Category: Budget Tips

Using Cash Envelopes with Inzolo

By , June 11, 2012 3:59 pm

Brandon writes:

What is the best way to manage cash envelopes as well as my checking account’s envelopes?

I still use the cash envelope for some categories – mainly blow money. But to best illustrate this point, lets say we are using the cash envelope system for the following categories:

  • Groceries
  • Fast Food
  • His Blow Money
  • Her Blow Money
  • Clothing

On my next paycheck I allocate the following amounts in Inzolo:

  • Groceries +$300
  • Fast Food +$20
  • His Blow Money +$10
  • Her Blow Money +$10
  • Clothing +$30

I would then total these virtual envelopes (putting them all in the same category labeled “Cash Envelopes” would give you a total automatically). The total above is $370. I would then go to the bank or ATM and withdraw this amount. The next time I log into Inzolo I would see this cash withdrawal transaction of $370. I would split this transaction to equal the same amounts above essentially setting them all to zero. Then I would following the cash envelope method as described in this video:

The Grease the Keeps the Budget Flowing

By , May 31, 2012 9:50 am

There is one budget category that can and will often be overlooked, or looked upon as unnecessary by budget nerds. It is so important that I thought it would be worth a feature on the blog. This would be the “Blow Money” envelope.

I hear so many comparisons between diet/exercise and personal finance that I think it might be appropriate to throw one more out there. “Blow money” is to budget as “free day” is to diet. The idea of the free day is to let your mind & body feel free once per week to eat whatever you want. The theory is that it will “trick” your body into thinking it is not on a diet so it doesn’t protest and hold on to its fat storage.

The same theory can be applied to personal finance. Budget has come to be looked upon as a negative and restricting work, much like diet. A budget is simply having a plan as to where you want your money to go, then following through on that plan. But sometimes you just want to be spontaneous. Sometimes you just need that ice-cream cone that is not in the budget (or the diet) ;)

The blow money category becomes even more important when you are married and budgeting together. In our marriage, we have an agreement that we don’t have to justify our blow money spendings. So when my wife wants to go get a pedicure, fine, good for her. If I want to save up my blow money and buy an mlb.tv subscription so I can watch the Braves all summer on my iPhone, that’s just dandy.

So, if you don’t already have a “blow” envelope in your budget – or something similar, create one. Try it for 3 months, then return to this blog post and report the success or failure of your experiment!

Inzolo Made My Taxes Easier This Year

By , February 22, 2011 9:51 am

My accountant’s office called me a few days ago to review my taxes before submitting them. She asked if I had a home office. Yes, I do, but the past few years I haven’t bothered to try to write it off. I did it once about 5 years ago and it took so long to figure all my utility bills that I figured I wouldn’t bother in the future.

So when she asked this year, it occurred to me how easy it would be. I simply opened my Inzolo account. That is the beauty of web-based software, you can use it anywhere you have a browser. I then went into each of my utility envelopes (natural gas, electricity, etc) and filtered transactions that were last year. At the top of my screen is shows exactly how much I spent. (Wow, did I really spend over $1200 on electricity? Ouch!)

Budgeting a Trip to Disneyland

By , February 7, 2011 10:50 am

I love Disneyland. My in-laws took our family 3 years ago and we had a blast. We went again just over a year ago and met my parents there. It wasn’t quite as fun the second time just because we all got very sick with fevers, body aches and the whole nine yards.

Plus, the last two times we went were during the holiday season. The first time was between Christmas & New Year’s. The second time was about a week & a half before Christmas. Both times the place was completely packed. There were signs up saying Disneyland/Calfornia Adventure were sold out! I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that Disneyland is much funner when it is not so packed.

I’m getting to the point where I want to go back. We had a baby last September so we are waiting until he is older. Our first time we went our youngest was 4 months old. He got very sick and when we returned home he developed RSV and had to spend a few nights at the children’s hospital. That was NOT a fun ordeal. I figure one year old would be a decent age. He won’t be nursing anymore and will be a little easier to manage. Plus, if you take a child before they turn 2, they get into Disneyland free.

We live in Utah. The past two times we have flown. It seems odd, but doing the math, it cost about the same to fly as it did to drive. But next time, I think we will drive anyway. Why? First of all, I hate what the TSA is doing with their groping security theater. This is my way of protesting. Other benefits of driving include:

  • Our kids can handle a long drive better than a plane flight. We put in a DVD in the car and they are entertained. Our last flight had TV’s in the back of the seat, but we had no control over what was available to watch.
  • We can stop and take breaks when we need to.
  • Less stress. It can be stressful going through all the airport security and make sure you get everything you need in place & on time.
  • Road trips can be fun & memorable.
  • Our luggage doesn’t leave our site & our control.
  • We are not limited as much to the amount or weight of luggage.
  • More freedom to travel. We don’t have to worry about catching a shuttle or taxi if we need to leave the Disneyland area.

All in all, with 4 small kids, driving just seems like the way to go this time around. Perhaps when they are older and the governement wises up and gets rid of the TSA it will make more sense to fly again.

I’ve determined from Google Maps that it will take about 10 1/2 hours to drive there.

When To Go

Like I touched on earlier, I really have no desire to go on a crowded day again. My friend send me this link that shows the best times to go to Disneyland if you want to avoid the crowds. I’m thinking sometime between September & October will be ideal. My youngest son turns 1 in September and my 3 year old turns four in September. So mid to late September ought to be ideal. Plus, it is not nearly as hot as the summer months.

I am not concerned about taking kids out of school or taking time off work. School work can be made up, and that’s what work vacation days are for. Memories made on vacation are more valuable in my mind than routine school or work days. So, also to avoid busy crowds I would leave on a Monday or Tuesday. Weekends are generally more crowded, plus, I may be a bit prudish, but I just don’t like vacationing on the Sabbath. It doesn’t feel right and therefore sort of spoils the vacation for me.

The first time we went we had a 3 day hopper. The second time we had a 4 day hopper. Honestly, the second time we were done and ready to go home after 3 days. Four was just a bit too much. I’m sure being sick with 3 small, sick children had a lot to do with that sentiment, but still, if the park is not crowded, 3 days should be plenty to do and see all you want.

So given the estimation of 10 1/2 driving hours (plus time for rest stops, lunch, etc) two whole days will be dedicated to traveling. So with 3 days in the park, that makes this a 5 day vacation. Knowing that I don’t want one of these days to be on Sunday, that gives us two options: Monday through Friday, or Tuesday through Saturday. I don’t have to make this decision yet, but I’m leaning towards Tuesday through Saturday mostly because I have heard that when it is not busy season, Fantasmic only shows on weekends. That would give us a chance to watch Fantasmic (which I haven’t seen yet) on Friday night.

Budgeting For the Trip

Now, the really important stuff – how much is this going to cost? I recommend getting out a spreadsheet and planning all our you expenses before any vacation, then saving up and paying with cash!

Let’s start with the Travel. Using a tool I wrote a few years ago. I can estimate the cost of fuel to make the trip. I enter the average cost of a gallon of gas, my average mile per gallon my vehicle gets, my starting location and my destination. Google’s map API will determine the distance and I get a one-way and round trip cost estimate. According to the fuel trip cost calculator, it will cost about $330 in fuel (we have a big SUV). I will round that up to $350 for a more even number. I always like to round up a bit.

Next is the hotel stay. The first time we stayed at the Disneyland Hotel. It was very nice, and it was fun walking through Downtown Disney, but the real excitement is the park, not the place you sleep. So a hotel is a hotel, or is it? The second time we booked a reservation at the Anaheim Plaza. The Anaheim Plaza is across the street from Disneyland and probably the cheapest place you will find so close to Disneyland. Unfortunately, we hated it. Our room was dirty, hot, muggy, & stinky. They had turned off the A/C for the winter season in our building. The tub was clogged so we took a shower standing in dirty water. We asked for a rollaway bed and they never brought it. It was just an all-around bad experience. But, my parents & younger sister stay there every time they go and they like it, so your mileage may very. It was so bad for us that I cancelled our remaining nights and walked down the street to find something better. We ended up re-packing and waking our luggage down the street to the Best Western Park Place Inn. It was so much nicer. It was cleaner. It was updated. It was closer to the main gate – just right across the street. We got a room with two qeen beds and a hide-away queen bed. So it can fit a family of six.

If we were to stay at the Anaheim Plaza we would need a family suite (basically two rooms connected with a door separating them. We can get that for $109 per night. For 4 nights that is a total of $436. If we were to stay at the Best Western Park Place Inn again, standard rate for the same room we had before would be $134 per night. I know that last time I got a discount using my Costco card. Plus, I noticed on the internet that if you book 21 days in advance, you can get the room for $107.20. That makes that decision way too easy. On top off that, it includes free WIFI (Anaheim Plaza is $10 per day) and free continental breakfast, which with a family of 5 eating would save us almost $50 per day if we chose to eat breakfast at the Anaheim Plaza. So, moral of the story, don’t take room prices at face value!

Now, for the important part – the Disneyland park hopper passes. They will cost $152 each for 3 of our children and $169 each for my wife and I. That’s a total of $794 – close to $800.

So, between travel, hotel, and passes we’re up to roughly $1600 (rounding up). Now we need to plan for food. Remember that we already have breakfast covered.

One of our neighbors told me that when they drive to Disneyland they pack a cooler full of sandwiches to eat on the way there and for lunches while there. We have done this before on trip to a Colorado Rockies game. It’s not a bad idea. If we plan on leaving Tuesday morning we can spend Monday night making sandwhiches for the upcoming week and packing them in our cooler. The hotel has a mini fridge and microwave so we can plan on using them as needed.

Still, eating out can be a fun part of the whole trip so I don’t want to eat sandwhiches for every meal. I figure we could spend $150 on grocery items for making sandwhiches and packing chips, crackers, & other goodies. Then I would plan $250 for eating out. That would give us $50 per day for eating out. That’s basically one meal at a restaraunt for a family of five. Then I would give us $150 for treats & refreshments inside the park. Again, that is $50 for each day we are in the park.

All of these we could definitely save money if we mostly eat from the groceries we buy before hand. But I’m guessing from past experiences we will want to eat out on occassion. I think this budget gives us quite a bit of wiggle room. So for food, I will plan for $550, which gives us a grand total of $2150.

Now, lastly, who can visit Disneyland without picking up some souvenirs? This is where we went way overboard last time. But, last time my mom gave each of the kids $50 to buy toys and souvenirs, so that really helped. I hope it didn’t set a precident. :) In any case, I figure that we could limit ourselves to spending $50 per person for the whole trip. That gives us $300 for souvinirs. If we more stuff, we will need to sacrifice on the food & treats, which is certainly doable. That gives us a total of $2450. We’ll just round that up again and say this trip should comfortably cost us $2500.

Now, I can start planning for the trip. If I went accornding to plan, it is roughly 7 months away. I would need to make sure I’m saving $357.15 per month in order to have all the cash I need to make this trip happen.

Of course, before I started booking my hotel and paying for my Disneyland Tickets, I would likely call a travel agent or check out Costco for their Disneyland package deals. Sometimes they might just have some deals that can save you money. Plus, they get their paycheck from commission, so it doesn’t cost you anything to use their services. Last time I did this, I found that booking through a travel agent would have cost us about $200 more. So we did everything ourselves. The first time we went, my in-laws used a travel agent. I must say that the package that the travel agent put together was a less stressful experience. Plus, it probably would have been a wash since we ended moving hotels.

One way to help stick to the daily budget would be to withdraw cash before the trip. I would then separate each persons souvenir money into envelopes and our eating out & treats money into daily envelopes. Once the money is gone, we stop spending. If we don’t spend it all one day, we have more the next.

This has been a fun exercise for me to plan and I hope you have enjoyed it and maybe even benefitted from it.

How Inzolo Handles Credit Cards

By , February 5, 2010 12:03 am

I got the following email from an Inzolo user. I thought it might be good to respond publicly:

[A competing envelope budget tool] transfer monies to a credit card envelope from a specific envelope category once a credit card transaction has been made. Then you know you have the money set aside to pay the credit card.

How does this work for Inzolo?

I’m familiar with how [this competing envelope budget tool] handles credit card transactions. I always found it overly complicated and confusing. I don’t think you need the special envelope. If you allocate the money you have received and only spend what you have allocated to your envelopes, it doesn’t matter if you spend it using your credit card or debit card.

For example, say you have $1000 in your checking account. Of that you allocate $100 to gasoline and $300 to Groceries. We’ll say the other $600 is allocated elsewhere. Say you go to Costco and use an American Express card to purchase $50 in gas and $200 in groceries. That leaves you with $50 in your gasoline budget and $100 in your grocery budget. Your envelope total is now $750. Your checking account balance is still at $1000 and your AMEX account balance is now at -$250. When it comes time to pay your credit card bill you just pay it. I personally have an envelope for AMEX which I use simply to put my transaction records. When I pay my bill, I get two transactions: 1) -$250 from my checking account and 2) +$250 in my AMEX account. I put those both in my AMEX envelope and it balances out to zero. My envelopt total remains at $750 and my AMEX account is back to zero.

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