Rock You Like a Hurricane… Sandy.

We’re getting ready to weather one of the largest (area-wise) hurricanes, ever. It’s a 500-mile-wide behemoth named Sandy that’s decided it’s going to pick on the Northeast. It hasn’t even hit the coastline yet, and already water is flooding coastal communities.

We’re not that close to the coast — just outside of New York City — so any water we get will depend on how much it rains. Our basement flooded a few inches during Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene last August, but only because we’d received record-breaking rainfall earlier in the month.

This time, I’m concerned about the wind and what it’ll do to the two 100-foot-tall oak trees and 80-foot maple that border our backyard. I’m pretty certain the power will go out — we went without it for four-and-a-half days after Irene. But that was summer, and it was in the mid-80s, so we barbecued our food as it defrosted. This time, it’ll be in the 50s and we won’t have heat. I can’t wait.

So our outdoor items are secure, the air conditioners are finally out of the windows, and we were able to get our hands on a few bags of ice. I’ve made cookies, Italian pasta salad and chili. There’s nothing left to do but wait.

Looking for Ways to Cut Expenses

I think our spending is getting out of hand. Thanks to my Mint app (which I’m finally paying attention to), I can see where all my money goes to, and it’s eye-opening. Not to mention cringe-worthy. While we’re not buying anything ridiculously expensive, all of the little things are adding up.

Maybe if I lay out all of our major expenses here, it’ll be easier to figure out if there’s any room to cut our costs. We can’t change our mortgage or property taxes, so I’m not even going to lay those out here – we don’t qualify for a good refinancing deal at this point, and we have a decent rate — 5%. I’m also not going to lay out our babysitting costs, but they’re a great deal cheaper than daycare thanks to my friend’s mom, who’s like another family member to us. So that expense won’t change, either. A third budget item that can’t be changed, and is increasing: our health insurance. Starting in January, the same coverage will cost an additional $75/month (pre-tax) out of my husband’s paycheck. Awesome.

 

Our Current Monthly Expenses

$530: The monthly payment and insurance on Mr. Not-So-Frugal’s truck (my car has been paid off for years. Read: old)

$280: Gas for two vehicles

$175: Cell phone bill (3 phones: two smartphones and a simple phone for my dad)

$185: TV/Internet/Home Phone (yes, we really have one of those)

$225: Average utility bill (ranges from $150-$300 monthly, depending on the season)

$300: Cigarettes for Mr. NSF

$400: Groceries/food. Includes takeout once a week, about $25

$500: Credit card debt payment

$475: Pre-tax deduction for employer-provided health insurance

$60: Diapers & veggie pouches for Miss Frugalista

$50: Lunches (I brown-bag it 95% of the time; Mr. NSF grabs a small salad or a cup of chili from the work cafeteria now and then)

$20: Netflix – 2 DVDs plus streaming

$9: Newspaper on Thursdays and Sundays

 

Minimal wiggle room:

Utilities: I installed a programmable digital thermostat earlier this year, which definitely helped reduce some of our heating bill costs. I also have insulated curtains on our large front windows in the dining room and living room to keep the sun out in the summer and the cold out in the winter. Now that Miss Frugalista isn’t an infant anymore, we can keep the thermostat set a few degrees cooler and layer up (sorry, husband).
SAVINGS: Varied, but a few bucks a month

TV/Internet/Home Phone: The home phone would be a logical cut, since we both have cell phones and only telemarkers call our home line, but we’re in the beginning of a new contract with Verizon FIOS and I can’t do anything about that at the moment. My husband loves his movies, so we’ll be keeping the $30/month full movie-channel package.
SAVINGS: None

Cell Phone: We recently upgraded to smartphones, and the data packages upped our bill by $40/month. Nothing to cut here, as we’re using everything except the darned minutes – and we’re already at the “cheapest” family plan.
SAVINGS: None

Car Payment/Insurance: We’ll finish paying off my husband’s truck in April 2014. It’s already at 0% financing. As for car insurance, I (reasonably) raised the deductibles on my 9-year-old car.
SAVINGS: $10/month

Credit Card Payment: I don’t want to reduce this because we owe $3500 on our credit cards. We’re just not going to add to it any more. Instead of buying something (usually a larger purchase; soon, will be Christmas presents) on a credit card, we’ll use our debit cards instead. We may have to reduce our credit card payment, but at least we won’t be adding to the debt.
SAVINGS: None

 

Where we can cut:

Newspaper: I’m being a bad journalist when I say this, but with the Internet, newspapers are useless to me. I don’t even need the Sunday paper for coupons anymore, since I can get them online and either print them out or load them on my grocery store’s club card.
SAVINGS: $9/month

Takeout: We don’t need to order food for a dinner every weekend — maybe limit it to twice a month.
SAVINGS: $50/month

Lunches: Sometimes we’re just in a pinch and need to buy something for lunch, but I’d like to see us cut this expense in half.
SAVINGS: $25/month

Shopping: Miss Frugalista needed some new clothes and shoes for the fall/winter (we finally ran out of hand-me-downs!), but she should be set until spring now. I also bought myself some winter clothes to augment my post-baby-body collection (ugh), and spent $250, with coupons. I probably could have done a better job of looking for cheaper clothes, but fall/winter stuff isn’t on clearance yet, and I needed stuff now. I don’t plan to buy clothes again until spring.
SAVINGS: Varied

 

Wish we could get rid of:

Cigarettes – $300. Mr. NSF wanted to quit a few weeks ago, but some bad news got in the way and threw him off track. I hope he can really try to quit soon, both for his health and our budget.

Netflix DVDs – $11.99. With the full-out movie channel TV package, plus streaming through Amazon Prime and Netflix, I don’t understand the need for DVDs, too. I’m also the person who could live without TV. I don’t see a compromise here, because it’s unfair to my husband, who really, really enjoys watching movies and doesn’t spend money on any hobbies. I guess TV *IS* his hobby.

 

In the end:

Our liquid emergency fund would last about 5-6 months, which is fairly healthy, but we haven’t been able to add to it much this year, with the bathroom renovation and unexpected car repairs eating up our free cash. My husband also needed his first-ever pair of glasses, which followed getting an eye exam for the first time in nearly two decades. And we rarely go out.

So we’re living almost paycheck-to-paycheck, without extravagance. Seems like this is the price we pay for having a child and living in Northern New Jersey.

Amazon One-Click — Buh-Bye

Since the birth of Baby Frugalista (who has now been promoted to Miss Frugalista, as she’s now 20 months old), I’ve been an Amazon One-Click groupie. It all started when I signed up for the (old) Amazon Mom program, back when the discounts added up to 30% off diapers and other specific baby supplies. Free two-day shipping became my crack – Hey, I can order XYZ on Monday and get it by Wednesday! And sometimes Tuesday, if it was shipped from a nearby warehouse.

Then, I discovered Amazon’s One-Click buying. Amazon saves your credit card information so when you go to check out and pay for a purchase, all you have to do is … click, once. Instead of re-inputting your credit card info. Ridiculously easy — and ridiculously dangerous.

Most of my purchases were limited to baby supplies and occasionally clothes, but it’s too tempting. Recent purchases have included a 12,000-btu air conditioner for $300, a block sander for $12, cheap diaper pail bag refills and an assortment of birthday/Christmas/bridal shower gifts. But there’s always a random “I didn’t really need that” impulse buy.

But those little purchases really add up, and wind up increasing our credit card balance, which needs to be re-tamed again. But that’s another post.

For now, it’s sayonara, Amazon 1-Click. The diaper purchases are automatic shipments through Amazon Mom, but other than that, I want to be forced to really think about a purchase before I make it.