I can now see if I have made any progress on the goals I have set. First: Utilities. My goal is to get both gas and electric bills to stay on the baseline. No tiers. To date the gas has stayed there but electricity even hit tier 3 this last month! ...
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"Money, Money, Money" - 5 new articles

  1. Checking In
  2. I am weak, I am weak
  3. Taking Stock
  4. What Now?
  5. Using Cash
  6. More Recent Articles

Checking In

I can now see if I have made any progress on the goals I have set.

First: Utilities. My goal is to get both gas and electric bills to stay on the baseline. No tiers. To date the gas has stayed there but electricity even hit tier 3 this last month! Fortunately, my daughter happened to notice that my freezer had not been closing right when she closed it. She took some things out and it closes again. It is possible that this has been happening for a while and I did not realize it. If so, I should see some difference in next month's electric bill.

Groceries: The goal I set on March 1:My modest goal for March: bring the three-month total down to $18 per day. To do that, I will need to spend no more than $509 this month on groceries.  Groceries for March were $354. An average of $11.42 per day. Nice work. I know some of that savings came from my eating things that were already in my cupboard or freezer, and some from occasionally eating out. My goal for April is to maintain spending at $15 per day or less.

Shopping: My goal for the first week of March was to spend nothing on "shopping". Now, "shopping" does not include spending on things like dish detergent or new plates or other household things, for example. It also does not include gifts that I buy for others.

I met that first goal, then set another for the next week of no more than $25 for the week. I chose to stay with this goal, deciding that if I do not spend the $25 it will carry over to the next week. This means I had a goal of spending about $75 on shopping last month. I spent $23.64. On books, as it happens. So, doing a rough rounding, that gives me an extra $50 for April, for a goal of $150.

Using cash. Another goal was to start using cash for some expenditures. I haven't done that yet. I'm still thinking about which would be the best category. Perhaps groceries.

Cable. I cut back my cable bill by eliminating premium channels. I don't know how that will play out in the final bill. I know I can do more.

Stocks. I am still working on this. I funded my new Options House account with money from selling some stock on buyandhold.com. When that money is available I will buy some Mattel primarily, and let it sit. I think, from reading the info on Options House, that I can do that. I don't think I have to keep buying every month.

So let's have a look at the graph for March:

Clearly, my house costs and health insurance are big numbers. And once again, my transfers to stock investments do not show up. Fees and charges is a bigger number than it should be. Part of that comes from credit card debt. It is probably time to do an analysis of that debt and work on paying down the card with the highest interest rate.  That will be the next thing I work on.


I am weak, I am weak

Today I changed my services on Charter. My last bill was $239.50. I decided to cut out the phone and the premium channels. I found a way to do it by using the chat box on charter.com. In the end I went for another package that still includes the phone for about $135 plus taxes etc. I suspect that it will be about $155 when all is said and done, maybe even more. So I may be back to cut out something else.

I really don't need the television but I am addicted. I have given up watching the premium channels just so I could be ready when this day came. I also have a Roku and signed up for Netflix Streaming as well as Hulu Plus (about $8 each per month). I watch through the Roku most of the time. For that I need internet. When I am stronger I will cut out the television altogether and just have internet.

Taking Stock

So here is what my spending looks like so far this month:

Only thing is, it's deceiving. It does not include money spent on stocks. That's more like a "transfer" from one account to another. I hate to say how much I have spent on trade commissions last year, considering the tiny amounts of stock I have purchased. I hate to say it, and I even hate to know it, but unless I do know it I won't know if I have changed. So I am going to know it. I am going to look it up right now.

I spent $139 on trade commissions last year, according to my records. I suspect this is not the whole amount, that I have miscategorized some transactions.  As I go through my records I will refine the number. What I do know is that I spent $119.76 in buyandhold.com fees last year ($9.98 per month, three "buys"), and $144 for sharebuilder, so the total is actually $263.76.

Here's what I've been doing. I've been buying bits of shares from buyandhold.com for three companies. I just buy a total of $80 worth of stock. But the fee is $6.99 for the first two and then $2.99 for each additional, so that means $9.98 every month to buy $80 worth of stock. Not a good ratio. Obviously I would do better to buy larger amounts, but I can't afford larger amounts. And I pay the $6.99 every month regardless.

I also buy stock from three companies on sharebuilder. I buy a total of $150 for a total fee of $12. A better ratio. I'm considering consolidating. Just have one account. But which one? I don't know.  I just opened yet another account (not funded) at OptionsHouse. Different type of account from Sharebuilder and Buyandhold. I need to fund it first. I have to give this all some thought.

What Now?

I have reigned in grocery and "shopping" so far this month so that neither is a big player. This, however, is what my spending looks like:

My home expenses include space rent, mortgage payment, and insurance. The insurance payment is due every quarter, so is not a monthly expense. The bills and utilities include cable (internet, television, home phone), gas, electricity, and trash. My cell phone bill has not arrived yet.  Taxes is property tax, a twice-yearly payment.

Health & Fitness so far includes a payment on a bill owed to my periodontal dentist for tissue grafting (I do not carry dental insurance; it doesn't work out for me), AARP supplement medical insurance, and a bottle of iron supplements required for upcoming surgery.

Gifts and Donations include donations to various groups, a gift for my daughter's birthday, and money into savings and college funds for one of my grandsons.

So far I have spent just $59 on groceries (less on coffee and restaurants). So I have stayed well within my goal of $18 per day, in large part because I have been eating what's in the cupboard. I have what I call a "scarcity complex" - I like to have food set aside for "emergencies" or just tough times. But lately I have enjoyed using up a lot of the canned beans and other things because I want to reorganize my cupboards and use my pressure cooker more.

In any case, there are a couple of glaring items: the cable bill, which is about $230. It creeps up all the time. I have been weaning myself off the premium channels so it is time to let them go. Gradually I will let go of the rest of the channels as well. And if it makes sense financially I'll get rid of the home phone.

My goal for this week is to reduce the cable bill, spend for groceries at $15 per day max, and spend on shopping no more than $25 for the week.

Using Cash

As a rule, I prefer to use my debit card over using cash. It is easier to track expenditures. However, I can get receipts, I do get receipts, and I look at those receipts anyway, so using cash should not be a huge deal for me. I am now considering moving some of my purchases to cash. Possibly groceries, likely restaurants, fast food. Figure out what I can spend each month and put it in an envelope. An easy way to track this money is to take it out and immediately categorize it "groceries" or whatever it is on Mint.com.

This is what LearnVest advises in this photo essay. There are a couple of other things in that list that I want to pay attention to that will be the subject of other articles.

Oh, by the way, LearnVest is similar to Mint, an accounting online tool. It is specifically aimed at women but of course can be used by anyone.  I opened an account there to try it out and I found one thing helpful: if you have some sort of account that is not included in their list, you can add it yourself and upload transactions manually. You can't do this in Mint: If the account is not working for some reason that you can't fix, you can't force it. However, Mint does have a great many more accounts on their list and I have become very comfortable there, so I continue to use it.


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