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Old 08-22-2010, 05:43 PM   #21
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Before DW and I retired, we did our spread sheets, forecast and budgeting. For the first two years I watched the expenditures like a hawk. I remember when our first propane bill came in higher than I expected, I thought we would have to stop heating the house, but slowly, I began to realize that the spread sheets and budgets were spot on. I had been tracking things for about three years prior to retirement and forecast we needed $48,000 a year. For the five years we have been retired, we have been right on that amount. I don't watch things that close anymore.
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Old 08-22-2010, 05:55 PM   #22
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Since I FIRE'd I try to track every penny in a budget. But my budget is flexible in that my overall goal is to not over spend for the year. But in my mind if I over spend in one category, as long as I underspend in another to balance it out, that's fine with me. For example, I might feel more generous than I thought, and spend more on gifts than I had planned. If so, that's okay as long as I spend less on something else to balance things out.
Yep...that's the way we are.

Right now I'm whistlin' a tune because it looks as if we'll have $700 left over in our dental category. Now, this doesn't mean we have to spend it elsewhere, but ummmm...it's nice to know it's there.

I would like to say after a while, we won't have to keep a detailed spreadsheet, but it does keep us honest and no arguments ensue since we agree on the budget at the beginning of the year.

This is our first full year of retirement and it's still a learning process. So far...so good..
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Old 08-22-2010, 09:05 PM   #23
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I like & use a tip that the Kaderlis provided in their book. They track expenses for the past 12 months. That allows you to ensure that you're within your annual budget, but keeps you from over-reacting to an unusually expensive month.

We track expenses and review every month. We also track to make sure our trailing 12 months is less than our annual budget. Portfolio is tracked every week-end to see if any rebalancing triggers are tripped, or if we need to adjust spending.
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Old 08-22-2010, 10:10 PM   #24
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We don't do detailed budgeting (yet) but did make a few immediate changes to cut down expenses this year when we both ER'ed, in order to spend more on travel.

Stopped buying lunch at the works cafe.

Downsized home and moved to a town where we only need one car.

We sold a car leaving us with one. Also saved insurance on the existing car as the area we moved to is lower cost plus very low mileage now I'm not using it to.

No office clothes needed for either of us.

Stopped my regular massage sessions - joined the YMCA instead and de-stress there instead.

Cut down a lot on eating out - much more time to cook for ourselves.

Eliminated movie channels from the cable package as we travel a lot now, and I just don't miss them.
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Old 08-22-2010, 10:24 PM   #25
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I like & use a tip that the Kaderlis provided in their book. They track expenses for the past 12 months. That allows you to ensure that you're within your annual budget, but keeps you from over-reacting to an unusually expensive month.
That's what I do. And like Billy & Akaisha, I have a target average daily budget, not including air transportation. I also keep rental real-estate investment expenses out of the daily average, since they aren't discretionary.
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Old 08-23-2010, 02:29 AM   #26
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We have no budget but track expenses for more than 30 years now and feed our saving accounts regularly directly when salaries come in (pay yourself first...).
As long as we see that we are still on the LBYM track so that there is still some dough left at the end of each month everything is good.
Tracking also allows some predictions for ER (hopefully), at least for the early years of it. There will be more cost for travelling and gas (because we can use a company car for private driving), a bit less on clothes and food. Everything else should remain the same + inflation.
2012 will tell if we did it right...
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Old 08-23-2010, 03:12 AM   #27
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For many years I took the lazy approach and set myself a target savings rate. So long as I was reasonably close to that target each month and at year end, I didn't sweat the details and didn't track expenses in any detail.

As I get closer to retirement, the importance of knowing how much we are spending and where I am spending it increases so we now track spending monthly and have used that data to refine our retirement budgets. It's now a habit that I expect will continue beyond retirement.
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Old 08-23-2010, 08:52 AM   #28
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When I say that we do not have a budget, it does not mean that we do not know our expenses. Rather, it means that we do not restrict ourselves to a rigid regimen. When our son is done with school and all the retirement toys have been bought, perhaps our expenses will settle down to a lower level which I will feel comfortable funding without the part-time work.

But then, what would I do all day?
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Old 08-24-2010, 07:03 AM   #29
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Originally Posted by Rustic23 View Post
Before DW and I retired, we did our spread sheets, forecast and budgeting. For the first two years I watched the expenditures like a hawk. I remember when our first propane bill came in higher than I expected, I thought we would have to stop heating the house, but slowly, I began to realize that the spread sheets and budgets were spot on. I had been tracking things for about three years prior to retirement and forecast we needed $48,000 a year. For the five years we have been retired, we have been right on that amount. I don't watch things that close anymore.
I'm somewhat in this camp.

I had lotsa spreadsheets prior to retiring and had come up with "the number" I thought we needed to live on. For the first couple of years I tracked things on a macro level. That is to say, I didn't have a specific budget nor did I keep track of every expense. But month-to-month and then at the end of the year I did a fair amount of analysis on whether or not we had stayed at our number. After about 3 years, I determined we were not spending as much as I had forecast, so I have eased off on the tarcking. There are a couple of triggers that will tell me if we are spending more than we should. For example:
- How often do we have to use my SS check for expenses. If more than 50% of the time, that's a problem. As long as we are banking at least every other check, it's not.
- Do we have to use my wife's SS check for expenses? So far we've banked every one of hers.
- How often do we have to dip into the portfolio? (My original, pre-ER planning had called for a monthly draw from the port. That has been largely unnecessary except for really unusual expenses.)

That said, we live fairly frugally day-to-day but don't hesitate to go on a nice vacation once or twice a year, to take the occasional weekend trip to NYC, Montreal or some other interesting city where we don't scrimp.

Bottom line is that tracking expenses on a micro level isn't really necessary; being aware of them on a macro level and knowing when we've hit a tripwire is essential.
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Old 08-24-2010, 08:26 AM   #30
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When I say that we do not have a budget, it does not mean that we do not know our expenses. Rather, it means that we do not restrict ourselves to a rigid regimen.
This is what I do, too. The key here is to construct a budget which contains a surplus, even a small one, so you can spend a little bit more here and there on unexpected things. Then you won't get all nervous if and when you go out to eat or if your electric bill ends up higher than you expected because of extremely hot weather.
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Old 08-24-2010, 08:29 AM   #31
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- How often do we have to use my SS check for expenses. If more than 50% of the time, that's a problem. As long as we are banking at least every other check, it's not.
- Do we have to use my wife's SS check for expenses? So far we've banked every one of hers.
- How often do we have to dip into the portfolio? (My original, pre-ER planning had called for a monthly draw from the port. That has been largely unnecessary except for really unusual expenses.)
Seems to me you need to spend more. Have you seen the "Which car?" thread?
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Old 08-24-2010, 08:42 AM   #32
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I don't have a budget per se, but I have a set amount I save each month, and then I can spend the rest. Savings go toward retirement, the emergency fund, and then the "fun" fund for vacations etc. My spreadsheet for retirement projections only has a few different lines for expenses (mortgage, health insurance, travel, and "living expenses" for everything else).

I am a Fed, and since I have decided I have to wait until my MRA to retire so I get full health bennies, I should have plenty of money by then to not worry so much (I was going to retire 5 years earlier, but it's really not practical to give up the health care bennies)...
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Old 08-24-2010, 09:01 AM   #33
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...a budget is not rocket science.
Such a simple (but true) statement. Unfortunately, so many folks try to make it "rocket science".

As for me/DW? Track everything and modify budget depending on changes (primarily inflation based).

As far as those pesky small items (e.g. car gas, eating out, clothes, etc.) still use the old "envelope method" we started with 40+ years ago...
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Old 08-24-2010, 09:07 AM   #34
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When I say that we do not have a budget, it does not mean that we do not know our expenses. Rather, it means that we do not restrict ourselves to a rigid regimen.
Have never had a written budget, till the last couple years. I now have a simple spreadsheet to document regular expenses. There are a couple broad line items I can mess with like "Visa Bill" and "Travel" which cover extras not accounted for on their own line. I just look at the spreadsheet now and then as a reality check to see how we're doing.
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Old 08-24-2010, 09:19 AM   #35
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I now have a simple spreadsheet to document regular expenses. There are a couple broad line items I can mess with like "Visa Bill" and "Travel" which cover extras not accounted for on their own line. I just look at the spreadsheet now and then as a reality check to see how we're doing.
My wife pays all the bills, and keeps a spreadsheet to track all expenses. I am the guilty one who is responsible for all those unplanned extras, i.e., toys like RV and accessories. I often take a peek at her spreadsheet to see where our money goes. Did that, and it convinced me to stay on this part-time work a bit longer, and to delay the RV trip despite constant ribbing from you know who.
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Old 08-24-2010, 05:10 PM   #36
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We never made a concerted effort to manage a tight budget except in the really young years and that was governed by the limited income and a desire to not take on debt. By the time we were in our 30's we had fairly good paying jobs and careers so we simply made more than we would normally spend (we are somewhat frugal).
That's us.

OTOH, we've always written down everything we've spent. I total it once a year, my wife doesn't care. I've discovered that when I look at our spending it appears reasonable for our income, and I've never made a different spending decision because of it. So my experience is that the 5-7% saving doesn't happen.

OTOH, having the spending record made it much easier to make big decisions like whether to look for a different job or when to retire.
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Old 08-28-2010, 08:43 AM   #37
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That's us.

...
OTOH, having the spending record made it much easier to make big decisions like whether to look for a different job or when to retire.

You are right. I have not been tracking spending details to budget, but I have analyzed our gross after-tax spend (outflow) over several years. It helped me to realize that my FIRE income estimates over the years (which were rule of thumb based on my income... excluding DW income) were an inflated target.

But that extra savings helps me to be more confident to follow-through with FIRE next year... no matter how the near-term economy is gyrating.
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Old 08-28-2010, 10:27 AM   #38
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About all I've noticed so far is that when we make a budget, it lasts a few days, and then we're "surprised" by something we didn't count on, and the plan goes out the window. Or, if we're tracking expenses, one or the other of us gives it up as a bad job because it's somehow not a "normal" month, so it doesn't count... or we just get so depressed at what we've already spent that we can't stand to keep notes anymore. Every time I think I know, to the penny, what we're going to spend in the next few weeks, something crazy happens. It's like I'm not allowed to succeed.

I'm trying to make changes, though. I have spent so many years living like this that I am falling into a depressed state over it, and it can't go on this way. My career, which I used to like, seems useless, because I can't see it building toward anything. I constantly find more reasons to resent everyone around me. I hide my finances from my friends and coworkers because I'm too ashamed to admit any of our issues. It's just not a sustainable way to live.

As much as I hate her show (too loud and sensationalist), I recently had an interesting time reading one of Suze Orman's books. The chapter I particularly liked was the one on lies and money. It made me realize that part of my problem is that I've been lying (and letting myself be lied to) about money for years.

It's not the kind of lie that directly contradicts what *did* happen, but more the kind about future intent. As in, you fully intend to pay off such and such a bill when it comes in, and that's what you say to yourself and to others, but deep down, you know that the last twenty times you've put yourself in that situation, you had too many other expenses by the time it came due - too many "unexpected" things - and just wound up making a minimum payment.

"We have the tax returns coming in, so we can pay it off..." - Oh, look, we just had to pay for some other emergency... same way we did the last year.
"We don't have anything to save for this week." - Oh yeah, we have to buy school clothes for the girls... no way we could have predicted that... even though we do it every year.
"We have plenty of money for this trip!" - Sure, but not enough to buy a new tire if we have a blowout on the way...
"We've got Christmas presents totally covered this year, so we can afford it." - Yeah, but what about all the extra food and decorations we're going to buy for the party?

See what I mean? It's not like you "lie" exactly, but you put on blinders and only look at a small part of your picture instead of the whole thing... and then if you try to say, "Hey, we can't afford this!" when extra expenses come up in a project you already agreed to, you suddenly become the bad guy. "But you said we could do this! Why even bother discussing things if you don't really mean what you say?" At which point I have no choice but to shell out cash for whatever just happened, because I feel like I'm going back on my word if I don't.

Gah.

Sorry for angsting in here, but I'm reading a lot of personal finance books (from the library! ) and trying to use the discussions in this forum to help spark my personal growth in this area. The progress isn't always pretty.

Josh
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Old 08-28-2010, 12:15 PM   #39
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About all I've noticed so far is that when we make a budget, it lasts a few days, and then we're "surprised" by something we didn't count on, and the plan goes out the window. Or, if we're tracking expenses, one or the other of us gives it up as a bad job because it's somehow not a "normal" month, so it doesn't count... or we just get so depressed at what we've already spent that we can't stand to keep notes anymore. Every time I think I know, to the penny, what we're going to spend in the next few weeks, something crazy happens. It's like I'm not allowed to succeed.
Give yourself a little credit for the attempt, and maybe take a longer-term view. You can tell that finances must be a tough subject for people to master when someone like Suze can make a living with her behavior, let alone with her very basic advice.

You wouldn't try to lose 20 pounds in a week, and you wouldn't attempt to build up to 100 pushups in two minutes without months of practice. So don't try to make huge changes with tracking expenses or budgeting, and don't worry if it takes up to a year to find a method that works for you.

You're not going to "lose" or "win" by tracking expenses because you're not supposed to be keeping score or putting yourself on report-- you're just gathering data. Every stack of statistics has an outlier, and every month will be different. You're just trying to build a record of what your expenses have been so that you have a place to start a budget.

After a few months of gathering data then you can think about forecasting (or wait a few months more). For example you may decide that you're spending $400/month on groceries, but it's not worth beating yourself up if next month you spend $440. Just keep an eye on the long-term averages. If a few months of $440 groceries happen then raise the budget to $450. Eventually you'll be able to say that 80% of your grocery bills were $440/month.

Same for lumpy expenses like car repairs. You may go a year between big repair bills, but one $1500 repair bill is still considered $125/month. The trick is to make the allowance for that $125/month, either by setting aside the cash each month or by planning to take it out of your "emergencies" fund, so that when the inevitable happens then you don't have to scramble to recover your budget.

If you guys don't enjoy budgeting then just track the expenses for 6-12 months and see where the big numbers are coming from. If there's something you don't like (that doesn't match your values) then see if you can figure out a way to do less of it. The best results come from recognizing that you've been inadvertently spending money on something that's easy to cut out... whether that's a magazine subscription you won't miss, or some type of convenience food that's going to waste because the kids don't eat it anymore, or realizing that you must have a leaky toilet to be seeing that much in your water bill.

If you're using the expense-tracking and budget-forecasting systems to deprive yourself of the things that you feel make life worth living, or (even worse) to attack each other's spending habits... then yeah, it's not gonna go well.

The Dollar Stretcher (Stretcher.com) weekly e-mail is a great way to get regular small doses of all the choices on tracking expenses and budgeting. You'll read about a dozen different programs and methods, and eventually you'll select one that you can live with. You'll also find a useful nugget every month or so that will make a big difference with very little effort. Doing it in small increments is so much easier than trying for an abrupt and complete lifestyle change.
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Old 08-28-2010, 12:36 PM   #40
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Joshua, the analogy is the overweight person who tries to diet, eats a slice of cake, feels guilty, and eats the whole cake because "Oh what the h3ll! My diet is ruined anyway!"

Everything you've described is normal, and shame doesn't help. Be as honest with yourself as you are being with the forum, get back on the financial horse, and keep riding.

In your reading, have you come across "The Richest Man in Babylon"? The central tenet is "Find a way to live on less than 90 per cent of your income - no matter what happens." The other 10% gets saved/invested. It's a form of benign self-deception - you pretend to yourself that 90% of your after-tax income is ALL that is available, so plan/save/splurge around that. Of course, even TRMIB can't keep people from raiding the growing stash resulting from the 10%-that-you-pretend-you-don't-actually-have. Still, it's an easy read, and I think it can even be read for free on-line. The Richest Man in Babylon (book) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

As for the people at work, why do you think they care about your finances? You could be a ragged millionaire, for all they know. Not liking your career is a whole different issue (frequently discussed in this forum). Short-term advice is to remember to be grateful you are employed (when so many are not, and would like to be), while figuring out what you really want to do and how to get it.

Best wishes, check back often,

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About all I've noticed so far is that when we make a budget, it lasts a few days, and then we're "surprised" by something we didn't count on, and the plan goes out the window. Or, if we're tracking expenses, one or the other of us gives it up as a bad job because it's somehow not a "normal" month, so it doesn't count... or we just get so depressed at what we've already spent that we can't stand to keep notes anymore. Every time I think I know, to the penny, what we're going to spend in the next few weeks, something crazy happens. It's like I'm not allowed to succeed.

I'm trying to make changes, though. I have spent so many years living like this that I am falling into a depressed state over it, and it can't go on this way. My career, which I used to like, seems useless, because I can't see it building toward anything. I constantly find more reasons to resent everyone around me. I hide my finances from my friends and coworkers because I'm too ashamed to admit any of our issues. It's just not a sustainable way to live.

As much as I hate her show (too loud and sensationalist), I recently had an interesting time reading one of Suze Orman's books. The chapter I particularly liked was the one on lies and money. It made me realize that part of my problem is that I've been lying (and letting myself be lied to) about money for years.

It's not the kind of lie that directly contradicts what *did* happen, but more the kind about future intent. As in, you fully intend to pay off such and such a bill when it comes in, and that's what you say to yourself and to others, but deep down, you know that the last twenty times you've put yourself in that situation, you had too many other expenses by the time it came due - too many "unexpected" things - and just wound up making a minimum payment.

"We have the tax returns coming in, so we can pay it off..." - Oh, look, we just had to pay for some other emergency... same way we did the last year.
"We don't have anything to save for this week." - Oh yeah, we have to buy school clothes for the girls... no way we could have predicted that... even though we do it every year.
"We have plenty of money for this trip!" - Sure, but not enough to buy a new tire if we have a blowout on the way...
"We've got Christmas presents totally covered this year, so we can afford it." - Yeah, but what about all the extra food and decorations we're going to buy for the party?

See what I mean? It's not like you "lie" exactly, but you put on blinders and only look at a small part of your picture instead of the whole thing... and then if you try to say, "Hey, we can't afford this!" when extra expenses come up in a project you already agreed to, you suddenly become the bad guy. "But you said we could do this! Why even bother discussing things if you don't really mean what you say?" At which point I have no choice but to shell out cash for whatever just happened, because I feel like I'm going back on my word if I don't.

Gah.

Sorry for angsting in here, but I'm reading a lot of personal finance books (from the library! ) and trying to use the discussions in this forum to help spark my personal growth in this area. The progress isn't always pretty.

Josh
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