Coming off the last post, in which I outed my family’s 2016 spending (and discovered that our habits were even worse than I feared), it’s time to look ahead at all we’ve been doing to get things in order. It has been a very busy week in that regard!
On a macro note, we’ve been having Conversations About Money. A lot of them! We talk about money pretty regularly anyway, but the past few weeks have been on another level. And it’s been great! We’ve concluded so far that:
A. We’re both committed to getting our spending down so we can leave the super-demanding jobs we’re not loving, but
B. We don’t want to sacrifice our happiness while doing it. I’ve been thinking of it like the difference between going on a crash diet (which doesn’t lead to long-term changes for most people) and making sustainable lifestyle changes that actually feel good while you’re doing them. We agree that some things that cost less actually make us happier than the more expensive alternative (cooking our own food, for just one example. Not that we don’t like going out to eat — actually we’re both adventurous eaters and love trying out different places around the city. But most of the eating out we do now is for convenience more than enjoyment.)… The trick is to carefully consider each time we spend money and ask the question: is this something I would enjoy NOT spending money on? The answer is often yes! I’ll go into more examples in future posts.
So let’s get to specifics. We’ve already done a few things to bring down our fixed spending:
- We price shopped our car insurance, which we haven’t done in a few years, and found out we could save $1000/year by switching to Geico (yeah, I’m not getting paid by them to say that, either). The rates were not that different last time we priced it out, but now they are. So that was an easy win.
- We raised the deductible on our homeowners’ insurance. It’s still at a level we can afford if something goes wrong, but the premium is a little lower, and it will still cover us in case of a catastrophe.
- We found out our employer has a dependent care FSA that should save us some money (about $900/year?) on daycare by paying for it pre-tax. But it’s not really a full $900 because I think by taking this we don’t get to take the child care tax credit. I’m not sure exactly how the math on that will work out, but we should still come out ahead. Just for this little exercise, I’ll estimate we may save $500 for the year.
- My husband cancelled his gym membership, which he started a few months ago and has not gotten into the habit of using.
- We’re thinking about our subscription entertainment services. Right now, we have a FIOS internet/basic cable/HBO and Showtime package ($95/mo), an Audible account ($16/mo), Netflix ($9/mo), Amazon Prime ($75/year, which works out to $6.25/mo), and a Sunday only subscription to the New York Times ($45/mo). That’s a lot of reading/watching opportunities for two people with limited downtime and aspirations of doing lots of other things when not working! We’re considering our options. We’re definitely keeping the Internet, but everything else is potentially on the chopping block; we already turned off our Netflix for now, and I think will suspend Audible for a while too as we have several books there that we haven’t gotten to listen to yet.
So, all together, those things account for the following savings:
|Child Care FSA||$42||$500|
|Total Spending reduction:||$229||$2,742|
Not too shabby!
Then, there are the non-fixed expenses, where the real work comes in.
I spent the weekend messing with spreadsheets. I had 2 goals: 1. Figure out where we’re spending our (non-fixed-expense) money so we can target the areas that we think have big savings potential, and 2. Revamp my weekly budgeting spreadsheet so that it’s more automated than the mess of a spreadsheet I used to use, and also so that it works for our newly combined finances.
Figuring out our past spending was… a frustrating morass. I’ve mentioned before that I hate Mint.com. But I thought using Mint might be the easiest way to get a handle on what we’ve been doing, since both my husband and I have accounts. I figured I could easily pull down our spending from there, and it theoretically should have already been categorized so I could get a nice clear picture of what we spent in 2016 and the beginning of this year. If only it were so easy! I think I have a whole post in me about how crappy Mint is, but for now, let’s just say… it took a lot of cleaning up to get the info I got out of Mint into any kind of useful form. And I still have some work to do to figure out what it all means. So far I’ve learned a few things I already knew: that the two biggest areas of spending that we’ll be tackling first are food and home improvement/home furnishings. And, we’ve already been taking big steps to address those, which I’ll go into more detail on later.
Revamping my weekly budgeting spreadsheet, though, was a smashing success. I’m hopeful that now that it’s set up, monitoring how things are going will be much more automated, and I’ll be able to use the data I’m so meticulously tracking for more things. If all goes well with the new and improved version over the next few days, I MAY even share a version of it on here for you to try out!
So all in all, things seem to be moving in the right direction. More to come!