Let’s just start by saying that having pets isn’t a frugal endeavor. One of our dogs, who is only 7.5 years old, has heart problems that landed her in the emergency vet overnight back in August. Against the odds, she’s doing *mostly* better, though on twice a day medication for life, which by themselves aren’t cheap, but we also had her follow up cardiology appointment in March, which cost $545 by itself. Hence, between that appointment and her daily medications, March was already shaping up to be an expensive month.

Bi-Weekly Versus Twice A Month

We both get paid bi-weekly, which means two months out of the year we receive three paychecks instead of our normal two. I know people budget all different ways, but for us, it works best to pretend those two extra paychecks a year simply don’t exist, and then use them as “bonus” money when they do happen.

March was one of those three paycheck month for both of us (instead of our standard two), so we had a lot more money than normal to work with. The last time we had an extra paycheck month was back in September when we were hemorrhaging money, and we couldn’t even tell we had any money coming in because it all had to go right back out again in order to pay bills and unexpected expenses.

This time around, it couldn’t be more different. The vet bill was large, but expected. My husband also purchased a number of tools, but ones he’d been eyeing for a while, and he bought them in March as well thanks to a sale that meant the large ticket items were purchased for considerably less than full price.

Helping daddy with house projects

Since my husband is a construction worker, he deals with subpar tools all the time (either cheap brands or used ones that have been treated poorly), so other than the occasional garage sale buy, most of his tools are bought new. While this may not be the cheapest way to go, he does any maintenance and remodel work on our home by himself, and his tools are really his most expensive “hobby.”

As someone whose gardening hobby started out quite expensive and is only now frugal thanks to years of set up, I see the tools in our garage much the same way. And regardless, we do have some separate accounts so our discretionary spending is very personal. I know most people fully combine their finances after marriage, but it’s worked well for us to have separate fun money accounts, and I credit that fact as the reason why we don’t ever fight about money.

No Spend Days

We had twelve no spend days in March, which is tied for our best month ever since I started tracking them back in November. Not quite at 50% yet, but it will happen eventually. While this tracking may not work for everyone, paying attention to no spend days has been key for me to be mindful about our non essential purchases (and essential ones, when it comes to groceries).

Vacations

The only time we went out of town overnight in March was the very first weekend, so the lodging was paid for at the every end of February, making this month an artificially low month for vacation spending. We also took a day trip out to Whidbey Island, but since we didn’t stay overnight, the only costs were gas, the ferry, and some food.

Lucked out and had gorgeous weather in March

Because we knew March would be a more expensive month for other reasons, we kept this category lower than normal. The great thing about building in a good chunk of discretionary expenses into your monthly spending is that it’s easier to be flexible when a month has higher non negotiable expenses. Of course, this only works because these discretionary costs are vacation and restaurant/grocery spending, not fixed costs like new cars and electronics. This is reflected in our lowest spending in both of these categories since we started tracking.

Miscellaneous Category

This category was crazy high in March, but since the expenses here (like the occasional tool purchase) aren’t regular events, I’ve decided not to break them out into further categories. We also threw a going away party for some friends, and while we did host it at our house with homemade food, the cost would have artificially inflated our regular grocery spending, so I put that into the “miscellaneous” category. I also picked up a pair of gardening gloves and a trowel for our son, which are really more toys than a gardening expense, at least in my opinion.

March 2018 Spending (Excludes mortgage + daycare)

January 2018 February 2018 March 2018
Groceries $462.37 $491.07 $497.53
Restaurants $406.95 $440.00 $243.63
Fast Food $19.48 $5.72 $80.34
Gym $17.84 $17.84 $17.84
Gas $110.10 $120.23 $262.00
Car/Transit $28.11 $166.00 $60.00
Utilities $218.01 $370.27 $223.99
Pet Care $228.28 $209.95 $769.90
Vacations $588.69 $274.65 $129.51
Miscellaneous $53.00 $256.28 $823.58
Total $2,132.83 $2,352.01 $3,108.32
Savings Rate 53% 51% 61%
Excluding Mortgage Principal 47% 45% 57%

Where our savings has gone:

1. Continuing to pad out our emergency fund. While we have enough for a few months of expenses, I’ve decided to bulk this up over time. This is a slow moving goal because I have better places to throw most of our savings, but I’ll chip at it over time. I said last month that I would finally set up an online savings only account to get actual interest on this money, but I haven’t done it yet. Oops. Neither has Young FIRE Knight though, so at least I’m in good (procrastinator) company.

2. We paid off our real estate investment!!! We had $1,610.45 left to go at the end of February, and I paid it off with the first paycheck we received in March. This was a high interest loan (but higher return), so I’m glad to see it fully paid off. We also received a quarterly check from that investment in March, and it was so awesome not to have to turn right around and write a check back toward the balance. From here on out, this is a 100% passive income stream.

3. A bit more into my IRA. Another goal for this coming month is to set up an IRA for my husband with an auto transfer. He does really well when savings is automatic for him (the last few raises he’s gotten have gone straight into savings this way). Now that the real estate stuff is paid off, I’ll be focusing on maxing out our IRAs until we have another opportunity to invest. I really like having diversified accounts as an extra level of security.

Big Incomes, Big Savings Rates

March, with its three paychecks, made me really aware of the power of big incomes when it comes to the ability to put away huge percentages of an income to savings and investments. While I’ve seen the danger of lifestyle inflation and how easy it is to spend those raises away, if you can keep that in check, a larger income can be a huge shovel to ramping up that savings rate. Even with a month with much higher than our (new) normal for expenses, our savings rate shot up well past our previous best.

It’s frustrating sometimes realizing that we will never hit that 70-80-90%+ savings rates that you read about with the really early retirees, but the fact of the matter is that we bring in much more modest incomes than they do, and there is only so far you can cut on the expense side versus how much you can make on the income side.

However, while I could go back to full time hours to increase our savings rate, my goal is to live our best lives we can now, without sacrificing our future financial security, and that means no more hours at work for me. Balance is an extremely important thing, and I would rather it take us twice as long to reach financial independence if it means our weeks along the way are pretty darn good, rather than putting our heads down and sprinting to the finish line. And yes, I do have to remind myself of that regularly when I think about how much money I’m leaving on the table. But how much life would I be leaving on the table otherwise?

54 thoughts on “Monthly Financial Update: March 2018

  1. My husband gets an extra paycheck during some months as well due to his pay schedule. Messes me all up.

  2. I agree with you on the high saving rates. That’s why I don’t share mine , only whether I reached my minimum goal or not, beyond that I feel it wouldn’t be fair to my readers since I managed to obtain a fairly decent paying job after so many years working:)
    The miscellaneous and pet expenses are good to track for a while because you come to realize, there is always something! So better plan for it in your FI plan.

    1. That’s very true. There is always something! But it varies enough that I feel there isn’t a good standard category to use month to month. Except for pet care, because that’s a regular big expense these days.

  3. I love bonus months!! My husband and I are both paid biweekly too and we don’t count that extra income either so it’s a nice bit extra to stash away when it comes.

    I also agree with you on the ‘fun accounts’. We keep our own separate accounts after all the bills are paid and savings rates are met. My husband works in IT and is a self described computer nerd, which can be an expensive hobby. Mine are gardening and DIY projects. It’s our own money and how we enjoy our downtime so it’s great to keep that separate.

    1. It’s interesting how much pushback I get sometimes for those separate accounts. Yes, it’s all technically “our money” since we live in a community property state, but it works well for us!

  4. Hi,
    Oh I’m so sorry to hear about your dog! WOW it sounds very complicated with bi-weekly pay but I still remember when I got paid weekly! It soons becomes the norm!
    WOW 12 no spend days is really good and 61% in an awesome savings rate.

    LMF x

    1. She’s doing really well these days, but it was pretty scary for a few months there. Seems to have settled down for now, and she has more energy than she’s had in a LONG time.

  5. Good work on the month and I agree with you on pets. I had some nasty vet bills when we first got our Blue Heeler as she got hit with a hard to diagnose auto-immune disease. Look back at this list in one week and see how you feel about it, be hard on yourself in at least one category and see if you can improve your efforts there for April.

    1. Not cheap, but they are so worth it. And I like the idea of looking back at this and really focusing on just one category. I’ll do just that.

  6. Congrats on the high savings rate! Love those months with the 3rd paycheck!

    Let’s give ourselves a mulligan on the set up an online bank account since I didn’t do that either 🙈 Because I’m going abroad in a few days I didn’t want to switch things up in case of some unforeseen issue. Now shooting to get it done in May!

    1. Ha! You were exactly who I was writing to with that note about the online savings account. Going back and tagging you so we can be accountable and do it this month 🙈

      1. I’m gone the second half of May, so it definitely won’t happen for me then haha.

      2. Bahaha, Angela, too bad you’re not actually coming to DC when you’re “gone” the second half of May because both of you could’ve sat down together and opened up online savings accounts at the same time 😂

  7. You may not have a 70, 80 or 90% savings rate but you’re doing great! I don’t feel a super high savings rate means anything if you’re unhappy. I’m assuming those that hit it are happy but my point is you have work/life balance, career, home life and community involvement you’re happy with.

    All that has to be worth more than working a bit more to shave off a year off being sustained by passive income. Especially since that’s not your only goal.

    1. That’s very true, and exactly what I try and tell myself when I find I’m comparing our situation with others. There is so much more to life than just earning and saving money.

  8. I love that comment about how much life would you be leaving on the table? Definitely feel like I’m sometimes trying to sprint to the finish line. Have to remind myself it’s a marathon most days so I don’t get winded out before the end!

    1. So easy to get wrapped up in the day to day chase of “more.” Not something I’ve always been good at, but I’m working hard on relaxing the reins a little and enjoying the day to day.

  9. what is your real estate investment? i was reading last year looking for details but couldn’t figure it out. dogs are expensive. ours came adopted with mild fear aggression (not good for a strong breed like a boxer) so that was a training course and about a year of socialization/daycare at the training place. must have cost us 1500 by the end but he ended up in a very calm and balanced state with no issue. don’t we all deserve a calm and balanced state of mind? mrs. me didn’t work for most of the past year but if you do the right things ahead of these events they will far from ruin your life. i liked having her around more. are you doing roth ira’s or traditional?

    1. It’s a small portion of a larger property. As minority investors, we don’t have a say in the day to day, so it really is a passive investment for us 🙂 Dogs can certainly get expensive, but very worth owning, in my opinion. Glad you got yours the training. I’d agree that was well worth the cost.

      1. Nope, though hopefully we’ll have a 401k option sometime this year.

  10. I love the last paragraph! Balance IS an extremely important thing.

    In our house we both get paid biweekly (on different weeks!) so FOUR months a year we get an extra check. We don’t include those in our budget either. They’re a nice little bonus 🙂

    1. I love treating them like a bonus 🙂 And I may not be perfect at the whole balance thing, but at least I’m trying!

  11. I love receiving that third paycheck too in one month. We get paid bi-weekly as well and it’s like getting a bonus income because we feel accustomed to get two a month.
    Getting a work/life balance is really important for your happiness and health. I’m the same, would rather be slow and steady to achieve FI and have a great work/life balance rather than sprint to get to that number but feel miserable by having spending way more time at work than at home.

    1. Woo hoo, May will feel awesome for you then! And not comparing to others is definitely a work in progress, but something I’m certainly mindful of.

  12. Yeah, you are doing amazing Angela, rocking a perfect work life balance, cute son and a high savings rate! Pets can be expensive, but I don’t begrudge them a penny.

    And this getting paid fortnightly thing seems really alien to me…….here people get paid monthly or weekly usually. But nothing like a good bonus paycheck!

    1. I know a few people who get paid weekly, and almost no one who gets paid monthly. Interesting how even that sort of thing varies by country.

  13. There’s no shame in not being able to hit a 70 – 90% savings rate. I consider that level to be the extreme outlier, sort of like comparing a “regular” NBA player to Michael Jordan. The regular NBA guy is still damn good, everyone can’t be Michael Jordan. You guys are still crushing it.

  14. I love the 2 months with an extra check. Not only do I get 3 checks those months, but there are fewer deductions as well. Can’t wait for June and December this year. 🙂

  15. Yay you are crushing it, especially with paying off the real estate investment! Also I think you’re crushing it so if you don’t think so because you’re not saving an unattainable 80% that means *I’m* definitely not doing well. And most of the time I can convince myself that I am doing well. So you most definitely are 😉

    I didn’t know you two keep separate fun money accounts, but I kind of love that approach. Everything is your joint money in your partnership, but it’s also nice to be able to spend a bit on fun things without having to ask the other person for permission. I definitely see how that would reduce money fights (because I’m sure those happen even when you’re both on the same page!).

    And haha I don’t know what’s up with March and a 57% savings rate, but that was mine too 😂

    1. Wouldn’t it be incredible if our paychecks looked like that all the time?!? And yeah, joint and separate accounts are lifesaving. My parents actually do something similar, so it felt normal for me I guess.

  16. So many great points to digest in this post. I am jealous of your no spend days. We are lucky if we have one per month. I really like how you have laid out your expenses(spending) in a way to visualize a trend. I need to do this. I’m so bad with a budget. Great post. Thanks for sharing. It is inspiring.

    1. One per month was probably our average pre November. It’s something I have to seriously work at, or little expenses happen constantly.

  17. Don’t compare your savings rate to others! Comparing yourself to others is always a losing habit. Stay focused, positive, and motivated.

    1. Very very true. But human nature is a strong thing and I have to keep reminding myself of it 🙂

  18. I can really appreciate your husband’s love of quality tools. It’s a small hobby of mine too – but also a necessity for rental maintenance.

    Thanks for posting these, Angela. I feel like I should consider more financial updates on my blog – but need a kick in the pants to get on it!

    1. The idea of a tool library is great, but it doesn’t work quite as well when you’re using them all the time 🙂 I’ve committed to posting them, and I’m glad for it, or I’d let tracking slip because it is a lot of work to keep up.

  19. I definitely feel you on the pet expenses…

    Our family dog got into the homemade chocolate chip cookie container last Christmas, and ate ALL the cookies…His stomach expanded so much that we actually thought it would pop! We had to rush him to the vet so that they could force him to vomit all the cookies up. I think after all the injections/shots they had to give him, our final bill came close to $1,000…

    That was the most expensive batch of chocolate chip cookies EVER.

  20. Love the point about work life balance and choosing not to work more. My husband has mandatory overtime hours that are really great for padding the savings but pretty brutal when the kids are crying because he has to work yet another weekend. If I had to choose, I’d choose less money but to have him home more. Changing jobs isn’t really an option at this point so we just have to take the consolation prize of the extra money. Also, love tracking how many “no spend days” you have. We try to make our total spending lower than it was the month before but no spend days are another “fun” metric (if you’re a PF nerd 😁)

    1. Yeah, my husband has worked A LOT this past year and it’s been rough on our little guy. I will pretty much always choose time over money these days (though that’s only because we have a good stable income and aren’t hurting for extra). And yes, tracking no spend days is a fun metric 🙂

  21. Great month! Work life balance is so important. I know if I went back to work full time or we cut back on travel, we could hit our FI number sooner but it would be some super stressful years. I’m with you. I’d rather enjoy the journey knowing we’ll get there eventually. My current schedule is sustainable long term to the point that I may continue working very part time once we hit FI. The extra security is nice and knowing I won’t burn out like so many others in high stress jobs. I am so impressed with your grocery bill too. There are months I blow way past my budget. Frustrating!

    1. Both those things (full time or cut back on travel) are the big ones impacting our FI date, but both of those are too important to give up. And you can tell you live in a HCOL area when you think my grocery budget is awesome 😉

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