Why And How We Create A Christmas Budget

It’s that time of year, and shopping is already underway in earnest.

I’m sure that many of you have gotten started with your shopping, and many will also be waiting until the last minute.  I generally fall somewhere in between that spectrum.

I thought I’d take a little time to explain how we set and track our Christmas budget, and I’d love to see how it compares to yours.

History As Our Guide

We have one big spreadsheet that I’ve used for years to track various aspects of our personal finance, from a spending ledger to budgets for big items to investment gains and losses, and yes, a Christmas budget.

This is great because I can track prior years spending and set that as a starting point for this years budget.

mb-2015-11-christmas01This allows me to start off with:

  • Who we bought gifts for in the past
  • What we budgeted for gifts for each of them
  • What we actually spent on each person

These are two big pieces of information that, in reality, gets us most of the way there.  All I need to do is list out any changes in the list of individuals that we need to buy for, then look at the amounts to see what needs to change.

In some cases, we might have gone over, so I’ll look at why we went over and determine if that needs to be the base amount, or maybe it was just a one-time thing.

Adjustments Based On Availability

After I’m done coming with adjustments, I compare it to our total budget amount.

See, we save for Christmas shopping all year.  We earmark a fixed amount per month that sits in our account, and is allocated just for gifts.  We essentially take 8.3333% (or one-twelfth) of what we estimate we’ll spend, and set it aside.  Then, when it’s all said and done, we’re fully funded for Christmas shopping.  No worries about how we’ll pay for the credit card bills come January!

Usually the total amount is pretty close to what we budget, so not much tweaking is necessary, though there’s usually some back and forth between my wife and I on how to make sure everything is covered.

Tracking, Tracking, and Tracking

The difficult part I have is tracking the spending.  I can easily track what I spend, but as my wife does a majority of the shopping, and she’ll do it in big chunks at a time (usually 2 or 3 shopping days in total), I have to then work with her to try to make sense of all the charges and get a breakdown.  So, she might go to Marshall’s and spend $250, but if $80 is for her parents, $45 for our son, $75 for our daughter, and $50 for her sister, it gets difficult, though not impossible to track.

It gets even more complicated when she buys gifts for me.  She usually identifies one rarely used credit card and will put my purchases on that, so I have to ‘go dark’ on being able to track the card activity until Christmas arrives.  Inevitably, she’ll also buy stuff for other people in the same transactions, which then complicates it for me, because I’ll show remaining budget for that person, and she’ll have to fill me in, though I can’t look at the receipt or the credit card activity.

Argh!  And, yes, I know, that means I track things a bit too precisely for my own good :)  But I’m good with that.

In the end, we sometimes go over a bit and sometimes come under on our total amount.  There is a little cushion built into our total monthly budget, so the difference is absorbed easily.

How Do You Budget?

Readers, I’d love to if and how you budget and any big similarities or differences to the strategies that we use.  I’m always open to making things easier!


Copyright 2015 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Why I Didn’t Report My Lost Credit Card

  1. Several weeks ago, we went to the last of our country concerts for the year, as we went to see Luke Bryan in downtown Detroit.  It was a great show and we had a great time.  After we were done, we went to a couple of nearby bars to finish off the celebration, and capped it off with an Uber ride home.

All in all, it was a great night, and I thought that was the end of it.

But, it wasn’t.

The next day, we were running some errands and the first stop we had to make was to get gas.

We use our Costco American Express card to get gas, as it provides 3% cash back.

I went to get it out of my wallet, and realized that it wasn’t there.


I immediately thought back to the previous night and had an idea of what had happened.

See, we also use the card at restaurants because it offers 2% cash back for dining purchases.  Knowing that we’d gone out the previous night, I know I had likely used it then.

Since my wife was there, I grabbed her card to complete the gas purchase, and while the gas was pumping, I logged into my American Express account to take a look at all my activity.  It was pretty cool to see that the gas purchase was already noted as in progress.  But, it also showed that the last time I’d used my card was the previous night at one of the bars.

mb-2015-02-oopsThinking about the way it all went down, I remember buying a round of drinks at the bar, and carrying it back to our table.  There were four of us, so I had to make two trips.  I specifically remembered having to grab the receipt and the card from the bartender, and carry it along with the first two drinks, then rush back to grab the other two.

I was pretty sure that I’d set the card down on the table along with the receipt, and then likely left it there.

I decided not to call American Express right away, since no activity had gone on the card.  I did keep checking every so often and no activity was showing up.

Later, after we got home, I called down to the bar.  The first call did not go through to anybody, even though I was pretty sure they were open.  I left a message and never got a call back.

I called back a little while later and got a hold of someone that offered to check, but didn’t really instill the level of confidence that I was looking for.  So, when he told me that he couldn’t find it, I accepted it but wasn’t really all that sure that I was ready to end the fight.

Now, I could have easily called American Express and reported the card as missing, and gotten a new card issued with a new number, but I chose to wait it out, and it had to do with a reason that I’m pretty sure most of you wouldn’t guess.

It was because of our planned trip to Disney World.

The American Express card had been used to pay for just about every aspect of our trip.  It was also linked to our Magic Bands, which we already had in our possession.  Those are little bands that you were that have a chip that basically gets you everything that you need from accessing the park to your hotel to including your payment.

We also had booked everything except our flight with the card.

In short, we wanted to avoid the hassle of things having to be all changed around.

So, I continued to check my account information, and decided to call back the next day.  This time, I spoke to the manager, and she went to look for it and reported that…they had found the card!

They offered to send it to me, and within a couple days, I had the card back in my possession.

Was it risky?  Sure.  Would I have taken the risk had I not had an inkling of where the card was as soon as I found it wasn’t in my wallet, or had I not had access to check the card activity at a moment’s notice?  No way.  Would I have just taken the simple method and gotten a replacement card had we not had the Disney association?  I probably would have.

In the end, it was a little extra stress and it all worked out.  I know I got lucky in that someone found the card and did the right thing.  It could have gone a lot of other different ways, but I’m glad it didn’t.

Readers, what do you think of the risk that I took?  Should I have cancelled the card the moment I realized it was missing or was my hunch and the availability of technology a proper mitigation in the short term?  What would you have done?

Copyright 2015 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Stay Healthy For Less Money

If you believe the commercials and magazine covers, you might think that it is impossible to get in shape without paying for an expensive gym membership, money-munching diet plans and loads of pricy equipment. However, not only is it possible to save money on getting healthy, you can usually find everything you need free (or at no additional cost to what you are already spending).

A common cost that Low Income Loans Australia see’s when helping low income earners with their personal finances, is that of unused gym memberships. Save money by cancelling rarely used memberships and try some of the below tips for getting healthy without the blowing the budget.

Skip organic: If you have a sink, you can wash your fruits and veggies before you cook or eat them. While organic can be healthier, if you are on a shoestring budget, the benefits are not worth the extra expense. If you must go organic pick your battles, choose one thing (like meats), and just take a little extra time washing everything else off.

Buy frozen: Yes, eating fresh fruits and veggies is usually the best option. However, fresh fruits and veggies can be expensive and they go bad quickly. Frozen fruits and veggies (sans extra sugar) are nearly as healthy as fresh and they are cheaper.

Cook at home: Great for your budget. Great for your waistline. It is much easier to adjust meals to meet healthier goals when you cook at home. Your wallet and your waistline will thank you for saying no to the extra grease.

Say no to Soda: The Sugar. The sugar. The sugar. Did you know that one 12-ounce container of Coke has about 7.5 teaspoons of sugar? Take a minute and measure that out so you can see it. Soda may not look so appealing anymore. Opt for water when you are thirsty and save 200 calories and a couple bucks.

Go for a walk: Walking is great exercise. It is also free. Toss on your headphones and head out for a stroll around your neighborhood. Take your dog or your little ones and make it a family affair.

Ride a bike:  Bike riding is an excellent way to build leg strength and burn a few cardio calories too. For maximum benefits, nix the car and take your bike to and from work when weather permits. You will get in a good workout without taking away from the rest of your day.

Use your body: Skip the expensive hand weights and fancy kettlebells and make the best of what you already have. Your body is a great tool for strength training. Yoga and Pilates are great options for learning how to put your body weight to good use. (Check online or at your local library for free or cheap DVDs).

Go Swimming: Swimming is an excellent option for weight loss because you are using your entire body. You get heart-healthy cardio and strength training in all at once. If you live close to the beach, take advantage of your location and hit the surf for a few laps. You can also add a little difficulty to your morning walk by trudging through the surf at about ankle deep.

Copyright 2015 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Is The Quality of CFL Bulbs On The Decline?

I know many people don’t like them, but I’ve always been a supporter of CFL bulbs.  Some of the early bulbs were a bit hard to handle, and they developed a reputation that they weren’t able to overcome in the eyes of many, as some of the tints were off and they would take a long time to get bright.

While they haven’t improved to 100% in either of these areas, I’ve been fine with the strides that they’ve made.

Add to the fact that they’ve greatly dropped in price over the years, and I’ve been a supporter.

mb-2015-11-bulbOne thing that I was really impressed with was how long they seemed to last.

When they first came out, one of the strong points of CFL bulbs is that they would last, on average, for around 7 years.  This would vary based on usage, and it was noted that if you frequently turn your lights on and off, the expectation would be reduced.  Which I understood.

When we moved into our house in 2007, I went through and started replacing many bulbs with CFLs as they burnt out, and it didn’t take long before most eligible bulbs were CFLs.

There was a long stretch where we didn’t replace any bulbs, which was great.

Then gradually, we started having CFLs burn out.  And, they started going at a pretty rapid rate, where I was replacing 1-2 bulbs per month.  I did replace a couple of lamp bulbs with LEDs but most of the others were replaced with new CFL bulbs.

The timing made sense, as the progression seemed to hit when the average bulb was around 5-6 years old.

I figured that I might see a big wave and then see it die down to a trickle.

Which is kind of what happened, but not really.

What I’ve noticed is that there have been a few bulbs that I’ve already had to replace a second time.  And, while I know that some of the bulbs are in places where the light gets turned on and off more frequently, they still did not last nearly as long as the original bulb.  I’m thinking that the first bulb might have lasted 5 years, and the second lasted 1-2.

So far it hasn’t seemed too concerning to me, but I’ll definitely keep an eye on the trend.  One of the reasons is that the price has effectively negated the reduced output.  When we first bought them, it seemed we were paying $2-4 pre bulb, though it’s been so long that I really can’t remember.  When I last went and bought some more, they were $0.50 each.   We’ve been consistently buying the same brand of bulbs from the same store, so if the quality is not there, it’s not because we made any changes in our buying habits.  It could very well have to do with the bulbs themselves.

Readers, what do you think about CFL bulbs?  If you’ve avoided them, would you ever give them another chance or are you scarred for life?  If you use them, have you noticed any decrease in bulb life as time has gone on?  

Copyright 2015 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.