Category Archives: Budget

We Switched Spousal Duties. Here’s What Happened

At the beginning of this month, Lauren took over control of the budget. We didn’t change any of our expected expenses or change the allocation of funds to our various budget categories, but she was going to be in charge of staying on top of our finances and making sure we stayed on track. This has traditionally been my responsibility, and since I am obviously a big fan of personal finances, there hasn’t been much that Lauren needs to do. Typically, I’ll let her know if we’re spending an unusual amount in one category, or if we’re doing particularly well in another.

cliff jumping

Lauren Dives In

On the first of the month, I gave Lauren some guidelines and gave her an opportunity to ask questions. I showed her what I typically do (check Mint.com), and how our finances are run. Nearly everything is automated, from our credit card bills to our utilities. The only thing that isn’t is our cable bill (because at some point, prices will rise and I want to be aware of it instead of paying it automatically.

Since everything runs so smoothly, there really isn’t any manual action she needed to take. But every few days, I’d ask how we were doing and if there was anything we needed to change. The only out-of-the-ordinary expense we had was paying our car insurance bill, which happens once every six months. Everything else has been stable, and Lauren let me know that we’re under budget in our food category for the month, so we’ll likely go out before the end of the month to celebrate our recent success.

I Took Over Her Duties

This month was actually a very exciting month for us, as I got a new job! It’s in the same industry, but with a company that gives me more opportunities for growth and a shorter commute (among other fantastic benefits). As a result, I had a full week off to do whatever I wanted. And as it happened, Lauren started an externship the same week, so I was in charge of everything around the house. Of course, I did make some time to have a little fun, as you can see in the picture above. But in the afternoon, I would prepare dinner and clean up the way Lauren usually does before I get home from work. It was definitely a change from my normal pace, but it wasn’t all bad.

The Lessons We Learned

I learned that Lauren is much faster at cleaning the house and making dinner. It took me forever to chop up vegetables and prepare everything, so I am glad that she has perfected the kitchen. If it were my responsibility, we likely wouldn’t eat until 9pm on a regular night. But I must say I did a great job cooking and hosting a few friends on Friday night!

Lauren got a little more experience with our finances and a better idea of what all of our commitments are and how they affect the amount we’re able to save each month. I kind of treat it as a game to see how much we can have left over, whereas Lauren needs to pay for the things we need around the house. I think as she got more experience seeing just how quickly expenses add up, that how we prioritize our spending goes a long way toward achieving our financial goals

Have you ever switched responsibilities with your spouse?

3 Things We Pay For That Prove We’ve Become Lazy Americans

Back when my parents were kids, budgeting was pretty simple. You needed to set aside money every month for shelter, food, and transportation (maybe – a lot of families still didn’t have a car, or two, when my parents were children). Life was simpler then, so it seems like because of all the new technology we have, we’re considered lazy Americans.

Our grandparents’ generation didn’t have to worry about paying the cable or cell phone bill, expensive gym memberships, and many of the other luxuries we’ve come to incorporate – without a second thought – into today’s monthly budgets.

But even today, there are certain things that people budget for that they don’t really need, and, more to the point, for things they can do themselves. Not only are these things evidence that Americans are prone to throwing money, but it’s also tangible proof that many of us have become lazy Americans.

Housecleaning Services

I don’t employ a housecleaning service myself, but I know plenty of people who think this is a crucial part of their monthly budget. Some pay per visit, others pay per hour, others a flat monthly fee for a cleaning company to come in their house on a regular basis. One of my closest friend’s spends $150 a month on housecleaning services.

Here’s my beef with that: unless you’re working 80 hours a week, you have the time to clean your own house. Yes, you’ll have to shell out a little cash to purchase cleaning supplies, but otherwise, this is something you can do basically for free. If my friend were to put that $150 back in his monthly budget, he’d have an additional $1800 a year to put into his 401(k) – an account to which, by his own admission, he rarely contributes.

Changing Your Own Oil

“But this is too difficult!” you’re probably saying. It may not be the cleanest job you’ll do, but it’s not an overly complicated process. The only cost is the motor fuel. – Your local garage is really overcharging you for this!

Last year, I changed the oil in my car four times. At $35 a pop – including all taxes, fees, etc. – it came out to $140 to pay someone else for something I could do on my own.

And even if you’re not willing to take on the task of changing your own oil, at least take a look at your vehicle’s owner’s manual. You may be surprised to read that your car’s manufacturer recommends changing the oil every 5,000-7,500 miles, rather than the 3,000 miles suggested by most mechanics.

Lawn Care

Drive out to the suburbs, and you’ll see neighborhood after neighborhood of perfectly manicured lawns – and in front of a lot of those lawns, you’ll see a company’s truck. Lawn care services vary from region to region, depending on the terrain, topography, size, and condition of the property in question.

I know people who pay the neighbor’s kid $10 to mow the lawn each Sunday; I also know people who pay a company $25 to mow the lawn once a week (some homeowners pay professional lawn care companies as much as $41.87 per mow – via LawnStarter Los Angeles), then spend even more on add-on services like fertilizing, trimming and edging, and aerating the yard. When you break it all down, these folks are paying thousands of dollars a year for something they could do themselves.

Maybe you don’t own a lawnmower, though, and you think you’re actually saving money by paying something to do your lawn care – after all, if you only have to pay that neighbor kid $10 a pop, it might seem like a deal. But consider this: a self-propelled (aka, push) lawnmower starts at under $100; you can get a cheap walk-behind for under $200. With the typical growing season lasting about six months (that’s 26 weeks), you could pay for a nice mower by the end of the summer for what you’d pay the kid down the street.

Are there any places in your monthly budget where you’re paying for services you could do yourself?

Do You Make Monthly Payments or Lump Sum Payments?

Many personal finance bloggers encourage readers to set up automatic monthly payments. This results in fewer missed payments, fees, and maybe most important, it ensures that we’re making progress on our debt payments. If we commit to paying extra on our student loans, an automatic payment is great because it happens without us being actively involved, so we are less likely to miss that money.

This year, we’ve been doing the exact opposite. Since January, we’ve made student loan payments of $7,000, $16,000, and $10,000. We’ve also contributed 4 payments of $5,000 to our Roth IRAs and my individual 401(k) accounts. That’s a lot of lump sum payments!

Our monthly bills like rent utilities are automated, but our retirement and debt repayments are not.

Why We Make Lump Sum Payments

I’ve gone through a ton of life events over the past year, which has made automating our bills seem like a bad idea: I am paid a salary but most of my compensation from work comes from commission, so scheduling payments monthly doesn’t make much sense.

I also am running a small business with blogging and other online ventures, so projecting my income is even more difficult. The amount I’m allowed to contribute depends on how much I make, so every time I hit a big milestone in income, I contribute more to our retirement accounts.

Why do we let our checking and saving accounts get so big before making payments? Part of it has been because we’ve been lazy, but a big part of it is because parting with our money is difficult. We worked hard for it and now we have to give it away?

Readers, do you make monthly payments towards your debt and retirement accounts or do you wait and make large payments?