Sunday, April 24, 2011

The X List

Man, that was a rough couple of weeks.  Stressful workloads, rejection letters, dismal weather, car repairs, and a serious case of spring fever.  Please accept our warm apologies for the "blog silence."

So I was going to pull concrete numbers for our February, March, and April budgets.   Easier said than done.  How can such a simple budget money in vs. money out be so complicated?!  

I blame it on Mike's new income from the GI Bill.  This often happens when our budget changes drastically our financial bearing goes a little loopy for a few months before things get righted.  These didn't help either:
  • The dentist ended up costing $450.
  • In March, we overpaid on tax filing.  Goodbye $400.
  • In April, we paid off what we owed the government.  Sayonara $600.
  • An unwelcomed 5th credit card joined the family.  Thanks emergency brake repairs that cost $900.  
  • We bought our bikes on credit.  At the rate we could save for them, we wouldn't get them until Christmas.
  • Gas jumped up to $3.69 and will only continue to get higher.

What this adds up to is nowhere.  Any extra money we got from the GI Bill has been sucked up in the vortex known as "when we get some more money, we will take care of X."  

We all have our X List.  X is something that really shouldn't be on the back burner, but you don't feel like you have a choice otherwise.  Car or home repairs, lurking bills, routine medical necessities all overdue in some way.  The problem with X is that you're only delaying the inevitable.  But sometimes you just don't have a choice and things wait.

We have several X's left on our list:
  • General health checkup for the lady of the house
    • Plus annual exam 
  • Good head start on a savings account, $500+ 
  • Ball joint work on the truck
  • Vet checkups for the beasties
  • Patio furniture
  • A container garden
  • A gas grill 
  • A new vacuum 
  • A new printer
This isn't a hideous list, but we must plan for it carefully.  While the GI Bill adds $1776 to our monthly income, $750 automatically goes toward rent.  Then add $150 to our grocery/supply bill to give it some breathing room.   

That really only leaves an extra $700 a month.  Helpful, but definitely not a miracle fix for our budget needs.

I'm glad I have the day off tomorrow.  I'm actually looking forward to approaching our budget under new circumstances.  Hopefully we'll find some more efficient ways of tackling our goals.

Question of the Day: What's on your X List?

Friday, April 8, 2011

How a Government Shutdown Affects Us

Hopefully as you know, our government is headed for a shutdown.  This is the result of several budget impasses, some of which started last year.

I’m not going to get political here much except to say we’re registered Independents for a reason.  Neither party represents their constituents, and traits like cooperation, reasoning, compromise, and respect flew the coop a long time ago.
Some individuals have been calling for a government shutdown.  They think this will prove some point about how little we actually need government services.
Here’s the thing though. Take away all of the finger pointing, blaming, toxic rhetoric, and party alliances. 
This ideological battle hurts real people. 
Let me tell you how this hurts us personally.
·       We are a military family.  60% of our monthly income comes from the government.  This will simply cease to come in.  No GI Bill, no drill pay. That’s over $2,000 that will be eliminated from our budget.  How well do you think you could cope if, on short notice, that amount of money disappeared from your budget? 

·       Not only does pay stop, but military employment stops.  Should this thing drag into next month, Mike will have no drill.  This means no employment, no pay.  That’s $350 that won’t be earned, can’t be recovered.

·       The VA system of hospitals and clients is federally funded.  Mike receives monthly services through them.  These too will be put on hold.  No medical care, no appointments, no prescriptions.

This whole thing puts our ability to pay rent and bills, purchase groceries, or get gas in jeopardy.  I’m not exaggerating or being alarmist.  We don’t have $2,000 in a savings account to patch us through.  We don’t even have $200. 
The funny thing is, we don’t even have it that bad.  We have friends who are deployed right now, work full time on active duty, or need intensive medical care. 
Military families, not to mentioned thousands of federal workers, depend on their government income.  Just like you depend on your employer’s salary.  It’s no different, except I doubt very much your business is going to go belly-up and suddenly not pay you.
It’s supremely stressful right now, knowing that we could be in real financial trouble through no fault of our own.  How do you approach a landlord, for example, and explain you can’t pay rent because the government didn’t pay you?  I can’t imagine them being very sympathetic.  
The budget has to be decided by midnight tonight or it will close its doors.  I am very thankfully that Mike’s GI payment came in yesterday.  So we are mostly covered this month. 
When he receives his drill pay is another question.  If his GI Bill comes in next month is also up in the air.  Who knows if he’ll have drill next month.  
We’re not magicians.  We can’t make money appear out of thin air.

I’m hoping our representatives can come to an arrangement tonight.  I really do.  I just wanted to share, in a concrete way, how political actions have real consequences.  

Saturday, April 2, 2011

My Utility Bill Needs Help!

As I was paying my bills this morning, I started digging around my utility bill.  The winter months have averaged $135 while the summer bills were around $100.  I have been questioning lately whether this is an appropriate amount for 2 people in a 900 sqf condo (built in 2008).  I found a great chart online of our energy usage and costs since we moved in.

Read Date Total Usage
Days Billing
Average Cost
per Day
Average Use
per Day
03/11 1,088 $138.29 30 $4.61 36.27
02/11 1,052 $134.83 29 $4.65 36.28
01/11 1,110 $142.70 34 $4.20 32.65
12/10 703 $97.99 32 $3.06 21.97
11/10 620 $86.42 29 $2.98 21.38
10/10 630 $92.92 29 $3.20 21.72
09/10 709 $119.71 30 $3.99 23.63
08/10 827 $141.67 32 $4.43 25.84
07/10 638 $106.56 30 $3.55 21.27
06/10 473 $71.56 32 $2.24 14.78
10 Period Total 7,850 $1,132.65

I found this really informative.  We spend around $4 a day on electricity.  Wow.  What really blew me away is the total.  Over a grand shelled out for energy in 10 months.

I have no idea how these stacks up to other condo/apartment dwellers.  If I were feeling ambitious, I'd dig out our records for our other rentals and compare.  All I know is the year we lived in a Victorian house, we had bills in the winter that were over $500.  Yeah, we cried a lot over that. 

I think what's important here is that our energy usage tends to remain constant for 3 months at a time, correlating to the time of season.  What that means is that there are opportunities to decrease that amount.

Our energy usage in terms of appliances looks like this:
  • Mike is at home all day, so obviously he has to use energy whereas other couples leave for 8 hours and that's it.  However, he's only using the computer and is good about keeping lights off and such.  He also tends to do laundry and run the dishwasher. 
  • At night, I'm kind of a nazi about flipping off light switches.  As foodies, we probably use our oven way more than other people do so that probably makes a difference.  There's also the TV/DVD player for movie watching. 
  • Constants: fridge, water heater, furnace, and for all intents and purposes, the computer.
My job has given me an enhanced understanding of energy and utility rates.  So I decided to look up what are Alliant Energy's peak hours.  Peak hours are a fun rating system by the utility company.  They charge up to 50% higher for energy used during these hours.  It varies around the country, just like utility rates, but these typically cover the afternoon hours / the hottest parts of the day.  Do you know what mine actually are?

7am-8pm. (Alliant Energy)


That's crazy.  Here I was thinking of putting cute signs on the dish washer and washing machine saying "don't use me between 12-4pm."  Just kidding.

This changes things considerably.  Obviously it's impossible to not use any energy during these hours.  And I'm not fond of keeping European eating hours.

To save energy, these is going to require a shift in activities.  I think the easiest and most effective change is to simply not run the dish washer and washing machine/dryer during the week (or before 8pm).  Luckily, off-peak hours include the entire weekend so that's easy enough to just save those tasks for then.  Once the weather is better, I also plan on making our patio a drying rack so that should help too.

I doubt we can adjust our cooking habits and Mike needs the computer during the day for school work and job hunting.  Perhaps we can come up with a plan to decrease the amount of hours the computer is actually on though. 

We'll give this a try starting from here on out and see if it makes a difference.  Will let you know! 

Question of the Day: How does your energy bill/usage compare?  How do you save money on your utility bill?