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Attempted Derailment & The High “Road”

I think the universe is scoffing at my need for routines and habits, as well as the progress I’ve made on my financial well-being. It was bound to happen, I suppose. It would just be nice to have somewhat longer periods of success before life decides to kick the tires on the new automation and test the new security measures.

Last Saturday, the dog food delivery didn’t show up. Yes, I order fresh food weekly for the dogs and pay a company the big bucks to make it so I don’t have to. But when the order doesn’t show up, and tracking says it won’t be here for three more days, which means the order will be ruined, the dogs still have to eat until the replacement order arrives (nearly a week later).

I didn’t have much choice but to run out to Costco, buy the ingredients and make a week’s worth of meals for the dogs myself. Half the cost, sure, but also a few hours of time that I normally use for other things (like housekeeping and blog-post writing). Needless to say, my Sunday was completely derailed, and my very carefully planned out budget very nearly with it, until the company agreed to move my next order out a week (so I wouldn’t have to pay for that on top of the ingredients I had to buy).

Monday night, the hubby noticed one of the headlights on the Subaru was out. Just when I thought I was all good with the budget. But since it’s dark more often than not, and we had to drive through a highly patrolled area to get to the bar where he was playing pool Wednesday night, and I already have a warning from when the other headlight went out last summer/fall…I decided I needed to get it fixed asap.

Made an appointment with a shop close to work (since our normal mechanic’s shop burned down just before Christmas) and dropped the car off Weds after lunch, thinking it would be around $70 for the fix (if you haven’t tried to change the headlight on a 2012 Subaru outback, google it, and you’ll know why I didn’t want to do it myself).

Guys called me back half an hour later, said it was just a loose connection, and that I owed ’em $10.

Whew!

So my budget is still intact (though I did put off paying a bill so I’d have money for dog food, headlight, whatever if needed), despite a couple notable attempts to derail it this week.

Yes, I’m aware that’s why I need a savings stash. I’m working on it. I just paid off one of two minor lines of credit planned for payoff this year, which feels pretty good, and we’ll see how the budget looks when I balance tonight.

Next week, taxes. *sigh* I’m doing them early this year, so we know how much we need to save up to pay by April 15th. We always owe the feds and get back from the state, but I dare say it’ll be worse this year with the tax “cuts” from last year. So, better to know early, I guess.

In other news, I’ve recently started walking the sky bridges downtown for an afternoon break. The route that starts in my building goes around 4 blocks out through buildings and parking garages, and I’m quite enjoying it. That route is never busy, there’s no traffic or waiting for lights, it’s enclosed, so while it’s chilly when not in a building, it’s not as cold as wandering around at street level, and as a bonus, I can catch pokemon and hit a few stops and gyms all along the way. If I want to hit the bookstore or the bank or the bakery, they’re all stops along the way – just drop down to street level from the appropriate building, and everything’s right there.

There’s definitely something to be said for getting up and away from your desk during the day – even just for 10 minutes or so to clear the mind and get the blood pumpin’. Taking this quiet, “high” road is perfect for an introvert like me, and a good way to wake up and get a little extra exercise.

And more fun than shoveling snow, which is what I’m doing today for exercise (I’m off work – burning excess vacation hours). It’s been a very mild winter, so I’m trying not to complain, but…I am ready for spring. And so are the dogs (who *need* to get out of the house this afternoon – they’re going nuts being cooped up inside).


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Of Money & Financial Matters

I guess maybe I should have made getting blog posts done a priority for the new year, eh? I’ve had a few very busy weeks, weekends, and some new routines I’m trying to establish, so blogging time still hasn’t found a permanent home in the new regime just yet. It’ll get there, eventually.

Obviously, since my finances are front and center in my mind this year, I’ve been trying to be a lot more disciplined in that regard. This particular pay cycle isn’t quite as fluid as I’d have liked, but that’s because I had to order new glasses, and my glasses are expensive (because I’m pretty much blind without them). Even more so this year, because I’m going back to “progressives” (or bi-focals, as they were called when I wore them in high school). People complain about them all the time, but honestly, I can’t wait to get them. I’m at the point where I can’t read close up things with my glasses on, but it has to be right in front of my face to read with my glasses off, so that perfect reading range is just out of my grasp either way you look at it.

Progressives will be a godsend, and I ordered them last Tuesday, so maybe one more week before they’re here. Can’t. Wait. I do have vision insurance now, which makes my glasses far more affordable. Very helpful.

Like so many other things, I like to do my budgeting late at night when it’s quiet and I can properly focus. The only problem with that is, my credit union (or rather the processing company behind the scenes) shuts down their web site every night from right around midnight until 2am. Anyone who works in technology knows that there’s no reason for a nightly shut-down, and plenty of banks are up and online round the clock, so this annoys me far more than it probably should. But it’s the way it is, and I need to remind myself to download a copy of my transactions before 11:30pm or so, so I can do that budgeting thing at my leisure.

Last year, I signed up for YNAB (You Need a Budget) software. It’s online budgeting software that basically is suppose to help you learn to “age” your money (ie, not spend it as fast, and create a cushion in your account). One of the main tenants of the system is to only budget with money you already have, and to budget every single dollar down to zero.

It didn’t work for me in the long run, because I can’t force myself to hold off on spending money right when I get it unless I know it’s already earmarked for something (before I get it). I was always trying to play catch-up with the budgeting and overspending when I really probably wouldn’t have if I’d just budgeted ahead and known that I needed to be more circumspect with my spending. That way when payday comes around, all those upcoming transactions are at the forefront of my brain and in my mind, the money is already spoken for. Or, as in the case of the coming paycheck, that I have money earmarked for a toaster oven, so I can hit the “checkout” button and get that ordered as soon as the money hits my account without worrying about trying to figure out which bill gets shorted to pay for that later.

I tried out a few other budgeting software packages, and the one I like best so far is called “Simple Home Budget“. It’s a desktop application, not a web app, which I actually prefer. You can set up recurring transactions, both income and expenses, and then you can easily see what you will have for the month, and what you need for bills. You can set recurring transactions to either “clear” automatically or manually – I set mine to manual, and there are categories for pretty much anything you want to track (and it’s easy to set up new categories too). It is indeed simple-looking, but there are some pretty complex details that make budgeting easier (like color coding, and you can import bank statements to balance, too).

I’m in the trial period now, but unlike most online software, it’s not a subscription to license this desktop app. YNAB is $89 every year, where Simple Home Budget is a one-time fee of $30. No brainer, cost-wise. And I like it better, too, so I’ll be buying a license and canceling YNAB at the end of the month. YNAB refunds the unused months if you cancel early, so the money from that will just about pay for the SHB license. Very nice.

Now I just need to make sure I have a copy of my bank statement downloaded before my normal Friday night budgeting time, and I’ll be set for this week.

Maybe I’ll actually get a budget set up for the BSB/book stuff this year too! Sure would be easier than tracking it all down in February so I can do our taxes… *ahem*

One thing at a time, right?

Pokemon, Guilt & Renewed Motivation

So, last week I was on “vacation” (in reality, I was liquidating vacation hours that I’d be forced to take before March anyways – still have one more week to go after Christmas). The Friday before that, I got paid, and instead of being the responsible, fiscally practical adult that I probably could be if I tried really hard, I ordered a Nintendo Switch console, and a copy of Pokemon: Let’s Go Eevee.

I did buy a refurbished unit, straight from Nintendo itself, so that was a good $25 less than a new one, and about a hundred bucks less than the branded Pokemon console/game/accessory pack. So I wasn’t as irresponsible as I could have been.

Just sayin’.

Still, it’s the time of year to buy stuff for other people, not one’s self. And I also have been doing an insanely poor job of paying down debt this past year, despite a resolution to do just that. Needless to say, I spent the first four days of my vacation feeling incredibly guilty, budgeting tightly to cover the overspending, and watching YouTube videos on Pokemon Let’s Go game play.

Then the console showed up on Wednesday, and I spent the next three days spending whatever time I could (minus dog walks/drives & meals) playing that new game to the point where I could connect it with my mobile Pokemon Go game to get a special pokemon you can only get in that particular manner. I reached that point around 3am on Saturday morning, and felt a pretty distinct sense of accomplishment.

Then I put the switch down for the weekend, went out and played Pokemon Go for an hour or so on Saturday, and spent the rest of the weekend working on all the stuff I’d originally planned to finish that week. I actually did get a fair amount of it at least half to three-quarter’s done, which I was kind of impressed by, honestly. And when I was whining to my mom last week about feeling guilty for playing so much instead of getting stuff done, she reminded me that that’s what vacations are for: doing things we wouldn’t normally do to take our minds away from the normal “stuff”. So, there’s that.

But, I didn’t really treat it as a relaxing break. It was enjoyable, but the more I played the more I wanted to reach the goal before my vacation was over, so instead of just taking my time and working through it like a normal person would, I rushed, and took shortcuts, and raced through. Now that I’ve hit my goal, I fully plan on going back and taking the earlier parts slower this time. I was really enjoying it a lot before I got all goal-oriented and started rushing.

My guilt for spending the money now instead of after the holidays like I’d planned was probably part of that rush-rush feeling. Probably some sort of need to justify the purchase, though I’d already thought long and hard about it, and decided on that specific console due to more than just the Pokemon game (I have a list of games that will keep me busy for quite some time).

In any case, while I still feel bad for spending the money early, I’m happy I got the console and the game, and I managed to kept the budget balanced regardless, which feels like a pretty big win overall (especially considering I decided to switch the dog’s food up to a higher priced delivery service at the same time).

Friday is payday, and I’ll be solvent again, and I definitely have a renewed interest in working toward paying off debt next year with a vacation-away-from-home as a carrot/prize dangling out in front. So the new year will definitely see a new plan of attack when it comes to my finances.

One week to Christmas, and another to the New Year. It feels like this year has blown by like a big rig on the highway. Weird, since it felt excruciatingly long just last spring.

My only wish now is snow on Christmas eve & morning. It’s dry and brown, and it never feels like Christmas without snow, dang it.

Santa, are you listening?

Stamps, Focus, & Accountability

I miss my stamp collection. Just thought I’d throw that out into the “void”, so to speak. I haven’t had time to work on it in the last few years, and I miss it. I miss getting random stamps “on approval” that I can look through and either send payment for, or send the stamps back. I miss going through my albums and organizing stamps and first day covers, and learning about the postal history for each.

This seems like a problem I should be able to fix, but I’ve said that before about other things I’d like to do more of, and I never seem to figure it out. I always feel like I should be able to rearrange my time so I can fit in more of the “fun stuff” I want to do, but it never seems to work out. Or I never seem to be able to work it out, rather.

It’s all about priorities, I know, even though I hate that reality more than I can tell you (and I hate it when other people spout it back at me even more). It’s also about scheduling, and between making my dogs and health and writing priorities, and having to keep my weekends flexible (because my husband is a spontaneous sort, rather than routine-driven like I am), I just can’t seem to get what time I do have organized for better flow.

And there’s also the little issue of my lack of multi-tasking abilities. I can’t watch TV and read a comic book (now that there are no commercials in the majority of what we watch). I can’t focus on looking at/cataloging stamps in that environment either. Heck, I can’t even follow a knit or crochet pattern while watching a commercial-less show, because I can’t focus on both the pattern and the show at the same time. With commercial breaks, I can switch focus for a few minutes here and there and not miss anything. Without them, I can focus either on the show, or whatever else I want to be doing. I can’t do both (and I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing – being able to focus on one thing and really take it in is good, IMO). If it’s a show or movie I’ve seen before, that’s one thing, but something new? No way.

Basically, I need either a show I’ve seen before (or sports, but we don’t watch much of that), or quiet time to indulge in any of these activities. Two things that are rather hard to come by on a day-to-day basis, sadly. And before you say “less TV”, I watch about two hours per night, sometimes less. Half hour while we’re eating, an hour when we both finally settle in after dog exercise & workouts, and half-hour for the news. Not like I can do anything while I’m eating, either.

It kind of sucks. But, as much as it may sound like it, I haven’t given up yet on figuring out how to make time for the things I love. One of these days, I’ll hit on the “magic formula” (or be old enough to retire – still a long ways off), and life will be good. Or richer, anyways.

Regardless, I will get the new Scooby Doo stamps soon. Because Scooby. Seriously!

Which reminds me – I have new issues of the Scooby Apocalypse comics waiting to be read at home.

Ooo…all this whining has given me an idea. Sometimes whining can be productive, if you focus on it hard enough. It’s early in the week, so if my idea works, I’ll report back next week. If not, we’ll just forget I ever had it. Deal?

On a somewhat unrelated note, for accountability’s sake, I’ll be posting my resolution progress (or lack thereof) at the bottom of each post here until the end of the year, and also a link to my writing-focused blog for anyone who cares to see how that’s going from week to week. It’s mostly for my own edification, to push myself to keep my goals forefront in my head, and to keep up with the writing blog too. Because posting in public is motivating. Even if the audience is small.

Now, back to catching up on my budget (or rather, starting over, because it’s a mess). Having money won’t do me any good if I can’t manage it well, right?

*Note to self: buy lotto ticket tonight. And one for my hubby, who is 54 yrs old as of today and would like to retire soon!

Resolution Check-In
Sleep 6 hrs: Missed it by at least 10 minutes every night last week. Dammit.
1 push-up per day: Missed one day, did at least one all other days. Highest daily count: 8.
Goals check-up: Completed Mon. night, adjusted some goals to fit current routines/desires.

Writer’s notes for this week


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Full Speed Ahead & Business Planning

The thing about newly (re)discovered skills is, there’s a certain amount of excitement in seeing just how far you can take them. The whole budgeting thing (and subsequent successes) have reawakened my love of building plans and organizing routines to help execute those plans, which is what I spent some time on last week.

My side-business, Brazen Snake Books (BSB), needs to make money. Or more than it does now, anyways. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, and how I could best spend my limited free time making that happen (without burning out/going nutso). There has to be a balance of producing new books and keeping the names producing those books visible, so I took a couple of hours last week and broke down some things I need/want to do in order to refresh old work and make it more visible/attractive, and also all of the tasks I need to do just to keep things churning business-wise. I went through and rearranged my before & after work schedules, and my late night free time to accommodate those tasks in the most logical and efficient way I could think of, and I built in some time for education and motivation too – at the beginning of the week when I need it most.

I made sure to leave enough time for writing – without new books, none of the rest really matters. And I took some time to think about what kind of books I want to write too, and which alter-egos/genres I want to focus on building. Those aren’t really market-driven…in fact, the main ones I want to focus on are the ones least likely to sell, so I’m making things hard on myself there, but I need to enjoy writing or there’s no point. So the trick will be making those not-so-great selling genres at least sell “enough”, to break even. Though I do have a few stories in the works for a more saleable genre as well.

I feel like I have a solid plan now, which is a good thing, and I’m starting to implement it this week. Adjustments will need to be made, of course, but I feel good about the overall outlook.

Now I need to email the city and throw myself on their mercy for letting my business license lapse several years ago. We’ll see what kind of fines they stick me with. Maybe it’ll help that I haven’t been making (or claiming, for that matter) any huge profits. We’ll see, I suppose.

So…budgeting: check. Meal “budgeting”: check. Business planning/organization: check. If I could just carry all of this over into the yard and gardens this summer, that would be awesome. Though I do tend to lose motivation to work outside very quickly when it’s hot.

Part of this week’s activities include finishing up the front cover wrap for the new release I have coming out on the 20th. It’s a kids book, which is so far out of my comfort zone to write it’s not even funny, but I decided to release it anyways just because I find myself wanting to write the rest of the stories in the series and see how it eventually ends up. I’m releasing it under a new alter-ego, Marie Yoch, and I spent most of last weekend putting up pre-orders for the book and an online presence for her (still not completely happy with the web site template and that banner is way, way too big! But it’ll have to do for now – marieyoch.com). I should get the formatted print file back later this week, and then I’ll need to upload it to CreateSpace so it will hopefully be available on the 20th as well.

It’s gonna be a busy week, but satisfying too, I think.

Oh, and did I mention over here that April is National Poetry month? I can’t remember, but if you’re interested, I’m reading a poem a week, and posting a short analysis of it on the BSB blog. If you read a poem and mention it and the author in the comments over there, you can request one BSB book for free. Join us, if you’re so inclined!

Budgeting Sucks (but Works)

Happy tax-month! Here in the US, April is tax time, and like a good little citizen, I did our taxes this weekend. Our income goes up (nominally) every year, and so does our tax bill. Thank goodness we have our mortgage interest and property taxes to deduct, or it would be even more painful.

In any case, it was slightly less painful this year as far as actually getting it done goes, because I managed to keep better track of my business (publishing) finances last year. And I could have written a lot more expenses off, but I didn’t, in order to claim a (very small) profit so the government won’t be tempted to downgrade BSB to a hobby (which would mean being unable to write off expenses for it ever again). Going along with everything I’ve been discussing for the past few weeks, this just underscores the fact that my business has been just sort of floating along while my head was all screwy, and now that I’m back to a much better “normal”, I really need to up my game and start promoting my books (not to mention publishing new stuff) so I can bump that income up, and at least break even with the business expenses (I’m not right now, obviously).

Stuff to work on. Better mental clarity seems to have helped with both motivation and self-control, so I’m feeling pretty good about being able to work on building BSB this year. And writing/publishing more books.

After I finished the taxes (Turbo Tax is awesome, BTW), I forced myself to go look at the budget I’ve been largely ignoring all week because I was very aware that I’d overspent. The interesting thing is, since I’ve started budgeting, I’ve noticed that even when I overspend, I still have money to cover it, and it’s just a matter of moving things around from one category to another. I have more flexibility, and I’m also less likely to overspend *too much* – I’m far more conscious of where and how I’m spending, so my indiscretions are less damaging. That was an unexpected side effect of budgeting (though it does make sense), but a very helpful one.

I still don’t *like* budgeting. It feels confining and while every budgeting guru out there will tell you that it’s “really not that much work”, for me, taking the time to sit and actually allocate my dollars and then taking more time to actually check in with the budget and reconcile my accounts *is* definitely a lot of work. Mainly because I have about a million other things I’d rather be doing than that. But as restrictive as it feels, it’s actually giving me a lot more freedom to be flexible and allocate dollars to things that I want to make priorities, like debt paydown and investing. Yes, I know. Today was not a good day on Wall Street, but that’s why I’m a long-term investor (and our penny marijuana stocks did just fine during this crash, thankyouverymuch).

Days like this make me think “flea market – yay! Let’s pick up some cheap stocks!” Then of course I sound like my mother when she says she bought a shirt off the clearance rack that she might wear one time because it was “only $2, and you can’t pass up a sale like that”. *sigh*

But I digress.

We were talking about budgeting, and how it sucks, but it works, and like most other humans on the planet, when I learn (or take up) a new trick, I tend to apply the philosophy to *everything* for awhile (until it gets boring). So, given that budgeting has helped with my finances so much, I’ve started “food budgeting” (read: menu planning) too.

I’ve tried just about everything when it comes to menu planning, and nothing ever works, because inevitably, I get to those days where I don’t feel like eating whatever I planned, and then I go “rogue” with the menu, and then the rest of the week is shot and there’s no point in planning the next week since I’ll just do the same thing…

Yes, I know.

I’ve tried pen and paper, calendars, digital planners, online menu planners with recipe books, and none of it ever “sticks” well enough. I think it’s mostly because I love grocery shopping (I know, who doesn’t, right?), and I love food, and I hate buying off a list made from a menu because I’d much rather keep a well-stocked pantry/fridge/freezer and be able to make whatever I happen to feel like having that night.

Only what tends to happen is I’m tired, or rushed (lunches especially), and I spend more time making the decision than actually cooking/eating. Therein lies the rub – I want my decision-making time back…or at least limited to the weekends.

In any case, budgeting money gave me the idea to try “budgeting” with my food. Which is backwards from most menu planning advice. Instead of deciding what to make and then buying the ingredients, I decided to just shop like I normally do, and then “budget” the food I got out over the week (or two weeks, or whatever). The main goal being, of course, to *use* all that lovely fresh produce I got before it goes bad, and also to use up what I have before buying so much new.

I’m only on the first week, and the second day, but so far, I’m feeling pretty good about it. I bought a menu magnet/board to put on the fridge, and made a menu for this week (lunches and dinners) after I shopped, keeping the fresh produce and stuff that’s been in the freezer longer than others in mind. We’ll see if I can keep it up, but last night, I actually remembered to get meat out of the freezer for dinner tonight – a meal we wouldn’t be having if I had to defrost meat right before, and also one we wouldn’t be having on a random, unplanned night, because it takes more time than normal (but I get off early on Tuesday nights, and earlier still tonight due to a dentist appt).

So, budgeting money, budgeting food…who knows what I’ll decide to budget next? I just hope that some of it sticks past the point where I’d normally be bored. That’s the true test of whether or not it’s a good system.

Are you a budget-er? What are some things you budget with besides money? Inquiring minds…