Monthly Budget: October 2016

This post has taken so long to prepare that my original savings plan is now completely out of date. I’ll recalibrate that later, but for now, let’s see how I did in October. I’ll preface this by repeating that I have no intention of putting myself through extreme privation to be able to leave for France with $10,000 more than I would have otherwise – I would rather live a reasonable lifestyle and take on a little bit more work while there, which I absolutely recognize as a privilege I’m very fortunate to have. In general, I find the “if you still have cable, you’re worthless and bound to die with an insufficiently diversified investment portfolio” attitude of some corners of the personal finance world a little, uh, rich, if you’ll allow the pun. This isn’t supposed to be the Misery Olympics, as I never tire of repeating.

If you’re playing along at home, here’s a clean copy of the really simple budget spreadsheet I use to track my spending. I put absolutely everything on one of my frequent flyer mileage cards (let no mile go unearned!), so I just tally everything up off of my credit card statement(s). I purposefully started off with a straightjacket budget of $1,000 in disposable income to see how I would do and what would need to be adjusted. Note that this amount did not include any of my fixed costs: rent, utilities, insurance, subscriptions, etc. All of those are detailed here.

Budget & Spending by Category

Category Budgeted Spent
Lunch $150 $172
Transport $100 $0
Health & Beauty $50 $138
Going Out $150 $591
Cat $100 $47
Gifts $50 $27
Activities & Clothes $50 $236
Misc Activities $150 $203
Groceries & Amazon $200 $499
Total $1000 $1917

As evidenced above, October wasn’t a great month for budgeting. Several of the behemoth categories – “going out”, “groceries / Amazon”, and “activities / clothes” – I blame on having spent 8 days on vacation on a fairly pricey island, but really, I could’ve easily gotten by with half the amount in each category. I also bought a $130 wool blazer – a very rare occurrence these days, but a necessary purchase and unlike anything I already own – and ordered $100-something worth of French books on Amazon, which is a spending category I’m really trying to rein in until I read all the books I actually, you know, have. Although I overspent egregiously, I think $1,000 is still a good benchmark to work towards.

A few things helped me out here – I used account credits to cover bus fare and a few Ubers, the frequency of which has dropped dramatically compared to my style of Ubering of months (years) past. I’m all set on shoes forever, literally for the rest of time for the fall/winter, and the only thing I’m still looking for is a replacement wool coat.

November & Beyond

What definitely won’t help me in November is another (yes, another) vacation – I’m taking my mom to Brazil. A sidenote here: my mom was exceedingly generous in financing my studies and getting me on my feet, so I take her on a nice trip every year. I keep an eye on my spending in this category, but I don’t obsessively budget for it, nor do I cut out experiences based on price alone if I think they’re worth it, within reasonable limits – I booked a $350 hotel inside of the Iguazu Falls park, for example, because why the fuck not. I won’t go out for lavish dinners every night, and I love street food as much as anybody, but if there’s an €80 mollusk platter on offer and I know the process of eating through it will give us a million funny stories to look back on years later, I’ll get the platter and tack on a bottle of sauvignon blanc (or two). I’d much rather enjoy that experience with my family than have an extra $100 sitting in savings, which is one of the most important things my first boss ever taught me – at the end of the day, it’s just money. If I have to cut out a four-cocktail night at some overpriced DC watering hole full of pumpkin spiced congressional staffers and bad taste wrapped in J.Crew to balance out those expenditures, everyone will surely be better off in the long run.

I do try to maximize benefits on travel, though – I booked a hotel in Rio through Rocketmiles, for instance, and expect to earn about 17,000 United miles on it. Another good option is and their “one night free per 10 nights stayed” promo, which one of my friends swears by. I won’t overpay to access promotional offers, that’s the oldest trick in the book and one you should never fall for, but if the price is comparable to what I’m seeing on Booking, miles or points or free nights are just free money waiting to be taken, so damn right I’m going to take it.

This brings me to another point – I’ve been working bit by bit on a post detailing exactly how to maximize credit card miles and points for super cheap travel. I know The Points Guy and others have written literal thousands of articles on the topic, but that’s just it, isn’t it – for someone just starting out, the flood of information you’re hit with online is virtually unintelligible and, it should be noted, almost always subjective, because most of these bloggers earn commission on application referrals. I’ll try to bridge that gap in my next post.

Finances, French

Timeboxing 36 hours a day

I was away for a week in Roatan, a Honduran tropical paradise island known for its biodiversity and scuba sites. Originally, the point of the trip was to get PADI certified, but I came down with an awful cold and, separately, decided that I just really didn’t like scuba diving, and that’s okay. Also okay – our dinner views:


That said, I got a decent amount of French reading done, upwards of 300 pages of modern non-fiction. On the budgeting side, however, I’m seeing some deficiencies, which will be a topic for another post.

The main problem I’m having right now is figuring out how to fit everything in: from the beginning, I’ve noted that my two main areas of focus are bringing my French up and being able to adequately finance this adventure. This means that between sleep, my day job, sufficient French practice (4-5 hours per day), and sufficient freelance work, I need to have about 36 hours in a day. I am told that timeboxing is a popular method, where you set specific timeframes for each activity and focus on nothing else, but I’m afraid I’m not off to a very good start – according to my timebox for the day, I’m supposed to be doing freelance work right now, and yet here we are. I’ll be on the lookout for better methods – I know I can’t become a planner person, it’s just too much color-coding and tape, plus I need another thing to carry like I need a herd of wild goats in my handbag. I don’t want to waste too much time on trying to find a perfect theoretical model here, where I end up spending more time studying the method than putting in the actual work, but I am interested in the psychology of organization to see what I can figure out from that.

The very good news, though, is that my big freelance project finally came in, and I hope to make about $15,000 on it over the last three months of the year. That cushion would really help with planning for future expenses, except I need to shave hours off of sleep to get the work in. I also can’t let anything slide at my actual job and can’t completely ignore my friends. Oh, and I’m also going to Brazil for 10 days in the middle of all of this. How this is going to work I have no idea.

For my latest experiment, I’m going to try the Pomodoro thing in a minute and try to chill out. At the end of the month, I’ll report back both on time management and money management, with the latter, despite the generous freelance dossier, being in far from the greatest shape.


Roundup, Vol 1.

I’ve collected a few little things worth sharing that don’t really merit entire separate posts. Behold!


Over the past two weeks, I was incredibly lucky to have been offered several freelance projects with generous budgets. As a result, I’m now sitting at just a tiny bit under $40,000 in savings, which puts me very slightly ahead of my savings schedule. I have a big (and very transparent!) budget post coming soon – it’s taken so long to prepare that now all my calculations are off, actually – as well as an essay I’d been meaning to write for a while on my experience with freelancing, some of the issues I’ve encountered in the past, and some of the parts of the process with which I still struggle. If there’s anything in particular you’d like me to cover on this (or any other) topic, feel free to leave a comment below.

French things I’ve enjoyed

I watch a lot of archived French political talk shows on Youtube, and one of the most interesting episodes I’ve found was an October 2014 appearance by Éric Zemmour on On n’est pas couché. Zemmour’s much-discussed and widely reviled book, Le Suicide Français, had just come out, and the panel just went to town on him. Let me take a moment to note that while I disagree with Zemmour on pretty much absolutely everything, I will never pass up an opportunity to read a controversial book, much less so one about de Gaulle and Gaullism and the history of the V Republic, so I’m reading it now (there’s definitely a lot of eye-rolling happening, rest assured). Anyway, what I loved about this particular episode was the depth and breadth of the debate, the passion with which each side approached its arguments, and that final grilling of Zemmour on his “re-evaluation” of Vichy and Pétain, which is an example of the type of conversation no modern democracy should ever shy away from. What made me sad was that I can’t remember the last time I saw anything even remotely similar on an American news network, save for maybe when Christiane Amanpour was given 2 minutes and 45 seconds to take Clinton to task on failing to act in Bosnia.  ‘Twas the year 1994, and I was in 4th grade. That’s just… tragic.

Langue de bois

“Langue de bois” – literally, wooden language – is a French term used to refer to language that’s deliberately vague, unnecessarily complex, and ultimately meaningless. Build your own phrases in langue de bois with this handy (satirical) flowchart, or generate a ready-made statement here.