If you feel as though your finances are in ruin, then you need to know that you are not alone. It’s not easy for you to know how you are going to find the money to pay for everything, but at the end of the day you have to make sure that you don’t panic. If you are collected in the way that you approach your debt and if you do everything you can to stay on top, then you shouldn’t have many problems to contend with.
Pay Less Interest on your Credit Card
Credit card debt is bad. It doesn’t matter whether you have debt that is left over from Christmas or whether you have booked a holiday on your card because it can easily take a long time for you to pay it down. This is especially the case if you are paying interest. If you can, you need to move it to a 0% interest card. If you want to get the biggest benefit from this, then you need to pay it down as much as you can earlier-on. If you don’t do this, then you may find that you end up struggling and that you end up in the same situation again when your payments go up again. If you want to really benefit but you are not able to take out a credit card then why not look into: www.bestpersonalloans.com? When you do, you may find that you can pay off your debt and then just pay interest on your loan.
Pay More than the Bare Minimum
Another way for you to pay lessintereston your credit card would be for you to try and pay off more than the basic amount every month. Minimum payments are normally set at very low levels so if you pay this off every month then you shouldn’t have a problem. That being said, if you can afford it, you have to pay more than this if you can. When you do, you will soon find that you can clear your balance with ease and that you can also come out on top with ease.
Shift your Store Card Balance
When you look at your storecard, you may find that they charge a very high-interest rate. You may find that sometimes they are as high as 29%. This can really hurt your finances, so if you want to get around this then you need to try and swap your debt to a 0% card. When you do, you will be able to transfer your balance and you can also really take advantage of the savings. Again, it’s super important that you try and pay down your debt as much as possible during this time.
Pay Less for your Overdraft
Paying interest on your overdraft? If you can, you should try and switch to a current account. This won’t charge you and you may even find that you can save a considerable amount of money too. An alternative would be for you to try and use a 0% money card. This will give you the chance to move money from your credit card to your current account. If you need some help here, then it is more than possible for you to hire a financial advisor. When you do, you can trust in them to help you with anything you need, and they can also give you the advice you need with your overdraft in general. Some can even find you better deals with your credit card too, so keep that in mind if you can.
Almost fainted when I saw the American Express bill this month: $1250! Holeee Mackerel!
Since I’m running low on money anyway and am not going to make it to the end of my “fiscal year” when we’re slated to pull out another Required Minimum Drawdown, this was a bit of an eyepopper.
The fact is, though, that only about $700 of that was for living expenses. The vet charged $200 to put Cassie the Corgi down. The plumber charged $350 to rotoroot the plumbing. Et voilà: budget busted.
Fortunately, I’ve been putting $300 a month into emergency savings, so had a couple thousand bucks for damage control. Transferred $200 to help cover the bill; and if at the end of the month push has come to shove, I can transfer another two or three hunnert into checking for survival purposes.
Meanwhile, the scheme to decommission the Copyeditor’s Desk’s Paypal account continues apace. After hours of hassle, I finally managed to trick damnable PayPal to establish a new account, except that they wouldn’t let me attach it to the corporate bank account. So now money paid for editorial and blogging work will go into my personal account, and then will have to be transferred, with elaborate explanations to the tax man, over to the corporate checking account. That is going to be a vast PITA.
However, speaking of decommissioning: WonderAccountant has a modest proposal. She thinks we should change the business’s structure from an S-corp to a sole proprietorship, an LLC, or a C-corp. And she’s got somethin’ there.
If we made it a sole proprietorship, tax prep would be enormously simplified. The only drawback I can see is that the credit union will want to close the corporate checking & savings accounts. However, WonderAccountant and Mr. W.A. believe we can keep the EIN, and so we could quietly not tell the credit union that any change has occurred. This, we will address later…after tax season.
Meanwhile, all the tax stuff for her is in hand. How I hate this bureaucratic stuff! And how happy am I that I do not have a job in which all you do is wrestle with bookkeeping and taxes? Eeek! Let me count the ways!
Oh, in the PayPal department — and the Department of Outrageous Corporate Bureaucratic arrogance — can you believe this?!? Paypal actually demanded that I provide my bank account number AND password!!!!!!!!!Only in a fine-print line does one find a link to allow you to bypass that bit of bullshit.
Can you imagine? Like I’m gonna give PayPal direct access to my money and let them spy on every thing I do with my bank account? Yes, and while we’re at it, fork over my password to the next hacker who takes on PayPal!
Meanwhile, just as I thought the editing bidness was so moribund I might as well shut it down altogether, along came another of the redoubtable Chinese mathematicians, with 18 typeset pages of elaborate theroretical explication.
What amazing stuff. When you read this copy, you realize how creative and original mathematicians are. The whole premise for the system she uses to describe as a way to understand a specific set of empirical phenomena is a metaphor. Her demonstration works because she founds it in a metaphorical view of the real-world conditions she addresses.
And just as I reached the last few paragraphs of this project, in came a message from a senior scholar who contacted me some time back about helping him with a new biography of a very interesting mid-twentieth-century Chinese figure. This is a book I would really like to work on, and more to the point, he is an eminent scholar with whom I would really like to collaborate. Too, too exciting!
In other pastures of the Elysian Fields…I canceled tomorrow’s crack-of-dawn appointment with the adorable Young Dr. Kildare. Suddenly, out of the proverbial blue (is that also Elysian?), the back pain slacked off markedly. Yesterday afternoon it started to feel better, and this morning the pain was almost gone.
Well. In the first place, I’d just as soon not waste YDK’s time if the damn back sprain is going to go away on its own. Less generously, the prospect of spending a full hour in rush-hour traffic fills me with annoyed horror. To get there by the 8:00 a.m. appointment time, I’d have to leave here at 7 a.m., and the drive would be gawdawful. So…”feels better” served as a convenient excuse.
And a chimera: by 4:00 this afternoon it hurt like hell again.
Among the several tasks I’d set for today was to get a grip on Chapter 36 of Ella’s Story. Right. Well. I filled my pen, anyway.
Well, theCostco Cash Card Budgeting Schemeworked out exceptionally well for July. By the 31st — yesterday — I ended up with $54 and change left on the prepaid card for in-store shopping (budget: $300), and about $45 left on the gasoline card (budget: $60).
The gas card held up well because I’d filled the tank right at the end of May — the 30th or 31st — so in fact the $60 budget intended to cover two fill-ups was only needed for one, and that, not a total fill-up. And the three hundred bucks was probably about right for a month’s worth of grocery and sundry purchases, in the absence of the dreaded Impulse Buy.
So today I join my friends and companions in shopping crime for a Costco Run. We get there as the store opens, but it’s still monstrously hot outside, and warm inside the store, too. This particular day, I’ve driven us not to our favorite store on the fringe of East Richistan, but to a more middle-class outlet on the lower edge of Whiteyville, up on the I-17 freeway. This is a good enough store, but what draws me is that they sell propane. For a lot less than regular vendors do. And I’m low on propane. I lash two tanks into the back compartment of the unbeloved Venza, and we’re off.
We circumnavigate the store, but we find it a little frustrating because its layout is nothing like the other two big-box warehouses we frequent. And I’m pretty sure they’ve rearranged everything since the last time I was there…so I’m no help at all, because I have no clue where they’ve put things. NOTHING is in what feels like a normal place. We wander around, perplexed, dodging millennials and their urchins and generally having to walk three times as many steps as we would normally have to do, to find the stuff we normally buy.
In the course of this venture, Mr. Friend says he’s not feeling well and needs to sit down. Mr. F, you should know, is in his 90s, as is Mrs. F. Fortunately, Costco is selling furniture these days, so Mrs. F and I park him in a dining-room set and take off to find the last couple of items we need. But since he has remarked that he’s afraid his heart may be acting up, I’m worried.
Shortly, we head for the check-out. Mercifully, the lines are extremely short, and we get up to the cash register forthwith.
I tell the cash register guy, when he presents me with a bill for $156, that I would like to top up the depleted Costco cash card with another $250, and then pay the bill with the cash card. He says he can’t do that: he can’t add new money to an old cash card.
Huh? That’s not what they told me at the Outer East Richistan store.
But, says he while I’m puzzling over this discrepancy, he can take the $55 off the old card, put it onto a new cash card, and then I can use my credit-union debit card to add $250 to this new card.
It’s hot, I’m tired, and I’m worried about my friend, so I say okay, make it so. We get through the checkout, stumble back out into the heat, collect the propane tanks, and escape.
When I get home, I look at the receipt and realize that what this idiot has done is, yes, filled up the cash card with money extracted from my checking account via the debit card. A-N-N-D…THEN he has drained another $156 from my checking account to pay for the stuff I specifically asked to put on the cash card.
So now I have to get into my car and drive through the heat, fight for a parking space, and hike across the parking lot to my local Costco, down on Conduit of Blight Blvd.
God. DAMN. It.
When I get there and explain that with $156 extra taken out of the bank, I won’t be able to pay the utility bills, the customer service lady is flabbergasted to learn the guy told me he couldn’t refill the cash card. Of course he can refill the cash card, said she.
She called over a guy and said “Fix this!”
And he fixed it. What he did, basically, was simply withdraw $160 from the card and had me a fistful of cash.
This worked. I can either schlep it up to the credit union and re-deposit it (oh, goodie! another 40 minutes of dodging my fellow homicidal drivers through 115-degree heat!) or simply use it to buy stuff during this month. Probably the later is the path of least resistance.
While I was there, I refilled the gas tank, leaving $8.25 of the original $60 cash card for gasoline.
Tomorrow I have to drive to Tempe, so for sure I’m not going to make a whole month on one tank of gas. That’s really pretty unusual…normally I’d have to fill up twice in 30 or 31 days. But still: I’ll only have to put $51.75 on it to top it back up to sixty bucks.
Meanwhile, $40 was left from the rest of this month’s budget, after everything was paid. So I’m figuring if I shifted that over to the Emergency Savings Project, that would help to revive the account to its former glory We put $681 in there, the max I could spare from July’s Social Security deposit and still have enough in checking to live. If no emergencies require withdrawals from that account (har har!!!), then in a year there should be $8,172 for unexpected expenses.
Obviously that ain’t a-gunna happen. But it’s nice to dream, eh?
It would be slightly likelier to happen if at the end of each month I transferred whatever few dollars remained unspent from that month’s budget. Say, $40…multiplied by 12, that would add $480 to the pot. And if $40 is left over at the end of July, the worst month in creation for utility bills, then a lot more would be left over in January and February.
When I got home from the second Costco junket, I realized I’d failed to buy coffee while we were at the Whiteyville store. However, there’s a Costco on the way home from Tempe, on 44th street just north of the freeway. So I’ll have to stop by there tomorrow afternoon. In the heat. Probably in the rush hour, by the time I spring free from the university library.
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.
Okay, so tomorrow is the first of July, which we hereby call the first day of a new budget cycle…even though, infuriatingly, credit-card billing cycles do not coincide with the first or last of a month. Couple of weeks ago, I came up with the idea of using Costco cash cards as metaphorical budget “envelopes” to help get a grip on my spending in those Elysian realms. And just a day ago, I also had the bright idea of using my credit-union checking and savings accounts as another type of “envelope” in which to organize the annual required minimum distribution (RMD) from the 401 K and the monthly Social Security income into categories:
emergency savings, and
set-asides for the upcoming year’s tax and insurance bills.
Hm. Sounds plausible, doesn’t it? But…how will that work, in practice?
The RMD came in last week: a couple months early since I’m running out of cash. Forthwith, I transferred the tax-and-insurance set-aside — 8400 freaking bucks! — to savings, and I set up the checking account to automatically transfer Social Security deposits to another savings account, where the money (barring any immediate catastrophes) will accumulate to create an emergency fund.
This leaves a rather limited amount to live on over the next year: a little less than $1400 a month, about $365 less than average monthly 2018 spending.
That is going to represent a significant cut in spending. How to pull it off?
Well, the big challenge (IMHO) is Costco, lovingly known as Impulse Buy Hell. Even when I go in there with a list, I still come out with a bunch of junk (no, valuables!) I had no intention of buying. Consequently, a $300 tab is not unusual, and a cash-register bill in excess of $200 is pretty routine. To get a grip on this predicament, I had the idea of purchasing a cash card on the first of the month and using it to buy as much as it will bear, and then when it runs out…well…STOP buying at Costco for the rest of that month.
Two cash cards, actually: one for in-store shopping, and another, to the tune of about $60, for gasoline and propane.
But…how much to budget for Costco in-store spending?
Since I buy most of my groceries, all of my household goods, and much of my personal-care products at CC, $200 is probably not enough. On the other hand, presenting myself with a prepaid card for $300 may do nothing to resolve the diddle-it-all-away issue.
While studying this conundrum, I remembered the box into which I toss Costco receipts. Costco will take anything back and fork over a full refund. Often they’ll do so without a receipt (because, like Big Brother Himself, they have a detailed record of everything you’ve ever bought, and when), but it expedites things to have the receipt. Wouldn’t a fistful of these paper scraps contain a record of how much my various regular purchases cost? And with that in hand, wouldn’t I be able to calculate what any given shopping list of Costco items would cost?
Well… Yes. And yes! Rummage through a few months’ worth of yellowing receipts, and here’s what you come up with:Yea, verily… 😀
Now we have a clue to some of the things I buy all the time, some things I rarely buy, and a couple things I’ll never buy again (bear spray?). Some of these prices you can find at Costco’s website, but of course they don’t list produce prices (because they can’t, in any sane way, without updating pages about every day).
With this in my computer, now I can know about how much a given shopping list is going to cost! Woo-hoo!!
So. On Monday, when I intend to make a run on the Costco in outer Richistan, where they carry the fancy products I crave (you can’t get pomegranate juice at the Inner City Costco down the street, for example), I will have a clue:
Tax is about 10% here. Not everything on the list is taxed at that rate; food is a little lower, but things are considered “food” in highly erratic ways. So it’s safest to assume all purchases will be taxed at 10% and then be pleasantly surprised.
I’m going to have to buy chlorine tablets for the pool, now that the water is getting tropically warm. Until recently the granulated stuff from Leslie’s was working fine (though it, too, is spectacularly expensive). But with summer definitively here, I need the tablets’ stabilizer to keep levels steady under the merry ultraviolet sunlight. At Costco, ninety bucks (plus 10% tax…) will buy you 40 pounds of the stuff. Leslie’s will sell you 35 pounds — some 12 percent less — for the same price, unless you want to fart around with finding a coupon and making an extra trip to an extra store to apply it.
My feeling about that: Hey, guys. If you think $72 (about what you can bring it down to) is a fair price for your product, then that’s the fair price, and I shouldn’t have to be jacked around with stupid coupon bullsh!t.
Truly. I do hate coupons. As I hate “membership” cards at grocery stores. Just charge everyone a fair price and quit the crap.
Where were we? Fifty pounds of chlorine tablets last exactly one year. (Hence, you could argue, if I’d had any sense I would have bought a bucket of the things when I ran out last winter, instead of stupidly waiting till the middle of the summer when the power bill is hovering in the stratosphere….) Thirty-five pounds will last less than a year, plus I’ll have to put up with marketing bullshit or let Leslie’s rip me off on the cost by about 12 percent. Conclusion: Buy the damn things at Costco.
That purchase will push this month’s bill to something around $290.
While the chlorine tablets are an “extraordinary” buy in the sense that the purchase will not appear on any other bill over the next 12 months, note that this month I’m not buying either beef (about $45 for a package) or fish (around $20 to $30, typically). Or shellfish (neither shrimp nor the beloved scallops). So in other months when I would not buy chlorine but would have to buy meat, that cost would keep the total right about where it is for this month.
That suggests that I should budget around $300 for in-store Costco purchases. At the end of a month, I reload the cash card to top it back up at $300 for the following month. So if, say, this month I really do spend only(!) $290 on food and household products, $10 should be left on the card come August 1. So next month I will only have to put $290 on the card.
Now, what about gasoline?
A glance at last month’s Visa bill shows that I spent only $30 on gasoline over the past month.
Freaking astonishing! Especially since if you’d asked me I’d’ve said I spend upwards of $60 a month on gas.
The car’s computer claims it can run another 51 miles, enough to get out to the coveted Paradise Valley Costco. As a practical matter, though, I think I will buy these cards and fill up with gas tomorrow at the Inner City Costco, which is closer to my house and whose gas prices are usually lower. Then I’ll drive to the store in PV or up in Whiteyville, where I can get the upscale products I crave and walk across the parking lot in reasonable safety.
Why did I spend so little on gas last month? Several reasons:
Choir season is over, so that eliminates two round trips to the church per week.
I stopped driving halfway to Blythe to attend monthly meetings of my favorite writer’s group.
And I quit attending the weekly Scottsdale Business Association meetings when they started convening at a Denny’s on the border of the Pima Reservation, halfway to freaking Tucson.
And I haven’t had to drive out to the Mayo this month — halfway to freaking Payson.
One or two doctor’s appointments will cause the car to soak up a fair amount more than thirty bucks worth of gas. Same would happen if I chose to drive to My Sister’s Closet or Nordstrom’s Rack in Scottsdale to shop for clothes — unlikely, but both those establishments display the best of their products in Inner Richistan. There’s hardly any point in going to either of those stores at their uptown Phoenix locations.
So I’m thinking it would be best to put $60 on the gas card. And the same will apply: if I don’t spend that much, it won’t take as many dollars the following month to top it back up.
Setting a rule that I have to quit buyingwhen one of these cards runs out will at least stop me from spending more than $360 a month at Costco. I may just run over to Safeway to buy whatever the CC budget cannot sustain. But…maybe not. If a purchase isn’t urgent, I may just defer it to the following month.
And since the bulk of my buying occurs at Costco, that should help to keep 2018/19 spending under control.
And, for a change: back to Funny about Money’s long-defunct theme: personal finance. You’ll recall, those of you who are Dave Ramsey fans, that one strategy for keeping yourself on budget is called the “envelope method.” In that scheme, you cash out a month’s worth of dollars and fill a separate envelope with the amount designated for each budget item. So, $200 for groceries in one envelope; $100 for gasoline in another, $30 for dog food…and so on, ad ditzy nauseam.
Well, some of us have neither the patience for that kind of ditz nor the stomach for putting an entire month’s worth of funding at risk of being heisted by some enterprising burglar or dropped unnoticed on the pavement. I use credit cards and electronic payment to minimize loss from theft and incompetence.
Conveniently, though, if you happen to bank at a credit union, you have an easy route to create electronic “envelopes.” My CU allows members to add any number of savings accounts. So right now, for example, I have one to collect the constant dustfall of tiny checks from Medicare and the Medigap insuror — whenever a couple hundred bucks accrues, I fork it over to the Mayo. And one for emergency savings. And one to hold enough to cover income tax, accounting bills, property tax, homeowner’s insurance, Medigap insurance, and car insurance, all set aside at the beginning of my personal “fiscal” year, when I have to take an RMD from my 401(k).
This allows you to earmark and set aside specific amounts for specific purposes, placing them where they’re unlikely to get diddled away in day-to-day spending.
Now we have this question: in the absence of a desirable Visa credit card, how — really — am I going to continue to shop at Costco? I haven’t cut up the credit card or closed the account — it’s never a good idea to close a credit account in good standing — but because I don’t do business with outfits that treat me like sh!t, I will never use the card again.
I do have a debit card. But for a variety of reasons, I prefer not to use it. For one thing, there’s not a chance on God’s Green Earth I’m gonna put the thing in a gas station pump — certainly not at the Costco where I shop, which is flanked to the south and the west by dangerous slums and a park that has been taken over by bums. But I do prefer to buy Costco gas, because it’s the cheapest deal in the city. And there’s always an attendant — invariably a large, imposing male — standing around that Costco gas station, so I don’t feel so much at risk as I do at the rip-off QTs within reasonable driving distance of the ‘hood.
So. Here’s my plan:
Create a new savings account to hold money budgeted to spend at Costco. That would be an entire year’s worth of money budgeted for Costco ventures: shopping and gasoline, combined. So let’s say on average I spend, maybe…what? $340 on food, clothing, household goods, dog treats, personal products, impulse buys, and gasoline. When the 2019 RMD comes in — which will be about in September — I set aside $4,080 (= $340 x 12 months) in this account.
Then I trot in to Costco and buy a cash card for the amount I imagine I’ll spend at Costco, both inside the store and at the pumps, over a month. That would be around $340. That is what I carry to the store to make purchases. Each month I pay for it out of the Costco Envelope savings account.
I spend no more than that in any given month. Run out of money: quit shopping at Costco. How hard is that?
If money is left over at the end of the month, the next month’s cash card is loaded with accordingly fewer dollars. So, say, in March I spend $250, leaving $90 unspent; the April card has $340 − $90 on it: $250. Thus whenever I spend less than $340 over a month, the overage stays in the bank account.
So at any given time, the Costco cash card never has more than a month’s budget on it. If I don’t spend the entire budgeted amount, then whatever is not diddled away stays in that savings account.
I figure at the end of the year, anything that’s left can be transferred to the Emergency Savings account, and the Costco Budget account can start over from zero at the start of the new “fiscal year.”
When you know there’s an upper limit on what you can spend, you find yourself feeling a lot more cautious about your spending.
Therein lies the threat of Costco, the Mother of All Impulse Buy Hells. When the budget is open-ended — in your mind you think you have plenty to live on (which you do, if you don’t run amok) — you go “oh, it’s only $20…no problem, I can afford that.” And you could, if you just didn’t keep doing it over and over…
But if you’re thinking, “Helles Belles, I’ve only got x number of dollars to spend today,” then you realize the $20 doo-dad is not a life-or-death purchase. The beauty of the Envelope Method is that it sets a limit on what you’re willing to diddle away.
So, what started out as an annoyance — yet another stupid faceless bureaucratic hassle — may work out to my advantage. Not so much to Costco’s advantage, but certainly to mine: by getting the Costco spending under control, this new, enforced budgeting strategy will let me stay within the annual RMD for another year or two, despite soaring health insurance and property tax rates.
After that, it’s anyone’s guess. I may have to think more seriously about moving out of the country, to some venue where I can stay in the middle class on the retirement income. But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it…