A super-streamlined budgeting process, our monthly numbers, and a cat named Satan.

Time once again for everybody’s…everybody’s…OW! DAMMIT! GET OFF MY LAP, CAT! YES! I LOVE YOU TOO! MAYBE! NOW GO DISPOSE OF THAT DEER HAUNCH OR WHATEVER IT WAS THAT YOU LEFT ON THE WELCOME MAT! PRONTO! AND MOP UP AFTERWARDS!

Right. For those of you who haven’t met Satan–our cute little sociopathic1 ragged-eared murderous furburger, that is–here’s a selfie he just Instagrammed. He’s a vain little bastard, and that’s a fact.

Cats are like teenagers…they only come around when they want something. Which is fine; he and I have truth between us.

And–note the deft segue here–let there be truth between you and me too, O Reader, because today as usual I reveal our family’s financial performance for the previous month.

But instead of posting a tote board with a net worth number on it ($2,574,798 this time around), I’d like to share with you my super-streamlined budgeting process instead in hopes that if yours is tedious and time-consuming, it’ll save you a BUNCH of effort.

(What? You’re not budgeting from month-to-month? Do so immediately, or sooner!)


Every Friday I make sure we’re on budget. Takes just a few minutes. First I gather:

  1. Our receipts from the previous week,
  2. Our recycling bin, and
  3. A beverage.

(Note: click any of the following images for a larger version.)

Then I open our Personal Capital (PC) account in a browser window and my budgeting spreadsheet in Mac Numbers. In PC I open Overview > Transactions > Credit, and for each receipt, I compare the hard copy to its line item. Assuming I find it and they match,2 I toss the receipt in the recycling. (Note to self: get a shredder.) Anything that doesn’t show up in PC yet gets copied to a special “not yet shown” column in our Numbers spreadsheet. Pic to follow.

Having completed the inspection process, I go back to PC’s dashboard and copy the total spending number from the Budgeting pie chart at the center of the page to the appropriate cell in our budgeting spreadsheet, as shown further down. Here you see that in August we spent $5,841 when our budget is in fact $4,250. Our net overage, however, was $251.99, an apparent inconsistency I’ll explain below.

(Yeah, grocery spending looks huge. However, despite our reservations we shop at Walmart a good bit and I refuse to spend a bunch of time splitting out, say, groceries from electronics or whatever. Doing that strikes me as micromanaging, but no judgment if it works for you. The point’s to FIRE, not to nitpick each other’s approaches.)

Now comes our budgeting spreadsheet. Four main line items: total budget plus income (i.e., net income), total expenses, total non-budget expenses, and the balance left until the end of the month.

As you can see, I start with our $4,250 monthly budget–equivalent to $51,000 annually. A $51K withdrawal represents roughly 2.3% of our investment pool (~$2.2 million as of this writing), which is a much safer rate than the terms of the 4% safe withdrawal rule permit.3

Next I deduct our total expenses: spending shown in PC, spending not yet shown in PC (the sum of which I’ve tallied from the aforementioned missing line items), and a budget account deduction. In case you’re new to my monthly status posts, our budget account is an imaginary pot of money with a running total. From this I deduct expenses that amortize across the entire year (e.g. property taxes) as well as emergency expenditures (e.g. a ~$250 hearing aid repair from 8/19.)

I now account for non-budgetary expenditures–little month-to-month exceptions that through inclusion provide in the end a more accurate performance number.

For example, a bank account churning requirement we had this month was $200 spread across twenty debit card transactions. A pain in the ass, true, but it only took five minutes and if we do this for six straight months we collect $500 in cash bonuses from the bank. Well worth the time. And since I spent that on Amazon gift cards, it’d be double-counting to spend money on gift cards AND purchases of material shit, so I deduct the cost of the gift cards from the total.

About the car payment: we bought a very low-mileage used Prius 2.5 years ago for roughly $17K4 using 1.9% dealer financing. Given a consumer price index that’s hovered around 2.9%, market returns that have been much higher, and the fact that to have paid the loan off at time of the purchase I would’ve had to sell investments and incur capital gains taxes, I considered 1.9% to be free money. And since we keep enough cash on hand to pay the loan off in full whenever, I go ahead and yank the payment back out.

Then there’s “other,” which in this case includes emergency and travel spending–both items which appear in our budgeting account deduction as I’ve already described.

And at the bottom is our total spending, which shows that in August we overspent our budget by $251.99. As a rule I don’t like this, but to get back to the safe withdrawal rate of 4%: since our total financial assets are roughly $2.2 million, 4% of that would be $88,000. Last year we spent ~$65,000 in total, so in the big picture a $251.99 overage doesn’t mean much.


That’s it. A very simple process, but it nonetheless provides a good bit of insight into how our spending is going. So I highly recommend this approach. Leave me a comment if you’d like to know more, or–GET OFF ME, FIEND! BEGONE! HONEY? DEAR? PUMPKIN? FETCH ME MY FRAMING HAMMER THAT I MIGHT ANOINT THIS CAT ACROSS HIS NOGGIN WITH IT, AND THUS SHEW UNTO HIM THE ERROR OF HIS WAYS!

Oh, it’s affection you want? Well, that’s different. Good kitty.

Footnotes

  1. Defined as: “a person and/or feline with a personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behavior and a lack of conscience.”
  2. Usually happens that a few hard copies are missing. No biggie, as long as the line items in PC clearly aren’t fraudulent.
  3. This isn’t necessarily the actual withdrawal amount, but given the 4% rule I feel that working from a cash withdrawal assumption is the most conservative approach.
  4. I am SO not interested in debating this. In that direction madness lines.

Author: ER Dude

Sick of your job? After a thirteen-year career, Early Retirement Dude fled corporate America for good. You can do it too! Visit http://EarlyRetirementDude.com or email EarlyRetirementDude@gmail.com.

8 thoughts

  1. Dude,
    I thought you were not going to use PC – what changed?
    Regardless, thanks for sharing the details of your living expenses.

    As for the kitty, I sense that you maybe getting soft…

    Semper FI,

    Luis

    1. >I thought you were not going to use PC – what changed?

      Well, the way I look at it “using PC” and “shilling for PC” are two different animals. After using every tracking app and homebrewed spreadsheet I can think of, PC’s system is the best one I’ve found. I just find their approach to pushing services disingenuous, so I’ve stopped actively aiding/abetting them in that.

      >As for the kitty, I sense that you maybe getting soft…

      What do you mean? Gong him with a pan next time? Sure, I’ll try it.

  2. I agree with you (unlike many others who shun debt) on the auto loan. I recently took out a $25k loan on a new Honda Accord, it’s at 2.70% for 48 mo’s and my company’s auto allowance covers the loa; payment. They’re essentially making the payments for me.
    You’re way better at budgeting than most people, including me. I have no idea how much I spend. All I care about is the cash flow, that I save 25% of my salary, and that fact that I have a surplus of cash at the end of every month.

  3. I am not comfortable with giving access to my banking info to software like PC, or Mint.
    (I am not paranoid……Where is my tinfoil hat?…..Ok maybe a little paranoid, but if they are really out to get you it’s not being paranoid right?)

    When I started my FIRE journey I did a deep dive into expenses and went through a years worth of bank statements and bills. I am old school and still get all my bills sent in the mail on paper. Plus I keep all my credit card bills and bank statements filed in binders.

    I entered all this into a few spreadsheets I found on FIRE websites like The Mad Fientist, MMM. From there is was easy to see where I was spending, and make changes. I did the month to month thing for about a year or so updating my spreadsheet.

    Now that I have an pretty good idea what my yearly expenses are I only track my budget target very loosely during the year. I was money wise before learning about FIRE so this works for me ,but I would recommend others to be watching their budgets closely so that they can see any trends or if they are going off the rails somewhere.

    In January I go through all of last years stuff and fill out the big spreadsheet rather than doing it monthly. It does take a bunch of time ,but for me it lets me get my head into it and I am able to clearly make decisions based on the real numbers.

    1. >Now that I have an pretty good idea what my yearly expenses are I only track my budget target very loosely during the year.

      I think you’re spot-on with this approach. As long as that annual number gets hit, I couldn’t care less what the money gets spent on…within the bounds of decency of course, which I guess is a slippery standard.

  4. Yes very slippery….. and subjective to what’s going on.
    This year we are doing a full kitchen reno (costing more than our total yearly expenses). It is recommended that one plan ahead these large expenses and have a money put aside in virtual buckets or separate accounts.

    We didn’t do this for this project, and are using our emergency fund for this non-emergency. Not a recommended approach, but works in our situation.

    The “KEY” to making smart financial decisions is knowing and using current real numbers and understanding the trade-offs and impacts\risk of the decision.

    1. >The “KEY” to making smart financial decisions is knowing and using current real numbers

      >”mandatory for anybody/everybody who’s interested in FIRE to develop good spreadsheet skills.”

      >I hope nobody get scared off by that statement.

      Agreed. Edited. Good point! I’ll leave it here: people who commit to FIRE need to learn how to use spreadsheets.

  5. >”mandatory for anybody/everybody who’s interested in FIRE to develop good spreadsheet skills.”

    I hope nobody get scared off by that statement.
    It’s not that hard if you find an use a template. There are many of them out there, I don’t have the links handy ,but a quick Google search for budget/financial freedom templates should find a lot of stuff.
    Don’t even need to pay for the spreadsheet software there are options like OpenOffice Calc if you want the software local on your PC or you could use Google Sheets and do everything online.

    Of course once you start getting into to it and want to do more advance things there can be a bunch of tinkering you do as you develop your own custom spreadsheets which sometimes can take some\a bunch time and skill.

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