Quarterly Budget Review: July – September 2016

budget reviewEach quarter I share a quarterly budget review of our spending so you can see the breakdown of how we allocate our money. It’s also great accountability for me and helps Dave and I to see how we are stewarding our finances.

Budget Review: July – September 2016 (actual spending)
summer 2016 budget review
What happened this quarter?

Annual fees
Not a big slice of pie but our annual fees for my RD (Registered Dietitian) license & Dave’s PE license were due. Womp womp.

dietitian groupNational Summit
Thankfully the annual Beachbody summit was in Nashville this year so the only expenses I had was from gas and groceries since we stayed with my sister & brother-in-law and I packed my own lunches for the day so I didn’t have to eat out. I snagged a photo with a handful of fellow dietitians at the conference!

High school Reunion!
My 10-year high school reunion was this summer. I was a bit disappointed by how much it cost and that people I was hoping would come didn’t show but I still had fun connecting with old friends. This was more than our entertainment budget so to us it was a big chunk for our spending.

NoraHair cuts

Nora’s got her first hair cut at 2.5 years old. Her hair is amazing and people pay big bucks to get her highlights and natural curls. It was just getting tangled easily with all the swimming we did this summer. We took her to a cute boutique shop for kids since they had a 1st cut deal for $15 but I may attempt to do it myself down the road since I’m not thrilled about paying $20+ for a trim. I also got my first hair cut of the year! I’ve only ever dyed my hair twice and it was a quick 30-day one that faded so I guess this is one way we save money since I don’t need to keep up with color or a certain cut.

New kicks

I am a simpleton. After 3 years of wearing out my one pair of summer sandals I gave in and bought a new pair of sandals. However, I go on walks with the girls a LOT and I knew the flat sandals I was using were not doing my feet any good so we invested in a good pair for me. I am so happy with my Keens and while it’s the most I’ve spent on shoes ($67 after coupons and a promo code) they are worth it.

square dancingEntertainment
We’ve kept our entertainment budget at $50/month for awhile now so that means we have to get creative with how we spend it. We never go out for a full dinner since that would blow through the budget quickly so we find fun, creative ideas. This quarter we went on coffee dates, played tennis, went on a fishing trip with my dad, Oktoberfest in Cleveland, Forro (Brazilian) dancing lessons, and we went square dancing with my parents and the girls at a local cider mill. My face hurt from smiling so much. Best $10 we spent on entertainment 🙂

Grocery bill back on track
I did a pantry challenge with my nutrition/fitness accountability group in September and it helped me prioritize the food we already had in our home rather than buying more stuff. We went over $13 one month and under $14 another!

Biweekly mortgage payments
We have biweekly payments set up for our mortgage (ex. If your mortgage was $1000/month you’d pay $500 every two weeks so you end up making 13 payments each year instead of 12 to get ahead of schedule). This means that two months each year there is an extra half payment. This month was one of them so that explains why the ‘home’ slice (ha) is bigger this month.

3 paycheck month
Something unique that we do is rather than dividing Dave’s salary into 12 months we budget based on two paychecks per month. Twice each year Dave gets 3 paychecks in one month so those “extra” paychecks go toward our financial goals. We had an “extra” paycheck month this quarter so it went toward our new (to us) car savings. Lord willing we’d like to add to our family but I’m not sure we can fit a 3rd child into the back of our Chevy Cruze so we’re saving up for a bigger family car and slowly adding to our “new car” folder in our Capital One 360 account which is why the ‘transportation’ pie slice is much larger this quarter. I would love to hear recommendations if you love your family-size vehicle!

What do you use to track your expenses?

Choose fruit for dessert (and cover it in chocolate!) for Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s day is 3 weeks away which seems like plenty of time to prepare but, let’s be honest– most of us don’t know what we’re doing for Valentine’s day until the night before or the day of. I’ll be the first to admit that Valentine’s day is a hallmark holiday but I still love it since Valentine is my maiden name 🙂

That pic is from Valentine’s Day 2009 when Dave and I were in Indianapolis for a weekend conference. Dave and his buddy got creative and made shirts for their dates. The shirts came with a poster-sized card they also made for each of us. We obviously didn’t wear the shirts out to dinner, but it was still a cute effort on their part.

It takes the least amount of effort to enjoy dinner at a nice restaurant as long as you make reservations well in advance. If you want to be a little more creative, do a little planning ahead and hold your own dinner date night. Dave and I have bumped up our entertainment budget since paying off our student loans, but we still like to find cheap date ideas for Valentine’s Day. I’ve got plenty of recipe ideas at Budget for health that are easy to make for a romantic dinner if you care to browse around…

Last year I offered a few tips on ways to NOT overindulge on Valentine’s day. If I had to add one more tip to that list it would be to choose fruit for dessert. The best compromise I can come up with is if you cover fruit in chocolate. Chocolate-covered fruit is easy to make and I would add that it makes for a fun, interactive event to add to your night! If you are pressed for time and want to put your effort into other parts of the night, you can often find a discount code on chocolate-covered strawberries from Shari’s Berries. The strawberries I’ve seen at our grocery store have been looking a little wimpy but these babies come fresh and plump. The option to roll the chocolate-covered strawberry in crushed nuts is another way to add a boost of nutrition to your dessert!
Two Full Dozen Gourmet Dipped Fancy Strawberries

What are your plans for Valentine’s day this year?

Parable of the Rich Fool

Photo source: www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Earlier this week my friend Khaleef shared a post on being content with what we have. Coincidentally (or not), last week’s sermon at my church was on the parable of the rich fool. Gather around folks, it’s story time…

A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’ “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”

The Old and New Testament combined have about eight hundred passages on wealth. This includes saving, spending, investing, tithing, running a business, running a family budget, etc. There is a great lesson we can learn from this parable and it’s summarized a few verses earlier in Luke 12:15: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness (greed/materialism), for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

I’ve heard it said that if you want to learn a person’s values, take a look at their bank statement. I started sharing my quarterly budget review a few months back partly to hold myself accountable for the way my husband and I spend our money. I am a detail-oriented person. I like my homemade Excel budget sheet that breaks down our spending categories. I like setting goals and working hard to achieve them sooner than I planned for. Being detail-oriented is not a bad thing but it can get the best of me if I’m not careful. More than once I’ve found myself getting caught up with with our finances. I’ve been tempted to cut out our monthly allowance for entertainment so we can throw the extra cash at our house savings, but I know it would just lead to two bored and bitter homeowners.

In regard to identifying with the parable, two main points stood out to me:

We are not to devote our lives to the gathering and accumulation of wealth
Being financially wealthy, saving, and having a lot of “stuff” is not inherently bad. It’s when we let money and “stuff” define who we are. We should work hard, invest wisely, pay bills, give, and provide for our families. We need money to do most things we want to do in life, but at what income level will you be content with what you have? If your salary is $70,000 but you wish you made more, how long after receiving a raise will you be wishing once again that you could make more? The bigger the box, the more you’ll need to fill it up. You may say “I don’t want to work for the rest of my life.” If you do that, you’ll fall into all kinds of trouble. It’s a trap. And everybody thinks they’ll be the exception to the rule and we’ve now learned that’s not true. Are we coveting money? Or content with money?

We are not blessed by God to hoard our wealth to ourselves. We are blessed to be a blessing in the lives of others
Of course we want to save for retirement and leave an inheritance for our kids, but where do we draw the line? Will working 80 hours a week really pay off more than precious time spent investing in your spouse or kids? Before my husband and I got married, we expressed a similar desire to live simply so we can give more. That doesn’t mean we can’t eat out or have nice things (hence my recent upgrade from a dumb phone to an iPhone!); it just means we pick a handful of things we really want and continue our lifestyle at a similar level regardless of how much we make. We want to be good stewards with what we have, not hoard it to ourselves. Right now we live in a one-bedroom apartment and don’t own a TV. We don’t plan on living like this forever and would like to own a home one day that will allow us to be hospitable to others. I’d love to be the free bed and breakfast for friends and family visiting from out of town, host parties on game day, and so on. If our income increases then it just means we get to give more and save more, not inflate our own lifestyle.

How do you keep yourself in check with not letting money and possessions rule your life?

Saving for a Vacation: Ireland expenses

I’m back from 9 days in Ireland! The country was captivating. Standing outside our hotel I could see rolling hills and the Irish Sea was only a short walk away. My sister-in-law’s wedding was beautiful and we had so much fun exploring Ireland and laughing with family. My husband & I asked my sister-in-law about saving for a vacation like this since she had been to Ireland a couple of times. She suggested $1,000 to cover all of our expenses in Ireland (not including the $1,800 for our plane tickets), so that’s the amount we planned for spending. She was spot on- our total expenses in Ireland came out to $992! Here’s where the money went (FYI, € means euro):

Standard prices for a hotel would be around €70 ($85), but family knew the owners and we got a deal for €40 per night ($49). Eight nights cost us €320 ($393). We had a washer and dryer we could use as needed and a commercial-sized kitchen and dining hall. This was very helpful since we usually had about 15 people to seat at a table!

ATM fees
We dropped $40 on ATM fees. We withdrew money from a bank’s ATM on two separate occasions. Both times we were hit with the transaction fee, the ATM fee, and a MasterCard fee. I’m not sure what would have been the better way to go about this aside from getting a specific credit card that wouldn’t get hit with international fees.

The hotel provided cereal, fruit, yogurt, and milk. This covered breakfast and we occasionally made a big batch of eggs, French toast, and sausage. We chipped in €100 to my in-laws to cover groceries, especially for the giant pot of chili we made for after the wedding rehearsal. It lasted us the rest of the week, so my bowels were in tip-top shape and vacation constipation was not an issue 😉 We went out to eat for dinner most nights and Dave & I were able to order what we wanted and enjoy it without guilt from dropping €30 on the two of us.

We actually didn’t include gas in the Ireland expenses and counted it toward our monthly gas fund since we wouldn’t go over that budget in August anyway. The toll roads did bite us in the butt since we drove from Indianapolis to Chicago for our flight and then drove back home. We ended up dropping $20 on toll roads alone. Bleh…

I hate impractical gifts. I didn’t want to get family something I could buy in the states and I wanted whatever I got to represent the Irish culture. We ended up getting my parents a couple packages of these chocolate covered biscuits called Digestives. The name makes it sound more like a Metamucil laxative biscuit, but it’s really just a chocolate-covered biscuit with an unfortunate name. Any time my sister-in-law or now brother-in-law would visit from Ireland they brought a few packages of Digestives and I loved them. They only cost about €5 and my parents seemed to enjoy them.

We toured an old cathedral, a Viking museum, and a couple breathtaking gardens. The whole group went together and we asked for a group discount at each place. Instead of paying €16 total for the tours, we made out only paying €12 per person.

We took the train to see different towns along the coast of the Irish Sea 4 days in a row. We paid €19.50 per person for a 3-day pass. On the 4th day we went to get a day pass for € 8.50 each and the guy at the counter gave Dave & me the family discount for 10 euro total! We knew there was a family pass but misread the sign and thought it was for 2 adults who had kids. It actually said 2 adults and up to 4 kids. We could have saved some money if we would have known that.

How do you estimate expenses for a vacation?

If you can’t get enough Ireland, check out all 300+ pictures on my album:


Nashville or Bust!

Vacations can get expensive. We’ve estimated that we’ll have spent around $3k total for my sister-in-law’s wedding in Ireland this August. Thankfully we’ve budgeted wisely and set aside money each month so the expenses wouldn’t leave us eating PBJs for a month after (although that wouldn’t bother me too much!). My smart, beautiful sister and her fiancé are graduating from pharmacy school this Friday so my family decided to turn this Tennessee trip into a 5-day vacation. I’m so excited to relax for a few days and spend time with people I love so much.

Here’s what we’ve got planned…

Thursday– Driving 9 hours to Nashville with maybe one or two potty/gas breaks and arriving on time to pick up my sister and brother-in-law from California at the airport, stock up on groceries, and check in to our rented home.
– Driving 3 hours to Memphis for my sister’s graduation. Eating out at a barbeque restaurant my family loves then heading back to Nashville.
– Chillaxin all day until the RASCAL FLATTS concert at the GRAND OLE OPRY!!! Tickets were only $34 each. My entire family loves country. Dave used to hate it but now he says he tolerates it :). He’s still excited to go. Rascal Flatts is more like pop country anyway.
Sunday- Visiting a winery my sister got engaged at. We’ll likely pay for wine tasting, but I’m not sure if we’ll buy any wine. I probably couldn’t tell the difference between a glass of $80 cabernet and a glass of Two-Buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s anyway.
Trying on bride/bridesmaid dresses for my sister’s wedding next September. Her wedding date is the same as my parents and her fiancé’s parents’ anniversary, aww 🙂
So long Nashville, it’s been great.

We set aside money each month to save up for vacations and have money leftover in May’s entertainment and grocery fund so we’ll have around $100 to spend in Nashville. That doesn’t seem like much for a 5-day trip, but this will actually be a pretty cheap trip for us. We’re carpooling in my parents’ cars and staying at a house that they’ve rented, so that cuts out two significant expenses. We’re only eating out once and plan to cook at our rental home the rest of our meals. We only have $64 in concert tickets planned for expenses, so we plan to chip in on groceries and/or gas.

How blessed am I that God would give me two loving and supportive parents, 4 amazing sisters, two hilarious brothers-in-law, and a handsome, godly husband!

How do you save money on vacations?

Budget Review: January – March 2012

Every 6 3 months, I’ll post an update showing how our money was allocated. Consider this quarterly update a tool I’ll use so you can hold me accountable to reaching our 2012 goals!

I was originally planning on doing a six-month budget review but I think, at least for this year, it would be better to do 3 months since we just made the last payment on student loans and will also be knocking out our emergency fund within the next few months.

What’s happened since the last budget review?
– Dave got a 3% raise in March! Not bad for only 9 months into the job!
– Since I started my new part-time job in February, we were able to throw more toward student loans. We didn’t pay as much in March as we usually do since we made the final payment and are now DEBT FREE!
– We celebrated paying off loans by giving ourselves a higher spending amount in entertainment for the month of March. We visited friends in Indianapolis and enjoyed sushi, ice cream, and some delicious pizza!

January through March 2012 (Actual Spending):

January through March (Estimated Budget):

We didn’t do too shabby. We went quite a bit over on vacation because we bought our plane tickets in January. My new job and Dave’s raise kind of throws off the percents, but overall we’ve done pretty well this month!

Estimate: Category: Actual:
10% Tithe matched!
17% Taxes under 4%
7% Saving under 2%
25% Student Loans over 12%
17% Rent under 7%
2% Utilities/Phone under 1%
5% Groceries under 2%
1% Entertainment matched!
5% Transportation under
5% Medical Health under 2%
2% Personal matched!
4% Vacation over 7%

Past Budget Reviews:
July – December 2011

How did you do with your budget this year?

How we lived off of 37% of our income over the past 6 months (Part 2 of 3)

After tithing, taxes, savings, and loans, we manage to live off of the remaining funds. Here’s a summary of how we spent our money from June to December of 2011:

To avoid the novel I’d have to write to explain all 13 categories in one sitting, I’m making this a 3-part series to be shared over the next few days.

Depending on where you live, you might consider $840/month for a 1 bedroom apartment to be cheap or expensive. Our last apartment was $640/month for the same size, so this was a pretty significant jump for us. However, we chose this apartment because it’s right next to Dave’s work, so he walks and we’re able to share a car for yet another year! The extra we pay in rent probably beats what we’d pay for gas, insurance, oil changes, and other maintenance for a second car.

Utility/Phone Bills
It got pretty darn hot this summer, but we were stubborn and only broke down twice to turn on the AC. Our apartment does include free heat come winter, which is a bonus since the apartment was already a little pricey. As for phones, we have what you might call “dumb” phones since they’re just basic texting phones without internet. We added Dave to my parents’ plan since my dad gets such a good deal through his job and we write them a check in advance to cover 3 months of phone bills at a time.

See my article on how we get by spending $250/month on groceries.

See another lovely article on how we stretch our $40 per month for entertainment

Auto & Transport
Poor Dave has an entire 8 minute walk to work. It would be 2 minutes, but we’ve got a cement wall from the carports separating his work parking lot from our apartment complex. We’ve been blessed to be able to share one car since we’ve been married. We had to increase our allowance for gas in 2012 since my new job is about 30 miles away. It won’t be too much though since I’ll only be working 2-3 days a week. With 27 mpg, we’re estimating we’ll need to bump this budget up an extra $80-90/month.

What are some tactics you use to save significant costs in your monthly budget?