I suck at communicating

May 17, 2010 · 40 comments

Apparently I am a pretty crappy communicator. Yesterday’s post left a bunch of you asking “Why is there no entertainment section in your budget?”. Pretty valid question, seeing that I didn’t account for fun, vacations, or household supplies in our budget. Did I forget to include this stuff? Nope. I just do things a little differently.

Since I severely sucked at explaining the budget yesterday, I thought I’d do my best to make it clearer today. Take a look…

Does the infographic help clarify things? It’s important to remember that budgets come in all shapes and sizes, so I’m sure mine looks way different than yours. In fact, J Money has compiled a ton of different budget templates, so you can use the one that best suits you.

Alright, on to the question “Why don’t I account for tampons sponges, clothes, and movies?” The answer is simple. I don’t want to. Hah! How’s that for straightforward? Everything I included in our “expenses” category has little month-to-month variation and is a necessity. Our income MUST ALWAYS exceed these expenses, ’cause if it doesn’t, we are going to have serious financial issues.

The very bottom section of the budget is titled “Left over”. This money then becomes our discretionary income. We can do with it what we want. Referencing the example above, we should have about $2,000 after all of our bills are paid. This money will be broken down to pay for things like haircuts, sunglasses, weekend trips, gifts as well as to save for things like a home, a car, and new furniture.

I personally HATE the idea of having a line item in my budget for “household supplies”, “entertainment”, or “vacations”. These costs are not fixed and can vary greatly from month to month. Instead of making guesses for each variable expense, I much prefer putting all $2,000 of discretionary income in to my savings account and then take when needed.

I realize many of you probably HATE that I don’t budget for all the same categories you do, but this is how I’ve always done things (Girl Ninja is on board with this plan as well) and I don’t think anyone would say I’m a reckless spender. We are both natural savers and understand every dollar we spend, means one less dollar we have in the bank. Our frugality allows us to live outside of a spreadsheet. Maybe this makes me a budget hypocrite, but I don’t really care. In my defense, however, I religiously check Quicken to make sure I’m spending reasonable amounts in each variable category (ie electronics, gifts, toiletries, etc). Did you really think I would not keep a watchful eye on our money?

A few other things to note from yesterday’s post.

Many of you recommended Girl Ninja seek out part time employment, in the evenings, to help stabilize her income a little bit. This is probably because I said we would  “scrape by” if she only subbed 2 days out of the month. What I failed to make clear, was the odds of that happening are virtually zero. Over the last 45 school days, she has been able to work all 45 of them. Basically I was being a big drama queen yesterday, and probably made it sound like Girl Ninja will be unemployed, when that really isn’t the case. My apologies for any confusion. Plus, if she picked up part-time night work, that means I would be home alone at night, which is NOT COOL in my book. How the heck would Operation Make-Baby-Ninjas ever come in to the picture if our schedules were opposite?

Another common theme across yesterday’s comments, was the recommendation to decrease tithing until we get a better handle on our financial situation. Again, solid advice, but not really our style. We both share the belief that tithing needs to be something that we do every month. And for us that means 10% of our income. This means before we do ANYTHING with our money (including contribute to retirement or pay rent) we commit 10% to our church. I know many of you will think that’s crazy, or possibly even that we are weird Jesus freaks, but it’s a personal decision we BOTH made and are excited about. (Remember, it’s called personal finance for a reason).

It seems that I totally blew it yesterday and failed to bring my main concern to light. My primary motivation for yesterday’s post was to ask “How do you budget with a variable income?”. I received a bunch of great suggestions on how to increase our income (GN part time work) or decrease expenses (find a cheaper apartment or tithe less), but what I really want to know is How do those with a variable budget navigate life? What’s the secret?

If I confused the crap out of you (figuratively and literally) again today, let’s just pretend these last two posts didn’t happen and we can start with a clean slate for tomorrow’s post… deal?

{ 40 comments }

1 bcsmithereens

PDITF, I’ve been silently following your PF blog for a few months now, and I finally have to say it: you may be good with saving money, but you sure sound like a spoiled little kid who’s way too immature to get married yet.

Granted, who is mature enough to get married? You’ve got some good priorities and values… the waiting to get married thing, and tithing, are great… but ya, your title for today “I suck at communicating” pretty much did you in!

Anyways, for what it’s worth… keep being honest with GN and yourself… keep talking… and keep learning! After 23 years with the one and only guy I’ll ever marry, you’ve got a lot of bumps and bruises to go through in this life. Money, most definitely, isn’t everything!

My word of advise is a well-known thing: “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!”

Besides that, I enjoy reading what you write. You give me a chuckle, and fond memories of me thinking I was in control of it all!

Keep on writing. My best regards to GN.

Cheers

2 PunchDebt

Thanks… I think?

I don’t understand what makes me spoiled? I’ve worked hard and earn a decent living, does that really make me spoiled?

Immature? Sometimes, but I like to think of myself as “fun”. There are plenty of boring blogs out there, so I try to do my best to avoid being one of them. If I was truly immature would I spend my time blogging and learning about money? Or would I be playing with barbies and toy cars?

Girl Ninja and I are ready for the good parts and the hard parts that come with marriage. We don’t expect marriage to be “easy”. I like your phrase, but I’m more a fan of “Happy wife, happy life.” :)

Thanks for losing your commenting virginity today (ooops, there’s that immature side). Hope you’ll be back

3 Mrs. Micah

I think if you’ve got a budget that handles paying all your fixed expenses and then you’ve still got $2k left in discretionary spending and you don’t overspend that, you’ve got a much better handle on your life than most people our age and (given how our country’s finances look right now) most people of whatever mature age your bc has reached.

Anyone who names his blog “Punch Debt in the Face” can’t be expected to be writing in a newspaper-column boring style. Like “Budgets Are Sexy.” ;) You’re both very engaging, very entertaining, a bit silly sometimes, but you’ve also both got a reasonable handle on your lives too. :)

One thing that frustrates me in blogging is how people who only know one aspect of our lives, the one we put online and the way we present it in the blogs, jump to huge conclusions about our lives, marriages, professional goals, etc, that they really don’t have the info to do.

4 bcsmithereens

Ya, I’ll be back, for sure… My communication leaves much to be desire also, as well as the fact that it was almost 1 am when I wrote my reply. For sure, your posts are always FUN!!! I should have given you A++ on that. Sorry!

Coming from a “year from Hell”, I guess I’m a little jealous that you already have the wisdom to plan for job loss and illness. Unfortunately, from our maturity (NOT), we were unprepared… so maybe I just didn’t want you looking good, while I felt bad.

As for your phrasing… that’s the one I really wanted, but didn’t remember it. Is there any way I can scratch my first post, and start over with you?

Anyways, thanks for writing!

5 OnceARunner

bc,
Glad you decided to share your thoughts with everyone… Just a few counter-thoughts if you will in a purely friendly manner.

In Ninja’s defense, it’s often difficult to communicate clearly through electronic means without things getting lost in translation (especially in a blogging format), even more so if the author has made a commitment to trying to keep things light and fun (often at the risk of coming off as immature). I’m not saying it’s impossible but maybe cut him a little slack, I don’t think he’s trying to become a Pulitzer prize candidate. I know I have come off more poorly than I wished on at least one comment I have made on here and I’m just commenting haha. He may be much more mature than you perceive him to be through this medium and much more apt at communicating to people in person (especially if he actually knows the person).
As to the spoiled bit, well maybe a little in the sense that I think his parents really LOVE him (my parents do the same :) but in a healthy way as he seems to be responsible enough to recognize his mothers kindness and love for what it is and doesn’t seem to take advantage of it or take it for granted (again though, I’m doing the same thing as you when i make these perceptions based purely on his blogs…just with a little more optimism i guess).
Just somethin to think on, and hey congrats on 23 yrs of being married, that’s AWESOME. Im not even 23 yet and haven’t even begun to think about that stuff haha

6 PunchDebt

Well said Once a Runner, well said. Perhaps I should consider hiring you do be my public relations consultant. Together we could RULE THE WORLD!

7 bcsmithereens

Runner,
Thank you for your thoughts! As per my additional reply to the 1st comment, I think I jumped the gun in how I responded… 47 year olds don’t work too well at 12:45 am, when they should have been in bed 4 hours earlier!
Cheers

8 StackingCash

Hilarious as always! Thanks for the clarification. As for the secret of navigating a variable budget life, it’s just being conservative on what you think you will bring in and what you spend, which I notice that you already do. Having a huge emergency fund and tons of available credit helps out too. It will provide a great deal of flexibility to your budget. At least this is what works for me.

9 PunchDebt

That’s a great point. I totally forgot the Emergency fund can help through a “lower” income month if necessary. Perhaps, GN and myself should look in to having a separate “flexible expense reserve” for that very purpose. I can’t believe I overlooked the E-fund.

10 Larry

If I were you, I’d do a test by re-computing your 2009 tax returns using both your and GN’s income and using filing status married jointly. This will give you a good indication of how your taxes will be affected after marriage.

11 PunchDebt

Yeah, I haven’t looked in to how joint filing will help us out. It will benefit us if Girl Ninja makes enough, but we might file separately if she struggles to find work. Will definitely look in to it though

12 Larry

Married filing separately rarely benefits taxpayers. It might benefit cases where one spouse has to pay tax and the other gets a large refund, but it’s usually considered the most restrictive of all the filing statuses. For one thing, MFS filers cannot deduct interest paid on student loans.

13 Sandy L

The best decision we ever made was the one you already said you would do. Base your lifestyle as if you were living on only 1 income. That provided a huge buffer.

I don’t think this is in the cards for you, but the other thing I’ll add, is that postponing kids until you’ve achieved some of your big financial goals has been a good thing for us. We chose to wait until we bought a house and had all debts paid off before we had kids and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been thankful for that.

When I was your age (I’m 37 now), I felt pretty cocky about how well I was doing financially. The reality was that during my early 20′s, I had very few expenses and was making WAY more than I was spending. It was the easiest time I ever had in life. I really didn’t have to make any hard decisions about money…the excess just came naturally.

Don’t assume that this will be the case when you have kids, lose an income, and get a house. (we didn’t lose an income and it was still tight for several years) Kids and homes are like black holes..you spend and spend and spend. They’re always outgrowing their clothes and stuff. Houses need maintenance..even if you don’t buy a fixer. That crap adds up…even if you’re buying used. I WAY underestimated the cost of home ownership. It’s averaged about double my mortgage payment when you include repairs and maintenance and general buying stuff for the house.

If you jump right in and have a family and drop an income, it’s going to have a big impact on your ability to save…even if your spreadsheet says you’ll still be able to do it. Just be prepared for the fact that you may not be able to own a home for a long time…or you’ll need a job that pays much better.

So, enjoy this time now and save like a mad-man!

14 PunchDebt

Yeah, we definitely will live on my income as much as we possibly can. For the first few months it could be difficult as we are adjusting and have higher initial expenses, but once we get settled in I think we can make it work.

15 Everyday Tips

Punch-Debt-Face: Thanks for the clarification.

Keep writing exactly the way you do. It makes me think back to my younger years and just starting out. You are way ahead of the game of many in that you know what your priorities are. When I got married almost 20 years ago, I don’t any of my friends discussed finances ahead of time with their spouses at all. It was more about the wedding. Fortunately, my husband and I have always been on the same page with money (don’t spend much…) so we have never really argued about money.

Your ninja chick may want a nicer house, and you two may have to compromise. That’s what marriage is all about anyway.

Regarding variable income, I agree with a previous commenter in that if you plan to live on just one income, you will never go wrong. I recognize some of your income is variable also, but at least you are both able-bodied individuals that could get part-time work if necessary. Hopefully that will never be the case.

When is the wedding?

16 PunchDebt

Wedding is this August! It’s gonna be SICK!!!!!

17 Stephan

Well thanks for clearing everything up, makes a lot more sense now. I actually do the same thing with my budget, i dont budget for drinks, vacations, etc. I just add it all to my savings account at the end of each month when everything else is paid for, and whatever i spend i am comfortable with because i know i have already met all my other obligations. As for a variable budget, i think it takes a lot more attention to keep on top of things. If you can “plan” your income for the month, you should be able to budget your expenses. i would always do it conservatively, so you spend less and get a bonus at the end of the month.

Preferred Financial Services

18 Kate

I do something similar. I tried the “envelope system”, the “jar system”, etc. and I just found it frustrating. I kept juggling the amounts from one envelope or jar to the other.

Now it’s just four categories: Rent/Mortgage, Savings/Retirement, Travel Fund, and Other.

19 PunchDebt

Yeah, the envelope system is not for me.

20 Zazzi

Hey there Ninja,
I think you’ve got your act together. Immature? Ppfffh! Get married! Make a lot of money! Make a lot of ninja babies! PS: Love your blog. Most fun PF blog *ever.*

That said: I have an extremely variable budget.
My husband and I work seasonally. I work summers and sell fine art randomly throughout the year. My husband works construction: big job = big money for a few months, then nothing for a few or several months. (We’re both back in school, too.) Basically, I budget as if we have nothing—I keep expenses as low as I can all the time. I look ahead for big expenses. If something unanticipated comes up (car repair) I sometimes have to put it on the credit card. When the money does finally roll in, I pay off all small debts, throw some at the bigger debt (mortgage) and sock away as much as I can which I then use gradually as long as it lasts. (Yes, sock some away in IRA’s, too.) It’s a stressful way to budget, but it works if you like the frugality challenge. Having a steady income would be much easier.

Having a wildly fluctuating income is a tightrope walk, most months. Ya gotta be clever and careful.

21 PunchDebt

Sounds like you and the hubby have mastered the art of budgeting for variable income. Makes me motivated!

22 BlackBI

Variable expenses are more of a plan than, not a guideline. For the wifey and I, it just helps us to make sure that we are not spending to much on entertainment, to much eating out (which you know is already to much), to much on Target/Wal-mart (we go to Target so much, it has its own Mint.com category). It give us a goal to try and not spend a certain amount, but we always have flexibility with our variable expenses.

KEEP TITHING BROTHER! You and Girl Ninja’s faithfulness will be rewarded in ways you don’t even know. I’m excited for you guys!

P.S. Want a frosty?

23 PunchDebt

Ummm, I only want a frosty if you want one :)

24 BlackBI

C’mon! You’re so indecisive!

25 Jin6655321

Hi Ninja!

Since you are in a clarifying mood…

Do you plan on increasing your investment budget to account for GN’s retirement or are you on track, with your current amount, to cover both your retirements?

BTW, I think you’re pretty brave to open yourself up like this.

26 D

In a similar vein — does GN have any retirement accounts in her name and are you planning on having her contribute to her own accounts? I would think having her contribute a fixed percentage of her income to an IRA or Roth IRA would be a healthy thing for her to do. I know you guys are gonna be married 4 LIFE, but who knows what’s gonna happen down the line. And I believe some states do not divide retirement accounts. Is there a way to put both your names on the accounts?

27 PunchDebt

I didn’t account for retirement contributions in the budget, but I’m sure once we get hitched we will. That said, my retirement savings should be plenty for us to survive on assuming I can maintain my current investing rates (compound interest is awesome). If we don’t have the option to contribute to a 403b for her, we will definitely start her up with a Roth IRA.

28 Alicia

Well thanks for the clarification. I budget the same way: after all fixed expenses are paid, some money goes to savings, the rest goes to my ING checking account to be used for MISC. : toiletries, gifts, gym, etc. All left over goes to saving at the end of the month. I am a server in a nice restaurant and make decent income but very variable. I ALWAYS budget for the least possible income and save the excess for the lean months (Jan, Feb, March, April, October) so that when I make more money (summer and Christmas time) I can save the excess and if need be, utilize it to add to the budget in the lean months. I have to use it in the winter because I live alone (I’m sure you and GN can survive on your income in the lean months) and own a condo so my fixed expenses are the same each month.
So all in all, always budget for the lowest income and all extra is gravy. Soon you’ll have babies and might need to save less anyway. I’m with you on the tithing… its personal but if you choose to follow the bible and tithe 10% and have less to spend, why not. Enjoy marriage!

29 Budgeting in the Fun Stuff

Your budget works for you two, so that’s a good budget in my book. I’m one of the zero based budgeters that has all the categories, but it doesn’t work out differently than this system – we prioritize our savings and live on the rest. All the caregories, ING accounts, etc are extra add-ons for my personal style…obviously not everyone would want the same system (I have to agree that the envelope system would not be for us). So, good luck!

As for a variable income when it comes to budgeting, I’d create one budget using her lowest paid month ever and keep that year round. Nobody ever complains about having too much left over, right?

30 PunchDebt

Ah the zero out budget. I have mad respect for those that manage their money so well. You’re a different bread, but I guess your blogs name made it pretty clear you like to budget ALL.

31 Budgeting in the Fun Stuff

That was a really nice way of putting it. I’d say that I’m anal and slightly obsessive, lol.

We’ve been on our Excel budget for more than 3 years (modified when things change obviously), so now we don’t actually have to check it all the time. In fact, last month I forgot about it completely for the first time ever (yay blogging)…practice makes permanent apparently since we stayed right on track. :-)

32 ashley

I find budgeting to zero and your budget very similar, PDIF man. I budget all the neccesities, I reach my monthly debt payoff goal, and then whatever is over I split between additional debt payoff and fun money.

and I didn’t sense any miscommunication at all. I was totally following you on your budget explanations.

33 Jessica

Off topic but nevertheless I wanted to let you know I used a quote from your site on a post that I made about the video.

A girl I knew/know from church was on TrueLife. She and her (now) husband waited until they got married for their first kiss and sex. Here’s what I wrote. You can watch if you want here:

http://www.mtv.com/videos/true-life-im-a-newlywed/1639366/playlist.jhtml

Here’s what I wrote:

What a great testament! My husband and I waited until marriage before we had sex. I am so glad we did. Although we didn’t wait to kiss I can see the reasons why you might. It does make things very tempting. I did feel there was a lot of pressure for LB and Brett to talk about their sex life when that should be something personal. I know LB from church way back. I’m glad that they were portrayed in a positive light. Oh and I’ve been happily married for 3 years. :)

A friend put this the right way: Dude, you’re crazy for needing to live with someone first. I would hope anyone that moved in with their significant other, did so because they are absolutely sure that is the best thing for their relationship. If you’re committed enough to move in together, I say you’re committed enough to get married. After all, what’s the difference? So I wait till marriage and move in with the girlfriend, she’ll discover I fart (very rarely of course) and I’ll get frustrated because she folds our towels in a different way then I prefer. I’m sure we will learn a great deal about each other that we didn’t know before, but why do I have to spoil the excitement of marriage by moving in with her early. To require that you must first live with your partner, to me, essentially means “If this doesn’t work out, I’m outta here.” My mentality is “Hey this isn’t working, but I love you and you love me, let’s figure out how to make it work better.”…” Thank you to http://www.punchdebtintheface.com He’s awesome.

34 PunchDebt

Wow thanks for quoting me :) Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I saw the commercials for that episode and wanted to see it. Wasn’t sure if they were gonna make people that chose to be celibate look like crazy church weirdos or just portray them as normal people who made a personal choice. I’m gonna have to go check it out!

35 kates

My income varies a relatively small amount (+/- 300) but I created a budget using my lowest paid month and keep it year round, as rec’d by BFS. Everything extra feeds into a buffer, which I use for incidental costs (yay new bike! boo lab tests from the doctor!).

When the buffer gets depleted beyond a comfortable place (400), I try to avoid what incidentals I can (e.g. avoid any non-urgent purchases or payments) until I’m restocked.

36 Girl Makes Cents

I’m a supply teacher too. What I do is put in 8 days a month into my budget. It’s the minimum I have worked. Then I calculate everything I want to either save, pay down, or purchase that month.

If I work more than 8 days I add to those three areas. It works for me and helps keep me in control of my spending.

If I did go under 8 days I could always draw from my E-fund and wait until the next month to top it back up again, or I could cut areas. Hopefully I continue to get at LEAST 8 days a month!!

Good luck to you and GN.

37 J$

Ooh la la thx for the linkage my man. $2k extra each month is pretty damn brilliant – keep rockin’ out!

38 Aury (Thunderdrake)

Pretty awesome budget. Also interesting is how much you’re tucking away in part of your retirement plan. Which seems to make up for that massive expense column.

It’s very modest income statement, with a huge amount of money going towards savings. Invested correctly, I’m pretty sure you can make your net worth jump dramatically a decade or two down the road.

39 Financial Coach

I agree with your budgeting method. I teach people to maximize their surplus (your everything else category). It’s what you do with that surplus that makes a huge difference over many years. You are working a great plan. Keep it up!

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