Monday, January 10, 2011

Budgeting - Part II

So last time we had a rant about money. How about we legitimately discuss budgeting this time around?

In my budget, I like to have my annual income right there, front and center, no matter how much it may make me cry every time I see it. Poverty is poverty, and there's no denying it. I then break it down to monthly income, and go from there. I'd give you guys a nice snapshot of my excel sheet, but you have no need of knowing how much/if I put anything into my savings. (generally that's negatory, ghost rider) Then I just break it down by category. For about two months, my spreadsheet was itemized and placed in each category, with a nice relating pie chart so I knew what percentage of my cash was going where. As of since, I've become slightly less anal-retentive and slightly more lazy, but I still enjoy having a general idea of where I can cut back.

My brother called me up the other day, asking me how much I spent on groceries. I mastered grocery shopping in college, trying not to spend over $30 a week at the Harris Teeter. I can proudly say that, shopping for two, my grocery bill is now rarely over $50 a week. I don't eat many things I'd like to - chevre (good Lord, an assortment of cheese in general), a solid Spanish chorizo, I cook with much more vegetable oil rather than olive oil, and I have close to no herbs in my cupboard.

This is, hands down, the category I am most proud of. Because OfficeMate and I split our food bill 50/50, I generally don't spend more than $125 a month on groceries. The extra $25 comes from things I don't need, persay, but don't expect OfficeMate to split with me, such as coffee, wine and crystallized ginger (let me have my one unnecessary expense). I only purchase wine when I'm in Northern Virginia, where I can stock up on bottles of Three Buck Chuck. I only drink wine with dinner, really, and have saved a ton of money on that as a result. No, it's not classy wine. Yes, far superior wine exists. No, I cannot afford that. Yes, I am content with my $3 bottles.

Also, and this is something that seems like such a no brainer, but I never even bothered with in college, plan your weekly menus based on what's on sale that week. I am a HUGE dork and signed up for the Kroger coupons that they email to you. From there, I scour what's on sale that week and look up recipes accordingly. And if bread's on sale for $1/loaf, don't just buy one. Grab four or five, even if your roommate mocks you, and shove 'em in the freezer. Then you don't have to worry about bread for a while. I only buy meat on sale, and get it in huge quantities to separate into smaller bags and then freeze. While some weeks your grocery bill may sky rocket to $70 because you bought a ton of meat, the next week it'll be significantly lower because you won't have to buy any.

Let's not forget to take into consideration that we eat the AmeriCorps VISTA lunch of champions on a almost daily basis - Peanut Butter and Jelly. But you know what? We mix up the snack on the side! Chips, pretzels, fruit, cheez its. It's not super thrilling, but my bank account's a fan. Sometimes I go crazy and have leftovers for lunch. (Free frozen Olive Garden helps, too)

When you break it all down... $200/month for food for two people. $100/month per person. $25/week. $3.57/day. Not too shabby.

Sharing an apartment with a coworker has been fantastic for an array of reasons, but one of the big ones is how much we're both saving on gas. When I first moved here, gas was a glorious $2.34/gallon. It's on the rise and is now hovering around $2.90. When I was in Northern Virginia over Christmas, I paid well over $3.00, so I do understand your pain, rest of the world. As a result of forced carpooling, though, I only fill up Mr. Merlot about twice a month, so long as I don't visit the family. Each fill up now costs me around $30, so I only shell out about $60/month to get around town. I highly recommend carpooling - it's a win-win for your wallet and the environment! If you can't carpool, look into public transit, especially if you're in an urban area. Between gasoline, tolls, and parking fees, it sometimes becomes more cost efficient to suck it up and take the bus. It's not just for plebeians anymore, I promise. Plus, you get sweet built-in reading time!

Car Expenses
I was incredibly hesitant about buying a car because while I knew I could handle the cost of gas, I had no idea what to truly expect for all the other costs.

Insurance in this town is gloriously low. Yes, my car is registered here as a result. Plus, you get all sorts of discounts if you pay online, all at once, etc etc. As a result, insurance isn't too horribly painful. What IS horribly painful, however, are those unexpected car costs. Such as when I first purchased Mr. Merlot and his check engine light kept coming on, and I was quoted a quarter of the cost of the damn car to fix the problem at hand. Thank goodness for second opinions. That still set me back, though. This is why I put away chunks of change, no matter how small, every month into the savings account. Because when your car decides to become a princess, you have to be ready to shell out the cash. I ain't saying he a gold digger....

Now I'm dealing with the wonders of tires, state inspections and oil change #3578635. Again, family, you best appreciate my driving home. I wouldn't reach 3k miles so quickly if I wasn't always on I81. Happy New Year, indeed.

We live in a super cheap apartment. We don't pay for water or heat, either. Granted, our windows spontaneously break, we have a trashbag taped over another window, I can't make tea and dry my hair without the entire apartment losing power, and I think our bathtub is a generic, falling apart bathfitter. However, these are all things I'm okay with, considering the amount we pay for rent.

Electric and Internet/TV. Electric's not SO bad, all things considered. Internet/TV we opted to shell out a little more for, because, hey, it's cheaper to stay at home and watch tv than pay money to go out. It's sad and a little hermit-ish of us, but it's true. When you make/don't make as much as we do, you have to take things like that into consideration. The utilities are far from stretching the cash.

Here's the most depressing category of all. This is generally a category where people put in things like "movies" or "eating out." I have gone to the movies once since I've come to Roanoke. I eat out, MAYBE, once a week. And it's generally something classy like McDonald's or Wendy's. ...or my burrito joint. My lack of a social life, while depressing, is very cost-effective. I honestly could never afford to live on what they pay me if I went out to eat at a $15/head place once a week. Because that comes out to $60/month on eating out, and that just seems like irresponsible spending. So you have to get creative. VT hockey games are $5/each. The library is FREE (thank God). Mooching off of your roommate's parents Netflix account to stream movies is also free. Did I mention I read a lot?

When people come to visit, you show them the star, maybe the puppy store in the mall, and then they just chill at the apartment. My parents were in town this past weekend and, along with chilling at the apartment, we visited antique stores with merchandise we could never afford. But hey, looking is free and entertaining! Anyone need a suit of armor for $350?

I steal toilet paper from my parents. This is a true confession. Whenever I go back to their house, I nab another six rolls of Costco's finest. I have yet to purchase a roll of TP since I moved to this apartment in October. Similarly, roommate's mother gave us some cleaning supplies when we moved in. I've yet to purchase dish detergent.

Before moving, I stocked up on things I knew I'd need but wouldn't be able to afford for a while. Toothpaste, contact solution, shampoo, razor refills. Things like make-up I find I use less and less, because I'm aware of my snooty make-up preferences and know I can't afford them anymore. (Mac pressed powder, I love you so!) I mean, I still wear make-up, just less of it. We're down to powder, blush and mascara on a daily basis. Any more than that, and it's unnecessarily fancy.

Health. Goodness. I'm running out of contacts, but fear the optometrist. Maybe I'll just start wearing my glasses all the time. I haven't been the dentist since, like, 2008, no joke. I fear a cavity. I can't afford that right now, so I just won't go and will get more serious about flossing. When I had my cold last week, I did splurge on some meds. But hey, a volunteer's gotta do what a volunteer's gotta do. I dislike this category, because it forces me to acknowledge that, much like my car needs an oil change to function, I need corrective lenses and a full set of teeth. ...I'm just more likely to give Mr. Merlot oil before I'll give myself a cleaning.

Poor Savings Account. He had a rough 2010. I had been such a good saver until last year. I bought a car, had all the pesky expenses that come with moving, and had a large chunk of cash stolen when some asshole felt my money should be his. Savings Account had to step in and pick up Checking Account's according slack. Ever since all these unfortunate events, I've been trying to replenish him, but it's slow going. Many a pay period goes by that I don't get to transferring funds, and that's not something I'm proud of, especially because I know it could be done. He still gets a cell in Excel, though, because I know I OUGHT to be putting something in there on, at least, a monthly basis. No matter how minimal.

I don't live lavishly, that's for sure. I spend the majority of my money on rent, food and my car. I'm aware of this. But these aren't things I can really cut back on anymore. I tried applying for food stamps (now known as SNAP) a few months back, only to discover that there's a cut-off if you have X-amount in savings. And trust me, it doesn't have to be much. I'm far from rolling in the big-bucks here. The flaws in the system aggravate me so much - it's like they WANT to deter people in poverty from saving, because if they do, they're not eligible for SNAP. It's such crap, and irritates me to no end.

All that being said, it is very possible to live off what they pay me. Live off, but not plan for anything else. I'm finding saving to be incredibly difficult. If I had children, I'd probably be eligible for WIC, but I'd still have more mouths to feed, and that's not even taking into consideration clothing, toys, or the cost of saving for higher education. Poverty as a single adult with no one else to provide for is do-able. I can see how poverty in a family becomes such a generational problem so quickly, though.

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