February budget: a work in progress

As previously noted, I made some changes to my recurring expenses and discretionary spending goals for February. It’s a new month, so I decided to pop into Mint and check my Trends report to see how I did.

The two areas that were “low hanging fruit” and easiest to adjust were around TV and food. In January, I called AT&T Uverse and changed to the lowest cost TV package they had. Last month’s bill for Internet service and TV was $76.50. (Most of that expense was for Internet service. I pay for a higher tier connection since I telecommute.) I expect the bill to be a bit higher going forward as the first bill after service change is usually a little wonky, but it will still be about 50% less than was most of last year.

My Food & Dining expenses had been quite high last year. While I enjoy cooking and preparing meals at home and do it quite a bit, I was also enjoying treating myself (and sometimes friends) at some of the wonderful restaurants here in Napa. When sister was visiting last spring, we joined a wine club, too. Alcohol can be a big expense, especially when splurging on fine wines.

Last fall I quit that wine club, so that obligation would no longer have an impact on my budget. At the end of January, I joined a different wine club, but the purchase commitment for this new club is much lower and more affordable for me. Unless I quit drinking altogether (which I don’t see happening!), I’ll always buy wine here and there and wine club membership doesn’t involve any up front costs. Wineries are good places to bring visiting guests, too, and as a wine club member my guests and I will get free tastings. Besides wine, I’ll still buy other alcohol like beer and hard liquor regularly, I just need to keep all of these purchases within the general Food & Dining budget guidelines.

As part of my cost-cutting goal, I adjusted my restaurant budget down from a very high $400 a month. As I looked at my Trends report over the past 12 months, I realized that I had set that budget up back when I was with B to account for the fact that when we dined out I regularly paid for both of us. My new target was $150 a month, which seemed perfectly reasonable for a single person who mainly eats at fast casual places no more than once a week. That would have worked, too, except I had two big dining out events last month with friends, so I blew my budget by about $100. It’s a consolation to me that my spending in January was more in line with my budgeted amount, so I think I have the right numbers in my budget, I just need to be more diligent about these “special” dining opportunities. Since my Budget line in Mint is set to rollover any leftover amount, months of higher expenses should be smoothed out by ones with lower expenses.

I manged to come in about $50 less than my $400 monthly grocery budget, so that’s a promising trend. I can eat very well on that generous grocery budget, and also have enough to make extra to share with the friends, neighbors, and my boyfriend.

Of course there are always “unexpected” expenses that pop up. In February, I paid what I hope are the last bills for medical expenses from my early December hospitalization. The only real upside of my body’s apparent melt down late last year (starting with the eye problems in September) was that by the time I had to go into surgery at the end of December I had met all my deductible amounts for the year. So that very expensive robotic laproscopic procedure ended up costing me $0 out of pocket. I’m very grateful that I have good health insurance as the EOBs were showing expenses of about $115,000 for the surgery and hospitalization, anesthesia, and doctor.

For 2016, I’ve elected to withhold the maximum amount for my pre-tax flexible medical spending. Although $2,550 may sound like a lot of money to spend on health care expenses when I have good medical insurance, I’m still paying quite a bit for medications these days for the eye. (One of my eye drops was $63 last time I refilled it, and the other was $50.) I also have co-pays for specialists I see at least every two months (ophthalmologist and gynecologist), and a potential eye surgery at some point. Any medical costs paid for with my pre-tax dollars don’t impact my monthly budget, so I hope to stretch that $2,550 to cover at least 90% of the co-payment and prescription cost I have this year.

My only real disappointment for the month of February was that I completely forgot to pay most of my bills on time! I have an automatic funds transfer and payment set up for my monthly rent, but my other bills (utilities and credit cards) are ones I like to review first before I schedule the online payment. I do this so diligently that I ignore the automatic alerts and reminders I get regularly from Mint. When I saw that I had a finance charge in my transactions, this alerted me that something was very wrong. Luckily I was able to get the finance charge and late fee waived with a phone call. I just hope that my credit history hasn’t taken a hit from this mistake.

I’m still making adjustments to my Budget lines, but I’m feel like I’m on the right track now. Simply paying attention to my spending is a big help, and I hope to see steady increases in my savings this year.

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