January 11: Quantify #ThinkKit

January 11, 2014 at 6:49 PM | Posted in I am good with money., What's up? | 1 Comment
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Here’s the post I was prompted to write on December 11.

Draw a pie chart, graph, or Venn diagram of your year. What you measure, count, collect, or combine is up to you!

I had planned to look at how our spending compared to the recommended Pete the Planner‘s budget breakdown but instead I took a straightforward look at how much we spent on various expenses in 2013. For the record, I’m still interested in seeing the percentages, and maybe I’ll get around to that, but I don’t know if I’ll share the nitty gritty.

Entertainment — We don’t have cable; instead we subscribe to Netflix + have an Amazon Prime membership. (Anna watches shows in her room using her mother’s Hulu Plus membership, too.) We borrow books, movies, and TV series from the library, and Bill downloads the maximum allowable number of songs from Freegal Music using our accounts. Bill frequently winds down by listening to music in iTunes while he surfs the Internet. Going to the cinema is a special treat and usually happens in the morning (for cheaper tickets) and includes popcorn that we share. I attend a number of social and cultural events around town, usually free, and often take Anna. We do enjoy going out to eat as a family but that doesn’t really happen more than once a week anymore. (I have lunch weekly with friends, too, but that’s more to maintain my own emotional stability than to be entertained.)

Cars — We have two vehicles that we own outright, an SUV and a wagon. Having no car payments is SWEET. Bill’s employer provides him with a vehicle for work so only our wagon gets driven regularly.* Anna is with us half the time and her school is a 45-mile round-trip away, which is about two gallons of gas; it’s a significant savings each time Bill can drive her there or pick her up (or both) as part of his work commute. (It saves me A LOT of time, too.) Our cars are approaching 200,000 miles each, though, so maintenance and repairs can be significant at times (e.g., August). The wagon in particular can be pricey when it needs work because it’s Swedish, so parts are expensive and sometimes only available via the dealer.

*I would love to go down to a single car. It doesn’t cost us too much right now to keep the second car, and it provides Bill with a certain amount of comfort to have it, so that won’t even have a chance of happening until one of them dies.

Mobile Calling & Data — Bill’s employer provides him with a work phone. Anna is on her mother’s plan (and is excited to now have an iPhone). That leaves only my smartphone costing us money, although AT&T still gives me the discount I qualified for through my previous employer. I have a modest number of minutes (that I supplement with Talkatone when I need to do extensive calling for work) and grandfathered data and texting plans (200 GB and 200 texts). Occasionally I go over my text limit, which costs a couple extra bucks, but that’s still WAY cheaper than paying for the unlimited plan. And since I use Twitter to make/maintain connections with others, which is crucial for my emotional stability, paying for a data plan is cheaper than therapy.

Internet Access — This makes work and play possible. We’ve had U-verse® high speed Internet for several years now and are pretty happy with it. We upgraded to Max (downstream speeds up to 12 Mbps) from Elite (downstream speeds up to 6 Mbps), which is $5 more per month, but I think I switched during a promo that gave us the upgrade for several months free. It’s still coaxial cable from our house to the nearest U-verse® box, so Bill still sees slower speeds when he’s trying to upload work documents during peak hours, but we never have issues streaming, surfing, etc. I am very happy to not have Comcast.

Electric — The amount of electricity we use fluctuates with the seasons, naturally. I try to manage the temperature in the house during the warmer months as much as possible by using windows and blinds, both because I enjoy fresh air and am cheap. The thermostat is set at about 73°F for cooling (any hotter and there’s no break from the humidity) and 68°F for heating (although I recently changed it to 70°F during the day due to Bill’s continual complaints of being cold). We have a programmable thermostat but with our heat pump it doesn’t make sense to move the settings around too much. The HVAC system is efficient and gets preventive maintenance semi-annually. Most of our bulbs are CFLs. I’m considering installing vacancy sensor switches in the rooms that are mainly occupied by Anna because she doesn’t TURN OFF THE DAMN LIGHTS.

Thanks to IPL’s Budget Billing plan we pay a fixed amount for 11 months of the year and settle up on the twelfth. Since the budget amount is about $20 more than average usage, settling up usually means not owing (or owing much less). This allows us to automate payment of the electric bill using our bank’s bill payment system, which gives us one fewer thing to worry about on a monthly basis.

2013 Water Bill Chart

Water and Sewer — The sewer charges are pretty much fixed. The water charges fluctuate with usage. Two things I’ve noticed since Citizens Energy Group took over Indianapolis Water: (1) The meter is read every month so no more estimated charges. (2) The bill has gone up about $10/month for us.

Food — Groceries are hard to quantify because I do most of our food shopping at a big box store where I also buy household goods. Dining out is hard to quantify because for a few months in 2013 we paid with cash exclusively but most of the time we put it on our credit card + occasionally Bill paid with cash if he had it in his wallet; this is an area in which I have a difficult time getting us to stick to a single system. I’d say overall, between the two of them, we spent $500–800 dollars a month.

Pets — Having the dogs is pricey. Close to $1000/year in food + more than that in daycare and boarding, not to mention trips to the vet. Goocher had his cruciate ligament repaired in the spring, too. (I should’ve made a graph for pet expenses.)

This past year also saw payments for the bathroom renovation, Jamaican vacation, family road trip, Anna’s school expenses, child support to Anna’s mother, some charitable donations, and Christmas gifts for friends, family, and service providers. We saved for our own retirement + Anna’s college education too. Each month we paid the entire balance on on credit cards + a significant overage on our mortgage payment, which means we’re steadily chipping away at the only debt we have.

This coming year will see most of these same expenses + new ones for medical procedures and treatments. Ah, being an adult—remind me again why we wanted to grow up so badly when we were children…?

1 Comment »

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  1. Thanks for visiting my blog. This is a great post! Yes, not having a car payment really is SWEET. Have you ever used mint.com? It’s a pretty hand tool to manage your budget and it’s free.


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