Being the goal-oriented person I am, I always seem to be about a month or two ahead of myself. When I was younger, it used to drive my friends a little crazy because when someone would ask me how old I was, I would more often than not say the next age up (“I’ll be 16 in two months”) rather than just saying the age I currently was. While I’ve mostly since stopped rounding up my age :), I still seem to do the same thing in my head when it comes to planning, which is why I’m deciding to just hop on the 2023 blogging train now while I’m excited about it.
Also, because I long since gave up the idea of blogging like I was “supposed to” (aka, sticking to just one main niche or topic), you all should be used to me just blogging about whatever is catching my interest at the moment. #sorrynotsorry
And my interest at the moment?
Finding a way to make ends meet and starting to make headway on the debt we decided to take on this year before it starts charging us interest in August of 2023.
But I’d better back up a bit.
Note: There are affiliate links in this post to the products, books, and services mentioned.
The Backstory … Aka, How We Dug Ourselves Into This Pit
Y’all know I love personal finance, and it’s something I’m generally decent at. Sure, I love to spend money on things I’m excited about, but I’m usually pretty intentional about it, and my husband is the same way. Obviously none of us expected the events of 2020 and 2021, but one thing that especially surprised me about those years was that instead of our finances being dragged down into the pit of despair, we had banner financial years thanks to stimulus checks, an unexpected part-time job for me, the child tax credit, and the like. I feel good about the way we spent the vast majority of those windfalls, especially as they allowed us to start up our flower farm debt-free and pay off a decently large chunk of our mortgage.
The mistake happened when I perhaps expected that 2022 would be the same.
Whew, this year has been a doozy financially. Not nearly as bad as it could have been (thank goodness my husband still has a steady paycheck and our flower farm basically broke even, only in year two!), but a bunch of things all added up to make me feel like we definitely took a few financial steps backwards this year.
For starters, we decided to replace about two-thirds of the windows in our 1920 house with new, energy-efficient models because 1) we got a steal of a deal since they were looking to do a “model home” in our area, and 2) our heating and cooling bills are truly insane in this house. The hope was that by replacing some of the bigger offenders first, we’d start lowering our heating bills ASAP, and then we could bank some of the savings and sock them away to replace the other third of the windows within the two-year period the company gave us to do the rest under the same price point.
Not a bad idea, and I do still want to try and replace the other third if we can while we’re locked into the price we currently have (which is far, far lower than any other company quoted).
The problem came when it came to decide how to finance the initial purchase of windows. We decided to use the majority of our savings to pay for the first half and then open up a cash back credit card that wasn’t charging interest until August 2023 to pay for the other half (which, because I was considering getting a cash back credit card anyway, seemed like the best option, especially since it bought us about 15 months to pay it all off). We went with this Chase Preferred card that offered bonus cash back on top of the usual 1.5% cash back for the first 15 months, which meant that when we charged the windows, several hundred dollars of it was paid for via the cash back double bonus. All in all, I still think it was a smart strategy AS LONG AS . . . we can actually pay off the whole thing in time.
Because here’s the thing: a lot of the things we were planning on financially (like a raise for my husband) didn’t end up coming through, and we also ended up getting hit with a lot of unexpected large expenses, such as back-to-back miscarriages that both needed to be taken care of surgically, as well as car repairs, a dental bill, etc. etc. The part-time job I had also laid off my position back in April, which was one of the main ways we were hoping to knock out the payments early. Oh, and inflation basically took a bevy of steroids in 2022, which essentially drained any kind of margin we had in our budget.
All that’s to say is that when all is said and done, with the other half of the windows and the medical and dental and car bills, we find ourselves with $8,692 that we need to pay off before August.
Paying off debt is not complicated. It’s not EASY, but it’s not complicated. It basically means that you either need to increase income and/or trim back your expenses in order to create enough extra so that you can have the cash to pay it off. Oh, and YOU NEED TO STOP ACCRUING MORE DEBT.
I’ve drastically changed how I’ve done our budgeting this year because of this debt. You see, there have been very, very few times in our marriage when we haven’t been debt-free other than our mortgage — one was when we had terrible health insurance and had to shell out thousands in medical bills after the birth of our oldest, and the other was when we had to take on a car loan to get our minivan, which we paid off as fast as possible. Debt is not something I’m comfortable with, and so I’m usually willing to make my day-to-day life a little less comfortable in order to be free of it.
In the past, I did all my budgeting and account tracking through Personal Capital and Mint, both of which are free online tools that help you track your spending, net worth, debts, etc. While I do still use both of these sites to get a general snapshot of our financial picture, I started doing a much more in-depth budget this year when Mint’s free budgeting software stopped syncing with my bank. Granted, even though I’ve loosely created a monthly budget for years, I wasn’t super hardcore about it before. If I saw we were about to go over in a category, I’d just increase the amount allotted to that category and take enough from somewhere else so that the numbers all came out even. It wasn’t a bad system, but it meant I sometimes got lazy about saving because I didn’t follow the old adage to “pay yourself first” — I’d leave the savings until the end of the month, when I could just transfer over whatever was left.
Nowadays with this debt looming over my head, I’ve started to go a little spreadsheet crazy. Gone are the days when I’d be hit (over and over again) with surprise monthly bills — “Oh, this was the month the car registration is due?”, “Whoops, I forgot that annual subscription fee came out in October. Guess I’d better add that in now and see if I can take it from somewhere else” — because now in addition to having a spreadsheet for our monthly budget, I’ve FINALLY started making spreadsheets for when the less frequent expenses come up during the year, including oil changes and expected upcoming car repairs, anticipated medical bills (such as the birth of our baby next year), annual subscriptions we still have, car registrations, activity fees for the kids, etc. I’ve tried to anticipate the whole year’s worth of one-off expenses and put down when they’re expected to come due so that when I sit down to make out a budget every month, I’m (hopefully) not super surprised at what bills come due during that time period.
Another thing I’ve been doing is trying to be much more realistic about how much I’ll really NEED to spend in each category per month and then sticking to that number. In times past, I’d just put down the same old number in each category such as gas or groceries rather than sitting down and actually calculating out how much I’d realistically probably need to spend. That meant we’d frequently go over budget in a category not because we were being spendthrift and irresponsible, but because I really hadn’t thought about how much I’d have to be making longer trips, for example, or if it was a holiday and I’d be likely wanting to prepare special foods or entertaining.
Now that I’m trying to be much more mindful about it, I’m also trying to actually STICK to the original number a lot better. Before, because I hadn’t given it much thought, I would be shifting the budget numbers all the time without thinking twice about it. Now that we’re on a much tighter budget with a lofty goal in mind, I need to make sure I’m being intentional about both MAKING the budget AND sticking to the budget.
What You Can Expect Here on the Blog
Because frugality and budgeting and such are on my mind a lot currently, you can expect more of my content lately to be about that. I’m wanting to take a leaf out of The Frugal Girl’s book and start doing weekly posts on frugal wins and failures, and I’ll also be charting our progress towards our debt payoff goal. I might also do a snapshot of our monthly grocery budget and meal plan, if that’s something you’d find interesting.
I would love to have some input from you, though — what would you find most interesting? Are there specific topics you’d love to read about? Anything you’d like me to share on a weekly or monthly basis? I’m all ears!
Resources I’m Using to Help Me Stay on Track
Google Spreadsheets is currently my best friend, and I always have multiple spreadsheets open at once to keep me on track — my budget for the month (where I input new charges and income reports daily), my credit card payoff spreadsheet (where I’ve written down every single charge, when it was made, what it was for, and the amount, followed by a space where I can put down how much of it I’ve paid off and when it was paid off entirely), and my estimated expenses for the year, which helps me to keep those top of mind. I also made spreadsheets to track my Christmas spending this year.
I continue to utilize easy cash back apps such as Rakuten and Ibotta whenever I make a purchase. That’s how we saved $12.50 on the annual subscription to Disney Plus our kids got for part of their Christmas present, as well as how we got an even further 10% discount on some clothing purchases we made for the same thing.
Finally, I used some Christmas money I got to buy myself a used copy of The Tightwad Gazette off of Biblio. (You can find it on Amazon too for $26.00 paperback or $9.99 on Kindle right now.) Have you heard of this book? It’s a compilation of a monthly newsletter that was sent out in the 1990’s, and it is HUGE — like, almost 1,000 pages long. It’s completed filled with every tip and trick you can imagine for being frugal and saving money, and it is SO INSPIRING. Sure, some of the info (and obviously the prices) are a bit dated, but the vast majority of the tips and suggestions are timeless. I’ve started reading it from cover to cover, and it has made me realize — I am not NEARLY as frugal as I could be. Not even a little bit. The book should come with a warning, though: It will make you look at EVERYTHING differently. I’m really excited to dive into it more in the coming months.
And that should be it for now! Any questions for me? Any great frugal resources you have–books, blogs, YouTube channels? Drop a comment below and let me know!