Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Blade is Dulled, but the Battle is not Over! Fight, Ronin, Fight!

Why we didn't win.

First off, I will casually confess I'm somewhat of a defeatist. I typically look on the worst side of things and my outlook is more than occasionally grim. This is regularly vexing to my better half, the Budget Naginata.

When I get overwhelmed by something, I typically quit. No, it's not very sportsmanlike of me and no, it doesn't really solve anything. I admit all of these things. This is also the undergirding reason why I haven't been posting since the beginning of the year. Things have not been well and I didn't really want to just sit here and write one depressing post after another.

"Yes we spent money. Yes we ate out crappy food. Yes we bought nonsensical goods that don't better us as a financially independent entity."

I wasn't in the mood to do that, so I avoided it.

... so here we are. One year later. (Truth be told, it's one year and four days later, but we set May 1st to be the cutoff date, so there we go).

In the broadest sense of the contest, we totally lost. We have spent money on things that were unessential to us and we have plans to expand that in the coming months. I'm not going to break it down to you in dollars and cents, but it's enough.

So normally here is where I would shut down, lower my head and kick at the dirt a bit.

As I geared myself up to write this, however, that not everything is completely horrible. We did accomplish some pretty decent stuff over the past 12 months:

  1. We finished paying off our Budget-Mobile, which makes it completely ours and saves us a bundle each month on payments.

  2. We finished our credit card repayment program. This saves us even more than the car and frees up even more money.

  3. We reconditioned an outstanding school loan and put us in good standing with the institution. Yes, we still owe a boatload on that, but we now can forebear during lean months, whereas before we didn't have that option.

  4. Now that we have some money freed up, I started auto-drafting some money into a savings account. It's not much, but it's a good start.

  5. We have used our tax refund this year to make some vital improvements/repairs to our house. We are close to a position to sell our "starter home" and possibly move into a better place closer to where both Budget Naginata and I work. It may mean a bigger house payment, but what we would save in time and gasoline should more than offset that. Should this occur, we'll also most likely eliminate a small equity loan that we had to take out to make some repairs after the first year we lived in the house.

  6. The upcoming stimulus package will fix some broken things on the Budget-Mobile. We're very excited about having it in great working order.
These are some pretty significant things to happen that impact our financial standing. These are things I should not discount when I think of all the other things that have happened to us. The Budget-Clan is still dealing with a family medical issue that requires us to buy several extra tanks of gas over the course of a month and we all know that's not getting any cheaper. We are also still trying to make some final upgrades to the house to get in selling order and that requires more money. The Budget-Truck has remained unmoved for months due to a faulty starter (we think) and we have not had the money or opportunity to get that fixed.

Seriously, I could go on. Things are better in many ways, but we have a whole array of new problems. This, as I understand it, is what life is like.

I was going to ramble more... but I think I will save that until May-Day.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

hmmmm.....Just to clarify....

"I'm sure that Budget-Edamame would chime in her praise if she knew that her new rations of marshmallows and noodles will soon be purchased from the salary of said job."

Thank you for the kudos on the job, I would like to point out however that Budget Edemame does not just eat noodles and marshmallows.

That does it for this edition of "The who in the what now?"

Back and Budget-ier than ever!


I guess I'm a bit late and all. Nevertheless, the budgeting goes on! I think there is a certain amount of shame involved in the upcoming post, because I know I've been bad. I blame the holidays. I was looking to spend nothing, like the months leading up to December, but Naginata and I agreed that we needed to spend somthing on Budget Edamame since she is totally worth it.

The holiday rush also had us buying some meals and cutting some corners on other things as well, with one specific result. The Budget-Mobile remained our burden. We didn't get the chance to finish our payments as I had hoped. That being said, we actually rallied this month to send out that final payment. Currently we are waiting for it to clear so we can put that behind us.

So now we can start looking forward to clearing some of our debt. A school loan, an equity loan on the Budget-Stronghold we had to take out shortly after purchasing it many years ago and a small in-collections loan for our replacement AC. I'll cover these more as we get to them, but I think the AC loan should take little time and the house loan might be able to be eliminated inside of two years.
Getting back on track is the biggest thing. The holidays threw us all for a loop. Driving to relatives house cost tons in gas and sanity. Quick meals and a couple of big feasts cost more money at the grocery store than we expected and despite Budget-Naginata's amazingly wonderful crafted gifts and my banana bread, we still had to spend some money on gifts. Mind you, we tried to do it as economically as we saw fit, but out of budget spending is still out of budget spending.

Starting next month, I'll be devoting more money to savings. I'd like to have a nice pad of savings to back us up so we are less crippled by life events such as holidays or emergencies. The first of the month will still have our mortgage, which is still like 60-70% of that paycheck, so there will not be a lot of breathing room there, but with the repayment of our credit cards and our car loan, we gain so much the second half of the month. Everything I've read tells me to auto-draft savings so that I'm not even thinking about it. I'm going to set that up today to distribute a healthy amount back to us. The rest I'll use to start targeting our remaining debts.

Side-note: A great article here on automating your finances. I'll definitely be "borrowing" some of these going forward:

Along with the other grand news of debt reduction, I can proudly announce that Budget-Naginata has a new job! I'm very proud of her and everything she's done to help all three of us out. I'm sure that Budget-Edamame would chime in her praise if she knew that her new rations of marshmallows and noodles will soon be purchased from the salary of said job.

So with new income on the way and old debt left back in '07, it looks as if 2008 has the potential to be a good fiscal year for the Budget-Clan. I promise you'll hear more from me, good or bad, to keep you all up to date.

At this point, less than 100 days left in the Mayday challenge. Even though we've fallen off the wagon, I'm going to rededicate myself on spending as little as possible between now and May 1st! Wish me luck!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Not Dead!

... just tired because of the holidays. More posts to come, honest.

Friday, November 16, 2007


Budget Ronin vs. the Fist of the Open Future!
"Goodbye Old Friend! Greetings to our Newest Adversary!"

That's right. I didn't even start with an apologetic intro. I'm on time today! I have, however, spent a good deal of the day kicking around what I wanted to write about. I mean, here I am on time, but lacking something to complain about.

Thank goodness for the Internet and it's infinite array of diversions. You may be surprised to find that many of the places you go to find out fun and interesting facts are littered with material designed to activate your consumer bloodlust. Yes. I was shocked, too.

I'm usually fairly immune to advertising, but occasionally there will be some sort of product that will be lurking in a clever flash sidebar that will grab my attention enough to make me go and look at some flashy thing that I totally don't even begin to "need" in the way that I need food or clothes or beer. After I see it, however, my brain will get all obsessive and suddenly I'll recognize that this is exactly what the advertisers want.

Sure, sure, you know all of this already. So what does this mean to you, the readers of Budget Ronin?

Um? Give me money so I can buy things? I totally want to consume!!!!

The halfway point in the challenge is now much, much harder, I came to realize today. Couple that with the fact that we are almost done paying off the Budget-Mobile (the penultimate payment clears this afternoon). The Mayday Challenge after the first of the year will actually be not to break the challenge and buy things that we'll actually be able to afford for a change.

I think that it really just "feels" like we'll have more money than we actually will. I've been focusing heavily on the last couple of days to itemize and estimate things on The List. The List is now the new name for all the previous lists. I've even come up with clever acronyms for things. So far we have:

1. WLI: Wish List Items - Things that are "pie in the sky" things that we'd like to have the money to do once in our lifetime, like taking an exotic cruise around the world or hiking the Cotswold Trail.

2. LTI: Long Term Items - Things that will most likely require financing. Not that we're planning to get one, but a new car would be a prime example.

3. STI: Short Term Items - These are things that are outside the scope of impulse buying but don't require financing. These are things that we might have charged to a credit card at one point, but we'd do better at saving cash a month or so in advance to purchase without creating more debt. Fixing the struts in the Budget-Mobile is a fine example of this.

4. OPI: Outstanding Payment Items - The few random collection agency things or doctor's bills that are not much, but we need to catch up on to resolve them on our credit history. These are tricky, because most of them are just annoying, not expensive, so we fall into the trap of letting them ride for another month because we need to buy tortilla shells instead.

So I've got a spreadsheet with all the WLI, LTI, STI, and OPIs I can come up with. Frankly, even if you drop off the Wish List Items, it's a hefty bottom line. It's made me realize that despite the challenges that we have recently beaten, there are always new financial challenges out there. Has anything really changed? Will I fall back into old habits? Will the sudden rush of money cause me to fall back into bad habits?

It's a tough call. I'll confess that despite the excitement or enthusiasm expressed here in my interweb-log, I don't really relish saving reciepts, crunching numbers or making lists. I look for excuses to do it and it doesn't take much to derail me if I let it. I guess that's why I try to be as honest as possible here, because I think a lot of being a fiscally responsible person is being honest and transparent. No, I'm not going to give you all access to my online banking to watch me, but I will try to report not only my successes, but my failures right here.

For example, since our payoff discovery, Budget Naginata and I have already made a new exception to the rule that allows us to order takeout once a month. We started it last month to justify our celebratory dinner and we've let it ride so far because we've both had a bit of extra income from side projects. I'm trying hard to keep this to once a month.

So when I re-read my entries to see how amazing I am, instead of convincing myself that it's a good reward to get something new and shiny, I'll be humbled, if just a little, to remember how this all happened and why I got started on the Challenge in the first place.

Whew. That was a lot.

Better head out now before a cause a market panic in my IP. (Look, real market-type talk!)


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Holy Carp!

I just fished myself out of the gutter. I've been under a rock trying to get a side-project done, not even realizing that it put me 2 weeks behind for the Showdown. I'm a very bad Ronin. No wonder the feudal lords never made a Samurai of me.

Ok. So... We're past the halfway mark! Woo!!!! A week or so past, you know, when I should have been keeping up with the Showdown, I could have actually posted this little fact when it was timely. Regardless, it's still relevant.

So how are we doing on the downhill slide? Things are not too bad at the Budget-Compound.
Both Budget Naginata and I have some extra money coming in from side projects. Our Budget-Mobile is still on track for being paid off at the beginning of the year. Our credit card debt is now a thing for the history books, at least for the time being and Naginata and I are trying to get things organized for what's coming up next year.

Already we are looking at funding one big home improvement project that will greatly help the resell of the ole' Compound, as well as making the place a bit more energy efficient and comfortable to dwell in. It will cost some money, however, so we're trying to approach it with the mindset of getting as much of the cost front-loaded as possible and have a timely schedule for paying it off.

We also have repairs on the Budget-Mobile to slot and we're looking forward to and actual perhaps vacation this coming summer.

Other updates: The hot-tub still languishes unsold, unused, unwanted in the back. The Budget-Truck could use some nuts and/or bolts to get it back up to 100% and we still have some miscellaneous unpaid debts that would be great to get rid of.

It looks like we've settled on the following percentages for our Budget Buckets right now: 70% household maintenance, 10% Long Term: Savings, 10% Short Term: Projects, 10% Fun (after the Challenge is over, for now, we'll be putting that extra 10% into Long Term). Ultimately I'd like to get our debt for our household expenditures down to 50% and put more in Long Term Savings and add some to a Charity Bucket. There is at least three more persistent things we pay for, two of which we might be able to resolve inside of a year or two. This is pretty critical, especially if we want to take on the extra cost of the home fixup.

I think I'll save more about what we plan to do to the Compound on a later post (perhaps this week's Showdown).

That's all I've got for this quick update.

Monday, October 29, 2007


Well... one week on time is a good start. Last week Budget Naginata was away from the Budget-Compound, so Budget Edamame and I held down the fort by ourselves. I took a couple of days off of work to be with her, including Friday. Pardon my truancy.

Budget Ronin vs. the Perplexing Percentages of Peril!
"The alchemy of finance! Don't let your world explode!"

Things I meant to do this weekend:
1. Clean out my inbox.
2. Work up a budget spreadsheet.
3. Talk with Naginata about said spreadsheet.
4. Bake some muffins.

Things I accomplished:
1. Delicious muffins.

I just wanted to post that to demystify the oft-glamorized world of the Budget Ronin. An unproductive weekend, aside, I've been looking at some numbers here at work on my coffee break and think I'm looking at some reasonable percentages. Mind you, I am expecting some fluctuation as we continue to pay off some long term debt, but right now I think we' can say that 70% of the income can cover our obligations and expenses, which leaves us with 10% for short term projects, 10% for long-term investing and 10% for fun. That is the standard we'd like to shoot for. I think starting there and then reducing our obligations by 10% so that we can put that over to charity or redistribute to savings.

I haven't given it a lot of consideration because it looks like we're overspending on our obligations just over 5% or so. Which means we could trim off that amount from fun and still meet our budget. I have identified close to another 20% of our obligations that is long-term debt. I'm not sure we can escalate the payment of this in any easy way and still save a good chunk of money, but I intend to bring it up to Naginata so we can make an informed decision about it together. If we can move it over, we can easily get to 60% income only to obligatory cost and leave 40% open for savings/investment/recreation.

Having 40% of the Clan's income going to exactly where we want it to go makes me very happy. Assuming the car payments go according to schedule, we should be on track for being close to 30% at the top of the year.

I'm trying to think of a good way to organize receipts and expenditures. Maybe buckets or folders that get emptied out once a month. Hmmm. I know there are several online services and several computer programs that would let me track expendatures, but I would really like to make things less complicated, not more. Streamlining is what I'm aiming for.

If we are hitting our percentages, especially our obligatory expenditures and our LT/ST savings, then I'm not so inclined to be nitpicky over the remaining % points. Again, less worried that spent $5 over on any one thing, more worried if we come in 5% over budget per month.

I'm going to try and hammer out something solid with Naginata this week so that this Friday's Showdown isn't another repeat episode.

Enough rambling for now. Let me go look at buckets, baskets or bundles for our new receipt accounting.

This post came in under budget, but over time.