Living My Values in 2017

This is normally the point in the year where I contemplate the upcoming year and what financial goals I want to accomplish. This year, I’m switching it up a bit. Instead of writing SMART goals, I’m going to talk about my values.

Financial

No debt. I am pretty strongly against debt. I’ve never had student loans or credit card debt. I aggressively paid down my mortgage. One of my strongest financial values is to maintain this status with the only debt in the household being the mortgage on the condo. My husband is absolutely on board with this plan. His student loans are long gone at this point and neither of us have ever maintained a balance on a credit card nor do we plan to start doing so.

Save for retirement. Other than my first year out of college, I have contributed the maximum I can to all retirement vehicles available to me. I plan to continue that going forward, though it does look different from year to year and from job to job.

Spend consciously. I don’t practice extreme frugality, nor does my husband. Instead, we consider purchases for a reasonable duration of time before committing to them. We buy reduced stress. We buy a non-financial lifestyle that brings us joy. We naturally don’t spend our entire incomes, which results in a large gap between our spending and our incomes and thus results in a high savings rate.

Security. I value financial security above so many other pieces in life. I plan to keep one year’s expenses in cash at all times. Any funds available beyond eliminating debt, saving for retirement, and one year’s expenses will be invested in a taxable investment account, per my Investment Policy Statement.

Home

Home. Loving my home is so key to my mental health. Living in a home that brings me joy, that I want to go home to, that I want to hang out in, is so important to me. More important than travel.

Possessions. Thanks to Stylebook, I’ve been buying clothes more strategically. We’ve also been working on drastically reducing the amount of stuff we have in the condo, which has been a continual work in progress and I’m sure will be for a while. Trying to be more conscious of what comes into the apartment is also helpful here. Both my husband and I have parents that are minor hoarders and so living with less has been a point of growth and learning. I had no idea it wasn’t normal to keep everything you had ever owned in your life…

Style. I like having clothes that fit my body, no matter how much my body shifts around. This seems to go against the grain of the personal finance blogosphere, but I get enjoyment out of a closet that I like and that’s worth something.

Mental

Learn. It’s really important to never stop learning and to push myself to stretch my mind. Having a career as a tech professional is not the only answer to this. My Master’s program has been great for this. What does learning and pushing myself mentally look like after my Master’s program? If I’m not learning or not enjoying my job, then what’s the point? I have enough savings now that it’s becoming more and more difficult to put up with a job that gives me minimal fulfillment.

Health

Keep moving. I have a monthly average steps goal of 10,000 steps per day. I find that the closer I get to that figure, the happier I am overall. Getting outside is such a stress reducing factor, no matter the weather, even if certain types of weather make it less enticing to spend time outside.

Practice joy. I’ve always been a naturally critical person. In 2016, I started to practice contentedness with where I was in life and to find the positives in situations where really there didn’t seem to be any. I have an exercise where I write in a joy journal all of the pieces in my life that currently bring me joy. I’m always surprised at how many there are, even while I’m incredibly stressed out over something else. Practicing joy has helped me in so many ways.

Water. One of my projects this year was to start drinking more water. I have not always been the best at staying hydrated, but I’m finally making progress. I set my goal to drink 64 oz per day and I well exceeded that in the summer and since then, have been getting pretty close most days. My husband and I have noticed that we don’t drink water nearly as well when we’re traveling and my body definitely feels different as a result, so that’s something we plan to be more conscious of on our next trip. I’ve also made some minor diet shifts that made a huge difference.

Community

Support. In a way, this comes back to spending consciously. I have a variety of charities that I strongly believe in and love supporting their causes, as does my husband. It also means supporting other people in their learning and growth.

Relationships. In addition to movement keeping me happier, so does a certain level of social activity. There’s a careful balance between too little and too much and it’s so easy to fall on the side of too little when we are busy with our own lives, families, and careers. My relationship with my husband is central to my well-being, as well.

 

2016 Plan

Goals

1) Enjoy living together!

2) Do well in grad school and enjoy it!

3) Do well at my job!

4) Contribute the maximum to all tax-advantaged accounts available to me. This means $5,500 in a Backdoor Roth IRA, $18,000 in a pre-tax 401(k), some additional funds to the after-tax 401(k)*, the maximum to the Employee Stock Purchase Plan (and selling that right away), and the maximum to my Health Savings Account. This will account for probably about 75% of my savings in 2016, though the ESPP funds will be reallocated once they’re sold.

5) 7,000 steps per day.

6) Spend no more than in 2015 ($48,000).

7) Save 70% of my net income before tuition savings account withdrawals. (This is achievable if I spend no more than $48,000.)

8) Increase my liquid funds (including my stock index funds outside of retirement accounts and my Series I Savings Bonds, but ignoring the grad school savings accounts) to two years of living expenses. This means adding $40,000 to my general savings account in 2016, some of which will probably be put into Series I Savings Bonds and/or CDs.

9) Pay down the mortgage with what’s left. I anticipate having about $0 left after all of the other goals in 2016. (I don’t anticipate being able to meet the liquid savings goal in 2016 – my current figures show me coming up about $5,000 short.)

10) Turn my “taxable assets – debts” figure around so that taxable assets are > debts. (This is my “golden” goal for 2016.)

I’m anticipating total compensation from work around $170,000 plus bonus for a net worth increase of around $145,000. I’m anticipating saving about $87,000 of that figure.

*I’ve debated increasing my liquid funds some more before contributing to the after-tax 401(k), but since those contributions are withdrawable with minimal penalties/taxes and I already have a decent enough for now amount of liquid funds, I’m going to do the after-tax 401(k) contributions first.

Spending

  • $23,000 Housing: mortgage payments, HOA dues, property taxes (assuming a 5% increase from 2015), condo insurance, cell phone bill, condo maintenance
  • $3,600 Travel: We both have a reasonable number of points to put towards a trip, but due to various circumstances, I’m not sure if we’ll be able to use them, so I have no idea how much we’ll spend here. I’m going to guess $300/month for now.
  • $3,000 Gifts and Donations: I donate 1% of my gross income to various charities and give about $100 at weddings, birthdays, and Christmas to each person on my shopping list.
  • $2,400 Transportation: car insurance, vehicle tab renewal, fuel, tolls, oil change and wiper blades
  • $2,000 Clothing: guess as to how much I’ll spend
  • $1,400 Entertainment: hanging out with friends
  • $1,000 Recreation: I’m guesstimating 3 pairs of athletic shoes of some sort, a punch card of yoga classes, and a few other activities.
  • $1,000 Medical: I seem to spend about this much per year
  • $900 Personal care: eyebrow waxes, toiletries, facials and massages, and hair cuts.
  • $600 Food: This is just lazy eating out including work lunches.
  • $275 Life: Umbrella insurance and NEXUS card as I renewed my driver’s license and passport in 2015, so they’re good until 2025!
  • $200 Shopping: I replaced my laptop and upgraded my desktop in 2015, as well as buying a new cell phone, two purses, a sunglasses case, and a new computer desk and chair. I think I’m doing just fine in this category, but I’ll leave $200 here as a buffer.
  • $39,375 Total

I’ve written this down as a spending plan, but honestly? These are just the things I know about. For the last several years, I have pretty solidly spent in the $45,000 to $50,000 range. 2014 fell pretty much spot on $48,000, as did 2015. So I honestly believe I will end up spending somewhere closer to that figure than this $39,000 figure. I have a guess I won’t be too spendy since I’ll be otherwise occupied with grad school and I hear that keeping busy helps you to spend less money, but we’ll see how that goes ;)

Instead of budgeting in 2016, I’m simply going to transfer (2015 spending – charitable donations) / 12 to my checking account each month. Why ignoring charitable donations? That budget goes to a savings account that when the budget gets large enough, I’ll switch over to a donor advised fund. I’ll check in in June to see if I am significantly under or overspending that and then I’ll reconcile in December.

End of year forecasting

Including my employer’s contributions to various accounts and expected market contributions, I expect the end of the year to look like:

  • $735,200 in overall net worth (a $143,700 increase)
  • $95,900 in savings (a $36,100 increase)
  • $280,000 in investments (a $71,000 increase)
  • $125,000 in mortgage balance (a $9,000 decrease)
  • -$4,500 in taxable assets – debts (a $43,500 increase)
  • $644,600 until FI (a $116,700 decrease) *note to the naysayers: this is a target to shoot for and once I reach it, I’ll do some more exact calculations because until I reach it, I’m definitely not FI :) Until then, I’m using a 4% SWR of my investments bucket, a paid off mortgage, and the rolling last 12 months of expenses to calculate my target.
  • A split of 14% cash / 48% condo equity / 38% investments (changed from the 2015 EOY of 11% cash / 53% condo equity / 35% investments). At its highest, my condo equity was about 60% of my net worth.

2015 Savings Plan

Now that I’ve started the new job and have a pretty good understanding of all of the benefits available to me, I finally sat down and made a savings plan for the year. I feel so much better having done this! Usually I do this in November/December, so it’s been stressing me out a bit to not have this already done and be so far into the year.

Reminder: Savings Goals

First, let’s check in with the vague savings/investments goals that I made for the year:

2) Contribute the maximum to all tax-advantaged accounts available to me. This means $5,500 in a Backdoor Roth IRA, $18,000 in a pre-tax 401(k) and possibly some additional funds to the after-tax 401(k) and possibly my 2016 Roth IRA amount in a savings account ready to deploy in January. This will account for probably about 2/3 of my savings in 2015.

6) Contribute enough to a Health Savings Account such that Out Of Pocket Maximum ~= Current HSA balance + Employer contribution + my contribution.

7) Succeed at Operation Bayes – I’ll explain this later.

9) Save 70% of my net income monthly…and 100% of my bonuses. (Yay for a big raise that will allow me to save that much of my monthly income!)

10) Contribute the maximum that I can to the Employee Stock Purchase Plan.

11) Pay down the mortgage with any funds that are leftover after 2), including the proceeds of 10).

Plan

I already contributed $5,500 to a Backdoor Roth IRA at the beginning of January, so that’s checked off for sure.

1 – 401(k)

I’ve figured out how to maximize the match on my new employer’s 401(k) and it’s pretty easy. I just have to average X% or more of contributions over the course of the year and I’ll get the full match throughout the year. Easy peasy! I’m going to contribute to the 401(k) evenly throughout the year though. It’s only 90% clear still what they’ll take the 401(k) deductions out of (not sure if it includes my signing bonus or not), so I set the contribution % assuming it includes my signing bonus and I’ll adjust it up later if it doesn’t.

My new employer does allow after-tax contributions to their 401(k) plan! There is a limit though that is less than the IRS limit and I plan to contribute their limit. I’ve set a % on this and if it doesn’t take any money out of my signing bonus, then I’ll increase it, just like with the pre-tax 401(k).

I also need to decide what to do with my old 401(k) and what I’m going to do with the after-tax 401(k) contributions, but I’m going to figure those out later. I still have some time to do that – it’s less urgent.

2 – Health Savings Account

My new employer contributes more generously to a Health Savings Account for me than my last employer did. I still have a small balance in my old Health Savings Account that I need to figure out what to do with. For now, I only want to have the balance in this account cover one year’s maximum outlay, so I set my contribution to meet that gap. I’ll re-evaluate this approach for next year.

3 – Employee Stock Purchase Plan

I’m pretty excited for this! I can contribute up to a certain % of my salary, then at the end of the offering period, the plan administrator buys shares of my employer’s stock at a discount to me! And the plan is pretty sweet in that I can sell the shares immediately with no holding period. I elected to contribute the maximum I can and I’ll use the proceeds from selling these shares to fund the next savings goal in my savings snowball, either cash savings or mortgage paydown.

4 – Cash savings

I’ve estimated how much Operation Bayes will cost if all goes according to plan and decided that I would like to have $60,000 in my savings to cover this and some cash reserves. This is the first item on my savings snowball, so I’m going to work towards this goal and then move back to mortgage paydown. If things don’t go according to plan, then the money here beyond my normal cash reserves will be re-purposed to mortgage paydown. It looks like I should meet this goal with using the ESPP proceeds sometime in July.

5 – Mortgage paydown

Last, but not least, I’ll continue to pay down the mortgage. It looks like this should get around $25,000 in 2015.

6 – Income allotment strategy

With the new job, I get paid twice a month instead of the once a month that I got paid with my last job for, oh, you know, the last forever since it was my only job post-college. This is super weird. My plan though is to continue living off of last month’s income like I guess I have been doing for the last five years, except that I get to earn interest on the mid-month income instead of my employer. I’m still figuring out the logistics of doing this. In a spreadsheet, I’ve portioned off my checking account into two accounts at the moment: buffer and cash flow. I’ll probably just add an income one and put the income as being deposited there until it’s “transferred” to cash flow / savings / mortgage at the end of the month.

7 – Overall

My current calculation shows that I’ll save about 79% of my net income this year! I think my spreadsheet might be a bit confused (I should fix that), but it’s definitely somewhere north of 75%, which is pretty awesome. Including my employer’s contributions to various accounts and expected market contributions, I expect the end of the year to look like:

  • $650,900 in overall net worth (a $119,300 increase)
  • $62,500 in savings (a $14,700 increase)
  • $230,100 in investments (a $65,600 increase)
  • $111,800 in mortgage balance (a $31,200 increase)
  • -$22,900 in taxable assets – debts (a $47,700 increase)
  • $495,700 until FI (a $349,300 decrease) *note to the naysayers: this is a target to shoot for and once I reach it, I’ll do some more exact calculations. Until then, I’m using a 4% SWR of my investments bucket, a paid off mortgage, and a rolling last 12 months’ of expenses to calculate my target.

Goals for 2015

I’m not really sure what to expect from 2015. I’m starting it off with some big changes: my boyfriend having just moved in, our big trip, and then a new job. I’m also considering throwing another big change into the mix (see the mystery goal below), so I’m not sure what things will look like.

1) Enjoy living together! Have an awesome trip to NZ!

2) Contribute the maximum to all tax-advantaged accounts available to me. This means $5,500 in a Backdoor Roth IRA, $18,000 in a pre-tax 401(k) and possibly some additional funds to the after-tax 401(k) and possibly my 2016 Roth IRA amount in a savings account ready to deploy in January. This will account for probably about 2/3 of my savings in 2015.

3) Learn the ropes at my new company and have an awesome first year!

4) Exercise for at least 45 minutes per day. My phone is really helpful at tracking this for me!

5) Go to the gym (or run) three times per week.

6) Contribute enough to a Health Savings Account such that Out Of Pocket Maximum ~= Current HSA balance + Employer contribution + my contribution.

7) Succeed at Operation Bayes – I’ll explain this later.

8) Spend under $40,000.

9) Save 70% of my net income monthly…and 100% of my bonuses. (Yay for a big raise that will allow me to save that much of my monthly income!)

10) Contribute the maximum that I can to the Employee Stock Purchase Plan.

11) Pay down the mortgage with any funds that are leftover after 2), including the proceeds of 10).

Even if I make no extra mortgage payments, the mortgage will pay itself down by about $9,000 in 2015. I’m becoming much less concerned about the mortgage with the smaller balance and the likelihood of the interest rate jumping up to 7.5% when it resets seeming less and less likely. Right now, if it were to reset today, it would likely reset to 2.875%, which would actually lower my required payment by ~$400/month and increase the January 2015 interest cost by about $46.

Overall, I’m anticipating a net worth increase of about $100,000 to $120,000 for the year to increase my net worth to $630,000 to $650,000. I expect my gross income to be somewhere between $140,000 and $150,000 in 2015.

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?

Goals for 2014

This year’s goals are so simple that I feel silly publishing this post! I’ll follow up with an implementation plan later this week.

1) My first priority in 2014 is to continue to develop my relationship with my boyfriend. Things are going great and I want to continue to prioritize that.

2) Rock out at my new job. Without the high-paying job I have, I wouldn’t be able to accomplish any of my financial goals.

3) Max out all tax-advantaged accounts available to me. This means $17,500 to my 401(k), $5,500 to the Roth IRA on January 2nd from savings and $5,500 to a savings account to fund the 2015 Roth IRA.

4) Pay down the mortgage. I would like to get it under $91,284.28. That should keep me on track to paying it off by the end of 2015.

5) Spend less than $39,000 for the year. If I can accomplish this, it would be my cheapest year since graduating from college! This would map out to 4.4 years of expenses saved up, which is about 17.6% of the way to FI if you count it as having 25x annual expenses saved up.

Overall, I’m anticipating a net worth increase of about $115,000 for the year to increase my net worth to about $465,000. (For reference, I expect my gross income in 2014 to be between $160,000 and $190,000.)

New savings goal: take a year off and get my MS full-time

I’ve spent a long time thinking about it and I’ve realized that I’m just not going to do an entire Master’s degree while working full-time. I can’t sustain that level of working for that long and focus on that many things at once. So, instead, I’ve decided to plan on taking a year off to get my MS (Master of Science) at a local university.

One of the things I’ve learned about myself is that I’m much more likely to do something when you take away many of the barriers, especially making it financially in reach. I wasn’t that interested in buying property until I had a ton of cash saved up that I didn’t know what to do with. Now that I’ve got the mortgage balance under $200,000, I’m going to work on saving up the entire cost of tuition for the Master’s degree and a year’s worth of bare bone living expenses, in addition to the $20,000 cash savings buffer I already have. If even with the money saved up to do this, I still don’t want to do it, then maybe I really don’t want to.

I calculated that I need to save about another $57,000 from what I have already started to set aside. In order to save this amount, I’m going to stop making extra payments on the mortgage and send all of my non-retirement account savings to this savings account. I am estimating that I will reach the goal by August to October of next year. If I change my mind and don’t end up going to grad school, I can always throw this money at the mortgage instead. Since I’m still considering this and saving money, I’m not going to consider applying for the 2014-2015 school year and will instead evaluate for the 2015-2016 school year.

What does a bare bones budget look like?

  • $1,205 Mortgage payment (still paying at least the payment on the original loan) – adjust down to the required amount of $1,027. I could also recast the mortgage for a cost of $100, which would lower the required payment to about $800. (savings in cash flow: $400)
  • $21.19 Cell phone – the bare minimum on Ting would be $18.21 per month (savings in cash flow: $3)
  • $31 Internet – this is the bare bones as this is the slowest speed of internet that they offer
  • HOA dues and property taxes – no bare bones version of this
  • $52 Electricity – monthly average. I’ve cut this down quite a bit, but I think I can continue to cut it down further.
  • $99/year ($8.25/month) Dropbox – paying for storage and sync’ing files between my computers. I would keep this.
  • $1,626/year ($135/month) Insurance policies (includes auto and condo policies) and renewing my vehicle tabs. This rate was shopped around for. I would do that again if it helped to lower the rate. There is no way to lower the cost of renewing the vehicle tabs other than to get rid of the car.
  • $163/month (average) Sports. I would eliminate all of these costs and spend time running and doing yoga at home.
  • $3/month (saving to spend) to replace driver’s license and passport as they expire
  • $250/month Entertainment: books, movies, food out with friends, etc. I would cut this down to $75/month since I also eliminated sports. (Savings on cash flow: $175)
  • $20/month Dining out by myself. I would cut this out completely and just count it in Entertainment if I do.
  • $170/month Groceries. I would increase this to $200/month to account for not eating out as much. (Savings on cash flow: $-30)
  • $65/month Work lunches out. I would eliminate this.
  • $42/month Presents. I would reduce this to about $17/month. (Savings on cash flow; $25)
  • $30/month (average) Household goods. This covers toilet paper, light bulbs, paper towels, Kleenex, batteries, laundry detergent, dryer sheets, dish soap, dishwasher detergent, bathroom cleaner, hand soap, etc. I’m still figuring out what this number should be, but this is about the average spent in 2013.
  • $20/month Eyebrows. I would cut this.
  • $6/month (average) Hair cuts. I would go to a hair school instead at a cost of $14/year or an average of $1/month. (Savings on cash flow: $5)
  • $20/month (average) Toiletries: hair elastics, toothpaste, feminine products, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream, hand cream, etc.
  • $8/month (average) Spa. I would eliminate this since I don’t value it all that much.
  • $48/month (future spending) New electronics (cell phone, laptop, modem, purse, MP3 player). I would put off setting aside further money for these until the situation improved.
  • $48/month (average) Fuel for my car.
  • $5/month (average) Maintenance for my car.
  • $350/month (average) Travel. I would eliminate this.

My existing budget adds up to $3,221/month. The bare bones budget version would add up to $2,130, saving about $1,250 per month in cash flow.

Other options include:

1) Selling the furniture in the second bedroom and taking on a roommate. Approximate expense reduction per month: $800, reducing overall bare bones expenses to $1,330, which isn’t bad. That’s just under $16,000/year. This would really help because over half of my expenses in my bare bones budget is housing and because I own my condo, it is trickier to move. If worst came to worst, I could probably sell the condo and pocket about $160,000 in cash, which would help to cover rent later.

2) Selling my car. I could probably sell it for around $11,000, which would eliminate several costs (car insurance, renewing my vehicle tabs, and car maintenance). Technically it would also eliminate the fuel cost, but I would say that would cost just as much as taxis and car sharing would if I had no car. Savings on cash flow: possibly $115/month, but hard to tell based on how much taxis and car sharing would cost. The real advantage here would be gaining the $11,000 from selling the car. If I was in a real bind, I could sell the car and that would provide me another 5 months or so of expenses at the bare bones level.