In part 2, I mentioned that I'm "productively lazy," and prefer to automate what I can. Well, I've managed to do that with my finances.
My husband finally got officially hired by his work, which converted him to salary. This gave us two benefits -- 1. his income is no longer locked to his hours, so the paychecks are the same, and 2. he and I are now on the same pay schedule (which makes for a really pretty number on payday).
The synchronized paychecks is a bit of a mixed blessing. On the positive side, it makes my calculation for the monthly budget that much easier. It was a pain in the ass to calculate how much had to be allocated from which check, when one came every week and the other twice monthly. I got it, but it was cumbersome, and I had to account for my husband taking a day off (the most common time off use case for us). On the negative side...I lose the nice little smoothing effect a weekly paycheck allowed. Having a weekly paycheck allowed for grocery expenses to be pulled from it, for example. That's been the biggest adjustment for me, and I'll be honest, it's been surprisingly tough.
It does greatly simplify my allocations, though. Instead of having to calculate how much comes from which check and setting up a bunch of transactions with different cadences, monthly allocations are simply divided by 2 and assigned to wherever they need to go with just a couple of monthly recurring transactions.
This also makes the vast majority of the bill paying a fair bit simpler. Since half of the money is available on the 1st and 16th of every month, I know which bills can get paid with each cycle. From there, it's a matter of setting up my account to pay the bills at the correct time.
This is where things get a bit tricky, because now we have to deal with the bills and the technical systems between them and my bank, as well as the fact that some of the bills are on mandatory autopay via the company the subscription is through.
Push Me, Pull You
Personally, I'd prefer it if all of the commands to pay bills were originating from my bank. A "push" system, as opposed to a "pull" system, if you will. I like it this way, because then I can see all of the past and upcoming transactions in one location.
Unfortunately, reality doesn't allow for that. Some require autopay via the biller, while for others, if I want autopay, I have to do it through the bank, and still others don't really have a sane way to handle autopay at all (variable amount bill + no digital billing system). Likewise, some things can do e-billing into my bank, while others won't, and in one case, it says it does, but doesn't actually work (which I wouldn't care so much about, except for the fact that it's a variable amount bill).
The result is that some originate from the bank, while others originate from the billing company, and a couple need paid manually. Far from perfect, but a step in the right direction. This is where the spreadsheet I created when I first started comes in handy. I set it up with some creative conditional formatting to color differently depending on if the note has "autopay via bank" or "autopay via merchant." Bank ones have their due dates changed to a pale green, merchant ones to completely gray, and the couple of remaining oddballs retain the old rotating color highlight.
Fully Automating The Bucket-Filling
I already had some of this in place before, but with the synchronized and salary paychecks, I can automate the entirety of all the allocations, which is nice. It means that I don't have to think about moving more money, based on how much we actually got in the paycheck, and whatever's left after the allocations go through is the amount left for food, gas, and miscellaneous expenses for the cycle.
Now I just need to reign in the expenses that have been expanding since the pocketbook has been able to open... (We'll come back to that in a minute.)
Meeting (And Exceeding) Goals With The Power Of Automation
I'm now up to 10% allocation for both my Giving and my Savings bucket (yay!).
This has been tremendously great news for my life goal of "giving back," where it has allowed me to donate to The Trevor Project, back several Kickstarter projects (including being the difference between funding and not for a women of color owned shirt project), and even help out my mother-in-law (who found herself unemployed for what amounts to taking too much time off to care for her dad who nearly died last fall; clearly getting asshole managers runs in the family).
For my savings, it's been a bit more mixed. I've been successful at saving, but I've had to actually make use of it for its currently-intended purpose – as a buffer for when I run short of cash, as well as for rare fun stuff (like...you know...a real, bona fide vacation).
On the positive side, I've been able to keep enough in it that paying the other half of the vacation cabin fee was a non-issue (the same goes for the budget/spending adjustment from the change in pay schedule). On the negative side, my savings account balance isn't where I'd really like it to be (a month or more worth of expenses), even though it could have been. This has pushed my investment plans back a little more than I'd have liked, but we got to spend a much-needed and well-earned week in the Smoky Mountains. I'll take living life over hoarding money any day.
I have a love-hate relationship with Wave. I love the charts and the overall user experience, but I don't love the fact that it still doesn't properly pick up the transfers between accounts. Having to go back through and find the dropped transactions in a double-entry system is...painful. However, I still need to be able to revisit the overview, so that I can pinpoint exactly where the money leaks are and address them accordingly (when your cash flow calculations say you should have somewhere in the ballpark of $1,000 extra each month and you don't, you tend to want to know where that money is going). It's kind of hard to do that when you've all but abandoned it because of those little annoyances, then all of your accounts are out of whack when you come back to it, so all the budgets are messed up and the whole thing ends up meaningless.
Time For A Fresh Start
As much as I like Wave otherwise, I decided it was time to see what else was on the market. When looking for new software, I really only had two make-or-break requirements:
- It has to have transaction categorization and "ten thousand foot view"
- It has to be able to properly sync with my bank
From there, it'd be nice if it were free, since I don't use it frequently enough to warrant a paid subscription, though I was willing to compromise and pay a small fee (ideally $5/mo) if that's what was required to get what I'm looking for.
And...I found it and more, though not in a way I entirely expected. I happened across an app called Personal Capital, which I actually dismissed the first time I looked at it, but after taking a second look and ultimately signing up to try it out, I immediately fell in love.
Unlike most of the other personal finance software out there, Personal Capital is designed to show you your net worth. You link up all your accounts (and ideally, I do mean all), and it assesses them all and gives you your net worth, then provides you with tools to increase that number. It's all really cool.
The catch, though, is that it doesn't really do everyday budgeting (you can do long-term stuff, like retirement savings or saving for a big purchase, though). It does provide that high-level view of categorized spending that I was looking for, though, which is exactly what I was looking for. And it does a damn good job at properly categorizing things (well, except for Turkey Hill purchases, but I blame that on bad data; Turkey Hill's transaction label is so off the wall that it even took me a minute to figure out what it was). And it displays pretty circle and line charts to boot, and the categories on both the list and the circle chart are clickable and will filter the transactions by that category; major props to the UI/UX team).
Best of all, this part is free. They make their money doing personalized financial planning and asset management for people with $100k+ net worth.
It gave me that much-needed overview of the finances, giving me hard numbers about what I already expecteed—we're eating out way too damn much right now. Between that and picking up various smaller quality of life improvements, it became very evident where that extra money was going.
Finally, Quick Update On Debt Payment
Now that it's taken me nearly four months to write this, I'll have one last section before I wrap this post up -- an update on my debt payoff plan. I just updated that plan, in fact, now that I've mostly settled into the new pay cadence, since my old calculations weren't really matching reality.
While I could be doing better, I'm doing rather well. Granted, if I were left on my own, to my own devices, I'd have probably been far more aggressive and would be farther than I am, but with a family, I have to balance life in general. That meant getting a new refigerator and a much-needed window replacement. Despite both going on credit, I consider them both worthy investments that will help in the long run.
Alright, I know what you might be thinking—why in the world would I buy a new fridge when my old one still worked? Well, the better description was that it functioned. You see, it was one of those cheap 28" side-by-sides. If you've ever had them and tried to use them for a family, you probably know they suck. Neither side is wide enough to fit much of anything, so everything gets stacked front-to-back, resulting in food that was frequently lost and forgotten about and ultimately gone to waste.
I hate wasting food.
So, when our microwave died and we ended up at ApplianceSmart to get a new one, we opted to get a fridge, too. We already have their credit card, and they basically have an ongoing "same as cash" deal with it. I knew I could have it paid off well before the promotional period, so it was also a good opportunity to rebuild the credit score a bit. Wins all around.
As for the windows...well...let's just say the air conditioner was thanking us before the job was even completed.
Back On Track
So, while I may have technically incurred more debt, I had paid off one card at the beginning of the year, I'll have the fridge paid off by November (or sooner if I get fed up with it and dip into savings to drop it off, since I hate having balances under about $1,500 for any length of time), dropped something like $3,000 off the otherwise last remaining credit card, and several thousand off my car.
That last credit card will be the roughest of all my debts, since it's a credit card and therefore has a credit card's interest rate. So once that's dealt with, I should start seeing bigger dents in the other stuff, even if their balances are higher. If I can reign in the extra spending a bit, I can even accelerate that, since I'm not putting in nearly what I could be for the snowball effort.