Budget Refinement: Trimming the Fat!

You know what cracks me up about Sallie Mae’s website? After you sign in with your username and password, the next page has you enter your SSN and DOB…for “extra security”. You know, so someone can’t hack into the “manage your loans” page and…pay your loans off for you.

Right?! I wouldn’t mind if a hacker wanted to pay my loans for me!

Anyway, Friday was payday, the second paycheck of the month. (The first one goes mostly to rent, the second one goes mostly to student loans.) I figured I would go ahead and dump my $1,000 extra payment to Sallie Mae, since interest compounds DAILY. Which still pisses me off to no end every time I think about it. I actually made a third column in my nerdy spreadsheet, next to the “conservative” and “more aggressive” plans, that shows  my decreasing total balances each month, how much my payments were, and how much I paid in interest.

That interest column has ranged from $227 to $424 each month! Augh!! Keeping that interest in mind and staying pissed off about it will continue to be my biggest motivator.

So in my last post, I was saying how my current budget allows me to throw $1,100 (actually $1,112) in extra payments at Sallie Mae, but I’m hoping to get a raise soon, which will let me contribute $1,334 like my game plan tells me to start doing in January. BUT. As much as I think a raise is inevitable, I don’t know when it will actually happen. (Staying positive–it’s not if, but when!)

SO. I decided it was time to look at the budget again and do some more tweaking to see where I could free up more money for the loans. I’m going to keep my actual income and rent confidential, and we can leave the other fixed expenses alone (cell phone bill and gym membership). Let’s take a look at the variable expenses:

  • Auto & Transport $120
  • Groceries $550
  • Fast Food $65
  • Restaurant $65
  • Home Supplies $100
  • Cash $120
  • Fun Fund $200

Ok, let’s break this down…as I’m doing this, I’m also looking at my “Trends” in Mint.com over the last 12 months. It seems like the perfect time to do this now, because I’ve been living here for just about a year now!

AUTO & TRANSPORT: These expenses have actually been pretty consistent and include gas, tolls, parking and public transit. Since me and Mr. Bacon share a car, and he was the one using it most for a while (I was walking or biking to work), he pays for most of the gas tank fill-ups. Meanwhile, I’m the one that pays for the E-Z pass (that’s our regional toll tag). I’m still on my dad’s auto insurance plan (THANKS DAD!!) and don’t have a car payment either. I did start driving to work 2x/week since I’ve been needing to do some outside calls, so I fill up the gas tank some times, but my company will also reimburse me for some of that travel. So that should offset the auto expenses if they go up, but they’ve actually been holding fairly steady. I averaged $124/month for the last 12 months! Which is probably just slightly higher than $120 because I got new windshield wipers in August. I have friends with ridiculous auto budgets ($400-800) because of gas and car payments, so I guess I’ll consider myself lucky in this category!

EATING (NOM NOM NOM): This includes groceries, fast food, and restaurants (sub-categorized to keep me on track). Mr. Bacon tends to pay when we go out to eat, and I’ll pay for the groceries most of the time, but occasionally it’s vice versa. I most always pack my lunch (brought up as a frugal Asian–my mom never gave us lunch money and always packed our lunches growing up), but every now and then will buy lunch if I’ve run out of stuff at home or felt lazy. So that’s “fast food”. Also if we are on a road trip, which we do at least once or twice a month. I actually tend to spend under $100 a month for dining out (fast food + restaurants combined). In debit purchases anyway…we’ll discuss cash soon enough. Groceries I think we can bring down to $500 from $550. There was a brief period over the summer where I went a little hog-wild on the groceries. It hit a max of $695 in August, at which point I was all “whoa, Nelly!” and reined us back in.

HOME SUPPLIES: you know what this category is? In all honesty, it’s my Target budget. (I am cringing in embarrassment.) Home supplies should technically be things like toilet paper and toothpaste and cleaning supplies…you know…”stuff you get at Target”. But we all know how hard it is to leave Target without spending $100 or more! It’s like a black hole of awesomeness! So having a Target budget of $100 is almost like giving myself permission to spend $100 at Target each month. That’s no good. Target and Amazon and Costco are the three places that are black holes for my wallet. So this budget needs to be cut back pronto!

CASH: self-explanatory. I don’t know how I came up with $120. Because it’s 6 x $20 bills? I usually keep a $20 on me which goes to random stuff like coffee at work (only on very tired days), the occasional lunch at work, or going out with friends so that splitting the bill doesn’t get too complicated. It’s kind of there as spillover from the EATING category, if you really think about it. I probably only take out a $20 bill each week (my bank, Chase, isn’t in this area so it’s usually just $20 cash back from the weekly grocery trip), so let’s cut this back to 4 x $20 = $80. Oh! It does also go to replenishing the laundry card, which me and Mr. B take turns doing. (We live in a high-rise apartment and unfortunately don’t have a W/D in the unit. Sucks.)

FUN FUND: This has gone to anything from clothes, to race entry fees, to gifts for others and mp3’s. In 2014 I’ll do something different and allocate a specific amount I want to spend on triathlons and running races for the year, and throw it into the savings account, so I can withdraw it when I need it. Meaning I can (should?) cut the Fun Fund back to $100. $200 is a lot of fun to have for a whole month when you are trying to pay off student loans! Probably too much fun. I’ll also make a one-time “gifts” budget for this month with Christmas coming up. And I need to figure out what to do about putting aside Travel money…

Here we go! The New Budget:

  • Auto & Transport $120 (same)
  • Groceries $500 (-$50)
  • Fast Food $65 (same)
  • Restaurant $60 (-$5)
  • Home Supplies $70 (-$30)
  • Cash $80 (-$40)
  • Fun Fund $100 (-$100)

Total decrease in variable expenses: -$225

Add that to the $1,112 I was contributing extra to Sallie Mae, and now I can put a total of $1337 extra to the student loans on my current salary!

So what do your budgets look like compared to mine? Are there any stores that are black holes for your wallet, or any categories you can trim the fat off of?

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