We often get the question of how we track our money, and when David mentioned recently he was “drowning in receipts” (I can relate) (No she can’t. I can relate. – Lee) I thought I would go ahead and combine the explanation of how we track our money with this month’s budget, so those of you who skip these budget posts, can skip this explanation first, before you skip the budget post. (You never know, though, there might be a pretty picture at the end of a budget post, and if you skip it, you’re only robbing yourself. – Lee) Let me start by saying it wasn’t easy initially. In our former life, we were used to having enough money that we didn’t need to track every penny, and it was quite the mental transition to not only track everything, but also talk about it. (I still tracked every penny back then, I just didn’t care what the data revealed. Well, I cared a little. I used to hassle the kids about how much it cost to leave lights on, to the point where I made a spreadsheet of how much an hour of anything electrically powered cost, and put post it notes all over everything. I was a super cool dad. Oh, and I also told them, a LOT, about how I didn’t want to heat the neighborhood while they opened the sliding door all the way to let out a dog that needed a 6 inch opening. Did they think we were MADE of money? Also, food waste makes me crazy. And turning up the heat so they could walk around the house in shorts and a t-shirt, with no shoes or socks in the winter. Sorry. I ranted a little bit there. Apparently I still have a little New England Fuel Oil Cost PTSD. – Lee) I know from talking to our friends, we aren’t alone in this, and although people track to varying degrees, everyone it seems is tracking more than they did prior to becoming full-timers.
So how do we do it? Well for me it starts with a spreadsheet, and I purchased the basic template from Howard at RV-Dreams before we even went on the road. Yes, I could have created my own, but I liked his format and I wanted to support him and his lifestyle, so I bought his way back in the summer of 2013, and never looked back. I have been using it since the beginning, and am a big fan. It’s relatively simple, all the formulas work, and it helps me stay organized. We have changed descriptions on some of the categories over the years to ones that work a little better for us, but mostly we have used it as is.
As good as the spreadsheet is you have to get the information into it and that’s where we initially ran into a problem. Initially we tried to keep all our receipts, but we kept losing them, or didn’t get them, and it just didn’t work. This was making Lee crazy, and ultimately he decided to use a program called Quicken which he was familiar with because he used it at his former job. Quicken does all kinds of amazing things, but I still preferred my spreadsheet, so what Lee does is download our transaction info from all of our accounts into Quicken and then categorizes each purchase so they match what we have in the spreadsheet. He then runs me a weekly report, which I transcribe into the spreadsheet. (Sorry, I just need to take a moment. I’m just laughing and laughing at her use of the word “weekly”. It’s June 7, and as soon as I proof read the first part of this post I’m going to load up Quicken and categorize all of May’s transactions because the last one I did was May 2nd. Then I’ll run the category reports so she can put them all into the spreadsheet. Weekly. That’s funny. – Lee)
This is double the work, certainly, but what I like about this system is if he makes a categorization mistake I catch it when I move the numbers over. And the categories are important. In order to control our spending we need to know where the money is going and to trust that information it needs to be input in properly at the beginning. Even though this sounds like a ton of work, and initially it was a little challenging, at this point all of that happens very quickly (still giggling. – Lee) with both of us spending maybe an hour a month on budgets. It actually ended up being way less time than rifling through a million receipts, and we never have to worry that what we enter into the spreadsheet doesn’t match what we have in the bank. (Do as we say, kids, not as we do. – Lee)
The only tricky part is cash, and we try to use that as little as possible. Let me give you an example. We know we will need cash for campground fees or a special event so we take $100 out of the bank. In Quicken we can break that $100 down and categorize it, but since we tend to hold onto to the cash in our wallets, they don’t always get categorized in the same month we took the money out. My solution to this has been to capture cash purchases in the spreadsheet as they happen, and to be honest occasionally one slips through the cracks. (Back to laughing really hard again. Laughter is good for the soul, thanks, honey! – Lee) But since we prefer using cards (we want the AmEx points!!!) this generally isn’t a huge deal in the grand scheme of things. We had a similar issue with our Pilot/Flying J fuel card (transactions not showing up until the next month when we got the statement). so now Lee enters our Pilot gas purchases on the spreadsheet as they occur and when the bill comes in the next month I just ignore that charge because it’s already been input. Figuring out how to handle the fuel was a much bigger deal, because that can have a huge impact on our budget in any given month, but we seem to have a system that is working.
I am sure this all sounds pretty complicated, and initially it was. It eventually it becomes second nature and what I like about it is we are both seeing all the transactions every single month. It’s much easier to hold each other accountable when we both have a stake in “paying the bills” and even though there is some double work involved, this stops one of us from being oblivious to what is going on. The only other thing I will mention here is that now we talk about a money a lot more than in our old life. Initially those conversations were very stressful, but now it’s rarely any different than talking about who is going to take out the trash. That is a major improvement for us, and came from us “meeting in the middle” in money conversations. I stopped worrying obsessively about every little dime and Lee stopped holding the information so closely and then giving me the bad news all at once. This transition did NOT happen overnight. It took a couple of years for us to reach this place, but I often think that if nothing else came our of our full timing adventure, the way our relationship handles money now is a huge benefit.
Hope this answers the question. On to the month of May!! The good news is that despite not having full pay periods we were only $61 over budget this month. One of the benefits of working so hard was we didn’t have a ton of time to spend any money. We definitely had issues with the grocery budget again though, which seems to be a pattern for us when we land in a remote place. We end up stocking up, as if we were going to be snowed in or something, and then spend the rest of the summer trying to figure a way to eat all of that food. More details are listed below.
Groceries – Like I said in the summary, we spent way to much and went over by $363.14. On the plus side we were under by $121 in eating out which helps offset some of those costs.
Memberships – Both our Costco and our Amex memberships came due this month and since those are both providing us value we went ahead and paid them. Currently we aren’t paying for Work Kamper or Escapees so for now we are still under in this category.
Clothing – Lee broke down and requested a bunch of work shirts. He’s been wearing this same model since 2006. When he finds something he likes he sticks with it. Instead of the black he’s always worn, he a moss green which goes better with the type of work he is doing now. Since having a tucked in, buttoned down, well fitting shirt matters to him I was all for it. Plus, these shirts really last. The ones he’s replacing are over 10 years old, and they’re in perfectly good shape, but the black has faded quite a lot. (I absolutely love these shirts. I wore both the long and short sleeve versions for 10 years at work, and I’ve continued to wear them since we hit the road. You’ve seen me wear them. I wear them pretty much every day, and they’re nearly indestructible. What I really like about them is that the tails are extra long, and they have arm gussets, so they stay tucked in. And I’ve never had a button come off of one. They’re pretty reasonable considering how long they last. Check them out here. – Lee)
Miscellaneous – I spent $56 on plants for my garden for the summer. I really should put this in entertainment or maybe food 🙂
Overall it was a good month, and I was pleased to see we only spent $3071 since it was all pretty crazy, and things tend to get out of whack when we are working so hard. Now that things have settled down we will really need to stay on our costs, because part of the reason we took these jobs is to sock away some money for our next break in October/November. Although that is always a balancing act when we also want to do stuff. A friend of mine said the other day that she is finally “living within her means”. I don’t know if we are actually doing that, but we are always getting closer, which is good enough for me.
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