Wednesday, April 3, 2013

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 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.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

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 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.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

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 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 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.

Friday, March 8, 2013

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.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

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

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.

Saturday, March 2, 2013


"Shopping" is a big catch-all. It includes shopping for clothing, hobbies (sewing and photography), kitchen equipment, even furniture. This heading does not include household equipment and supplies, things like that. Can I make any goals that make sense of it? I think I can.

Others have pledged to have a shopping-free week or month or whatever. I think this could work. Most of the shopping I do is online. I am drawn to the discounts. Not as much as others, I suspect, but I still get caught up in the promise of saving a few dollars. I would save a lot more if I skipped the purchase altogether.

So I am going to start small. A shopping-free week. Starting yesterday, the first of March.

Let's look at my record for last year:

I bought some big-ticket items last year because I had a little extra money. I bought an expensive camera, a few lenses, some extra equipment. So that does skew things. I won't be doing that kind of shopping this year. Nevertheless, here is what the numbers say:

Last year: I spent $10, 333 on "shopping". That's an average of $199 per week or $861 per month.

Last two months:  $487.56  Way under last year's average. $55 a week.  Some of that could go into savings or into paying off credit cards.

The goal for this week is 0.

Friday, March 1, 2013


I have been thinking a lot about groceries lately. How much I spend on them, ways to reduce that amount. I have had an account on for over a year so I have last year's records all neatly compiled. There are still a few mistakes and uncategorized items but the vast majority are correct. That's why I know that last year I spent an average of $20 a day on groceries. That's $140 a week. This doesn't count eating out, of course. I'll deal with that another day.

One way to cut back on groceries is to reduce the number of processed foods I buy. Sometimes processed foods - by which I mean frozen or refrigerated ready-to-eat-quickly foods - are just what I need. When I can't stand to cook anything I can usually throw something in the microwave, and really, that's cheaper, usually, than eating out. However, these meals are usually not the healthiest I could eat, so I have another motivation for cutting back.

I have been reducing the number of veggie meats and cheese I buy, in particular. These items tend to be pricey and do not have real health benefits (except as compared to animal meats and cheeses, which I do not buy at all).

I also purchased an electric pressure cooker and a juicer this year. I have been making good use of them both.

Some things affect the total:
* when I am in Las Vegas visiting daughters I often buy groceries for several of us.
* I bought a Groupon for a vegan food delivery service (frozen food) that kept me using the microwave for several days - I think I bought the Groupon in December but I've been using it just recently, so it is not included in the totals this year.

So, acknowledging that such calculations are not perfect, how am I doing so far this year?

In January and February I spent $1111.35 on groceries.  That's $18.82 per day. Down from last year, so far. 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. Honestly, you'd think a single person would have no problem with that! And yet.