ll make a much bigger dent in the mortgage than I’ve been making so far with my regular paychecks.

Giving

I’ve never been very good at finding causes that I want to donate my money to. In December of last year, after a discussion on the comments on a post at nicoleandmaggie, I made a rash of extra donations. And this year, I am making a conscious effort to donate X% of my income. I’m sure that X% is a lot less than other people might do so in my situation, but I felt like it was a reasonable improvement over where I was. It’s kind of fun researching causes and donating larger chunks of money than what I was doing before too!

Spending

So, spending. I’ve spent a lot more this quarter than I had originally intended.

2014 Q1 Spending

I wasn’t expecting it to quite add up to $1,700 over my estimate. Oops! Some excuses/explanations:

  • Clothing: this was mostly because I found myself with very few items of clothing that fit in certain areas. There were some returns already in Q2, so this should look a little better at the end of Q2.
  • Woo for coming in basically right on on entertainment! Same with personal care!
  • On Food, I did really well on eating out by myself. We’re doing better with groceries now, so we’re going to alternate months instead of reconciling at the end, which means I’ll only have to pay one month next quarter. I have been eating out for lunch every day at work this year, which is part of why this is so high. I’m okay with that decision for now.
  • Housing is a bit under because I’ll pay property taxes next quarter and ‘household goods’ spending has been mostly squashed into groceries with the joint spending. I spent more on internet and electricity than estimated, but that should even out a bit more next quarter. And my mortgage payments and HOA dues were right on par. My property taxes did go up more than expected, so that will show up in next quarter’s report.
  • Medical – I estimated only spending on premiums. Oops – I forgot about bills from the injury in the fall.
  • Recreation – I spent nothing in Q1. There will definitely be more spending here in Q2.
  • Shopping – this one was a killer. I only budgeted for the closets and painting. I didn’t plan on repairing my laptop or buying a new case for my cell phone, but those at least came out of some building up line items. I didn’t plan on any of the general furnishings I bought or sales taxes on the painting estimate. Those all added up to almost $500, oops.
  • Transportation – this was awesome! I bought one tank of gas and paid some toll bills. I’m working on trying to lower my insurance costs so I don’t have a $1,360 cost come Q3. I think I might have found an insurance company that should cut that in half!
  • Travel – annual estimate was $4,000. I don’t anticipate going over $4,000 total for the year, so it should work out okay.

There you have it – I went over my estimate by an average of $600/month in Q1. I don’t feel bad about any of the spending. Q2 should be better – my estimate for now is that I’ll come in under $10,000 for the quarter.

Readers, how was your first quarter of 2014?

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13 thoughts on “Q1 2014 Update: Life and Finances

  1. Hmm not great, T started and then was laid off from a job, we had to buy some household things, rebuy things like insurance, get settled in … Second quarter hopefully he’ll start bringing in an income again, and I start a new job with a nice pay bump.

    • Getting settled in seems never ending sometimes. I’m so glad I’m not moving for a while. Congrats on the new job, btw! I read your blog more often than I comment.

    • I hope so, but it’s really not looking like it. I should find out in the next couple of weeks. Even a 1% raise would be nice as my property taxes and HOA dues alone went up just under 1% of my gross salary – I’ve had to cut down on savings. In the past, raises were always helpful to cover my crazy rent increases.

  2. I will commiserate that I HATE having to find a new gym. I feel like it takes more than just a week trial membership to get in the flow and see how it fits in your life.

    • Thank you! i’m sorry you had to find a new gym this year too.

      Most places have an intro month special as well, so that should help too. The one free class is enough to show you what the workout is like, but not enough to know if it’s something you want to stick with. I like the free week a lot better!

  3. I love that you have made a commitment to giving. This is a real tough subject for me because of all the overhead that is eaten up by donations thru “non profits”

    I have an issue with people administrating these nonprofits who are making $xxx K dollars per year when less than half of most donations these days go to the actual cause of the donation / research. I realize these people need to make money to survive but what happened to the pride of working for a good cause?? It seems to me those folks only want their cut of the pie which gets bigger and bigger every year.

    I rarely donate to big charities any more and those no official tax deduction, but I chose my donations more on a personal basis in my local community and look for people who become stricken by some life event and need a little help to get back up. I love seeing how those donations have helped folks in a very very personal way and helped them return to life as normal in many cases.

    I would LOVE to hear about what charities you decide on giving to and how you came to your decision on those select charities to give to.

    • I’m not religious. My X% is definitely less than 10% – it was just to give myself more of a commitment. I plan to increase that once I’ve paid off the mortgage.

      It doesn’t necessarily need to be a non-profit that actually gives me an official tax deduction, just something I would classify as donating. For example, an online website I really appreciate? Totally. That counts to me since it’s not someone I know personally – personally knowing the receiving party makes it a present rather than a donation in my books.

      I donate to scholarship funds for women in my major at my alma mater occasionally. If anyone ever wants to get me a birthday present, that’s what I would recommend. I also donate to groups improving STEM for women and also for general women’s groups, as well as female children abroad. (Do you sense a theme here?) Lastly, I donate my time to STEM outreach events for girls in my community on occasion. I also mentor at work, which is incredibly rewarding.

      I’ve also been trying to increase the $ amount that I donate to a particular charity to feel more like I am making a difference.

      One of my ideas for post-FI if I’m still working is to donate my entire income. If I don’t need to save any more, I’d rather donate my money than keep it.

      • I understand the religious aspect of the x% vs 10%. Yes once you have your mortgage paid you are at the cusp of FI and you definitely begin to freely contribute and give away more that you don’t need for yourself and your family. such a cool feeling to be at that place I assume…. someday and it probably won’t be too long.

        I do love the donations to the scholarship fund for women and groups for STEM. I like how engineers think.

        • My estimate at this point is that I still need to save about another $700,000 to be able to declare myself FI, so I’m looking at hitting that in about 7 years or so considering my current rate of saving $100,000/year. I will probably try to increase my donations by another 1% after paying off the mortgage, but I’m still undecided.

  4. A suggestion on donations, particularly for small nonprofits or nonprofits that work with mostly state/federal grants: unrestricted funds are REALLY helpful. There are so many strings attached to grants (and often donations from individuals and churches as well) that it can be difficult to pay for things like web developers, new phones, an opportunity for employee training, etc. I was at an organization that used an unrestricted donation for an employee fridge and to pay a random bank fee that I think was related to a donation we received in foreign currency.

    If it’s something you would consider, I would give the admin office a call for how to go about making the donation. Our policy was that the word “unrestricted” had to appear either on the check or in the memo line for online donations. Otherwise the money went straight into the program itself.

    • Thanks for the tip! I usually try to not restrict my donations at all, if I can see that in the options online, other than when donating to my alma mater because it’s a public university and I mostly only care about contributing to women’s scholarships in my field.

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