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.

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.

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.


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.


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.

Baby Frugalista, The Babysitter & Work

Well, we’ve survived almost 3 weeks of me being back at work full time. I also survived nearly 4 months without a paycheck, solely relying on our tax refund to make up for the lack of income on my end. Somehow, we made it with $300 to spare — budgeting for the win!

Not only was I okay financially, but emotionally, too. Having someone we know and trust babysit Baby Frugalista has made all the difference. Mr. Not-So-Frugal and I know she’s in good hands. Don’t get me wrong — I’m sad to leave her every day, but I haven’t had any crying jags about it. And the baby has acclimated wonderfully to the new situation. I leave her smiling, and when Mr. NSF picks her up, she’s STILL smiling. That’s reassuring! At least until the dreaded separation anxiety kicks in on the baby’s end…

The most wonderful sight arrived in my mailbox last Thursday: A paystub! I need to redo our budget to include my usual income and, now, the cost of the babysitter. Luckily, it doesn’t cost as much to have the baby with the sitter as it would to put her in daycare. But we do have some credit card bills to pay off, which I hope to have done by March 2012, if not before. Luckily, I was able to transfer a good portion of the $3,000 we owe to a credit card with a 0% offer — there was a 2% transaction fee, but that was “only” a month’s worth of interest at the usual rate. So it was well worth it.

7.5 Weeks With No Pay, 4.5 to Go

When it came to maternity leave, I’ve always wanted to be able to spend as much time as I could with my newborn baby. That’s why, when I found out I was pregnant nearly one year ago, my husband and I decided that I should take 6 months, if possible. My employers amazingly agreed to the time period when I proposed it, for which I will be forever grateful. But I knew that I would only be getting disability and family leave pay for a total of 12 weeks – the other 12 weeks would be unpaid (I’ve taken 24 weeks off, rather than 6 straight months, a slightly longer time period).

That’s why, even while pregnant, I worked my ass off doing side gigs in order to further build up our savings. I also knew the baby would come around the time we’d be getting our tax refund. As much as I planned, the baby had other ideas, showing up 5 weeks early. Luckily, she was healthy as a horse, and the upside was that I could spend all of my maternity leave time with her, as opposed to going out of work at 38.5 weeks as scheduled, then waiting around for the baby to show.

For the past 7.5 weeks, we’ve only had Mr. Not-So-Frugal’s paycheck coming in. While I know many readers can make it work on one income — even with a mortgage — it’s something that’s almost impossible here in Northern New Jersey, in the shadow of New York City. We bought a home at a good price, put 20% down, and it’s still tough. It appears that I’ve planned out our cash flow perfectly, but now we’re getting down to the wire — there are just 4.5 weeks left until I return to work!

It’s difficult watching our checking account dwindle now that we’re in the sunset of my maternity leave. We’ve been watching our spending to a point, but now I’m going to be bringing the hammer down. It would be even easier if I could get Mr. NSF to stop smoking (he smokes outside, as he’s always done), as we’d save an easy $300/month right there. But if my calculations are correct, we won’t even have to dip into our savings account.

Although there’s one thing I didn’t consider — when I’ll get my first paycheck when I return. I think I’m going to have to wait two weeks for my pay when I go back, which really means it’ll be another 6.5 weeks without a paycheck coming in, not 4.5!

I’ve cherished this time home with my little one, and I can’t believe it’s coming to an end. Watching her grow from a teeny 4-pound preemie to the chunky baby she is now (13-plus-pounds at almost 5 months!) and hitting all of her milestones despite her early entrance into the world has been amazing. But as much as I love you, Baby Frugalista, I’m actually ready to go back to work! It’ll be hard, putting you in daycare, but we’ve got a great babysitter lined up, someone I’m comfortable with. I know you’ll be in good hands.

I’ve always believed I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, but I’m ready for a paycheck again! Unless we hit the lottery, I’ll be a working mom, just like most of the people I know. I know that despite being away from my baby during the day, I can still guide her, teach her and love her just as much.

Duking It Out: Pregnancy vs. Blogging

I’ve been much more lax in my blogging duties in the past few months, as this little one is not only taking over my body, but also my thoughts and actions. My priority is keeping her safe, providing all the energy and rest she needs, and letting her grow big, strong and healthy. Pregnancy is hard work!

It’s also turning me from a window shopper into a shopper-shopper. I can’t pass the infant clothing section at Kohl’s without losing a half-hour immersing myself in all the little outfits — and then walking out with one or two, rationalizing the purchase with the thought, “Hey, it’s only $6!”

Came home with two little newborn outfits today — one from the discount rack, and both prices further reduced thanks to a 30% off coupon. And I paid with a gift card. So I’m okay with today’s purchases, despite knowing we have tons of wonderful hand-me-down outfits and gifted clothing that will easily get this little one through her first birthday.

Now that I’m 33 weeks along, I realize there are a ton of things to do: a crib and baby items to be assembled, little things to be purchased, a house to be put in order. Our bedroom is currently being renovated by professionals, which means our furniture and bed — along with the baby’s nursery furniture — are share a lavender-walled room at the moment. I’m hoping by the end of next week the renovations will be finished, and then it will be down to carpeting and paint. But it’s still going to be a race to the finish.

Every day and every evening, thoughts swirl around my head, taunting me about the unfinished work that needs to be done. But we can’t put the crib together, as it won’t fit through the doorway if we need to empty the room for carpeting. But I know everything will get done in due time. I can’t make the process go any faster.

And the exhaustion of the first trimester has returned with a vengeance in the third. I can’t stay awake too long after dinner (which usually happens after I get home from work; we eat at 7:30 or 8), which doesn’t leave me time to do things like laundry, the dishes, and blog. Unfortunately, clean clothes and dishes come before blogging, so that’s been taking up my now-limited awake time. The other consideration is that I don’t want to blog only about a baby who has yet to make her grand entrance into the world.

Another thing I’ve been slacking on: I have yet to draw up a solid post-baby budget outline, which is on my agenda for the next week. Although it will be hard to figure out all the variables without actually seeing how our expenses will pan out.

The result? Pregnancy, 1, Blogging, 0.

Budgeting for Baby

It’s truly time to do something I never do — write out a budget. On paper. Something we can try to stick to when the baby arrives and all of our spending priorities change.

Right now, our “budget” is in my head. I just know what we can spend, and what we can’t. We manage our finances well, so it’s not too difficult at the moment. Although I have been spending more on groceries lately, due to my voracious appetite.

But once diapers, doctors visits and all of the “preparatory” spending come into play, it’s a whole new ballgame. And then there will be infant daycare, the costs of which are going to be more than $1,000 a month, most likely. I’ll have to start pricing that out and making phone calls soon, too.

I have dreams of convincing the hubby to drop some of our ridiculous platinum-level Verizon FIOS features — the movie channels alone cost $30/month, but I know that’s Mr. NSF’s biggest interest. He doesn’t have hobbies, unless you call watching every move ever made a hobby. We do have four cable boxes. We can easily get rid of two of those, the basement and in the bedroom. That leaves our main television in the living room and the one in our four-season porch room, which is going to make a fantastic playroom, thanks to a door I can close and lock away all the toys and clutter — obviously, when the baby isn’t back there.

So I need to stop planning and start doing when it comes to this budget.

It’s incredibly humbling to know that every financial step — and misstep — that we make will have an effect on our daughter. And that encourages me to become even more frugal in our everyday lives, so that we can meet all of her needs and spoil her a bit.