So, here I am, back at the dentist’s office, cooling my heels until he can squeeze me in to deal with the latest little emergency. God only knows how much this will cost. Nothing, I hope. But we don’t bank on hope, do we?
Saturday night the filling he installed a month ago—less than a month ago—crumbled and fell out. with any luck, he’ll stand behind his work, since I haven’t been chewing ice or cracking walnuts with my molars.
However, in all honesty, I suspect he can’t be blamed. The pain from the torn rib muscle has revived my bruxing habit. Well, the bruxing probably never goes away: I’m sure I still clench my teeth on the rare occasions when I’m sleeping. But in the past week, when every minor task like lifting the dog’s dish off the floor has brought a surge of agony, I catch myself clenching my teeth to force myself to keep moving through the pain. When you unconsciously clench, your bite can exert a pressure of 140 pounds per square inch, which no doubt doesn’t help a filling compound.
What with the cost of gas and the ever-rising grocery bills, I no longer can stay on budget. Over the past few months, I’ve run $200 to $320 over budget every month, at first because of the occasional extravagance like the shoes and the cheap jewelry and now simply because it’s costing every penny budgeted just to live. One modest extraordinary expense puts me in the red—and since the budget includes $100 to $150 for unplanned expenses, that means the base cost of living has risen about $100 to $170 a month.
To make up the difference, I’ve been raiding monthly savings (a.k.a. “diddle-it-away money”). But that is a very finite source. If the overspending continues at that rate, my little mini-emergency fund soon will be gone…and then what?
I can use my tax refund, I suppose, but that also is finite.
Welp, it looks like this is what’s gonna have to happen here:
1. Must replenish that short-term emergency savings account; and
2. Must get spending under control.
Putting money back into savings turns out to be relatively easy: instead of transferring a paycheck over to the joint mortgage payment account, I just moved it into the ravished savings account.
I’ve been putting all my community college pay into a joint account with M’hijito, which holds money to cover current and future mortgage payments. Since my share is $8,604 a year and I net $10,800 when I’m teaching three sections a semester, obviously I’m earning more than enough to cover that bill.
Yes. The operative phrase there is when I’m teaching three sections. There’s no guarantee that I’ll always be able to teach three-and-three. First, the school has no obligation to hire me to teach the maximum number of sections available to adjuncts; and second, even when the chair assigns me to teach three sections, if one class doesn’t make, then I don’t get paid for it. The magazine-writing section is particularly iffy. Each semester we’ve watched with bated breath, expecting it to crash in flames. So far it’s always filled at the last minute, but in any given semester there’s a good chance it won’t make. A course load of three-and-two would net $9,000, a scant $400 more than the amount needed to pay my share of the mortgage.
So…as you can see, raiding my pay for $916, the amount I grabbed last week, is ill-advised.
I will use my summer pay (net $3,840) to live on while the extreme heat here pushes living costs to extreme heights. But that won’t begin to materialize before mid-July. In the interim, the horse starves while the grass grows. During the second half of May, all of June, and the first half of July, I’ll have exactly zero income other than Social Security, and so will have to live on savings. And that means I can’t be running over the budget.
So. “Must get spending under control” surfaces as the most important part of the two strategies, and the most difficult.
These budget overruns have been happening while utility bills are very low. I’ve hardly run the heat all winter, and in the past couple of weeks only turned the AC on a few times to knock the heat in the house down enough to sleep at night. Air-conditioning bills will add about $140 a month to the power bill and about $50 a month to the water bill.
How to make $190 materialize out of a budget that’s stretched to the max? Well…not sure.
• Avoid driving, to the extent possible.
All the extra cost here is coming from gasoline. As much as I try to keep it down, what was an $80/month bill just a few weeks ago has jumped to $120+ per month. The weekly trips to the Scottsdale Business Association’s breakfast meetings will end when summer school starts in July, since I’ll have to be in front of a classroom by 7:00 a.m. four days a week. I may have to weasel out of those sooner, though. It’s a wash, though: the school’s about as far away as the restaurant where SBA meets. All errands will need to be folded in with trips to campus, and shopping will have to take place along that route.
What this means in practical terms: I can not drive anyplace for socializing, curiosity, or fun.
• Cheapie down the food bill
More beans, less meat. Unfortunately we’re coming to the end of the season when veggies will grow in my meager garden, so lettuce and other veggies will have to come from the grocery store. I’ll need to buy produce of lesser quality from cheaper stores than Safeway.
• Quit drinking all beer and wine.
That one’s a no-brainer.
• Short the dog on the quality of her food
Watch the ethnic stores, which sometimes run a little cheaper, for inexpensive chicken and pork.
• Let the hair grow out.
Gonna have to give up on the short hairstyle, I’m afraid. Long hair doesn’t have to be cut every four to six weeks.
• Reinstitute the detailed, tightly categorized budgeting system for discretionary spending.
I’d thought I could get rid of the OCD stuff and just keep a running tab: $800 – x, y, and z as the costs came along. But apparently that’s giving me a false sense of confidence. I need to know, at any given time, how much I’ve spent on items like gas, food, clothing, and the like, and how much is available to spend. This does allow me to shift spending in response to unplanned expenses and increased costs.
I figure I drink three bottles of wine a month and maybe three four- or six-packs of extremely fancy beer. At $10/bottle, the wine is running $30 a month, and the $9 packs of beer would add up to $27 a month, for a total, with tax, of $62.35. No haircut represents a saving of $50 a month. We’re at $112 right there. Since gas prices sure aren’t gonna go down and I’m already restricting my driving as much as possible, about the best we can hope for is to keep the monthly gasoline bill stable. That’s leaves $78 a month that will have to come out of groceries, at least until my summer pay starts. But let’s remember that, absent unplanned expenses, I’m already running as much as $170 over budget, before the summer bills hit. So the real amount that needs to be economized, with sumer y-cumin’ in, could be somewhere between $178 and $248. A month.
Wow! That’s a lot of beans, eh?
§ § §
Well, no. That wasn’t the new filling that crumbled and fell out of my mouth two days ago. It was the tooth itself.
That’s right. About a quarter of the tooth just fell apart and broke off, for no good reason other than old age and probable bruxism.
So. Instead of one new crown, to replace the chipped crown I’ve been delaying fixing because it’s not doing any harm, now I need two new crowns. The broken molar is in the upper jaw directly above the crown. If my jaws are going to fit together right, both crowns need to be fixed. Now, not later.
For the crowns alone, not counting a new $350 night guard, the tab will be $2,695! And now I’ll have four gold teeth glinting in the sun every time I smile or open my mouth to speak. Lovely.
That’s my entire tax refund!
I’d planned to use that to help me get by during the two months when no pay will be coming in, and then use whatever remained to further delay the time that I’ll have to take a drawdown from my brokerage and IRA accounts.
It’ll have to be done as soon as they can get me in. With the sharp edges smoothed off, my teeth no longer fit together evenly, so my bite is lopsided. Just imagine the headache, jaw pain, and ear-buzzing that will cause.
It’ll certainly make this year’s medical bills tax-deductible, too, just like 2010’s.
Image: Effect of bruxism on an anterior tooth. No artist given. GNU Free Documentation License.