Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Our Budget; One Slice of Pie Away From Turning Us Into Cannibals

I spent the better part of the afternoon yesterday linking our family finances up to the budgeting tools at Mint.com. A friend had recommended the site to me before the holidays and it became clear last week when I warned Shawn yet again that our joint checking account was on red-alert that I needed to figure our what is becoming of our money. So I signed up. I inputted all of the ugly details about who we owe, where we shop, and what's coming in. The site sends alerts to your email account to keep you abreast of your finances. Within seconds of establishing our account, I got a low-balance alert.

Thanks, Mint.com. That's why I signed up.

I had been fooling myself into thinking that what Shawn and I had was a cash flow problem; that we just needed to redistribute the pay dates for some of our bills and we'd have hundreds left over at the end of each month. The pie chart generated by Mint.com tells a different tale. When I say we spend the entire pie, I do not exaggerate. There is not one crumb to spare. And, the frequent transfers I make from savings to checking--"just this month," to cover this one time thing (a new set of tires, a special birthday gift, Christmas) are because we routinely spend more than we make. This is hard to admit, embarrassing even, but it's true. I gave great lip service to the cuts we would have to make so that I could work part-time, and then we really didn't make any cuts. We'd go out to eat 5 or 6 times a month and then I'd wonder why we we can't save a penny and why we have to limit our gas fill-ups to 1/2 a tank at a time the last couple days before a paycheck.

Here's the good news; a good chunk of our budget is slash-able. The second largest slice of our pie during January was food.

Oink, oink, piggy.

That includes both groceries and restaurants. The dining out is a no-brainer. We aren't rich, eating out once or twice a month is plenty. The hard thing about that for us is we never want to miss anything so it can be difficult to turn down an invite. But I know we can do a better job of focusing on the "can't miss" opportunities to eat out like birthdays or special get-togethers with friends and skipping the "we are bored because it is January in Indiana so let's go get some nachos" nights. Those nights add up with a quickness when both of us have 2 or 3 drinks. We rarely get out of a restaurant for under $50 once we leave a tip. During the month of January, we spent close to $500 eating out. There was New Years, then Jen's birthday, a random pizza night, a girls night, a book club. You get the picture. Going forward, that is going to be unheard of.

Cutting the grocery bill is a different beast. I am a firm believer that spending a little more on organic milk or pastured eggs not only makes good health sense, but it is also the environmentally sound thing to dol. I buy generic stuff when I can, like mouthwash or canned beans or tortillas, but I need to trust that my freshies: veggies, dairy, fruits, fish, etc...

And don't even get me started about cutting out wine. NOT. GOING. TO. HAPPEN. While wine and beer are regularly the culprit for pushing the total on our Meijer receipt from the tens place to the hundreds, I need to have some release. All budget and no play makes Jill a total bitch. So the wine stays.

After all, if I cut out wine, became a total bitch, and Shawn divorced me, then we would have to pay for TWO households instead of just one, and that would be a complete budget-buster. Mint.com would send an alert for sure.


Babs said...

Budgeting's a bitch, but it's also a source of power. I'll have to get the scoop on mint.com from you when you visit me. There's no doubt I've been spending too much lately, especially. Meanwhile, I can (and do) pick up the slack on Violet's wardrobe. There is a powerful grammy robot in me that cannot go through a department store (or art fair or website) without looking for and finding the next beautiful outfit for the little muppet! Love you all!

Corey said...

I did something similar not long ago... after the holidays where we acted like we're millionaires for a month. I have taken to cutting coupons and shopping the sales... the rest of the time I buy walmart's brand (when it's something that doesn't suck) (and we shop walmart cause dan works for them)... there's also a site called the grocery game that cross references store sales wtih coupons... I have a login you can probably use if you want :)

Aly said...

thank god you're not cutting out wine!

I'm with you on the budget. Bouncing ideas off of each other & hearing you talk about mint.com has made me see this as a fun challenge.

Andy likens this all to soccer. Instead of waiting for the ball to come to you, you have to attack it. This has become our new outlook - turning it into a savings game. So in the immortal words of some woman I don't even know... "git that ball, St. Thomas!"

julie said...

I signed up and did the mint.com thing and (for your protection) didn't tell Jason that I heard about it from you. Now I have facts to back up my nagging. $200 a month on cigarettes!?!? $90 a month on pizza at Hot Box? I'd like to say that the information will usher in a new era of fiscal responsibility... a trip to Aldi yesterday yielded a gigormous trunk load of groceries for only $94. Score! Coupons don't do much good because most of my cart is usually filled with produce (which is dirt cheap at Aldi) and things that can't be generic and require a trip to Marsh - like the sacred Cinnamon Goldfish. :-)