My monthly health insurance payment has risen by $40, starting now. The increase was anticipated, or at least announced. I’d managed to block the amount, though, so I was still surprised.
My bimonthly electric bill was $22 higher than the previous one, thanks to a Seattle City Light rate increase. An extra $11 per month won’t kill me. But it got my attention.
Time to start tweaking expenses to make up the difference.
My needs are fairly simple: Rent, utilities, food, savings, retirement funding, insurance (health, renter’s, life). Since I’m a freelance writer, there’s also the wild card of quarterly taxes.
How much does it add up to? I have no idea.
Where to cut?
I don’t keep a budget on paper, let alone use personal finance software. Somehow I associate budgeting with people who are looking to plug financial leaks, or to decide whether they need to tweak specific types of spending.
When bills come in, I pay them. When I deliver a column to my day job, I invoice. My savings are automated; so are my insurance payments. The only potential screwups are neglecting retirement fund contributions or my quarterlies; I remind myself through notes on the calendar.
Maybe I should give budgeting a try, though. It might make it easier for me to decide where to cut back.
I already know a few items I won’t cut – not yet, anyway:
Extra payments on the electric bill. I buy power at a slightly higher rate to encourage wind-based energy, and I pay an extra $5 per month to a fund that helps lower-income customers keep the lights on. Total: An extra $96 per year.
Money to my elderly aunt. Aunt Dot is 87 years old and living on Social Security and a small pension. Every time I get paid I send her $50, or $1,300 a year.
Church money. The UCUCC believes in service and provides funding and/or space to programs as varied as rent assistance, affordable child care, the feeding of homeless teens, and help for seniors and people living with HIV/AIDS. My $100 a month by itself wouldn’t go nearly as far by itself as it does when combined with other donations.
Other charitable giving. I may need to cut back, but I won’t curtail it entirely until I’m forced. Among those I want to support this year: the GBS/CIDP Foundation International, the North Seattle Community College Foundation, the UW Comparative History of Ideas department, the Red Cross and Heifer International. Amounts vary.
Should I be writing this down?
Finances ebb and flow. Some recent ebbs:
- The electricity and health insurance, as noted
- I have to pay for public transit now that I’ve finished my degree, i.e., no more student bus pass (I gave away my car last year).
- Treatment for neck and shoulder issues ($70 per month)
- The cost of a couple of my meds has risen slightly, and I’m now required to take extra Vitamin D and iron tablets in addition to the daily multivitamin. (Upon seeing my array of bottles a friend remarked, “Welcome to the old people’s club.”)
And the flows, both current and upcoming:
- I have decided to end my monthly counseling sessions ($75)
- When my fairly decent cell phone contract expires in January I will have shopped around for an even better deal.
- Site advertising has brought in a small but steadily growing income. With luck it will continue to increase.
- I’m talking with another PF blogger about a big project later this year.
Obviously I’m not terrified about my finances. After all, I’m writing this from Alaska, where I’m spending about 10 weeks this summer. But thanks to two house-sitting gigs and a kind friend I haven’t had to pay for lodgings. My biggest expense was the $436 airline trip (which will result in almost 3,300 frequent flier miles toward a trip somewhere else).
While I have eaten some meals out, I’ve mostly dined in – and I’d have to buy groceries even if I were home, right? Besides, I had a head start because I travel with mayonnaise.
I’ve treated my niece and her kids – incidentally, Chuck E. Cheese is like the Seventh Circle of Hell, only louder and with Skee-Ball – but I have also been treated by friends. A few people have loaned cars or given rides, so I haven’t needed a rental.
Overall I think it’s evened out. But I’m not actually sure. Maybe it really is time to start using personal finance software.
Anyone want to weigh in on this? Do you keep a strict budget so that when your cost of living goes up, you can look at a spreadsheet for hints on where to cut? Or do you sort-of keep it in your head, the way I’ve been doing?