Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Homeowners Insurance (The Budget, #3)

Currently, we budget $55 per month-- $660 a year. We insure our house with Allstate, for no other reason than they gave the best quote when we shopped around. There aren't a whole lot of things that I know of  that can lower this insurance premium, but here's what we did.

Our premium used to be over $900 per year; I wanted to get it as low as possible, so Mrs. Fund agreed that I could increase the deductible IF we also increased the emergency fund to match. So we did. We went from a $1,000 deductible to a $3,000 deductible, and that saved us on the premium. If you live in a high-risk area or own a high-risk home, this may not be the best choice for you, but for our house that isn't going to fall down or blow up or get flooded, it's a good place for us to cut back some monthly cashflow.

Maybe I should check into increasing the deductible again. What do you think? Any tips on how to reduce this expense?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

An Out Of Budget Experience

We sometimes spend money that's not in the budget. *Gasp*

In May, we had a trip to the mall, shoe shopping. It's a 90 minute drive from home-- so for us, it's an all-day affair-- we packed some snacks and lunch for the kids, went shopping found some shoes (Yay!), and then went to Costco. We got gas, then went inside and wandered around, snacked on samples, browsed the aisles, and then Mrs. Fund and I ordered hot dogs for lunch/dinner.

The gas came out of the gasoline budget, the shoes came out of the clothing budget, and the hot dogs....didn't come out of any budget. At least, not exactly. We rarely eat out, and for the rare times that we do, we'll often use what we call "The Eating Out Fund" (though we could legitimately use the Activity budget category). Occasionally, I'll make a pie or cookies for a co-worker-- I usually charge $10 for a pie and $6-8 for a baker's dozen of large cookies. This money goes into the Eating Out Fund, for times when we want to splurge on eating out or some specialty/expensive/frivolous food. It is cash only, it's not in the bank, and if it's gone, it's gone; there's no real easy way to overspend it. It also doesn't get any very regular contributions-- if I make pies/cookies then it has money, and if not, then...nothing.

When we bought a new car-- while [i]technically[/i] I think this would/should come out of the auto maintenance budget category... it's such a large purchase, and much more like an investment or a capital expenditure than an expense, that it comes out of non-budget money (i.e., savings).

I ordered a CD player for the new car. Normally, this would be auto maintenance, except that I'm too cheap and if it actually had to come out of the budget, I'd just forgo the stereo. But when I first started delivering pizza, we ended up with a funky quarter-month's worth of tips. I wanted to start accounting for the new job and income situation with a whole month. So for a while, there was just an envelope with about $75 in it, hiding in the desk with no purpose. When I was told that I needed a cell phone as a delivery driver, I figured I'd designate that envelope for stuff that I should have for working at Domino's. So I bought a $10 Tracfone, and finally (6 months later...) found a CD player for the car-- a cost that came out of that envelope rather than any of the real budget. It's kind of like the eating out fund, in that when it's gone, it'll be gone. I'm hoping to stretch it out to pick up a nice car flashlight/spotlight, a good pair of sunglasses, and possibly a fuel economy gauge....

Sometimes, for our birthdays, we are given money-- this also doesn't normally go in the budget. We've been using it as "date night" money that we can spend on just Mr. & Mrs. Fund. When the Fund Kiddos receive money for their birthdays, it goes in their savings accounts.

What do you spend that isn't in the budget? How do you keep it from getting out of control?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Property Tax (The Budget, #2)

We currently set aside $106 per month for property taxes. This can be tricky to estimate right, because it can change every year. This year, our annual taxes were $1,270; last year they were $1,416. The year before that, they were different still.

We generally use last year's tax amount as an estimate for this year. So we'll set our budget in November and then adjust it when we actually get the bill mid-spring (Februaryish, with half due in April and half due in October).

There isn't generally a whole lot that can be done to lower property taxes. We could rent instead of own, but then we'd be paying more for rent than mortgage + taxes. There are some programs for mitigating taxes for people below a certain income threshold (not sure what it is, but it's a REALLY low income level). You can ask the gov't (the county, in our case) to reassess your property. We did this last year, because we thought our house was overvalued (and hence over-taxed); the county sent a couple people out to actually look at the condition of the house, and they told us they may or may not adjust it for us, but it looked promising. The new assessment came and our taxes were almost $150 lower. That saved us a little over $12/month this year.

A couple other notes which may or may not apply:

Pay cash or check. Our county is, for whatever reason, prohibited from absorbing the cost of processing credit/debit charges. If I pay with my debit card, I pay a $2 fee; and if I pay with my credit card, I pay 3%.

Pay on time, of course. Our tax due dates are always the last day of the month (April 30th and October 31st). I replenish the budget on the 1st of the month-- that means that I have the whole amount of money already in my account and budget so I have the whole month to find a convenient day to include "Pay The Taxes" in my errand list.

Pay in person. This will save you the $0.49 of the stamp. Just make sure you combine this errand with other errands that you also need to run-- for us, the County office is only two blocks from our bank, so it's an easy one for us to combine.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The May Tally

Now that the month's ended, all the receipts have been tallied, pay stubs have been summed up, and the results are in.

QFC:        $1,462
Domino's:     $955
Tips:         $1,040

Total:        $3,457

 It was a five-paycheck month at QFC, so that was an extra $300. I've also been getting solid three-day workweeks at QFC, which makes for better checks; and next month, holiday pay for working on Memorial Day will show up, which will be super nice!

Earlier in May, we signed up for Republic Wireless service to replace our current landline. We're giving it a test run before we cancel our Century Link service, but it appears to be working well so far.... which is great, because at the rates we’ve been paying, it ends up being significantly cheaper– even including the cost of the smartphone!

CenturyLink landline: $27.70 ish per month. Yes, rates just went up about $2. :(
Republic: $7.10/month (the $5 plan), since we really only need a home phone anyway; $205 (16GB phone plus tax/shipping) depreciated over a year is $17.08/month. Total actual cost per month: $24.18. Monthly savings of $3.50. This savings will jump all the way up to $20/month once the cost of the phone is fully depreciated out.

Even nicer, though, is the fact that we will immediately reduce our monthly cash flow by $20! That’s money that can go directly into savings.

Had a successful shoe shopping trip-- found some nice walking shoes for Mrs. Fund. Going to the mall and then eating lunch at Costco made it into a fun outing.

Food spending came in under $200 ($191.78 to be exact). I was surprised, because we bought a bunch of extra stuff-- almost $40 of tuna (a giant can at Costco, plus 56 cans when they were on sale for $0.50/can), $30 worth of ice cream (on sale for $1.99/carton!), and a few other miscellaneous extraneous things.

We went way over-budget on diapers-- but we shouldn't need any for a while now. Costco had a $6 off coupon, so we ended up buy 4 cases.

Zoo trip is coming up in June, so we'll get to spend some of the activity fund. Yay!
It seems like everyone else has a disclaimer, so here you go. Consider yourself disclaimed. All I'm claiming is that I only claim what I claim I claim, and disclaim other claims I haven't claimed.

Does "claim" sound weird in your head now? It does in mine.