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.
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).
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.
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.
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|
|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?