I have a large personal expenditure coming up in the next few months. I had a large personal expenditure last month, when I bought a new used car after five months of making do (walking, borrowing my dad's truck, borrowing Warren's car) when my old car died. That was $1900.00 cash, plus another $150.00 for title, plates transfer, and sales tax ($133.00). The car purchase knocked down what I call my "expense account" (a separate checking account I use as savings) considerably. The 3% COLA I received at work just about equaled the increase in my health insurance premiums. (I am not complaining; we have Cadillac coverage and only pay 10% of the overall premium.) And it being a brand new year, all of my health insurance deductible and out of pocket amounts have reset to zero, so I am looking at some sizable medical expenses early on in 2017. Oh, and did I note that my copay for oncology went up, as did the cost of my oral chemo?
In short, money is tight. In response, my overall goal for the next four months is to live as close to the bone as possible.
Fortunately, except for the medical costs, my needs are fairly small on a daily basis: food, gas, utilities. My wants tend to be things that don't cost money (or very little): books from the library, walks when our temperatures are not sub-arctic, time with friends. And I am fortunate beyond words to be married to a man who likewise takes pleasure in leftovers, making do, and coming up with inexpensive ways to spend time and life together. (Not only do I have someone on the same page as I am when it comes to being budget conscious, but Warren can sometimes underspend me!)
All the same, I find myself pondering how to keep the outflow of money as low and arid as possible. It is so easy to take out the debit card and buy the whatever. Although I am not buying high or even medium whatevers as a rule, even inexpensive ones add up. What to do?
What I have ended up doing is printing off my check stub on payday (every two weeks). I have long categorized my pays as "1st pay" and "2nd pay." (Twice a year there is an extra pay, as we get paid 26 times a year, but I keep my focus on 1st and 2nd.) By sheer repetition, I know which set bills and expenses (utilities and oncology copays, for example) come out of which pay. I take the printout and write out, deducting from my take home pay as I go, all the fixed expenses that have to come out of that paycheck. What is left over is my spending money for two weeks.
Groceries, coffee with friends, postage come out of spending money; gasoline, in contrast, is a fixed expense. After I did the above exercise for the first pay of 2017, I had $89.00 left over. With a week to go, I still have $30.00.
I can't remember when, if ever, I charted out my expenditures looking forward. While I always did that mental exercise in my head with each pay period, my actual tracking was usually with hindsight. (How much did I spend?) It's an interesting exercise, seeing visually my declining account balance before the spending occurs.
Some frugalists out there make January a no-spend month. Check out the Frugalwoods, who I just stumbled across thanks to Katy Wolk-Stanley, the Non-Consumer Advocate. Katy is a member of the Compact. (Compact members are committed to not buying new things. That's a simplistic version; you can go over to Katy's website to get a better idea. While you're there, read any posts titled "Goodwill, Badwill, Questionable-will" just for sheer laughs.) Me? I'm somewhere in the middle, with strong tendencies towards being a member of the Compact.
We do have one bigger than typical expense coming up in February. Old friends of mine are flying into Chicago February to rendezvous with us. I am not too worried because we have a joint travel account which will be pay for our trip and, even with that earmarked account, we tend to travel frugally. We have free lodgings (our sister-in-law's condo in Oak Park), we'll buy a CityPASS to see the sights (as our California friends have never been to Chicago, I imagine the Art Institute, the Field, and other places are all on the list) and so save on admissions when seeing those sights, and Warren and I eat cheap no matter where we are, usually splitting meals. (I know you are wondering who visits Chicago in February, right? We do. And the old friends are headed to the Antarctic in March, so Chicago should be a piece of cake. Unfortunately for three of the four of us, it will not be baseball season when we are there, but you can't have everything.)
I get paid next week. Because I have credits at both the oncologist's and primary physician's office, the money I set aside last week for copays for those appointments will go into my expense account next week after I get paid. That will inch me a little bit closer to meeting the large expenditure I mentioned when I opened this post.
I never took economics. I don't closely follow the financial world or even government (at any level) budget talks. But I know that by applying stringent budget controls, I should be able to meet my goal.