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As it’s nearing the end of the first quarter of the year, many of us who are concerned about our finances are starting to get a clearer picture of this year’s financial forecast.

If you’re birthday falls in this quarter, like mine, then you have many of the annual/bi-annual expenses, like car registrations, out of the way. You may also have gotten important birthdays and taxes completed as well. You have seen the impact of any raises or bonuses on your bi-weekly income. Maybe you have been monitoring a side hustle’s progress, or watching your spending to see how much money you really spend and where it’s going.

I’ve used this first quarter of the year to start some healthy trends monetarily. Since I moved into my apartment the last few days of November, I’ve used this first quarter as a true gauge of exactly how much my monthly expenses have shifted. I’ve changed when I pay bills, how much I pay, and how I keep track of who/what’s been paid. I want to share with you some of the things I’ve done and what I’ve learned this first quarter of watching my wealth (or lack thereof).

  • Bills, bills, bills. One of my problems at my old apartment was that I had no idea how much my bills should be. I got into a cycle of being behind, having to pay late fees, and having to have payday advances to cover things I didn’t realize were about to be due, which incurred fees themselves. In my estimation at that point, I didn’t make enough money to pay for my basic bills. Having moved, I now realize that’s simply not true. Having this opportunity to start over has shown me that the reason I didn’t have enough money wasn’t because I didn’t make enough, but was because I had to spend so much extra money on fees and playing catch up. I used too many payday advances because bills were sneaking up on me. I have to be more organized. Since I moved, I developed a new system for handling my bills. This is what I did: I had an “extra” check in the month of December. Instead of doing what I wanted to do (blu ray player, flat screen, heck , a futon and a moon chair), I used that money to catch up/pay off all of my bills so I could start fresh in January. I got in front of my bills, so that I wasn’t paying after the due date. Next, using due dates and math, I decided what bills to pay from each check. Every time I get paid, I gather up the bills for that time period and pay them the same day I get paid. I keep a “spreadsheet” (aka, a piece of lined paper) for each month, detailing what was owed, when it was owed, when I paid it, and what proof I have, either a confirmation number, a receipt, or my chase debit card statement. This way, I can make sure that everyone has gotten paid for the month, and if I need to, I can pull out my monthly packet and dispute whether or not someone was paid.
  • 401K: There hasn’t been as much progress this quarter here as I would have liked. The plan is to increase my contributions by a mere 1 percent this year. One percent is not really one percent for me, however, due to employer matching. Right now, I put in three percent; my employer puts in six percent, for a total of nine. By increasing my contribution to four percent, I increase the overall contribution from nine percent to twelve percent. The maximum matched is six percent, for an overall contribution of eighteen percent. That’s the end goal. Right now, I haven’t taken a loan against my contributions or lowered my contribution, so this goal is stable.
  • I consolidated my student loans in December and began paying in January. I chose income contingent at the time, but with my current income, the payment will increase to just ten dollars below standard repayment, with a much more definite amount and pay off time frame. I’m changing my payment option to the big girl, standard repayment option. This will increase this bill at least sixty dollars, but we will work with it. The car loan is being paid in full ahead of time. The minute I get “extra” income, it will go to paying this off. I still owe a few “one time” debts. I set up a payment plan for one to pay it off in the next few months, through my side hustle earnings.
  • Add a hustle: in this quarter, I’ve also begun a new side hustle: editing. I’m hoping to get this off the ground more in the upcoming months.
  • Feed me: I’ve bought more groceries this month instead of eating out as much. The difference? It impacts me more initially, but it saves me a lot in the long run. Besides, I know how to cook and I like doing it. I’ve gotten excited about cooking again, and am gathering new recipes to try (and looking for a guinea pig).
  • The laundry thing: paying to wash clothes again is no good. I’d forgotten just how much it costs to wash clothes when you don’t have a washer/dryer in your apartment. I’ve had to get creative on my loads of clothes, wait longer between washings to build up a decent load, and make executive decisions on what really needs to go in the dryer and what can hang and dry on my bathroom shower curtain rod. It also necessitates a line in the budget. Grr!
  • Savings: Umm…yeah, about this one…I don’t have any yet. Once I pay off the one time debt I made a payment arrangement for, and get at least a futon in my house, my side hustle money can be split between paying down car loan debt and building up savings. I should be done by the start of May with the one time debt (sooner if I pull a bigger tax return than I think I will).

So that’s where I am this month. As you may have noticed, I haven’t said anything about an actual budget. I’ve just given tips for keeping track of bills, increasing my 401k, paying down debt, and finding money for savings. Hey, I have to save something for other money days. 😉

How have you done with money this quarter? What worked for you this quarter?