Monday, January 14, 2013

Re-Budgeting Myself for the New Year, Part 1

It being a fresh year, and having just spent a largish amount of money on move-in costs and setting myself up for life in my little apartment, I am continuing building my routines for 2013 by making a concerted effort to hold myself to a proper budget. Throughout 2012 I spent more than I really should have, for many reasons. Part of it was not paying attention, part of it was being stressed out and busy, and part of it was the difficulty of navigating spending in a shared household. I have never spent exorbitantly (thank you, Scottish heritage) but I have rarely managed to save money the way I would really like to. So now that I'm the only person in this, I'm going to try and give it a real shot. Soon there will be income taxes to pay, so it seems like a good season to be putting a lot of attention on finances. Thanks to Rhonda for getting me to think more deeply about this.

My first step towards getting my finances under control was to finally make the change from a big, giant, corporate monster-bank to a locally-based credit union. I will be supporting a local business, getting better management of my money, and not enabling an already-giant company to profit from my membership. I am shutting down my old savings and checking accounts and have new ones open at the credit union. I am keeping the same credit card, which gives me lovely nice dividends at REI at the end of every year.

Saturday morning breakfast (and homework)

As one person on a limited income, I could have found a shared house with roommates and spent less on rent, but I really feel the need to be captain of my own ship, as it were, for awhile. My rent is very affordable for a 1-bedroom apartment at Portland rates, and I have the benefit of paying very few utilities. I only pay for electricity, which I don't use much of anyway. My apartment has cadet-style heaters, which aren't the most efficient in the world, but I only run one of them for a few minutes in the morning and for a few again in the evening on most days. Other than that, it's mostly the stove and lights and fridge. I have my own washer and dryer, which is so rare for an apartment, but I only use the dryer if I need to dry sheets or blankets. Otherwise I hang everything on two drying racks and just air-dry them and use the dryer as storage space. I have a dishwasher but don't use it. It doesn't make much sense for one person, and by washing dishes a few times a week using the tried-and-true two-basin system, I can conserve on water, and also on electricity.

Besides electricity, I pay $35 a month for my phone. My service is Credo, which I feel good about not only because their rates are so low, but because they constantly contribute a portion of their profits to worthy progressive causes. Also, as of a few months ago, I have been a customer for 5 years and so was given 100 extra minutes per month at no charge as a thank you. So now I have far more minutes or texts than I could ever use.

New (secondhand) pretty yellow plates.

In terms of transportation, I have some complicated, multi-leg commutes (to work, then to fieldwork, then to school, then home, etc) for which I take the bus all over town, and on most "there and back again" days I ride my bike. Portland's public transportation rates are pretty steep at $2.50 for a two-hour ticket, but it's still a great service and far more affordable than owning a car. I can get a day pass for $5, and I end up spending $15-20 per week on bus tickets while I'm in school. I don't ride often enough to make buying a monthly pass worth it, so I buy books of tickets instead, which makes life easier than having to constantly dig around for change. I anticipate I will use Zipcar for just a few hours every month, at $8 per hour. Biking is free (yay!), and I am going to consider costs like bike tune-ups or replacement parts as incidentals since they don't happen on a very predictable basis (case in point: the flat I got last Monday, when I managed to ride over a giant chunk of glass on the way to work).

In terms of groceries, I already have a big supply from splitting up what Matt and I had at the house. I am set for quite awhile in terms of pasta, rice, dry beans, baking supplies, spices, canned goods, and frozen foods. My little freezer is packed full of green beans, chard, zuchinni and tomato sauce from the garden, rabbit meat, several containers of stock, a few quarts of beans that I cooked up last week, and various and sundry herbs and a few quick-meal things like frozen soup. I also have half a dozen jars of canned peaches, several pints of dilly beans left, and a couple pints of jalapeno jelly from this summer's bout of preserving. I'm set in terms of snacks and sweet things too- everyone in my life seemed compelled to give me tasty things for Christmas (no complaints here), so one entire cupboard shelf is full of chocolate bars, caramel corn, snack mixes, granola bars, and one sweet little box of hazelnut roca that was left outside my door as a housewarming gift from a friend. Mom and Dad sent me home with two winter squashes, and in addition to the big Queensland Blue that I finally cooked up (and froze half of) last week, they will keep me well squashed for awhile. I have a big paper bag full of carrots and potatoes that were stored in sand at the house, too. Overall, in terms of groceries I will really only need to buy fresh fruit and veg (mostly fruit) every week, and things like milk, eggs, cheese, and small amounts of meat. I'm going to work on changing my shopping habits so that I replenish the dry, bulk things on a smaller and regular basis, rather than doing big bulk runs every few months like I used to. I'm one person, I don't need a whole lot at a time anyway.

I don't really have any other costs- the occasional copay for a doctor's visit, some yearly fees like my Zipcar membership and community garden fee, and out-of-town travel are things that happen rarely enough that I will consider them separately from my monthly budget.

This is already a novel, so I'll work out my actual budget next time. I'm going to take a lead from Rhonda and try the cash system for most things, I think.

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