Revisiting the budget

I track my spending in Mint as much as possible and check it several times a month to see if my spending is in line with the budget I’ve set. It rarely is, but I don’t worry about it much as long as I’m not spending more than my income for several months in a row and see a consistent uptick in my bank accounts.

A few times a year I try to adjust the budget categories in Mint so I’m not seeing too much red when I sneak a peek at my dashboard. In the past three months I’ve had some big changes — buying a house, and a change in salary — that require me to adjust my budget lines, so let’s dive in.

First, the income line needed to be adjusted to reflect my recent raise. It wasn’t a lot, but it means I should see roughly another $200 in income every month. Last month I also received a much better bonus than I had expected. Once all the taxes, my 401(k) contribution, and other deductions were subtracted, I ended up with enough to pay more than half my expected property tax bill, so that makes me happy. Finally, September was one of the two months out of the year where my 26 pay periods yield three paychecks. It’s like having a little bonus twice a year, and is very welcome right now. 🙂

My expenses have changed with the purchase of a house. My mortgage payment is $200 more a month than my previous rent payment, so I had to adjust that budget expense line. The expenses that fall under “home services” and “home furnishings” have been so crazy high that it’s been hard to effectively plan for them, too. This is an adjustment period, so I’m just trying to track those anomalies and try to balance them out by under spending in other categories. I’ve been mostly successful with that strategy, including:

  • $354 under in Groceries
  • $759 under in Restaurants
  • $184 under in Gas & Fuel
  • $585 under in Utilities
  • $90 under in Gifts
  • $615 under in Massage Therapy
  • $124 under in Books

I use the roll-over method in Mint, so these figures are based on several months of under spending that carries over to the new month.

I’m super proud to have brought down my food expenses since I had been overspending in both the grocery and restaurant categories most of last year. I just had to stop treating myself and others so much. Since I telecommute most days, I don’t drive often and use little fuel. I’ve also been saving quite a bit on utilities since I canceled the premium channels in cable. The rest of my under spending is in areas that are discretionary and very flexible. I attach a budget to these categories simply to keep myself from splurging too much.

My “savings” in these areas, however, are not only offset by the increase in spending on home stuff the past few months, but some other areas, too.

  • $281 over in Entertainment
  • $988 over in Pets
  • $543 over in Clothing

I budget $40 a month for entertainment expenses and most months I only spend about $10 for my Netflix subscription. But I bought a 3-day pass to Bottlerock early this year, and that cost $331.50. I also bought the Lemonade album online, which set me back another $17.99. Those splurges are hard to work off unless I completely cut out all other entertainment expenses. I use my Netflix pretty heavily and like to go to a movie every few months, so that’s not going to happen. Instead, I think I need to figure out a more appropriate amount to set aside each month that would allow for the big ticket amusement expenses.

Clothing is another budget line for which I find hard to set a reasonable target. I buy clothing sporadically — maybe once or twice a year — but when I do buy clothes, it’s usually quality stuff for work that costs a few hundred dollars. I had tried setting up a budget line for clothing expenses every few months, but it was still not working out very well. For now I just don’t worry about it since I’m not having problems paying my bills or building savings.

Setting a budget for pet expenses has been a true challenge lately. For the past year, Hannah dog has had regular visits to the vet for bloodwork to monitor her liver health. She’s also had an ultrasound (and will likely have another before the end of the year), and has started on two new meds and a new supplement that set me back about $100 a month. I’m not going to start cutting expenses on vet bills, though, since I don’t think any of these expenses are truly over the top. Hannah is in her senior years and I don’t want to be cheap and take the risk that she’ll suffer sudden liver failure.

Actually my biggest expenses under the pet line are for pet sitting. Every time I’ve traveled this year I pay a minimum of $50 a day for pet/house-sitting, plus I pay a dog walker every week to take Hannah out on walks. The latter expense may seem superfluous since I’m home and should be able to walk my own dog, but I do this as a way of keeping my dog walker “on retainer” so that when I do have to report to the office and be away for 12+ hours I don’t have to scramble to find someone to make sure Hannah has adequate breaks. I’ve also made three trips back to Chicago this year for work or family events, and each trip has necessitated at least five days of pet/house-sitting.

As much as I like Mint, I have a difficult time using their budget feature. When I was trying to determine if I could afford the increased expenses associated with buying a house I looked at average expenses over time and not the amount I had set aside in my budget. I’m thinking that’s what I should do to try to smooth out the red lines in the budget for now.

Anyone have a better suggestion for how to use Mint’s budget feature or tips on how to smooth out the irregular expenses that cause spikes in budget categories?

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3 thoughts on “Revisiting the budget

  1. Let’s see if annoying WP will let this comment go through on this post…it would not on the last post.

    About the hospital adventures:

    Glad to hear you made your escape from the hospital and are on the mend. Sometimes I think the institution is worse than the ailment! 😀

    Seriously, the laparoscopic surgery is amazing isn’t it? It probably was a smart idea to get rid of the appendix, as long as the docs were having a circus in there anyway. Experiencing appendicitis as an adult is totally unfun.

    Roommates in hospital rooms are too horrible to contemplate. Luckily, the Mayo here seems not to have any double rooms…I was very happy not to have to put up with someone else in the room, running a television and making a lot of noise.

    Hope you’re soon swinging from the chandeliers! Get well soon!

    Plain & Simple Press is Funny about Money…annoying WP won’t let me change the ID! grrr…

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  2. So…Mint. I’ve never tried Mint but used Quicken before it became incompatible with Macs. I now use Quickbooks, the online version for businesses, though QB so complicated only my accountant can make sense of it.

    Quicken used to have a budget function…and it also seemed to something like what you’re describing. It was very hard to use, because sometimes it didn’t want to do things you’d like it to do.

    Have you thought about consulting with Crystal over at Budgeting in the Fun Stuff about the need to “retain” the dog walker? That really seems excessive, to have to hire her all the time when in fact you only need her occasionally — especially since the extra dog walking would probably be good for your own health.

    Around here there are doggy day care centers, where you can arrange to drop off your dog when you have to be out of the house for more hours than you want to leave the dog cooped up. That would surely be less, over time, than having to pay someone every day for redundant dog-walking.

    Restaurants: I pretty much stay out of them. When I have to go into one, I eat sparingly and don’t order wine.

    Might want to look at Netflix or Hulu as a possible avenue to cutting the cable altogether. I have Amazon right now…think Netflix was probably better. Haven’t tried Hulu yet. But you can get streaming news reports from PBS…and unless you’re a fan of live sports, there’s really no reason to pay for cable TV. LOL! In the relaxation dept., I’d rather pay twice as much for massages and restaurant meals and dispense with the cable.

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    • Thanks for pointing out a couple things I should clarify, FaM!

      Re: doggie care, I don’t have the dog walker come every day, just twice a week. It took a lot of searching to find a good dog walker after I moved here. Hannah is sort of a “special needs” dog since she hate, hate, hates 99% of other dogs she encounters. That means I can’t take her to doggie daycare centers, and anyone who walks her has to know how to deal with her when encountering another dog. I first got this dog walker thinking I’d be going into SF twice a week, and when it became clear that I didn’t need to do that I negotiated with her on the walk schedule. She relies on a certain amount of income to pay her bills, and I couldn’t take the chance that she wouldn’t be available on days that I really do need her if I didn’t keep her coming here on a regular basis. It works out to only about $150 a month on average, and I’m comfortable with that.

      Re: cable, I do have Netflix and Amazon Prime already. One of the reasons I don’t cut cable completely is that my TV provider (AT&T Uverse) is also my ISP, and they will put a cap on data usage if I don’t have a TV package. I’m under contract with them until December, and may switch to another provider at that point. I have a couple other independent ISP providers I’ve found in my recent research so I may switch. I rely on a speedy internet connection for my work, so whatever I use has to be reliable and fast. For TV, now that I’m a homeowner and not just a renter I could experiment with putting an antenna on the roof to see if I can pull in any over the air HDTV. Some people in south Napa (where I’m located, too) have said it works for them.

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