Archive for the ‘budgeting’ Category

Economic Stimulus Payment is Here, and Smaller Than Expected

Friday, May 9th, 2008

Just checked the account balance, and our “economic stimulus” payment is finally here.  While others got theirs early, ours came when the IRS schedule said it would.

I am underwhelmed with the government’s “generosity” here: we only got $600 total, which breaks down to $300 each.  Apparently an E-4 at the top of the pay scale for that pay grade doesn’t make enough to get the full economic stimulus.  I really didn’t expect to get the full $600 for myself, since I only had an income of a little over $3,000 delivering pizzas only on the weekends, but sheesh … one would think the government would pay its active duty military enough of a taxable salary to get the full stimulus!  I had thought we were getting $900 for our “economic stimulus.”

Yes, I am griping (or whining, if you prefer).  We didn’t plan to do much “stimulating the economy” other than our trip to Florida next month anyway, but this just cut the amount I had hoped to sock away into the big emergency fund significantly!

Hubby asked for $150 of that $600 for himself.  I agreed without asking if that would go towards our vacation fund.  I have to trust that he won’t go blow it at the wargaming shop, but he indicated yesterday when we sat down to discuss money over coffee that he feels like he doesn’t have any money for fun stuff anymore, and it makes him feel poor.  Or maybe he plans to use that money tonight taking me out to a nice restaurant for our belated anniversary celebration (quite possible).

So, as it stands right now, our emergency fund will only be stimulated by $450.  So much for hopes and plans when they rely on the government.  I feel like our financial progress has slowed to a crawl, when last year we were running at full speed.

I know I should be thankful since we are out of debt now.  I know there are quite a few readers who are still working towards that goal, and are probably wanting to tell me to shut up LOL  But it’s a bit discouraging to see what should be the benefits of getting out of debt - extra money that no longer goes towards debt payments - disappear into the gas tank and at the grocery store and to school as tuition bills seem to go up even faster than the price of gas.

Where’s this “financial peace” I’m supposed to be feeling?  Expenses have crept up about 12% since the beginning of the year, while our income took an $800 per month hit.  This has resulted in over $1000 per month difference in the monthly budget numbers, and is probably why I am feeling so anxious lately.  This so-called “economic stimulus” payment doesn’t even make that difference up for one month!  Heck, it only covers two months of increased expenses, with a little left over for the anniversary dinner.  No wonder the latest CNN/Money poll says the average American doesn’t think it will help anything.

Teenager on a Budget: Stocking Up

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

Over the weekend I had “the talk” with my son … not that talk.  I talked to him about inflation and grocery prices and our food budget experiment, and how I intend to give him $5 extra per week if he agrees to stock up on items he eats constantly that are on sale.

He’s already seen inflation in action at the grocery store for himself.  Remember the episode with the apples?  The first week we did the budget experiment, the apples were $1.29 per pound.  The 2nd week they were on sale for $1.19 per pound.  The next week, back up to $1.29 per pound.  Then, last week they jumped up to $1.49 per pound, and were that price again this week.

He didn’t buy apples last week or this week, but didn’t get the bagged apples either.

He also stuck with me for most of the shopping trip, seeking my input on what would be good to stock up on.  Hmmm, all it takes to get a teenage boy to ask his mother for grocery shopping advice is notice-able food price inflation!  LOL

I wouldn’t say he really stocked up on this trip, but then again I hadn’t given him *that* much more to stock up with.  Since his big bags of cereal were on sale, he grabbed an extra one at my urging.  He actually spent his entire $40 this week, and even went a little bit over for donuts and stuff to make banana pudding (I bought the bananas so I get some of it LOL).

The good news is he has more than a week’s worth of food now.  The better news is I am getting him to think a bit more about what is actually a good sale price and what isn’t.  The best news is he is learning that just because they post the price on bright stickers or cardboard does NOT mean it is actually on sale … sometimes they just want to push a product and try to make a regular price look like a sale!

As for myself, I was in full “lead by example” mode, scouting for killer deals on meat in particular for hubby and myself.  My efforts paid off :) as I snagged some beef sirloin tip for $1.79 per pound!  I have five impressive size steaks and one roast out of it after it was cut. (She shoots … she SCORES!)  I also snagged my hamburger patties and hot dogs BOGO (Buy One Get One … Free in this case) because it’s that time of year again, and hubby has been indicating all winter he wants a grill.

So, today’s shopping expedition was a marked success for me in the stocking up department, and a primer for the Teenager on just how to do it.  Now, if I can just teach him the “safe following distance” concept with shopping carts!

Financial and Blogging Goals for May

Friday, May 2nd, 2008

Yesterday I ran the budget numbers and blogged about how things are getting cut as gasoline and food rises.  Today I got a reminder over twitter that I haven’t blogged about goals yet (thanks squawkfox LOL)

Lots of “weirdness” going on right now for us.  I upped food and gas in the budget, but I am not sure what gas prices will do.  I just finished the semester, and have been asking around about a possible daytime job since hubby doesn’t want me working 5-6 nights a week like I did last summer.  Hubby is really wanting to take a vacation in Florida to see his family and friends at the beginning of June.

Financial Goals for May 2008

  • Keep under budget!
  • Find a part-time job for the summer
  • Save up for vacation
  • Have a little extra to stuff in emergency fund
  • Get the brakes checked on the Pizza Taxi (it’s been almost a year)

Now, how did I do with my April goal?  I wanted to stuff $1350 into the emergency fund, but hadn’t planned on the trip to Missouri for my cousin’s funeral.  Right now I have $850 to put into the emergency fund account, with probably $200-300 more next week after all the bills clear.

Not too bad, considering the unexpected trip.  AND I have officially passed my organic chemistry class (with a D but hey I’ll take it!)

Blogging Goals for May 2008

The successful PF bloggers set blogging goals for themselves, and I think I will start that.  So, here are a few blogging goals:

  • Increase subscribers to 650 (if you aren’t already subscribed, you can sign up by RSS or email!)
  • Write an ebook by the end of the month (still taking opinions on what topic y’all want to read)
  • Do more research on the “stagflation survival” series (started this morning)
  • Participate in at least 3 blog carnivals weekly

I think I can do these :)  and y’all can help out on a couple of them.  Share posts you like on the social media sites (buttons at the bottom of each post) and through email.  Also, if you survived the 1970s stagflation here in the U.S., hit me with your tips!  I am just not finding much at all on Google for the subject, so I will need to go to direct interviews of people who lived it.

May Budget Numbers Still Adjusting Up

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

I just fiddled with the May budget numbers (on my own since hubby is down in the Fort Bliss area until next week) and while the overall outgo went down I am still not happy with them.

That $3.219 per gallon gas price I was griping about last month looks pretty nice this month!  Our area just went over $3.499 per gallon this week, and I expect the price to jump up for this weekend.  Gasoline budget for the Pizza Taxi was increased another $20 for May and I am hoping it doesn’t take more than that.

I didn’t raise the grocery category per se, but I am figuring an extra $50 “just in case” for groceries in general.  With my budget experiment with the teenager still ongoing, and my son noticing the price increases of apples (his favorite) this may need to change as quickly as mid-month.  At least strawberries (my favorite) are in season and on sale.

Utility costs flip-flopped this month, with the natural gas & water bill going up $40 and the electric bill going down almost $60.  This is usually the lowest month for utility bills, so I am not expecting it to stay that way.

I decreased the eating out budget from $120 down to $100.  We really haven’t been spending that much per month, as hubby swears no restaurant in town can hold a candle to my cooking (I love his flattery!) and he prefers to eat in.

I am thinking of cutting the cable bill more.  I may slice out even the basic-basic television, and (horrors!) am even thinking of going down a level on my internet connection.

Even with last month’s unplanned trip to my cousin’s funeral, plus the icky rising costs, I still have about $850 to put into our big emergency fund.  It’s progress, even if it is a tad slower than I had hoped.  Forward progress is what matters, and even if you only get four yards per down that still moves the chains after third down (man I miss my football…).

Teenager on a Budget: Frustration

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

We just got back from the grocery store, and I am feeling rather frustrated with my teenage son and his idea of grocery shopping.  For those new to my teenager on a budget experiment, this is week five of the budget experiment and here’s the back story:

It’s not as if I have never tried to teach him how to shop smart.  It’s not as if I have never taken him shopping and “led by example” for aggressive saving on food.  It’s not as if I didn’t point out great loss-leader sales as we went in the door.  It’s not as if I haven’t tried to teach him how to save by buying in bulk when it’s a better deal on items that will be eaten.

He’s being stubborn, clinging to the idea that he can outshop his mom *his* way.  Just one hour ago, he told me: “I only buy what I need for the week, instead of stocking up.  That way I am saving money.”  He was buying four large individual apples, and I pointed out to him he could save money and get more apples if he bought the prebagged ones, even if they are smaller.  By my calculations, he could eat two smaller apples at a time and still have more servings for about the same cost.  He bought the bigger ones.

One thing I absolutely love about shopping at the local Kroger is they put the price per unit on their price labels.  This helps immensely, especially when trying to determine which size of an item to get and whether or not the larger “bulk” size is actually the better deal (sometimes it isn’t).  I have pointed this out to my son several times over the past couple years.

Over the past couple years I have stressed the importance of knowing what normal price is, so I know when a sale is actually a good deal or when it’s just hype.

Apparently all my instruction has been for naught.  Or maybe he is just experimenting on his own, and will eventually come around to my way of thinking on his own.  I just know I am feeling frustrated right now as he is dismissing all my shopping advice.  For those of y’all who have survived raising teenagers, or have just come out of the teenage years yourself: Is this a “normal” phase for teenagers to completely blow off parental advice?

My Budget Busters

Saturday, April 19th, 2008

Apparently my fellow PF bloggers are dying to hear what things bust my budget, because I got tagged not once but twice for CindyS’s “budget busters” meme this week.  Peter from Bible Money Matters hit me first, then Shanti over at Antishay Ventenne got me.  I guess it’s “confession time” in the personal finance blogosphere in regards to budgets.

  1. The fast-food drive-through!  This one is my weakness, my achilles heel, my vice, and I have gotten to the point where I simply plan for it.  I know there will be days when I just don’t feel like cooking, or I’m on the go and getting hungry with a few more errands left to do.
  2. The $5 DVDs at Wal-Mart.  Seriously, this one is just too easy to justify: a DVD for less than a movie theater ticket!  We always buy movies we know we like and will watch at least three to five times … but they really add up when you find four good ones in one trip to the store.
  3. The “day old” sales at the bakery.  Doughnuts, muffins, sweet breads, loaf cakes, bakery cookies … yes we have serious sweet tooths here and I love getting them for less than half price!  It’s never on the grocery list, but how could I pass up such a great deal on things we love to eat?  Let’s not forget the fun day-after holiday candy finds either … I just scored a dozen (YES, that’s TWELVE) Cadbury caramel eggs on my Missouri trip.  I won’t even get into Christmas or Valentines Day candy.

Hmmm, seems like food and entertainment are my weaknesses.  None of these things are large-ticket items, but they do tend to add up if I indulge in them on a regular basis.

I know I am supposed to tag other bloggers, but all my favorite targets have been tagged already, so I will do an “open tag” where if you have a blog, put up your budget busters.  If you don’t have a blog, feel free to leave your biggest budget busters here in the comments.

Teenager on a Food Budget: Week Three

Tuesday, April 8th, 2008

I was just too tired last night after we got home from Wal-Mart to blog, but last evening was the Teenager’s third week on his grocery budget and my reaction this week is mixed.

Once again, the Teenager did not spend his entire grocery allocation and says it was 100% intention this week.  In fact, he didn’t buy much for food at all, only getting milk, cereal, apples, chips, and a couple other things.  I asked him about that in front of the checkout lanes, and he said he was good on pasta and sauce at home.  He declared he wanted to do a midweek grocery run and was saving the rest of the money for that.

I had a few misgivings about that in Wal-Mart, then the thought occurred to me after the Teenager went to bed: he may prefer to do his grocery shopping at Kroger.  When we hit Kroger for week two he had much more food in his cart as Kroger carries a better selection of things for vegetarians, especially in the store brand.

I should probably mention that the Teenager does NOT shop with us.  He grabs his own cart and heads off on his own, and doesn’t seem inclined to ask advice or even be within two aisles of our cart while shopping.  In fact, if we head for the dairy case in the back, he will start in produce.  I doubt if he would take advice given as advice, so I just ask him questions when I see him.  He calls me on the cell phone when he is done checking out to see where we are, and waits for us at the door.

If you’d like to catch up on this story, here are the previous posts about my experiment of putting my 14yo son on his own grocery budget:

As always, comments, suggestions, and criticsms are welcome.

Adjusting the Budget for Inflation

Monday, April 7th, 2008

Hubby and I had a little budget meeting Saturday (which was when I discovered the math errror and possible overdraft charges) and discussed where are money is going for the month.  We raised two budgeting categories for the month of April: groceries and gasoline for the car and truck.  Both of these budget items are growing and taking a bigger bite out of our monthly money.

It’s beginning to remind me of the 80s comedy-musical-movie Little Shop of Horrors (which hubby found online a couple weeks ago) and the alien carnivorous plant Audrey Two.  At the beginning of the movie, Audrey Two is small and satisfied with only a few drops of blood from Seymour, but as it grows it demands more and more (and talks and sings as well).  (Trivia: the original version of the movie starred a very young Jack Nicholson and was supposed to be a serious horror movie.)

Back to the budget - the grocery and gasoline allocations are starting to grow.  With gas locally at $3.219 per gallon yesterday, it is taking about $50-60 per week for hubby to fill his truck (resisting the urge to make a snide remark about how we should have sold it…) and $29-34 to fill my Pizza Taxi per week.  This is up from $45-55 for hubby’s truck and $26-31 per week for my car just a few months ago, and WAY up from last year.  It is almost as if the vehicles’ gas tanks and the gas pumps are whining “Feeeeed me, Seymour!”

As for food, I have upped the amount to $140 per person in the grocery section of the budget, from about $120 per person at the beginning of the year.  There is no imagining things, both hubby and son DO come up to me every late afternoon or early evening and say “Feeeeed me, Seymour!” in a voice mimicking the plant in the movie.  It’s humorous, but I can’t help but wonder if I’ll have to prick a finger to accomplish this at some point.

Now, to get a bit political: you won’t see anything about this from any official government report.  They intentionally strip out food and energy prices from their inflation calculations, which means the Fed will feel it is still safe to cut the interest rates because they can claim “inflation is under control right now.”  All I can say is 8 of the 10 members of the FOMC must not eat or drive anywhere if they can say inflation is under control with a straight face.

Other countries’ central banks are raising the interest rates and watching (accurate) inflation numbers with concern (Aussie example here).  So, why can’t our Fed do the same?  Ben Bernake testified last week that a recession is a possibility, and last time I checked, recession + inflation = STAGFLATION.  What in the world are our “financial leaders” trying to do to us??  Everyone on the FOMC is old enough to remember the 70s and how ugly that was … so why is it beginning to look like they are intentionally trying to bring back stagflation?

For another movie reference, I am reminded of the scene at the drive-in about the middle of the movie Twister.  One of the storm chasers hops out of the van after checking the weather radar on the laptop, screaming “It’s coming right for us!”  The hero of the movie grimly announces: “No, it’s already here!” as the storm begins to take apart the drive-in’s movie screen.  I’ve been grumbling recently about inflation coming, and this month’s budget numbers seem to suggest: IT’S HERE ALREADY!  In this house, we’re feeling it at the gas pump and in the grocery store checkout.

How about y’all: Are any of you feeling the effects of inflation in your budget?  Is there a budget category that’s whining “Feeeeeed me, Seymour!” for you?  Do you think the government’s official inflation figures are wrong?  Do you feel like we are headed into some ugly stagflation?  Or do you think I am being too much of an alarmist?