Posts Tagged ‘balancing the budget’

April’s budget heading south of the border

Life just happens, doesn’t it?

This week has been quite busy with work commitments, but on the sidelines, I’ve watched the family’s budget head south of the border.  Yep, into the negative territory. I know, I know you hard me belly ache about this last month.  Truth is, this month it’s gone far enough south that I can’t recover from it, at least not in a way that I can see clearly right now.

The difference between this month and last month is my attitude.  I don’t feel like a failure this month.

When you track every nickel and then spend time thinking about making the right choices, the picture does become much clearer.  I have absolutely nothing to be ashamed about this month. There is no lack of discipline involved in the results I’m forecasting for end of April.

The first huge hit is medical expenses. I had budgeted $400, and I have spent just shy of $1500. Did I go to the drug store and stock up on extra-strength tylenol?  No.  My youngest went to see her specialist and he prescribed a new medication for her to try.  That alone is $700 per month. My eldest needed the last needle in an immunization program to protect her from HPV. That was almost $200.  These expenses aren’t optional, they mean my kids can live normal lives. Would I rather have that than a new pair of shoes?  Hell yes.

I also was hit with a fee from my retirement savings company, which I didn’t see coming.  My advisor and I have had a stern conversation about full disclosure of all fees and their timing.  I now know what to expect for 2011. He now knows that I’m serious about my personal finance, which he should appreciate as a finance guru.

Truthfully, I figure April will end with about  $200 in the red. Frankly, I think that’s pretty damn good considering that I have spent over 300% more than I banked on in medical expenses. I haven’t spent one dollar that was unnecessary. Just because the bottom line doesn’t shake down the way I’d like it doesn’t mean there was a lack of good management on my part.

This overage will not mean that I add to my line-of-credit balance or put me in overdraft.  In February I made a mini-goal to have a minimum balance in my bank account for the start of each month, to keep me in safe territory.  Since I have accomplished and maintained that, I can skate through this little blip on the radar easily. By June I’ll have recovered from it.

On the revenue side of the budget, I’ve had a few opportunities to take other people’s weekend shifts for the part-time gig, and this means a few extra bucks in the months ahead. I won’t win the battle of April, but I am rock solid confident that I will win the war against debt retirement and saving for the future.

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The 76 cent Miracle

I’m in shock this morning. In a good way.

Ever since I realized I couldn’t hide from my December visa charges and accepted that March would be a fiscal disaster zone, I’ve been dreading looking at the month end numbers. It’s been about six weeks of dread.

Although I re-drafted my March budget in order to take into consideration what a dufus I was at the beginning of the year, a few extras have made the bottom line sink below zero on my spreadsheet. It’s called life in the real world, I guess. Stuff happens. As usual, some stuff is more valid than other stuff.

This morning I got paid from my part-time gig. I’ve been putting in a few extra shifts, but not a lot. After all, my part-time gig is not my priority, my full-time gig is, and it requires lots of my brain power and time. Still, I like my little part-time job for a lot of reasons. It’s simple to do and requires very little brain trust – so it’s kinda the anti-real job for me. The job means that I interact with people and give them some encouragement, and I like that. I like to help people.

I got paid about $90 more than I expected today. After I put that number in my spreadsheet, my bottom line moved to .76 cents in the black. It’s nothing short of a mini-miracle.

There are lots of people who can’t be bothered tracking their revenue and expenditures. Perhaps they’re better at eyeballing things than I am. When I hit a projected month-end balance of .76 (the difference between expenditures and revenues, not my bank balance) I know I must keep tracking things this diligently. No doubt a lot of people would read this and think “man, that chick is a bit nuts, or obsessive, knowing she earned .76 more than she allocated elsewhere.” That’s fine with me. This is working for me now, and I’m happy to know, with rock solid confidence, that for the first quarter of 2010, I did not spend more than I earned.

I get that March isn’t over yet. But, for the first time in six weeks, I feel a bit optimistic again. I really needed that.

Other people and my money

On the weekend, I was heading out to my part-time job bright and early Saturday morning. On Saturday and Sunday, the buses and subway run less frequent than they do during the week.

Since it’s not the first day I’ve ventured out on a Saturday morning to this part-time gig, I know where I have to be by when in order to get the right bus to get me to the “church on time”, so to speak. This Saturday, I showed up two minutes late.  Damn it.

I knew the next bus would be along, but also knew I’d show up about 10 minutes late on the job.  I did the right thing and called the colleague that I work with and let her know I was coming, just running a bit behind. She then says “oh wow, I’m really late too, I’ve just called a cab, I’ll swing around and pick you up!”

This is very sensible of course. Kind of her to offer to fetch me. Naturally, I’m thankful on the phone and say “that’s great, see you soon” and confirm what intersection I’m standing at.

Because I’m overwhelmingly dull, my mind goes to my spreadsheet.  I know what the variance says on the bottom line of the projection for March:  $2.45.

True to her word, my colleague swings by, we have a lovely yack in the cab, and are happy that we could help each other out. I’m also thinking to myself I just paid for the transportation fare, now I really should do the right thing and help with the cost of the cab.

We arrived on time, and I contributed $7 toward the cab ride. Neither of us were late. Perfect outcome.

It occurred to me that as soon as I step out of my little circle (meaning me and the kids) and cross paths with either a friend or a colleague, it usually means an unplanned expenditure, or having to explain why I won’t be accepting their invitation to go to the bars on St. Paddy’s Day, or why I won’t be taking them up on their offer to see this awesome ballet performance. It’s easy to manage your money when you’re a hermit.

It’s not like I have barrels of friends now, but if I keep saying no to everything, I may have even fewer! When the weather turns nicer, I’ll have to think of ways to do things either at home, or on the cheap with friends, so they don’t think I’ve actually lost any interest in associating with them. I do want to see them, I just can’t afford to see them and spend money doing so.

While I worried for a few minutes about an unplanned cab fare of $7, I’ll keep the big picture in mind. Yes, I have debt. Yes, I know what I need to do to get rid of it this year. Yes, I’m working on it. Do I expect this to be easy just because it looks straightforward on that spreadsheet on my computer screen?  Hell, no.

A Day at the Races

Yesterday, the Federal Government unveiled the budget for the year ahead. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty revealed a plan to be fiscally responsible, no new big initiatives, no huge tax breaks or cuts. It was all in an effort to knock down the deficit to an enviable amount in the next five years. According to the Globe and Mail, it’s a budget aimed at the middle class. Perhaps that’s why I neither rejoiced nor took offence.

The article, however, notes that the Prime Minister is hedging his bets that the majority of Canadians want one thing from the Government – to get the deficit under control.

All day I’ve been thinking about how I feel a bit of a bond with the Minister of Finance.  No, I’m not a middle-aged, pinch-the-cheeks kinda cute irish guy with the task of balancing the Nation’s books – he can have that job.  But like me, he has choices to make. Unlike me, because he’s in Government, some choices are clouded by politics. I’m thankful that I don’t answer to any shareholders or taxpayers, except for the two kids slurping up ice cream on the sofa as I type.

In my past life, I worked for a local government. I recall a Mayor who was elected many times on a “hold the line” tax policy. As a taxpayer, this sounds pretty good. But think for a minute about what that means. It means no growth in any programs, regardless of the demand. It means no capital repairs for buildings or equipment. It means no salary increases. Some of these things are more important than others. Ignore the infrastructure of a building that is well used by a lot of people, and eventually, you’re going to have to do something drastic to keep it from being a blight on your community, or worse, a health and safety hazzard. Keep telling your workers there’s no money for even a merit raise, and they’ll start looking elsewhere. In some cases that’s okay, in other cases they can be costly loses.

With the new budget, the Minister of Finance has essentially said this – we’re going to keep on trucking, but we’re not doing anything fancy. We have debt to pay off.

Hmmm, sounds familiar. I’ve said the same thing. Focus on the debt. Sure, let’s give ourselves $20 or $30 bucks a month for a cheap meal out or a few bucks for entertainment, but that’s about it.

I’m very mindful that there’s not enough money going toward the ‘infrastructure’ of our lives. Not enough to savings (at least not for my own, I’m taking care of the kids for post-secondary), no money set aside for emergency, nothing going into a retirement fund.

photo credit: oraclesports.net

Makes me think of a day at the races. Big , powerful horses competing against each other, and the gate opens. They all run toward the finish line, but only one can win. I want the debt horse to win. That’s where I put my money, literally. Every extra dollar is going to debt retirement, although I did put $100 in a savings account this week.

Next week the nice man who manages my retirement fund, which I haven’t contributed to in about 4.5 years, is calling me to have a chat.

Debt horse is in the lead, retirement horse is coming around the inside.

I have a problem trying to put money on all the horses I should. While my monthly contribution to debt retirement has been over the amount I need to contribute monthly in order to retire it by the end of 2010 thus far, I absolutely know there are four months this calendar year when I won’t come close to being able to contribute that minimum amount.

Should I be satisfied to retire my debt in the Spring of 2011 and start making modest but regular contributions to retirement savings, regular savings and an emergency fund? Most months in my 2010 budget have about $100 wiggle room. That’s not enough. I knew that when I drafted the budget.

With interest rates sure to go up, although perhaps modestly in the last half of 2010, the debt retirement IS a priority. At 46, can I still tell myself maybe next year I’ll get back to making regular contributions to my retirement savings plan?

How do you manage all your powerful horses? Do you put all your money on one? Or have you found a way to put a chunk of money on the horse you want to win, and some on those you want to show? I’ll be interested in your comments and experiences! I could sure use some advice!

March’s first budget hit, and I’m thankful

When I pondered starting a blog about my journey to get out and stay out of debt, I wondered if I’d have enough material to write about. I’m not a financial expert. I have no investing savvy. I’d be hard-pressed to calculate compounding interest without a fancy calculator.

What I’ve realized in a very short time is this:  managing your money is a day-to-day, sometimes hour-by-hour job. It requires constant decision making, and shifting. In essence, life happens. Often, life comes with a price-tag.

Yesterday, my youngest sent me a text from school.  She said “I lost my bracelet and I want to run away”. For the record, the kid wears three bracelets. One is medic alert, one is a little silver one with her name on it that she was given as a toddler, and the other belonged to her Grandmother. The Grandmother she was named after.

This particular bracelet was given to her Granny when she was in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in Britain in WWII. It has her Granny’s serial number from her service to Britain, her name, and W.A.A.F. on the reverse side. This tiny silver bracelet has survived not only the war, as her Granny loaded bombs into the belly of bombers in Britain, but also a migration to Canada, and another 70-80 years.

First public appearance of the WAAF at the National Service Rally, July 1939. Photo credit: RAF Museum, UK

By the tone of the text, I knew which bracelet had gone missing. I also knew that it must have broke, because the clasp is such that it just doesn’t fall off.

I called the school and offered to put up a reward to any student who returned this bracelet. In a big school of 1800 kids, this tiny silver chain would be like finding a needle in a haystack. The school let me know that they didn’t advertise rewards to students, and they couldn’t put an announcement out that it was missing. They would, however, take the description and let me know if it was turned in.

The description part was easy. How many silver bracelets from England in 1939 are floating around a Toronto High School?

My daughter came home, absolutely beside herself with grief and guilt.

By the time school was over, I had a call from a school secretary who cheerfully said “guess what I have?” on the phone. We were both overjoyed. A young lady had turned it in. She even remarked that she has no idea how she saw it, a tiny silver bracelet in the corner of an enormous auditorium.

My daughter has crafted a thank you note, and I’ve included a small monetary reward of $40 for this unknown young lady who has rescued this piece of our family history. It was easy to part with this $40. No, we didn’t have to do that, but it seemed really important to reward the behavior of this student.

Repairing the bracelet will have to wait for some other month, but that’s fine. At least we know where it is.

I’m thankful for the good samaritans, and in particular for this young lady. The money is a small gesture compared to what it means to us.

So March’s budget is a little off kilter today. That’s ok. I have a lot of March to try and bring up the rear.

March’s budget now balances…again

A few days ago, I told you what I dufus I was running from some VISA charges and forgetting to budget for an annual credit card fee. This had a big impact on my budget for March.

After a few days of re-prioritizing and recalculating, I think I’ve managed to balance the books and keep in a bit of fun. Here’s a few highlights of what’s shifted:

  • Home Depot sent me a cheque for a $175 credit I had on their credit card last week.  This was unexpected, so I plunked that amount to my VISA card.  Thank you Home Depot for the $175 reduction in expenses!
  • We’re not going to spend the entire $550 I budgeted for groceries in February. I’m projecting a $100 surplus by the weekend.  Therefore, I’ll only need to withdraw $450 for March’s grocery budget – up another $100
  • Toronto Hydro had overcharged me in November (by $300), so I paid it before I started ‘the conversation’ with them, to avoid being in hot water with them. They credited me back the money. I anticipate rather than owing them $200 in March as I’d expect, the remainder of my credit will be used and I’ll only owe about $50 – another $150 for the good guys!
  • I’ve eliminated the beer/wine budget – up $20
  • cut out planned expenditures for acquiring some new dishes – up $50
  • no haircuts or cosmetics for March – up $30
  • cut entertainment from $40 for the month to $20 – up $20
  • projected another $80 revenue from my part-time job for March, which is closer to what my actuals to February actually are

I’ll be paying a little less than planned toward my line-of-credit. We’ll be keeping our whopping $30 a month dining out budget, because we had such a good time in February just going out for burgers.

Finally, I’ve added an expense of $20 for books.  There’s a church having a massive book sale March 6, and I plan on attending.  No sense showing up without a book budget! I like to read, and when everybody has read the books they want, I usually try and sell them to BMV to keep the cash flow going.

Although I’m not done quadruple checking March’s budget part II, I’m reasonably confident in saying we now have $120 in the black, instead of the big red hole I saw coming last week.

If I didn’t have a budget showing me all the expenses and revenues, I wouldn’t have seen it coming, and wouldn’t have adjusted anything. That’s when more trouble happens, and I’m very pleased that it couldn’t defeat me this time.

Game on!

Valentine’s for my sweethearts, on budget!

A Valentine for my girls

I don’t know about you, but I always thought Valentine’s was a holiday invented by greeting card companies and florists to soak a few more bucks out of folks after the holiday season.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adore flowers. I have a pretty nice garden, and I like to have the odd display of fresh cut flowers on my table from time-to-time. What I hate to see is people spending money on flowers for Valentine’s, when the prices are double (or more) what they are the other 354 days of the year.

This month, I budgeted $15 for gifts. At the beginning of the month, I went to see a friend who’d recently undergone  surgery. Naturally, I had to bring something. I didn’t think of this when crafting the budget. I did have advance knowledge, it wasn’t a surprise. Duh on me.

Why can’t I just show up empty handed? Because I can’t. It’s impossible. Initially I thought I’d bake, but I ran out of time.  Bad planning on my part.  Instead I picked up a couple of nice frizzy juices for her. The gift budget stood at $10.48.

Lucky for me, I had picked up these two porcelain mugs while on vacation over Christmas. Paid for those out of my vacation money, so they had no impact on my February budget. Both girls are trying not to have too much sugar, so I opted for the small package of Lindt hearts. Truthfully, I snuck these into my grocery budget. Finally, feeling this wasn’t quite enough yet, I opted to put a few little flowers in each mug. The florist even gave me a bit of ribbon to wrap around the chocolates.  There’s now a couple bucks to spare in the gift budget.

My local florist, which is normally quite reasonable, had also succumbed to the temptation to put prices up a little.  Not a lot, but just a little. Hey, I guess I would too if I had a captive audience waiting to buy what I had to offer. I went in thinking I’d put tulips in the mugs, but at $6.99 a bunch, I knew that was out. The bunches weren’t big enough to divide in two.  Instead, at the back of the store I found these little, assorted bouquets of daisies and carnations. They look bright and cheerful.

Hope you have a sweetheart of a day that’s kind to those you love, and your pocketbook.