{{previous post in sequence}}




so like. there’s this budgeting thing called the 50/30/20 method. apparently it is popularized by elizabeth warren? the idea is you spend only 50% of your budget on needs, 30% on wants, and 20% on savings or debt reduction (after counting all minimum payments on your current debt as part of Needs).

So I know my bills take up more than one of my 2 paychecks a month. (I ignore the occasional third one for budgeting purposes till it rolls around, so I don’t overbudget for months that don’t have one.) So for curiosity’s sake, I broke down my entire budget into Needs, Wants, and Savings, then did percentage math at it.

For this purpose, you count your non-tax payroll deductions, like healthcare and 401(k) contributions, as part of your income and expenses, but you don’t count money that goes away as taxes. So the budget starts off with putting 401(k) contributions in Savings and healthcare deductions in Needs. Then you start listing off shit like rent, utilities, car expenses…

Right now, while I’m still catching up on a bunch of my COVID-deferred bills and loans, my Needs come out to about 74% of my income. However, my Wants are very minimal: I have my massage subscription and tip, I’ve budgeted for fast food or takeout maybe 2-3x a month, and I pledge to one Patreon at the $1 level. All together, my Wants are about 6% of my income, leaving the requisite 20% to go toward reducing COVID debt for now.

However, once my COVID deferrals are all paid off, my Needs go down to about 67% of my income – and this is with generous projections, like at least one specialist copay every single month and gasoline if we ever start driving again. My Wants stay at about 6%. So I could either use the other 27% for savings and debt reduction, or I could stick with the recommended 20% and have 13% of my budget for Wants.

And I’m like… this is so much money. This is $150 just unallocated *after* going out to eat at least once a month and keeping my massage subscription. That’s… I do not know what else I would want. I could buy my entire wardrobe at LL Bean. I could have a massage every single week. I could eat at a sit-down restaurant every week. I could buy the newest and most expensive iPhone every single year. I could buy a brand new American Girl doll every month with money to spare. Like I couldn’t do all of those at *once* obviously, but that’s with just 7% of my income by this method of reckoning.

Like, if I somehow did make twice my Needs expenses after tax. That’s not impossible; I’d have to make a little under $33k a year, or a little over $2700 a month, which would be about $17 an hour excluding taxes. I don’t expect to get there at my current job in the near future, but it’s not astronomical.

But like, at that point I’d be saving about $545 a month, covering all my Needs expenses, and I would have *over eight hundred dollars a fucking month* to spend on Wants! Like… jesus fuckwaffles. How would I… I could buy a new one of my current phone every single month and have money left over. I could go to one of those black-tie restaurants that are like $100 a plate *twice a week*. I could not only move into a bigger apartment but hire a maid service to clean it. I could buy every single book I’ve ever read in short order and pay to store them all. I could live on like… caviar and avocado toast.

Hell, even if my living expenses were somehow miraculously reduced and my Needs were only half of my tax-excluded pay *now*, I’d be living on a little over $1000 a month, saving about $400 a month, and trying to figure out how to spend $600 a month on Wants. How… I don’t fucking know what else I could want. I’m not used to having money to spare. It’s weirder than winning the lottery, even, because it’s just like… it’s not enough to go “I will pay off all my friends’ student loans and buy a condo!” but it’s enough that I’m like “Do I just… put all 27% of my income in savings? Do I save for a car? Pay off my student loans? Invest for retirement? Am I fundamentally missing something I should be wanting?”

That sounds like a sign that 50/30/20 isn’t for you.

A lot of budgeting methods have this…maybe not “problem” exactly, but this thing where they’re clearly aimed at people who start with an entertainment budget of “everything after necessities” (or in many cases even higher) and negotiate *downwards*, which makes the methods a bad fit for people who start with an entertainment budget of zero and negotiate *upwards*. I guess the people spending money they don’t have on things they could do without are the ones most in need of frameworks, so the frameworks are designed for them. Getting *down* to 30% is a good start for people who were previously spending *more*.

Personally, I do struggle to wrap my head around things that draw a bright line between “wants” and “investments”. Sure, there are *occasional* items–like restaurant food–that are just wants and not also investments, but by far the most common reason for me to want to buy something is because I think it will leave me better off in the long run. I have a long list of things to save up for, and it’s all stuff like “house repairs” and “things that give you a leg up on Vimes Boot Theory” and “retirement funds” and “hedging against the future being wildly different from the present, such that normal retirement funds don’t cut it [link]”.

I think it’s important to bear in mind: given how weird your life is in general, and in particular the fact that your ability to work has a history of fluctuating erratically, saving is even more important for you than for most people.

There’s a concept called “self-insurance”. (…actually it turns out that there are at least *two* similar-but-not-identical concepts called self-insurance, and the Wikipedia article is about the wrong one. Investopedia [link] has the right idea.) You, in particular, *really* should get disability insurance if you can possibly manage it, and while third-party disability-insurance companies *exist*, you’d have to file claims (during the periods of time when you are least capable of filing claims!), and take the risk that whatever shit happens to you next won’t technically be disability by their standards, and operate under rules designed to let the insurance company turn a profit. (The house always wins.) Ideally, then, what you’d want is to instead save up enough in the good times that you can cover the bad times yourself.

(For example: you mention you’re digging your way out of COVID-related debt. My brother was temporarily laid off in the spring, and because of [glitches in the hastily-expanded Canadian welfare system] was unable to receive any kind of unemployment payments in time to actually help him with it. But he had lots of money in his savings account, and he used some of *that* to cover his bills until the restaurant re-opened. Now that he’s working again, he’s replenishing it; in the long run, he plans to save up enough for a condo.

(We not-quite-joked that if the glitch had to happen to *someone* at his workplace, it’s good that it happened to him: his co-workers spend all their money on booze and weed and wouldn’t have been able to handle it. His co-workers, meanwhile, not-quite-joke that they should get him hooked on something so they can drag him back into the crab bucket.))

Yeah, idk if I’m just not looking in the right places, but the budgeting advice I can find all seems to skew really strongly toward “quit your starbucks habit! cut off the cable channels you don’t watch! do you really need a cell phone?” rather than like… you know, “I was raised on 3¢ a chore, I have absolutely no idea how financially healthy people cope with having discretionary income and I want guidelines”.

My priorities are different from yours obviously, but yeah, my list of things to save up for (other than straight-up debt reduction, which is a big one) are things like “new orthotic shoes” and “when my car breaks down again”. Freedom, essentially. Transportation is big for me, even though my current place of residence has by far the best public transit system I’ve used outside of Washington DC. (Buses every 10-15 minutes? Wtf is this sorcery?) Maybe moving into a ground-floor apartment eventually so I can stop carrying groceries up the fucking stairs, but I’d have to afford to pay movers because I can’t physically get my loveseat down the stairs by myself. And when it comes down to it, I kind of prefer not having to actually move everything.

I actually have disability insurance through my work, and then I managed to completely space on it while I was out on FMLA and didn’t realize I had it till I was back to work and scrutinizing my pay stubs – I thought I’d opted out of it last open enrollment. So I never got as far as finding out whether a depressive collapse counted as disability, or whether I could have filed a claim or anything. :P So yeah, with open enrollment just around the corner again, I am pondering whether to keep paying the approximately $15/paycheck toward disability insurance or not. I haven’t used my dental or vision insurance yet either but I keep meaning to… it’s just that for all I’ve lived here for over two years, I still don’t know things like “where is a good dentist”.

(My eyesight varies wildly with my diabetes. When my blood sugar is under control, I don’t seem to need glasses. When it’s out of control, I see so badly that I didn’t realize there were artificial cobwebs all over the call floor my first Halloween at this job and just thought my vision was inexplicably foggy in addition to being unfocused.)

I like the idea of having retirement income, and of employer matching, but yeah, the way my life tends to go, and especially with the way I burn out at irregular intervals, I’m honestly not sure when or whether the whole “tax-advantaged” thing (which I will freely admit I don’t actually understand) outweighs the benefits of cash on hand. Right now, my plans go approximately as follows:

* Catch up on car insurance payments before the new policy starts in November and stacks on top of my deferred balance.

* Pay the CPAP mask bill that went to collections like a year ago and I haven’t had the spoons or the money to get it out yet, also buy a new CPAP mask as this one is becoming elderly and I’m having to kludge it back together when the plastic pieces break.

* Pay off the cell phone deferral early just for the hell of it because I should have the money and it’ll drop my bill by $20/month. (I already finally got my employee discount applying so I’ll be down to like $35/month for unlimited data with no hotspot. God, the ability to *not* need hotspot is such a weird luxury…)

* Pay back @camshaft22 for loaning me like three months’ rent over the course of the pandemic. If all my budgeting is correct I might be able to do that by January.

* Assuming 2020 has not yet exploded in my face too disastrously, build up that emergency fund everyone talks about. This comes after the COVID debt because being able to sock away $400+ a month will be very encouraging for me at that point. Right now my savings is just, I’m manually doing the thing where you round up each purchase to the next dollar and put the change in savings. It’s… complicated, because my savings account takes several days to process a transfer from checking once I request it, so e.g. right now I have no less than five scheduled transfers, each under $1, requested as early as Thursday night, which are not going to process until Tuesday at the earliest because of Labor Day. Once I get the car insurance paid up, which is the situation with a definite time pressure, I might start rounding up to the next $5 mark if I think I can afford it. I know in the olden days, just having each purchase rounded up to the next dollar could wind up bringing me like $26 in savings a month, but I think that’s when I was like buying snacks from the vending machine and stuff.

* Once I have an emergency fund, find out what the deal is with my credit cards in collections and pay them off. There’s one I would have sworn I paid but my credit reports all still show it derogatory.

* Then it’s a decision between “Save every possible penny for a car made in this millennium that has not been totaled, before my current car explodes irreparably” or “Try to get my student loans out of default while also saving at a slower rate for a car, so that if my car explodes before I can buy a new one out of pocket, I might have a hope in hell of getting a car loan that’s not completely horrendous”.

Of course, the downside of this is if my car explodes *before* I have an emergency fund, I’m in trouble. Again. :P October has that third paycheck though, so it’s really tempting to put the whole bloody thing toward debt reduction and knock some of these out of the park.

>>(Buses every 10-15 minutes? Wtf is this sorcery?)

*impressed whistle*



I was about to say “holy shit, why can’t *we* have something like that”, but then I looked closer and it has so many exceptions that for all I know we *do* have an analogous law, and I just haven’t noticed because it would never come up in real life. I’m glad you managed to actually get caught in that hole-ridden safety net.

Our 2019!unemployment-system, because it makes the employer pay extra into the system every time they allow you to go an entire week without work, has the emergent effect of *banning unpaid sick leave*. Well, you can have up to six days at a time of unpaid sick leave, but of course that’s not enough to get over a cold.

(I am very glad they scrapped the idea of returning to the 2019 system in September, because the 2019 system *encourages* the spread of disease and that is the *last* thing we fucking need right now. Meta-Boss has, at least twice, coerced me into returning to (customer-facing!) work while still having coughing fits† because he didn’t want to eat the fine for allowing me to become technically unemployed (even though I wouldn’t have bothered actually applying for unemployment, knowing I would be returning to work in another week or two): I often wonder how many cases of illness can be traced back to the existence of the Canadian unemployment system. Between that and how hard it is to get them to actually give you any money, I think we’d be better off with *nothing* than with the 2019 system, especially with an active plague but even with just (“”just”“) baseline colds and flus.)

>>I haven’t used my dental or vision insurance yet either but I keep meaning to… it’s just that for all I’ve lived here for over two years, I still don’t know things like “where is a good dentist”.

God, I’m so looking forward to having dental insurance††. I’ve been paying for vision checkups††† out of pocket because it’s just ~$150 every two years, but in theory dental is about that much every nine months. I haven’t had a dental checkup in two years, and the previous one was three years before that, and also I’m tired of every little toothache being like “is this it? is it happening? is today the day my wisdom teeth become an emergency?”.

(several of the things on the List are dental-related, and originally some of them were high enough in the priority order that we would have reached them by now, but we are postponing all non-urgent in-person medical care and *especially* stuff where you physically can’t wear a mask while you’re doing it)

And yeah, one of the many benefits of a stable housing situation is that I’ve long since found local medical providers I like. Now it’s just a matter of being able to afford the money and disease-risk to go see them.

>>I’m honestly not sure when or whether the whole “tax-advantaged” thing (which I will freely admit I don’t actually understand) outweighs the benefits of cash on hand.

Might be good for you to talk that over with an American finance nerd. I could talk your ear off about Canadian investment accounts, but the American situation is not perfectly analogous.

(Definitely look into what the early-withdrawal penalties are for various account types. One of the Canadian ones has almost no withdrawal penalty (there’s no fine, and you only have to wait until next year before you can put it back), to the point that it’s very feasible to put money into it knowing you’re going to need it again. (*I’m* not allowed to have that one, because the United States government hates me and wants me to suffer, but it *exists*.))

>>Then it’s a decision between “Save every possible penny for a car made in this millennium that has not been totaled, before my current car explodes irreparably” or “Try to get my student loans out of default while also saving at a slower rate for a car, so that if my car explodes before I can buy a new one out of pocket, I might have a hope in hell of getting a car loan that’s not completely horrendous”.

Yeah, cars are tough. Car loans are Not Done in my family, but we’re torn between “spend ~$6k on a *somewhat* less shitty car to tide us over until I start working full-time and can afford something better” and “jump straight to the ~$14k hybrid we really should have in the medium term (while we wait for full-electric hatchbacks to [be remotely affordable + have a range capable of New York trips]: currently you can have at most one of those things)”. A 14k car would wipe out an uncomfortable amount of savings, but likely have *much* lower maintenance costs than a 6k.

(Of course, summer is ending (= broken air conditioner is ceasing to matter for another year) plus we’re still not driving much, so “keep using the beater until I start working full-time” might also be a workable option. But my parents occasionally make noises about maybe returning to delivery driving.)

†And of course masks were *also* forbidden back then, because in the Old Times they signalled (in this case correctly, but anyway) having a cold and the *appearance* of sanitation is far more important to Meta-Boss than actually *being* sanitary.

††not covered by government between the ages of 14 and 65, and maybe not rich children either

†††not covered by government between the ages of 20 and 65, unless you have a degenerative eye condition (diabetes counts!)


#and because people are constantly opening the front door and letting in pollen #I used to get a lot of sore throats from the no-masks-allowed policy #I wasn’t confident that wearing a mask at work would be enough to stop it but now I know from experience #if I’m still working there after the vaccine #I’m gonna show up in a cloth mask with ”pollen mask” written on it and refuse to take it off #”it’s a disability accommodation” #”give me any paperwork you need me to fill out for that and I’ll fill it out‚ but I am not taking off this mask” #venting cw? #(the before-times Canadian unemployment system fills me with rage) #((for that matter the United States tax code also fills me with rage)) #((but y’all knew that one already)) #adventures in human capitalism #in which Brin has a job #illness tw #poison cw? #covid19 #reply via reblog #medical cw #our home and cherished land #home of the brave #allergies #long post

One thought on “

  1. Pingback: Brinens and Things

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.