December Reflections and a Gentle Reminder

Family portrait fail…. cat got bored, dog got curious, people were too busy laughing at the futility of getting dog and cat to sit nicely in proximity to each other ūüôā

December was a month of spendy spending.

The majority of outflow was already budgeted for but a chunk of overtime on one paycheck led to a couple of impulse purchases that could’ve easily waited. ¬†I’d increased my holiday food budget after going over plan at Thanksgiving, and went even further over plan in December. ¬†Part of this was due to a last minute (as in Friday 12/23) request to have some of my son’s friends over for Christmas day and dinner that resulted in grocery/small gift shopping at 4pm Christmas Eve. ¬†I wouldn’t trade that choice for anything, however, as I’m an introvert that rarely hosts and it was an absolute ball! ¬†One of the biggest reasons I want to reach financial independence is to be able to choose time with my¬†loved ones¬†over my budget every time. ¬†It was so much fun to cook for more than just me/kiddo, and my already-planned simple menu was vocally appreciated (just another reason I love spending time with this group of people!).

Alright, on to the numbers!  First up, bills:

My lower water usage in the winter is reflected in my bill. ¬†Because I’d planned for December to be a larger-than-usual spending month in other areas, I was still able to pay more toward my debt than the minimums. ¬†A pleasant surprise!

 

Now ‘fessing up to the grand ol’ internet what I chose¬†to spend my hard-earned money on over the month:

I’ve included my 2016 monthly averages as a check for myself — 2016 was out of control for spending without paying attention in some months and July alone led to me researching frugal living ideas. ¬†On one hand my misstep is a good thing because it led me to a whole online world of personal finance where before I’d been happily settled in the minimalist/simple living gardens of the internet. ¬†On the other hand, my spending rate was by no means sustainable!

  • Groceries — ¬†$284 was spent on December 23rd and 24th alone! ¬†Eek! ¬†Aldi was out of quite a few things on my list including a meat cut that ended up being quite pricy at the third store I went to after discovering many close by 4pm (hello katscratch!). ¬†Aside from the main dishes, that were gobbled up within the day, snack foods have kept us going for the past week and provided New Years Eve snacks, so my ineptitude in planning for teen appetites on the small bites side worked to my advantage after all ūüôā ¬†Without surprise-hosting for both holidays I would’ve spent approximately $180 less by my list but it was so fun having people over that would’ve been on their own – I’m pretty sure we collectively saved money by eating together and definitely created more Christmas cheer and New Year’s optimism!
  • Pets — One bag of cat food. ¬†Dog is still going strong on his giant Costco bag. ¬†Last year’s average was affected by end-of-life expenses for one of our kitties.

    My trusty winter steed!
  • Bikes — Um, yeah, I spent quite a bit on winterizing my son’s mountain bike for my commute usage. ¬†Studded tires, bar pogies made by my bike mechanic, full coverage fenders that had to be custom-fit, ski goggles with a clear lens, and platform pedals (my son is a clipless pedal rider; I am decidedly not after months of trying). ¬†All of which I waited to purchase until I knew I’d get proper usage, and all of which were researched and will last years and years. ¬†It’s actually been fun riding in icy and snowy conditions and the tires made all the difference on our group ride this month – a nice night with no wind but freezing rain that caused more than a few spills among the group (but not me!).
  • Auto maintenance — One pair of Bridgestone Blizzak snow tires for the front. ¬†I was going back and forth about these but after being called in to work on a weekend and not getting there for over an hour due to slipping on side roads, I took the plunge. ¬†These also will last years and years…. I held out last year but ended up renting a car with 4WD to drive to my kiddo’s college in January so the expense will be worthwhile. ¬†My auto shop is amazingly honest and fair-priced, always giving different options including used parts, so I went with their recommended tire for my vehicle.
  • Gasoline — Three fill-ups.
  • My spending — Replacement of two items: a coffee grinder (I’ve been without for months but pre-ground coffee is starting to bother my stomach) and ski goggles. ¬†The initial goggle purchase fell under my commuting budget but I LOST them loading my bike onto a bus rack and found a pair half off after Christmas. ¬†I’m going to try riding with the stock (not clear) lenses. ¬†I feel pretty dumb not even noticing mine went missing, but they made a world of difference in cold and wind where my glasses were fogging up like crazy.
  • Family/Friend Funtimes / Say Yes! — $29 for dinner out with the kiddo, $53 for a fatbike rental for kiddo on our group ride (these rides are SO MUCH FUN), and $76 for board games and puzzles at our favorite store. ¬†The latter is already providing many returns ūüėČ
  • Everything Else — gifts, including last minute items for holiday guests, cards, and pre-purchasing a particular gift for a friend’s birthday next summer.
  • Kiddo’s Expenses — includes all his food, transportation, and school expenses plus entertainment spending. ¬†This month included a new pair of shoes.

 

I spent a lot of money this month.

You spent WHAT?!?! And no dog treats?!

If I wasn’t a diehard YNAB user that looked at last year, looked at my current hobbies and needs (namely cycling), and put money aside for the past four months, I would not have been able to make my spending work this month. ¬†I wouldn’t have been able to easily absorb the impulse spending on guests and games, and I probably wouldn’t be starting the new year without adding to my debt.

It’s OK to be gentle with myself that I spent a lot of money, because my spending made my life better.

My hobby spending led directly to great conversations with new friends on our group bicycle ride as well as bonding with my kiddo both during the ride and ¬†cycling in the snow on our way home. ¬†Other than the disappointing spend on replacement goggles for cycling, every line item I reviewed was in line with my priorities to first and foremost Say Yes to time with those I love. ¬†The goggles were in line with my priorities to not freeze my eyeballs or fog my lenses to the point I can’t see at stoplights, so I suppose that’s still a win ūüôā

It’s OK to be gentle with myself for my missteps last month, because I learned a lot and loved even more.

A few months ago I would have looked at my spending and felt incredibly guilty, then probably even more anxious over how in the world I’d gotten so close to digging myself back into a hole. ¬†But looking back at this month? ¬†I feel grateful that I only had to experience the sensation of snowflakes in my eyeballs one night so far. ¬†I feel exhilarated at the idea of continuing my monthly group bicycle rides, and inspired by the long-time cyclists that have taken my very-novice self in as one of their own. ¬†I feel absolutely smitten with cycling in the dark and snowy icy roads when nobody is out, even though I’m only riding to the train station. ¬†The early hours are magical and I get to experience them by feel and sound and smell, warm in my winter clothing and gear, where last year I was miserably still in my cold car, half asleep and resenting the hour. ¬†I spent two holidays at home with people I care about, laughing and eating and telling stories, and not a hangover among us. ¬†We ate some darn tasty food and played some delightfully fun games. ¬†I am loving my life and am finally at a point that going over budget won’t destroy the rest of my finances.

It’s more than OK to love my life right now even though I work more than I want and spent more than I want. ¬†I’m living a relatively easy¬†life in a fabulous city with fabulous friends, recently turned strangers into regular cycling buddies,¬†and have a loving family.

Looking back at my numbers over the course of the year, I made some huge blunders but learned a LOT and now have a concrete plan for the future.  What a great end to my year!

The best part is that my calendar tells me I get to try again next month! ¬†It’ll be even better this time around because I’m getting crazy frugal with over 8000 other Frugalwoods’ followers, so the future is looking pretty great.

How was your December? Your year? Are you making drastic changes or fine-tuning financial choices for 2017?

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November Reflections and December Goals

My goal for November was to increase debt repayment to $1300.  This includes student loans, partial car loan, medical bills, and consumer debt but not my mortgage.  This number also is half my biweekly take-home income.  My current plan has me debt free in less than 3 years and it will be amazing to free up 50% of my take-home pay for retirement funds!

Here are my November expenditures via YNAB screenshot:

First up, bills.

november-bills

Electric and Gas are on monthly budget plans; Internet is fiberoptic; Cell Phones are for two smartphones including data. ¬†My Auto Insurance was up for renewal so I shopped around and saved 55% compared to my previous plan! ¬†I paid six months in full and saved even more. ¬†Amazon Prime was an impulse purchase last year but the kiddo has used it frequently for school-related items. ¬†More recently I’ve used it a lot for Prime Reading and a bit for video and music. ¬†We collectively decided this is a worthwhile expense for our family.

Next up, spends.

Debt Payment:  Met my goal.  It helps me judge my past spending choices less to think of these payments as a savings rate, hence the subtitle.

Groceries: ¬†Three months in to the college year, kiddo and I have dialed in our individual grocery spending while we’re in different states. ¬†This month showed me that when we’re both home and both hosting for a holiday we haven’t quite found that sweet spot yet. ¬†I’m pleased we were close.

Pets: ¬†One bag of cat food. ¬†This is the first time I’ve bought the large size (compared to 1/3 the amount for $13-15), so hopefully it doesn’t get too stale for his palate. ¬†The pup was switched to Costco’s grain free food last month, and I’m hoping the same for his food – he’s not even halfway through the bag yet.

Bicycle: ¬†This year has been a spendy year for bicycles in my household. ¬†I hadn’t ridden in years so am slowly acquiring gear needed for long tours, camping, and winter riding. ¬†I’ve taken time to research each purchase and also made sure I truly love riding enough to warrant the cash outflow. ¬†This purchase was at my local shop to replace a headlight that went missing — a must now that my commute is dark on both ends of the day.

Auto:  Thanksgiving break was the week of car drama in our household!  First a tire valve snapped when adding air to a low tire.  $30 at my neighborhood shop.  Then a rear strut mount broke, leading kiddo to buy an $18 heavy duty bond as a temporary fix to get home.  The shop replaced both rear struts and shocks for $395.  My vehicle is a 2008 Mazda 5 purchased last year (replacing a 2000 Mazda) that has overall been an excellent value, giving me the high gas mileage of my former car with the cargo space of a much larger vehicle.

My Personal Spends:  Took kiddo and his friend to dinner for $46.  They are seriously some funny, thoughtful young people and it was an absolute joy.  Bought snow pants and a very old made-in-England shetland wool vest for biking at a thrift store, $12.  Bought nordic skiing gloves split in between the fore- and middle fingers, a clearance reflective backpack cover, and REI brand wool glove liners for $14 at REI after a gift card balance.

Kiddo Expenses: ¬†He has no “allowance” or limit; rather, we have regular conversations about what his needs and wants are and what expenses are his priorities. ¬†Back to car drama! ¬†Kiddo has done nearly all of the work on his car himself. ¬†His only request for Christmas was winter tires for $293 which we kept logged as his expense instead of a gift so we have an idea about his real costs throughout the year. ¬†He ran into trouble getting one of the wheels off, then once that was resolved (after a couple minor tool purchases) he ran into trouble with the clutch. ¬†He used items around the house to diagnose the problem and after yet another trip¬†to the auto store fixed it. ¬†He also purchased some video games online (deeply on sale), a few clothing items, and a few snack purchases while out with his friends. ¬†Oh, and he bought a Christmas tree! ¬†Our first non-potted tree in years, and it smells fantastic.

Note the kitty who also has been “enjoying” the tree. He may or may not be the reason there are no hanging ornaments ūüėČ

I didn’t contribute to “Savings” as I am really wanting to obliterate all my debt categories as soon as possible. ¬†I use this for vacation spending primarily.

I’m happy with this month and stuck to my plans when it came to non-essential purchases.

 

Looking forward, now that we’re in December and it’s fully winter:

I will spend quite a bit to winterize my bicycle and continue building my gear stash. ¬†In the past I’ve left my house only for work and going out to music venues with alcohol to keep me from freezing during the concert. ¬†I am often cold and have slowly accepted that yes, I do need to invest in clothing and gear that will keep me warm if I want to remain active outdoors in subzero temperatures.

My frugal rules for spending will continue: No coffee out, cook all my meals including for work, no entertainment spending. ¬†The standing exceptions are one food outing with kiddo and his friends. ¬†I’m considering making an exception for a newer neighborhood music venue that has a really great ethic and is important to people I care about.

I will likely buy something small for Christmas even though we’ve already purchased kiddo’s gift.

Looking back at last year, and car expenses aside, I’ve spent 60% less than what I previously thought was “normal” and a “tight budget”, so I’m doing well in terms of having changed my mindset and habits!

 

What about you?  Do you plan to spend extra for the holiday season or for winter in general?

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