Author Topic: Fall Frugality Challenge  (Read 7424 times)

ZiziPB

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Fall Frugality Challenge
« on: August 30, 2013, 09:52:54 AM »
Who:  me - a single 45 year old woman - and my cat
What: live within my (voluntarily) limited paycheck
When: Sept 18 - Dec 20 (this is when my daughter is away at uni)
Why: in order to save $$$ on after tax basis through the end of the year

Here are the details:

I have decided to contribute approximately $10K on after tax basis to my 401k this year (after I max out the tax deductible contributions - I am currently at $17,200 or so and am contributing $2,457 monthly for the rest of the year.  Because it will be on after tax basis for the year, my paycheck will suffer due to higher taxes).  In addition, I have decided to save $4,000 per month on after tax basis and invest it through Fidelity.  I set up a direct deposit of $2K bi-monthly into my Fidelity brokerage account last month (so August is now done and will be automatically invested next Tue!).  This will leave me with approximately $3,750 net available each month through the end of the year (this takes into account the higher taxes I am expecting to kick in in September).

My mortgage, tax and HOA are $2,500 per month.  The rest of my "austerity budget" is:
Groceries, toiletries, cat food, etc. $300
Gas $150
Utilities $150
Cable/internet $100
Phone $160 (this is for 3 lines (me, my ex and my daughter) and should be going down by $40 while daughter is away)
Netflix $8
Cash $50

I don't need to buy any clothes for the next 4 months and I don't eat out.  Medical expenses will come out from the HSA account and I have a well funded emergency fund that will cover any unanticipated expenses.  I have no debt other than my mortgage.  Insurance (house, car, life, umbrella) is paid for the next 6 month to a year. However, I do spend quite a lot on food so the $300 per month will be a challenge.  Also, keeping my utilities to $150 will require some work.  The biggest challenge will be to stop random spending on clothes, yarn and other stuff that I tend to do....

The only two expenses that I haven't budgeted for but I know will come up in the next 4 months is a couple of haircuts and one scheduled car maintenance.  Typically, I spend quite a lot for these ($60 plus tip for a haircut and probably $300 for the car at the dealer).  Any ideas on how to reduce these costs would be welcome.  Also, do you see any other categories that I am missing and other things that could trip me up in the next 4 months?

« Last Edit: August 30, 2013, 10:01:39 AM by Izeve »

kdms

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Re: Fall Frugality Challenge
« Reply #1 on: August 30, 2013, 10:21:10 AM »
Could you perhaps find a private mechanic (as opposed to a dealer, which typically cost more, at least here in Canada) to service the car?

Your specific questions had to do with the haircutting and the car servicing, and anything that might trip up your $4k investment goal, but slightly outside of those parameters, perhaps you might consider the following:

Do you need the cable if you've got Netflix?   

We're a family of 3.8 (second child arriving soon) with three cats on specialty food and our grocery/consumables budget is $100 a week, so your goal of $300 a month (assuming a 4-week month) for us would be tight, but if I was on my own with one cat $75 a week would be quite sufficient.  (Not a criticism, just a personal observation.  I have no idea what the cost of groceries are like in your area.) As you say you don't eat out, do you cook from scratch at all, or do you generally use processed or packaged foods?  Perhaps you could review your food preparation style and maybe save some dollars there.

I'm also a little curious as to why you're paying for your ex's phone costs....?


ZiziPB

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Re: Fall Frugality Challenge
« Reply #2 on: August 30, 2013, 10:38:37 AM »
Thanks, kdms.  You are right, I don't need cable but that is really my only entertainment when my daughter is not at home (I spend my evenings watching HGTV and knitting ;-).  I considered getting rid of it but decided that it's an indulgence that I am willing to pay for. 

Your grocery budget is enviable.  I cook from scratch a lot, pack my lunch every day and don't rely on processed or packaged foods much but I tend to spend on fancy stuff (as my daughter calls it) like organic milk, yogurt, fruit and veggies, fancy cheese, meat, olive oil, wine etc.  Groceries are expensive where I live but I think I can get it down to $75 per week without much pain.

Phone for my ex - I got divorced a year ago.  He pays for Costco membership that I use and I kept his line  on my Verizon contract (just minutes, no data or texting).  Sure it would save a few dollars not to do it but, again, I don't consider it a biggie.

I will look into getting my car serviced somewhere else.  I think all it really needs in the next few months is an oil change and tire rotation so it should be easy to find a cheaper place to do it.

CommonCents

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Re: Fall Frugality Challenge
« Reply #3 on: August 30, 2013, 09:06:17 PM »
Re haircuts - stretch the times between visiting the salon by one, two, three, etc weeks.  Skip extras like color and just get a cut.  Ask around for free or discounted haircuts from students (be careful).  Ask a friend or family member to cut your hair.  Grow your hair out so you can donate it at the end of austerity.

ZiziPB

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Re: Fall Frugality Challenge
« Reply #4 on: August 31, 2013, 05:15:15 AM »
Thanks @commoncents, I should have said that I do not color my hair and have a lot of gray.  I wear my hair very short (think Jamie Lee Curtis).  I tried growing it longer, but without color, it makes me look frumpy and old unless it's very short and chic.  I usually have it cut every 6-8 weeks.  I don't think I would be brave enough to risk a student or a friend with this haircut.  I'm thinking about finding a cheaper salon ($20 range rather than $60) but I do feel disloyal to my hairdresser who has been cutting my hair for about 10 years now....

apennysaved

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Re: Fall Frugality Challenge
« Reply #5 on: August 31, 2013, 06:53:22 AM »
Regarding after tax 401k contributions, have you considered opening a Vanguard account and putting the extra contributions outside of your 401k? This way you can invest in many of the indexes that MMM recommends.  It is my undertanding that 401ks are limited to the investments in your employer's plan, so you may want to double check this.

For hair cuts, when we started watching our budget, I told my hairdresser that we were trying to cut costs.  So, we expanded the time between appointments to 3x a year instead of 4x (I have very straight hair) and she also said she would do the cut without a blowdry.  She dropped the price from $45/cut & blowdry to $25/cut.  So I went from $180/year to $90/year.  And, I refer her to anyone who is looking for a hairdresser.

ZiziPB

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Re: Fall Frugality Challenge
« Reply #6 on: September 19, 2013, 11:16:34 AM »
I am back from vacation and my daughter is safely back at university and won't be home until Xmas, so I'm ready to start this challenge (as of yesterday). 

Before I left for vacation I suspended my daughter's cell phone service (she is abroad so has no need for a US cell phone for the next 3 months) - this should shave off $40 from my Verizon bill.  I also called my hairdresser and pushed my next appointment out by 3 weeks.  I am not brave enough yet to get my haircut elsewhere but I will try stretching the time between the appointments.  I have recently switched my cable/internet provider and should be paying around $85 per month going forward which is just a little bit less than I budgeted for.  That's all on the saving front.  On the spending front, I do need to go grocery shopping this weekend (after a week and a half away, I came back to a rather empty fridge ;-) and my cat needs her claws trimmed really badly ($10 plus tax) so I will take her in this weekend as well. 

CommonCents

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Re: Fall Frugality Challenge
« Reply #7 on: September 19, 2013, 12:30:01 PM »
If your daughter is off at college, I would think cell phone falls under discretionary responsibility of hers.  Don't pay for it when she comes back, if she wants it enough, she'll get a part-time job herself to pay for it.

Can't you trim the cat's claws yourself?  My husband always does his cats claws himself.  Takes 5 minutes.  If she gets cranky, he'll do half and get the other half the next day.

ZiziPB

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Re: Fall Frugality Challenge
« Reply #8 on: September 19, 2013, 12:54:36 PM »
It's baby steps with my daughter ;-)  We're just not ready yet to cut the cord.  As to the cat, I'll try it again but I'm usually lucky to get one or two nails trimmed before she wriggles out of the hold and hides.  At this rate, it will take me two weeks to get the front paws done while my furniture is being shredded into pieces...  Ha, ha.  She's a wonderful cat but nail trimming is not her favorite, to say the least.

Freckles

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Re: Fall Frugality Challenge
« Reply #9 on: September 19, 2013, 03:44:44 PM »
Wrap that kitty up tight in a towel to make escape difficult (and protect yourself) and hold her tight between your legs and then trim those claws.  Or, give her some catnip first?

Could you watch your favorite HGTV shoes on Hulu?  Hulu would be cheaper than cable.

ZiziPB

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Re: Fall Frugality Challenge
« Reply #10 on: September 20, 2013, 12:10:13 PM »
Thanks Freckles, I will try that with the kitty. 

And as to cable, Hulu may be cheaper but I like the cable and decided that it is a worthy expense for me.  So it's going to stay for now.  After all, I am not claiming to be a Mustachian.  Just semi-Mustchian ;-)

CommonCents

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Re: Fall Frugality Challenge
« Reply #11 on: September 20, 2013, 01:11:26 PM »
After all, I am not claiming to be a Mustachian.  Just semi-Mustchian ;-)


I respect this.  :)  I often do things that are not Mustachian (such as the vacation-a 1.5 year delayed honeymoon I just booked today) although as a whole I try to save much than I earn, plan to retire early, and enjoy learning Mustachian tips.
« Last Edit: September 21, 2013, 08:23:11 PM by CommonCents »

ZiziPB

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Re: Fall Frugality Challenge
« Reply #12 on: September 21, 2013, 04:48:32 AM »
Freckles, I now owe you $10 :-)  Your towel trick worked beautifully - the kitty was so surprised by it that she didn't even move and I managed to trim both front paws!  Usually when I take her to the groomer, they also trim the back paws but I'm thinking that I will leave them alone as the only scratching damage she does is with her front claws.

I also went grocery shopping last night and ended up spending $105.  That is $30 more than I hoped to spend for the week but I bought some basics (like coffee, meat, etc. that were on sale) in larger quantities and also some splurge items.  I have to do much better next week...

Freckles

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Re: Fall Frugality Challenge
« Reply #13 on: September 21, 2013, 07:34:32 PM »
Yea!  I'm glad it worked!  I've wrangled a kitty or two in my time...  :)

newideas2013

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Re: Fall Frugality Challenge
« Reply #14 on: September 22, 2013, 11:17:42 AM »
For groceries, can you get flyers from local retailers? My old apartment they delivered flyers, new one they don't :(

Shopping at Walmart or other budget stores vs. more high end grocers saves me a lot. Try to incorporate new things into your diet (beans!) I couldn't believe how easy it is to get over 1lb of cooked canned beans for $1.00. I find groceries more expensive in Canada then US but to me that was crazy. Try some other things, like lately I've been doing whole chickens vs. my old habit of buying breasts.

Organic milk and all that, I'm sorry but I think it's all just a scam and waste of money. Buy normal fruits at 66% savings over organic and wash them properly, you will be fine. I know what you mean about cheese indulgence though :( lol I am trying to break that one.

It's OK to go a little over some weeks on groceries if you go under other weeks (stocking up on good sales) the more important thing is your average grocery bill over time. Look over each receipt when you get home and think long and hard about each item especially the pricy low hanging fruit that's easy to knock off first.

60.00 for a haircut seems expensive. How long does it take, 20-30 minutes? If so that is the equivalent of paying someone 120-180/hour. Master mechanics don't charge that much, neither do electricians or even lawyers. Then to throw a nice tip on top of it (15% would be 9 whopping dollars) + tax... maybe after your next good haircut, take a few good pictures. Bring that to different stylists who charge less.

CommonCents

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Re: Fall Frugality Challenge
« Reply #15 on: September 22, 2013, 03:26:56 PM »
60.00 for a haircut seems expensive. How long does it take, 20-30 minutes? If so that is the equivalent of paying someone 120-180/hour. Master mechanics don't charge that much, neither do electricians or even lawyers.

Um.  This is a digression, but it all depends where you are going for law services.  When I worked in biglaw, as a summer associate (still in law school) I was billed out at over $200 an hour - I think around $220.  When I worked there as an associate, I was billed out for more.  I think about $325 when I left in 2010 as a 2nd year.  Partners...bill out for $800+ at the top places.  Of course I only saw a fraction of the money, as someone has to fund the partner's nice profits.

ZiziPB

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Re: Fall Frugality Challenge
« Reply #16 on: September 30, 2013, 07:47:12 AM »
So the actual funds available for September are $3,647.71.  A bit less than I estimated due to much higher taxes.  But the good news is I did much better with my groceries this weekend.  $45 including a bottle of wine. 

kdms

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Re: Fall Frugality Challenge
« Reply #17 on: October 02, 2013, 11:06:36 AM »
So you're right on target with the $75 a week, if you take the extra $30 from last week and add it to the $45.  Good stuff!  Especially with the organic component (which I totally understand, paying through the nose for raw milk myself.)

ZiziPB

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Re: Fall Frugality Challenge
« Reply #18 on: October 06, 2013, 05:12:33 PM »
$80 spent on groceries and wine.  So just $5 over.  And I ended up being invited for dinner Saturday, so I didn't cook that day.  Which means I will freeze the meat I bought to use next weekend.

4alpacas

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Re: Fall Frugality Challenge
« Reply #19 on: October 09, 2013, 11:54:27 AM »
I know that this might be a little over the top for some...but have you tried boxed wine?  I've had some luck with Black Box (and another type from Whole Foods that I can't remember the name).  It's cheaper per ounce, and you can have as little (or as much) as you want. 

ZiziPB

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Re: Fall Frugality Challenge
« Reply #20 on: October 10, 2013, 06:56:11 AM »
Thanks for the suggestion.  I don't mind some of the box wines (whites are usually drinkable, not crazy about boxed reds) but it's not a good idea for me because I tend to drink more wine if it's there ;-)  So instead of having some just Friday and Saturday night, I end up having a glass or two every evening and before I know it the box is gone...  Not good!

ZiziPB

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Re: Fall Frugality Challenge
« Reply #21 on: October 14, 2013, 05:56:53 PM »
So I have tallied up the expenses and have to say that my budget was overly ambitious...  I ended up spending quite a lot more than I expected.  So rather a big FAIL during the first month of the challenge.

Here are the totals:

Funds available $3556

Groceries and wine: $373
Fuel $133.83
Electric/gas: $73.91
Phone: $68.29
Cable/internet: $86.70
House stuff:$59.32 (a couple of items needed replacement like rugs for bath, desk lamp, and I bought a couple of other misc items)
Cat: $70 (flea and tick medication; kitty litter)
Mortgage/HOA/tax: $2,500
Gift for daughter: $63.70
Personal items: $79.75 (earrings, replace watch battery)
Cash: $40

Total spent: $3548.50
While I did not spend more than the total available, there is still quite a lot of fat to trim from this list.  Challenge continues...

RetiredAt63

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Re: Fall Frugality Challenge
« Reply #22 on: October 21, 2013, 07:06:34 AM »
Some suggestions/comments:

Haircut expenses are good, but if you wash your hair before you go, so you are only paying for the cut, it might be even less.  I hate having my hair washed  at a salon so I always wash it first.  After reading this blog I have started cutting my own hair, but it is long and that makes it easy. 

Ex-husband's cell phone - your Costco membership would be what, $55 a year?  That is a lot less than his phone costs for a year.  If you have the membership, you can put your daughter on as a family member once she is back, and that will save her some $ as well.

Good for you for doing your cat's nails.  I do my dog's nails too, at $6 every two weeks it would add up.  My cat wasn't a scratcher, so I didn't do hers.  If you cat ever goes out (even indoor cats do manage to get outside), it will need those back claws for defense, so having them sharp is good.

If you can knit while you watch TV, you are a better knitter than I am  ;-)  The only thing I can knit while paying attention to something else is straight stocking stitch - no increases or decreases, no lace, no nothing interesting, or there is a lot of frogging in my life.

ZiziPB

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Re: Fall Frugality Challenge
« Reply #23 on: November 18, 2013, 11:26:07 AM »
I will not post specific numbers for the second month of the challenge but will just say that I did not do well at all!  Basically, I fell off the wagon and ended up spending several hundred dollars more than I needed.  So not a good month and I covered the extras by dipping into my cash cushion.  But I will regroup for the last month of this challenge and hopefully will do better. 

Also, it has not been a wasted effort so far - I have learned a lot about myself, my feelings surrounding money and my spending habits which is very useful for designing a more realistic budget going forward.