Post-Mortem: November

Two weeks ago, I did a rough review on how we’re doing with food spending. It’s the biggest variable spending we have. There were months when we spent more than $1,000 just on food. That’s a LOT for 2 adults and 1 pre-schooler.

So we had to take a look into ourselves and figure out what we were not doing right. I blamed myself mostly for not being motivated to do anything. I forgot how therapeutic cooking to me was. I re-discovered my love for cooking this month. I made simple meals that one day I hope to share with you.

We have spent $750 on food this month. We only dined out and bought take-outs twice each, both done with no excessive order taking at cheap places. We also spent $133 on prepared Thanksgiving meal, which we believe was a wise decision.

I also realized that I just can’t be very strict about the “extras”. I seem to have a difficult time fully trimming the fat, and I’m not sure if one can realistically do that with a child. I mean, my child recently discovered hot cocoa when I bought him one at Starbucks on Macy’s Parade Day. Of course I don’t intend to buy him hot cocoa at Starbucks often, so I decided to grab a tub of hot cocoa and 2-for-$5 whipped cream at the supermarket for the fun of it.

Using November as a baseline, it looks like the food budget could be about $650/month (after deducting Thanksgiving dinner) for the 3 of us. This would need commitment from me to cook at least 4 times a week. I’m sure you know that I work full-time, so dinner preparation usually occupies my mind by noon. This aspect of cooking is something, I believe, a lot of non-cooking folks don’t get but that’s another post to come. 🙂

Overall, to bring down food spending from $1k+ to $750–with prepared T Day dinner purchased at that–deserves us pats on our backs! I’m so happy to have experienced this month.


November in review

Late October, Jon and I made a pact to lower our spending. We knew that the bulk of our spending was on food, specifically bought food. Half into the month, here’s what the food spending looks like:

  • $250 on groceries
  • $34 on take-out & delivery

I say, that’s great progress from us! Not all of $250 used up yet. I still have a few meals to cook, which can each generate 1 or 2 leftover meals.

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This Thanksgiving is the FIRST one we’ll celebrate as a family. Jon was not into the idea of celebrating it in NZ. It’s kind of hard to do that when you don’t have the rest of the country celebrating with you. We decided, because we like convenience, to buy prepared turkey, side dishes and a pecan pie for dessert. We got them from Whole Foods and will pick them up on Thanksgiving day. We could have chosen to buy enough for 2 adults and 1 toddler, but we went a bit crazy. 🙂 We are used to leftovers and I can be creative with them too. Total à la carte purchase was $133. I honestly did not want to get a turkey, even though we got the petite kind, because the idea of eating meat–and the same meat at that–for an undetermined amount of time sounds so gross to me. But Jon hasn’t had a decent Thanksgiving for more than 6 years I think.

Though we haven’t entirely used cash to spend, it’s obvious that it wasn’t the debit/credit cards that were the problem. I mean, they are not evil in the sense that they don’t magically swipe themselves at the counter. 🙂

I liberally budgeted $1k on food to cover every food purchase we’ll make this month. I’ve adjusted it since to $850 and will most likely keep adjusting as the month closes. I know, and you probably think, that $1k is WAY TOO MUCH budget for food. We typically spend ~$600/month on groceries but we also have budget for bought food. That $1k covers EVERY EDIBLE ITEM we’ll buy in November. I don’t have a goal yet, e.g. spend $500/month on food, because I believe that holidays and seasons play a part in our eating habits. We tend to spend less during cold months and go lax in the warm months.

I’m just happy that we’re really able to lower spending. We’re on the same boat and I’ve committed myself to cooking again.

It’s not him, it’s me

I lent my, and my family’s only, credit card here in the USA to my husband about 2 weeks ago to pay the vet. I haven’t asked for it back. Such great timing, I thought, because we decided to use cash this month, use debit if we must, and to leave the credit card at home.

There hasn’t been any transaction in that card since. So…hey…wait a minute.

Was it me? Has it always been just me? Only me who was doing the damage, err, spending?

We make joint decisions on non-grocery purchases so part of me believes I shouldn’t take the blame, but I can’t help it. I was fully aware of every transaction that appears in every statement.

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At the beginning of our relationship, I promoted myself to money manager. He surrendered to me, you could say that. I reigned him in because I thought he spent frivolously. We introduced personal allowance, which we still practice. (By the way, it helps us feel that we have SOME control of our OWN salaries.) So now, it turns out, I need to be reigned in.

So…we’ve turned into each other before we met each other? Huh? What? Wot.

This is a big (not to mention nasty) reality to swallow, you know. I’m the budgeter for crying out loud. I really don’t know why I pushed for buying our toddler a new bike (with side supports) for $200. (Please don’t judge me!). I don’t know why I kept wanting to get take-out when the real reason was really wanting to be out and about, socializing, etc.

I’ve worked so hard since last year to be independent of credit, and yet I’m abusing it again. Just so you know, I decided to get a credit card here to “build my credit”. Being new to the country, I have no credit history and any financial institution barely “know” me. I wish I just got a miles card. I probably wouldn’t feel so bad.

Okay, just to clear, last month wasn’t exactly spend-for-shopping-for-ourselves month. A big chunk of our discretionary money went towards paying off the Visa. Spends that took place in summer just had to get paid and having waited until end of fall to do that was just a reckless decision.

So, back to spending REAL money this month, though it actually started last month. We haven’t bought take-out food nor ate out since Halloween. Wow. Really wow!

Enlightened by the Kardashians

What the fork! I might have to give up on achieving $15k by New Year’s Eve. This thought came to me while watching The Kardashians. Reality TV brings about enlightenment!

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First, it’s not realistic at this point unless I won the Lotto that I don’t bet on. It’s $5.5k away and we only have this and next month to come up with that. Who am I kidding? Secondly, it just doesn’t look achievable says our monthly budget. Do you see what I’m saying?

Maybe, just maybe, we could make it by February.

We don’t have a set budget on Christmas gifts yet. J and I don’t really give Christmas gifts. We like to give gifts for some other reason and not just because it’s a holiday. Though Christmas is my favorite holiday, I don’t completely associate it with receiving presents. I LOVE giving presents, but I think I’m going to be a bit of a Grinch this year. We’ll see. I tend to change my mind about being stingy on Christmas anyway. 🙂

Having no budget for gifts, we could d end up pushing the projected date of our emergency fund. It could set us back to March. Eep! Jon, if you’re reading this please just limit your present to that Nikon camera we saw on TV tonight with Ashton Kutcher replacing the lens.

When I set the goal to $15k, I thought about how a bit steep that was for a start. $10k seemed more SMART, but I got greedy. If I lower the goal now I’d feel such a fake. My pride is at stake here! It would be giving in to the whims and wants we gladly splurged on. Uurgh. Why is life so difficult sometimes?

If I set a donation link on this page, would you donate $2 to help fund our savings? Please? I promise to acknowledge you, guys! You’d be helping me achieve a dream.

Re-using coffee holders

I like to recycle and re-use things. I don’t know when it started because despite growing up with parents who re-use everything including foil, it didn’t come natural to me.

Maybe it was feeling bad about the coffee holder being chucked into the recycle bin that did it. Though recycling is good for the planet, it still requires energy and effort to be recycled, right?

I’m a regular at a café close to my toddler’s pre-school. Once I told the owner that I re-use coffee holders, she said “I love you for that!”.

Imagine if ALL take-out coffee drinkers re-use their coffee holders, a small effort could:

– save businesses money
– less use of energy and other resources to recycle paper
– keep cost down for businesses and the government, and for us coffee lovers

It was a conscious effort at first but now it comes natural to me. I keep 2 coffee holders in my bag if one of them breaks and I’m stuck with a hot cuppa.

My mom re-uses old tattered clothes as dish rags. My dad re-used wood and nails when he and mom decided to build their retirement house — a project that they managed themselves. When finished building, they gave away wood. They also bought old iron gates from a junk yard and re-designed and painted them to look different and new.

What do you re-use?

One week of no dining out or buying take-outs

I can’t write enough about how pleased I am about this progress. I like to cook, it’s therapeutic, but there were days that I just can’t be bothered. I know that there WILL be days that I won’t be bothered cooking, and I’m hoping that those will be few and far in between. I think I got my cooking groove back.

Every day since last weekend, I have reflected on the reasons and circumstances why we ate in. I can account the change to planning better and having the determination to achieve our $15k emergency fund goal ASAP!

We have a plan to visit my family in Christmas 2012 and to save money on airfare, we HAVE to buy them in summer. This plan is budgeted for (at a minimum the budget can afford at $50) but because it depends on the completion of the $15k, it only has $100. 😦 We need at least $6k by August for airfare. That’s why I’m in a hurry to reach $15k to give us breathing room while saving for $6k. Just so you know, $6k is a liberal budget. I over-budget for things because over time I realized that there are things I just have no control over.

So far, we have spent $170 on groceries with some of the food bought still waiting to be cooked. Yesterday I cooked 2 entrees that will last us until Tuesday night I bet. 🙂 The good thing about Asian food is that the older they get, the better they taste. 🙂 I’m on a cooking roll and they are all delicious!

It’s true that budgeting, and anything money-related, is psychological. I don’t know why I didn’t feel like having Sunday brunch in a café when I typically think about it from Saturday afternoon. The house felt such a cozy place to be in yesterday morning. Our toddler went to a playdate for the most part of the afternoon, and J and I decided to watch pay-per-view movie. Instead of spending $20+ (not including gas, parking, and who knows what), we only spent $5. It just felt right to be home yesterday, but we had talked about going to a movie theater all week. We just decided on it an hour before play date started.

We’re going camping this weekend. We’ll sleep in a yurt. I’m actually looking forward to it and I’m not the camping type. We’ll be spending 3 nights in it and we’ll obviously need to pack food to cook and eat. That should be fun! I’ll try to remember to post pictures of camping when we get back. Below are links to very informative videos that even kids should watch I think.

Funny SNL folks.

Have a lovely week!

Cash helps my determination

It sure feels different handling money. Because I have this need to be organized, I make sure that my notes are folded in a pile in my tiny purse. I cringe when I think about pulling folded notes and counting my money in front of strangers. I’ve seen people do it, I don’t think it’s weird, but when I do it I think it’s showing people my money regardless of how much I have. I have this thing about pulling out money, like it’s tacky or something.

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It’s irrational, I know. There are plenty of irrational reasons why I spend. I mean I want to know where our money goes but I don’t have a strict self-imposed limitation on how much to spend. Yes, I do budget but it has always been a guiding information but I don’t feel shackled when I run out because I know I can rely on savings if I need to.

The money manager is me. Jonno asks me if we could buy this or that because he doesn’t touch the budget I set monthly. So, I bear the weight of budgeting and I feel I let down myself and my husband. Of course he has no idea that I feel this way, because he would think that I’m doing great. After all, we have $10k saved within 4 months.

That was my turning point, the savings. The plan is to have $15k by end of December. It has been $10k for more than a month, maybe even 2. We lost so much time and money spending aimlessly. So that’s where we are now, at least where I am. And it’s not even wasted spending. We went to San Francisco for 3 days not only to visit it but to also meet a friend from NZ who traveled to the States. We bought a car for $1,500 and bikes that we enjoy.

At the rate of saving $1k a month (at least), February 2012 is the projected month to reach the $15k goal. I’m beating myself for that, hence the determination to truly reduce eating out and non-budgeted spending. Like I said in an earlier post, we believe that spending in cash would truly keep me determined. I’m getting there. I haven’t thought of ordering food for a week now.

Do you spend cash? If you do, what for and how often?