Making Tough Choices Really Sucks Sometimes

money

Another financial whine coming on, kids.

This winter, Todd and I dreamed up the idea of going on a road trip to visit my bestie in Ottawa. This was a great plan for many reasons. 1.) It gave us something to look forward to over the winter, when let’s just say the weather here was less than ideal; 2.) We absolutely love going on road trips together and haven’t been on a nice long one in quite some time; 3.) Relatively speaking, a road trip is a fairly inexpensive way to travel; 4.) And last but not least, I haven’t laid eyes on my bestie in person in TEN YEARS. Ten. Shameful. We haven’t even met each other’s husbands!

So we dreamed up the plan. Booked the vacation days. It was going to be a whirlwind trip but hey, it was something. My bestie and I started getting pretty excited about the prospect of us finally being together again for some laughs and good times.

And then of course, the whole “income tax debaucle” happened, meaning that the money we had earmarked for our road trip really needed to go elsewhere. We had a few other unexpected financial setbacks happen the same week (including a huge ticket for forgetting to renew our car’s license plates as well as paying for the actual renewal).

I’m fairly certain that old Todd and old Kelly would have said “screw it” and just gone on that trip anyhow. In fact, I’m positive of it. We would have decided that we’d worry about paying those things off later in favour of having fun right now. This time, however, we sat down, crunched numbers, and had a serious conversation. The conclusion, of course, was that it wasn’t in our financial interests to take the trip.

Sigh.

The good news is that we’re learning. We’re showing more restraint than we did in the past, keeping ourselves focused on our end game, rather than throwing caution to the wind whenever the fancy strikes us. Which is great for our long game, but kind of crummy for the here and now.

Still…progress is progress. Right now, that is the thing we have to focus on.

Until next time,

~Kelly

 

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Dealing with Financial Setbacks

 

taxes

I know, I know….it’s been a while since I’ve written. Normally that would be because we’re just plugging along, with nothing interesting to report. Unfortunately that hasn’t been the case here.

Sigh.

Remember my previous post about how (relatively) great things have been going? We’ve been sticking to the budget, bills were getting paid, and we were still squeaking out a little money here and there for date nights and such?

Well, I kind of feel like perhaps I was tempting the financial gods with that post. Just a couple of weeks after that, Todd and I sat down to do our taxes. I was feeling alright about it, to be honest. In previous years I’ve always gotten a refund of some kind (a couple of years I got fairly generous ones), and although I wasn’t expecting much, there was a tiny hope in the back of my mind that I would get even a teensy little something.

Um…yeah. Not so much. Turns out, I owe a big ole’ chunk of money to the government for taxes last year.

How’s that possible, you ask?

Well, Todd and I got married back in August, 2013. Prior to that, I was a single mom who was able to claim one of her kids as the equivalent to an unemployed spouse. This is a huge tax break. On top of that, I was also paying a fair bit into child care expenses, which is also a nice little tax break. What I didn’t realize was how much these two things added up to over the course of a year in terms of taxes.

Last year when I filed my 2013 taxes, I still received a bit of a refund. We didn’t get married until August, and so I was able to again, claim my daughter up until that time. We were also still paying for after school child care.

2014 comes and I don’t give my taxes a second thought. Our daughters stopped going to after school care and still, nothing clicked in my mind. And then suddenly…boom. It’s tax time.

<insert horror-movie-style-scream-here>

The end story is that we’ve got a fair bit of money that needs to be paid back to the government. On top of that, I have had my tax contributions adjusted for this year, which means that our monthly budget is getting squeezed just that much more, since I have a smaller take-home pay.

How has this affected our financial plans?

Well…our plan has taken a significant hit. I had a bit of money set aside that was going to be used to fully pay off one of our credit cards, which now needs to be used as a down payment on our tax bill. We’re still in the process of re-arranging and re-adjusting things to make up for both paying off this additional bill, as well as dealing with the lower pay amount.

While I’m in a better head space about this than I was initially, having had time to process it all, I’m still pretty bummed. I know we have no choice but to just keep pressing onwards, sticking to the (now-modified) plan and doing our best.

That’s all any of us really can do, isn’t it?

Until next time,

~Kelly

The Day We Blew The Budget to Smithereens

untitled So, since planning and implementing our budget late last year, I’ve got to say that Todd and I have done a pretty dang good job of sticking within that budget. We stick to the budget that we have set for ourselves, and we even plan ahead for things coming up down the road (like birthdays, etc). So all in all, we’ve been feeling pretty good about things.

And with those good feelings, came a bit of complacency, methinks.

This past Saturday we did our usual grocery shopping. We split it up over several different locations, in order to ensure that we get the best deals going. We make stops at a local place called Gateway Meat Market (that always has at least one or two crazy insane cheap items — like this past week, broccoli for 17 cents per head!), sometimes Walmart, Costco, depending on what we need, with our last stop always being the actual grocery store itself.

This weekend we made stops at Gateway, Costco, and finally the grocery store. As we were at our last stop, pulling up to the cash register it hit me: we weren’t going to meet our budget this time.

And boy, was I ever right on that. In fact, not only did we end up being over, but we ended up being WAY over. So much over that we spent all of this week’s allotted grocery amount, and almost all of next week’s, too.

So how it in the blue hell did THAT happen?

Looking back there were lots of reasons for it. Many of these things could have been prevented, but again, my complacency led me down the wrong road.

1. This week is an irregular week.

Our youngest daughter turned 10 on Sunday and so this week we’re having a big birthday feast to celebrate. Our family tradition is that the birthday person gets to choose any meal they want. This year, Mo chose home made sushi. This is something we only usually make a couple of times year, just because it’s one of the more expensive meals when you consider all the extra things (like seafood) that need to be purchased. Still…it’s her once a year birthday request, so who am I to say she can’t have it?

2. I didn’t do a pre-shop inventory.
Usually, in order to stay on budget, I create a meal plan, which involves first taking stock of what we already have in the house. Last week was insanely busy at work, and I just didn’t have the time (or the energy) to go through my freezer and cupboards like I normally do. I went by memory, which means that — whoops! — I wasn’t sure what we did and didn’t have in the house already. This resulted in buying a lot of things we didn’t really need this week — rice vinegar, sushi rice, coffee cream…after I started putting things away at home, I realized that we’d bought a number of things that we didn’t really need to buy at all. Let’s just say we’ll be eating a whole lot of apples for the next little while. Sigh.

3. I strayed from my list.

One of the cardinal rules for staying on budget when grocery shopping is to make a list and stick to it. These past few months I’ve been pretty good with doing exactly that. But this week, I’ll admit, I fell into the trap of making a few extra purchases. “Oooooh! Look! Pork is on sale. I should pick up a couple of packages.” (Not on the list). “Wow! This giant package of Naan at Costco is a great deal!” (Also not on the list). “Let’s pick up some extra seafood for that chowder to make it extra delicious.” (Again, not an item that had been planned for). While unpacking all of our groceries I was able to see just how many extras we’d picked up. There were quite a few of them.

4. I shopped while I was hungry.

I know…I know. It’s one of those things that everyone knows, right? Never grocery shop when you’re hungry. Todd and I had been out running around all day, doing a ton of errands and other than some coffee and a gluten free muffin from the Farmer’s Market, I hadn’t eaten anything else all day. Big mistake. Shopping hungry likely had a lot to do with all those extras I slid into the cart (“Yum! Sweet potatoes!” “A little extra bacon won’t hurt…” “Gluten free cookies! Just what I need!”) So yeah. I can confirm that there’s a reason why “they” say don’t go shopping hungry.

So all of these factors worked together against me to result in a whopping grocery bill when all was said and done. Now, in the past, I would have simply shrugged, chalked it up to “life” and shopped again as usual the following week. Likely putting it on the credit card.

Well…not this time.

After a quick conversation, Todd and I decided how to handle this overage. Since we basically spent all of next week’s grocery money, the only thing we can do is not spend any more until next payday (March 13th). Of course, there’s still $13-ish left in our grocery budget (which is good, considering I forgot to pick up dish detergent — whoops!), which we are free to spend, but if there are any food purchases that are required over and above that amount, we are left with two choices:

1. Suck it up and make do; or

2. Find the money somewhere else (and by somewhere else, I mean not credit cards or our savings account).

So that’s the plan. The good news is that our house is basically crammed to almost overflowing with good food, so making it through the next couple of weeks theoretically shouldn’t be that challenging. Of course, I’m saying that two days after buying food.

I could be singing a whole other tune come March 11th or 12th.

Time will tell, I guess.

Until next time,

~Kelly

 

Breadmaker, Schreadmaker

I’m sure many of you remember my back-and-forth struggle about my bread maker. I purchased one — on sale! — determined to use it to make bread and other tasty treats for my family.

And then, after the dang thing sat in the box for several weeks, I made the decision to return it. Since, well, a good deal on a bread maker means zilch if you’re not actually going to use it.

I’ve made bread from scratch only a handful of times in my life with moderate success. This past weekend I decided to make another kick at the can; after all, home made bread is a whole lot cheaper and tastier than the stuff you  buy at the store.

So I set myself to it armed with a recipe given to me by my mother years ago for a roll recipe that I modified only slightly. And guess what? It turned out great. Better than great, actually — my girls and Todd both confirmed that they preferred my home made bread over my mothers.

But shhhh! Don’t tell her they said that!

The big lesson here that I’m taking away from this is that sure, making things from scratch does take more time, but when you’re looking to cut costs, it’s definitely the way to go. Convenience often ends up costing us more money.

And you know what? If *I* can make home made bread from scratch without a bread maker, then you can too.

You just might surprise yourself.

Until next time,

~Kelly

The finished product. Declared "better than grandma's!" by my family. Win.

The finished product. Declared “better than grandma’s!” by my family. Win.

Save It, Don’t Step On It

driving

I’ve always been a guy who drove a certain speed. Of course, that speed was above the limit.

Heck, I remember my first year as a full-time driver. I was 16 and was full of piss & vinegar. I was ready to take on the world in my used Honda Civic.

However, three speeding tickets in six months sent me straight to the bicycle lane. From that moment, I’ve always had cruise control on my cars because I’ve got a lead foot.

Have you ever heard that you can save gas mileage by driving a bit slower on the highway? I never really believed it was that big of a difference until I started tracking my own mileage.

As I’ve mentioned before, I drive a 682km round-trip every two weeks so I can spend the weekend with my son. That, my friends, is a lot of fuel being consumed by my vehicle. I drive a 2014 Kia Forte, which isn’t the most efficient car on the market but is still pretty darn good.

The speed limit on the majority of the trip is 110km/hr (or 68mph). I always used to go around 124km/hr (or 77mph) because the police still didn’t pull people over for going that fast. Usually (and I’m only speaking from experience), police pulled people over if they were going 15 kilometres over the speed limit. I figured if I stayed between 120km/hr and 125km/hr, then I was fine.

What I didn’t realize was the money I was blowing and the fuel I was wasting.

I would fill up my car before I left on my trip. The car would take up about a half tank for the one-way trip (or more…never less).

These days I still drive above the speed limit (I know, I know…) but it’s normally 114km/hr (71mph). That reduction in speed has allowed me to go one way for less than a half tank. I have gone from being able to drive 550kms (342 miles) on a full tank to driving 600kms (373 miles) on a full tank.

That kind of fuel consumption, especially over the course of a year, really adds up. So the next time you’re on the highway and you’re wanting to get there a little faster, trust me when I say that going the speed limit (or even a little bit above it) will not only get you there safer, but it will save you a few extra bucks in fuel, as well.

  • Todd

Spending Money to Save Money: Revisited

So…remember my braggy blog post about my new bread maker? How I waxed poetic about sometimes you have to spend money now to save money in the long run?

Well, I’ve been thinking about that bread maker all week. More than all week, really, ever since I bought the behemouth almost three weeks ago. For three weeks, that bread maker has been sitting in the box it came home in, taunting me. First it occupied space in my kitchen, and then when I got sick of it living there, I moved it into the living room to “get it out of the way for now”. I looked up new recipes, I dug up old ones that I used when I owned a bread maker previously. I talked about that bread maker and I thought about it a lot, as I walked past that box sitting in the corner of my living room.

And then yesterday it hit me. It was still in the box. Almost three weeks after making the initial purchase, I still hadn’t taken my new “baby” out of the dang box. I realized that this bread maker was all about good intentions, but that when it comes right down to it, saving money or not, I just don’t have the time, energy or interest in using it — at least not enough to make the cost worth it. Not to mention the valuable real estate it would take up in my very small kitchen. And haven’t I been talking about how I need to de-clutter and simplify my life, too?

Here’s the thing I realized. I can make bread without an appliance if I so desire. Sure, a bread maker would save me a bit of time, but there’s no way it would get the regular use that I’d initially envisioned. So I cornered sat down with Todd to talk about this (now) infamous bread maker. An exciting new appliance that sat in the box, untouched (save a browse through the manual on the day it was purchased), that turned out to be not so exciting after all. I knew what we had to do, and he agreed (home made bread maker pizza dough be damned).

So yesterday we marched ourselves back to the scene of the crime and made the return. And honestly, our bank account thanked us for it. And the guilt for having made that unnecessary purchase melted away immediately. And I gained some much-needed space in my home on top of everything else.

I’m pretty sure this weekend I’m going to carve out some time to make that loaf of home made bread I’ve been promising my husband for at least three weeks now. From scratch, without the help of fancy, unnecessary appliance. 😉

The New Budget – The First Test

magic money jars

Well, with November starting you may remember that this is the beginning of our new “test budget”. November and December will be about us testing out our newly created budget, so we can get all our ducks in a row for January 1. This past Friday was our first pay in November, which meant one thing: go time.

One of the things that we decided to do was to use the “Magic Jar” method suggested by Gail Vaz-Oxlade in her book “Debt-Free Forever”, which I’m currently reading. I’ll b writing about this more in-depth later, but the basic idea is that you take your variable income (for things like food, entertainment, gifts and clothing, etc) and put the cash money you have budgeted for these amounts into different jars (or envelopes). You spend from these and when the money is gone, it’s gone. Todd and I decided to give it a try as a way to help us keep our spending in check for certain items. Although Gail has her own suggestions for spending categories, we decided to break things down a little bit differently for our own purposes.

On Friday I took money from our bank account, and on Friday evening I carefully divided everything up into our Magic Money Jars. I was feeling quite pleased with myself, actually.

Saturday morning we got up to go to the Farmer’s Market and to the grocery store for our Saturday errands. I took money from the Groceries/Personal care jar and we were off on our happy way.

Later that day, we’d planned to go visit my mom and her new husband down in the Annapolis Valley. We had my daughters for the weekend, and we were taking a short road trip for a little visit with their nanny. Before we were getting ready to go, Todd mentioned that we should stop and get milkshakes for a little treat for everyone along the way. My first thought was “Great! Fun! The girls will love this!” and then my second thought was, “Hold up a second. That’s not in the budget.”

Old Kelly and Old Todd would have spent the money without a second thought and worried about dealing with it later. We both have a tendency to stick our heads in the sand when it comes to spending (spend now, worry later). Sure, $20 or so on milkshakes isn’t a lot of money, but $20 here and $20 there and soon we’re completely off budget and needing to whip out those credit cards to make ends meet before next payday.

Exactly what got us into deep doo-doo to begin with.

So I hauled Todd aside. “Listen, I’m fine getting milkshakes this afternoon, but this is an unplanned expense. We need to find another place in the budget to pull that money from first, before we go out.”

And yes, my husband did roll his eyes, just a little bit. But he knew that I was right. (Gosh, I love it when that happens). We made the quick decision to steal use money from our “Date night” jar, so the four of us could have a “milk shake date” together.

Problem solved. No deep doo-doo. At least not this time.

I think Saturday showed us a couple of things. It showed us that we’re going to have to pay close attention, at least for the first little while, and this is likely going to take more work than we’d initially anticipated. I think maybe we thought that creating the budget was the hard work; I think it’s looking like the hard work has really just begun.

But you know what? Another thing this milkshake incident taught me is that if we do stop and pay attention, then we can absolutely do this.

Until next time,

~Kelly