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Archive for December, 2020

Just checking in

December 27th, 2020 at 10:16 pm

Happy holidays, whichever and however you celebrate! I've had a quiet and lazy time so far; I worked Monday and had the rest of the week off, and then I work part of tomorrow and have the whole rest of that week off. And I got pretty caught up on work so I can actually relax!

I'm eating and drinking a little too much and not getting much exercise, but I plan to get a little bit back into healthy habits next week and then really try to get back to normal after Jan. 1. I've been maintaining my shape this whole pandemic but starting around Thanksgiving it's gotten kind of rocky and I can see the difference in the mirror, even though I haven't been weighing myself since the lockdown started. So I really want to get active, cut out the snacks and cut down the drinking. But I've been so good all year considering the circumstances, that I'm letting myself slide a little bit longer.

I'm also being a little more lax about my creative goals this month. I wrote another song and another novel in November and I've got an older manuscript out with some beta readers, and I'm co-writing a novel with an old college friend. I have another couple I could be working on revising as well. But other than writing my chapters when it's my turn on the friend one, I haven't been doing much in December. I've been more or less keeping up on guitar practice/lessons at least.

Our new budget goes into effect 1/1, and so far we're only $1000 away from fully funding the January budget--all essentials are funded so it's just a couple of variables left. Once we do I'll start putting money toward the February budget, essentials first and working my way down the list. We need a bit over $8K (gross; that's just over $5K after tax/retirement) to fully fund February. AS has about $17K coming to her from projects that are mostly already done, so I'm not worried about hitting January and February and maybe even part of March, and by then she and NT will have some more money lined up hopefully.

NT's severance ran out so he's getting unemployment, not the maximum amount as he's been able to work a little doing admin work for our downstairs neighbors. He's also been able to help AS with her business so she was able to take a couple of extra proofreading jobs for him to do. So he is bringing in a little money from various sources and that'll help us fund our 2021 budget too.

The kids are on break and will be starting school fully from home in January; we're not sending them to the Y three days a week like we did the first semester. Partly because we were disturbed by skyrocketing cases here (though our numbers have decreased quite a bit over the past month) but also because with NT working part time, he's able to take care of the kids during the school day. And they've gotten very self-sufficient as they've become acclimated to distance learning. They're not doing perfectly at school, but good enough for me.

Our governor has said schools can start going back in person in mid-January if they meet certain conditions, but he's leaving the decision up to the individual districts. Our district has said they'll let us know over the break, so they still have another week before they need to announce their plans. I'm hoping for in-person, especially if our teachers can get vaccinated, but I trust them to be cautious and do what they think is best. Overall I've been satisfied and even impressed with how our school administrators and teachers have adapted. (Bad news for our kids though: now that everyone is set up for remote learning, there's going to be no such thing as snow days anymore, even if they do start going back in person!)

What else? Just waiting for a vaccine (I'm about the last person on the list so it'll be a while) and hoping things get normalish at some point next year. Now that I'm a full-time remote worker, and NT and AS too, it could get really interesting to possibly extend trips by working part of the time in another place. So I'm eager for travel and tourism to become a more feasible option again.

AS took part in a vaccine trial (for the Johnson & Johnson one that's still being tested) so she possibly already got the vaccine, but she won't be sure for a while. The rest of us are in the last groups that will get it--non-frontline workers, no health factors, middle-aged and under 16. But I'm excited for the rollout and really hope this helps us get to a place where we can be with other people again!

New year and new normal = new budgeting strategy

December 9th, 2020 at 01:49 am

I'm gradually retiring my previous budgeting system and gearing up for a new one that will hopefully be flexible for our new income situation yet still enable us to maintain control, so I wanted to share it with you.

I'm excited and hopeful but also nervous because we've done things the same way for several years. It worked when we had two fixed incomes and one variable, but it won't work for one fixed and two variable. And there are other unknowns in our future as well, so I'm hoping this flexible format will work even if our income situation fluctuates over the course of the year.

So for the past few years, we've used two main tools for day-to-day budgeting: the Number Crunch (which I also call Future Checkbook) and the Weekly Spending Tracker. And big picture budgeting is mainly handled in my Annual Budget spreadsheet. Number Crunch starts with our checking account balance, lists out all the upcoming expenses and incomes for the next couple months, and ends with a balance of zero. I update the checking account balance and delete things that have already happened, so it always only shows things that are in the future.

I would factor in the predictable income and expenses based on the Annual Budget, which broke things out by month as well as having a 12-month snapshot tab. Every month or so I'd paste another month's worth of projections so that the Number Crunch was always looking ahead at least a month.

For the variable income (AS's freelance business), I usually put some of it in savings, set some aside for tax and retirement, and dumped the rest into the Weekly Spending Tracker sheet. This sheet shows each individual's spending and available money (or deficit), plus there was an extra column for shared spending stuff that didn't fall easily into any budget category. Subscriptions, random drugstore purchases, family fun or date nights, etc. I would have the starting surplus (or deficit) at the top, add and subtract things throughout the week, and the bottom would show the ongoing surplus (or deficit). Every week I cleared it out, updated the top line and started over.

Well, with only one fixed income, we can no longer be as cavalier with our variable income, which is over half of what the household needs to bring in to make things work. So I adjusted each month's tab in the Annual Budget sheet. Now it lists fixed income, fixed/necessary expenses, and variable/nonessential expenses separately.

The fixed income (my income, the duplex rental) doesn't quite cover essentials, so I wanted to make sure that we covered those first with variable money before we started funding the less essential things. We met as a family and arranged the variables in order of importance, so if we can't fund every item, we'll at least start with funding the more important ones.

Boy this got very long-winded! Anyway, I'm slowly shifting over to the new system. When I pasted the January budget into my Number Crunch, I marked the things in red that aren't funded yet. Now, as we get more variable income, I can fund each item in order of priority.

OK, I realize I have no idea how to upload pics of my spreadsheets with the new system. Darn! Oh well.

Other changes to our budgeting: We didn't have fixed intentional amounts for certain things like Vacays/travel, Home improvement and Giving. And we were putting very little away for the kids' college. I did some calculators and $500 per month seems like a reasonable amount. I'm going to start one of those tax-advantaged college accounts, I forget what they're called, through Vanguard soon and put the money in there.

There are still some random expenses that won't fit under any of the categories I've set up, so we'll just deal with them as they come. AS and NT will have to be a lot more diligent about telling me when they make a purchase and letting me know how they think we should pay for it. I've just been funding random stuff through variable income but now our variable income will be put to such specific uses, there won't be much left over (if any) for randomness, so we need to be much more intentional about incidentals.

My second self-published novel!

December 7th, 2020 at 01:10 am

I thought I'd plug my second novel--which I mentioned in my last post--in its own separate post! I'm kind of hopeless at the publicity side of things, which is a bit ironic seeing as how I work in marketing for my full time gig! Smile But what can I say--I find it easier to talk up others!

So here it is. Devil's Sanctum is an action thriller where a man's girlfriend disappears and he has to figure out why, and where she is--and what he didn't know about her true identity. Warning: My fiction is a bit racy and may not be to everyone's taste!

You can order it on any platform that sells books or e-books. I think you can even get your local bookstore to order a copy (it's print on demand so they won't have it in stock). If you're looking for a bit of good trashy fun, I hope you check it out! (My debut novel Viral is also still available everywhere.)

November 2020 retirement goal update

December 2nd, 2020 at 06:49 am

Finally, some progress on the retirement goal!

Goal: $814,292 by March 2024

Current retirement balance: $632,504

July 2020 balance: $565,234

Progress since last update: $67,270

Still needed: $181,788

This interim goal is based on getting my and NT's retirement to 4x my current and his last full-time salary (currently $82,500 and $64,118) by the time we turn 50 and AS's retirement values to 3x her highest annual income ($75,940 in 2018) by the time she turns 45.
$82,500 x 4 = $330,000
$64,118 x 4 = $256,472
$75,940 x 3 = $227,820

It will shift anytime our salary/annual income changes. (The only exception is I won't lower if there's a lower-income year.)

There are 40 months to go before March 2024, so that means we need to gain $4545 per month on average to meet our goal.

The ultimate goal we're working toward is 8x our annual income by the time we retire at 65.