financial independence, frugal food, sustainability

Back on the FI horse – getting financially back on track

Back on the FI horse – getting financially back on track

My last update was March 23, a couple weeks into Covid madness. After that, with the exception of a couple of posts linked to other blogs, I went into a Covid fog. While I was always writing posts in my mind, I could not find the focus or clarity to sit down and write.

As you know readers, so much has happened around the world and here in the United States since March 23, and in May one on my best friends passed away. It wasn’t Covid related but it was sudden and left me, his family, and friends devastated and at a loss for how to properly honor him with the background of the pandemic making an already painful time that much worse.

I stopped listening to FI podcasts and keeping up with my favorite FI blogs. It was all I could do to juggle the constant unknown threat of the virus, working from home, helping Root Jr. finish the school year virtually, and all the other silly new normal challenges faced from day to day. Covid killed our FI momentum and for a time my motivation, mindset, and focus.

It's quarantine day again

CURRENT STATUS IN AUSTIN, TEXAS, USA:

Austin experienced alarming spikes and deaths over the summer. Our governor finally wised up and ordered a mask-wearing mandate. Since then the numbers have been steadily coming down although we are nowhere near out of the woods. I am slowly coming around to feeling a tiny bit more balanced and less frazzled. Maybe it’s the late-but-better-than-never statewide mask ordinance or that the grocery supply and demand seems to have finally normalized (although we still can’t find Clorox wipes anywhere).

Mask ordinance text

Recently I got back to catching up on reading some of my fave FI blogger’s posts. I think this is what has inspired me to get back on the horse. I wasn’t able to keep up with the monthly reviews I had the goal of writing back when I was fresh and optimistic at the start of 2020. But I have to start somewhere. So what follows is look back at the past few months as a sort of half point three-quarters into the year 2020 review. These are highlights and broad strokes, by no means granular data.

I’ll start with financial happenings. After all, that was the point of creating this blog. To track our progress towards FI. Let’s call the past few months a bump in the road towards our goals…

FINANCIAL

We are lucky that both Mr. Root and I continue to work, thankfully. His work has been mostly steady and his income has not been interrupted. With the first shut down in March we were scared but so far it’s been okay.

I have been telecommuting from home since March and will continue to do so through at least the end of December. The university wants as many people who can to telecommute so as to reduce density on campus, making it safer for those who must be there.

GROCERIES

As I mentioned in my March post, I kind of flipped out and threw our grocery budget out the window in order to stock up on provisions. I pretty much kept that up over the summer.

Just recently I have switched from exclusively online shopping for curbside pick up or delivery to mostly in person shopping. Online shopping was a great way to stay safe, especially before the statewide mask mandate, but it also resulted in higher than usual grocery bills for me. One reason was scarcity. In March, April, and into May, inventory at stores was iffy. So if things were in stock I bought extra.

I also just bought extra of most everything in general because I got really sick of hunting for groceries and placing online orders. When I was able to place them I wanted them to last for a while.

Here are grocery bill figures from the past few months which for my family includes cleaning products, pet supplies, and other household items:

March $1,500
April $1,100
May $1,500
June $1,100
July $1,000
August $1,200

You can see that we’re staying pretty consistently over $1,000, not under.

While I’m not hoarding as much I’m not back to pre-covid frugality. I haven’t been shopping from the pantry much because I don’t want to deplete what we have. Also, because we are spending 24/7 at home I’ve been buying more junk and comfort foods as a way to entertain and soothe ourselves. These products are typically pricier. To be honest I think I’ve been buying goodies as a kind of retail therapy for me.

It’s September now and I’m trying to get back on track of spending under $1,000 per month.

El Arroyo sign

CREDIT CARD DEBT

In March I declared that I would not pay off the balance on our credit cards at the end of the month. I was scared that our income might be interrupted and reasoned that we needed to hang on to every dollar we had. Indeed, I did not pay it off. I instead made a payment of $300.

By April the balance was at $3,300. I paid $2,600 at the end of April and after that starting in May we got back to paying off the balance in full at the end of the month again. PHEW!

SAVING VS PAYING OFF DEBT

In February, out of concern for what was happening with the virus around the world, we stopped using our extra savings to pay off debt and instead directed any savings towards building our emergency fund. February was the last month we saved a significant amount of extra money, $2,500, which we put in our EF. We were able to save that much because Mr. Root had an extra paycheck month.

Since then, because of increased spending we didn’t save any extra money to put towards our EF until July. We saved $250 which I moved to the EF. Then last month in August we were finally able to add $1,000. We are crawling back!

“Extra” savings means any money we save in addition to our automatic savings. I don’t include what is withheld from my paycheck pretax by my employer for our state retirement plan in our automatic savings. It’s 7.7%. I don’t have any say in how much is withheld nor do I get to add any savings to it.

What I consider our “automatic savings” are:

  • An additional 457b pretax retirement plan through my employer that I contribute $250 per month.
  • I had $480 a month auto transferred from my paycheck after tax to our emergency fund. In July I upped it to $500, because why not just round it up to a nice number?
  • I also auto transfer $25 from my paycheck after tax to a savings account for Root. Jr.

For now we’re sticking with getting back on track to saving “extra” and putting it towards our EF. When we get to at least 6 months worth of expenses I think we can refocus on paying off our debt. We’re still about $17,000 away from that. UGG.

Oh! I almost forgot to mention. Thanks to effing Covid my son’s summer camps were canceled. $300 was refunded to my credit card for one of the camps. $1,088 was refunded by check for the others. We put this money into the EF.

Root Jr. was able to attend one camp that switched to a virtual delivery. We were hesitant to pay for a virtual camp but it turned out great. They did an amazing job and the kids had a great time. It’s called Camp Half-Blood and I highly recommend it. It’s a literary camp based on the novels about Percy Jackson by Rick Riordon.

SPENDING

Okay, here’s where we see WHY we haven’t saved any “extra” until this past month. Not only have I not been frugal with grocery shopping, but since March we have been making some… purchases. Here are some highlights.

  • Saxophone $1,600 – Root Jr. started middle school this year (so far online only) and is in beginning band. A friend of ours had her son’s old sax for sale. Rather than make monthly payments we decided to just bite the bullet and pay the full amount upfront. It just seemed easier for everyone involved.
  • Vet bills $2,500 plus – We had check ups for both dogs, and each needed dental cleanings, one needed teeth pulled. One had a mysterious liver enzyme issue that resulted in many pricey tests and specialized foods are now required for both dogs.

    Two dogs
    Costly mutts
  • Back up mini-freezer $500 – got to have somewhere to store all our extra food supplies right?
  • New automatic gate opener $2,000 – the arm that opens our iron gate died. It was very old. We paid for a company to install a new arm and it is divine. It is so smooth and quiet.
  • New printer $230 – because of course our printer breaks when I’m working from home. The new one is amazing though.
  • Work on Bessy $600 – I was driving Root Jr. to get some Starbucks from the drive thru (because this is what substitutes as entertainment now), when my car Bessy broke down. Thankfully we were safe and had a positive experience with a woman-owned towing company. Some bolts had busted in the power steering column but we got her all fixed up like new. Power on Bessy!
    car and tow truck
  • A new HD TV $900 – Long story, but here it is in a nutshell. Like many Americans we wanted to watch Hamilton on the Disney + channel for the 4th of July. This led to a rabbit hole of reckoning with our outdated technology in order to stream Disney +. So – new TV. I will say that Mr. Root had requirements for size. Nuff said. Oh and yeah, added yet another subscription at $7 per month ::eye roll::
  • Swimsuit $100 plus – I could not stand to wear my swimsuit that I hate another summer.
  • Roller skates $314 – I love roller skating and if you follow any social media you may have noticed a trend in the uptick of people around the world turning to outdoor roller skating as a form of exercise and joy during the pandemic. I wanted in so I treated myself to some outdoor skates for my birthday. Well guess what? Just like all other outdoor equipment they are on back order. There’s a worldwide shortage of sports and outdoor equipment (bikes, weights, above ground pools, trampolines, SKATES). I ordered mine in July and hope to have them in October.Roller skating
  • And this next one deserves it’s own space…

THE POOL

In May when the virus was spreading like wildfire in Texas and it became clear that Root Jr. would not only finish out the 5th grade online but it was pretty bloody likely that all his summer camps would cancel (and if they didn’t we wouldn’t send him anyway), we decided that what we needed to make a Covid Texas summer less shitty was an above ground pool.

We pulled the trigger and ordered a pretty fancy 26 x 15 foot above ground pool. This was our plan to save summer. Root Jr. could have a friend over for socially distant swims, staying cool and making the best of the situation.

We made the decision to finance it. $4,229 at $191/month for 24 months at 7.99 %.

We knew that many other people in the USA had the same idea as us and that pools were quickly beginning to be on back order thanks to Covid and supply/demand. But when we purchased it we thought we’d have it by the end of June at the latest. 

In June we received a $2,900 stimulus check that we spent on building the deck for the pool that hadn’t shipped yet. Well, let me clarify that we had received some parts to the pool but not all of them. In fact, the company shipped us every part we needed except for one critical part – the pool walls.

That’s right. It is now September and we have the deck built, the foundation ready, and every other part we need except the pool wall.

deck being built
Mr. Root building the deck for the pool.
sand foundation for above ground pool
The boys “floating” in our would-be pool.

To add insult to injury – we had to start making payments last month on the loan for the pool that we don’t have yet.

Oh and that swimsuit I bought? Yeah, that hurts. Haven’t gotten to use it in our pool.

When we do get back to paying off our debt the pool loan will be next as it has the highest interest rate of any of our debt at 7.99%. Ouch. Financing this pool was not FI-minded. Nor was it FI-minded to spend the stimulus check on the deck rather than save it or invest it. But we felt the need to do something to make this summer bearable. When will the pool walls come? I’ll let you know when they get here because I have no idea.

I will say that Mr. Root saved us a ton of money by doing all the pool work and building a deck himself! He’s a true gem.

 

BUDGETING

In March I signed up for a free trial of YNAB (You Need a Budget). I liked it and decided to commit to using it as my primary budgeting tool. I paid for the $89 annual subscription.

It takes some getting used to. I have never been good at budgeting but I really wanted to step up my money tracking game. I watched some YouTube videos by Nick True on how to use YNAB and those helped a ton.

I got off track a bit in March (because Covid), but by mid April I got back into it and have been using it ever since.

I’m still using Mint as an expense tracker as well. I like its graph and trends features.

FRUGAL MOMENTS

I haven’t completely thrown frugality out the window.

COVID CUTS

We have saved some some money thanks to Covid haircuts. I had switched to cutting and coloring my own hair last year when I found FI with the exception of one trim. But this is the first time I cut Root Jr.’s hair. The first cut did not go well. I tried to scissor cut it and he looked like a deranged George Clooney. I fixed it by doing an all over buzz cut.

The next two cuts have turned out much better. I’m starting to get the hang of it if I do say so myself. My hair however is starting to show my lack of skill. It’s like it has an exponential effect of looking worse with each cut rather than better like Root Jr.’s. At some point I’m going to have to pay a professional to fix it.

Fresh buzz cut
Fresh buzz cut

GARDEN

We planted a spring garden that produced a ton of tomatoes. I learned how to make homemade marinara and it turned out pretty darn good. I was able to make three batches.

The swiss chard and spinach didn’t take off very well but I harvested what I could and added it to pasta dishes and pizza.

The green beans did rather well and cucumbers did okay. I didn’t know this until my friend pointed out that cucumbers want to be trellised. Mine was just sprawling all over the ground. Next time I will provide a trellis!

The yellow squash produced maybe two before it was ravaged by cut worms.

The basil was plentiful and I made a sort of pesto/basil oil and froze it for later use.

The strawberries produced quite a bit but the berries weren’t very sweet. I collected them and froze them until I had enough to make a rhubarb strawberry crisp with lots of sugar.

The carrots turned out gnarly-looking and bitter. I used a few but they just weren’t very good so I composted the rest.

The bell pepper plant produced maybe two peppers. I don’t know what the problem is there. The jalapeño plant is much happier and continues to produce a steady amount of peppers.

I planted baby leeks which seem to have grown well but I’m not exactly sure when to harvest them. I decided they’re probably done growing and plan to make a potato leek soup soon.

I didn’t keep track of how much we spent on the garden this spring so I don’t know if we actually saved any money by growing our own food. One thing I know is that if we had to survive on what we grow we’d have starved!

But regardless of how much actual edible food we grew there is definitely value in being outside and putting my hands in the dirt. It’s therapeutic and also a continuous learning opportunity, albeit a sometimes very frustrating one.

Austin is about to enter a temperate weather phase from September to early December which allows for a fall garden. I need to get on that soon and get some stuff in the ground. It’s good weather for lettuces and other greens.

jar of marinara
Fresh marinara sauce
vegetables
Garden haul

SUSTAINABILITY

Being home 24/7 has resulted in higher than usual electric bills. We have solar panels and our bills normally result in a credit but two months ago we got a bill where we owed instead. It’s summer here which means 100 plus degree days which means running the A/C. Plus with the three of us home all the time it’s no surprise we are using more energy than usual.

We started being vigilant about turning off unneeded lighting during the day and adjusting the thermostat so as not to kick on until absolutely necessary. So far we haven’t seen a reduction in the bill but we’ll keep trying.

We are also using more water than usual to water the veg garden and keep the lawn alive. The veg garden uses soaker hoses so it’s not a ton and we limit the amount we give the lawn. But I’ve been trying to be more vigilant about water usage in the home.

DECLUTTERING

My decluttering efforts stalled. You’d think that being home all the time I’d find the opportunity to jump start it again but I’ve found it difficult to focus on projects. It’s like when you’re unemployed and have plentiful time on your hands but no money to do anything, or when you’re employed making beaucoup bucks but no time to do anything with it. I kind of feel like that. I’m home every day but I’m also working, cooking, and just generally trying to keep it together.

So I’m a little frustrated that I haven’t knocked out any big projects but I made a small bit of progress.

A friend of mine gave us a giant bag of clothes for Root Jr. and some of her stuff for me. I sorted through it all which inspired me to continue sorting through Root Jr.’s closet and a bunch of other stuff that had piled up.

I ended up with some cute tops for me and some swimsuits, shorts, and shirts for Root Jr. Everything else resulted in three big bags for charity. It felt good to tackle that small project.

WHAT I’M DOING TO STAY SANE

I’ve taken to walking in the mornings. I didn’t used to have time for this thanks to my commute but now I get out of bed and walk first thing. Sometimes it’s 1.5 miles, sometimes 2.5 but I’ve come to really enjoy it. I see some of the same people who I now smile and wave to on the regular and I see lots of lovely things in nature as the season and weather changes.

wildflowers

I’m learning to meditate. I like to use meditation apps on my phone for guided meditation. I don’t do it consistently because sometimes I just feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day. Ironic I know since I’m home all the time. But I enjoy it when I do it and will continue to sprinkle it in when I can.

Socially distant visits with friends. It’s been challenging to navigate how to see our friends and family and get Root Jr. some social time with his buddies. But we’ve managed to meet each other socially distant outside in driveways, back yards, and parking lots.

clorox wipes and cocktails
Necessities for socially distant cocktails.
chairs for social distant visit
Waiting for our friends to arrive for a socially distant happy hour

EVENTS

I turned 48.

Root Jr. graduated 5th grade (online) and started 6th grade middle school (online).

Mr. Root and I celebrated our 23rd wedding anniversary.

We added to our family! Everyone please meet the adorable kitten ZEUS!

White kitten
Behold the cuteness
White kitten
ZEUS!

GOALS GOING FORWARD

Get back to shopping the pantry and reigning in our monthly grocery spending.

Save more each month to finish building up our Emergency Fund and get back to paying down our debt. In other words get back to focusing on increasing our savings rate.

Continue decluttering projects.

Catch up on my favorite FI blogs and podcasts. Stay inspired.

Increase income?

  • I’m grateful to have retained my job during this pandemic. I hope that I don’t get laid off. One of the first things the university did at the onset of this disaster was to freeze salaries and notify us there would be no annual salary increases this year. The only way to increase my salary is to change positions. The thought of starting a new job at the moment seems  overwhelming so I’m not looking to that as an option right now. Plus, I like my current job and colleagues.
  • Pre-covid I had a goal of selling items online. Surely I can make a little extra money this way. Get refocused on that.
  • Get back to using iBotta and Rakuten. I got out of the habit of using these when the world turned upside down but I think I can get back to this now to make a little extra money as well.

Write regularly on this blog! I’ve missed it and look forward to getting back into the groove and continuing learning more about how to do it. I have a blogging class that I started a little over a year ago that I have yet to finish. That’s high on my list of projects tackle.

 

So! How has Covid impacted your life? Are you finding it an ideal time to knock out projects or work on creative things? Or have you found it difficult to find the time and focus? Has the pandemic changed your financial goals in any way? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for stopping by. Wishing you health and peace.

 

 



8 thoughts on “Back on the FI horse – getting financially back on track”

  • Like you we have been fortunate to weather the Covid chaos. We didn’t have a booming social life before so that much hasn’t changed! I have increased my skill set with all the at home time and taught myself to draw, I started the blog in February, and even changed my job from a mediocre position to one with better pay and more passion. Plus, I am dabbling more in investing. Outside of the whole pandemic, raging fires, and general calamities of 2020, I have had a delightful year.

    Caveat: We don’t have pets or kids, I know that influences things a lot.

  • So much here! Your tomato sauce looks beautiful, and that kitten is adorable. Great work on your son’s hair. I’ve been cutting my own hair for a while, and have been coloring it at home forever. My daughter’s friend, with whom she’s been socially distancing since the beginning, evens out the back for me and cuts my daughter’s hair. She does a really good job. I’ve been selling things on FB marketplace with pretty good results. Love getting your updates!!!!

  • My grocery spending has been way up, but my total food/dining costs have been the same or lower. I am saving up on some restaurant and bar tabs, that’s for sure! It’s been a strange time but glad to hear everything is going fairly well! Living through history is never fun…

    • Thanks Impersonal Finances! That’s a great way to put it, living through history indeed…Glad you are able to keep the dining out tabs down. Getting take out has been a new weakness of ours since Covid. It’s become a source of entertainment I think. Something different from the day to day cooking. I think I am experiencing kitchen fatigue!

  • I loved reading this long, detailed update. You were very busy this year, lady! I can’t believe how many costly repairs/replacements you were faced with in such a short time. Not fun! But you seem happy with the replacements, so I’m sure that makes up for it.

    Reading about your dogs’ vet bills is excellent preparation for me as our dog ages. She’s only three now and very healthy so far. But I’m sure the costly bills will eventually arrive. Good thing we’ve started saving towards that already. Hopefully it’ll be many years in the future before we need to use those funds.

    Finally, I think you did an amazing job with Root Jr’s buzz cut. It looks professional to me! It took me a lot more time before my kids’ cuts looked that good.

    • Thanks so much Chrissy! Your dog is so cute! It’s so smart that you’re saving up now for future vet bills. Hopefully you won’t have to spend too much of it.

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