So, you’ve taken a Financial Snapshot to assess your financial situation. You’ve started setting goals and looking at your Budget as an action oriented tool. Now it is time to dissect your monthly spending to ascertain the impact of any changes you have made, and see where you can make further improvements.
At the end of each month, I spend some time analyzing my budget spreadsheet. First I look at the big picture to make sure the amount we have spent was covered by the amount brought in. If not, why? Were there special circumstances that made us go over during the month, or is this a problem that needs to be addressed in a change to how we are living? If there is a surplus, where is the extra money going? Is the Emergency Fund fully funded and readily available? What is my investment strategy for any extra?
Then, I look for any anomalies or variance from what I had expected. For instance, this past month there was an increase in the cable bill. I checked my online account information and saw that we were being charged for a couple premium channels that were free when we started service a few months ago. I was pretty certain that when I had requested service in our new home, I had stressed that we didn’t want the premium channels and that we wanted them dropped before incurring charges so this wouldn’t happen.
Today, I called the cable provider and dropped the extraneous channels, then very nicely asked if they could remove the charge for the previous month. I was very polite, used the representative’s name, and explained how I thought the account had been set up. I also mentioned that money was very tight right now as we have had some hefty vet bills recently. She was very kind and said she understood, and gave us the credit. It never hurts to ask, but remember to ask nicely!
The Nitty Gritty
Since I have switched to a monthly meal plan structure, versus weekly, I wanted to see if this was impacting spending on groceries. I saved the receipts from the grocery stores throughout the month and separated out spending on pets, household supplies and my husband’s work snacks and beverages. (I have been buying his sodas and snacks on sale, and in bulk, to take with him rather than him stopping every day at convenience stores.) I saw a decrease in grocery spending with better meal planning and shopping during sales. The decrease in spending on convenience stores was even more dramatic. I will keep working on ways to improve this figure, by making him snacks and discouraging or limiting these stops.
Making the dog treats myself eliminated spending at the pet store for ‘doggie junk food’ and she is getting healthier snacks. We gave her a blind taste test and she loves the bacon ones best, but the peanut butter ones get her tail wagging too!
Given the nature of my husband’s work as a contractor, he uses a tremendous amount of fuel driving all over the area for jobs and to haul materials. We made use of gas points earned at grocery stores and also limited the time he had the truck idling to warm up on cold mornings. There was a definite drop in spending on gas.
All of my teenage son’s video game consoles are now on power strips, making it easy to shut them off when he is not using them. I think this contributed to a reduction in our electric bill, which I saw this month. I will be analyzing further ways to reduce electric use soon.
All in all, I am pleased that we are making progress, and had some surplus to put in our Emergency Fund. There are still many areas where we can improve, and my family is still not as committed to making changes as I am. The next post in this finance series, Budget Sabotage, will look at ways to work with family members, when you come from very different backgrounds.