Q1: Taking Care of Personal Business


My monthly budget updates have changed shape many times over the years. For a long time, I shared my projected budget at the beginning of the month and my final numbers at the end. Last year, I trusted myself to spend the same amounts every month, stopped budgeting (but still tracked my spending) and shared only my final numbers. Then, after I quit my job and became a full-time freelancer, I started sharing my monthly income too.

For some reason, that last part has always bothered me – not sharing the numbers, but some of the responses that came with it. I started getting a lot of emails from people asking for advice on how to become a freelancer, how to work from home, etc. I don’t mind sharing what I know (which is nothing compared to what my friends Carrie and Paul can teach you), but I don’t want this space to turn into another “let me show you how to make money online” site. The people who do it already do it well and make a killing, so I’ll leave those topics to the experts.

What I will tell you is that I’ve been making a little bit less than the salary I had before, but I’m happier than I’ve ever been – and still surviving (nine months later)!

The first three months of 2016 have proven to be three of the best I’ve had in a long, long time. I feel like I managed to find a great balance between freelancing, working on creative projects and spending time with family/friends. I’ve also finally undergone the surgery I waited almost a year for, and have put a lot of my focus on the recovery process (which is going even better than I could’ve imagined!). Of course, all of this has impacted my budget in different ways each month. These three-month breakdowns are great, because it doesn’t look quite as bumpy as March was!

Q1 Budget Update

Life Expenses: 70%

Gone are the days of living off 50% of my income, I guess! No, that’s not entirely true… but with making a bit less than normal, it’s true that I’ve needed more of my income – especially in February/March. For starters, I had to buy a few things before surgery. Think: weird package of medical wipes I had to sterilize my body with the day before surgery, a rubber mat so I wouldn’t slip in the shower, a non-slip bath mat so I wouldn’t slip getting out of the shower (the things you have to worry about when you have hip surgery!), painkillers and a pair of shorts for physio (I didn’t own a single pair). I also spent close to $500 on physio and $100 on massage therapy in March – that’s more than half my rent! I’m now going to physio half as often, so I’ll be looking at closer to $380/month for the next few months… but that’s still a big chunk of my budget (and a big expense when you work for yourself).

I’m still living the frugal life, otherwise! Because I wasn’t allowed to drive for the first four weeks after the surgery, I didn’t need to pay for gas once in March. And I’ve continued to stick to the shopping ban, aside from those few things I needed post-op… oh, and a few things for my car, which I’ll list below. Without the therapies and the car expenses, I would’ve spent less than $1,900 in March.

Savings: 22%

While I haven’t been making as much as normal, I’ve still managed to set aside 22% of my Q1 income for retirement! A good chunk of that was a last-minute RRSP contribution (before the 2015 tax cut-off date) because I made a lot of money in 2015 and wanted to try to minimize the damage. I also made a smaller contribution to my TFSA investment fund with Tangerine.

Travel: 8%

Now, it wouldn’t be a proper budget update if I didn’t spend a little bit on travel, right? :)

Because the dollar has been so bad, I’ve kept all my travel local, so far this year. First, some friends and I rented a house on Galiano Island in February. We went for a couple hikes, explored some of the beaches and relaxed in our hot tub. It was the perfect getaway – and so cheap, compared to my usual adventures! Then I went up to Squamish for another mini getaway, two days before surgery. We went snowshoeing, took in my favourite views and woke up to the sunrise. I’m a tad obsessed with Squamish, at the moment… am heading back up for a few nights next week and can’t wait!

Anyway, all things considered, I’m happy with these numbers. I expect life expenses to go down slightly in Q2, now that I can go to physio once/week vs. twice/week. But I’m also itchinggggg to travel, so the numbers may just jump down to that category. We’ll see.

Q1 Shopping Ban Update

Now, here’s a topic I haven’t touched in a while… remember that two-year shopping ban I’m still in the midst of!? Haha. I haven’t thought about it in a while, because there’s nothing to think about at this point. I’m still happy to only buy the essentials as I need them, and that wasn’t much in a three-month period of time. Here’s what I bought in January, February and March.

Surgery Stuff

  1. Medical wipes
  2. Painkillers
  3. Gauze tape
  4. Shower mat
  5. Bath mat
  6. Shorts (at physiotherapist’s request)


  1. 2 x Toothbrush heads (I use an electric toothbrush)
  2. Toilet paper
  3. Epsom salts

Cleaning Supplies

  1. Dish soap (I’ve given up on the idea of making it)
  2. Laundry detergent (ditto)

Car Stuff

  1. Oil
  2. 2 x Oil filters
  3. Air filter
  4. Car battery (after 7 years, mine finally died)

Remember: I’m tracking all of these things, so I can create a spreadsheet that shows what one person used in a year – and looking back at everything I’ve purchased so far, I can tell you it’s going to be a fairly short list! I’m close to running out of shampoo and conditioner, and am on my last razor, so I’ll be buying a few things in Q2… but that’s it. There are only three months to go, then I’m done!

Q1 Goals Update

Finally, I decided that rather than set annual goals for 2016, I was going to set goals in 90-day increments – or really, quarterly goals! Here’s how I did in Q1:

Business: Create/use/maintain weekly and monthly task sheets for all clients and blogs. – PASS! I originally setup tasks in Asana, so I’d remember them all, but now it’s all second nature. :)

Money (2): Separate my business and personal finances (PASS!), and file my taxes (FAIL!). I opened up a checking account in the US so all my USD-paying clients can deposit money there, and started using separate credit cards for business and personal expenses. I also compiled everything for my taxes and sent it to my accountant, but we haven’t filed yet.

Health: Schedule workouts so I’m active 4x/week, with a focus on strengthening my lower back/hip before surgery. – PASS, I think!? When I set this goal, I didn’t know my surgery was going to be in February. I thought the earliest it would be was April, but February was a good surprise! I’m glad it’s over and done with. I hiked A LOT before the surgery, and am already fairly active now 6 weeks post-op. I’d say I do one thing every day, whether it’s go to the gym or just go for a 30-minute walk. So… maybe I’m actually dominating this goal!

Personal (2): Take a pottery class (FAIL!) and read 12 books (FAIL!But it’s not an epic fail. I had to drop the pottery class, after I got my surgery date, because I would’ve missed half the classes post-op. And I didn’t read 12 books, but I did read 8 (and am just about done a ninth!).

The other exciting goal that I didn’t include in that list was launch the Budgets and Cents podcast with Carrie, which we did! If you haven’t listened yet, there are 12 episodes ready and waiting for you. :)

All-in-all, I couldn’t be happier with how the first three months of 2016 turned out. It was a lot more personal than business-focused, but I’m a firm believer that we have to take care of ourselves before we can take care of anyone else (including clients).

I haven’t finalized my goals for Q2 yet, as a few things are up in the air, but I’ll still be trying to read 1 book/week and doing something active every day.

How have your budgets looked lately? I’d especially love to hear from people using the Mindful Budgeting 2016 Planner!

  • Hey Cait, my budget has been ok. A few expenses came up I wasn’t expecting (cars breaking down, wife needed emergency root canal). My goals for the first 3 months was an epic failure except for me getting into shape. I have been running 3 to 4 times a week and have lost 16 pounds so far. I also got my first writing client, but other than that I failed in every other goal. I’m going to strive for a strong second quarter though.

    • I wouldn’t be so hard on yourself! Taking care of your physical health requires a lot of effort, as you get new routines in place… and losing 16 lbs. is no joke! AND you got your first writing client!? These are huge wins, Tyler! I’d say you started the year off strong already. :)

  • My budget look about the same every month so I don’t really bother doing it but I track every transaction in YNAB. The only thing that’s changed in my budget is that I save my money before looking to spent it so that way I can save more then couple months ago

  • Hi Cait, since you love the Squamish area so much, have you considered popping over to Bowen Island on the ferry from Horseshoe Bay – there’s a mountain to climb, and nice trails and views!

  • Highly recommend dollar shave club. You can make your subscription as often as you need it and at the mid-tier razor blade, I spend $6 every other month for razors. HUGE win.

    • Hmm… I don’t know if that would save me money! Right now, I usually buy a 6-pack of razors for $7-8 or so… and that lasts me 6 months (1 razor/month so $1.33/month). But that’s still a good deal! :)

  • Thanks for sharing yet again Cait. Seeing how someone else is living (and spending) gives us great context for just how frugal we could be as well. My single 2016 goal is to pay off a $10K car loan before Christmas. While I was well underway on it, I’ve opted to enrol in some PR courses which wasn’t planned until recently, and now I’ve learned that my job has been eliminated at work. I will have to find something else before October 2016, or my budget could really starve. I’m really happy with my car loan progress to-date, and I want to keep it going, but now because I don’t have another position ready for the fall, I’m wondering if I should revert to minimum payments and pad my Emergency Fund. Life’s little curve balls!

    • Hmm, that’s tough to say, Keith. I’d definitely encourage anyone who has debt to boost their emergency fund a bit. I know I hated the feeling of living on the edge, when I was paying mine down, as it leaves you open to so many risks. The singular focus of only paying down my debt also stopped me from figuring out what balance looked like, so I still had terrible habits when I was done. I’d say, make min. payments until you get the savings balance you want, then start being more aggressive with your debt. If it will help you sleep at night, it’s ok if it takes you an extra few months to pay it off!

  • Congrats on a great quarter, Cait! Hearing that you’re happier than ever is pretty much the best news there is, totally regardless of what the finances say. But of course your finances are completely on track. I’m also super glad for you that your recovery is going really well, maybe ahead of schedule, and you’re already able to hike and get outside. Can’t wait to hear about your upcoming long-term travel plans!

    • Thanks, friend! Yes, I plan to write about it more in May, as plans start coming to fruition… still a bit too much up in the air re: departure date, but am hoping to leave the last week of June!

  • I’ve been wanting to do a shopping ban, but getting married is literally draining my bank accounts :( Any tips?! It’s sooo hard to budget because there are random, unexpected things I end up having to buy.

    • I’d say shopping bans + planning weddings probably don’t mix… except you could ban yourself from buying anything personal, and only buy things for the wedding (and try to be more mindful of the things you even need for that). When is the wedding? Can you setup a plan to start a full shopping ban after?

  • One of my goals is to spend under $30k in 2016. I’m under budget for Q1, which will make Q2-Q4 a little easier :) Hope the healing process keeps getting better.

  • You know one thing about those ‘how to make money online’ type blogs, is those people are already making a killing. It’s easy to see where a person is, but it’s so hard to see how they got there.

    I think you should put topics about freelancing or earning money because other people may want to take that journey WITH you, rather than just see the end result at those other blogs.

    • Yea, I can see your point… but I guess my point is that I don’t strive to get to where they are, if that makes sense. I’d be really happy making like $60K/year; it’s all I need, and I can work minimal hours to make it happen. I’ll think about it!

  • I’m so happy you had a successful Q1, Cait! I have been really, really LOVING the podcast. I can’t wait for season 2! My Q1 goals included a shopping ban (still successfully going strong!), filing taxes (done and already recived refund), making fitness a priority (going to barre class 5x/week), and getting food expenses under control (we’re at a satisfactory range each month now). The goal I didn’t accomplish was starting classes at the nearby community college, but I’m on track to start this summer. Thank you for continuing to be a great inspiration for how to live with less and really enjoy life! I’m also glad that freelancing has worked out well for you, and I won’t be putting any pressure on you to talk about it more. I’d much rather just learn and grow from your random musings than a detailed how-to post :)

    • Wow, you ROCKED Q1, Lauren! I bet it feels great to cross all those off the list! What’s in store for Q2? :)

  • Budgets have been a bit crazy lately. Still on sick leave and hence reduced pay which I get from my health insurance. Unfortuantely while I do know how much money I get for being sick they are very inconsistent paying me that said money. Luckily a 6-month emergency fund and being debt free certainly gives me peace of mind! A few weeks ago I was so sad with how much money I basically lost from just being sick for almost a year- I stopped crunching numbers when I was around 7000 Euros. But then I realized I still was able to put a few thousands into my emergency fund, save money for my cousins wedding, travel and met all my other small personal saving goals so heck, I consider that a total win :D

    • It definitely sounds like you’re still on top of things, despite the loss of income, Jenny! I’d say those are all HUGE wins. Be proud of that – and hope you’re doing ok over there. :)

  • Q1 was a bit weird for us. It’s been a bit of the “you have to spend money to save money” cliche in our neck of the woods. Housing prices have skyrocketed in Portland since we bought our house three years ago, and we paid an appraiser so we could take off our mortgage insurance. Our house ended up being worth WAY more than I expected and our PMI is officially gone, so the $475 fee was well worth it (and will be paid back in about five months).

    Additionally, I got off my parents’ cell phone plan (finally, now that I’m 27, married, and have 2 kids). I joined Republic Wireless. So my bill is going from $50/month to $20/month with a refund for data I don’t use, but I had to get a $250 phone to do it. After the $50 return for my old phone, that $200 will be more than worth it by the end of the year.

    We managed to get money back on our taxes, even though I switched to freelance full-time last April. Originally, my goal was to pay off our car this year, but I don’t know if that will happen. My husband and I celebrate five years of marriage in September and have been planning a vacation. Not the wisest thing financially, but my goodness is it making me excited. Since March, I’ve been saving 10% of our income (after separating freelance income from what I actually pay myself), and it’s the first time I’ve been saving since I quit my job.

    So, technically not on track with my goals (I had to circle “no” for “is it enough” on all my goals in the Q2 planning worksheet), but still really pleased with my progress. Also spending money on an adult gymnastics class, which is making me (a) physically fit and (b) so incredibly happy. I’d missed gym so much since I quit in high school.

    • So it sounds like you made some investments that will pay off! And congrats on joining the class! I’m not at all surprised to read how happy it’s making you :)

  • Way to Rock the first quarter Cait! If it was perfect it would have meant you set the bar too low. I love it! Have you considered listening to audiobooks instead of reading? I love books but before this weekend I haven’t sat down to read one in a few months. Most of the time I just listen to them. Easier to do on the go and way better for multi-tasking. Though to be fair there are few things better than curling up on the couch and getting lost in a good book.

    • I’ve definitely thought about it, and I’ve listened to a couple, but I find I can’t listen unless I’m driving or going for a walk – can’t be focused on doing anything else! But I’ll certainly get some audiobooks for my road trip this summer. :D

      • Thats awesome. I hear you on the listening in the car only. I usually have the same one on in the back ground and listen to it a few times. Though that’s better for personal development books and money books. I’m starting to pick out ours for the road trip to the rockies this summer. Summer can’t come soon enough!

  • Might be a stupid question, but are your percentages based on your net or gross income?

    • Not stupid at all! It’s net AFTER I’ve already taken 30% off the top and set it aside for taxes.

  • That’s great that you’ve had such a good Q1, Cait! Hooray for an ongoing good recovery and lots of outdoor exploring. And I personally am happy to know that you’re not planning to morph your blog into a “how to make money online” site. Because your blog is awesome just the way it is. :) Sometimes I feel like we should have two different words for blogs that are more about the writer’s personal journey and blogs that take more of a “how-to” approach — both have their place, but the two approaches are quite different. (Though I suppose it’s a spectrum rather than a dichotomy; some blogs are somewhere in the middle.)
    On a totally unrelated note, I switched to using an electric toothbrush this year and I can’t figure out why I never had one before. I am never going back. :)

    • I am NEVER going back either! I mean, I don’t usually take it travelling with me… and I don’t think I’ll bring it on the road!? I don’t know! I guess it holds its charge for a long time, so I could! But yea, electric is the way to go. My teeth are a new level of clean!

  • I am working on digging myself out of a semi-desperate paycheck-to-paycheck cycle after some unexpected medical expenses and having a LOT of people visit me from out of town over the last three months! This weekend I will host my last visitor for the next month. Cait, do you have any advice for balancing frugality with social expectations (especially with out of town guests)? I love my friends and family but am finding it hard to reconcile my budget with the extra expenses that come with hosting out-of-town guests.

  • Finally got a chance to sit back and read your update Cait, sorry for the delay.
    It may seem a simpler life but the structure needed to live a self employed/entrepeneur is complex. The difference is that if someone takes the time to implement the simple strategies that you set out in the beginning of your life changing path, the easier it will be to take things to a more intricate platform. You continue to show your readership that with diligence and common sense a better financial life is possible.

    I hate to say but I will be ending my no shopping streak at 3.5 months next week. I was super patient looking for telephoto lense for my camera. Finally found one for $300 ($450 plus tx new) . I will hopefully offset the purchase by finding something to sell.

    Now to the fun stuff….Squamish rocks!

    Here’s to a continued good recovery ~ Cheers

  • You are doing a great job into this shopping ban, yes maybe expenses fro pre and post surgery seems high, but hei is investment on your healt…for other read 8 books instead 12 is a good result in my opinion. I like to read your post because I find them always very inspirational so thanks for sharing!!!

  • I feel like so many people think travel has to be this extravagant affair. While those trips are definitely great, sometimes the point of a vacation is simply to get away from your normal routine and give yourself time to refresh. I’m glad you touched on this – a few days away in a cabin with friends can be just as rewarding as a week long trip to the Caribbean (minus the tan). And with sights like Airbnb popping up, it’s a lot easier to find cheap alternatives to the most expensive costs surrounding travel.

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