Austerity Adventures: May 2016

In which mistakes caught up to me, and I was not at all austere

This cat is totally judging me. | Adventures in Austerity: May 2016 | Whisper & Howl

This cat is totally judging me.

May, in financial terms, was a bit of a disaster.

I was riding high from April, in which I somehow managed to meet my savings goal, when I got quite a shock: $1000 had disappeared from my bank accounts. That was all $860 of my hard-won Emergency Savings, and $140 from my checking account. Shit, meet fan.

What had happened was: I found a cute little duplex in Durham, where I work, to move into in July. I applied, my application was accepted and I had 36 hours to pay the security deposit. I went to my online banking site and WHAT THE F ALL MY MONEY WAS GONE. How, you may (and I did) ask, could this happen?

Well, Apparently I did not file my state taxes in 2010 (and 2011), and the NC Department of Revenue wanted $1100, and my bank gave it all to them without warning me. Surprise! I may have cried. Fortunately I had about $400 in checks in my wallet so I was okay, and I took a cash advance on my credit card, which is crazy. Several dear friends and family members offered to loan me the money but because of timing, I did the cash advance. I will be paying a stupid interest rate on that for a while, but I got the house! Moral of story: always file your taxes. It’s likely that I will get most of the money back, but that requires some check-writing, faxing and waiting, so…it will be a nice bonus whenever it comes back to me.

On top of this craziness, I failed at keeping to my budget in 3 categories: groceries, restaurant & bar, and clothing. I spent way too much on all of these things. I did try to budget for eating out and getting a few drinks, but one fancy dinner and one night of drinking got a out of control, and hangover afternoons call for delivery. Bad decisions were made, but loads of fun was had. It’s easy for me to go over on groceries. It takes real planning and concentration to stick to my grocery budget, and I lacked both a plan and focus last month. For clothing, there were some things I need for the summer and I got them. Some will be returned, but for the most part they’re things like t-shirts, which need replacing every year, and work clothes such as shorts, sneakers, socks and a modest bathing suit. This will be my uniform as a summer camp manager, and I’m stoked about it. You can read more about my wardrobe soon.

On a brighter note, here are some things I did in May that didn’t suck at all:

  • I went to a magical hostel in the forest of coastal Georgia. It was inexpensive, freeing, fun and healing. The amazing Sarah D. was my traveling companion. We played our harmoniums, bathed in moonlight, slept outside-ish, and got devoured by gadflies.
  • My bestie came to visit for an evening and I got to see lots of old friends who live in NYC. She also gave me a gift/loan that allowed me to refill my Emergency Savings and put some money aside for moving expenses and a washer/dryer. Thanks, T!
  • I took a weekend trip to Richmond, VA to visit some friends who recently bought a gorgeous old house there. I had a chill weekend with some of my absolute favorite humans (and dog) in one of my favorite cities. I was also able to visit my favorite lingerie shop, Fiamour, where I got fitted for and bought new bras. It is amazing to have perfectly fitting bras!

For June, I have lots of plans in place to make it a more financially successful month–although, astrologically speaking, money is a tough spot for me this now, so I’m also trying to roll with the fiscal punches. My goals are to put that final $225 in my Emergency Savings, bringing it up to $1000; stash some cash in general savings for moving expenses and a washer/dryer; and stick to my budget in all categories. I also need to sell my old car.

Meet me back here next month and I’ll let you know how it goes.

Did you file your taxes?! If you skipped a year, you should go back and file them now!

How To Ease Money Stress

How to Ease Money Stress | Whisper & Howl

OMG have I been stressing out about money. Some unexpected expenses have come up this month on top of my new car payment. Long story short, always file your state taxes or they will take a major chunk out of your ass in oh, 6 years time. Like a surprise $1000 chunk out of your ass. Like, your entire savings. It might also happen on the day that the security deposit is due on the house you want to rent. I’m just saying, it could turn out that way. That would probably be pretty stressful. If that happened to you, you might find yourself spiraling into anxieties about having no Emergency Fund where mere days ago there was a nice $1000 balance, or how you were definitely going to have enough money saved to not use your credit card for the big trip you have planned for the fall, or how it might take years to pay off your credit debt. Your brain might jump ahead to next year, when the landlord of your new house will probably raise the rent because they “don’t do” 2-year leases, and you’ll have to move again or spend even more money on rent, money that won’t be saved up for a down payment on a house, and you won’t be able to afford to live anywhere you want anyway because gentrification. Also, you might hate all your clothes and want to buy new ones and also be thinking about needing new furniture and why didn’t you include moving expenses in your very optimistic savings plan in the first place?!

If this happens to you, there is one tactic I know of that can calm the financial fear monster. No, it’s not budgeting, because planning in this scenario sometimes leads to severely overthinking, nay, obsessing (although yes, you should be budgeting).

I’m talking about gratitude.

There’s something about making lists of things for which I am grateful that is very soothing. Maybe it’s the list-making. Maybe it’s the realization that I have everything I need at this moment, that I’m safe and comfortable and free and surrounded by good things. Maybe it’s the reassurance of the Law of Abundance, that the universe provides, that all will be well. Maybe it’s just a distraction.

I don’t know. It just works.

My recommendation, should you find yourself in this situation, is to find a quiet moment in a cozy place. Take deep breaths. Light a candle. Make it a ritual. Focus your energy on gratitude. Give thanks to the goddess, the universe, God, light, the source, your own wits and talents and strength–whatever makes you happy. Grab a beautiful journal if you’d like. I write on scraps of paper and stash the lists in my God box (a great idea from Tosha Silver).

Sometimes it’s a stretch. I start with easy things and move on from there. Sometimes they are simple things, sometimes complex. Often, they’re related to things I’m stressed about. I remember all that I have and forget all that I don’t have, or can’t see that I have; the things I think will make me happy, the things for which I’m grasping; the things I’m afraid of losing or am afraid I will never have. I keep listing things until I feel better. That’s it. It’s not a cure, but it helps.

  • I am grateful for my family.
  • I am grateful for Devo!
  • I am grateful that my hair is finally long, even though it was kind of greasy today. High ponytails make a great swish when I jog.
  • I’m grateful for the park where I jog. Or, let’s be honest, speed-walk. I’m grateful I can speed-walk.
  • I’m grateful for kombucha and to the friend who brought me SCOBYs from his restaurant even though he was studying and has a small child. That was extra generous.
  • I’m grateful that I have a job that I LOVE.
  • I’m grateful for my cute little car that doesn’t feel as though it will break down at any minute. Driving is fun again!
  • I’m grateful for the Maximum Fun podcast network, especially Jordan, Jesse, Go, which makes me laugh my ass off.
  • I am grateful that the manager at the GAP let me exchange those jeans with the broken zipper for a new pair, even though I bought them a year ago, and to the customer service person who emailed me back and told me to bring them in. The new ones are better than the old ones.
  • I am grateful for the bugs making sweet music outside my apartment.
  • I’m grateful for my teachers, even the ones who make shit really hard, like Saturn.
  • I’m grateful for this really fun book, The Name of the Wind, that I’m totally enjoying (and for the friends who lent it to me).
  • I am grateful that I am incredibly wealthy in love, friendship, and support.

See? Not so hard. I feel better already.

Adventures in Austerity: April 2016

Wherein I did an Okay Job And Also, Lots of Adulting

Austerity Adventure | Saving Money in April 2016 | Whisper & Howl

 

OMG You guys. So much stuff happened last month. So much stuff. All of it good! Some of it, expensive!

  1. I BOUGHT A CAR! After spending $100 on gas in March, I decided it was time to grow some ovaries and buy a car, something fuel-efficient that wasn’t 20+ years old and on its last legs. I got a really good deal on a 2013 Blue Raspberry Honda Fit named Uma and signed the biggest check I’ve ever written! Side win: apparently my credit is fantastic. I had no idea!
  2. I GOT A WINDFALL! This went to my down payment.
  3. I GOT A PROMOTION AND A RAISE! This happened 2 days after I bought Uma, although it must have been decided before. This just felt like the most perfect gift in so many ways, not least being that I can afford my shiny new car (payment) without cutting into my savings goals.
  4. I WENT TO BALTIMORE! Actually, I went to the Pearlstone Retreat Center outside of Baltimore, but I spent just enough time in the city to buy a couple of rings. I buy jewelry every time I travel. I should put it in as a line item in the budget. This one really doesn’t merit the all-caps, but it felt weird to end the formatting at #3.
  5. I FINISHED MY ADVANCED YOGA TEACHER TRAINING! Well, almost. I still have some makeup sessions to do. But I had a lovely little graduation ceremony, and now I have one weekend back every month! This is great since I have to work some weekends for my Big Girl Job, and since I like to make things on my time off. I still have to finish paying for the training, too.

So those are the fun things that happened in April. Here are the less fun things

Lesson #1 –

If at first you don’t succeed…you know the rest. My biggest problem this month was that once I broke the spending seal (first with Uma, then in Baltimore), money streamed out of my wallet. Instead of waiting when I saw something I wanted (sunglasses) or something needed to be replaced but not urgently (like the armband I put my phone in when I run, which is held together by the grace of duct tape), I licked BUY. What I should have done is assessed the urgency of the purchase and added it to next month’s budget. This is a practice that must be undertaken several times a day, and it can be hard. It was easier in March because I was in the habit of denying my fleeting desires. In April it was harder because I had already made purchases I wasn’t planning for.

Lesson #2 – Don’t Adjust the Budget

I spent $500 of my own money on Uma’s down payment, which meant I couldn’t save anything this month. Then I got some money as a gift and instead of putting that into savings, I adjusted my budget to justify buying rings in Baltimore. Then I used the rest of that money to buy sunglasses. THEN I found out I got a raise and adjusted it AGAIN, not thinking that it wouldn’t kick in until my paycheck on April 28th, which I will use for May. Point is, my budget got all screwed up.

Lesson #3 – Don’t Justify

If I need to justify a purchase, I probably shouldn’t make it. Sometimes things call to you, like the rings. I am wearing them all the time. I love jewelry and I like to get it when I’m traveling, and due to the nature of the windfall I received, I considered them a gift. However, things like a replacement arm band for running and sunglasses are just things that I can buy anytime. I didn’t need them and I could have put them off until May. The problem really is that once I start justifying purchases through a careless mental rearranging of budget (“I can afford that now!” or “I’ll just not spend money in this other category!”), shit gets out of control. Again, breaking the seal.

To Conclude…

Like any changes worth making, saving money requires practice and attention. Habits don’t change overnight, and curveballs are thrown all the time. Those sunglasses ended up not fitting so I returned them, which worked out great for my wallet. Cars cost a lot of money. Sometimes you get gifts, or sell paintings. Sometimes the NC Department of Revenue decides you owe them lots of money and you never got any of the notices they say they sent, which would have alerted you to this before your bank decided to send them your entire savings…but that’s a tale for May. See you then.

Adventures in Austerity: This is Happening!

Spending Fast Guidelines | Whisper & Howl

Not Spending = Saving, right?

This is happening! I embarked on an Adventure in Austerity (not to be confused with a Spending Fast, which is a trademarked phrase created by the brilliant Anna Newell Jones of And Then We Saved)!

One of my New Year’s Resolutions this year was to reexamine my spending habits and jump-start my savings. I struggled with the decision to freeze my discretionary spending, because it’s hard. It means spending money only on essentials and exercising a lot of restraint. I realized it would be easier to start if I took a month to prepare by making a list of things I wanted (like new Chelsea boots and a harmonium) and upcoming expenses throughout the year (yoga insurance renewal, contacts). I evaluated the “wants” and chose a few things to purchase, and I planned out the upcoming expenses so I’d remember to budget for them. I think this really helped, and not just because I now have a nice pair of boots that I wear almost every day and a harmonium I play every night. The process of prioritizing and scheduling things out was useful.

Because I’ve been living partially on savings and my (very low interest) credit card for the last 5 months, my bank accounts are basically down to $0. I’m starting from scratch here, but that’s okay. I just got my first paycheck from my new full time job and I am so excited to put a big chunk of it into savings!

It also helped to set goals.

My Savings Goals

  1. Get my Emergency Savings back to $1000. It has pained me to watch this dwindle. I had to dip into it for essentials each month that I was underemployed, and at this point it is down to the minimum account balance requirement: $25. Ouch.
  2. Pay off credit card debt. At the moment, this is at an all-time, scary high of $2100. I didn’t touch the thing in February (another reason my Emergency Savings is gone). In the interest of full disclosure, I might make one final purchase on it before laying it to rest for the next 6 months: $200 plane tickets to Iceland. Which brings me to my next goal…
  3. Save up for birthday trip to Iceland. Yes, my priorities could be better. No, I am not going to reconsider. This, also, is happening.
  4. Build 3-6 months of Emergency Savings. This is 3-6 months of what I would need to live off of if I had absolutely no income. I’m estimating that 3 months would be about $4500.
  5. Build General Savings, or save up for more specific goals (buy a house?! Is that crazy?!).

My PLan

  1. Don’t increase spending just because income has increased. In order to save money, I have to stick only to planned purchases. This means budgeting based on my anticipated needs rather than leaving in extra “just in case” cushioning. Living on less these last few months has helped me to trim some fat from my budget. For instance, I’ve reduced my food budget by nearly half since this time last year. I’ve also cut way back on miscellaneous personal items like toiletries, and I rarely buy clothes or home-goods. Now I have a better idea of what I need to budget for based on my needs, not my desires, and on m
  2. Set saving priorities–and get excited about them! See above for goals.
  3. Set spending priorities. Determine needs v. wants. I use the word “needs” loosely to define things I am not willing to part with, such as sewing club, acupuncture, and Netflix.
  4. Shop with intention. Have a plan! Make lists! Stay on task!
  5. Think before purchasing. Take a moment. Count to 10. Breathe deeply.
  6. Don’t shop when hungry or stressed
  7. Make do and mend, reuse creatively, make things, use what you already have, borrow from friends, and find free things to do!
  8. Think of this as an ADVENTURE!

THIS IS HAPPENING! I started March 1st. I have paid for gas and my sewing classes (needs) but have refrained from buying some fantastic rayon-cotton blend jersey fabric that is on sale and would look gorgeous as a tee shirt dress, but that is categorically not a need. I have plenty of sewing projects lined up to keep me busy for months, and I already own the fabric! It’s the little victories, you guys.

How do you feel about saving? Is it easy or difficult, or have you never considered the fact that you’re 31 and have $40 in your Simple IRA account?!?!

 

 

 

 

 

I am Trying to Save Money and It is Hard

Spending Fast | Whisper  Howl  #spendingfast #saving #whisperandhowl #bujo #bulletjournal

In the last couple of years, I’ve realized the utter necessity of saving money. I have kept up a budget for nearly 2 years; have maintained an Emergency Savings fund at around $1000; and I’ve finally got an IRA. These things are all very empowering and have definitely reduced some money-stress. A good witch should be in control of her finances! However, I have not  been able to increase my general savings or save up for any items or experiences I crave, such as an overseas trip or a harmonium. Since my position (and hours, and pay) was reduced to part time in October, I’ve been trying to earn a few extra bucks here and there while searching for full time work in my field. I’ve also been using my credit card much more often than I’d like–I’d love to never use it at all–and utilizing my Emergency Savings fund for Important Things like rent and utilities, when needed.

In December it occurred to me that I should cut way down on my spending, which to be fair was already moderate, and work on building my savings and setting money aside for goals like travel. To that end, I’ve been attempting a Spending Fast. I say attempting because so far, I’m not great at it. Actually, I’m not doing a Spending Fast so much as I am trying to live within my significantly reduced means.

Enter the Spending Fast, created by Anna from And Then We Saved, which as you can imagine is a blog about saving money. She used the system to pay off debt. I just need to get through. I do think, though, that it’s easier to save with a plan (saying “I’m on a Spending Fast!” feels nicer than “I’m broke.”) and that if I can do this then I actually could pay off this new credit card debt and possibly (gasp!) save some money.

The system is simple:

Don’t spend money on anything that you don’t categorize as a Need. If you look at her list, you can see that she used fantastic resolve in eliminating “wants.” My list, however, includes such “needs” as sewing classes, which I love more than anything and refuse to give up (plus I’d lose my spot, which I waited to get for a whole year!) and Netflix (justifiable since it saves me money on going out, I SWEAR). I’m also not giving up acupuncture. Nope.

See why I’m not great at this?

Some things are harder to give up than others. “Specialty food items” could be like, half my grocery budget if you consider my dietary restrictions and my penchant for expensive pickles. Fortunately, I developed a taste for kitchari last summer and lentils are cheap. It’s tough for me to avoid buying art supplies and fabric, but I stocked up on fabrics in advance and people have been giving me their old stashes (thank you!).

I’m basically coming in at the exact amount I’m making without adding anything to my normal budget categories such as “Mad Money” (for miscellaneous things), “Entertainment” and “Miscellaneous Personal” (for cosmetics, toiletries, candles, etc). I’m trying really hard not to buy “Books and Magazines” and to make all my “Gifts” from materials I already have (like that fabric stash). I am really interested, though, in trying to keep to this very low budget once I do find that elusive full time job, or more part time work. When my resources increase, can I apply that extra cash to my debt and savings?

I did an okay job of Fasting in December, but January was harder. I did not do well. I spent a lot of money on eating out and going to bars, which I don’t usually do. I got a new job (!) and bought myself some presents to celebrate (oops). For February, I should make a little more money because of my tax return and some extra babysitting gigs, but I also have a work trip to NYC and I went ahead and budgeted for dining out, which is inevitable, and added a little money to my Entertainment and Mad Money categories. I’d rather be realistic than pretend I’m Fasting and end up way over budget.

My plan now is to really, truly start paying off my credit card debt and building my savings from March 1st onward. I set some goals, which will help. It seems like my astrological forecast for this year has a lot to do with money and resources, too. I’m excited to finally save some money (and maybe take a big trip!). I’m going to buckle down, I swear. I’ll let you know how it goes.

It’s Budget Day!!!

I am actually excited about Budget Day.  At the end of each month I find a free evening when I can sit down with my Spendee app, bank accounts, personal Excel spreadsheet and a big ol’ glass of wine, to reconcile that month’s budget and make a budget for the upcoming month.  Sounds fun, eh?

Okay, I’ll admit it can be a little scary.  I used to think that budgeting would only show me lack, only make me aware of how little I have (in financial terms).  I thought, there are all these things I want and need, and this will show me that I cannot have them.  Once I bit the bullet and really committed to doing a monthly budget, I realized that it has the opposite effect.  It is actually pretty reassuring.  In fact, I find the whole process calming.

I do what is called a Zero Sum Budget.  That means I calculate, to the best of my ability, what my income will be for the month ahead, and then I account for every penny in my budget.  I know where every cent should be going.  In order to do this, it’s important to know what your concrete expenses are.  These are the expenses that don’t waver, such as rent and utilities.  Put your money there first.  Then you can spread what remains over the incidentals.   It can be helpful to look at your previous months’ spending to see where your money goes.  If you spend a certain amount every month on gas, you can work off that number in your budget.  This will also help you to pinpoint any areas in which you overspend.

It’s very useful to use a template.  Some people love Mint.com or other online budgeting services.  I made an Excel spreadsheet based on Dave Ramsey’s budget template, which I am attaching here–feel free to download, personalize and test it out yourself!  I’ve included basic instructions and inserted  comments where you might like to make changes.  I like Excel because I can manipulate the data any way I want and I can make updates each month based on what I’ve learned.  I can also make lists and leave notes for myself, as you can see in my examples.

Budget Template | Whisper & Howl

Click to download!

Budgeting has helped me a lot both mentally and financially.  There are a lot of things I’m still working on.  If you download my budget template, you may notice that I tend to overspend on certain categories (food, for instance), and that I’m not great at saving.  I’ll delve deeper into my issues as I work on ways to improve.  Until then, happy budgeting!

Have any questions about my template, my journey or budgeting in general?  Ask away in the comments section!