2013 Spending Goal: Little Things Add Up

Now that I’m no longer hunting for a condo, moving, or refinancing the condo and my savings plan is likely to be a bit more static, I’ve decided to turn to the other side of the table and work on my expenses. My goal for 2013 is to keep my non-mortgage spending under $24,000 for the year or under $2,000 on average each month (including travel). I think that this is definitely doable. One of the ways I’ve been working on this is by tackling the little things.

Interested in a book? I used to just go on Amazon and buy it for my Kindle. But recently I found out that my local library has e-books in addition to regular ones! So that’s a free book for minimal effort beyond buying it! My Kindle is almost 3 years old now, but it still works great! I probably will replace it when it completely dies, but I have a feeling it will last for a little while yet.

Food: Muffin, tea, lunch, fruits and yogurt? I can buy a muffin mix for $2-3 at the grocery store, make some on Sunday and bring them in. (Yes, I realize I could also make them from scratch. That’s the next step.) The office has free tea, hot chocolate, and coffee, so there’s no need to pay $2-5 for those. And I can bring in sandwich makings and yogurt from the grocery store for much cheaper than buying them for 4-5 days each week. In January/February my food spending totaled up to:

  • $68.41/$2.72 Dining out – This was an anomaly month and probably won’t happen again (see super cheap February at $2.72), so I’ve lowered this budget from $110/month to $70/month. (Note that only eating out with just me or me and my boyfriend that I pay for goes in this category. Eating out with friends goes in Entertainment.)
  • $246.36/$139.66 Groceries – I made once weekly trips to the grocery store to cover breakfasts, dinners, and work lunches except for one week. There was definitely a bit of stocking up since I noticed some sales at the grocery store, so this might go down next month. (up $119.81 from my 2012 average spending) Yup, definitely went down in February. Not bad!
  • $49.22/$48.00 Work Lunches/Coffees – I ate out every day the short week of the holiday and the last week of January due to various work functions. This is the least I’ve spent on work lunches in one month over the last three years. (down $122.65 from my 2012 average spending) Sweet, I spent even less in February!

It looks like the grocery and work lunches differentials in January about evened out, so I didn’t really save any money. It definitely went better in February when I made fewer trips to the grocery store! I lowered my work lunches budget from $200 to $80 and increased the grocery budget from $150 to $200.

Cell phone bill? I switched from Sprint to Ting, terminating my contract early. Even with paying the early termination fee (ETF), it still would have been cheaper, but I was able to get in on the giveaway Ting was doing to pay your ETF, so I’m saving money instantly. I found that I wasn’t using data much at all, so this should work out well. I was paying about $83/month with all the taxes and fees with Sprint for way more than I needed (it was an “unlimited” plan of sorts). But now with Ting, it looks like the taxes and fees are way cheaper at around $2-3/month versus almost $14/month with Sprint and my plan is way cheaper too. Their thing is that they adjust your billing plan each month based on which usage tier you *actually* fell into. I figure that I should spend about $34/month including taxes and fees, which shaves about $48/month off my cell phone bill and it would have been cheaper for me to switch even if Ting wasn’t paying my ETF. I also got a $25 referral credit from someone online, which was a pretty sweet bonus!

New cell phone? I was setting aside a bit of money each month to buy a new cell phone once my contract was up and switch carriers. Since I was able to bring my phone with me when I switched carriers and I’ve already set aside almost $300, I’m not going to add any more money to that line item in my budget. I zeroed this out and sent it to the mortgage in February.

Internet bill? I’m working on this one. I never seem to manage to call my internet provider during “business” hours. But I’ve been shopping around and actually found another provider that has a better rate, even when they force me to bundle it with their phone AND they’ll lock the price for 5 years. Even with needing to buy a new modem since the new provider doesn’t support my current one, I will still save about $14/month by switching. Having the local phone and combining that with Google Voice will actually significantly reduce the minutes I use on my cell phone and could reduce that cost as well! I’m more hesitant to pull the plug on switching internet providers because it is not as clear of an immediate savings and it would mean changing from cable to DSL, which I’ve never actually tried.

Easier option: I called Comcast and asked to lower the speed. My February bill was cut to $8 instead of $50 and I will only pay $31 going forward each month. It seems that I can still VPN with the lowered speed and everything is working fine. Sweet!

Pandora? I decided to nix this. Upfront savings: $36 since it was just about to renew. Monthly savings: $3.

Remember the Milk? I decided to nix this, but I’m still not completely sold. I’ve tried other to do systems and just stuck with this one out of habit and not bloating up my phone too much. If it’s actually gone, $23.08 in upfront savings and $2/month.

Insurance? After my 25th birthday, I’m going to ask my current insurance company to re-pull my insurance score (re: do a soft pull on my credit) and see how that lowers my rate and then shop around to see if there is anything better out there. I shopped around for car insurance back when I was buying the condo and I didn’t see anything worth switching to, probably because I was still under 25. My umbrella insurance will also get about cheaper once I turn 25. I’m curious to see how much turning 25 saves me on my car insurance. I’m guessing $10-20/month?

Feminine hygiene? I calculated that in 2012 I spent at least $60 on such products. I spent about $40 to buy a menstrual cup in January which should last for several years. Not a huge cost savings in the first year, but I’ve heard good things about it in general and I figure it’s worth a try. I still have a few months’ worth of prior supplies left, so I will run through those a bit more before trying out the cup for a whole week.

Tax return preparation? The last couple of years, I paid a CPA. But as I’ve mentioned a few times, I wasn’t overly pleased with the service. I spent the first weekend in February working on this for maybe 3-5 hours using Free File Fillable Forms. I’ll e-file by the end of February, once I’ve had a chance to double check my math at least once. Total cost this year: $0.

Electricity bill? The most expensive things here are: lights, heating, and the water heater. Maybe the fridge, but there’s nothing I can do about that. I unplug the appliances that I’m not using. I keep lights off that I don’t need. I only run the dishwasher and clothes washer with a full load. I finally figured out that my programmable thermostats (came with the place) weren’t really programmed, so the heater was keeping the bedroom at 70 F all day. ALL DAY while I’m at work. My electricity bill for December/January was incredibly expensive. As such, I’ve increased my electricity budget a bit, but also trying to fix things somewhat and hopefully the next bill will be much cheaper and I can reduce my budget. Electricity has probably been my biggest budgeting change/unknown since moving to the condo. It’s an older building than my apartments were and it’s also a lot larger of a unit. On the pro side though, I do actually have programmable thermostats and if I didn’t, buying them would save me a ton of money.

Clothing? I’ve evaluated my wardrobe and what I spent money on in 2012. I’ve made a decree that other than buying bras if I don’t have any that fit properly, I’m not going to spend any money on clothing going forward in 2013. Let’s see how I do with this! This is probably honestly one of the bigger “fat” items of all the ones I’ve listed here with food/cell phone being a close second.

Miscellaneous items:

  1. $50/month lowered entertainment budget from $150 to $100. Can you believe that it used to be $300/month? :)
  2. $35/month lowered dining out budget from $70 to $35.
  3. $30/month lowered budget for each person
  4. $16 upfront – don’t need a hair cut in March.
  5. $65 upfront – not going in a sports tournament that I had planned on.
  6. $77 upfront – not going to renew my annual gym membership. I’ll switch to punch cards when it’s up.
  7. $6/month – will keep Tivo for at least 5 more years.
  8. $48 upfront – have plenty of fuel budget rolled over, so don’t need to add more in March.
  9. $2/month – never spend more than $3 on parking meters.

I estimate that all of these “little” things should save me about $200-300/month. That means an extra $200-300/month that I can throw at the mortgage and $6-9k less that I need in investments in order to be financially independent. I’ve lowered my checking account direct deposit from $2,500/month to $2,200/month. (Note that that amount includes a $350/month travel budget that rolls forward indefinitely.)

I got off to a good start with January and February! This whole new year, new mortgage thing has been great to motivate me to cut out some of this fat.

Readers, have you recently done any budget overhauls? What kind of fat did you find in your budget to cut?

Brownbag Lunches

As you all know, my tendency has been to eat out for lunches. How much has this been costing me?

  • In 2010, a total of $780.51 or an average of a little over $100/month. The highest month was $117.54.
  • In 2011, a total of $1,699.64 or an average of $141.64/month. The highest month was $202.32, but that was an anomaly.
  • In 2012, a total of $1,994.52 (through November) or an average of $181.32/month. The highest month was $235.27 and there were a few others at or around $200.

These numbers include the cost of lunches, anything I’ve bought from the vending machine, and cafes. The amount that I spent in 2010 and 2011 was fairly reasonable, but my lunch costs definitely went through the roof in 2012 and I want to fix that.

My new job gives me a fresh start and I’m going to take that as an opportunity to pack my lunch and snacks. This means morning and afternoon snacks including chocolate, muffins, fruits, and vegetables, as well as the main lunch portion. I’ve found places in my new office to eat with people without buying lunch and some of my new coworkers bring their lunch, so I’m going to give this a try.

I used to buy muffins from a coffee shop for $2-3, then lunch at $5-15, and a chocolate bar from the vending machine in the afternoon for $1. I also would buy yogurts from the grocery store for $0.65 and keep them in the kitchen at the office, but that is included in my Groceries spending. (I know some people who buy yogurts from the coffee shops for > $1 per day.)

How much do I think this is going to cost me? (I’m ignoring yogurts since I was buying those from the grocery store all along.) Well, let’s take a look at today’s groceries receipt:

  1. Large block of cheese, $5.49. I’m guessing this is at least two weeks’ worth of sandwiches, so $2.75/week.
  2. Deli ham for four lunches, $5.28.
  3. Muffin mixes, $1.99-2.49 each. Each of these makes about 12 muffins, which is two weeks’ worth of snacks. Bought 50 baking cups for $0.99, which is enough for ~4 batches of muffins or ~8 weeks. $1.24/week
  4. Fruit, ~$5/week.
  5. Loaf of bread, $2.50. This is probably enough for two weeks of sandwiches, but I’m not sure if I’ll want to eat it the second week or not. We’ll see how it tastes :)

The cost of the large block of cheese, the deli ham, and the loaf of bread is the equivalent of two lunches out. But the block of cheese should last for two weeks of sandwiches and the loaf of bread might.

  • Total cost per week: ~$16.77
  • Old cost per week: $40 (I’m only counting four days since my plan involves eating out on Fridays, but bringing my lunch the other days.)
  • Weekly savings: $23.23

I’m likely to only gain $100 back each month from this, so we’ll see how it goes, but that’s an extra $100/month to throw at the mortgage!

I’m not doing this for the cost savings, but to make lunches more easily time efficient and to have more control over what I’m eating. It’s far easier to bring fruit to eat throughout the day if I’m already going to the effort of bringing lunch food to eat. I’m curious to see how much I end up spending on lunches/groceries going forward, to see if I actually save much money this way.

Readers, what do you do for lunch? Do you brown bag, do you grab a quick lunch, or do you do sit down lunches? Why did you go that way?

Eating Out As A Couple

Eating out as a couple seems far more expensive than eating out by myself x 2. I always used to think that SP’s restaurant spending looked so high, but now I’m starting to understand why. I can do division or multiplication by 2 in my head easily, but paying for two seems so much more expensive psychologically. Paying for two is way more motivation to me that we should just cook at home.

Every time I see $10 pancakes when I go out for brunch with a girlfriend or by myself, it doesn’t seem expensive. But when I go out for brunch with my boyfriend? I think about how many boxes of pancake mix I could buy with $10 (3-4 boxes of pancake mix) and how many weekends of pancakes that would make (probably 4-5 weekends per box, so 12-20 weekends with $10 of mix). But then when you throw in $3 for syrup, which lasts for ages (usually over a year for me).

I buy orange juice by the gallon and it seems to run me about $8. So, paying for orange juice at a restaurant seems ridiculous when it is $4-5 per glass. That means that two glasses of orange juice in a restaurant costs more than a GALLON of orange juice, which will last me about 2-3 weeks or 7x(2 or 3)=14-21 glasses of orange juice. That seems insane.

A couple of years ago, I tried bringing my lunch to work every day for a month. I calculated that buying sandwich bread every week, meat, cheese, etc. it cost me about $3 per sandwich, but if I was buying sandwiches, it would cost me about $5 per day. For $2/day, having fresh bread was worth it to me. That said, I no longer just eat sandwiches for lunch. My coworkers want to eat more expensive things for lunch every day. Even with lunches becoming more expensive, I’m not spending more than $10/day.

But dinners out? They’re expensive. This is driving me nuts.

He…is used to eating out for dinner every night, so our compromise is that we’ll slowly adjust to cooking more. I think he’s starting to appreciate cooking, the time at home while you’re making the food, and the fact that I seem to always have food to cook in my apartment. But it’s still weird to him! It’s so weird cooking for two and it often results in no leftovers, which I love. I’m actually enjoying cooking more often and it is so nice to have company while cooking, which is far better motivation for eating at home than just being by myself. (Even though if I cooked everything at home, including lunches, my monthly food bill would be so cheap! I just don’t need to go down that low.)

That said, my budgeting for food is completely wonky since we both randomly pay for groceries and for meals out. It’s a good thing that I don’t get mad at myself if I mess up on my budgeted amount for food since, well, I still need to eat! I’m especially forgiving on the groceries line item.

Readers, do you see eating out as a couple as more expensive than single eating out x 2 like I do?

Food spending: lunches out

Recently, a coworker/friend was talking about how he’s trying to bring his lunch to work more to cut down on costs. I told him that I tried that one month, but for all the hassle it was, it wasn’t worth shaving a small bit off the $150 or so I spend on lunches. He was flabbergasted that I manage to spend so little each month!

In 2011, my average monthly spending on work lunches was $140 or about $1,700 for the year. So far this year, I’ve averaged about $165/month. If you average those 16 months together, you get about $148/month, which probably averages out to about $7/day.

I find it absolutely fascinating that my coworkers and I all make (fairly) similar incomes and yet, we all view money in different ways.

To this particular coworker, lunches out were an expensive habit. He probably saw lunches out as closer to $20/day than my $7/day average. At $20/day, I agree that it is a pretty expensive habit to maintain, but at $7/day, it is significantly less of a trade-off and one that I am willing to keep in my life.

How do I keep my lunches spending down?

  • If I have a surplus of dinner leftovers, I’ll bring them in for lunch. (This isn’t very frequent.)
  • I often have morning and afternoon snacks that I buy at the grocery store on my way to/from work, which is far cheaper than buying stuff at the cafeteria or coffee shops, e.g. yogurts, fruits, and vegetables, and it also helps me to eat smaller portions at lunch time.
  • I buy good chocolates in bulk instead of from the vending machine and then keep them near my desk (but not on it so they’re less tempting) for when I have a chocolate craving. I find that this makes eating chocolate less of a craving and more of a small want, than the break of buying some from the vending machine.
  • I don’t drink coffee. I buy a good hot chocolate maybe once or twice a month.
  • I tend to frequent the lunch places that sell portions that are closer to what I need to eat to feel full. The $20ish lunch places tend to be fancier, but also have larger portions. There are plenty of places where you can get small soups, half-sandwiches, small salads, etc. Sometimes places will give you a discount if your meal comes with two side dishes, but you only take one, for instance. Or you can just order a side dish or an appetizer instead of the normal meal!
  • I try to only go to the fancier lunch places at most once every week or two.

Seeing how much some of my male coworkers eat, I’m pretty sure they’re incapable of eating out for lunch as often as I do and spending under $200/month. One coworker said that his daily average is closer to $15 than my $7. That difference sure extrapolates quickly!

With the cost being under 2% of my net income last year and my projected for this year as well, I’m not concerned. It makes life easier and provides a nice break in the middle of the day.

Readers, what do you do for lunch at work? What is your bar for spending like this?

April food habits, Week 3

At this point, I’m forcing myself to do this. I think the experiment was good for me though. I’ve been a lot happier with my eating habits this month than the last few months. Then again, things have also been calmer. I’m really proud of myself for not spending any money in the “Dining Out” (aka lazy eating out by myself instead of cooking) category this week! And overall this month, that category has been pretty low. I would say that my grocery spending has gone up to reflect that, which is perfectly fine. I think that the dinners out pattern that I’ve seen so far this month is a healthy balance for me and hopefully I can stick with that going forward.

Sunday, April 15th

  • Brunch: out with a friend, cost $16.26 (Entertainment)
  • Ice cream out with a friend, cost $4.87 (Entertainment)
  • Dinner: pasta at home
  • Total day’s cost: $21.13
Monday, April 16th
  • Lunch: out with coworkers. Everyone else ordered drinks and I didn’t and then we split completely. Ugh. I didn’t even have time to try to tip less to cover that because one of my coworkers told me a tip amount and to hurry in writing it. There’s no way my $13 meal should have cost $19.02 with tax and tip. Sigh. It’s always with the one coworker that it’s a problem too – when he doesn’t join us, we split evenly.
  • Dinner: out with some coworkers, cost $24.39. The place had delicious milkshakes! (Entertainment)
  • Total day’s cost: $43.41
Tuesday, April 17th
  • Lunch: soup and a sandwich with a friend, cost: $7.65
  • Picked up some groceries, cost $11.58
  • Dinner: frozen Chinese food from the grocery store and rice made with my rice cooker
  • Total day’s cost: $23.23
Wednesday, April 18th
  • Lunch: out with some coworkers, cost: $19.42
  • Dinner: leftover Chinese food from last night
  • Total day’s cost: $19.42
Thursday, April 19th
  • Lunch: by myself, cost: $6.44
  • Dinner: out with a friend before going to play sports, cost $4.35 (Entertainment)
  • Picked up some groceries, cost $9.08
  • Total day’s cost: $19.87
Friday, April 20th
  • Lunch: with a friend, cost $9.88
  • Happy Hour/Dinner with some coworkers, cost: $23.38 (Entertainment)
  • Total day’s cost: $33.26
Saturday, April 21st
  • Lunch: pancakes and milk
  • Dinner: pasta and milk, at home
  • Total day’s cost: free!
Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Total
Entertainment $55.43 $4.37 $73.25 $133.05
Dining Out $19.04 $4.11 $23.15
Groceries $3.00 $85.18 $20.66 $108.84
Lunches $22.09 $37.80 $68.85 $128.74
Overall $99.56 $131.46 $162.76 $393.78

April food habits, Week 2

There is most definitely a culture in eating out at my office. I realize that this is bad on my wallet somewhat, but I really enjoy it. It’s an easy way to catch up with male friends and it also creates a great team bonding experience. I often work from home once a week and so I think I’m going to limit my not eating out for lunch to that day.

I feel pretty good about this week too, almost to the point that I don’t feel like writing another one of these posts, but I’ll keep doing it for the rest of the month. I’m definitely feeling like some of my spending is shifting from Entertainment/Dining Out to Groceries this month because I’m eating more dinners at home, which is good.

It sure is easier to eat dinners and to feel better about what I’m eating when I have all the time in the world… Hah.

Sunday, April 8th

  • Brunch: pancakes and milk
  • Dinner: mac and cheese!
  • Groceries bought, cost $52.74
  • Total day’s cost: $52.74
Monday, April 9th
  • Lunch: leftover mac and cheese from last night
  • Dinner: granola bar and chocolate? Oops! Still sick, so my appetite is a bit off.
  • Total day’s cost: free!
Tuesday, April 10th
  • Breakfast: oatmeal and orange juice, plus an orange
  • More groceries bought, $32.44 – I picked up some bread, more interesting soup, meat and cheese. (And leftover Easter chocolates :P omg so cute)
  • Lunch: Chunky tomato soup and sourdough garlic loaf! (still home sick)
  • Dinner: Peanut butter granola bar and some hot chocolate
  • Total day’s cost: $32.44
Wednesday, April 11th
  • Breakfast: cereal and orange juice
  • Lunch: burger and milkshake with coworkers (coworker covered for me)
  • Dinner: prosciutto, ham, and my favorite medium cheddar cheese on sourdough garlic bread
  • Total day’s cost: free!
Thursday, April 12th
  • Lunch: French toast with coworkers, cost $28.92 (covered for coworker from yesterday)
  • Dinner: out with a friend before going to play sports, cost $4.37 (Entertainment)
  • Total day’s cost: $33.29
Friday, April 13th
  • Lunch: with a friend, cost $8.88
  • Afternoon snack: frappuccino from Starbucks, cost $4.11 (Dining Out)
  • Dinner: frozen general Tao’s chicken and rice (Groceries)
  • Total day’s cost: $12.99
Saturday, April 14th
  • Lunch: out with friends, cost $20, but paid with cash which is already counted as spent
  • Dinner: leftover food from last night
  • Total day’s cost: sort of free
Week 1 Week 2 Total
Entertainment $55.43 $4.37 $59.80
Dining Out $19.04 $4.11 $23.15
Groceries $3.00 $85.18 $88.18
Lunches $22.09 $37.80 $59.89
Overall $99.56 $131.46 $231.02

April food habits, Week 1

Last month, I talked about how I wasn’t really happy with my food spending. One of my projects for April is to fix that. I’m less concerned about how much money I’m spending on food and more about the time invested and happiness I get out of the food eating experience.

I almost always eat cereal and orange juice for breakfast, so I’ll only specify breakfast if that’s not the case. That spending falls into my “Groceries” line item. I usually buy orange juice by the gallon and switch up the cereal a lot, buying the largest box of a type I can. I also generally have some chocolate in the afternoon which either falls into “Dining Out” (vending machine), “Groceries” (bulk chocolate buying), or “Travel” (I love buying chocolate while in other cities). If I go for afternoon coffee, that counts in the “Lunches” category since it’s a work break thing.

Sunday, April 1st

  • First lunch: sandwich, $4.37 (Dining Out)
  • Second lunch: free or you could say it was included in my weekend tournament fee
  • Dinner: awesome local pizza, $14.67 (Dining Out)
  • Total day’s cost: $19.04
Monday, April 2nd
  • Stopped at the grocery store on the way to work to get some yogurts for snacks. Cost for 5 small yogurts: $3. (Groceries)
  • Breakfast: yogurt at work
  • Lunch: manager paid. I really like eating lunch with my team on Mondays.
  • Dinner: out with a friend while shopping – fun! Cost: $17.98 (Entertainment)
  • Total day’s cost: $20.98
Tuesday, April 3rd
  • Lunch: by myself. Cost: $5.56 (Lunches)
  • Dinner: leftover pizza from Sunday night
  • Total day’s cost: $5.56
Wednesday, April 4th
  • Lunch: with a friend. Cost: $7.65 (Lunches)
  • Dinner: made some frozen Chinese food I had bought at the grocery store the previous week and had the leftover rice from Friday night.
  • Total day’s cost: $7.65
Thursday, April 5th
  • Lunch: with a friend. I almost ate by myself, but then I decided to see if she was free and that was a good plan. Cost: $8.88 (Lunches)
  • Dinner: out with a friend before going to play sports – fun! Cost: $11.34 (Entertainment) We do this every week and normally I spend $5 on a small sandwich, but we switched it up this week.
  • Total day’s cost: $20.22
Friday, April 6th
  • Breakfast: oatmeal and orange juice
  • Lunch: stayed home sick from work, so I had chicken noodle soup and salted crackers for lunch. I keep a stash of soups at all times :)
  • Dinner: leftover Chinese food from Wednesday night and leftover rice from the previous Friday night. I should probably throw that rice out now.
  • Total day’s cost: free!
Saturday, April 7th
  • Breakfast: oatmeal and orange juice
  • Lunch: out with some girlfriends. Cost: $18.34 (Entertainment)
  • Afternoon snack: out with some girlfriends: Cost: $7.25 (Entertainment)
  • Total day’s cost: $26.11
Overall Cost
  • Entertainment: $55.43
  • Dining Out: $19.04
  • Groceries: $3.00
  • Lunches: $22.09
  • Total: $99.56

I think I did a pretty good job of doing what *I* want for food this week. Sometimes I will go along with my coworkers because that was the “easy” route even if I didn’t want to go where they were going or I wanted some time to myself. An excellent side effect of eating lunch by myself or with a friend is that I will often get back from lunch before they do and then I have some quiet time before they all come back!

Looking at the way I generally eat, if I cook a batch of food on Sunday, I think I need to eat some of it during the week for lunches since I do often eat out for dinner with friends. The problem is that my favorite part of lunch time is *leaving* the office building and going for a bit of a walk to wherever I eat lunch. A way around that I suppose is to go eat in the “cafeteria” where there is a microwave instead of sitting in the kitchen on my floor OR to eat “quickly” and then go for a walk with the rest of the time I would have otherwise taken to eat and walk somewhere.

I’m going to keep tracking my food habits each week for the rest of the month and hopefully every other week will be as happy as this one was!

I meant to go out and get groceries yesterday, so I’ll probably do that today.