Let Me Tell You A Story Of How I’m Failing at Money in 2018

I’m sure anyone who subscribes to this blog has already figured out that since I haven’t posted since January, I’m probably failing at just about every single goal I’ve set out for myself for the year. You’d be correct to assume that. Because I’ll be 100% honest, things have definitely been better. I have a whole boatload of excuses that I’ll share with you all, but none of this really matters. What really matters is that frugality has to be more important in my life now, because I’ve gotten myself into more dangerous territory savings-wise. It’s really not a great feeling. So let’s rundown on the Great May 2018 Update, shall we?

The Biggest News: The Move

So, one of my goals for 2018 was to move in with my best friend when our lease is up and save money. And I can almost check this one off, because our move day is in 4 days! Here’s the details on the house:

  • Pro: It’s 5 minutes away from my son’s preschool, so much less commuting time!
  • Pro: It saves me a whopping $600/month in rent
  • Pro: It’s a beautiful home with an incredible backyard
  • Pro?: We signed a 2 year lease to trap us in for awhile so that our wanderlust doesn’t set in next year
  • Con: It’s bigger than we were hoping (almost 3000 square feet) so I’m worried about the utility costs

The biggest downside of this is that moving is fucking expensive. It’s expensive even if you’re a super frugal person, which I failed to do. I paid for movers, because I can’t be hauling things myself with a shoddy back, a toddler, and a FT job. We also had to pay 2 weeks of overlap, which meant extra rent. Another deposit, which drained my savings account significantly. And I’ve completely racked up my credit card buying shit for it. Some of it was stuff we needed (like a new dining table and a twin bed for my son) but other stuff was not (like the 70″ TV from Best Buy + mounting service + sound bar + shelving). Then there was also utility deposits, new renters insurance, dog deposit, and all sorts of other expenses.


That backyard tho

The end result of all this is that I’m almost $7,000 in credit card debt now. The credit card that I paid off to $0 with my tax returns. Fuck. This is no good. I’m hoping to pay some of this back with my Employee Stock Purchase Plan that I sell in August, and then the remainder should be taken care of with my annual bonus at the end of the year. But the biggest thing will be diligently budgeting again so that I don’t add anything more to my credit card. This shit has to stop before it becomes a freight train.

Budgeting

This section goes without saying. Since I’m using my credit card for non-budgeted purchases, I’ve failed hard at YNABing. My YNAB account is pretty messed up too, as my balances are off. I’m going to have to do a fresh start again I think, which is a bit of a bummer. I’m pretty disappointed in myself because I’ve gone wildly off-budget and it’s going to take me months to recover from the damage of it all. Sigh.

Food-wise, I came in at $835 last month which was actually pretty low for me (especially compared to the $1150 in March….).  I’m still ashamed of this number and I know I can do better. I just need to stop with the restaurants on the weekends. I also need to ban myself from going to Target for 6 months straight.

Dieting

When I last posted I said that my goal was to stay strict keto for 6 months. Well, that failed. I lasted like 6 weeks and then bombed. I ended up losing 12 pounds and gaining it back. However, the good news it that I started keto again a month ago and I’m down those 12 pounds again. So I’m at my lowest weight of 2018 right now and that’s not a bad place to be at all. I feel happy that at least something is going well, even though everything else has gone to shambles.

My Biggest Priorities for June

June has to be radically different than the last few months have been. Here’s my plan:

  • Stick to cooking at home for the vast majority of my meals, and try to reduce eating out
  • Ignore the siren call of spending for things on my new house unless they’re budgeted for
  • Any saved money needs to go back onto my credit card immediately (in fact, that $600 in rent savings goes on it automatically)
  • Figure out how to mow my own lawn and take care of our landscaping so we can save $70+ a month in gardening fees

Here goes nothing.

January in review

First off, I realize January isn’t over for a few days…but I have time to blog right now and might not later. So, here goes.

Secondly, if anyone visited the blog in the past 10ish days (yeah right) you may have noticed that it went bye-bye. Turns out, my domain wasn’t set to auto-renew. Whoops. I’ve fixed it up but you might have issues accessing the website while the DNS fully propagates.

What can I say about January? It’s been a decent month. I started back on my keto diet on January 3rd and I’ve 11 pounds down and one jeans size smaller. I started a solidarity/accountability group on Facebook and we have a nice little group of keto’ers doing their thing.

My son and I caught a horrible stomach bug and we were out of commission for a weekend…I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. (Well, except maybe a certain cheeto-colored president, ha!). I hate spending a whole weekend sick instead of out exploring, but what can you do?

I’ve had a wonderful time on the weekend with my son. He’s been such a joy to spend time with lately, increasingly independent and fun. I visited a new park in Leander, Devine Lake, and took a few gorgeous sunset photos that I’m happy to have captured. We’ve also gone to the zoo twice, thanks to our dear friend who bought us a couple of season passes.

We attended the Women’s March here in Austin, which was my son’s first political foray. It was inspiring and wonderful to feel the kinship with other folks here, especially since I live in the more conservative suburbs. I love feeling “my people” around me.

I haven’t visited any new hiking trails, but have been hitting the familiar ones as much as possible. I also added an entry to my hiking blog about a new hike.

Financially, I’ve done better. I ended up booking a week long trip to San Diego for March’s spring break for my son and I, and I’m a bit worried about it. I’ve been horribly homesick for San Diego and I’m worried that going back will “feel right” and returning here will be sad all over again. I’m hoping this is just a phase that I’ll push through. I do feel like Austin was the right move, money-wise, but I can’t shake this feeling that Austin is a temporary stop to get my shit together and then I’ll be fleeing back to the comfort of SoCal. Which would severely derail any intention I have of living on acreage, so I have to keep my eyes on the prize.

This wasn’t a cheap month for food. I’m at $850 for the month, which is plainly, too fucking much. I tried out the Keto Fridge meal service and it was expensive and mediocre. I should have known better, but sometimes I’m lured toward these convenience foods that allow me to remain diet compliant while allowing me to cut corners.

I also bought a Nintendo Switch + Breath of the Wild, which means I broke my plan of going a year without spending on games. I made it 6 months. Argh. I don’t regret it though, this little console is amazing and it’s nice to get lost in another Zelda game again.

I started a 30 days of yoga YouTube program today, and it felt amazing. My body is tight, my brain is wound up, and I need a bit of yoga mindfulness in my life.

February will be tough, because it’s no longer the first month of the year and it means that good intentions become harder to keep. My goal is to push forward with keto solidly until our San Diego trip on March 16th. I’m hoping that I can do it without cheating, because I’d like to bust through this plateau. The weight I’m at right now is the lowest I ever get when I diet, because I end up cheating and gaining again. I will do it. I have faith!

A Chicken Shit About Cold Weather

Like the vast majority of the country over the past few days, we’ve been having a deep freeze in Austin. Now, I’ve spent much of my life enduring cold weather, being that I was born & raised in Minnesota for 22 years. However, having just spent 10 years in California, I’m a complete freeze baby now.


I’ve had two weeks off of work, and I have to say that it’s been far less enjoyable than it would have been if I were still living in San Diego. Austin is great for outdoorsy folks during fair weather — but when it’s cold, there’s basically fuck all to do here. Sure, if I were the single childless person from a previous lifetime ago, I’d have enjoyed holing up, marathoning a good TV show or video game. I could go to movies, karaoke, spend all sorts of time doing indoor fun. But with a toddler? And one who has been a crabby, tantruming, napless maniac for the past two weeks? My options are: walk around the mall (and try not to spend money), go to an indoor play place (and definitely catch a plague), or go somewhere to eat (which is anti-frugal).

I’m at the point where I’m dying to go back to work and have him go back to school so that someone else can take the reins and entertain him for awhile! I have very little motivation when it’s this cold out. Bundling up isn’t fun, so we’ve been going from indoor to indoor. Which has made me think — how the heck will I handle this with a farm?

I remember horse ownership in Minnesota. I remember having to dry my horse with a blow dryer after riding her before I could turn her back out to pasture. I remember the icicles in my horses’ whiskers. I remember hand and foot warmers in my boots and gloves, wool socks, the feeling of sweating underneath my heavy winter jacket. I remember dreading going out to the pasture to get my horse, and basically taking winters 100% off of riding. Freezing water tanks. Ice balls in my horse’s shoes.  Slipping all over on the ice.  I won’t really have the luxury of not going out in the cold when I have animals to take care of.

So last night, while I had a roaring fire going in my fireplace and I was appreciating my furnace and blanket I was wondering — could I hack it as a hobby farmer during freezes?

As a mom, one important lesson I’ve learned is that human beings can step up when they have to. When my son is sick, I can miraculously stay up all night with him no matter how tired I am. When he needs lifting, I can pick him up one handed even when I’m weak. When there are days where I feel that I have no patience left, I find some. The same goes for my animals — when there’s something that needs done, I do it despite the efforts. I do believe it will suck to care for a farm in the winter, and I think I have decided that my farm will have to be in a warmer climate place like Texas (though I’d be trading in the freezing cold weathers for things like snakes, bugs, scorpions, humidity, floods, and extreme heat). But is there really a 100% pleasant place to have a farm anyway? Everywhere has periods of cold or hot or natural disasters or droughts or it’s very expensive.

So yeah, I think I can do it. It will be hard sometimes, but all good things are.

Ambitions for 2018

Welcome to 2018! I am pretty excited to say “sayonara” to 2017 and bid it adieu, while moving forward with a fresh slate. This year is going to be a one of progress for me. 2017 felt very much like a year during which I was setting up my life for success. Got a new great job, moved across the country, started my son in preschool. This year is where I take that new foundation and build on it, making tangible steps forward making all of my goals happen. Here’s what I’m hoping to work on this year.

Financial

Ah, the category that’s probably the biggest challenge for me as it offers so much that I need to work on. The first thing I need to do is keep working on my spending and get it under control. January is starting with a bang as I’m taking part loosely in Frugalwoods’ Uber Frugal Month Challenge.  My goal for January is to avoid spending on any extraneous purchases. No extra clothes, no late night Amazon instant purchases, no “I need this” moments. Aside from real actual costs of living during the month, I am not spending money on anything extra. This includes dining out, which I’m allowing myself 1x a week (but will be made more difficult by being keto).

In general, I’m trying to make sure that I budget for things that I want to buy this year. Instead of buying them and then playing “whack-a-mole” in my budget to make them fit, I want to make conscious decisions that are planned in advance. This is a major departure for me.

Also in the financial realm I need to do the following:

  • Figure out how the heck to get my monthly food spending south of $600 a month. This has the potential to save me HUNDREDS per month.
  • Track down and consolidate all my 401k/IRA accounts into my new employer 401k
  • Invest in my company’s employee stock purchase program
  • Downgrade my Chase Sapphire Reserve card before the annual fee hits
  • Try out travel hacking with a new credit card or two
  • Pay off at least one of my student loans. (There’s one hovering around $800 that seems like a good candidate)
  • Move in with my best friend when my lease is up in June to save $500+ a month on rent
  • Pay off my credit card to $0 (hopefully with my tax return) and then use it more religiously to buy budgeted purchases (to reap better rewards)
  • Increase my 401k contribution
  • Shop thrift stores/used more often, especially for toddler stuff.
  • Continue using YNAB!
  • Make it to June in my frugal gaming year, which will be 12 months without spending money on video games

Health

Even more important that financial concerns are my lifestyle considerations this year. While I lost 20 pounds last year and managed to keep it off, I actually could have lost 30-35 but I gained part of it back. The big problem with the keto diet for me is that it offers the kind of fast reward I need to be excited about it, but as soon as I deviate from it I gain it back with a vengeance.

Starting Wednesday 1/3 I am starting 6 months keto with no cheating. I’ve never made it to the 6 month mark without cheating. 3-4 months max is about all I can take. This time I’m in it for the long haul so that I can really see it change my body and make it a habit.

Along with this comes meal planning. I am going to be meal planning and cooking at home in order to fuel my keto diet, and I’m hoping that brings my food budget down even though keto is not a cheap diet.

I also want to continue hiking. I really found my stride in 2017, spending most days every weekend outdoors, taking in the sights and falling into creeks. This year I’d like to work on increasing my mileage, doing 5+ mile hikes more regularly. I’d also like to do some camping if I can find a way to get into it without breaking the bank. And I’d like to do more day/weekend trips exploring TX parks outside of my little bubble here in Austin. There’s so much of Texas left to explore!

Other Lifestyle Things

A big one for me this year is reading. Typically, I’ve just read non-fiction books, and though it’s good to learn stuff…I really want to get back into reading fiction. I miss finding myself lost in fantasy words and reading stuff “just for fun”. Right now I’m reading Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings and I’m really quite riveted.

Along the same lines, I’d like to “internet less”. I want to spend more time doing things that aren’t aimlessly browsing social media. I’ll give a break for blogging (which is something I want to amp up this year) but I don’t want to be scrolling through my newsfeed anymore. I’ll happily watch a movie or binge a new TV show before wasting time on the internet. I want to take more breaks from social media in general.

I’d also like to take one vacation trip that is just for FUN this year, not to visit family. Some place fun with my son that won’t break the bank. This will be a hard one to justify because I’m in full-on savings mode this year.

I hope that your 2018 starts off grand and continues to be one of your best yet. <3

Goodbye, 2017!

2017 was a doozy of a year. I try not to be political on this blog, but the fact of the matter is that I’ve had to take a serious step back from current events because watching Trump destroy the values that I cling to has taken a toll on me. As an eternal optimist, it’s become harder for me to think about this world that I’m raising my son in. But aside from what’s going on in government, I’ve had a really great year. Perhaps one of my best?

This year was the first full year since my divorce. It was a transformative year, where I grew at peace with my single status and realized that my path hadn’t reached a dead end, just a fork. I forged on and made promises to myself that I’d make conscious decisions, big and small, to move my life forward for me and my son. I smiled, cried, had bad days and wonderful days, learned a ton about myself, grew in my independence, and achieved goals that I didn’t even set out to conquer this year.

Moved to Austin, TX

When I first started this blog, I knew that I needed to move out of my HCOL (high cost of living) area and relocate to somewhere cheaper. At the time, I was trying to decide between my homeland in Minneapolis and Austin, TX. Looking back, I think either would have been a good choice for different reasons. But choosing Minnesota would have meant career struggles, because the industry I flourish in (video games) has virtually no presence there. Choosing Austin meant that I got a kickass new job (more on that later) and also that if things go south with said job, there’s a ton more in my industry to move on to.

This is the second time I’ve moved across the country on my own (without a partner) except this time I had a toddler in tow as well. It wasn’t cheap, and I could have been smarter about it, but I got here in one piece and settled in quickly. My son is in a wonderful outdoor farm preschool with values I hold dear to my family, I’m living cheaper than I ever did in San Diego, and I’ve made a couple of friends despite being relatively introverted nowadays.

Took control of my finances

The fact that I even made this blog, which is money-focused, is a testament to the fact that I’m a different person than I was even a year ago. As someone who grew up privileged without a whole lot of concern about money, I’ve had to learn how to earn it and where to spend it. I’m a long way off from being financially literate (like, investing is a black box of mine right now) but I’m no longer spending willy nilly without any thought process. I attribute a lot of that to finding YNAB, but also the necessity of needing to support myself and my son alone (mostly, we do get child support thankfully) has been a major catalyst.

Now something that was a major source of discontent in my marriage (my money spending) is now something I have control over. Regardless if I remain single the rest of my life, or find a partner, I’m in a 100% better place because I can manage my money.

Adopted a dog

After losing my Boxer in October 2015 (Echo, this blog’s namesake), and then my Min Pin last December, I made the decision to adopt a lab mix this summer as soon as I moved to Austin. Queso has been a wonderful companion in all my outdoor adventures and I’m super happy that he has joined my family and taken my son under his wing.

Career moves

I found out earlier this year that my remote contract position at a gaming company was going to come to an end. I was given 6 months notice, and immediately started job hunting. I ended up being super fortunate to get a role at YNAB as a Community Manager, and though I was only there for a few months, I am truly thankful for the experience. After working with that amazing team, I’m even more proud to support YNAB as a company through evangelizing their product and methodology to the world. I do feel guilty for having to leave the company, but when I received an offer back in games that would almost double my salary…I just couldn’t say no. While money isn’t everything, that kind of money really was life-changing.

My new role is faster paced, more senior, and it’s in an actual office…which has been a huge change after 5 years of remote work. I’ve surprised myself with how much I’m actually enjoying being back in the physical office again, though it has been stressful to manage with a toddler. I’m thankful that my new role is flexible enough to understand things like “hey, my kid is sick for the 20th time this year”, because being a single parent means I don’t have a second person to share the PTO load when these things happen.

All dressed in Christmas garb for the company holiday party.

I’m now right back where I left off before having a child, career-wise, and it feels great. I thought that I wasn’t going to be able to balance high-powered work and a child, and then divorce was thrown into the mix. I’m really thankful that this opportunity came my way, and 2018 is going to be a year where I kick ass in this role and make more moves.

I have big goals for 2018, but it won’t top this year in terms of large life changes (at least I hope not — shit needs to slow down so I can breathe!).

Embracing Scarcity

Is less really more?

Let me paint you a picture of my finances before I became “financially woke”.

I never felt terribly poor, because my checking account was never completely depleted. If my expenses surpassed my monthly income, I’d simply draw from my savings account until I got paid again. At any time, a snapshot of my checking account would show a comfortable $1000, and I’d feel “safe” with that. Sure, I wasn’t saving any money. I wasn’t really paying down any of my debt, as I was just paying minimum payments. I wasn’t traveling or prioritizing my spending. I was simply spending what was available in my bank account, on whatever I felt was important enough at the time.

Fast forward to starting to use YNAB and researching the personal finance blogging community. Even though my income didn’t change, I started to pay attention to every dollar in my bank account and “assign it a job”. All of a sudden I felt poor. Wait, isn’t that the exact opposite of the reason to budget? I thought I started budgeting so that I could have more freedom with my money, use it wisely, and have a more comfortable buffer so that I could do extravagant things like travel out of the country (for the first time in my life). I didn’t sign up for this!

Discomfort with scarcity

When you use YNAB’s method as I do, you realize that that $1000 in your bank account really means nothing until you dig into where it all goes. In the past, I’d think “Oh, I have $1k so surely I can afford to buy this $50 steam mop on Amazon.” Now, I do things completely differently. That $1,000 in my account is already mapped out. $200 of it is allocated to my utility bills coming up next week. $150 is to groceries. $150 is to child care. $50 is to a birthday gift I know I have to buy in 2 weeks. $50 is to my house cleaner. $50 is to my pet expenses (Quesodog has to eat). $100 is to my monthly gas expenses. $50 goes to baby supplies. $50 is for “dining out” for the next two weeks. $100 goes to my credit card payment. And the final $50 goes toward half of my car insurance for the month. I literally don’t have a single dollar available in my account for that steam mop.

Sorry steam mop, it wasn’t meant to be.

Prior to using YNAB, I wouldn’t have realized this. I would have thought “hell, my rent is paid for the month already. I paid my car payment. This $1000 seems like more than enough to cover a $50 mop!” and I would have been utterly fucked over. Those planned expenses would have come up, and I would have had to cover them with savings money (or put them on a credit card, adding to my overall debt). All of a sudden my money feels scarce even though my income and expenses haven’t changed.

“Yikes, money suddenly feels kind of scarce. Don’t worry, and don’t quit budgeting — this feeling of scarcity is a good thing. It means you’re seeing your money for what it truly is: a finite resource — and this is a huge part of that mindset shift I talked about. It doesn’t actually matter how much money we have or don’t have. Scarcity is simply that feeling of wishing there were more. This is an important moment. The feeling of scarcity might tempt us to quit, but when we step back and embrace scarcity, we make good decisions.” – Jesse Mecham, You Need A Budget book

Making matters worse with planning for future expenses

As if money didn’t already feel tight when allocating my dollars to my known bills before I receive another paycheck, the YNAB mindset also encourages you to think about your long-term or annual expenses and plan as often as you can for those as well. I know that in 3,000 miles, I’ll need an oil change. So why not budget $15 toward it every month so that when it’s due, I already have the dollars sitting in my bank account ready to pay for it. I know that for Christmas I wanted to buy my son a new play kitchen for $100, so 4 months ahead of time I started to put $25 aside for it. In the past, we might use layaway for this. Or we’d just just take it from savings. Or we’d put it on a credit card and have to pay the monthly payments afterward to pay ourselves back. With this new method, my $1000 in the bank is used for these things so that I can avoid going into debt, avoid having to pull from savings, yet still plan for the things that really matter.

The net effect is that when I receive a paycheck and budget it out to all my upcoming bills and find that I have money left over, I always have somewhere smarter to put it than on extravagant unnecessary expenses. I can flip forward to future months and allocate it toward next month’s rent so that I have a bit of a buffer. (Let me tell you, there’s nothing more exciting than being halfway through the month and realizing that you already have enough in the bank to cover NEXT month’s rent.) I can add it to one of those planned “true expense” categories like car maintenance, household repair, self-care, holiday decor (I can’t avoid that shit), my annual credit card fee, planned travel, or my car registration. Nothing should ever accidentally come out of your bank account without you having the funds there waiting for it.

Getting comfortable with less

I never made good decisions with my money before. In fact, I’d argue that I never made decisions at all. I’d just spend without thinking. The biggest change that embracing YNAB made in my life is that dollars now have a meaning, a place, a job. I’m now more aware of my future spending than ever before, and I’m actually planning for it. There’s this huge misconception that you need to make a lot of money in order to save money and that a system like YNAB is useless if you don’t have enough money to pay your bills. To me, this couldn’t be further from the truth. When you’re paycheck-to-paycheck, or overdrafting every month, you need a real budgeting system more than ever. (And not a tool like Mint that just tells you where your money went. A *real* budget). You will spend less, guaranteed, even when you thought you couldn’t possibly spend less.

BTW this is not a paid sponsorship by YNAB. I’m a huge fan of the software and it has changed my life, and this is 100% unpaid without referral links or anything!)

Planning to Plan

This is probably not my future Texas farm.

One of my strengths is that I love planning. I like researching things, developing a roadmap to get from A to B. (Good thing I’m a producer for my career!) It’s also a downfall of mine, because often times I am completely paralyzed to execute without a fully thought-out plan. Sometimes I linger too long with inaction because I’m unsure of the perfect optimal path to take.

Right now, I don’t have a solid plan on making my hobby farm dream come true. Of all of the possibly hurdles and details that can stand in my way, I only know one thing for sure: I want to live on some acreage.

This could manifest in a number of ways.

  1. Buying land and sitting on it – I could find a way to buy a few acres of land and just sit on it until I have the money to build, um, something(?) on it. The problems are that I don’t know a ton about buying unimproved land, and it seems like it could be a nightmare to obtain permits to build. I worry that I’d buy a piece of property and it would end up uninhabitable somehow — either it would be on a flood plain, or have no way to get actual city utilities to it, or the county wouldn’t permit a dwelling on it. The #1 hurdle standing in my way here is that I believe for vacant land you must have 50% down on it. I don’t have that kind of cash, and won’t for many years.
  2. Renting a home with acreage – This is an expensive option. Anything in my price range is totally way too far away. I can’t have an hour commute to the office because it’s more important that I spend time with my son. He also needs to be in a good school district. I also feel like when I live on a farm, I want it to be mine. I want to improve it and tend it, and keep it in my family. It’s important to me that I own it.
  3. Buying a home with acreage – Similar to #2, except I’d need a lot more money down. I’m worried that I’m already priced out of anywhere remotely close to Austin already, and it will only get worse by the time I save up a down payment. There aren’t a whole lot of gaming jobs in areas of the country that are cheap – Austin is probably the cheapest option.

There’s also all sorts of other variables. Should I just try to do whatever gets me on acreage the fastest? Should I look into manufactured/modular/mobile homes? Could I obtain affordable financing at all?

Getting from A to B Always Requires Money

One fact of life that I’m getting a lot more comfortable with is the fact that no matter which direction I choose, I need money in the bank to do it. I’m trying to cut corners and get my acreage ASAP, but I’m trying to do it with very little in the bank. Not only is it not feasible, it’s probably not going to get me what I want.

Maybe it’s smarter to go down the FIRE (financial independence, retire early) path? Maybe I should be extremely frugal, learn how to invest, save as much money as I possibly can, and figure out how I could make early retirement happen for myself? Then I wouldn’t be tied down to location, and I could move to somewhere extremely cheap where I could do my hobby farming without needing to be close to the city.

Whether I buy a home already on land (which requires 20% down for a conventional loan) or buy my own land and build something on it, I’ll need a lot of cash in the bank. Amassing this cash needs to be priority #1. But how do I go about that? How can I downsize my life more, aside from getting a roommate (which I’m already planning for when my lease is up) and what steps should I take toward investing?

I’m going to be doing a lot of reading of blogs, books, and researching. I’ve come to the realization that any life I want to build for myself and my son requires cold hard cash. I’ve gotten very comfortable with my lifestyle creep and it’s time for a serious wakeup call.

Uber Frugal Food Month: How Hard I Failed

I could just as easily never come back to this blog and talk about how catastrophically I failed at my Uber Frugal Food Month. I could fade into oblivion and fake that I did magnificent at it, but I’m not a big fat liar.

At this point it’s 12/26 and I’ve spent……

$894.36. Sure, it’s not the $1200 I spent on food last month. But it’s ridiculously high and I just don’t even know what to do about it. I seem completely incompatible with reducing my food expenditures. I start out good, cooking cheap recipes from Budget Bytes. And then I end up getting so sick of cooking and end up dining out and getting take out. This spirals out of control and it goes nuts.

This month was a hard one to do the frugal challenge, honestly. Like I mentioned before, having 2 weeks off of work meant a ton of downtime and a lot of meals to make. I also bought stuff for our Christmas meal. I went to San Antonio for a day trip and ate out at Rainforest Cafe, which was expensive. I bought stuff to make cookies. I’ve relied heavily on Amazon Prime, which means tips.  I also spent money on Christmas gifts.

Overall this month I’m not doing terrible even though I failed at my frugal food challenge. I did make some impulse purchases (like a couple pairs of jeans and a sweater at Torrid), and I had to buy a Nest Cam for my son’s room in preparation for transitioning him to the crib. But next month I will be cooking at home a lot more because I’m going back on the keto diet. 6 months straight of hardcore dieting. We’ll see how that goes….

Uber Frugal Food Month: Halfway Done!

Here’s my halfway check-in, since my mid-month paycheck will be rolling in at midnight tonight and I can declare December halfway done!

Right now I’m sitting at $315.65 spent on food for the month. It’s a little higher than I wanted to be because….

  • I’ve spent $103 on dining out. I’m not sure how it happened…but that was two dinners with a friend, one Panda Express lunch, and a painful night of delivered pizza. Shit really adds up.
  • I made the mistake of going to Trader Joe’s. I didn’t meal plan beforehand, I just went — and TJs + the holidays is rough. It was bad for my wallet and bad for my health, as my sugar intake has skyrocketed as a result of all the Christmas goodies. Oops.
Thanks, Trader Joes!

I’m still really proud of it though, because that means even if I double this spending, I’m at $630. A high number for most families, but a whopping $500 less than I normally spend. I will take that. If I could average this every month, I’d be able to make a significant dent in my debt, and savings.

I’m actually sitting in a comfortable spot financially right now. Thanks to being diligent with YNAB and really watching my discretionary spending, it’s December 14th and I’ve already got money aside in the bank to pay for 100% of my son’s January preschool costs, and over 50% of my rent for next month. I am also able to drop $800 toward my credit card this month, bringing my total credit card debt down to just over $1000. That’s what I love about the YNAB system — knowing exactly where my dollars that I have now will go. It’s a lot harder to justify spending $5 here and there on coffee or microtransactions when I realize that I have to take it from another allocated category.

I also haven’t spent a dime on video games since June, and I’m really proud of that. 6 months down, 6 to go! I’m a long way from being ‘frugal’ or money savvy, but I am really excited about my progress. When my lease is up and I can move into a cheaper house (and share it with my friend), I’ll be able to really stockpile some savings (I hope) to make headway on my dream to own acreage.

Frugal Food Month – One Week Down Status Update

Well, I had some high ambitions for this month. Too high, since I apparently forgot to even budget for my electric bill. Oops.

Let’s just start out with some lows:

  • I made a huge payment to my credit card this month. Sure, this could be a high, but it was too ambitious and therefore I just had to pull $300 from savings in order to cover my expenses because I made too big of a credit card payment. (Silver lining: I get paid in a week and I’ll replenish it then, but it still FEELS BAD).
  • I’m 8 days into the month, and I’ve “dined out” twice. I wasn’t supposed to do it AT ALL, but man, it was rough. The first time I “cheated”, my friend and I were out kind of late doing some Christmasy things and we passed Hat Creek Burgers and I wanted to try it and we were already running late for dinner time. It was going to be tough to feed Henry and get him in bed on time, so I decided to just eat out. The second time was last night when I ordered pizza in. I could have eaten leftovers, I could have. I feel guilty about this one but it was snowing in Austin and 31 degrees outside and I just wanted some comfort food.
  • I forgot to cancel my son’s Nurture Life food subscription, so I was charged $52 for 5 meals for him (which he probably won’t even eat). Argh.
  • I found out that my student loan payment that I thought I’d set up on auto-pay was not on autopay after all. Therefore I was behind two months worth of payments (about $600). I brought the account up to current, which ate into my savings.
  • I also found out that my old credit card from my old bank account was overdue (they called me) and even though I thought it wasn’t being used anymore, apparently I had stuff coming out of it (Disneyland annual pass, some other subscriptions that have now been canceled). I had over $700 on it! So I paid it off with savings too, which is really distressing because I didn’t want to eat into savings anymore. But I’m really hoping I can put a sizable chunk back IN savings this month (or next…)
  • I forgot to budget for my son’s Christmas present (a play kitchen).

That’s what happens when I rush to pay down my credit card and forget to budget enough for my actual ongoing expenses.

The good news is that I’m spending SO much less on food.  So far I’m at $134.10 for groceries, and $54.39 for dining out. Which puts me at $753.96 for the month if I keep up that pace. That’s still so goddamn high compared to where other families are, but last month I spent $1270.  In October I spent $1129.  In August I spent a whopping $1386. $1389 in July.  You get the point.  I’m on track to spend over $500 less on food this month. HOORAY!

Things that could put my frugal food month at risk:

  1. I picked a bad month to do this. My son has 2 weeks off school for Christmas, and I have 2 weeks off work. Which means I have to supply all of our lunches for the month and try not to dine out much. This will be hard.
  2. It’s Christmas. I want to cook a decent meal for the holiday with my friend and son’s father, but that will be more costly than a normal shopping trip.
  3. It’s Christmas. I want to make cookies and gingerbread houses with my son.
  4. It’s Christmas. There is cider and pie and so many food things to spend my money on at Christmas events.