Monthly Budget August
Budgeting, Money

Monthly Budget: August 2015

The year keeps going! It won’t stop! It’s time for another budget update.

Looking Back: July Monthly Budget

We aren’t that far into August and I already feel like I’ve forgotten what happened in July!  I did better in July than I did in June from a spending perspective, but I still ended the month with a negative net income. August is my month to get back on track, as I will be going on vacation for a week and a half in September.

The July Budget Good

  • Work Lunch: I was a dollar over my work lunch budget ($40 for the month), so I’m pretty happy with how well I’ve been estimating and spending in that category.
  • Home Supplies: Similar to my work lunch budget, I went over only by a couple of dollars. I think $20 per month has been a good estimate/reflection of my spending habits in this category. Now if only all categories could be estimated so well!

The July Budget Bad

  • Restaurants: My restaurant spending was a bit out of control in July. I spent $400 when I budgeted for $200! This is probably due to a couple of factors: 4th of July festivities and a couple of evenings out after work. I’m going to try to be more mindful this month, in preparation for my trip in September.
  • Everything Else: The one-off expenses added up in July. I signed up for a half marathon in September and have not yet received the 50% reimbursement from my work’s health subsidy. I also paid some deposits for my upcoming trip. Finally, I had a number of hair/makeup expenses as I was running low on shampoo and some makeup items.

July’s Net Income

Since I’m pretty vague about what my actual income is (on purpose), I decided to add another piece of information to give you a sense for how my spending mapped to my income for the month: net income. You can usually tell how well or poor a month went by how much you spent vs. how much you brought in. In July, my net income was -$625. This means that I spent more than I earned last month. This was a great improvement over June, but I’d still like to see it in the green for the next couple of months. Two items to note: The money that one of my friends owes me for her share of our trip and the reimbursement for my fitness subsidy aren’t accounted for in this number.

My August Monthly Budget

Now that I know how July went, I know how I can improve this month.

Rent: $1075 (my portion of rent – not split exactly 50/50 but almost 50/50)

Utilities & Non-Discretionary

  • Gas (my portion): $25
  • Electric (my portion): $50 – Bumping this up by $10 due to it being summer.
  • Internet (my portion): $28
  • Cell Phone (my portion): $56
  • Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance: $108

Car & Transport

From now on, I’m removing fuel from my budget. Since Richard is now driving to work as opposed to working from home, he is driving more than me. Since our shared fuel costs are typically low, we decided he will cover all fuel.

  • Car Insurance (rolls over monthly): $66 (plus $198 from rollover)
  • Metro: $80 (taken directly out of my paycheck and applied to my Metro card)

Food

  • Groceries (my portion): $350 – Moving this back to $350. Seeing if I can get it closer to $300 though.
  • Restaurants (my portion): $200
  • Work Lunch: $40

Debt

Each month, I pay a total of $775 to minimum loan payments. Not that I’m counting or anything, but this expense is second only to rent in my monthly budget.

  • Student Loans Minimum: $565
  • Car Loan: $215

Shopping & Miscellaneous

Pets, clothes and home supplies all come up at infrequent intervals, so I set aside an amount each month to contribute and if I don’t spend it, it rolls over to the next month. Everything else is everything that doesn’t fit into a neat budget. I’ve increased my everything else budget to account for some one-off expenses.

  • Pets (my portion – rolls over monthly): $60 (rollover set to $0) – I’m setting the rollover to $0, because keeping track of the vet expenses from April & May wasn’t really helping me keep track of my current spending.
  • Clothes (rolls over monthly): $200 (rollover reset to $0) – Bumping this up again due to the fact that I keep going over and I was beginning to realize that $100 doesn’t get you very far when you need to account for shoes AND clothes.
  • Home Supplies (my portion – rolls over monthly): $20 (plus $2 rollover from last month)
  • Everything else: $400

Total Expenses: $3,538 (minus savings and extra student loans)

And don’t forget…

Savings & Extra Student Loan Payments: I generally contribute 25% of take home pay. All of the money that goes to savings and extra student loans is split up in a 30:70 ratio with 30% going to savings and 70% going to student loans. Some of my savings is short-term – I save for the irregular one-off expenses that I know will come up throughout the year. I put the majority of my savings into my long-term emergency fund though.

Retirement Contributions: I contribute 6% to my employer-sponsored 401(k) each pay period.

Notes About My Monthly Budget

“My Portion”: You’ll notice that there are a few “my portion” indicators next to my monthly budget line items. This means that it’s an expense that Richard and I split. For 99% of the things we split, we split right down the middle.

Rolls Over Monthly: This year, I’ve been trying to become more purposeful in how I budget and allocate my money. In some categories, my expenses are sporadic. Two examples of this are pets and clothing. We are proud parents to two senior pets – as a result, we’ve decided to set aside some money every month to cover those inevitable vet costs. For clothing, I prefer to do big shopping trips a few times a year rather than shopping in smaller spurts more frequently. By rolling over my budget each month, I make sure I’m accounting for the inevitable expense.

August Challenges

I’m hoping that August will be the calm before the storm that is my Wild West trip in September. That in and of itself will be a challenge.

  • Travel/Trip Prep: We should not have any additional accommodation expenses prior to leaving, but I have purchased a couple of items that I will need when we are on our trip (e.g. backpack, rain jacket).
  • Food: I need to get a handle on food spending (still).

How did you do sticking to your budget in July? What are you budgeting for in August?

 

Deconstructing the Grocery Budget
Budgeting, Food, Money

Deconstructing the Grocery Budget

If you’ve paid any attention at all to my monthly budget updates, you’ll know that I plan to spend $350 per month on food costs for me only. Since Richard and I split food costs, this means we are budgeting for $700 in food for both of us per month. Clearly, this isn’t a small sum of money. Lately, I’ve been thinking that there is likely a way for us to work to decrease spending in this category. I’ve also been thinking that the number that I’ve put together is pretty arbitrary.

Grocery Desires

Before I get to the numbers, I wanted to articulate what is important to us when we go to the grocery store. I often see people online claiming they spend like $400 for a family of four per month on groceries. As someone who spends wayyy more than that for a household of 2, that seems pretty extreme. It also makes me question: What are you buying? What kind of food are you even making?

The quality of what we are eating is pretty important to both of us, so if $200 is getting us a lot of processed items per month, I’d rather continue paying the $700. So, what is important to us?

  • Minimally processed foods
  • High protein, low carb diet
  • Minimal added sugars
  • No artificial sweeteners (ever!)
  • High quality coffee
  • Quick and easy recipes that can be cooked in double batches
  • Some organic items, but not really a necessity

It actually seems like a pretty simple list, but I know it’s harder to translate these wants into a lower grocery budget.

Staples

Each week, we purchase a number of staples that aren’t necessarily incorporated into specific recipes. A typical week (and costs) for our staples includes:

  • 3 half gallons of almond milk – $8.97
  • 3 packages of dry Roasted Edamame seeds – $5.37
  • Wheat fajitas – $2.79
  • Peanut butter – $5 (every few weeks)
  • 1 to 2 packages of crunchy snacks (e.g. roasted chickpeas, lentil chips) – up to $10
  • 8 oz of coffee – about $10 per week

So, each week, we are spending about $40 on staples. Assuming 4 weeks are in a month, we spend $160 on staples. We already get the store brand for almond milk and don’t always get crunchy snacks. The one area I know we can cut back on is coffee. The only problem is that we really enjoy good coffee and haven’t quite found a good place to get whole beans at a reasonable price. The one good thing we have to look forward to is the fact that Richard recently started a new job and isn’t drinking as much coffee at home, which will help reduce our coffee drinking.

Meals Needed

We strive to eat most of our meals at home and try to eat out only one night a week (although, depending on what is happening, it sometimes turns into two nights per week). Now that I’m thinking of trying to really tune our budget and make sure our budget is actually grounded in reality, I figured I would start by figuring out how many meals we need to make from our groceries per month.

Okay, so to break it down, this is the number of meals I need to account for each month:

  • Breakfast: 7 days x 2 people x 4 weeks = 56 meals
  • Lunch: 5 days x 2 people x 4 weeks = 40 meals
  • Dinner: 6 days x 2 people x 4 weeks = 48 meals

For lunches, I assumed that we need to account for 5 lunches per week to account for each of us having the option to buy lunch an average of once per week and having a weekend lunch out. If we eat all breakfasts at home and have dinner out once per week, we need a total of 144 meals per month.

Costs Per Meal

Now that we know how many meals we need and what our staple costs are, we can figure out what our cost per meal should be. Once I know what our per meal costs should be, I can start to figure out two things: a) what our budget should be and b) which recipes will help stay within budget.

Even Cost Per Meal

Our currently budget is $700 per month. Our staples cost around $150 per month. If we assume that the rest of the budget is going to meal costs and all of those meals will cost the same, we should aim to make recipes that cost less than $3.81 per serving.

To give an ideal of how the cost per serving might be affected by different budgets:

  • $700 – $160 = $540 or $3.75 per serving
  • $600 – $160 = $440 or $3.05 per serving
  • $500 – $160 = $340 or $2.36 per serving
  • $400 – $160 = $240 or $1.66 per serving

Right now, I’m a little skeptical of the $500 and $400 per month budgets. Trying to stay under $2.50 per serving seems a little unrealistic for all meals considering we do eat meat and value high quality ingredients. But hey, this is still in thought experiment and I might find myself surprised by the number of recipes that I find that meet our grocery needs/desires list.

Breakfasts Cost Less

Another approach we could take is assuming that breakfast costs will be less than lunch and dinner costs. This seems like a reasonable way to plan things, since our breakfasts tend to be hearty but lighter than our lunches and dinners. In general, breakfast ingredients also tend to cost less. Lunch and dinner will always have the same per serving cost, because we do not make special lunches. We simply bring leftovers from dinner for lunch the next day.

If we assume that average breakfast costs will not exceed $2.50 per serving on average, we can figure out what our costs can be for our other meals. If we have 56 breakfasts that cost us $2.49 each on average, that will cost a total of $140 per month. Let’s see how that affects the dinner and lunch per serving costs:

  • $700 = $160 staples +$140 breakfasts (56) + $400 (88 meals); $4.54 per lunch/dinner serving
  • $600 =$160 staples + $140 breakfasts (56) + $300 (88 meals); $3.40 per lunch/dinner serving
  • $500 =$160 staples + $140 breakfasts (56) + $200 (88 meals); $2.27 per lunch/dinner serving
  • $400 =$160 staples + $140 breakfasts (56) + $100 (88 meals); $1.13 per lunch/dinner serving

Comparing the two sets of estimates, if we get breakfast down to $2.50 on average, we are given a little more leeway for lunch and dinner when we spend either $700 or $600 total on groceries. However, if we are spending $500 or $400 on groceries, we would actually be spending less on lunches and dinners than we are on breakfasts per serving.

Redefining the Grocery Budget

Now that I have a better idea of what different budgets can get me, it’s time to go out and find some recipes that will help us actually get us there. The most opportunity that I currently see for reducing our grocery budget is in the lunch/dinner category and potentially the breakfast category. I think regardless of where we end up, figuring out the per serving costs of our recipes will be a good gut check for whether or not we should decide to make it and whether or not it aligns with our goal to try to reduce our grocery spending (or at least make it more predictable).

How much do you spend per month on groceries? What do you do to reign in spending?

Finish Line Half Marathon Training
Fitness, Life, Uncategorized

Navy Air Force Half Marathon Training Plan

It’s time to do it again – a half marathon! Since I ran in the Tar Heel 10 Miler, I’ve been trying to build up a running base to prep me for a half marathon this fall. Fingers crossed, this will be my fourth half marathon and my eighth race.

Choosing a Half Marathon

I’ve been waffling for a while about where and when I should commit to a race this fall. I knew I wanted to do a half or 10 miler sometime in September, October or November. The complicated thing is that there just isn’t a lot to choose from in the area this fall. This is pretty surprising to me considering the fact that DC is a huge metro area and the weather is really nice in the fall.

The races I ended up considering are:

Since I’m like Goldilocks, it was really hard to pin a race down. I pretty much wanted to do something in September or early October, with the option to do a second race in November. I’m planning a trip out West with two girlfriends over Labor Day, so that made picking a date in September complicated. I also don’t really want to spend much on traveling for my first race in the fall. That pretty much left me deciding to do the Navy Air Force Half Marathon. Although looking at it again, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon would have been a good choice too.

One of the annoying things about choosing a race is that there isn’t any one listing of all races in the area. Or at least one that I know of. And to really get a comprehensive look at what’s going on around here, you need to consult DC, VA and MD lists. I used halfmarathons.net and runwashington.com to help come up with this list.

I’m not sure when I’ll decide to do the second race, but I have my eye on the Richmond Half Marathon or the Philadelphia Half Marathon in November. Clearly, those will require travel, but I think I would try to use points for my hotel stay to help reduce the cost.

Race Cost Estimates

No post here would be complete without an estimate of what it’s going to cost. Here’s what I’m thinking:

  • Race Entry – $108 / divided by 2: Race entry for the Navy Half Marathon is currently $100 plus tax. I get a fitness subsidy, so it will be $54 for me when all is said and done.
  • Clothing – $20: I purchased a new pair of running shoes after the Tar Heel 10 Miler and I have a good stock of running clothes for both the summer and the fall. The only thing I can see myself buying is more running socks.
  • Gear – $20: I recently purchased a handheld water bottle for my long-short runs. Basically anything over 4.5miles, but under 8 miles. It’s getting super hot and humid and this is something I need to stay safe out there on the road. I would purchase it regardless, but figured I would include it here. The good thing is that I already have a four water bottle belt for 8+ mile runs, so no need to buy any additional hydration gear!
  • Food – approx. $20 – $30: I don’t usually bring nutrition on a race with me for anything less than 7 or 8 miles. If all goes to plan, I’ll be needing nutrition on about 6 or 7 runs leading up to the race and then again on race day. Generally, I like to use something like CLIF Shot Blocks, GU Chomps or GU Energy Gel, and it will really depend how much I actually end up needing.
  • Travel – $10: Gotta get to race packet pickup and to the race via Metro!
  • Cross Training – $0 additional: I already have a membership to my rock climbing gym, which is my strength cross training method of choice. I also plan to do some cycling as another form of cross training. Now that I have my bike tuned up, I don’t expect any additional costs there.

So, all in, this local race should cost around $124 – $134. I’ve already started training and will be training for the next three months. If you consider the costs on a per month basis and the fact that it’s not just about the race, it’s about training for the race, my costs come out to about $40 per month.

Half Marathon Training Plan

To give you insight into what my next three months will look like, I’ve put together a training plan. Over the course of the next three months, I’ll be running 207.1 miles if all goes as planned. Assuming I average a pace of 11:00 for all runs, that’s around 38 hours of running. Add in 1.5 hours of cross training per week and that’s around 56 hours for training all in.

Considering the amount of time that I’m going to be spending preparing for this race, this is some good bang for my buck. If I train for 56 hours and my total costs are $134, my training will cost be about $2.40 per hour. Think of all the other things that I could be doing that cost more money per unit! Not bad, if you ask me.

Connecting this to my overall costs, I’ll training will cost me about $2.40 per hour. Not bad, if you ask me.

Navy Half Marathon Training Plan
Week Date Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun Total
1 6/29 4mi 0 3mi 0 4mi Long 0 0 11 mi
2 7/6 4mi 0 3mi 0 4mi Long 0 3mi 14 miles
3 7/13 3mi 0 3mi 0 5mi Long 0 3mi 14 miles
4 7/20 3mi 0 4mi 0 6mi Long 0 3mi 16 miles
5 7/27 3mi 0 4mi 0 7mi Long 0 3mi 17 miles
6 8/3 4mi 0 4mi 0 8mi Long 0 3mi 19 miles
7 8/10 5mi 0 4mi 0 9mi Long 0 3mi 21 miles
8 8/17 5mi 0 4mi 0 10mi Long 0 4mi 23 miles
9 8/24 4mi 0 4mi 0 7mi Long 0 3mi 18 miles
10 8/31 0 11mi Long 4mi 0 5mi 0 0 20 miles
11 9/7 0 3 0 0 0 0 9 Long 12 miles
12 9/14 4 0 3 2 0 0 13.1 Half Marathon! 22.1 miles

A couple notes about my schedule. Since it’s so hot during the summer, I plan to do my long runs on weekdays so that I can get it out of the way before it gets too hot and so that I don’t have to get up extremely early on the weekends. I’ve also tried to plan around my Wild West trip at the beginning of September. My plan is to do my longest run before I leave and get in a couple of short runs while I’m on vacay. Then one last long run the week before the race.

Onward!

So, there you have it! A half marathon is in the works for me in September! I might provide an update about halfway through, depending on what happens, but otherwise, an update will be coming on the flip side.

Do you have any big fitness plans for the fall?

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you click on them, I receive a small commission for referring you. As always, all of my opinions are my own!

July Monthly Budget
Budgeting, Money

Monthly Budget: July

The year keeps going! It won’t stop! It’s time for another budget update.

Looking Back: June Monthly Budget

June was an interesting month, because a number of things went on: I had two of my wisdom teeth removed, Richard ended his old job and started a new one, and we went to Phildelphia for the weekend. This meant that there were a number of one-off expenses and I ended up needing to pull from my short-term savings (which is why I have short-term savings in the first place).

The June Budget Good

  • Not a lot! To be honest, there wasn’t a lot of good going on with my budget last month. That said, I did stay under my work lunch budget, which is a good thing!

The June Budget Bad

  • Groceries & Restaurants: I rolled off of a good food month into a pretty terrible food month. I went over both groceries and restaurants. A brunch day out with friends and going to Philadelphia seemed to be the culprits for the restaurant part of it. Groceries… I don’t even know. I’m going to try to start really reining that budget in, as you’ll see in a number of upcoming posts.
  • Clothing: Last month, I said I wouldn’t shop until August, but my lack of summer work clothes makes that difficult to accomplish. I also needed to get a new pair of sandals after my trusty pair of Rainbows bit the dust last year. I look forward to not having to buy another pair of sandals for at least another 5 years! As you’ll see below, I’m planning to up my clothing budget and forgive my clothing budget rollover debt, since I haven’t been realistically budgeting.

June’s Net Income

Since I’m pretty vague about what my actual income is (on purpose), I decided to add another piece of information to give you a sense for how my spending mapped to my income for the month: net income. You can usually tell how well or poor a month went by how much you spent vs. how much you brought in. In June, my net income was -$1,106. This means that I spent more than a earned this month, as I already alluded to with having to dip into my short-term savings. Please note that I count saving to my emergency fund as an expense, which helps me mentally treat that money as money that has already been spent and thus not available for use unless in an emergency situation.

My July Monthly Budget

Now that I know how June went (and we’re halfway through July), I know how I can improve this month.

Rent: $1075 (my portion of rent – not split exactly 50/50 but almost 50/50)

Utilities & Non-Discretionary

  • Gas (my portion): $25
  • Electric (my portion): $50 – Bumping this up by $10 due to it being summer.
  • Internet (my portion): $28
  • Cell Phone (my portion): $67 – This will be bumping down to $55 after this first joint billing cycle.
  • Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance: $108

Car & Transport

  • Car Insurance (rolls over monthly): $66 (plus $132 from rollover)
  • Fuel (my portion – rolls over monthly): $10 (plus $37 from rollover) – Bumping this down from $20 to $10, since we haven’t been driving that much recently.
  • Metro: $80 (taken directly out of my paycheck and applied to my Metro card)

Food

  • Groceries (my portion): $300 – Bumping this down by $50 as a challenge to reduce our grocery budget this month.
  • Restaurants (my portion): $200
  • Work Lunch: $40

Debt

Each month, I pay a total of $775 to minimum loan payments. Not that I’m counting or anything, but this expense is second only to rent in my monthly budget.

  • Student Loans Minimum: $565
  • Car Loan: $215

Shopping & Miscellaneous

Pets, clothes and home supplies all come up at infrequent intervals, so I set aside an amount each month to contribute and if I don’t spend it, it rolls over to the next month. Everything else is everything that doesn’t fit into a neat budget. I’ve increased my everything else budget to account for some one-off expenses.

  • Pets (my portion – rolls over monthly): $0, but regularly $60 (pet budget balance is currently at -$380 due to overages from April & May)
  • Clothes (rolls over monthly): $150 (rollover reset to $0) – Bumping this up due to the fact that I keep going over and I was beginning to realize that $100 doesn’t get you very far when you need to account for shoes AND clothes.
  • Home Supplies (my portion – rolls over monthly): $20 (plus $2 rollover from last month)
  • Everything else: $350

Total Expenses: $3,264 (minus savings and extra student loans)

And don’t forget…

Savings & Extra Student Loan Payments: I generally contribute 25% of take home pay. All of the money that goes to savings and extra student loans is split up in a 30:70 ratio with 30% going to savings and 70% going to student loans. Some of my savings is short-term – I save for the irregular one-off expenses that I know will come up throughout the year. I put the majority of my savings into my long-term emergency fund though.

Retirement Contributions: I contribute 6% to my employer-sponsored 401(k) each pay period.

Notes About My Monthly Budget

“My Portion”: You’ll notice that there are a few “my portion” indicators next to my monthly budget line items. This means that it’s an expense that Richard and I split. For 99% of the things we split, we split right down the middle.

Rolls Over Monthly: This year, I’ve been trying to become more purposeful in how I budget and allocate my money. In some categories, my expenses are sporadic. Two examples of this are pets and clothing. We are proud parents to two senior pets – as a result, we’ve decided to set aside some money every month to cover those inevitable vet costs. For clothing, I prefer to do big shopping trips a few times a year rather than shopping in smaller spurts more frequently. By rolling over my budget each month, I make sure I’m accounting for the inevitable expense.

July Challenges

July is already half over and I know there are going to be a number of challenges coming up:

  • Travel: I have started to book my travel for my Wild West trip in September and some deposits are due already.
  • Food: I need to get a handle on food spending.
  • Shopping: Again, clothing is a thorn in my side right now.

How did you do sticking to your budget in June? What are you budgeting for in July?

 

2015 goals update 2
Goals

2015 Goals Update #2

Welcome to my second 2015 goals update! I set some goals that I want to focus on this year and I keep quarterly tract of them here. You can check out update 1 to see how I’ve been faring this year. I can’t believe that it’s been half of a year already! Where has the time gone?

As to be expected, I’m lagging in a couple of goals and doing well in a couple others.

1. Pay off my remaining private student loans

In my last post, I mentioned that my focus for the year is to pay off my two remaining private student loans. I started the year with $21,205 in private student loans (across two loans). I’m now at $14,137.25 which means I’ve paid off $7,068 in principal on my private loans since the beginning of the year! I paid off $3,722 in Q2 which is a slight improvement over what I contributed in Q1 ($3,346).

2015 goals update 2 - private student loans balance by month

At this rate, I’ve only paid off 1/3 of the principal that I’m aiming to pay off this year. That seems like a tall order for the rest of the year, but I don’t want to call it yet due to the fact that I’m going to be receiving my bonus and stuff in September, plus I have one more 3-paycheck month. So jury’s still out!

2. Contribute 25% of my take home pay to savings and extra student loan payments

In an effort to make sure I’m staying on track with my savings goals, I am aiming to save 25% of my take home pay this year. This 25% is comprised of savings that go towards my emergency fund and my extra student loan payments.

2015-goals-update-2-savings-rate

For the year, I’m proud to say that I have a 33% savings rate, which happens to be exactly what it was at the end of March. I took advantage of May being a 3-paycheck month to pump a lot into my savings. In June, I pulled a bit out of my short-term savings to cover some of my additional expenses (like my wisdom teeth). I’m feeling pretty confident that I’m going to pull out of this year above 25% and hopefully in the 30% range of things.

3. Take at least 20 days of PTO

In an effort to improve my work-life fit, I decided to aim for taking 20 days of PTO off this year. So far, I have taken six days of PTO – 49.25 hours to be exact. I’m taking a vacation in September where I will be taking off 5 days, so I think I’m going to be pretty on track to reach this goal.

2015 goals update 2 - PTO

4. Be a backyard tourist in DC at least once a month

One of my goals for the year is to make a concentrated effort to get out and explore my new backyard. In April I didn’t do anything, in May we walked around the monuments when our friends Jen and Dan came to visit and also went to Georgetown for dinner, and in June Richard and I went on a couple of bike rides exploring Arlington.

2015-goals-update-2-backyard-tourism

 

5. Work out 200 times

In an effort to focus on my health and fitness, I decided to add a workout-focused goal. I didn’t articulate this goal until February, so I’m a little behind the game. Good thing there is plenty of time to catch up! As of today, I’ve worked out 72 times in 2015. I’m still not caught up and I just missed my quarterly goal by 5 workouts – I worked out 45 times in Q2 instead of 50 which would be on pace.

2015 goals update 2 - total workouts

If you’re interested in a breakdown of how I’ve been working out: I’ve bouldered/rock climbed 28 times, ran 35 times, cycled 7 times, and lifted weights twice.

2015 goals update 2 - workout breakdown

As you’ll notice, I added biking to the mix. I’ve started cycling on the weekend with Richard (when time and weather permits) and I’ve started to bike to work a couple of times per week. When I bike to work, I count that as one workout, despite the fact that I am biking in two discreet segments.

2015 Goals Update: Looking Good!

Overall, I’d say that things are looking good! It’s still too early to assess if I will or won’t achieve some of the goals, but I’m happy with the progress that I’m making so far. In 3 months, I’ll be back with another update.

How are you doing on your yearly goals?

At the top of Millenium Bridge in Downtown Denver
Colorado, Destinations, North America, Travel, USA

Running through Downtown Denver

Last month, I went to downtown Denver not once, but twice, for work! We have a team out in our Denver studio and we went to out there to work with them. It was a good, but busy, two weeks.

One of the best parts was that by going to Denver, I unlocked another state! I’d never been to Colorado before, so this was a pretty big deal, since I don’t go to “new to me” states all that often.

Let’s just say: I LOVED DENVER! I want to go back again and again. Lucky for me, I will get to go back a number more times for my current project over the course of the next year AND I was already planning to hit up Denver on my upcoming road trip (more on that in an upcoming post).

One of the things that I want to start incorporating into my travels (regularly) is running while I am away. I feel like one of the best ways to explore a city is by running. Heck, you saw how beautiful Chapel Hill was from my Tar Heel 10 Miler race report. Same thing here! So in my second week there, I finally got off my butt for a nice jaunt around where I was staying in downtown Denver.

Best part of running to explore a city? It’s free!

A mix of old and new

One of the things that struck me about Denver right away was the mix of old and new architecture. Old brick buildings are intermixed with newer modern construction.

Empty Downtown Denver Street

Surprisingly enough, the streets of downtown Denver were pretty empty when I went on my run at about 7am. I can’t speak for the highways, but I thought this was pretty incredible! I guess they get a late start in Denver.

convention-center-bear

There is also a bit of whimsy about downtown Denver. I stumbled across this large bear statue outside of the Denver Convention Center. So cute!

Running along the Cherry Creek Trail

I eventually made my way to a small running and biking path along Cherry Creek on the Cherry Creek Trail. The etiquette on this trail states that runners run on one side of the water while bikers bike on the other side.

Running path in downtown Denver

There weren’t too many people out on the trail while I was, but I passed by a few runners on my way.

Peaceful running path

The Cherry Creek Trail is set lower than the streets. This creates a lot of nice shade while running.

Water on the running path

There had been an abnormal amount of rain the week before I went, so I started to see some flooding on the trail. That didn’t deter me!

Impassable running path due to flooding

That is, until I got to this impassable portion of the trail. As far as I could tell, the flooding didn’t extend beyond these few feet, but I wasn’t in the mood to test it out and get my running shoes wet. So back I turned!

Millennium Bridge

The Denver Millennium Bridge is one of the architectural highlights of the city. Built to mark the millennium, it is the first “cable-stayed bridge using post-tensioned structural construction.” So, a footbridge held up by a post and some cables?

Steps up to Millenium Bridge

I didn’t get any snaps from far away, but you can see it from quite a way away. Here I am before walking up the steps.

At the top of Millenium Bridge in Downtown Denver

The cables make for interesting pictures.

Denver from Millenium Bridge

You also get a good view of the rest of Denver from the top.

16th Street Mall

On my way back to my hotel, I ran up 16th Street past the 16th Street Mall. Essentially, there is a mall that is a space for local shops, street art and other things!

Market St Mall Downtown Denver

One of the best parts of the mall, however, is the free shuttle. It runs almost every minute and will pick you up at any corner and drop you off at any corner along 16th Street. Did I mention it’s free?

Chess on Market St Mall

Each block is dedicated to something different. On this block, there were chess table sculptures.

16th Street Garden

Another block was a dedicated garden.

Overall, a good run

One of the things that I was hesitant about when I got to Denver was running at altitude. I’m happy to report that I didn’t really have any issues. Granted, I only ran 3 miles. I’m sure I might feel differently otherwise but that wasn’t the case.

An added surprise was that I even felt way faster when I went on my first run after returning home. I guess that’s what the altitude will do to you!

Have you been to Denver? What do you think?

June monthly budget
Budgeting, Money

Monthly Budget: June

The year keeps going! It won’t stop! It’s time for another budget update.

Looking Back: May Monthly Budget

May was a fun month because it was a three paycheck month! That means I was able to put more towards my student loans than usual. It was also fun because I went to Denver not once, but twice for work!

The May Budget Good

  • Phone: Richard and I decided to go on a family plan for our cell phones. This didn’t hit the May budget, but I should be seeing a lower cell phone bill in the months to come.
  • Groceries & Restaurants: This was a weird grocery month for us. We had friends visit the second week of May so we went out to eat a number of times with them. Then I was traveling for work two weeks and Richard traveled for work one week. This resulted in my share of the groceries only costing $77 of my budgeted $350. Of course the flip side of this is that my restaurant spending was much higher than I budgeted for. I spent $274 (excluding my food purchases during my work travel) on restaurants. So my combined food budget was $550 and I only spent $351. Win!
  • Dentist: I had to postpone my two dentist appointments due to traveling for work. This meant that I pushed off those expenses until June.
  • Student Loans & Savings: With my extra paycheck, I was able to throw a big chunk at my loans and at my savings account.

The May Budget Bad

  • Clothing: I made three trips to the store for clothes this month. It added up! I ended up spending $388 on clothing. I purchased a few outfits that I will be able to wear at work and some warm weather workout gear. I had $108 in rollover plus my $100 for May, so I really only exceeded my budget by $180. Since I’m on the rollover budget plan, I plan to keep my clothing purchases minimal until August. Unfortunately, I still feel like my wardrobe is playing catch-up after spending so much time working from home. I feel like I stocked up in the fall on items that are good to wear to work for fall and winter but now that we’re transitioning seasons I’m back to not a lot to wear. I’m trying to be smart about it, but it’s crazy the amount that is needed to put together a good wardrobe!

May’s Net Income

Since I’m pretty vague about what my actual income is (on purpose), I decided to add another piece of information to give you a sense for how my spending mapped to my income for the month: net income. You can usually tell how well or poor a month went by how much you spent vs. how much you brought in. In May, my net income was $1,439. 

Two items of note: some of my student loan and savings payments are actually being tracked as happening in June due to being paid on the last day of the month. I also count my savings as spending for the purposes of tracking in Mint, because that helps me with my budgeting.

My June Monthly Budget

Now that I know how May went, I can look ahead to June and hopefully improve. I’m pretty pumped that the good outweighed the bad last month.

Rent: $1075 (my portion of rent – not split exactly 50/50 but almost 50/50)

Utilities & Non-Discretionary

  • Gas (my portion): $25
  • Electric (my portion): $40
  • Internet (my portion): $28
  • Cell Phone: $50 (my portion – estimated, since we haven’t received our first joint cell phone bill yet)
  • Dentist: $350 (wisdom teeth removal and fillings)
  • Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance: $108

Car & Transport

  • Car Insurance (rolls over monthly): $66 (plus $66 from rollover)
  • Fuel (my portion – rolls over monthly): $20 (plus $43 from rollover)
  • Metro: $80 (taken directly out of my paycheck and applied to my Metro card)

Food

  • Groceries (my portion): $350
  • Restaurants (my portion): $200
  • Work Lunch: $40

Debt

Each month, I pay a total of $775 to minimum loan payments. Not that I’m counting or anything, but this expense is second only to rent in my monthly budget.

  • Student Loans Minimum: $565
  • Car Loan: $215

Shopping & Miscellaneous

Pets, clothes and home supplies all come up at infrequent intervals, so I set aside an amount each month to contribute and if I don’t spend it, it rolls over to the next month. Everything else is everything that doesn’t fit into a neat budget. I’ve increased my everything else budget to account for some one-off expenses.

  • Pets (my portion – rolls over monthly): $0 (pet budget balance is currently at -$309 due to overages from April & May)
  • Clothes (rolls over monthly): $0 (clothing budget balance is currently at -$180)
  • Home Supplies (my portion – rolls over monthly): $2 (we exceeded our $20 per month home supplies budget by $18 in May)
  • Everything else: $350

Total Expenses: $3,564 (minus savings and extra student loans)

And don’t forget…

Savings & Extra Student Loan Payments: I generally contribute 25% of take home pay. All of the money that goes to savings and extra student loans is split up in a 30:70 ratio with 30% going to savings and 70% going to student loans. Some of my savings is short-term – I save for the irregular one-off expenses that I know will come up throughout the year. I put the majority of my savings into my long-term emergency fund though.

Retirement Contributions: I contribute 6% to my employer-sponsored 401(k) each pay period.

Notes About My Monthly Budget

“My Portion”: You’ll notice that there are a few “my portion” indicators next to my monthly budget line items. This means that it’s an expense that Richard and I split. For 99% of the things we split, we split right down the middle.

Rolls Over Monthly: This year, I’ve been trying to become more purposeful in how I budget and allocate my money. In some categories, my expenses are sporadic. Two examples of this are pets and clothing. We are proud parents to two senior pets – as a result, we’ve decided to set aside some money every month to cover those inevitable vet costs. For clothing, I prefer to do big shopping trips a few times a year rather than shopping in smaller spurts more frequently. By rolling over my budget each month, I make sure I’m accounting for the inevitable expense.

June Challenges

May was not as expensive as April, thankfully. In June, I have a couple of things that I think will pose challenges:

  • Rollover Spending: In April and May, we exceeded a number of our “rolls over monthly” categories. As a result, spending in these categories will be low (we needed to stock up on pet food this month) or nonexistent (no more clothing until August). This might prove to be trickier than expected.

How did you do sticking to your budget in May? What are you budgeting for in June?

 

Built-in wardrobe using IKEA Malm
DIY, Life

IKEA Hack: Built-In Wardrobe Using Malm Dressers

A long long time ago (or what seems it), I did a lot of DIY around the house that we lived when we were in Rochester. Our house was pretty old. Like 1890s old. And the house needed a lot of love.

One of the main challenges that we faced once I moved in was storage space. The house, being as old as it was, had only one closet. One closet! And it was not in either of the bedrooms. Richard had been using a dresser and a wardrobe for his storage needs. When I moved in, we brought up another dresser from the basement for me to use. We were still pretty space challenged, so we decided to do something about it. We had a lot of ideas floating around, but ended up doing an IKEA hack to build a built-in wardrobe using Malm dressers.

Before: Tight quarters

Our bedroom was only about 8′ x 12′. With the bed and storage on both sides of the bed, we had about 6 inches of clearance for getting around the room.

Before: two dressers

We wanted to figure out a way to try to consolidate all of our storage onto one side of the room so that we could free things up a bit. That’s when I schemed up the plan to build a built-in wardrobe on one side of the room.

Before: Large wardrobe

Fast forward through a lot of brainstorming and planning and I successfully completed an IKEA hack and built a built-in wardrobe along one side of the bedroom. I don’t miss a lot of things about Rochester or the house we were living in, but this is the one thing that I get a little misty eyed over. We just didn’t have enough time with the fruits of our labor!

Materials I Used

You’ll likely have different room dimensions, so you may need to alter what you need. However, for your reference, here are the main materials I used:

  • IKEA Malm 6-drawer chest
  • IKEA Malm 6-drawer dresser
  • Glass Top for Malm Dressers
  • Lots of Paint (I used Behr Satin Interior)
  • Behr All-in-one Primer & Sealer (or your favorite bonding primer)
  • 2 x 6 boards for the base
  • Plywood or MDF (More on this later)
  • Caulk
  • Lattice strips for trim
  • Closet rod and hardware

One thing to note about the IKEA dressers: I had contemplated approaching this built-in from a number of angles. Should I try to build my own drawers? Can I find something off of Craigslist to get the job done? Is there some sort of pre-made thing that I can buy? I went with Malm because this IKEA hack gave me the best of both worlds – I was able to tailor it to exactly what I needed, but I didn’t need to build anything from scratch.

A number of tools were pretty pivotal to the success of this project:

Putting it Together

I completed this project over the course of three months. That was because I hit a couple of snags and I was working on it intermittently. If everything goes well, you could have this done over the course of one or two weekends (since there is a lot of down time due to painting and caulking and whatnot).

1. Remove the “crown moulding”

Removing trim from the room

Whoever put up the “crown moulding” in the bedroom was kind of a dummy. It was basically just a 1×2 nailed to the ceiling. It didn’t look good and I knew I would need to remove it to put up the wardrobe. So off it went! As part of this project, I added new crown moulding in the bedroom, but I didn’t really document that process.

2. Paint the wall

Starting to repaint the wall

The built-in wardrobe had an open back. I didn’t put any sort of material on the wall (like a bookcase would have). Since I was going to have the built-in be gray, I started by painting the wall gray. I figured this would be easier that trying to navigate a small space with more corners after the built-in was assembled.

3. Lay the base

Laying the wardrobe base

Once I had the wall painted, I was ready to start laying the base of the built-in. I created the base from a number of 2×6 boards. One of the challenges that I faced in building the built-in was the placement of our heat register. The base helped elevate the dressers and left room for the air to still flow out.

4. Paint all of the pieces

Painting all of the pieces before assembly

As I was working on building the base, I was also busy cutting and painting all of the pieces that I would be using to assemble the built-in. Painting ahead of time makes it much easier, because flat surfaces are much more pleasant and easy to paint when compared to surfaces that have a lot of corners and such.

5. Figure out that I chose poorly

Plywood fail

Like any good DIY project, I experienced a number of bumps in the road. I assembled the dressers, had the base ready to go and then realized that the plywood that I purchased was going to be a showstopper. I had tried to pick a plywood that was flat, but ended up with a piece that was faaarrr too warped and curved. As you can see, there were huge gaps between the wall and the plywood. The gaps were so big that I wasn’t able to put plywood between the two dressers as I had planned.

6. MDF to the rescue!

Wardobe skeleton assembled but not painted

I ended up deciding to scrap the plywood that I had purchased and purchased MDF instead. With MDF, I knew it was going to be straight. If I could do it again, I probably would just start with MDF. With the MDF, I had room for the piece between the two dressers. I also attached a piece at the top to add some stability to the three vertical pieces.

7. Painting and touching up

Skeleton of wardrobe assembled and painted

I ended up using a lot of caulk to smooth out the various cracks and crevices. I also painted the dressers, since they were white and I wanted the built in to be gray like the wall. Since the dressers were laminate, I used a base coat of Behr’s All-in-one Primer & Sealer. I didn’t like it as much as Zinnser’s bonding primer, but it did the trick and it is not oil-based so I didn’t have to deal with the fumes in the bedroom.

8. Ready for use but not done

Wardrobe ready to hang stuff but not done

This project took a long time to complete. Partly due to the setback with the plywood, partly due to my laziness. I eventually got to a good enough point and took a break for a couple of weeks. At this stage, we could store our clothes, but the built-in didn’t look as good as I knew it could.

9. Trim it up

Trimmed added to IKEA hack wardrobe

When I finally got around to finishing up the project, I added trim around the shelves and the sides of the built-in. This made it look so much more cohesive and finished. I also eventually got around to painting the faces of the long dresser. You’ll also note that I added the crown moulding around the bedroom.

10. Touch up the trim

Caulking the trim on IKEA hack

I can’t stress this enough: caulk makes a huuuuuge difference for these types of projects. It seals everything up. You just need to make sure you’re good at caulking, because it’s easy to have the caulk dry up too quickly and you don’t get as smooth of a look as you would have hoped. My trick was to use a wet rag and run it over the freshly applied caulk every few inches or so.

11. Paint it all up

ikea-hack-voila

The last step is painting everything. And obviously let it dry for a while. And you’re done!

Finished IKEA hack built in

The Skinny on the IKEA Hack built-in wardrobe

It’s been a while, so I’ll do my best to give you the skinny on this project.

Cost

3 of 4 money

Since it’s been so long since I did this project, I don’t have exact numbers on how much this project cost. Since it’s likely that you’ll be having to customize it to your particular needs, I’m not sure how helpful this would be. However, I can still give you some high level details/estimates for materials:

The only tool that I needed to purchase for this project was an air compressor. I purchased the Porter Cable 3-Tool Combo Kit which included the compressor, a nail gun, a brad gun, and a staple gun. This was useful for a number of projects around the house including an upholstery project and installing board and batten and moulding throughout the house. I can’t remember how much I paid for it unfortunately, although I think it was around $200.

All said and done, I spent around $611 on materials and supplies (excluding tools). Of course, this is an estimate so your mileage may vary. One thing that is a bummer is that we couldn’t take this with us when we moved! We had to buy new dressers instead. I like to think that this expense helped contribute to the quick sale and selling price of the house though, so I don’t see it as a complete wash.

If you are looking to cut costs from what I did, you could try to find the dressers on Craigslist. I like Malm because they are boxy, look modern, and can blend in with a lot of things.

Time

I’m not really sure how to accurately estimate time for this project. Let’s just say it took a lot of work! I started in February and didn’t really wrap up the finishing details until April. Over the course of those months, I probably spend anywhere between 60 and 100 hours. I really don’t know! Just assume that it will take a while.

Skill

3 skill

This wasn’t the most technical project in the world, but it did require a lot of planning and thought. It also required the use of multiple power tools that require a bit of skill and safety precautions. For that reason, I rate this as a 3 of 4 skill level.

What do you think of this IKEA hack? Have you ever done anything similar?

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you click on them, I receive a small commission for referring you. As always, all of my opinions are my own!

Paying off $55k of student loans in 2 years
Money, Student Loans

Gut Check: Will I pay off my student loans by age 30?

I turned the big 2-8 last week. That means that I have two years left to acheive my longstanding goal of paying off my loans by the time I turn 30.

As of right now, my balance hovers around $55,000. Oof. That’s a lot of loans to pay off still. On the flip side – let’s celebrate the fact that I’ve paid off over $35K in principal on my loans since I started paying them off in late 2011!

Considering that I’ve only paid off $35K over 3.5 years and I want to pay off the remaining $55K over 2 years, it seems like it might be a tight two years. So, let’s look at the numbers.

What Paying Off $55K of Student Loans in 2 Years Looks Like

I decided to pull out my trusty debt repayment calculators, Unbury.us, to do a quick and dirty calculation of how much I need to contribute each month (on average) to achieve my goal.

Minimum Payments Only – Debt Free by July 2024

Chart highlighting minimum payments on student loans

If I were to only pay the minimum each month, I would be paying on my loans until 2024. That means I would be 37! That’s 7 years longer than I’m aiming to pay. Also notice how much interest I would be paying. I could buy myself a modest used car with that amount of interest!

Debt Free by May 2017 – $2500 per month to student loans

Minimum payments isn’t the world I live in though – I’ve been paying extra each month to help me achieve my goal. My quick calculations suggest that I need to contribute $2,500 per month to student loans in order to have them paid off by May 2017.

Paying $2500 towards student loans each month to be done in 2 years

Unfortunately, my student loan payments aren’t anywhere near $2500 per month at this point. Here’s a graph of my student loan payments over time since May 2011.

My student loan spending for all time

As you can see, I generally hover around a set amount per month with some months where I contribute a bigger chunk. Last year, while I was preparing to move, I took a break from paying extra and only contributed the minimum. Now that I’m settled in a new location with a higher paying job, I’ve been upping my payments again.

Moving Forward

I’ve been struggling for a long time with the basic debt reduction calculators that I’ve found online because they don’t give me the flexibility to choose the exact order I want to pay my loans off in and they don’t allow me to enter/account for one-off payments.

Much of my strategy, as you can tell from my chart above, has been to have a hefty payment each month and pay bigger chunks when I can (e.g. tax refunds, bonuses, etc.). Luckily, I finally found the answer I was looking for – the most comprehensive debt reduction calculator ever from Vertex42. It allows me to choose what order I want to pay off my loans and most importantly, it allows me to account for what they call “snowflaking” – adding in one-off payments above what I generally pay.

My Strategy for the next two years

Overall my strategy for paying off my loans will be this:

  • Maintain base level of overpayment each month
  • Increase base payment when my compensation increases (hopefully by $300 per month this year and then again next year in September when our salary increases go through)
  • Contribute 70% of windfalls (bonuses, tax refunds, etc.) to student loans in addition to my regular monthly payment
  • Treat third paycheck in three paycheck months (2 per year) as a windfall
  • Pay off my private loans (since they are higher risk) then move on to a snowball avalanche approach where I’m paying off the lowest balance of the highest interest rate first

A Note About Assumptions

Planning out two years of payments is a tricky game. I’ve tried to be conservative but also realistic at the same time in my estimates. So much of my ability to pay off these loans in two years will be determined by a few key details such as my compensation (I’m assuming it will increase, but I do not know by how much) and my windfalls (I’m assuming I will receive windfalls of a general size, but I won’t know until I receive them).

For example, when I plug my numbers into the debt reduction calculator/spreadsheet, I’m able to finesse them to get me to a May 2017 payoff date. However, it’s still wildly unclear how accurate those windfalls and numbers will be.

Will It Happen?

So, in sum, it’s looking like it’s in the realm of possibility, but it will be tough for me to pay off my loans in two years time. It’s really all going to come down to how much my income increases and how much I will get for bonuses and such. The good news is that it’s not a “hell no” at this point. I just need to keep on keeping on as I have been for the last few years by paying what I can regularly and pumping extra money into my loans when I come across it.

Hopefully, if you’re in the same or a similar boat as me you find these calculators useful for estimating how and when you’ll get all of your debt paid off.

What are your debt repayment goals?