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The cost of going home more often

photoLately I’ve been thinking a lot about family, and I realize that I don’t make the effort to go home often enough. This past weekend was great, but I find I’m only coming home for specific reasons – like a field hockey tournament, or a running race. I should be coming home just to visit sometimes.

When I first moved to Vancouver, I went home nearly every weekend (because I still had a PT job there, but also because all my friends were still in Victoria). Then when I quit that job, I started going back once a month. And now, nearly 7 years later? I end up going home once every 2-3 months.

There are excuses, of course. During field hockey season (Sept-March), it’s incredibly difficult to get away because games are on the weekend and I play on a competitive team where you are expected to go to most (if not all) games and practices. I have friends here on the mainland, a boyfriend, work commitments, and travel plans. Then there’s the cost of actually getting home.

When I was in high school, I paid less than $8 to ride the ferry one-way. Now? It’s $16.25 one-way. Add in the $53.25 one-way cost to bring a vehicle over, and a trip home becomes a major expense! Parking my car and walking onto the ferry is an option. I do that quite often, but sometimes a car is necessary. Plus parking is expensive as well (at the terminal it’s $16/24 hours, and at the Park-n-Go I believe it’s $14/24 hours).

Still. I want to see my family more often, and with the health problems of certain family members, I don’t want to miss out. I want to spend more time in my hometown, and if that costs more money and more weekends traveling, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m extremely lucky that the job I have right now offers flexible work hours, so I can take time off it needed to catch an early ferry on the weekends.

I don’t think going home once a month is realistic right now, but I will try to go every 6-8 weeks. This starts in a couple of weeks, when BF and I will head over on the May long weekend. I’d like to go back again in June or July, and then my family and I will be spending a few days in August to watch the Blue Jays take on the Mariners. :)

How often do you see your family? Does cost factor into that decision?

Having a car is expensive

carBack in the fall, I wrote a post called How much is your car costing you?, where I calculated that I was spending around $300/month for gas and insurance (11% of my net monthly income). And that didn’t even include maintenance like oil changes, repairs, or the actual cost of buying the car.

Even though I concluded that having a car was a clear “want” and not a “need,” I still depend on my car to lead the lifestyle I want for myself. Deciding to live in the suburbs, that’s the choice I made. And it’s the right choice for me now, but I’m not sure if it’s the right choice for me in the future.

When I start my new job later this month, I’ll be commuting from the suburbs to just outside of the downtown core. In the 6+ years I’ve lived here in Vancouver, I’ve never actually worked in Vancouver before… so I’m not sure what my commute will be like. Based on where I’m located, I think it will be similar to my old job (35-40 mins.). But the big difference is that when I’m over at BF’s house, he lives just 5 minutes away. AND since I’m working in such a populated area, most offices don’t have designated parking – so I had to rent a parking spot for $65/month.

Now that $65 parking stall is almost 50% less than any other stalls I’ve found in the area. That’s because I’m renting a space in an apartment building about 3 blocks from my office, and not in a regular parking lot. But if you combine that expense with having to rent a parking stall near BF’s house, my car costs have immediately risen by 25% to approximately $375/month.

I ran the numbers again, comparing my car costs with buying a transit pass, and my car still wins out even with this added cost. But just barely. If expenses go up again, I’m going to have to make some serious decisions. Even though I love where I live and I love my home, I’ve been spending the majority of my time in the city, and that’s only going to increase with this new job.

So maybe it will mean moving to a more central location down the road. Or maybe it will be as simple as letting go of some of my hobbies and buying a bus pass instead.

Creating a bare-bones budget

Most personal finance experts will tell you that you need between 3-6 months of living expenses saved in an easily accessible Emergency Fund. Having cash as a cushion is always a good idea – but when you run into hard times, it’s how you choose to spend your emergency savings that can mean the difference between getting through your financial crisis, or having to make some truly difficult decisions.

You might already have a budget created for your monthly expenses, but having a budget in order to deal with a financial emergency is also really important – and creating one before a crisis hits will make it a lot easier for you to make the transition.

Related: When is it okay to use your Emergency Fund?

Over the past weekend, I took a hard look at my finances and created a bare-bones budget for my current situation. Employment Insurance will just be enough to cover all of my expenses – mortgage, strata, hydro, cell phone, internet, car insurance, and about $100/month for groceries. I’d love to be able to get through this without having to touch my Emergency Fund – but I’m pretty realistic and know it’s likely not possible. But my stress level is significantly lower knowing that I’ve got some money in the bank set aside for exactly this kind of situation.

Here are a few tips on how to create a bare-bones budget:

Fixed vs. discretionary expenses

Typically when creating a budget, you would divide your categories into two separate spending groups – fixed and discretionary. Fixed expenses can also sometimes be reduced, but may require a longer time to see any benefit – such as waiting for a lease to run out in order to move to a cheaper apartment. This means the easiest way to lower your budget is to focus on your discretionary spending.

Here is what my bare-bones budget looks like compared to my current February 2014 budget:

barebonesbudget

You can see, I was able to eliminate $765 from my monthly budget without too much problem. And I know that if needed, I could cut down my budget even further. For the next few months I will use this budget as a guide for my monthly expenses, but if it gets too tight, I can eliminate internet, lower my cell phone bill, and get rid of my car insurance. That would likely save an additional $180/month.

Dealing with debt

I’m extremely thankful that I don’t have any debt, aside from my mortgage. However if you’re in debt, you generally cannot escape your debt repayments without serious repercussions. You might be able to call each creditor to inquire about lowering your payments until you can get back on your feet. And if you have debts that are tied to a car, boat, motorcycle, etc. – you might need to consider selling and putting the money towards the loan instead. There’s a chance you could end up taking a loss in the process, but eliminating or reducing your monthly payments might leave you ahead in the long run.

Defer if possible

Many expenses cannot be avoided, even when you’re in a financial crisis. If you can, avoid replacing or paying to repair the items until you’re back on your feet. For example, if you microwave or dryer has broken, re-heat your food on the stove and hang-dry your clothing instead. You might not be able to get away without fixing your refrigerator, for example, but make sure to look for alternative solutions too. If a friend or relative owns a small fridge, or has a spare one in the garage, ask to borrow it until you can get yours fixed.

Once you start putting the numbers on paper, you can start to see how much money you will need to spend each month, and how long you can live off of your savings.

While I have been able to do a lot for myself to make sure I’m okay financially while I’m laid off, I can’t put a price tag on how much my friends, family, and BF are keeping me sane. And the positive and thoughtful blog comments, texts, tweets, and e-mails I’ve gotten from so many people have really put a smile on my face. So thank you. It’s really, really appreciated. :)

Do you have a bare-bones budget created in case of an emergency?

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