By the numbers: My spending for March 2019

March was a mixed month in my financial world. I ended March with a slightly higher net worth (up 0.6%) but my spending was the highest it’s been this year: $5989.10. Yet, that spending was mostly mindful. I wasn’t frittering away money on silly things.

If I wasn’t buying dumb stuff, then where did my money go? A few worthwhile places:

  • I spent $653.31 on the yard and garden. Specifically, Kim and I tore out a big cedar tree in the corner of the yard, then converted that space to a small orchard. I use the word “orchard” loosely here. We planted three fruit trees, four blueberries, four grape vines, and a bunch of strawberries. I hope to write about this more in the near future.
  • I spent $625.72 on health and fitness. In the middle of the month, I had quite a scare. Out of nowhere, I had chest pains, so I visited the local hospital ER. My co-pays and prescriptions are reflected in March’s spending — and there’s more to come. (We’re about to have a l-o-n-g article on the $6800 hospital bill I received in the mail yesterday. That’ll happen in April or May.) Meanwhile, Kim had knee surgery at the end of the month. I paid for some of her stuff out of my pocket.
  • I spent $579.36 on gifts in March, which is very very unusual.
  • I paid the $450 annual fee on my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card. (Yes, I know this seems like a lot. But remember the card comes with a $300 travel credit, which means my effective annual fee is $150. I believe I receive $150 in value from the card’s other benefits.)

I don’t consider any of that spending frivolous although I recognize that some of it isn’t necessary. (Do we need an orchard? Do I need to give gifts?)

That said, I did have some weak spots in my spending. I bought several movies on iTunes. In fact, I spent $72.63 on iTunes in March. I need to be careful lest I return to my former profligate ways. No more looking in the iTunes store! I also spent $230.15 on alcohol during the month (most of which was beer).

How did I do with groceries? As you know, my food spending had grown out of control, which is one of the primary reasons I’m tracking my spending in detail this year. Last year, I spent over $1000 per month in food. This year, I’m spending less than $700 per month.

I was very proud of my food spending for most of March. I spent a total of $658.21 during the month: $468.27 on groceries and $184.24 on dining out. That’s my lowest monthly food total in two years (excepting months during which I’ve been on the road).

Going into the last week of March, I’d only spent $241.87 on groceries. That’s amazing! Things fell apart, however, when I stocked up on food for Kim’s convalescence. Meanwhile, we only had three restaurant meals during the month. For one of those, I paid for two guests. Not bad. Not bad.

Quarterly Spending

Now that we’ve made it through the first three months of 2019, I was curious how my quarterly spending compared to last year. Monthly spending can fluctuate quite a bit. You can get a better idea of your actual habits by looking at a bigger picture.

Here are some highlights:

  • I spent $116.56 at the iTunes store during the first quarter of 2019. That’s less than I spent on movies and TV shows during any single month last year, so that’s a win.
  • I spent $2076.54 on food for the quarter, which is lower than any quarter in 2018. I spent $1179.53 on groceries, $323.52 on HelloFresh, and $542.29 on dining out. That restaurant spending is another big win. The grocery spending was good — better than any quarter in 2018 — but I feel like I can do better.
  • I spent a lot on health and fitness during the first three months of the year: $1752.60. And the thing is, it’s not going to get much better.
  • This year, I decided to separate hot tub expenses into its own category. I spent $151.88 on hot tub stuff (chemicals, etc.) during the first three months of the year. And, no, that doesn’t include electricity.
  • Our zoo — three cats and a dog — cost us $447.54 during the first quarter of 2019.
  • You know where I could save big bucks? By drinking less. I spent $586.36 on alcohol during the first three months of the year (and that includes four weeks during which I didn’t drink a drop!). That’s $6.44 per day. Time for me to cut back on my craft beer obsession…

I spent a total of $15,364.85 during the first quarter of 2019, an average of $5121.62 per month. That’s not a great number, to be honest. It’s pretty much what I was spending last year. Still, I’m trying not to get too stressed about things…yet.

The whole point of this exercise is for me to figure out where I’m spending my money and why. Once I have a clear picture, I can make some course corrections.

April is the Cruelest Month

Unfortunately, April is going to have some crazy, crazy spending numbers. My accountant called yesterday to give me my tax bill. I owe $20,000. (I’m not joking.) The hospital called too. They wanted to let me know that I owe them $6800 for the ER visit in the middle of March. To cap things off, payment is due on the vacation that Kim and I booked a year ago. We’ll be headed to Greece and Italy in August — but we’re paying for it today.

Fortunately, I knew that some of these expenses were looming, so I have cash set aside to pay for taxes and our trip. (The ER visit was a surprise, obviously, and I don’t have money set aside for that.) That doesn’t change the fact that April’s expenses are going to be insane, though. It just means I’m somewhat prepared for the insanity.

The upside to having a $6800 hospital bill so early in the year? It gives me a chance to make maximum use of my health insurance! My max “out of pocket” is $7900 annually. Since it looks like I’m going to hit that, it makes sense to address all medical issues that are bugging me in 2019.

At the end of 2018, I had a net worth of $1,334,227.20. At the end of March, my net worth was $1,397,545.18. That’s a leap of more than $63,000 (or 4.75%). That’s great! In reality, this simply reflects a hot stock market. My investment accounts are up $77,933.04 this year (11.45%).

A hot stock market can cover a multitude of sins…

Source: getrichslowly.org

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Financial Lessons Learned During the Pandemic

2020 has shaped all of us in some way or another financially. Whether it is being reminded of the importance of living within our means or saving for a rainy day, these positive financial habits and lessons are timeless and ones we can take into the new year. 

While everyone is on a very unique financial journey, we can still learn from each other. As we wrap up this year, it’s important to reflect on some of these positive financial habits and lessons and take the ones we need into 2021. Here are some of the top financial lessons:

Living Within Your Means

It’s been said for years, centuries even, that one should live within one’s means. Well, I think a lot of people were reminded of this financial principle given the year we’ve had. Living within your means is another way of saying don’t spend more than you earn. I would take it one step further to say, set up your financial budget so you pay yourself first. Then only spend what is leftover on all the fun or variable items.

Setting up your budget in the Mint app or updating your budget in Mint to reflect the changes in your income or expenses is a great activity to do before the year ends. Follow the 50/20/30 rule of thumb and ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you spending more than you earn?
  • Are there fixed bills you can reduce so you can save more for your financial goals? 
  • Can you reduce your variable spending and save that money instead?

The idea is to find a balance that allows you to pay for your fixed bills, save automatically every month and then only spend what is left over. If you don’t have the money, then you cannot use debt to buy something. This is a great way to get back in touch with reality and also appreciate your money more. 

Have a Cash Cushion

Having a cash cushion gives you peace of mind since you know that if anything unexpected comes up, which of course always happens in life, you have money that is easy to liquidate to pay for it versus paying it with debt or taking from long-term investments. Having an adequate cash cushion this year offered some people a huge sigh of relief when they lost their job or perhaps had reduced income for a few months. With a cash cushion or rainy day fund, they were still able to cover their bills with their savings.

Many people are making it their 2021 goal to build, replenish, or maintain their cash cushion.  Typically, you want a cash cushion of about 3- 6 months of your core expenses. Your cash cushion is usually held in a high-yield saving account that you can access immediately if needed. However, you want to think of it almost as out of sight out of mind so it’s really there for bigger emergencies or opportunities that come up.

Asset Allocation 

Having the right asset allocation and understanding your risk tolerance and timeframe of your investments is always important. With a lot of uncertainty and volatility in the stock market this year, more and more people are paying attention to their portfolio allocation and learning what that really means when it comes to risk and returns. Learning more about which investments you actually hold within your 401(k) or IRA is always important. I think the lesson this year reminded everybody that it’s your money and it’s up to you to know.

Even if you have an investment manager helping you, you still need to understand how your portfolio is allocated and what that means in terms of risk and what you can expect in portfolio volatility (ups and downs) versus the overall stock market. A lot of people watch the news and hear the stock market is going up or down, but fail to realize that may not be how your portfolio is actually performing. So get clear. Make sure that your portfolio matches your long term goal of retirement and risk tolerance and don’t make any irrational short term decisions with your long-term money based on the stock market volatility or what the news and media are showcasing.

Right Insurance Coverage

We have all been reminded of the importance of health this year. Our own health and the health of our loved ones should be a top priority. It’s also an extremely important part of financial success over time. It is said, insurance is the glue that can hold everything together in your financial life if something catastrophic happens. Insurances such as health, auto, home, disability, life, long-term care, business, etc. are really important but having the right insurance policy and coverage in place for each is the most important part.

Take time and review all the insurance coverage you have and make sure it is up to date and still accurate given your life circumstances and wishes. Sometimes you may have a life insurance policy in place for years but fail to realize there is now a better product in the marketplace with more coverage or better terms. With any insurance, it is wise to never cancel a policy before you a full review and new policy to replace it already in place. The last thing you want is to be uninsured. Make sure you also have an adequate estate plan whether it’s a trust or will that showcases your wishes very clearly. This way, you can communicate that with your trust/will executor’s, beneficiaries, family members, etc. so they are clear on everything as well. 

Financial lessons will always be there. Year after year, life throws us challenges and successes to remind us of what is most important. Take time, reflect, and get a game plan in place for 2021 that takes everything you have learned up until now into account. This will help you set the tone for an abundant and thriving new financial year. 

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