Spring cleaning… our budget.

Right around this time every year, B and I sit down and redo our budget. We are budget rockstars. Between my willingness to go through months of data to find our numbers and B’s love of spreadsheets– it is usually an all-afternoon affair that results in the kind of high-tech budget spreadsheet that Suze Orman would be proud of. Where we suck, however, is at actually STICKING to the budget. Admittedly– we were better about it when we used mint.com. The problem is that a few years back mint stopped playing nice with citibank which is where I do 90% of our spending. Which made it useless.

This is compounded by the fact that we’ve had a couple really expensive years in a row. In 2010 we moved into and furnished a new home, and saved for a wedding. In 2011 we held said wedding (complete with all those last minute expenses), went on a honeymoon, went to Atlanta twice, went to Vegas, and did some bigger house stuff (like getting the house painted). In 2012 we had Milo get sick, spent a week in NY to be with B’s mom when she had surgery, joined my family at the beach in June, B went back to school to get his MBA, we had some car repair, and spent another week in NY over Christmas.

And for us–  budgeting is a bit like dieting. Ever have a donut for breakfast then just think… “Fuck it. Today is already ruined I might as well have that cheeseburger for lunch”? When we’re feeling overcome with big expenses, it suddenly makes that extra $50 at target seem like not a big deal.

But this year? I don’t want to jinx us (knocking on all nearby wood…)…. but this year… I hope it will be different. We’ve made a commitment to almost no travel. We’re spending one weekend in Atlanta this fall and that is IT. We will fly B’s mom to see us because it is cheaper than both of us going there. We will not take a vacation. And we WILL keep an eye on our budget. We put an appointment on our calendar for the first Sunday of every month to sit down and categorize the previous month’s spending and see how we did.

We’ve also made some commitments to cut spending in some new ways. We have some big things we’re saving for (emergency fund, new car for B when his dies, new flooring). I’m generally pretty thrifty and I already do things like calling around for the best insurance prices, calling to ask for lower rates on our cable every year, and keeping our budget numbers for shopping pretty low. Sure, we could cut our shopping budgets even lower or cut back on eating out, but there is a quality of life issue to consider.  What we wanted to think about was, how can we save money without really expending much effort or missing anything? New this year, we’ve added the following savings measures:

1) We switched cable companies entirely. I was upset when our current cable company jacked our rate up $20 last month. When I called to complain they informed me that they only give good rates to NEW customers because there is so much competition for new customers. This is the “industry standard.” Okay… then I’m always going to be a new customer. It’s kind of a pain to switch every 12 months, but it’s a one-time deal and this will drop our cable bill  from $115 to $85 per month. Oh, and they’re giving us a $100 visa gift card. Awesome!

2) We decided to hook up only 1 TV to cable. All three of our TVs are netflix-accessible, and we watch netflix at least half the time. When thinking about how we actually use our TVs, we realized that we rarely use the TVs in the great room or bedroom for normal TV anyways. So why pay an extra $14 per month for two extra boxes that would rarely be used? Forgoing these two boxes (which we could get at any time if we changed our minds) will bring our cable/internet bill down to $71 per month. A total savings of $44 per month or $528 over the next twelve months!

3) We decided to try to lower our electric usage. Our electric bill is really high because we have a lot of electronics and I work from home, which means I’m here using electricity ALL THE TIME. Also, we are generally horrible about leaving lights (and even TVs sometimes… oops) on. So we decided to just pay a bit more attention. Turn of the lights when we leave the room. Turn off the TV if we’re not watching it. Unplug things that are rarely used (electronics use electricity whenever they are plugged in, even if they aren’t on!). I also bought a smart power strip for $15 off of amazon that allowed me to plug all of our TV-dependent electronics (ps3, wii, xbox, apple tv) into it and they automatically are cut off of any power every time I turn the TV off. I don’t have the “give a damn” to plug these in and unplug them every time they’re used, but for $15, I think we’ll more than make our  money back in energy savings. I’ll check back in a few months and let you know if we managed to reduce our usage!

4) We switched electric companies. I didn’t even realize that was an option, honestly. But I decided to look into it and found we could actually save a bit of money by switching. Our current electric company was charging us, on average, 7.9 cents/kWh. The new company I signed us up for charges a flat rate of 6.25 cents/kWh. Based on last year’s usage, we would’ve saved about $218 using the new company. If we manage to reduce our usage this number will obviously be a bit lower— but considering that it took me less than 20 minutes to find and sign up for the new plan, I’d say a couple hundred bucks savings is well worth it.

So, there ya have it! With these changes (that I don’t feel will really affect our quality of life at all) we’re saving at least $44 per month— but I’m guessing closer to $75 per month. That’s like, 5 trips for the both of us to chipotle. Or one average trip to target. Or an extra $900 in our savings account (which means 3 months less car payment for B’s new car– whenever he gets it).

Anyone else in a thrifty mood lately? I’d love to hear any savings/budgeting tips!

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4 thoughts on “Spring cleaning… our budget.

  1. I would suggest the cash system for at least your personal spending money (we pull out cash for almost everything – even groceries). Not only does it keep you on budget but if you are anything like me, it will turn you in to a deal-searching cheapo who hoards cash. I hate to part with it…it’s much easier to swipe a card.

  2. A couple years ago, we switched our electricity to a co-op and have saved hundreds. I think lots of people don’t really think they have an option when it comes to electricity and they just go with the big company that they’ve always used. Ours still gets metered and billed through the big company, but we pay less per kwh than the big company charges. Simple change, money saved. LOVE.

    Probably 90% of our wasted money goes to eating out. And out of that 90%, probably 75% of it is because of me. I eat out at lunch almost every single day. Partly because it sounds better, and partly because I just really, really want to get away from my desk and out of my office. I don’t really have any “friends” here, so there’s no one to bring my lunch and eat it with. I wish there was a park or something nearby so that I could bring my lunch AND get out of the office. It would help my bank account, my marriage, AND my weigh-ins!

  3. Valerie- I know a ton of people who have success with the cash system! Unfortunately, B and I are just really lazy. We don’t want/need to save money badly enough to put ourselves out too much to do it so we tend to look for things we can do without too much effort. Carrying around cash all the time (and trying to keep it separated for groceries vs. household shopping vs. date nights vs. lunches vs. personal shopping) I think would just be way too cumbersome for us!

    Anna- Eating lunch out is seriously my HARDEST THING. Both for health and money. If I let myself, I would eat out every single day for lunch too. It just is easier and tastes better! lol. And honestly I have a harder time stopping myself for health reasons vs. money reasons (so I guess its good we keep a strict budget on that). B and I are both very strict about having $40 each to spend on lunches out per month. And I know I really can’t go over that because I have no excuse or reason to. But it helps both health and money wise because that usually works out to eating out for lunch only 1-2 times/week depending on what I get. My sense of cheapness just really helps here because I think if we didn’t set the budget I’d spend upwards of 100-150/month on lunches out and thats a LOT of money that could go other places!

  4. I am going to have to look into that smart power strip – I always feel guilty knowing that my appliances are all sucking up electricity even when their power switches are off. I posted this week about how we’re being smarter about grocery shopping and meal planning – we’ve saved over $100 already this year. Good luck with your budget!

    I nominated you for the Liebster Blog Award: http://notjustbrides.blogspot.com/2013/04/liebster-blog-award-take-2.html

    Have a great Friday!

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