Operation: Miser


One of my  major financial goals this year has been to pad our savings account.  The older I get, the more financially conservative I get, and the larger my safety net the better.  Getting out of debt (FINALLY!) last year was an amazing feeling, but having a nice sized savings has allowed Garrett and I to have flexibility with our choice of jobs and lifestyle, and feeling that freedom has given me huge incentive to save. 

As I was telling you the other day though, I am failing miserably at this goal,  and I am very ready to turn that around.  It would be one thing if the option to save was not available to us — if the money wasn’t there then this would be an altogether different conversation.  But the fact of the matter is we could be saving more and we just aren’t and I need to light a fire under my ass, so consider this post some lighter fluid.  I’m hoping you will strike the match —  Ideas? Motivation? Smackdown?  I’m all ears.

So Where Is the Money Going?

Being the anal retentive nerd that I am, I love budget type software.  Mint.com is what I currently use and it is nice to be able to see a quick snapshot of where our money is going throughout the month.  It’s not the perfect solution, but it is working right now.  Its only flaw is that I haven’t figured out how to split transactions into multiple categories.  For example if I go to Costco I buy groceries and household items but it can only be tagged as one or the other (I think.  If I’m wrong, enlighten me, please!)  

Anyway, in the interest of actually full disclosure in the name of reaching my savings goal (and because I know everyone loves a voyeuristic peek into other people’s lives — especially when it comes to money) here is an overview where ours has been going by category during the first half of the year:






Expense Key (What do they all mean?)

Food and Dining – includes grocery budget, household purchases made at Costco, our monthly meat share, dining out
Home – includes rent and home improvement costs. Like the jerk-wad plumber last month.
Bills & Utilities – includes electricity, gas, water, sewer, trash, cable, cell phones
Shopping – includes clothing, gifts, things bought on Amazon
Auto & Transport – includes auto insurance, maintenance and gas (neither of us have car payments)
Health & Fitness – includes both of our CrossFit memberships plus medical relating things
Education – includes my Student Loan Payment (sad trombone)
Personal Care – includes toiletries, haircuts, makeup etc.
Financial – Credit Monitoring
Entertainment – includes dining out with friends (separate from when the two of us dine out), date nights, parties thrown, theater tickets, etc.
Business Services – fees related to this here website

Acknowledging Where We Are:  The Smackdown

The Good 

  • I love that our money does reflect our values.  We are fans of voting with our dollars (even though I think that phrase is super douchey) and I’m proud that a large overall portion of our budget that goes to local, humanely raised, seasonal food meat and produce. I’m also happy that the bulk of our food spending is done for meals at home.
  • Transportation includes what we spend for gas every month and despite prices being RI-DONK-ULOUS right now, we routinely come in under budget in this area.  Plus neither of us have car payments.  Homebodies for the win, in this particular instance apparently.
  • Lately my monthly “shopping” has mostly included clothing purchases.  My weight loss has been steady and despite my ability to look chic in a pair of 2 sizes too big yoga pants, my work (and workout) wardrobe has needed to be maintained as my size changes.  I’m mostly ok with this.  Plus we are avid readers and library goers, so the amount of money I have saved on books in the last year has definitely affected our budget.
  • We don’t do a lot of superfluous spending.  Those categories up there are pretty much all we spend money on.  We just aren’t really into expensive gadgets, extreme vacations, or lavish gifts.  The money we spend is less about escape and more about investing in creature comforts that make our everyday life awesome.
  • None of that money is going towards debt (aside from that stupid student loan – which is tax deductible!)  HOLLA!

The Bad

  • Most of the time our grocery budget is more than we pay in rent to live in a 3 bedroom house in California (YIKES!) I just don’t spend mindfully at the grocery store and generally buy what I want, when I want.  Although this has many positive affects on our life (cooking is an enjoyed hobby, we eat out less) it is definitely an area where we could be more conscious.
  • We have had some extra spending on things for the the house lately with getting ready for Garrett’s 30th birthday party (furniture) and our plumbing woes.  This has totally blown our budget and frankly, we don’t even think about home maintenance often when we think about budgeting which creates a bit of a blind spot when something goes wrong. 
  • The amount that I am paying on my student loan is equivalent to a car payment.  And in respect to the overall amount owed that is so small that if I keep up at this pace I will be paying it back until I’m 90 and my State School education will have cost me Paris Hilton’s inheritance.  I’d like to redistribute some funds in that direction in an effort to reduce the overall amount.
  • The truth is, I just feel better saving than spending.  And this breakout isn’t letting me save routinely.  Saving is more of a here and there when I think about it activity, and I’m a big believer at paying myself first!

Acknowledging Where We Are Going: The Action Plan
Here are a few of my initial observations about where we can quickly make some changes.

  • Reduce the grocery leakage.  Right now, to me, this is the hole in the boat.  I know I didn’t put in the actual amounts for each item, but I will be honest with you here – there are only 2 of us, and I embarrassed to say that some of those months had spending of more than $1000 .  Granted this is 3 meals a day (we rarely eat out) and we do consume more meat and fresh vegetables doing Paleo than the average person who pads their meals with pasta/rice/grains; HOWEVER, I think we can be smarter.
  • Reduce mindless spending.  Yes of course I want an entire new wardrobe of fun clothes for summer and would like to continue spending $3-500 per month on clothes.  But I don’t think that’s necessary for a bit.  All of my clothes fit at the moment and I have a while before I will be swimming in them.  I’m considering during the month of July doing a little 30 for 30 Remix with my wardrobe.  Anyone up for it?
  • Get back to meal planning weekly and plan around the sales.  I love a good menu plan and I’m generally pretty good about making one each week.  But I could be much better about using my grocery circulars in the planning process and not doing so much of buying what I want when I want.  I don’t have much luck with coupons since we don’t buy anything that doesn’t grow or graze, but I could definitely be better at using coupons for staples like Olive Oil and Toiletries.
  • Figure out where the best deals REALLY are.  I generally buy as much as I can at Costco, but I know they do not always have the best price. Buying in bulk always feels cheaper, but mostly I do it for the convenience because while I love cooking and a full fridge, I don’t love grocery shopping.   I think I’m going to start a list like Beth mentions in this post.  Revolutionary idea and simple as can be.  Plus — I LOVE LISTS!   

So there are my thoughts, of course I would love your input!  

So tell me: 
*What tip has helped you to save money in the past? Depositing your paycheck into your savings account?  Setting up monthly budget parameters?  School me!
*What do you do to manage your grocery budget without being an Extreme Couponer?  I’m all ears on this one, obviously.
*What are your favorite money saving/financial inspiration websites?  I love reading about money because I’m a dork like that.
*What do you see that I don’t?  A fresh set of eyes is always nice! Am I throwing money away somewhere?

*photo credit

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12 Responses to Operation: Miser

  1. Dr. Maureen says:

    We recently switched from our convoluted Excel budget to the program YNAB (You Need A Budget). We like it; I was going to try Mint.com, but it couldn't connect with Bank of America and then I heard about people having issues with it doing double transactions, and I figured, eh. I considered Quicken, but that requires you to upgrade because they don't support older versions or something. I was annoyed, bu now I sort of forget why. We're liking YNAB, but we've only been using it for five months, so I'm not sure it's helping me *stick* to my budget. But it's definitely easier to use than my insane Excel spreadsheet.

    You didn't specifically ask for budget software recs, so I hope this isn't obnoxious.

    Also, for groceries, something that helps me is to remember to actually use and eat the stuff that's in my pantry and freezer. Because I'll buy, for example, a bunch of meat when it's on sale and then stick in the freezer, or last year I froze our farm share veggies that we couldn't eat. And then I tend to just… leave them there and buy new ingredients for my meal plan. So! Helpful tip that needs to be pointed out to me, at least, even though it should theoretically be obvious: If you buy bulk items to save money, don't forget to EAT the bulk items instead of buying NEW, smaller sized identical items.

  2. Dr. Maureen says:

    Oh! I just remembered why I went on and on about YNAB. It lets you split the categories on a single transaction.

  3. Erica says:

    The best financial advice I have ever received and have used in times of scarcity and times of plenty: pay yourself first. It's simple but it works.
    When you get your paycheck – immediately move your targeted savings amount into another account. (I have a few different savings accounts for different goals.) Then you can spend the rest freely without obsessing too much about percentages. Want to save more? Just increase the amount that you move into savings when you get paid. You'll have to adjust your spending but it will be automatic.
    Also – I'm assuming that you're not neglecting the tax advantaged savings of a 401K or IRA – just as important as your cash savings.

  4. San says:

    You can split transactions on Mint.com as well. You just have to "open" the transaction details and there is a "split" button and you can split it into as many transactions as you want.

    Regarding the grocery shopping, are you a fan of meal planning? Personally,I can't get myself to do it (because I want to eat what I feel like when I feel like it), but many people swear by a meal plan and then just shopping specifically for that.
    Writing a shopping list and then sticking to that shopping list is a good idea, too, I suppose.

  5. Shannon says:

    We do our banking with a credit union (and I know the rules and stuff are different on this side of the border, so I don't know if this is a viable option for you). Our credit union doesn't have monthly fees on any of their accounts which makes budgeting easier for us without using a tracking program.

    We have two chequing accounts – one for our mortgage and one for groceries and pre-authorized debits.

    We have something like 12 savings accounts. We sat down and worked out our budget for the year and figured out what we needed to spend/save and set up an account for each item. I get paid twice a month and my husband gets paid every two weeks, so some things, like the groceries and the mortgage are tied to his pay cheque and some things, like daycare and some of the other bills are tied to my pay cheque.

    For once a year expenses – taxes, insurance, Christmas – we divided the amount by 12 and once a month a set amount is transferred in. We do the same thing for bills – this is especially helpful for hydro as it's higher in the winter than the summer, but we put an equal amount in each month and those whopping bills in December and January aren't so hard to handle.

    All of the pre-authorized debits and bills have their own account and are transferred into the chequing account a couple of days before they are due and then they automatically go away. We're not super strict with the grocery budget, but I do try to stick to it as much as possible.

    We obviously have different grocery stores, but what has worked for us is meal planning, making a list, and taking advantage of the weekly sales. The two stores by our place have their fliers on line, so I plan around what is on sale and shop at two places. We try to buy locally directly from the producer when we can – summer is better for that.

    Wow, sorry, I babbled on and on and on…

  6. Shelly says:

    I live in Canada and heard of some students who moved out of country and stopped paying their student loans. The government tried to contact them and were informed they had moved out of the country. POOF! Their loans vanished. TRUE STORY! Plus, they eventually came back to Canada. Maybe you just need to leave the US for a year? Ha!

    As for me, I recently got a second job waitressing. In two weeks, and only 5 shifts, I've made an extra $500 to put towards savings. It sucks, having two jobs and all…but it's helping! 🙂 I realize that really isn't probably one of your options, but I can't believe how much easier it is for me. But, I'm single, and I can work all I want without feeling like I'm not spending enough time with my significant other.

    When I saw how much of your spending goes to groceries, I was a little shocked. But after reading how you choose healthier options and do alot of cooking at home, I believe it's worth it. I've been following your blog for awhile, and have to say, you are looking DAMN SEXY! Keep it up! 🙂

  7. kakaty says:

    Once a month we "clean out the freezer/pantry" (in fact, we are doing it this week). I buy a lot in bulk and things can pile up. I create a menu based on what we have then I can just shop for the extras which means once a month the grocery bill is cut in half and things don't get too old to use. It helps a little.

    Before we had kids I worked a 2nd job…just a few hours a week (10-15) but that money helped to pad our savings. I still miss that extra (small) check.

    As for savings, we each have 401(k)s, seperate investments and then we have a small amount of each check deposited into our savings each payday. Since we never 'see' it (I hardly ever look at our savings account) I never think of it. But when we had our own plumbing problem, it came in handy. Our checking account is budgeted to the penny – there's not much wiggle room until the kids get out of the money-suck that is daycare.

  8. Chelsea says:

    "I'm considering during the month of July doing a little 30 for 30 Remix with my wardrobe. "

    Oooo, what is this?

    I'm in the same boat – I needed new clothes – but it's a wee bit out of control. (Summer dresses! ACKK THEY ARE CALLING TO ME!)

    We have a credit union too, and are socking away money into a single account just for Savings. Neither of us have debit cards linked to it, so in order to touch it, it takes an act of God. (Or, 24 hours to transfer in online banking. 🙂 )

  9. Elizabeth says:

    I love Mint, but we had to switch to Golden One and it sucks to use with that. Kept losing and doubling transactions, and I got so frustrated I had to quit using it.

  10. Jessica says:

    My secret is having my husband do the grocery shopping. I ALWAYS spend about 1.5 times what he does. It's not on crap – I get more fresh fruit (if it looks good I can't resist!) and healthy snacky things to have around – but it's not planned well and I usually don't even get around to eating the extra stuff.

  11. bee says:

    Hi Holly!

    Two suggestions:

    1. I love http://www.thesimpledollar.com. I've been on a debt freedom adventure for a couple years now and I find a lot of good material and lots of inspiration over there, especially if you're willing to dig into the post history.

    2. Also, I know someone already said this, but the thing that REALLY changed the game for me is automatic deduction of the money you want to save. When you get paid it goes away and it's like you never had it in the first place. I also have mine set up at a different account than my main checking account so if I want the savings I either need to go to the bank and withdraw it, or wait 3 days for the transfer to clear which REALLY helps with the self control. And seriously, it's super easy to set up.

    Good luck with everything! I love reading your blog–you're a great inspiration to me! 🙂

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