food costs challenge – june 2019 report

It’s time for the first full month report for our Food Costs Challenge! June was just about spot on for our target restaurant/fast food spend!

Our goal was $350, and so at $352.40, we were right there! You can also see that our frequency was one of the lowest of the previous year.

So how did it feel? With the exception of being tired a couple nights when we cooked (where we would have previously gone out to eat at a restaurant), it felt pretty okay. We had just a couple of additional conversations where we were deciding when to go out to eat and when to stay home. It didn’t feel hard to me really, probably because…

…we spent significantly more on groceries. We spent $906.48 on groceries, which is so absolutely insane for 3 adults and a child! Our total food costs for the month of June was $1,298.88. So. Much.

I know that we are going to need to address our food costs as a whole. We tent to buy bulk, so I’m hoping that our monthly average goes down over time. We have also had some conversations about making larger quantity, lower cost meals. With an Instant Pot, crockpot, and someone here in the day to start something if we need it, we really shouldn’t have any problems making 2-3 large meals (with 8-10 servings) throughout the week.

I’d love to be between $750-$850 per month for food costs for our family. I think that is a really reasonable goal to aim for. And wow, that’s $500 less than this month. Imagine what we could be doing with the additional $500/month! It’s time to reign it in!

So tell me reader, how was your June? What amazing meal did you eat? What do you think of our June report?

Cheers!
Mel

personal finance structuring

Hi again reader,

Before Al and I got married, our accounts were totally separate. We had a number of conversations about whether or not to combine our finances, and to what extent. At the time, we ultimately decided to keep one or more accounts in our individual names, and then open joint accounts from which we would pay bills.

Since we’ve recently started digging into our finances, I’ve become increasingly frustrated with the way that we’ve been managing our accounts, so we decided to make some changes, and things are now structured like this (some of this has changed, and other parts have remained the same over a long period of time):

  • Joint credit card: This is the card we use the most, where we get our cash back, etc. We pay off all of our credit cards every month. We also have a Lowe’s card (only ever used at Lowe’s) and will soon be closing another credit card.
  • Joint checking: This is where we pay our bills from, including the joint credit card. Auto-payments for recurring expenses come out of this account. We both contribute to it from our personal checking/savings (see below).
  • Joint emergency savings: This is for true emergencies. We are establishing a goal that’ll allow us to pay at least 3 months of our mortgage plus a bit more. We may up it in the future to include more expenses, but for the short term (and because we have the next account), we’re not going to include all monthly expenses.
  • Joint house savings: This account allows us to save for house projects. In the past, we’ve just waited to do larger projects until our joint checking filled up enough, but we wanted to be much more intentional about the way that we do these projects. We will contribute to this account regularly, and when we have a project that we want to tackle, we’ll deplete it (by using our joint credit card and paying it off with this account so that we get the cash back) and then rebuild it.
  • Personal/individual checking and savings accounts: My paycheck gets deposited into my personal checking account, and then I divvy up the money for the above-listed accounts. After each paycheck, I keep a few hundred dollars in both my personal checking account and also my savings. If I use my Target debit card to save 5%, it comes out of my checking, and I use my personal savings for things like buying gifts for my husband. I honestly don’t keep track of the intention of his personal accounts, because he’s very diligent about transferring the money and never misses paying bills; however, I can see these on Mint if I need to.

We can see everything on Mint.com, with the exception of Bo’s 529, since that’s not money for us. All of our accounts (checking, savings, credit cards), debts (just our mortgage right now), investments (our 457b deferred compensation), property/assets, etc. can be seen by both of us. I think it works really well for us.

Do you manage your own finances, share responsibilities, or split the responsibilities? I am always curious as to how others manage their personal finances! Do you have questions or suggestions for us? Drop a comment below, reader!

Cheers,
Mel

reducing expenses – small changes

Happy Tuesday, readers!

In the personal finance realm, I often read that people should reduce their expenses. Obviously that means spend less money. Especially on things that are not important to you. I’ve been looking for ways to reduce recurring expenses (in addition to reducing my food costs, of course). I like seeing real examples so here are three small changes we made recently that will reduce our spending.

  1. Downsized our garbage service: Saving $20/mo. When we started garbage service after we moved in to our house, we got the second smallest garbage can, a standard huge recycle bin, and a yard waste bin. After we had Bo, we needed to increase the size of the garbage can. Now, we rarely fill it up, and almost never fill up our yard waste. Downsizing our garbage can and stopping yard waste service all together is saving us quite a bit of money for making pretty much no change in our lives. Our yard waste goes into the compost bin anyway, and if it doesn’t belong in there, we can take it to the dump or, better yet, see if a neighbor has space in their bin!
  2. Stopped getting my eyebrows done: Saving $20 every other month. I used to get my (very unruly) brows done every other week, but when I got my GovJob (6+ years ago), the brow salon proved too far to go regularly so I was down to once every couple months. Last time I went I thought to myself “I could have done them better anyway”, which would save time AND money. So I did, and they look great and from now on I will spend $0 getting my brows shaped.
  3. Bought cloth napkins: Will start saving us money if we use them for more than a year (and then will save about $20/year). We buy the $9.99 Costco 4-pack of 260 napkins (1,040 napkins total) and since there are 4 of us in the house, we probably go through them pretty fast by using more than 1 per day (we do have a toddler, after all). The cloth napkins were right around $20 on Amazon. We used to use cloth napkins but for a couple years, we’ve been buying paper/disposable napkins. The environmental guilt definitely got to me more than the money on this one.

Those are my examples of small ways that we’ve reduced expenses lately. What other small changes have you made that lower your expenses or impact on the environment?

Cheers,
Mel

multigenerational home

Hello reader,

When Al and I moved into this home, we intended on having 1-2 children. It didn’t take us long to have Bo, but her delivery was much worse than expected. Physically, I would not recover for a full year after her birth. My GovJob gave me more time off than required by allowing me to take off 6 months (they do not offer paid maternity leave, so this was without pay, though I had saved about $8k for this period of time). After 6 months, I came back to work half time and we paid my aunt to watch Bo. That first day it was heart-wrenching to leave her, but I knew she was in great hands.

After a few months, I knew I would need to return to work full time, and my aunt had different plans for work in the fall. I started looking at daycares, and was shocked by the terrible reviews. Though I did expect the high price. Because of her age, it would have been over $1,000/mo for her to go. Al asked me if I wanted his mom, my MIL, to move in temporarily to our house to watch Bo, before finding her own place nearby. My response was “Hell no!

Al had grown up with both sets of grandparents nearby and they had been instrumental to his young life and to his later success. At the time we were considering daycare, his mom was living with his sister to take care of her future children, but they had recently decided to remain childless. His sister and her husband were moving often at the time for work.

We decided to have my MIL come up to watch Bo while my aunt was on vacation. Increasingly frustrated and discouraged by the daycare search, we decided that this could be a trial run for watching baby. At this point, we had not yet talked to her about watching Bo full time. I didn’t want to say it until I felt comfortable with the idea. I was still nervous to leave Bo with anyone at this point (I’m pretty sure that up until this time, only my aunt had watched her).

The week went well! It felt good to have someone watch Bo because they loved her, not because of money. And it was wonderful to be able to get up and go to work without waking the baby up and shoving her into a car seat as she screamed to slow down and cuddle. It was amazing not to have to transport bottles and milk and just leave instructions. I definitely saw the benefits of having a grandma watch her.

When we made the offer for her to move up to watch Bo, she responded “YES!” before we could even get the question out.

A few weeks later, late July, my MIL drove up with her things. She got settled in one of our 4 rooms, and began watching baby. The original goal was to have her find a place nearby by September. Because she had no savings, a small amount of debt, and only Al’s late father’s Social Security, it would be up to us to find a place for her. And apartments were as expensive as daycare, or more.

I’ll be honest in saying that a permanent living situation scared me. I am a private person who sees my living space as a sanctuary. I didn’t want to censor or adjust much. Fortunately, my MIL fits into our living situation and family dynamics well. We’ve had our fair share of “figuring this all out”. It hasn’t been seamless. But ultimately we decided that her staying with us permanently is the best thing for everyone.

Having a multigenerational home allows us to share costs for things like food, heat, and home supplies. It allows us to be close and build a more solid family unit. We are fortunate that we bought a split-bedroom home (the master bedroom is on one side of the house, and the other bedrooms on the other) so that everyone has some privacy. I don’t feel like I’ve lost my sanctuary. In fact, there’s nothing better than going directly home (no stopping at daycare) to a well-rested child, an empty dishwasher, and a happy pup (he’s not alone all day).

Now, I feel very fortunate to have my MIL live with us. My peers are often shocked about this. I initially looked at it as “high risk, high reward”, and though there are challenges, the reward far outweighs the adjustments that we’ve made. Amongst our peers in this area, our living situation seems unusual. But the culture of siloed family units is historically unusual in itself.

Who comprises your cherished community (whether it be family, friends, coworkers)? How have you built and strengthened community?

Cheers,
Mel

lifestyle leap, lifestyle creep

As you now know, reader, we “upgraded” (in the classic sense of the word) from a small apartment to a house. Our apartment was 1bd/1ba, 690 sq.ft., and our house is 4bd/2.25ba, 2300 sq.ft. on a half acre. The change was drastic.

As soon as we moved into the house, things started breaking. The house was built in 2003, but looks like it was made with the cheapest materials that 1995 had to offer. Brass boob lights? Check. Beige carpet, walls, ceiling? Check. The house had been empty for almost 5 years, so within the first couple weeks of moving in, all rubber seals cracked. There’s nothing like coming home to the smell of burned plastic, which you soon realize is a result of a cheap, old water heater starting up again for the first time… and then completely failing. After a week or so, I wondered aloud if we could handle this much house.

The money we have spent on this house is astonishing, we’ve purchased a number of appliances, all landscaping had been so overgrown that we ultimately tore it all out and replaced it with new landscaping. The half acre of grass took almost 3 hours to mow with a push mower, so we bought a riding lawn mower. And more tools. And we have been renovating, as the house has outdated finishes, so walls came down, light fixtures have been replaced, curtains purchased and hung, and the list goes on.

In the apartment, we often biked to work, which was fantastic because we lived about 4 miles from work and could bike to work on a paved path. In the house, we live 8 miles from work. Our 40 minute round-trip ride now takes us 80 minutes round-trip. You can probably guess how often we bike with the increased distance, especially considering that life has infinitely more responsibilities. Like, almost never. This is still a hard one to swallow for us.

But, it’s not all bad. It turns out that we both get a lot of fulfillment from doing house projects ourselves. Al has some construction experience from when we was younger, so we rarely hire anyone to do anything in our house or yard (with few exceptions for things that are not worth our time, or are dangerous to do ourselves). As we redo the landscaping, we do it ourselves, digging out old roots, sifting the rocks out of the soil, planting baby trees and shrubs. We have been given some plants as gifts, and we made sure that our front yard is bee-friendly. We’ve built a huge dining table and a pavilion. At this point, working on our house is more of a hobby than a necessity.

And we still love biking. Our house is still on the same trail as the apartment was, but in a much quieter and safer location. Now that we have a toddler, and she likes being in the bike trailer, we have started to bike again with her! I love hearing “Mom! I’m in the bike trailer!” from behind me as I ride.

The house has filled up, too. After we got married in 2015, we got our dog Bear. Soon after that I got pregnant and we had our baby girl Bo in August of 2016. And then, when I needed to return to work full time, we made the decision to move Al’s mom in from out-of-state. That’s a whole different post for a whole new day, but the point is that the house filled up quickly. And those 3 rooms that we were not utilizing, are now full (..and yes, the dog uses the guest room. It’s basically his room).

So while I often long for the simplicity of the apartment, I cherish the adventures and experience that we’ve gained in the house. And as we’ve gained the tools and experience, things have gotten easier. But I truly believe that, when this house no longer serves us, we will downsize and once again cultivate a simple lifestyle. And when we do that, I won’t be focused so much on the future, but on the simplicity of the present.

So tell me, reader, how have major lifestyle changes affected the way you live? Maybe you moved to a new type of city, or maybe you’ve upgraded or downsized…? How has your perspective changed once you’ve gotten into a new situation?

Cheers,
Mel