Friday, April 8, 2011

I used to think $1,500 was a lot of money.

Based on my assumptions about taxes, health care, and rent, I should have at least $1,500 a month of my grad student stipend left for everything else. That's roughly 3/4 of my net pay when I was teaching, and I paid rent, albeit ridiculously cheap Delta rent, out of that and still socked plenty away. So it shouldn't be that hard to keep building my savings while I'm in school.

After doing a very rough first pass at a budget for my stipend, I can see how easy it would be to fritter the money away instead. I put down what I thought were generous, but not outrageous, estimates for the major categories that came to mind. Note that the categories in my real budget will probably be a bit more finely subdivided; this is just a quick and dirty approximation, not an actual spending plan intended to keep me on track. It looks a bit like this.

Cash expenses: $400. This would include food, personal expenses, entertainment, gas, and miscellany, basically any typical day to day expenses that aren't bills.

Utilities, internet, phone, and Netflix: $200. I'm anticipating high winter heating bills, and I think I will want internet at home for Skyping The Boy, streaming Netflix movies when I want to passively unwind, and the convenience of not having to hike to a campus computer lab whenever I want to check my email or look something up online. Phone costs should be low as I'll either keep relying on my trusty Tracfone or take my future in-laws up on their offer joining their family plan for $10 a month. If I can find a good apartment with utilities included, this total should be significantly lower.

Short term savings/seasonal: $75. This is for expenses that occur somewhat irregularly, such as gifts, an annual bus pass, good boots when winter hits, etc.

Insurance: $100. I have no idea what insurance for a newer car will cost, and I'll need renters' insurance as well; is this a reasonable estimate? (I'll be paying for the car out of savings, so a car payment isn't a worry.)

Charitable giving: $100. I'm planning to double my automatic donation to Doctors without Borders.

Travel: $250. This assumes a plane ticket every two months. Things were decidedly less complicated when my long distance relationship with The Boy only involved travel by car.

Wedding savings: $125. I'm assuming that I'll be paying for my wedding in three years and that it will be on a tight budget.

That leaves $250 a month for long term savings. I'd be saving a mere $3,000 a year, just 10% of my gross income. That isn't enough to keep saving a reasonable amount for retirement, gradually replenish my car fund, and regularly add anything to my down payment fund. That just won't work. I need to save more than 10% of my income for retirement alone.

Granted, I think some of my assumptions for fixed expenses were a bit high. I hope I won't end up spending $3,000 a year on educational expenses. I'm going to try to find an apartment toward the lower end of my price range and/or one that includes all utilities so I don't think I'll really end up spending $800 a month on housing and utilities.

Still, I need to figure out where I should cut in these other categories. Cash expenses seem like a good place to start, and I'm reassessing how much of my current car fund I really want to spend right now. I wouldn't need to keep comprehensive and collision coverage on an older and cheaper car, especially if I had almost enough left over in my car fund for another entire car if worst came to worst. Other thoughts on what else I should change in this budget?

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