• Posts Tagged ‘bills’

    Thank Goodness for Personal Finance Software (But We Still Need to Be More Organized)

    by  • April 2, 2008 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    We’ve said in the past that we’re users of Microsoft Money to manage our day-to-day personal finances. We love how it receives automatic updates for most of our accounts’ activities. We use it to keep track of where our money goes and serves as our electronic checkbook ledger.

    Another useful tool of Money is their Bills Insights – it keeps a list of our monthly bills, when they are due, and approximately (or exactly) how much is due on them each month. I’ll usually check this once or twice a week to keep me abreast of what’s coming to gauge our cash flow. More importantly, it allows me to check if a bill hasn’t arrived in the mail that should have.

    Late last week, I checked out the status of our bills on Money, and I noticed that one bill that was only 2 days before its due date. It was the credit card that allowed us to put $11,000 in student loans on it at 1.9% for life, of course on the condition that we make all of our payments on time. There was no way that a regular online payment would have posted before the due date, so we opted to use the over the phone payment. We had to eat a $15 surcharge for the privilege (read:stupidity) of being able to make a same day payment over the phone.

    As Her stated so nicely a few weeks back: it’s easy to just coast and let everything take care of itself, but it can lead to bad things. We eventually found the bill in a neglected corner of our house. We learned a good lesson: it pays (literally) to be more organized so that important stuff doesn’t fall through the cracks. But it is also good to have some built-in checks to make sure that a missed payment doesn’t happen.

    How We Budget, Part 3: The Analog $1,000 Countdown

    by  • February 15, 2008 • Tagged: , ,  • Comments

    Our last two posts have shown you how we manage our money in our various accounts and how we manage our cash flow. Today, we’re going to explain how we deal with our non-fixed expenses.

    If the other two posts left your head spinning about our budget, I’d have to agree with you. With all of the accounts, our money has been abstracted in a way that makes understanding exactly how much money we have at any given moment very difficult. That complexity has allowed us to make a simple system for tracking our expenses. How do we do it? By using a whiteboard and a box for receipts. Sure we could have used a piece of paper, but I love whiteboards, and we have one setup in our home office anyway.

    For our non-fixed category, we’ve allocated $1,000 per month. Our non-fixed expenses consists of dining out, entertainment, groceries, household, pet expenses, automobile gas, gifts, and any other expense that isn’t quite fixed. At the first of the month, we start at $1,000; as we spend money on non-fixed expenses, we write on the whiteboard the amount of the expense, rounded up to the nearest dollar, and subtract. Here’s what it looks like:

    whiteboard.jpg

    The receipts for those purchases go into a box; at the end of the month, those receipts are reviewed and the non-keepers are shredded.

    This system works for us in a few ways:

    1. We don’t have to ask each other how much money is available for purchases. We know exactly where to look to see if we have enough money for something. This seemed to have been a self-policed system so far; we’re astutely aware of how much money we have, what we have coming in the month, therefore we make better decisions about our money.

    2. Our receipts only pile up for a month, cutting down on financial paperwork. At the end of the month, we review the receipts, and toss the non-keepers. The keepers get filed to their appropriate location.

    3. We don’t have to worry about every single penny. If we blow some cash on eating out, guess what, we now have less for everything else. Again, this forces us to make better decisions so that we’re not eating ramen at the end of the month.

    For us, it is this simple solution that allows us to successfully reach our financial goals and maximize our dollars. How does your budgeting solution stack up?

    How We Budget, Part 2: Monthly Cash Flow

    by  • February 13, 2008 • Tagged: , ,  • Comments

    Yesterday we laid out the flow of our money per month when it comes to accounts. But how do we allocate those funds once we get them?

    In order to showcase my expert Powerpoint skills, I’ve created another diagram to show how our money flows. As usual, clicking it will bring up a bigger version.

    cashflow.jpg

    This cashflow scheme is based off of the 60% solution of budgeting and saving. Out of our paychecks every month taxes and funds for our retirement accounts (of which we get matching funds for) are deducted. After that, we both get a small amount of money per month for our own personal use. Our fixed monthly expenses are then accounted for; these are generally fixed or within a few dollars of a base amount. We then have a set amount that is deducted from our accounts that goes into savings. Lastly, the remaining funds go towards are non-fixed expenses. Any money that is not spent from our non-fixed expensed then gets funneled back into our savings account for the month.

    In creating our budget, we’ve managed to include many of the mantras floating around the personal finance blogosphere. Our system allows us to to pay ourselves first and last. In order to make everything go smoothly, we put mostly everything on automatic; the fixed expenses and savings are both automatically deducted from our accounts so we never get to really see the money.

    In order for this system to work smoothly, the money that moves into and out of our accounts follows a highly choreographed dance. I get paid twice a month; Her gets paid every other week. Therefore, we treat Her’s pay as if she gets paid twice a month, with the three paycheck months treated like a “bonus.” Taxes and retirement get deducted every pay period, obviously. Savings also gets deducted each pay period. As long as we stick to the amount we’ve allocated for our non-fixed expenses, we generally have enough cash in our checking account to pay for our credit cards bills as they come in every month.

    On Friday, we’ll show you how we keep track of our non-fixed expenses. It’s the easiest part of our budget, allows us to be flexible, and most importantly it allows us to have some freedom when making purchases.

    How We Budget, Part 1: Account Flow

    by  • February 12, 2008 • Tagged: , ,  • Comments

    This month the Money Blog Network is hosting a group writing project with the theme of budgets. We’ve had a few posts in waiting to go on this very topic for a while now, so we thought this was the perfect time to unleash them. We hope that our budgeting systems makes sense and others can learn a little from it.

    We think we’ve finally straightened out our budgeting situation for 2008. We’ve posted before on how our budgeting wasn’t adequate and how we’ve tried to change it. Well, those changes didn’t work, so we’ve worked on another budgeting system, one that’s been working for us for a little while now.

    The first step of creating our budget was to figure out where all of our dollars go. In the last few years, our money situation has started to get a little complicated. In order to maximize our dollars, we’ve setup an elaborate cash/account flow scheme. We do this in order to maximize rewards, keep our individual credit scores relatively high, and to account for every dollar that comes into our hands. Check out our cash flow in the diagram below. You can click it to see a larger version.

    cashflowBIG.jpg

    Whoa, looks complicated, no? Well, it is. It took us a while to figure out how to do this, but after a few years we think we’ve finally gotten it down. This is admittedly a little more simplified in that I didn’t put our fun money savings accounts on the graphic.

    I’ve thought about summarizing the graphic, but it seems pretty self-explanatory to me. If you have any questions about the way we do thing, please ask away in the comments.

    Tomorrow’s post will more simply detail how we budget our money each month.

    That’s One Less Thing We’re Paying For

    by  • January 15, 2008 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    Wedding planning + volunteering + extra work duties + social life = Busy

    We’re having a hard time finding a good 2 hour window where we can watch movies.

    Sorry Netflix, but we had to cancel you. Maybe we’ll cross paths again.

    20/20 – How We Stayed Home To Watch This Crap

    by  • January 21, 2007 • Tagged: , , , ,  • Comments

    If you’re looking for a real review of the 20/20 show (read the 4 parts of it here, here, here, aaaand here) then maybe you should read Boston Gal’s, or No Limit Ladies, or Blogging Away Debt, or Frugal Law Student, or Kiss of Debt, or Money Turtle. If you post a review, please email me and I’ll include it here.

    So we stayed up for a little while last night to watch the TiVo’ed episode of 20/20: Flat Broke: Begging and Borrowing in America. Here are my thoughts:

    1. This show is aimed for retarded America. 20/20 is the reason why I try and limit my idiot-box watching to other mindless drivel such as The Office.

    2. If my “fashion sense” is as good as Matt Peterson, someone please kill me. See the glorious screengrab below:

    2020a.jpg

    All I have to say is…is…is…at least I own my sweater. <latina headbob>OH NO I DIDN’T!!! OH YES I WENT THERE!!</latina headbob>

    3. How do I become an intern for 20/20? How much did that person get paid to do this:

    2020b.jpg

    Honestly, that person did a great job of stacking all that. Although I can imagine John Stossel walking by and having his 80′s mustache knock it over. I hate that guy.

    4. Wonder what happened to the Petersons, the ones in debt? Suzie Peterson (but this is the internet, so it could be some guy in his mother’s basement) is actually contributing to the discussion of the show on the 20/20 message boards. On one thread she’s getting encouragement. But not on the other…

    5. I don’t really like grocery shipping as it is, but I will NEVER EVER EVER bring a walkie talkie with me to the grocery store. I’m okay with coupons though.

    6. Some debt collectors are douchebags. There is a special place in hell for them.

    I do think that the good ones are just trying to do their jobs. Some poor business lost money. Someone else didn’t pay. According to the show, it seemed like the good debt collectors were willing to work with the debtor to make things work. Poor guys, they’re just there in order to keep out of debt themselves.

    7. If all else fails and we can’t pay our debt, we can always make a sex tape and “leak” it to the internet, then sign up with a porn distributor to make a movie called “Nasty Debtcapades” or “Debtor Debutantes”.

    One-Year Update: The Joint Checking Account

    by  • April 14, 2006 • Tagged: , ,  • Comments

    About a year ago we decided to combine all our income, assets and debts. This was because we were moving in together for the first time, and it seemed it would be impossible to fairly divide all the shared expenses. Not wanting a big hassle, we held our breath and jumped into the pool of joint finances. One year later, I have to say it was a great decision. All our income (salaries, bonuses, tax refunds, eBay profits, rebates, etc) goes directly into the joint account. We each divert $75 per paycheck into our own “allowance” checking accounts, so we each get $150 per month to use toward our individual wants. Individual gifts (from birthdays etc) gets divided up so that $100 goes into the allowance account and the remainder goes into the joint savings account.

    All our joint expenses are paid from the joint checking account. Every Saturday we sit down toegther, gather up the bills, decide how to allocate the funds available (which credit card gets an extra payment etc) and pay bills. We leave around $100 in the joint account to cover any additonal expenses during the week, and put any leftover money directly into our online savings account. We do this knowing we can always get the extra cash out of savings if we need it, however just having it out of sight has always prevented us from going over budget.

    Other joint account expenses include things we can both use, such as dinners out, date nights, household items. groceries, etc. We also sometimes use the joint account to pay for some new clothes if we both need to stock up on necessities and are out shopping together.

    Expenses that come out of our allowances include personal indilgences such as trendy clothing, lunches out, happy hour with coworkers, hobby supplies, etc.

    This arrangement has worked out so well that the only time we argue is when we miscommunicate about our intentions. For example, a few times I have been trying to decide whether or not I should splurge on an expensive item with my allowance. I ask him what he thinks, and he assumes I’m asking because I want it to come from the joint account. That has happened a few times, so now I’m better at being clear about where the money will come from.

    SBC, DirecTV, and AT&T Are All My Bitches

    by  • February 20, 2006 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    Over the weekend Slickdeals.net pointed to an offer to get faster but cheaper DSL from SBC than what we already have. You don’t even need to call a vapid customer service rep — just click through and see if you’re qualified. Later, we saw a promo for DSL for $12.99 at the regular speed. I called to speak with the worse-than-DMV-customer-service, and got that promo. We’re saving $7 a month and now that will be put towards debt reduction. SBC YOU ARE MY BITCH.

    I was feeling pretty good, saving at least some money, so I called DirecTV to see if they’d lower my bill. The guy on the other end of the line was pretty hard-nosed about getting me a lower rate. He offered me Stars, Showtime, or HBO at discounted rates. I held my ground and just held on for a rate decrease. I asked for $5 reduction for a year. He said six months. After wiping the sweat formed on my brow after such intense negotiations, I countered with 9 months. He said, “Deal.” Another $5 towards debt reduction. HAHA DIRECTV I JUST MADE YOU MY BITCH.

    She saw an ad in the paper — “Take the AT&T Triple Play Challenge.” AT&T says they can save me money on phone, long distance, DSL, and cable, (wait a sec, isn’t that a quadruple play?) or else they’ll give us a $20 gift card. I called, of course AFTER I got all of these rates lowered, and they could NOT beat what we are paying now, so now they are sending me a voucher that I have to return with copies of my monthly bill to prove that we’re saving. Hello, $20 to spend on something we probably don’t need. AT&T YOU ARE MY BITCH.