February 2014 Financial and Frugal Living Update

One Month of Pantry and Freezer Meals

One Month of Pantry and Freezer Meals: Before and After

On the non-financial resolutions and goals I set at the beginning of the year, I have managed to get to bed earlier. I have been reading and relaxing more at night, which feels great. But my body is either seriously deprived of sleep, or I’m not getting to bed early enough — because I’m still waking up a 7am, right around when the alarm goes off. My resolution to get to bed earlier was so I could get up earlier. So, I’d say I’m halfway there.  Here is a frugality update to let you know what we’ve done this month.

Frugality Update:
Lowering Our Grocery Bill While Cleaning Out Our Pantry:

If you read this article, you know that I’m feeling a little guilty over Christmas excesses and decided to see if we could stretch our pantry to feed us all month, while only buying produce and dairy items. I also bought items that were stockpile-priced, and so our bill wasn’t rock bottom but it’s been the lowest grocery bill we’ve ever had:

$320.16 for the entire month!

    • We spent $329.41 total on groceries
      • $289.02 at the grocery store
      • $5.23 on coupons from The Coupon Clippers
      • $12 on a refill carbonation canister for our SodaStream
      • $23.98 on beer
    • We earned $5.75 cashback
      • $3.50 back from ibotta
      • $2.25 back from SavingStar

There were a few things that we went without during the month, including: soda, half and half, maple syrup, paper towels, and a few nights where we didn’t eat meat. I would love to get our grocery bill that low on a monthly basis, but we have fully depleted our meat stockpile in the freezer, so I don’t think that’s feasible. But I think we might be able to cap our spending at $375 per month, based on how resourceful we were. I was impressed that we stopped drinking soda, only drinking seltzer from the SodaStream and milk. But Mr. Stapler doesn’t agree. On February 2nd, he re-stocked our pantry with Diet Coke. I did like not having the option of using paper towels, because we used dishrags instead.

My first post-spending-freeze grocery run felt extravagant after a month of abstaining from unnecessary items. I came home with almonds, half and half, chocolate-covered frozen bananas, and a bag of flour (we ran out mid-January, due to all the bread-baking). We’ll see if I crack and buy more paper towels. We have a few rolls left, in strategic locations, but none sitting on the kitchen countertop.

Another way we are saving money is on energy. We have a 4-story townhouse. The top floor is a loft with skylights that fill the room with sun during the day. As you can imagine, with all the heat rising up to the 4th floor and the skylights letting in solar heat, it’s the warmest room in our home. To reduce our heating costs during the day, I moved my desk into the loft. It’s wonderful to be in a room filled with natural light, and to not have to crank up the heat during the day. I’m not sure what I’ll do in the summer, though, because covering up the skylights can only do so much in reducing the temperature up there.

Does anyone else get these notices from their utility company?

January 2014 Electricity Use

January 2014 Relative Efficiency of Electricity Use

It says that our energy efficiency, compared to our neighbors, is “good” and improving. It’s nice to see those efforts paying off!

Breakdown of my Savings at CVS in 2013

Breakdown of my Savings at CVS in 2013

The former law student in me loves that it tells me where I rank among other CVS shoppers. I would be graduating with honors if I were in the top 13%. Does that mean I make the CVS Dean’s List this year? 😉  I like seeing the savings breakdown, too. I think the “Exclusive Coupons” actually means manufacturer coupons, because I don’t see a line item for that category and I frequently use them at CVS. If that’s the case, then my newspaper subscription and monthly order from The Coupon Clippers has more than paid for itself.

Financial Update:

I didn’t make any money last month. My only contribution to the family income was my unemployment check. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t work, it just means that I hadn’t yet sent my invoice in and I hadn’t received a check. Here is this month’s screenshot:

February 2014 Net Worth

February 2014 Net Worth

If you compare last month’s financial update to this month’s, you will see that we lost $557.79 in net worth. To pay our bills last month, I had to dip into our savings to the tune of $1,900. Thankfully, I sent out invoices for the same amount, so we should break even. But I haven’t yet seen that money.

Last month I had a big milestone, which came with its own lesson in income-earning. I worked for my first client, for which I will collect the entire fee for my services! What did I learn? It’s a lot easier to accumulate wealth when you’re getting paid four times as much. My freelance hourly rate is 25% of my hourly rate for clients. I know that the attorney I work for bills my time to his clients at the same rate, but he takes 75% of that billable hour and puts it towards overhead and then into his pocket. Needless to say, it felt good to increase my hourly wage 400%. Now I’m going to try to do it more often, by saying “yes” to more referrals and opportunities. Just last week, a friend at church wanted to hire me on an estate planning matter. If that’s not the kick in the pants I need to get the training necessary to be an estate planner, I don’t know what is!

Cash: -$2483. Our cash is down because I didn’t send in those invoices.

Credit Cards: -$2612.32. Our spending went way down!

Loans: -$2,395.20. This is almost twice our monthly payment because Mint was tracking the wrong student loan — it was tracking one that was transferred months ago, thus the balance hadn’t moved in months.

Investments: -$3,073.32. Ouch. The markets are down over the past month.

Investment Performance Jan through Feb 2014

Jan – Feb 2014 Investment Performance

But I’m not letting this get to me. Check out our investment performance over the past year:

Investment Performance Feb 2013 through Feb 2014

February 2013 – February 2014 Investment Performance

We will continue to contribute to Mr. Stapler’s 401(k), harnessing the power of dollar-cost averaging.

January Goals: 

  • Earn $100 by the time the credit card is due: FAIL! I earned it, but didn’t receive it. Then the other credit cards came due and we had to dip into our reserves.
  • Contribute $500 to the emergency fund: FAIL! (see above)
  • Get tax information to the accountant, to pay our estimated taxes if it’s not too late to avoid a penalty: FAIL! On both accounts: (1) it’s too late to avoid a penalty and (2) I didn’t get our info to the accountant. I did, however, finish our taxes on TurboTax. I’m ready to file, but I’m wondering if we should hire an accountant to see if he can save us some money on our taxes. As it is, my conservative estimate on our taxes was accurate. No extra savings for us. Womp womp. 🙁
  • Transfer the cash Roth IRAs into our Vanguard Roth IRAs: SUCCESS! We mailed in the paperwork, but Vanguard hasn’t completed the transaction yet. We also mailed in the paperwork to roll Mr. Stapler’s old state pension into a rollover IRA. Stay tuned: I hope you’ll be able to see it on next month’s net worth statement.
  • Apply for Mr. Stapler’s loan forgiveness grant: SUCCESS! We have to wait another month for the disbursement, but all the paperwork is done.

February Goals: 

  • Make ends meet with my income. As long as I can do that, any additional money we pull in will go toward our 2013 IRA contributions.
  • Make one sale in our small business. Our first product is ready to go and we have meetings set up with two potential customers this week. I really hope we make a sale!  
  • Complete my basic will drafting training. I have procrastinated on taking this final class, and I don’t know why. Once I take it, I will be able to do basic estate planning and increase my income by 400%.
  • Buy malpractice insurance. The attorney I work for currently covers me, even for my own clients, but I would like to at least estimate how much this will cost me if/when I go out on my own.

How was your January? Do you have any February goals you’re hoping to accomplish? 

2 thoughts on “February 2014 Financial and Frugal Living Update

  1. I have been working on making meals out of food that I have been storing forever. Our pantry is actually completely empty except for the items that I just bought this past week. It was so cluttered before and I could just see the money being wasted!

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