Naturally, even though I hit “save to DropBox” until I was blue in the face, the Time Machine Mac-reboot demolished my Excel budget sheet. Sooo…this morning I had the ineffable privilege of trying to reconstruct every penny-pinch I’ve indulged this month.
Is it, really, any wonder that most Americans have little to no control over their money? That most of us have little or no emergency savings, to say nothing of enough to live on through our dotage?
On the “fun” scale, budgeting ranks down about where “scouring the toilet” appears. Maybe slightly below that. Depressing, frustrating. and annoying. Especially when your damn computer deletes several hours’ worth of ditz.
Okayy…. So after spending most of the morning wrestling with this sh!t, I was unable to reconstruct all of the month’s record without having to spend even more hours poring over each entry in three weeks’ worth of receipts. So…had to make a few shortcuts. Those skimpy calculations notwithstanding, I did manage to ascertain the following:
• The Costco cash card devoted to in-store purchases still holds $54.
• The CC cash card for gasoline purchases still has its original $60(!!!).
• I’ve managed to hold the AMEX bill to an amazing $277, an all-time low.
• Despite a $237 power bill and a $200 water bill, I’m still $220 in the black (!!!!!).
• I now have $681 in the emergency savings fund, up from last week’s $5.41.
• The Mayo Clinic savings fund holds something over $500 in unclaimed funds, mysteriously: I may be able to afford to have the broken tooth fixed, after all.
Where the phantom $500 in medical savings came from, I do not know. I must have accidentally paid a bill or two out of cash flow. Typically, I charge Mayo bills on American Express as soon as the money comes in from Medicare and Medigap, deposit the incoming funds to a credit union account reserved to hold money for medical spending, and then use that to pay amounts charged on said AMEX bill. But because I hate loathe and despise the ditzy job of scanning and depositing those checks (or of traipsing 40 minutes across the city to deposit them in person), I may simply have spaced a few AMEX medical charges, paying them out of cash flow. WhatEVER…now I can use that to help get the teeth fixed.
Explanation: The Mayo Clinic declines to accept “Medicare assignment.” That does not mean, contrary to the impression many people have, that they refuse to accept patients who are on Medicare. It means only that they don’t accept direct deposit from Medicare or from Medigap insurers. Read: they do not want to pay an army of bookkeepers to deal with the endless blizzard of tiny little payments that Medicare and Medigap emit. If there’s one bill for a visit during which you had, say, nine minor tests and a doctor’s appointment, they don’t write one check; they write ten checks. The amount of paper these agencies vomit out simply defies belief. I have almost an entire file drawer full of the sh!t, and that’s just for one little old lady. One reasonably healthy little old lady.
So if you want to do business with…uhm, I mean, get care from the Mayo Clinic, you have to field All…That…Paper. And dig the checks out of the dunes of snail-mailed paperwork. (They’re easy to miss!). And then deposit them to your account. And then from your account, pay the amount due to the Mayo.
It’s a fuckin’ nuisance, and believe me, if there were any other hospital in the Phoenix area that consistently ranks good to excellent, I would take my healthcare business elsewhere. Alas, though, where medical care is concerned Arizona in general and Phoenix in specific are, shall we say, somewhat lacking in the “good to excellent” department. There are specific hospitals here — such as the one about a mile and a half from my house — that you do not want to go to. Hence, a drive that’s halfway to Payson whenever I need to see the doc, and unending hassles with paying the bills.
Truly. If my son didn’t live here, I would be living in Europe right now, today. This country has backslid so far into the Third World, one truly has to question the benefit of staying here.
See what I mean, about how annoying and depressing the whole budgeteering effort can be? If you even begin to think about the absurdity of it all…sheesh!
Where were we?
Yes. Well, despite the crabbiness this endeavor generates, by the time I finished reconstructing the month’s budgetizing record, I felt a lot better about things. With $54 still free to spend at Costco, plus $60 on the gasoline card (I had to buy gas on the last day of June and still have about a third of a tank left — meaning I will have spent only $30 on gas by the end of this month), I should finish this cycle well within budget. Maybe I’ll even have enough to pay the barbecue repair guy next week without running into the red.
The piddling $277 on the AMEX card was a surprise. In a big way. Typically, AMEX runs between $900 and $1200 a month. Why did this happen?
My theory is this:
Dedicating a flat amount to spend in Costco and determining not to exceed it forced me to build shopping lists before each of two Costco junkets. This accomplished two things:
a) Because I did not want to have to go back to Impulse Buy Hell unnecessarily, I thought very carefully about the things I needed. And…
b) Determining to stay within the $300 budget worked successfully to block the impulse-buying habit.
A carefully planned Costco [or Sam’s Club or Aldi or Walmart…] shopping list means you buy most of your needs there. So, you have to buy relatively few last-minute or forgotten items in a grocery store or a hardware store or a home store. That limits another category of impulse buy, of course: the ohhh I must have that [bag of popcorn] [box of clothespins] [overpriced artichoke] [tube of purple lipstick] [can of WD-40]! purchase.
There are a few things I have to buy in a grocery store. Those fancy rolls of dog food I use to fill in when the gourmet home-made food runs out, for example: Costco doesn’t carry those things. Walmart and the uppity AJ’s both carry them — and each charges the same for the stuff. If most of a month’s supermarket and grocery store items are purchased at Costco, then all that’s left to buy elsewhere is the dog food and occasional fresh produce. Walmart’s produce stinks and half the time they’re out of the dog food, so to avoid wasted trips (and wasted gasoline) I buy both at AJ’s, the Jewel of Richistan. But even buying fresh produce and overpriced dog food at that upscale emporium does not run up the AMEX bill the way list-free shopping does.
If these speculations are true, then I should have relatively little trouble staying within what seemed like an impossibly tight budget (given what I have been spending, habitually). Frankly, after the astronomical power and water bills, I was very surprised not to find myself flat broke already.
Now is the most expensive time of year, when it comes to running the Funny Farm. I do not do time-of-day billing deals with the power company (like, yeah: I really want to spend my evenings running the laundry! And sure, I really want the Salt River Project telling me what I can do and when!). Nor do I average out my bills over the year: that would leave me with unaffordable bills all year round instead of just three or four months a year. The result is that during the winter, the power bills in this house are very low. I don’t mind being a little chilly for a few hours a day. Once the sun hits the roof, the house warms right up, even in the middle of January. There’s no reason to heat the entire building when a space heater will make the room where I spend most of my time plenty comfortable. Same is true with the water bills: in winter, the vegetation uses a quarter of the amount of water needed to keep it alive during the summer. As a result, water bills are correspondingly low. This leaves lots more money to spend on my indulgences during the cooler months.
Or to set aside in savings. 😉