The Cash Budget: My Spin on The Envelope System

Many personal finance podcasts advise to keep a cash budget for groceries and entertainment for the month. There is an envelope method and when the cash runs out for that particular category, there is no more spending in that category for the rest of the month. The idea behind this is that spending actual cash hurts, whereas swiping a card is kind of mindless. I find this to be true. When you pay for cash you need to know exactly how much it is so that you can count out the bills and be there mentally to make sure you get the correct change back. When I swipe my card, I’m not even listening to what the cashier says my total is!

But how do you know how much money to put in your Cash Budget for a category? I have heard advisors say to review your bank account for the past year, or you could do 1 month or 3 months to get an idea of what you spend in each category. If you do one year, you would divide your category by 12 to come up with your monthly budget for that category. If you did a 3 month history, you would divide the category by 3, and so and so forth. When you have your monthly spending amounts totaled you should reduce it a little (we are trying to save money, right?) and there you have it: your one month Cash Budget.

I am using a newer budgeting software tool to help me with this called Tiller, which costs $5 per month. Here I can categorize all of my automatically imported bank transactions in to predetermined categories, or categories I can name myself (like Date Night and Snacks). I can then look up each category’s detail to see the transactions and totals I have spent in any category in a certain time period: this week, this month, this year, etc. There are other budgeting tools that do this which I don’t have personal experience with. One is Mint and the other is EveryDollar.

The Cash Budget and Envelope Method sound great, however I am notorious for losing cash so the envelope system would not work out for me; I’d just drop the envelope somewhere and lose a thousand just like that! My solution is Raise. This is an app that allows you to buy gift cards either electronically or a physical gift card shipped by US Mail at a discount that can range from 0.5% to 25% and even more off the face value. There are also sales that appear in my email inbox pretty regularly that offer an additional 3% discount.

Here is my own personal example: I did a study on our bank account to look at what restaurants we visited from January 2016 – June 2016, tallied the total amount spent, reduced the total by 15%, and then divided by 6 months to come up with a monthly Cash Budget allowance for each restaurant. I happen to still have a note in my iPhone with these amounts.

Little Caesar’s $25/mo

Applebee’s $25/mo

Outback $10/mo

Taco Bell $40/mo (my husband went a little crazy with work lunches)

KFC $10/mo

Subway $75/mo (when my husband went on a Subway kick)

McDonald’s $25/mo

Burger King $10/mo

Wendy’s $20/mo

Bob Evan’s $30/mo

In our defense, this was before we started tracking exactly how much we were spending where. I now pack my husband’s lunches for him most days of the week.

Let’s look at what Raise is offering at the time of this writing for KFC: a physical $75 value gift card is being sold for $63 (a discount of 16%). Since our monthly KFC budget is $10 a month, $75 would get us through 8 months. If I bought this card today, 10/14/2016 I would write on the gift card “Good Through 06/2017” with a Sharpie. If we use up all of that gift card before June 30, 2017, there are no more KFC transactions allowed.

I have had a few fumbles with Raise so here are a couple of my fails: Yesterday we decided to have a Family Date Night and went to see Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (super cute!) and we went to Pizza Hut for dinner. Our local movie theater has a special matinee price for $5.75 and I thought it would be super smart to buy a $25 Fandango gift card at a 10% discount (I paid $22.50).  I went to complete my purchase on the Fandango website using my new gift card and saw a $5 “convenience” fee at the checkout! I quickly called up the theater and asked if I could use my gift card to pay in the store, but I couldn’t. I called Raise up to tell them I didn’t want this card anymore because I had just saved $2.50 to spend an extra $5 but I was told I could not return it because there was nothing actually wrong with the card (other than my failure to fully research before I clicked “Buy”). I thought ‘well other people are obviously selling their gift cards, I’ll just list it for sale!’ Sure, I could list it for sale for a 15% fee! I decided to just eat my $2.50 loss and not buy Fandango gift cards again.

I also had a brief stint when I went from a $50 a week grocery shopping cash budget to getting a $50 very slightly discounted Walmart electronic gift card (I’m talking 0.5 – 1.5% off the face value) which resulted in cashiers having to manually enter the gift card numbers and then waiting for a manager to approve the transaction. It was just not very convenient when the savings is usually less than $1. In addition I found myself straying from my $50/week budget if there was perhaps a $70 gift card at a 5% discount. I just wasn’t being as thoughtful with my grocery purchases so I have returned to the cash budget for that.

I hope you found this information useful. I have not been paid for any of my opinions on the apps and software I mentioned. Let me know if you decided to give any of these a try, or if you already use them!

November 2016 Net Worth Update

Welcome to our November Net Worth Update!

This has been a great month with some exciting changes. I am happy to report our Net Worth grew $356 in the month of October, and I would like to explain what happened to help contribute to this change. First of all, on the fateful night of 10/4/2016 I jammed all of our numbers together, assets and liabilities in to very rough estimates. For 11/1/2016 I have actually researched each number.

You may have noticed I’ve changed the look of the Statement of Net Worth so that we can now see the current amount, previous months amount, and the amount of change. Also we have some “fire” editing to show which assets have decreased in value and which liabilities have increased.



I get our home’s value from, and for some unknown reason our home decreased in value over $1,400! There’s nothing I can really do to control that except for work on my home to try to inch the value up over time. A house recently sold a couple doors down for us that was in really poor shape, so I may see this number fall even more in the coming months.

For the HHR, I get the value from Kelly Blue Book ( and select the year, make, model, mileage, and mark it as good condition. Last month I went through all of the questions and was told the car was in good condition, so I’ll be going with that from now on, and then I select the tab for a private sale. We are up $191! I didn’t expect that. I thought it would fall by bits and pieces as it ages.

I have the real 401(k) amounts now. My husband had no idea what his log in information was! We were going to update his elections to a Target Date Mutual Fund because he had never made a selection (I can’t preach too much there; I just learned to make my own selections after reading 99 Minute Millionaire by Scott Alan Turner) but his company automatically put him in his Target Date Fund so that was cool! Now we are working with real numbers!

Our checking account always looks sad and will typically be less than $100 because this account is a holding place for our spending money that’s how much we usually have allotted for any given week.

Our regular savings account is equally sad when you guys see the balance because we have just paid every bill in one big chunk after saving up for the entire month.

Our Christmas savings is now in our regular savings account waiting for presents to be bought. We are thinking about upping our contributions to these “club” accounts (Christmas and Vacation) from $5 a week to $20 a week, but that’s still in the talks. These automatic contributions come from our spending money.


Our mortgage went down just a little bit thanks to interest. There is an exciting update here as well! Our mortgage payment is actually going down $30 because of an escrow recalculation, but we are still going to keep sending what we have always sent. Doing this will shave 5 years off the mortgage and save up $12,000 in interest over time!

You may notice the HHR loan says $0.00! That’s right! We paid it off with a 0% balance transfer to my Capital One account for 12 months. Speaking of Capital One, I failed to include this account on my very first Statement of Net Worth because I figured if I pay it off every month it’s not a “real” liability. Well, now it’s going to be carrying the balance of the HHR and I have a goal of transferring the personal loan to it around April 2017 if I can score another credit limit increase (my score is 3 for 3 currently. I’d say odds are in our favor). So, now I send $275 ($3,259/12 months rounded up to the nearest $25) to pay that off within 12 months. Yay!

The CP Visa should really be a lot better. We send this debt $100/wk and seem to use it up as soon as we pay it. Hopefully next month is better, but I’m not sure with the holidays coming up…

Rent-a-Center has been paid off. Another 0% interest success story. The chest freezer is all mine!

Navient. Ugh. This is the main reason why doing these reports are so good for me. I get to actually see how much this debt grows when I don’t have to pay anything on it at all. My payments have recently been increased from $0 to $100 starting this month actually, so it will still grow if I don’t give it more money, but at least not by as much as it has been. I really dreaded logging in to Navient and getting the new balance but I’m really glad that I did. It’s really not as bad as I thought it would be. Someday I will go Gazelle Intense on this loan!

Great Lakes is my husband’s student loan and this one only grew because I estimated his balance last month and I have the true balance now.

Vermuelen’s and Home Depot are coming down as expected, but I plan to use Home Depot again in the near future for either interior door replacement (our bedroom doors are very old solid monstrosities and the door handles keep coming apart; my mother in law was stuck in the restroom for a while when she came to visit over the summer), or replacing the bathroom vanity which only has a floating sink at the moment (my son could use a supported sink because he cannot stand, and the added storage space would be great). I expect the charge to be less than $500 no matter which option we go with.We are still in talks of which of these 2 options will add the most value to our lives. Do you have an opinion?

The Capital One has of course increased $3,188 because it has absorbed the liability of the HHR.

And there we have our new Net Worth Negative amount of: $(66,969)!

Some exciting changes coming up in November:

  • I will be receiving my first pay checks for my side hustle at The Jackson School of the Arts
  • I just sent off $400 from our escrow adjustment to pay off the 401(k) loan
  • My first payment (ever!) to Navient will post this month
  • Our first increased mortgage payment will be sent 11/30/2016

Fun Facts:

  • If our Net Worth continues to grow at the rate of $356 it will take us just under 16 years to become Net Worth Positive!
  • Our Net Worth grew 0.5% this month

I really enjoyed this chat and I hope you will join me next month for our December Statement of Net Worth and join me every Saturday for tips on how I save money!

Talk again soon!



Away From Keyboard

afkHello, world. I wasn’t able to meet my deadline of posting every Saturday even though I have written a couple of posts ahead of time. They have not been completely polished yet so I want to continue to work on them before I post them for you to read. Instead, I thought today that I would post some updates on what is going on with me and free write instead.

The main reason I wasn’t able to post is because I actually picked up a side job! A year or 2 ago, I took ballet at the Jackson School of the Arts just for something fun to do. Since I graduated college I have been feeling really idle and feeling idle makes me depressed. I also wanted to get a good workout, and I know in order to feel motivated to work out, you have to do something that you’re interested in. For me, I also need a classroom setting because I know that I am expected on a certain day and a certain time, not just whenever I feel like it (I never feel like working out!!) and also having peers around me makes me work harder because I don’t want to be seen as weak. If I’m trying to do 100 crunches at home, I’m going to stop after 25 or so because at that point it’s become uncomfortable and no one is there to see me fail.

Anyway, I stopped going to ballet after a while because I completely stunk at it. I love dance so much that for some reason I thought I would have an automatic aptitude for it. I didn’t. I also joined in the middle of the year, and these students were planning a recital! No, thank you!!

Lately I have been wanting to “get back to the barre” as they say, but I didn’t want to pay the $35 a month because I’m trying to grow my net worth here! I heard on a podcast, I wish I could remember which one now, that if you want to go to take a class or join a gym, to offer to volunteer your time in exchange for free classes or gym time. I decided to send a message out and see what would happen.

Lo and behold, 3 weeks later I get a response and now I have a PAYING position that fits perfectly with my schedule. I should be able to put an additional $200-400 toward debt because of this blessing. But, because of it you may not see my posts STRICTLY on Saturdays.

Next weekend will be a Net Worth Update! I’m really looking forward to it, especially since I know now some more concrete numbers. Last month some of the assets I reported were only very rough guesses, so this month’s gain will probably be skewed but I’m excited to see what a more accurate net worth looks like; and then we can look at accurate growth together!

Talk again soon!

My Path to Home Ownership: Land Contracts

My first big step forward was when I moved from NYC back home to Michigan after the death of my father in 2011. My then fiancé (now husband) and I purchased a home on Land Contract. A Land Contract is when a seller is willing to finance you in purchasing their home if you have a good sized down payment.  There is usually a “balloon payment” at the end of the contract, the amount of which could vary from contract to contract.  The terms of the sale: down payment, interest rate, and balloon, payment at the end are up to each individual contract. The original terms of the Land Contract on our home was $74,900 with $10,000 down and a 30 year mortgage payment of the balance at 7% interest for 3 years, and then the balloon payment which was equal to the balance owed less all payments toward principal that had been made during the 3 years.

We knew that our credit needed help. I think our credit scores were in the low 600s and I had a vehicle repossession that would come off my credit report a little more than 3 years away from the purchase price, so we negotiated and got the land contract to $73,500, and offered 8% interest if they would allow us 4 years. They agreed and we put down $10,000 and had payments of $458.91 for 4 years. We were of course responsible for all insurances and taxes during these 4 years. Now that I know more about interest, offering a whole percent point more for an additional year probably wasn’t the smartest idea, but I wanted to be 100% sure that we would be able to keep our home. In 2015 we were able to obtain a traditional mortgage through a lender by the grace of God! I cannot tell you how many nights I worried about not being able to secure financing at the end of the contract.


Land contracts really are a gamble for both parties. For us, if we were not able to come up with the balloon payment, we lost the $10,000 down payment we had put on the house, any investments we put in to it, and all of the payments we made along the way.

Sellers are also at risk because the buyers could completely wreck the house and then disappear leaving them with the mortgage if they still have one, repairs to be made, and no tenant!

A land contract can be an absolute blessing for the right people with the right mind set, working to improve their credit and obtain the American Dream. I would warn to be aware of predatory lending when it comes to Land Contracts. I haven’t seen it myself, but I am sure that there are some people out there that would jump at the opportunity to boot you out for breach of contract if you slipped past the due date on your monthly payments, or your financing took longer than expected and you go past the end of the contract date. It really can be a leap of faith!

If you are thinking about obtaining a land contract in your pursuit of home ownership, be aware of the risks and set yourself up for success by knowing the payment is one that you can truly afford – don’t take on more home than you can pay on a worst case scenario basis. Have fun, good luck, and happy house hunting!

Avoiding Burnout: Find Your Happy Place

If you were to know me in person (or “IRL” as my daughter says on Instagram), you would know that I am extremely detail oriented. I have a list for everything, and a schedule for just about everything. I’ve been that way since I was a child with notebook paper:

3:45pm – Get home from school

4:00pm – Watch Full House, start working on homework

Etc. etc.

I’m not kidding. I still have a “Get Home” Schedule today. And a weekly dinner rotation schedule. And a daily 15 minute deep cleaning schedule. These schedules can sometimes be hard to stick to because there are days that I just don’t want to stop vegging out on the sofa scrolling through Facebook. That’s probably some type of Chore Burnout. There is a Debt Repayment Burnout as well, and some recurring advice I see for that burnout is to surround yourself with inspirational reinforcement.

I have a handy dandy unit which helps keep me from Chore Burnout and Debt Repayment Burnout. I had my husband install an under-the-counter media player which I absolutely cannot live without.


You can find yours here:

While I clean house I jam out to 1995 Spring Break Radio on Pandora, while I’m waiting for my husband’s regular on his way home from work phone call I play some mellow Sam Smith Radio, and while I’m cooking dinner, doing dishes, or packing lunches I’m listening to Personal Finance Podcasts!

Do you have that one friend that really gets you motivated to look at your bills, pay off debt, improve your credit score, and finally get ahead? If you are my “IRL” friend, that’s probably me! But, if you don’t have a “me” in your life (sadly) here are some great podcasts you can listen to.

  1. Martinis and Your Money
    1. Shannon McLay invites guests to drink martinis and have slightly tipsy discussions on all things money. I have gotten serious cases of the giggles listening to this show, especially with the Happy Hour Ladies who get in to all sorts of topics to keep even the not-so-money obsessed person enthralled. I have also had the absolute daylights scared out of me when a guest convinced me to log in to my student loan account and see what I owed after 4 years of forbearance and the Income Based Repayment Plan. And now, here we are!
  2. The His and Her Money Show
    1. Talaat and Tai McNeely have a wonderful, well laid out show here where they regularly interview people who have achieved debt freedom and ask the person every question that you would want to ask if you were there to ask it. My absolute favorite question is, “What book suggestions do you have for our listeners?” This is when I lunge for my dish towel, dry off my hands, hit the pause button, open my iPhone notepad (I told you, a note for everything!) and quickly take down their suggestions. At a later time, I look the book up on Amazon and see if it’s something I’m interested in.


Financial Rock Star

  1. Scott Alan Turner is the first personal finance podcast that I started listening to. He takes reader submitted questions, reads them on air and gives an answer. It really is great for getting your own questions answered, and exercising your personal finance muscles as you try to answer what other people have asked and see if he gives the same answer as you. Super fun! Riker and Jake are okay, too.

Some books I have greatly enjoyed is Dear Debt by Melanie Lockert. I found her on Martinis and Your Money as she is one of the Happy Hour Ladies. She chronicles her journey getting out of debt and writes debt a letter at the end of each chapter. It’s really great to read how her attitude toward debt changes as she frees herself from its grip. She also blogs at Be sure to give her a follow!

I have also read 99 Minute Millionaire by Scott Alan Turner which I regularly return to, to read all the highlights I have all over it. There are great pearls of wisdom everywhere in that book!

I really enjoyed Millionaire Next Door. This book is super enlightening because it is a study done of millionaires and what they drive, how they spend their money and surprise – It’s not like you might think! Spoiler: Those who have money don’t feel the need to flaunt the fact that they have money. I just love modesty for this reason. They also have a formula for what they call UAWs (Under Accumulators of Wealth *raises hand*) and PAWs (Prodigious Accumulators of Wealth). Using this formula, in order for me to be a PAW I would need a Net Worth of about $109,624.32 but we all know my Net Worth is -$67,325! What is that, even? A Super UAW? Don’t worry, I’ll get there by leaps and bounds. Or maybe by $25s and $50s, but I’ll get there. I hope you’ll join me!

First blog post

The date was October 4th, 2016. I had been thinking about doing this for a while. I’m an Accounting graduate and had always been interested in net worth and how it would apply to families, and so after listening to a podcast that recommended monthly budget meetings or “Money Dates” I decided to actually crunch our numbers and see where we really stood.

We are probably lower middle class currently. We don’t live paycheck to paycheck, we don’t live beyond our means (or so I thought). We always have enough money to pay our bills with some surplus at the end of the month. We never pay anything late, so we of course thought we were doing fine! We could donate to charity, help family and friends with emergency expenses, who knew we had a problem? I thought we might.

We truly felt we were doing fine: we have a mortgage, sure but our home is modest and we don’t owe 6 figures on it…. okay it’s also not WORTH 6 figures (yet!). We make smart money choices and fully research the pros and cons of large purchases…. Now. It wasn’t always that way, and in fact we are still paying the price of dumb decisions made out of desperation. I will explain more in future blog posts when there is more time and you are more invested in our story.

Back to the evening of October 4, 2016. Ladies and gentlemen, our Net Worth:


I will be making posts every Saturday giving you either more background information, our wins for the week, maybe some fails along the way, and then every first Saturday of the month (or maybe the 2nd depending on where the Saturdays fall – I need time to pay the bills and get updated balances!) I’ll update the Net Worth for the month.

Please join me in our journey to becoming Net Worth Positive!