Over Budget: Car Trouble and Stress

It’s mid-June and, friends, one thing is clear: I’m going to go over budget this month in a few categories. Shout out to work stress, soy covered car wiring (explanation below) and my emotional health (or lack thereof); the sources of my overspending.

As you all know, I budget using the YNAB (You Need a Budget) software, which articulates a fundamental rule that budgeters “Roll With The Punches”. The rule encourages budgeters be flexible and address overspending as it happens – by pulling from other categories or accessing savings – instead of being discouraged and giving up.

Before I go any further, I acknowledge that most of my overspending was squarely within my control and that not everyone has the flexibility to “redirect from other categories” when they need extra money. I am aware that sometimes going over budget means going [further] into debt for absolute necessities. (I remember those days well!) However, I encourage folks to not let one bad month discourage you from pursuing financial health! Much to my chagrin, financial freedom is often a two steps forward, three steps backward type of journey.

Having said all that, I know that the money available to me is finite, and when I overspend in one category, YNAB has taught me that I have to (i) be flexible and not be discouraged (ii) as illustrated in the photo below, cover overspending with money from another category or newly earned money (cash-flowing).

Photo from YNAB

When deciding which category to pull money from, I try to pull from my discretionary categories – such as clothing, fun money or dating – first and actively avoid pulling from savings goals or unrelated sinking funds. I also exercise caution when “cash-flowing” since too much spending in June can disrupt July’s budget and my annual savings goals.

Having said all that, let us dig into where I went over budget in June and why. Let’s also talk about how I used the appropriate sinking funds to cover the overspending.

Car Repairs. I received a dashboard alert about my car cameras and since the car is still under warranty, I hustled over to the dealership to have it looked at. A cursory glance by a service technician revealed that six wires in my car had been chomped on by a pest. (Note: A later google search revealed that this is not uncommon in newer cars due to soy-based wiring insulation that car companies rolled out to be environmentally friendly). Unfortunately, all of these wires had to be replaced for safety reasons; repairs that were not covered by my warranty. 😭 The bill was a discouraging $1156.00. While I was able to cover some of the repairs with $350 dollars from my car maintenance sinking fund, I was still ~$800 short. I pulled the extra $800 from my car replacement sinking fund, which I started contributing $200/month to when I paid off my car. Having to pull from these funds was not the end of the world but I’ll need to replenish the used funds, which means that meeting my savings/investing goals for the year will be a little bit more challenging.

Dining Out and Lunch at Work. The second and third spending issues stemmed from a lack of time or desire to cook at home during the first two weeks of June. My personal time has been significantly eaten away since both of my teammates are out on parental leave this month and so, it’s been just me – with the assistance of outside counsel – handling much of our workload. In addition to the late nights, the heavy workload has been quite stressful and has left me feeling down and I have no energy to meal-prep.

Given this new reality, I made the affirmative decision this week to rest on Sunday instead of meal prepping and gave myself permission to eat lunch at work and grab takeout for dinner (Shake Shack for life)! Obviously, this required me to re-calibrate my budget to account for the shift in priorities. The result was that I moved $100 from my grocery budget and split it between my “dining out” and my “lunch at work” budget. So far, I’m still staying within my $260.00 “food” budget overall but the breakdown between subcategories is different. I will need to consider adding more money to this category when I get paid, but am hoping to keep the food budget under $300.

Full Disclosure. Since I no longer have any non-mortgage debt and I also have a significant “buffer”, after I scheduled this post, I decided to top up my grocery category and my food budget expanded to $310 for the month.

How are you all doing with June’s budget? Everything on target? How do you adjust when you overspend? How do you avoid the guilt?

-Barlow

Why I Automated My Savings

What was the first personal finance book you read?

The first personal finance book I read was “The Automatic Millionaire*” by David Bach. While some of his findings have been undermined recently (see articles regarding the “Latte Factor” here, here and here), the idea of “automating my savings” stuck with me because it was simple and actionable.

Automating ones savings, Bach explains, requires structuring accounts so that a set percentage of your income is automatically transferred into a 401(k), taxable investment account and/or savings account before you can ever seen those funds in your account. Set my savings goals and then forget them day to day? Sold.

If it’s so simple, why didn’t you implement it sooner?

Prior to reading Bach’s book, I had the best of intentions when it came to saving. I really did! Every now and then, I would stress in the presence of spreadsheets and notepads and commit to pulling $1,000 a month into a savings account and mayyyyybe setting aside some money in an IRA. Perhaps I would even get around to figuring out my other tax-advantaged account.

My intentions never progressed to action and, unfortunately, I would (i) run out of money before I could ever get around to transferring it to any of my savings goals or (ii) move the money into my savings account only to “revisit” the decision later in the month and guiltily transfer the cash back into my checking account.

A year and a half after finishing Bach’s book, I acknowledged reality. In order to be financially secure, I needed to take flexibility out of the equation. In addition to knowing what hadn’t worked in the past, I knew that, at that time in my life, I was paralyzed by decision-making and would likely hem and haw myself out of ever committing to a financial decision.

After re-reading the book and consulting with friends who were a bit wiser with their money, I built a schedule – based on pay frequency and:

  • Set my 401(k) contribution to 10%. This seems high I know; but I also knew I needed to feel a little pinch and told myself I would adjust to the reduced paycheck. I did.
  • Set up recurring contributions to “Emergency Fund”. I also set up a recurring “bill pay” transaction from my checking to a high-yield savings account at Ally to fully fund my emergency fund. The extra step of having to wait several days to get the money back to my checking account deterred me from “stealing” from my savings.
  • Automate Investments. I also set up an automatic transfer into a taxable brokerage account at Vanguard, which I invested in low cost index funds.

It’s been a few years since I set up that initial “system” and I have seen my net worth triple thanks to consistent and systemic debt repayment and savings. During that time, I was able to successfully manage my money without guilt, distraction or anxiety.

What about now? Over the past two years, having adequately stretched my “savings” and “disciplined decision making” muscles, I took off the training wheels and take a more active role in managing my savings goals. It’s still not a “manual” process (because I simply do better with automation) but I goal set quarterly and annually and then set up recurring transactions (e.g. contributions to 529, 401(k), IRA and brokerage account) to match those goals.

How about you? What did you learn from your first personal finance book? What do you carry with you today? Have you automated your savings? If so, have you run into any issues?

-Barlow

* Barlow Street is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com or whatever). If you use this link, I may receive a commission.