It’s complicated


Let’s get right to the point today shall we? I go out of my way to ensure my personal finances are significantly more complicated than they should be. In fact, I’d even go as far as to say that I sleep better at night because of it. No, I haven’t lost all my marbles, I just hate the idea of automating my finances.

I know I’m probably in the minority here, seeing that numerous personal finance blogs preach the wonders of automating your finances. I won’t try to convince you my way is better (even though it is), but allow me to at least explain myself further. First, I’ll list off all of the regular recurring payments I have each month.

  1. Rent- $1,175 (all utilities are rolled in to this one payment, including cable/internet)
  2. Cell Phone- $60
  3. Car/Renters Insurance- $180
  4. Credit Card(s) – Varies depending on balance (usually around $1,500)
  5. Charitable Contributions – 10% of gross income
  6. Storage unit – $65 (storing our baby grand piano)

I may be forgetting one or two other bills, but for the most part I think that about covers it. I could theoretically set up an automatic withdrawal from my checking for each of these bills, allowing the companies access to my checking account. As the bill comes due, the company would pull the money from my checking account.

Now, I don’t know about you, but that totally freaks me out. Getting married and sharing a checking account with Girl Ninja was scary enough, I couldn’t imagine giving a bunch of random strangers access to my account as well.

I’ve read horror stories about people who thought they set up a $200/monthly payment and were shocked to find out $2,000 was withdrawn instead.

Or how about the person that had their car payment scheduled for the 8th of every month. Well it just so happened that on the night their account was to be debited, their bank was beefing up security protocols and restricted all customers accounts for a few hours. As a result, the payment never processed. But because it’s suppose to be automatic, you never think to check and make sure everything went smoothly. Thirty days later you are dealing with an angry Toyota representative hounding you for being one month past due.

No thanks. Automatic payments don’t sound worth it to me. To be perfectly honest, I actually enjoy manually paying my bills. It reminds me how much money comes in and out of our account each month, but more importantly it makes me want to continually shop around and make sure I’m getting the best deal possible. It essentially keeps me intimately involved in our personal finances. And I need not remind you, making love with money is my favorite kind of romance.

Do you automate your finances? Why or why not?

How you doing? $63K in debt with a six figure income.

Last month I asked for PDITF readers to submit stories about how they’re doing. I was amazed by the feedback I received, overwhelmed even. Far more people expressed interest in contributing to the series than I anticipated. I couldn’t keep up with all the emails and submissions I was getting, so I avoided them instead  (Haha, like a true Ninja right?). I added the emails to my “To Do” list and haven’t paid much attention to them. I’m just now taking the time to look ’em over and get things worked out (sorry for the procrastination).

Today we are kicking the series off with  BR, a woman who doesn’t necessarily agree with her husband on how their six figure income should be allocated…

My name is BR, and I have been married to DH (dear husband) for about 18 months.

Together, DH and I make $100,500 before taxes. After taxes, 401(k) contributions, insurance and all that come out of our checks, we usually take home just over $62,000 a year. We both can get yearly bonuses (last year, I didn’t get one, but my husband got $8,000) and my husband gets a Christmas bonus at the end of each year, usually the amount of one paycheck, but again, this isn’t guaranteed, so I don’t count it as income.

Our debt:

  • Car loan- about $12,000
  • Truck loan- $16,000
  • My student loan- $8,900
  • Husband’s student loan- $26,700
  • Total debt: $63,600

When we got married, we had about $15,000 of credit card debt between the two of us. We set a goal to pay it off before our first anniversary, and actually did it two months ahead of schedule (thanks mostly to my husbands bonus)! We were both really relieved to be out from under that debt, but we completely disagreed on what to do next.

If I had my way, we would never go out to eat or buy anything that we don’t NEED until we have everything paid off. It would only take a year and a half, and then we would be free and clear! My husband feels like this is not reasonable, since all the debt is low-interest (what he calls ‘good debt’) and both our vehicles are worth more than what we owe on them. His bigger priority is saving for a house, since he feels that paying rent every month is throwing away money. He also thinks that going out to eat is fun and relaxing (I think he’s just trying to get out of doing the dishes :)) and he loves to go to the movies.

So, we compromised. We put $900 a month in our house fund, and then I pay whatever extra I can find in our budget on my student loan. We go out to eat once a week, and we each get $20 a week to spend on whatever we want. My $20 usually goes toward my student loan, but I also use it to thrift shop or get a haircut occasionally. While I would love to have my way, I am able to compromise with this, because our debt is no longer at a point where it keeps me up at night, like it did when we first got married. If push came to shove, we could sell our cars and reduce our debt to only student loans. Also, watching the balance on our savings account go up is super fun, and it is comforting to know that right now we could live for two months with what we have.

Really, we are not in a bad place at all. We spend much less than we earn, we save a decent amount, and we are working on paying off our debts. I get impatient, and really want to ‘punch debt in the face’, but at the end of the day I would rather have a peaceful marriage than no debt.

 

Ninja’s comment: If you want to submit your story for the “How you doing” series, shoot me an email.

The thorn in my side.

I like to consider myself a pretty good manager of money. Money comes in, and money goes out. It’s a simple process really. But no matter how hard I try, I just can’t seem to get a handle on the Ninja household average food budget. This one category is totally throwing my whole game off. Take a look at this ridiculous graph of how much eating costs us each month (groceries and dining out).

How the heck do we go from $400ish in the early part of the year, to a low of $280 in spring, to the mid $700’s in late summer? Our average food budget is as crazy as Britney Spears was when she cut off all her hair….

Leave Britney alone (anyone get that joke?).

Britney’s right, the Ninja’s food budget IS crazy and I don’t know what to do about it. Girl Ninja and I both agree that there is no reason we should be spending so much. In a perfect world, we’d be dropping about $250-$300/month at the grocery store and about $150-$200/month dining out. All in we’d love to keep our food spending to about $450/month. WHY CAN’T WE DO IT!?

Food is the thorn in our side, or I guess the thorn in our budget. It’s the only category that fluctuates on such extreme measures. We plan to limit our dining out to weekends only, pay better attention to what is on sale, and throw in a few “cheap” meals during the week (tomato soup and grilled cheese, black bean soup, etc). We obviously can manage just fine on a $450 average food budget ’cause I don’t remember starving in January, February, April, or July. It’s just gonna take a little more discipline and planning, but I’m confident we can figure something out. Worse case scenario; I stop eating altogether. Oh and don’t worry. We wont turn in to extreme couponers. I hate those people.

What item in your budget always seems to throw ya off (food, travel, clothes, gas, etc)? How much do you spend each month on dining out and groceries (dollar amount and number of people in family)?

If you’re with Bank Of America, you’re dumb or lazy.

As much as I’d like to think only good things about customers of Bank of America (since some of you may fall in to that category), I’m seriously beginning to doubt their intelligence. I’m sure you’ve already heard the latest on why Bank of America sucks, but I couldn’t help but share my two cents on the matter with you all today. If you aren’t familiar with what I’m talking about, let me enlighten you…

Starting in early 2012, Bank of America will begin charging some of their customers $5/month for all non-atm debit card usage. You either have to go to an ATM and get cash for all your purchases, or succumb to the $5/monthly fee for using your debit card. Let’s be honest here, BoA knows that you will likely find yourself in a situation where you need to use your debit card at least once each month. Swipe it once, BAM, you just became five dollars poorer. Say it with me ya’ll:

BANK OF AMERICA SUCKS!!!!!

If you are a BoA customer this is the perfect excuse to leave that pitiful hell hole! Get out before they start to nickel and dime you to death.

Deductive reasoning forces me to assume that any/all Bank of America customers must either be stupid or lazy. What other possible explanation could be offered? I know there are ways around the fees, and that you personally may not have to deal with these new policies, but that doesn’t make BoA’s business model any less sketchy. Think about it like this:

You like Jack in the Box. You especially love their two tacos for $0.99 deal. You eat Jack in the Box once a week. One day you are watching the news and catch a report that there is an E. coli outbreak amongst Jack in the Crack products. In fact, four people have died from the E. coli poisoning and hundreds of people are hospitalized. How do you react?  You don’t just say to yourself, “Well even though everyone else is getting E.Coli, I haven’t, so I I’m gonna keep eating Jack in the Box.” Instead, not only do you stop eating J in the B, but you tell all your friends and family to avoid the restaurant as well. If you continue to eat Jack in the Box tacos, even when their tacos are literally killing customers, you MUST be either dumb or lazy. (in case you weren’t aware there really was a Jack in the Box E. coli issue, this crap really happened!)

Just like you don’t have to get E. Coli to realize you should stop eating Jack in the Box, you shouldn’t have to be fee’d to death before realizing Bank of America sucks. Contrary to popular belief, Free checking and free savings accounts do still exist. And not only that, but they exist with banks and credit unions that actually put their customers first! Vote with your dollar people and stay the heck away from BoA.

Who do you bank with? How do you feel about them? If you say anything but “They freakin’ rock my face off” you need to start shopping for a new bank (ING, Ally, USAA are all awesome). Do you think Bank of America sucks as much as I do? Anyone brave enough to defend BoA?

p.s. If you hate your bank and want to switch, but don’t know how or who to go with, you can always email me and I’ll throw out a few recommendations.

p.p.s. If you are reading this via email or a feed reader and don’t see my stick figure drawing, you have to click over to my website to see it. I accidentally hit publish before I uploaded the image which means it might not be showing up in your feed.

Keeping tabs

I’m one week away from celebrating a successful first year of marriage and am pretty excited about it. I like to think I’m a pretty great husband. I also like to think I’m a pretty good money manager. But, and this is a BIG but, I’ve completely dropped the ball in a major way.

If I was to die tomorrow, Girl Ninja would be up a creek without a paddle. Fifty percent of our net worth is tied up in my Roth IRA and my 401k. If I die tomorrow guess who gets all that money? My mom!!! I started both of those accounts four years ago…when I was single.

I’ve been really good about changing over all our documents, adding her to my bank accounts, combining insurances, etc, but for some reason I didn’t even think about who my listed beneficiaries were on pieces of paper I signed many, many years ago.

Sorry Mom, but you’ve been demoted to the second most important woman in my life and this week I’ve committed to making Girl Ninja my sole beneficiary on each of these accounts. Don’t worry, I still heart you though 🙂

…awkward transition…

As you all know, Girl Ninja will be teaching in a new school district this year. Over the last few years she has accumulated about $3,000 in the San Diego teachers retirement system. Since she has no plans to retire in San Diego, we need to roll that sucker over in to a private retirement account. We’ve been on the phone with Wells Fargo and are in the process of opening up her very first Roth IRA! Girl Ninja + Roth IRA = Sexiness!!!!!

Keeping tabs on these obscure personal finance tasks can be overwhelming but is totally necessary. Are there any PF things that have been on your to-do list for a while, but haven’t gotten around to? What PF chores do you, or did you, despise (setting up retirement accounts, changing your name, figuring out health insurance stuff, etc)?

P.s. If you are wondering why there are no cartoons it’s because I am on another mini vacation in Malibu, Canada (if you don’t know where that is Google it, it’s one of the prettiest places on earth) and only have my iPad. Sorry my blogging has been lame lately, but vacations totally rock my face off!!!!! I’ll be back home on Saturday.

Are you tracking?

You know you’ve reached the upper echelon of financial geekdom when you take time each month to track your spending with personal finance software like Quicken, Mint, or an Excel spreadsheet. I personally am a Quicken user, but it hasn’t always been this way.

I began my financial make-over in early 2008. I had $28,000 in student loan debts and a $38,000 income. Money was by no means abundant, but I at least had something to work with. I started paying down my student loan, investing in a Roth IRA, contributing to retirement, and of course having some fun. I was doing all the things necessary to get my finances in order…or at least that’s what I thought.

I always knew personal finance software existed, but the thought of categorizing my purchases each month seemed pretty tedious. I was paying down debt and saving for my future. I didn’t care where the rest of my money went.

About a year in to my PF journey, Quicken was running a free trial for their basic personal finance software. I decided to sign up, and let me tell you, I was immediately hooked! I was fascinated, and by fascinated I mean absolutely horrified, that I was spending about $500/mo at restaurants. Can you believe that!?

Unfortunately numbers don’t lie. Seeing exactly how much I spent on food, entertainment, gas, insurance, rent, etc, forced me to rethink my priorities. What if I only spent $200 dining out and used the other $300 to pay down my loan faster? What if I reduce my 401K contributions and build up a more liquid safety cushion? I was now making conscious decisions on where I wanted my money to go.

I’ve been using Quicken’s personal finance software for a little over 2 years and have never looked back. With just a click of a few buttons, Quicken taught me more about myself than the Total Money Makeover (or other PF book) ever could. It really was a life changing experience.

Do you track exactly where all your money goes each month? If so which personal finance software do you use… Quicken? Mint? Excel? Did anything about your spending habits shock you?

p.s. No, I was not paid by Quicken (or anyone else) for this post. I would use Mint if I wasn’t freaked out about having all my financials in one central online location, and I would use Excel if I wasn’t so darn lazy.

Cash be flowin’

Living 1.300 miles from Girl Ninja is no fun. It’s only been a few days, but I’m already missing her like crazy. We aren’t fans of the long-distance relationship, but we’ll make it work. Although our situation is not ideal for marriage, it comes with one major perk: Some serious positive cash flow.

We’ve always kept a pretty tight ship when it comes to our money. We invest 15%, tithe 10%, spend what we have to, and save the rest. We’ve been doing our best to be good stewards of our income. After all, what kind of personal finance blogger would I be if I was totally getting pwned by our money? Answer: A pretty sucky personal finance blogger.

Over the next four months, Girl Ninja and I will see a decrease in our expenses, and a serious increase in our discretionary income (to the tune of about $1,800/month). I don’t know about you, but having that much extra coin makes me a very happy ninja.

I’m stoked because we have a chance to make some big strides towards our goals. We can start a Roth for Girl Ninja, we could add to our ‘down payment’ fund, or we could even use this as an opportunity to spend a little more frivolously… you know to buy that Justin Bieber cutout I really want.

Honestly, the personal finance nerd in me says “Take it all to the bank”, but the Ninja in me says “Quit being such a frugal fruitcake“. I mean, at some point there has to be a such thing as “over-saving”…right? At some point lifestyle inflation is expected, isn’t it?

Right now, we have no clue what we will do with the extra money. We’ll probably buy Girl Ninja a ticket to Germany so she can come visit me while I’m there. We’ll probably save a good chunk of it. And we’ll probably buy that Justin Bieber cutout I mentioned earlier. Ah decisions, decisions.

Do you believe in over-saving? What’s the different between being frugal and miserly? After saving what percentage of your income, would you finally loosen up and indulge a little?