Monthly Archives: March 2015

Weekly Wondering: Getting Further with Positivity than Anti-Negativity

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Over time, I have come to learn there are things I can do that make me feel pretty good, like reading a book, going for a walk, writing, cleaning parts of the house, cooking, or even just kicking ass at an obligation I have, like the freelance editing I do.

There are also things I can do that make me feel bad, like mindless procrastination or oversleeping – basically failing to spend my time doing things in the above list. Some parts of the work I did for my old job would have fallen into this category as well.

When I look back at my posts, I can see I’ve written about ways to remove some of the wasteful drains on my life, whether it’s on my time or my budget. I don’t have as much on ways to add value back in. For some reason, the former is a much easier idea for me to tackle, but ultimately, I don’t think it’s nearly as effective.

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Weekly Wondering: Removing an (Anti)Productivity Crutch

This is a new segment I’m trying to implement, because hey, writers gotta write. This post will be a little more of my musings as opposed to my take on absorbed wisdom or reports on numbers. Let’s see what comes of it, shall we?

smartphone-on-table

It’s just sitting there…

I am something of a master procrastinator.

I think as a child some part of me determined my (non-negotiably kinda nerdy) identity was more “smart slacker” than “overachiever,” and I decided to get really good at putting off doing certain types of work. That identity doesn’t really fulfill me any longer, but old habits die hard, and I’ve come to see these procrastination habits as a crutch that keep me from having to come up with a new one.

We all have our coping strategies that keep us from facing a reality that we’d rather avoid. One of mine is on my smartphone.

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Negabucks – The Currency you can Earn Without a “Job”

apple-money-treeI love the concept of “negabucks.”

If you google the word negabucks, the #1 hit is a post about the financial value of home gardening. I think the term is used somewhat widely in the personal-finance community, but I’ll admit I first saw the term used by David of The Goblin Chief. The essential meaning of a negabuck is money earned by not paying for someone else’s work/labor. It’s a gratifying way of quantifying money saved.
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Hard Numbers Will be Hard to Come by

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Hard numbers can be incredibly helpful when analyzing data. There aren’t many of them on this blog though, and that’s by design.

I’m honestly conflicted about this, so I think it bears explaining. I’ve begun to read a number of blogs as I’ve grown more interested in things directly/tangentially related to personal finance and FIRE, and many are unabashedly open about much of their finances, with hard numbers aplenty. I have found this occasionally overwhelming but largely inspirational, and perhaps, I wonder, if I shared similarly I could inspire some as well. That is part of what this is after all – I’m writing about my journey for myself, yes, but I want to be helpful, to be supportive, and to be giving back to the community of readers/writers whose posts help or spark me along the way.

I do enjoy writing for myself, but it would be gratifying to imagine I could be contributing to something larger, and which people find useful.

The issue, however, is privacy. I have my own quirks when it comes to internet privacy, and this is made more complex by the fact that I am in a partnership, and many life experiences and financial choices will not be solely mine. As much as I guard my own privacy, I have to guard that of others even more seriously.

I know that true internet privacy is impossible – once something is written on a public post, it’s there forever (thanks Google cache!), and even nameless anonymous bloggers leave personally identifying traces that enterprising hackers could one day piece together and infer a whole hell of a lot from. I do appreciate the community of bloggers I’ve been reading and like to trust the interwebs, but it’s totally anarchic at its core. Fear-mongering aside, trying to defend privacy in this setting is very limiting, but in my opinion it can be a worthwhile way to show care. It can be worthy of limiting expression for (as long as it’s a choice).

I’ll refer to other people where it makes sense, but this blog will remain laser focused on me and my experiences as much as I can. I will share numbers as helpfully as I can, but they’ll sometimes be as general as they can be while still giving an idea of what they represent. I know this might make this blog slightly less relatable, but hopefully it will still be useful and interesting to others, just as it is for myself. If you’re ever curious for more detail about some of the topics I explore on this blog, drop me an email at goodpinkslip AT gmail (dot) com, and maybe we can talk more about it in a less public setting.

For now though, I’ll be limiting myself at times, though I continue to appreciate the openness of some other blogs, hoping it doesn’t come off as hypocritical in some fashion. Life is about meeting people where they are, and that’s just where this is right now. Happy blogging to all.

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February Food Budget – Was Ten Dollars a Day a Stretch?

20-dollar-bill

Twenty bucks a day for our household – it’s enough!

Back in February I challenged myself to spend some of my newfound unemployed-time trying to lower the food budget for my partner and myself down to $10 dollars a day each, or a cost-per-meal of $3.33. While I know there are many frugal wizards who far exceed this, ten bucks a day felt like a reasonable first step to take given our current setup and habits. So how did we do in our first concerted attempt to move from intuitively not-spendy (as is our natural wont) to intentionally not-spendy (as tracked in a spreadsheet and measured against goals)?

Answer: We made it!* Barely, but we did. We reduced our spending notably compared to January as well as compared to our averages from 2014.

While giving ourselves a little pat on the back, there are a few details worth explaining. Last month was a bit of a snowpocalypse where I live, and while you might think that would increase our consumption of take-out, it actually resulted in my partner and myself having more time home together to cook and eat delicious, low-cost food, and less time out buying drinks and lunches. This month (I fervently hope!) there won’t be quite so many snow days. On the other hand, on Feb 24th I went out and bought a ton of bulk goods that we’ve barely touched yet, so we’re swimming in lentils, nuts, beans, and diced tomatoes. That bodes well for lowering our CPM even further next month.

Let’s take a quick look at how this month compared to the past, and talk about why I’m pretty excited about landing this first step in our newly frugal food-budget gymnastics.

Back in 2014…

We began tracking our finances in Quicken in 2014. The numbers aren’t quite precise – we weren’t splitting or categorizing particularly intensely back then – and a more careful eye is being kept on 2015 numbers. While I want to keep our exact numbers slightly obscured, this should serve us as a rough baseline. Numbers are given as a percentage of total food cost.

  • Groceries purchased: 56%
  • Restaurants (includes work-lunches): 29%
  • Coffeeshops: 13%
  • Alcohol: 2%
  • Total Cost: 100% (our baseline)

We were already reasonably frugal, but what stands out to me is that while our net groceries cost was actually pretty solid, it was much too small a percentage of our overall total – our restaurants and coffeeshop numbers take up far too much space. Alcohol was almost negligible at about 2%, which was actually a little surprising.

Based on this, it makes sense that the first place we’d be able to work on is reducing the restaurant/coffeeshop numbers without inflating the grocery bill by much. A large portion of those categories are nefarious work-related expenses that creep up (lunches, coffees) that we were already beginning to think about attacking during the end of the year.

In January… (percentages relative to 2014 averages)

  • Groceries purchased: 144%
  • Restaurants (includes work-lunches): 68%
  • Coffeeshops: 57%
  • Alcohol: 159%
  • Total Cost: 111%

In January, before I received the ol’ pink slip and was just beginning to track more carefully, there were conflicting trends. Our grocery and alcohol bill shot way up, while at the same time our restaurants and coffeeshops numbers both dropped way down. This is a classic good news/bad news reading, and our overall costs were 11% higher. However, we had the enjoyable experience of hosting a New Year’s party, which accounts for a large portion of those increases (and probably belonged in December anyway). We also subscribe to a weekly CSA-type program, and because January had five Fridays, we got the bill five times this month. A few home items may not have been split out early in the month too.

If you took out these “non-standard” extras, we’d knock about 17% off our expenses for this month, and we’d duck below our 2014 averages. Considering the gains in the target categories, all in all this month was not too bad – it seems clear strides were being made.

In February… (percentages relative to 2014 averages)

  • Groceries purchased: 104%
  • Restaurants (includes work-lunches): 39%
  • Coffeeshops: 44%
  • Alcohol: 87%
  • Other: Annualized cost of wholesaler membership, my best guess for cash I spent on pizza – the occasional $2 slice is my guilty lunch pleasure (these add up to <2% of total budget, but still including in total now)
  • Total Cost: 78%

In February, I issued my $10/day challenge. As I began to track more carefully I included a few misc items for the first time. However, the big news is groceries dropped all the way back down to just a hair above the 2014 numbers, while restaurants/coffeeshops dipped for the second straight month and are now both well under 50% of what we were doing in 2014! The only alcohol this month was celebration/consolation wine my lovely partner bought me the day of my layoff, which means it probably technically belonged in January, and also reminds me of just how little I drink these days.

How it Happened

I’ve already talked a bit about some of the reasons, but the major factor was committing to making a higher percentage of our food/drink in-house. My previous work was remote and I carved an office out of coffeeshops, but in February I reduced the number of times and cost of drinks I bought out, and entirely gave up the delicious egg/cheese sandwiches I’d been occasionally indulging for breakfast. Thanks to the availability of home-cooked food my partner has also reduced lunches out. I was committed to making this possible, culminating in the first times in my life I have ever woken up at 7am to make not breakfast, but lunch.  We also baked three batches of cookies this month, reducing our external dessert budget to almost nil. I give the new integration of bulk shopping credit for this resulting in only the smallest of increases from our typical 2014 groceries spending.

What it Means

Our target categories are down in a big way and groceries are level – this is just what the doctor ordered. There’s a trick the famed Mr. Money Mustaches sometimes uses to make financial points, which is to calculate how much any given small-seeming sum would be if you compounded it out for a while. After 10 years at 7% interest, this food bill reduction alone would yield 3% of what we’d need to retire. My FIRE timeline is longer than that, so we can give compound interest even more time to work – at 20 years it’d bump up to 8% of our total, or at 25 years 13%. Double those numbers for what we’d need for just one of us to stay home. Not too shabby for something that primarily makes our life more delicious.

We also bought a new car early in January (of course we would do this the same month I was laid off, right? Life is not predictable), and another way to think about this is that it covers the vast majority of our payment. Hmm, eating well and an almost-free car?** Sounds like a good deal to me.

What’s Next

I am very excited by these gains – merely sustaining them would make a huge impact on our previous budget. However, I want to push further. I think I’ve only begun to tap into the savings in smarter grocery shopping and that I can get the number down further, maybe a lot further. With restaurants and coffeeshops already down considerably, the script now flips, and the most efficient goal is likely to keep those constant while reducing our grocery line. As cooking begins to feel steadily more routine and normal, restaurants will hopefully continue to fall anyway.

I’ve come up with a pair of targets to give me guidelines for the next 11 months.

In the Reasonably Ambitious Plan, I intend to reduce the ceiling for our food bill by 3% each month. This can be accomplished if we chop that restaurants number in half, and take 25% off the groceries line.

In the More Ambitious Plan, I intend to reduce the ceiling for our food bill by 5% each month. For this to work, the groceries line needs to end up getting cut fully in half as well. Harder to envision that happening from this vantage point, but I know it can be done.

A potential wrinkle in all this is that I plan to get a job sometime in the not-too-distant future, reducing the time I have to commit to all this. But in no way does that deter me from the goal of getting as good at this as I possibly can in the meantime. Not only will that mean increased short-term gains, but hopefully long-term gains will be internalized as a lifestyle change that I’ll adhere to from here on out, if I become used to it. When it can pay for my car and then shave years off my retirement date, it’s a lifestyle change that I definitely want to stick.

 

*Ok, I have to be honest, we didn’t quiiite make it, but if you include some small items (like some non-perishable food I intend to return) or other mitigating factors mentioned above then we do hit it. Even if I can’t return the goods, etc, I’m happy to call this progress a real success.

**Of course, I know there’s still insurance/gas/maintenance to think of even after the payment… but who knows, maybe this will eventually get us all the way there!

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