Coffee heat rising

Liveblogging the Budget

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.

Oh well.

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.

11 thoughts on “Liveblogging the Budget”

  1. UGH. How I hate teeth. Maybe you should look into the dental tourism I keep reading about. Costa Rica is the place often recommended.

    The cost of dental work is truly ridiculous.

    Are there dental schools nearby?

  2. LOL! The very charming Dr. Davis (previous dentist) remarked that he LOVED Mexican dentists, because their screwups and lack of sanitation enriched him no end. Then he described a couple of horror stories that had happened to his own patients.

    I expect it would cost as much to fly to Costa Rica to get the crowns made as it would to just have them done here, unless you can deduct the cost of hotel rooms, food, and travel as “medical expenses.” You’d have to hang around for a week or two, while the impressions were converted into the final crowns.

    And I’m not at all sure I’d want a learner working on my teeth. I’ve only go one set of the things.

  3. So sorry to hear about the teeth! I have 3 crowns caused by teeth-clenching, which I got before I started wearing my night guard. I’ve had the night guard (3 actually) in the last 15 years, and no crowns since then. They are expensive, but worth every penny in the long run. Just don’t lose them! That’s why I’ve had 3. Arghh!!

  4. That sucks. I wouldn’t plan on giving up beer and wine entirely, you should maybe cut down by 2/3 but keep some of that in there. Just my suggestion.

    Maybe time to sell a few more ads on Funny to keep things going; I’ve heard that the market for internet advertising is expected to grow quite a bit throughout the next 6-12 months, so if need be, go for it! I’ve been opening up MB to a few more ads.

  5. i have a friend who goes to the dental school–not so much to save money as to get better dentists! All student work is supervised by teachers. You are paying in time, as each procedure takes at least double the time. The waiting list can be long.

    Also–rather than sacrifice two good teeth to get your bad tooth fixed, look into implants. These are very expensive. I got one, btw. One of these days, I’ll write about my $5000 tooth.

    It is in the interest of your dentist to malign the work of Mexican dentists. Of course, he only sees the problems. My friend first went to the dental school b/c her American endodontist (very $$$) left some of the roots in. My American endodontist and dentist messed up a crown/root canal, necessitating the above-mentioned implant.

    I think with research you could find a reputable dentist abroad, And yes–the total cost is the same, but you get a tropical vacation thrown in.

  6. Interesting about using dentists from another country. But I’m with you Funny. I would be terrified to try it.

    We seem to be leading parallel lives. I developed a major tooth ache last week (with enough pain to give away info on the allied army positions under torture). I have been living on antibiotics and vicodin while I wait for my referral to come through for a root canal.

    Never in the history of dentistry has a person been so anxious to have a root canal as I am.

  7. You need booze to kill the pain, right?
    Seriously: So sorry to hear about the physical and fiscal suffering. My sister is a dental hygienist and cleans my teeth for free. She also does X-rays, with her employer’s permission, and has pointed out a couple of crowns that will eventually need re-doing. I keep putting it off, but if at the next “exam” the replacements seem imminent perhaps I will do a cost/benefits allowance in terms of getting dental insurance.
    Or maybe I’ll just become her dentist’s janitor and work it off. I’m only half-kidding.

  8. So sorry to hear of your dental woes. I just paid $2500 for a root canal and crown so I share your fiscal pain. 🙂
    I fear the future will only bring more of the same. Age, grinding, old fillings…the outlook isn’t good. For the record, I live in the UK and the prices here are comparable to the US.
    By the way, my dentist tried to sell me one of those custom night guards and I did a little research and learned you can buy tooth guards very inexpensively. I purchase mine on Amazon for about $12. It is simply a small piece of silicone (I think) and you heat it up on warm water and then bite onto it and let it set. Voila, custom tooth guard.

    • Sorry to hear about your own dental frolicks. And sorry to hear Britain’s healthcare system doesn’t help with those costs.

      Yes, I’ve looked into those OTC toothguards, and in fact I have one here in the house. Problem with them is that because they’re temptingly squishy, for some people they simply stimulate more grinding and clenching. The fitted nightguard, which is made of hard plastic, is less likely to aggravate the chomping problem. So they say…

  9. Fyi, for those suffering from tooth pain please try clove oil. Put a little bit on a piece of cotton or q-tip and place on your tooth. It will numb the area in no time. Even a clove, or ground cloves will work, though not as well as clove oil.
    After the throbbing pain prior to my root canal I will never be without clove oil in my home again.

  10. @ Fuji and all: Yes, clove is a very effective short-term reliever of oral pain. As Fuji mentions, ground clove right out of your pantry will do the job. Clove oil probably would hang around on the offending spot a little longer.

    @ Donna Freedman: Booze (wonderful booze!) is in fact an effective pain-killer. The trouble with it is the darn stuff tastes so good…one tends to continue pain-killing way past the point of numbness. The beauty of clove, of course, is that there’s only so much of it you can stand.

    @ E. Murphy: Urk! When you’re in pain, you’re in pain. Gotta say, though, I was surprised to discover that a root canal is nowhere near as traumatic as I expected. My dentist was able to make the procedure virtually pain-free. The problem was the length of time it took. And three of them in one tooth…that was a bit beyond the pale.

    Meanwhile, try some of that clove oil. Bourbon and water, applied in a swallowable solution, may help some, too.

    @ Money Beagle: Wine is to me as Cracker Jacks are to a normal human being. If I have it in the house, I am going to drink it. Really, when I want to cut back, I find it’s best to just not allow the stuff to come in through the door. Now, during these parched spells, I’m not averse to a bottle of beer or a glass of wine in the occasional restaurant…fortunately, I’m such a cheapskate it’s unlikely that I’ll order more than two bottles of Negro Modelo or one glass of house red. Otherwise I’d be living at restaurants.

    @ frugal scholar: There are two places in town that train up dental assistants: one is a community college and one is a spectacularly overpriced proprietary school. Both of them offer cleaning services, but over very limited periods: just a few weeks, once a year. LOL! Presumably this is their students’ capstone project!

    As far as I know, there’s no school that trains DDS’s here. When I see the Good Dr. Davis, I’ll ask him.

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