Personal Finance

Determining My Financial Budget

Jay is a new writer here at Four Pillars – read his introduction post here.

Today we’re going to figure out my financial budget by breaking down all the money that I earn and then try to see if I can explain where it all goes.

Net Income

After taxes, I earn roughly $1000 a month currently as a telemarketer. They tell me I would earn more if was better at my job. I feel like I need a better job to be better at. Whatever the case may be, it hasn’t really been close to enough money for me, and so I’ve started tutoring English as a second language on the side. I’ve got one student who generates $80 a month, and I’m hopefully expanding my clientele soon.

Net Monthly Income = $1080

Fixed Expenses

My current basic fixed monthly costs are as follows:

  • Rent – $350. I live with my uncle, but he doesn’t believe in free rides.
  • Bus Passes – $111. A 1-zone monthly pass costs $73, and two packs of 10 bus fare add-ons cost $19 each, or $38 total. I’ve already cut this down from the previous cost of $136* for a 3-zone pass.
  • Student Loan repayment – $150. It doesn’t matter to the government that I’m going to go back to school in the fall, they want my money now.
  • Food – $80. Basically $20 a week, and I’m not entirely sure I can keep within this limit
  • Cell – $37. I have a Koodo phone plan that totals at $37, ($25 Talk and Text plan with the added $12 “essentials” pack)
  • Tithe – $108. I am a Christian, and I tithe 10% of my income. Incidentally, my parents are missionaries in Japan, so I support them instead of giving to a local church
  • Debt – $50. I owe my brother about $700, and this is the payment arrangements we’ve come up with

Total fixed costs – $886.

Now, I’m no math genius, but if I take my total net income and take away my total fixed costs, I’m left with $194.

$194 a month

Here’s what I have to do on $194 a month

  • 1. Replace things that run out every few months (toiletries, laundry soap, clothes etc.)
  • 2. Have some semblance of a social life.
  • 3. Save up for my short-term, and long-term goals.

Right now, I’m probably spending close to $100 a month on the social life, and the rest is going into replacing stuff and savings. I’ll have more precise numbers at the end of the month, when I balance the books for March and give my report to the blog.

Quick Thoughts

Obviously, the biggest problem I have here is that I’m not earning enough money. I’m hoping to find a new job to either supplement my current income, or replace it entirely if the new job pays well enough. Unfortunately, I haven’t had much luck finding additional income so I’m stuck at the moment.

Another issue I’m having is the amount of time I am spending/wasting in transit. I’ll be taking a closer look at my calendar next Monday, and perhaps you will see some of the problems I am facing.


Just to give an outline of how the next few posts are going to look for me, my next post will be on my time management. I will probably be linking to my Google Calendar and explaining from there.

The post following that will introduce the budget spreadsheet that I will be using, and some of the financial goals that I have for the month of April.

The first Monday of every month will be my budget report to the blog going over the previous month’s budget.

As always, questions and comments are welcome, I really hope you guys have some good tips for making/saving money over the next few months, because I would love to try implementing some of them. I may never make my own laundry soap – My brother tried doing that once when we were living together. It was great, except that he used the frying pan to make it, and all our food had a faint soapy taste for the next week. Needless to say, I was not happy – but I would like to put into practice some of your ideas, so speak up!

Remember, I’m Four Pillar’s very own financial guinea pig, and I subscribe to the tri-financial principle of budgeting: I’m willing to try just about anything.

* for those who are interested, I have to travel 3 transit zones to get to work. I work from 6pm-12am. After 6:30pm, all transit is considered 1 zone, meaning my return trip was essentially a 1 zone trip. By using a 1-zone pass with a fare add-on on the way to work, and just the pass on the way back home, I save $25 dollars a month.

25 replies on “Determining My Financial Budget”

You might want to consider a pre-paid phone instead of that cell phone plan.

Can I ask what type of education you are pursuing? I think increasing your income should be top priority (rather than tightening your budget). This may be one of those times where it is acceptable to take on a lot of debt for your schooling and get it done faster – if that’s an option.

You have a tight budget indeed. I think that increasing income is a great idea. Freelance writing might be a possibility. There is a lot of freelance ops for people who can take a topic (of any type), do some quick research and bang out a 300,400,500 word post on it.

Can you find a job closer to where you live? Sounds like your commute might be pretty long.

Why tithe when you make so little money? Why not skip the tithe for now and maybe donate 15% later on when you’re better off?

Just a thought: I fully respect your religious commitment even if I wouldn’t necessarily make the same choice. But at your income level, have you considered fulfilling your church obligations through volunteer work rather than monthly contributions? Perhaps with your telemarketing experience you could volunteer with fundraising and bring in more money than you’d have been able to donate yourself.

Making more money is defintly the best approach. Chip Jesus wants us to tithe regardless of how much we make. In the times of crunch is when he really wants us to tithe. Your debts are high due to how much you make I think. So your 2 options are either pay off some debt or make more money. I know the pay off debt sounds great if only you could find a way to do that. Well go on the internet and look up Dave Ramsey. This guy is all about on saving and paying off debt with a little income. You can probably listen to him free on

Jay: You have an income crisis on your hands. Tripling your income if not quadrupling it should be the goal for 2010. You write well. Presumably you have some post secondary education. You have faith and with it a plethora of contacts if you go to church regularly. You need to be working more than 6 hours a day even with writing. If you’re single without kids, you could be working 2 jobs until you land the full time job that suits your passion and provides the income that you need to begin the life of your dreams.

I highly recommend Jack Canfield’s The Success Principles. It will change your life and won’t conflict with your theology. You should also read Dan Miller’s 48 Days to the Work You Love. Don’t stay where you are because you get a discount for the ride home. Make it your day job to find something you love to do. Tell everyone you know you’re looking for a challenge. Read every book you can on the subject of success.

We look forward to following you on this journey.

It is ok. Jesus died for you to. And he still loves you. Pray to him right now and it will all be ok.

Hi guys, thanks for all the input.

@DividendMan, I am considering switching to a prepaid cellphone, I mostly use it for social uses as well as for connection with my English students. I’m actually going to do a post on my cellphone usage at some point, so it’ll be interesting to see how that goes. At this point though, I would agree that it is more of a luxury than a necessity.

I’m pursuing a Bachelors in Business Administration as they call it at my school, with a focus in marketing. I’ve finished 2.5 years of schooling, but I have the rest to do still.

Thanks to Derek and Kathryn for the suggestions. I will be looking up Dave Ramsey, Jack Canfield?s The Success Principles, as well as Dan Miller?s 48 Days to the Work You Love.

I do agree that increasing income is what I need to be focusing on, and I am currently job searching, but this is a snapshot of what I have to work with at this point.

A quick word on the tithing, I appreciate that it isn’t the smartest thing to do with the amount of money I’m currently earning. However, at this point it is non-negotiable. I would put it in the same category as rent and food in that regard.

Thanks again for the feedback


Jay, please do your next post on tithing. Why is it 10%? Does it come off every paycheck or do you pay every couple months? How is your money helping and what is it being used for? Why do you feel it is necessary? I’m finding it hard to respect any church/religion that would accept money from someone that has so little. Rather, if I were to tithe, I would hope some of that money went to someone like you that is so financially responsible. Please help me understand it.

@Ray & Charles
He isn’t “giving away [his] money to churches”, he’s sending his *parents* the money! They happen to be missionaries but they need the support and the way I see it he’s doing 2 mitzvahs in one. He’s giving tzedakah (charity) and he’s honouring his mother & father (one of the 10 Commandments)!

I’m an Orthodox Jew and it’s commanded in the Torah (i.e. the first 5 books of the bible) that you have to give. (This is also where Xtians get the concept of the tithe from.) The minimum is 10% and it’s okay to give up to 20%. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you earn. If G-d didn’t make it possible, you wouldn’t have anything. He really owns it all and He just wants you to acknowledge this with the first 10% (i.e. it’s not what’s left over at the end of the month or some amount you choose). And it’s what you earned, not time you volunteer. That’s nice if you want to do that too but it’s not fulfilling the obligation.

Where Xtian churches have taken the original commandment and changed it is in terms of generally requiring that you pay your church and then they decide where they spend the money. Since we don’t have the Temple and the priesthood (the tribe of Levi) serving in it there are countless places where I could give my money, not just to my synagogue or a program it runs. One always needs to check one’s own circumstances with a rabbi who knows those circumstances but folks who don’t have vast amounts of wealth are often advised that they can use at least part of the 10% toward their children’s religious education for example. The money could also go towards charities (including secular ones such as hospitals that will save lives), towards a particular program (such as sponsoring a child for a week of camp or giving to the food bank) or to a family member or person in your community who needs help.

Realistically, unless you’re homeless and absolutely destitute, there’s somebody out there in worse shape than you. But the bottom line is that it’s a religious belief. If you aren’t a member of a group (whether Jewish, Muslim or Xtian) that considers this a religious imperative it probably won’t make sense to you and you’ll make suggestions that a religiously observant person won’t be able to follow (such as dropping it for a while/volunteering time instead/paying more later). Those suggestions only make sense from the secular perspective.

Regarding the tithe – I’ve often wondered where the line gets drawn between giving a tithe and being a beneficiary. I’ve heard examples where people in dire financial straights continue to tithe.

In Jay’s case, I have to say that his situation is not that bad at all so yes, he can help other people. Also – I don’t see how stopping the tithe will really help his situation all that much. As Kathryn so aptly said – he has an income crisis not a spending/expense problem.

Dave Ramsey – DR is a self-promoting idiot who gives out as much incorrect financial info as correct info. That said he is a great motivator (and should stick to that) and he has helped many people who were in deep in debt to get them on the right path to solvency. Given that Jay doesn’t have a debt problem, I don’t think DR is a good “guru” for him to follow.

I’d be interested in learning how Jay is going to pay for school in the fall. Grants/loans/continue to work?

On the tithing. The 10% is from the bible. God can do more with our 10% than we can with the 90%. Read the bible guys. God wants us to tithe when we are especially in tough times. This is when it means the most. Any one can pay tithes when they are making a killing, but God wants us to be faithful during the tough times. I am very suprised how many people on here think the tithing part is stupid or wonder where the 10% comes from.
As far as Dave Ramsey. Some of you may think he is an idiot. Thats ok. People always hate people who have a handle on there lives. Dave Ramsey helps people and alot of his info is free. I will not talk about anyone who is trying to help me and giving it to me for free. You can listen to Dave Ramsey for free everyday from 2 to 5pm eastern time at
I told you earlier that I think you need to work on making more income. I still believe that. I also believe you have to work on the debt at the same time. This is like cutting a tree with 2 axes in your hands instead of just trying to get 1 big ax.
If you look at the people with lots of money. The rich and successful. They say that it is more of a matter of how much you save not how much you make. So I think you need to put more importance on becoming debt free, and work on increasing your income second. But work on them at the same time.

I so have to agree with Kathryn, forget money saving you NEED more income. $12,000/year in Vancouver is NOT enough.

Take a look at what you are good at and decide if you can make some money doing it (writing, cleaning, yard work…). It might mean a second job or a better first job. Depending on your time you may not have the option of a second job other than looking for a better first job.

Spend some time reading up on resume writing and cover letters if you haven’t already. Also talk to everyone you know about finding some work. You might be surprised what comes up.

Best of luck,

Hi Jay, nice to meet you!

I’m from Vancouver too =) and yes, $12,000 a year is not very much here. Are you a telemarketer in the cell phone business? I wonder if they have any customer service rep jobs here for any of the big three (rogers, bell, telus), you might be able to score a discount on a cell phone plan. $37 a month on a Koodo plan is quite a bit (though you’re likely not on a contract- which is great)! I pay $28 a month and I get quite a bit from Telus. The pre-paid is a good idea. Sometimes you have to use up your prepaid minutes or else it expires, though.

Expanding your tutoring services is a good idea- you’ll be able to find students easily who want to learn ESL. The going rate these days is $25 an hour. You could easily do it after school for them and before work for you =)

Do you work full time as a telemarketer?

All right, I’m not going anywhere near the tithe because religion is a deeply personal thing, and although I’m not overly religious, I don’t want to get into it.

Jay, you seem to have found a niche with the ESL tutoring thing and it probably speaks about the type of personality you have. Have you ever considered going abroad to say South East Asia to teach English? One of my close friends from my home town taught English in South Korea for 5 years.

This kind of opportunity can enable you to save a boatload of cash because often, schools will pay your rent and some expenses. If you’re looking to get rid of that loan shortly after your program, this could be a solid option. I’m not trying to say you have to leave your country to kick-start a career, but it could be something you may be interested in doing for a couple of years or so. Just a thought!

Hi Jay. What does “better at my job” mean? A better upseller/more salesy? That seems like something you either are or are not but if it means something else maybe this motley crew of commenters could make suggestions as to how to improve at the relevant skill.

I guess I’m confused (I’m easily confused though) are you going to be a full time student this year? If so things like bartending or waiting tables in a banquetting hall or country club (which sometimes comes with room adn board) can be great and more importantly extremely flexible money-makers. Just stay away from the leftover brandy.

Re “Please do your next post on tithing. ” If we;re voting, please don’t. The subject is covered ad nauseum in a bunch of the US moneyblogs, and I’d personally hate to see it come up in a blog I read and recommend for its unique content.

@The Rat

I have considered it. However, most of those programs require the applicant to hold a(ny) post-secondary degree.

I’m about a year and a half of full time schooling away from mine.

On the cellphone topic, look into Rogers prepaid. I have a prepaid plan where they charge me $10+tax per month, and the minutes roll over from one month to the next. If I run out, I can top them up manually, or (what I usually do) switch to the $20 plan for a few months until I build up a surplus. You can get a Rogers phone for $80. If you don’t have a lot of usage, this should meet your needs and save you money.

Before I switched to prepaid I analyzed my usage for several months in an Excel spreadsheet (or use Google docs if you don’t own Office) to see whether it would really save me money based on my normal usage.

Hey Jay, I have to confess, my first thoughts when I saw these posts come up in the reader were “hmmm.. another persons’ story that I’m not interested in”. Lol, wrong. I caught your time-budget post, and was hooked. Now seeing this post, I find that you’re not just a fellow human, but a brother in Christ. I will be certainly not be skipping your posts any more (and it shames me to admit I was in the first place).

And gratz for tithing, I would say that is one of the smartest things you can do with your money. I also think its great that you have the opportunity to support your parents.

Not to beat a dead horse, but thought I’d weigh in on a couple of the questions about tithing too.

10% is more of a Christian tradition than a biblical concept (the %, not the concept of tithing). Nothing wrong with tradition, I actually aim for 10% for our own tithing. Shevy could weigh in on this, but I’ve heard it said that in Mosaic Law (given in the Torah) tithing was could probably be calculated at closer to 25-30%.

Christians today try to live by the concept of stewardship, recognizing that all that we have (not just what we make, but all we own) really belongs to God, and we have the privilege of using it for His purposes on earth. Some of those purposes are feeding, clothing, and otherwise looking after ourselves, and those God has given us to care for. Other purposes might be supporting our parents, buying housing for people in Haiti, feeding people in the midst of famine in Ethiopia, providing income for our pastor, who devotes his time to caring for a local church, helping people with addictions, lobbying for those who’s basic rights are being denied in North Korea, and so on. Whoops, this got long, I’ll stop now.

God Bless! (and thanks for hosting this feature on our excellent blog)

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