Apparently these days we either have a really great month or a not so good month where our savings rate is concerned because in between hasn’t happened for some time now. And since August was by far the best month of the year for our finances, September had to be one of the pricer ones, and without the buffer of a three paycheck month to smooth out the ride. Still, I’m tracking overall for the year, and things are looking a whole lot better than last fall when we had to use our emergency fund.

Any time I’m frustrated with our spending this year, I have to remind myself to re-read my words from just one year ago to keep my annoyance in check; our worst month this year is still better than the average for all of previous years. And when we are spending more money on certain things this year, I can’t draw out any big expense to regret, so I guess we’re doing it right. I just can’t help but always wanting to do better no matter the life circumstance.

Increasing recurring expenses

To begin with, some of the increased costs we dealt with in September were outside of our control. To begin with, our property taxes went up 10% this year and our monthly mortgage payment now reflects that increase. I realize Washington state still has pretty darn low property taxes compared to some states, but it still means our “fixed rate” mortgage is a larger payment going forward since our taxes and insurance are paid out of the escrow account. And living in a smaller, less expensive home keeps these costs down compared to the home we could have upsized to, so I do keep that in mind.

Expensive perhaps, but worth it.

Our son’s preschool increases rates at the start of the school year, and just like last year, the costs has increased another 8%. A few people have suggested that I push back against this price increase, but the place he’s at is actually a reasonable cost compared to some of the most expensive preschools in our area.

They have also transitioned to all full time childcare for any new children, so we are grandfathered in at two days a week. Beyond that, he goes Mondays and Tuesdays instead of the more typical Tuesdays/Thursdays for part time care. We just lucked out that he started soon after the ownership changed and they were more flexible and willing to accommodate alternate schedules.

Because of those reasons, I’m really hesitant to rock the boat in any way to save a few dollars each month. That and the transition to preschool was really hard on him and I’d like him to stay at one place until he goes to kindergarten in two years. Public school (and public school schedules) will have its own set of challenges for sure, but it will absolutely be less expensive than what we’re paying right now, even if some of those funds end up getting funneled into after school activities.

Third birthday party at preschool

September’s other big expenses

Surprisingly enough, pet care was not one of our big expenses this month. No vet appointments, no need for another bag of $98 specialty dog food, just the standard mix of medications and non prescription food. Just around $200 is about as cheap as we can expect to possibly have for a month. We don’t have any vet appointments scheduled for October either, so hopefully we can have a repeat of September.

So while pet expenses were low in September, there were plenty one off expenses that weren’t. To begin with, my husband is heading out for a hunting trip in a little bit so he’s bought a few things for that, to include some new all-weather gear that will also be used for camping, plus hunting specific items, like deer pee, which definitely felt a little interesting to be logging in my expense tracker.

Beyond that, my husband has had his eye on a new chain saw all summer after multiple attempts to fix his old one hadn’t been successful. It was a cheap garage sale find in the first place, and it eventually just wore out. He uses the chain saw for both work and home, so it does see quite a bit of use. They’re expensive new though, so he’s been perusing the discount aisle at Home Depot for months and just found an almost new (but previously opened and returned) one for 30% off. Even so, chain saws aren’t cheap, and combined with a few other items (including a bit of mulch for my garden) the trip came to just over $400. Definitely not a cheap day.

My husband also purchased a new pair of work boots, which aren’t particularly cheap, but as he works construction, they have to be good quality. He goes through them more rapidly than I do my shoes, but he does wear them out before needing a new pair. And regardless, even if he just chose to buy a new pair of shoes (or anything else), we do have partially split finances for exactly that reason. I may feel like we didn’t need a new chainsaw right now, for example, but the cost comes out of his income directly, so he is able to choose to spend as he pleases.

While this may be a little different as I’m attempting to track our overall spending and saving when I don’t have full control over our household expenses, it has been a key part of how our relationship has worked since day one. Because we have separate checking accounts, we’ve not had to have any big fights over money, which I believe is pretty rare. Not that we don’t have other disagreements, but having our own money to do with as we please (while also having joint funds) has worked well for most of a decade now. Though, I don’t think this would work if we didn’t both land on the naturally frugal side of things; neither of us are apt to blow more than a few hundred dollars on something the other views as frivolous and unnecessary.

Vacation spending

Spending on vacations is something we both agree on, and September saw its share of expenses here. Like I mentioned last Friday, we took my grandmother back to Leavenworth for her birthday, and we splurged on a fancy dinner one night and the whole restaurant sang her happy birthday along with the live accordion music. It was a wonderful weekend and one that was well worth the money on the trip. Most physical things aren’t worth the extra money, but time with family and friends almost always is.

Dinner at King Ludwig’s

Of course, that wasn’t the only vacation expenses for the month. We also returned from our Labor Day weekend camping trip on September 3rd, so there were some campsite and ferry costs as well, though that was a very inexpensive trip as are most of our camping trips.

Finally, I bought my plane tickets to Denver for Cents Positive the first weekend in November. The flights would have used up a ridiculous amount of credit card points compared to the cost of the tickets, so I bit the bullet and paid for them with cash. It’s been a lot of years since I’ve paid for plane tickets out of pocket, and I have to say I don’t like it. Perhaps I could up my travel hacking game and not care about blowing through miles needlessly, but as we tend to buy 4-6 plane tickets per trip, I wanted to save them for future vacations, so just went the cash route this time.

September 2018 Spending (Excludes mortgage + daycare)

Apr 2018 May 2018 Jun 2018 Jul 2018 Aug 2018 Sep 2018
Groceries $343.37 $658.76 $353.25 $1,041.77 $393.91 $375.58
Restaurants $583.75 $1,040.03 $529.21 $329.83 $422.17 $562.84
Fast Food $83.54 $120.78 $75.89 $117.72 $65.55 $148.45
Gym $17.84 $17.84 $17.84 $17.84 $17.84 $17.84
Gas $199.76 $263.60 $242.89 $117.72 $258.94 $275.12
Car/Transit $0.00 $30.00 $737.53 $640.86 $88.12 $114.05
Utilities $366.55 $200.25 $266.25 $126.98 $129.58 $320.25
Pet Care $221.65 $273.96 $277.56 $578.63 $391.38 $207.77
Vacations $297.44 $971.66 $148.00 $483.45 $110.11 $808.13
Misc $177.49 $354.68 $164.62 $629.79 $232.95 $1,009.10
Total $2,291.39 $3,931.56 $2,813.04 $4,084.59 $2,110.55 $3,839.13
Savings Rate 53% 44% 44% 30% 67% 31%
Excluding Mortgage Principal 47% 39% 38% 23% 63% 25%

Year to date: 48% savings rate

It’s funny how much this month feels like a “failure” in terms of our savings rate at 31%. Now that I’ve set the goal for us at 50% for the year, anything less in a given month feels like we haven’t done well enough. Just like July though, I need to remind myself that even that savings rate is significantly higher than our annual average for the last two years and a darn good job for two average salaries in a high cost of living city.

That said, there’s a balance between giving myself grace for having a lower than desired savings rate for a certain month and allowing that to then feel like it is good enough for every month. After most of a year tracking our spending closely, I know that we can absolutely hit closer to that fifty percent savings rate most months without giving up the spending associated with the things we value most.

How do you balance the way you talk to yourself about achieving goals?

42 thoughts on “Monthly Financial Update: September 2018

  1. We have separate + joint money, too! Most goes into the family money bucket to pay household expenses, but Mr. FIREdup also has his own money for hobbies, fast food, coffee, etc.

      1. Funny how even after a long time together things don’t stay static and you have to keep adjusting as you go forward.

  2. we each have our own money, as you know. it’s funny but we never much discussed or formalized many goals in our house, but somehow the student loans got wiped out and the house paid off. we did have a little discussion about maybe saving less next year as a glide path towards retirement and drawing down a little. mrs. me’s side hustles got a little inconvenient, schedule-wise this fall so we looked at what she would prefer to live on and worked backward to add up to that amount.

    1. We are slooooowly discussing money stuff a bit more these days, but my husband would still rather be mostly left out of it 😉

  3. I don’t really understand separate accounts as my wife and I have always pooled everything we have had. Maybe it’s because we have been together since high school and didn’t have separate financial lives before getting married. Oh well, it works for you guys and you have great communication which is the most important thing at the end of the day.

    Yes, us silly personal finance people getting upset over a 48% savings rate when the rest of North America barely scratches 10% and most don’t even have an emergency fund. You have 3 months to hit that 50% and you guys can do it !

    1. Hey, I didn’t realize you two got together so early as well! We actually got married at 21 soon after I graduated college, so we didn’t have much of anything to our names either (though I did have some student loans). We did sign up for a joint bank account as soon as we returned from our honeymoon, but the separate accounts stuck, and in the intervening decade we’ve realized having some separate money is key. He may buy a chainsaw and I may buy tickets to a financial conference, but neither of us needs to be worried about those expenses as long as we have the joint stuff covered (which is most everything else).

      And here’s to hoping we do hit that 50%! Even if we totally screwed up at the end of the year we will certainly have done better than previous years though!

  4. It is unfortunate when those fixed expenses go up as there’s not usually a ton of things you can do about it, other than move, which as you said in your situation doesn’t make sense.

    Woah and your utilities shot up though I see, what did you do, start using the dryer again?? 😉

    1. Ha, yeah summer is over for the low utility bills unfortunately. Also I don’t pay our water/sewer bill every month so that makes it fluctuate some. That and the furnace has been turned back on 🙁

  5. Are you me? I felt like I could have written this! My husband came home a few weeks ago with a new pair of sneakers, which I briefly side-eyed, but I spend more than he does, and he doesn’t care what I buy. Like you, our accounts are separate, and each person buys whatever. Our expenses have been quite high lately, because we’ve been pre-paying for travel and buying things for the house.

    My husband doesn’t like to deal with money details, and so I’ve learned how to adapt to his style. He does like rules, so I ask him to save a certain amount of money each month, which he dutifully does. I’m slowly ramping up the number as we go along, so it’s not such a sudden change. Seems to be working alright!

    What do you use to track your spending? Have you tried YNAB? I’ve heard how it changes people’s lives, but I’m resistant myself…

    1. I have to try and reign in my side-eye on a regular basis lol. But I do realize we spend a LOT more on travel with me planning as many trips as I do. My husband actually doesn’t want any rules like that, but he is open to slowly ramping up the amount he puts into the joint savings / investing pot. I tried YNAB maybe a year and a half ago, but as I don’t have 100% control over our saving/spending, plus work expenses mixed in, it really didn’t work for me.

  6. Sucks that they increased the tuition rates for his preschool but as long as he likes over there and it’s still a good rate compared to the other preschool in our area then it’s worth the cost.
    Your inching closer to that 50% savings rate for the year, hopefully you make it before the year ends!

    1. Yeah, there are other places that are cheaper as well, but his preschool is more or less average for our area. And really, the biggest thing is that we only have to pay for two days a week instead of five. Full time childcare cost and there’s no way we’d be anywhere near a 50% savings rate. Unless I went back to work full time, which I don’t want to do 😉

  7. We were hit with that same increase in property taxes. It was a real buzz kill. Children have some big milestones like learning to walk and read, etc. But financially speaking, graduating preschool and attending public kindergarten is a game changer. It frees up some serious cash flow.

    1. For us, the big jump was due to ST3’s $54 billion deal being passed. I’m all for better transit, but I have a few thoughts about the route we’re going around here.

      1. Since we drive such old cars our car tabs didn’t increase too significantly 😉 My car tabs were part of the “car/transit” line item this month.

  8. Wow you have had a lot of your core costs increase – 10% increase in property taxes is hefty. Not to mention childcare and other costs – so yes, I concur you need to stop being so critical on yourself spending wise.

    For a young family you are doing a-mazing!

    1. Yeah, the fixed costs increasing is something I can’t do anything about! It’s a balance between acknowledging we’re doing well without letting that be an excuse to spend even more 😉

    1. Yeah, funny how after a year close/past 50% a month like this one feels like I failed haha

  9. We had a mediocre September — fewer workdays and no guest house rent — so we weren’t able to put away anything into the main savings account though we were able to put away money toward various savings goals we have (car fund, vacation fund, etc.). It bums me out, but I also remind myself that expenses were actually significantly lower this month. So if I can keep it up, it means that October will be great!

    1. Funny just how much fluctuation there is month to month! Maybe part of why I don’t “budget” per se is because it would be frustrating to try and fix it every month.

  10. “And when we are spending more money on certain things this year, I can’t draw out any big expense to regret, so I guess we’re doing it right.”

    I would agree with the above! Ya’ll are doing great with a 30% savings rate!

    1. Yeah, have to keep telling myself that when I want to beat myself up for being so far away from that 50% mark.

  11. Still looking pretty good, I must say. My savings rate is “only” around 30% now, but I am aiming for some changes in the next 2-3 years that will hopefully get me to 50%+. We shall see.

    1. Ha yeah, 30% really isn’t “only.” I’m a decent bit older than you also so we’ve had some time to get to where we are at.

  12. 10% increase in property taxes is high! And not something you can control.
    Even with your restaurant & fast food expenses creeping up, you seem to be doing a great job overall:)

    1. Restaurant and general food spending is still WAY down from a year ago. And purposefully up these days versus just spending without thinking 🙂

  13. I haven’t yet calculated out September’s savings rate, but I have a feeling it’s not going to be good at all 🙈 Such a bummer that your fixed expenses are going up and you can’t do anything about that (um, have you tried moving to a cheaper area? 😉), but as you said, you’re doing so well overall and compared to last year! I feel you on the difficulty of how to talk to yourself when you don’t reach goals. There’s a balance between beating myself up because I KNOW I can do better, but also just throwing up my hands and saying “eh, that’s what next month is for,” and it’s hard to navigate the two.

    1. Ha yeah, you know all the reasons why we aren’t moving from this area 😉 And buying our house in the bottom of the market means our fixed expenses are still WAY lower than others in our area.

  14. You’re killing it with the YTD savings rate! We set a 50% goal this year too and we will miss it by a long shot. At this point, we’ll be lucky if we get to 40%. I’ve been off track with my finances all year but I’m hoping to get re-energized at Cents Positive and turn things around. Hope to meet you there!

    1. Even 40% is incredible though! Funny how much I can beat myself up when I’m previous years even 30% would have been amazing. See you in three weeks!

  15. I read about you on Business Insider. Incidentally, I used to work in Kirkland and we are in the same industry. That being said, most of the tips that the BI article highlighted are second nature to somebody who grew up in poverty, having spent most of my first 23 years living in a trailer park or extremely run-down apartments. One didn’t even have heat in my bedroom. I can remember closing up my room and sleeping in the shared living room during some of the coldest winter nights that year. I remember paying for lunch with white slips of paper (free/reduced lunch) and meals at home as a kid being largely based on pasta and the 10# or 20# bag of potatoes when the economy left my dad unemployed. I’ve never attended a private school or college. Saving most of my salary and not wasting on clothes, electronics, cars, coffees, and all of the other junk I see our [Seattle] peers buying is just common sense. People who splurge on name brand clothes, eating out every meal, fancy new cars (without running the old car into the ground for 10 – 15 years), gym memberships, cable TV, and electronics really are displaying their privilege of never having had it rough. That being said, I often chuckle at the spending habits of my peers who never manage to have a nice vacation, but would be really stuck in a pickle if a job loss ever came their way. (Oh wait, I watched that financial ruin of several peers, including a few managers, in 2007 – 2010. Their lack of financial discipline was just sad.)

    1. Small world 🙂 I grew up in a “frugal” family but not in poverty, so it’s a different experience for sure. I definitely agree that it can be harder to save your income when you’ve never had enough and suddenly you have the ability to buy the “stuff” you never could afford growing up.

    2. I’d also refer you back to one of the articles I shared in my post Wednesday – Bethany did a great job delving into the differences between poor and “just broke.”

  16. Your transparency is inspiring. As others have said, your saving rate is good, and these expenses do seem truly beyond your control. Thank you for the example you are setting!
    Also, knowing that your son will go to public school soon has to be nice. It’s a financial boon that will arrive sooner than others.

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