Planning for the light at the end of the tunnel

To say that the last few years has been difficult financially would be like saying that there was a little bit of rain at my parents’ house last September.  Now that Mark has a new job that he LOVES and things are going to be settling back to “normal”, we’re all starting to get excited.

Everyone in the family seems to have something they’ve been waiting with baited breath to be able to do when our finances stabilize. The kids can’t wait for their commissions to be paid again.  Mark can’t wait to be able to start making some repairs around the house.  I can’t wait to be able to take a weekend away by myself.

In the back of my head, I just keep flashing this little neon sign that says “Don’t get carried away. Don’t let the freedom and relief cause us to overspend on stupid stuff.”

And since we all know that I’m a teeny bit OCD and Must. Have. A. Plan… I wrote down my ideas on how to keep this from happening:

  • Continue to budget EVERY THING
  • Ignore the debt snowball the first month
  • Budgeting the extra cash for taking the kids to do things we’ve put off for a year and maybe even having a date night or two
  • Continue to do fun frugal things with the kids at home and with friends, so that we’re not putting ourselves into MUST SPEND situations

I worry about our willpower and you know Murphy does so like to visit me, but I think it’s a solid plan.  Keeping up with our budget, monitoring the spending, and bumping up our mad money budget for a month will HOPEFULLY keep us all from feeling like the sacrifices we’ve made (and will need to continue making for a while) are never going to end and aren’t worth it.

Have you ever been in this situation before?   How’d you keep things from getting out of control when there was more money in the budget again?  I’m kinda worried about this one.

Are you “just”ifying your future away?

You know what I realized the other day?  The word “JUST” is an evil word we use to excuse everything.  Seriously.  When someone makes a hurtful comment and you call them on it, what’s the standard reply? “I was JUST kidding, jeez.”

What about when you’re in the middle of working hard on something and your significant other decides you’re doing it wrong?  Have you ever told them to back off?  What’s their response?  “I was JUST trying to help!”

In the offender’s eyes, just = only or merely (dictionary.com: adverb – 12).  In the eyes of the offended, it’s not just, it’s JUSTIFYING = to defend or uphold as warranted or well-grounded (dictionary.com: verb – 2).

I’ve found that this is also true in money matters.  At our house, our money leaks almost always begin with “but it was just…”  We’re defending our poor choices by trying to downplay the impact it’s having on the offended party (our budget, bank balance, credit limit).  Mark and I “just” spend $10 or $20 far more often than I’d like to admit.

We spend too much money in some budget categories and have to use money from other categories to cover it.  Since we don’t borrow money or have credit cards, this means we’re taking money from other important savings goals (like vacations or home repair) to cover immediate wants (like going for a burger instead of cooking).

The last few months has been extraordinarily taxing on our family, with Mark’s layoff in January.  We got disheartened and let the reigns out a little on our spending … not that there was much available to spend.  We didn’t watch the budget as closely as we should have and ended up going through more of our emergency fund to float us through than we should have.  All because of the word we allowed to take over in our weak moments… JUST.

What JUST Really Costs
Daily Weekly Monthly Annually
Coffee $    1.50 $     7.50 $   30.00 $  360.00
20 oz Soda $    1.49 $      7.45 $   29.80 $  357.60
iTunes Download $    0.99 $      4.95 $    19.80 $  237.60
Lunches Out $  10.00 $    50.00 $  200.00 $2,400.00
Books $      9.99 $    39.96 $ 479.52
Video or On Demand Rentals $    4.99 $    24.95 $    99.80 $1,197.60
Cigarettes $    4.00 $    20.00 $    80.00 $  960.00
Cheap Dinner Out $  30.00 $  150.00 $  600.00 $7,200.00
Vending Machine Snacks $    1.00 $      5.00 $    20.00 $  240.00
Social Networking Virtual “Gifts” $    1.00 $      5.00 $    20.00 $  240.00

Let me tell you, I’m kicking that word OUT of our house… out of our spending patterns, and out of our budgeting tactics.  As Dave Ramsey loves to say about a million times a day, we’re back to putting our budget: “On paper, On Purpose, Every Month, Before the Month Begins”.

What about you?  What if you’re JUST spending $20 a day over your budget (lunches, sodas, coffee, chewing gum, cigarettes, gym membership you’re not using, movies on demand, iTunes, amazon.com, kindle books, snacks from the vending machine, HBO, Cinemax, LJ user gifts, clearance office supplies you might use someday)? What if that’s JUST $20 a day per person?  At $20 a day, 5 days a week, you’re justifying a steady leak of $5,200 a year from your goals.

What could you do with $5200 a year?  Pay down on your credit cards?  Take a fantastic vacation?  Send your kids to summer camp?  Take an extra week off work?  Prioritize what you want to spend that money on.  If you want that $10 a day for lunches (or books or coffee or movies or great shopping finds), then make sure you put that in your budget instead of mindlessly allowing your money to drip out of your account… or drip you deeper into debt.

Are you eluding the JUST in your life?  Can you tell us how to?  I suspect this is going to be an ongoing, uphill battle.

Forget To Do Lists – Start a Got Done List!

Last week, I talked about giving yourself permission to succeed and not being the barrier to your own success.  This is my new promise to myself, and I believe I’m making progress in that arena.

One of the first things I did was log into Google Wave and delete my To Do List.  I didn’t need that long, insurmountable list of things I should have been doing.  It felt so freeing not to be bound by that intimidating list anymore.

The next thing I did was even more important to me than the first… I opened a new Wave and started a new list.

Wave
Wave
  • Subject: Current Date
  • Body: Bullet point Got Done List!

There is something amazing about seeing the list get longer and longer when it represents things being done instead of things you have to do.  It’s energizing and encouraging.  At the end of the day, I move that day’s Got Done List to the “Daily Completed” folder.

For those of you thinking “yeah, but if I don’t have a list of everything I have to do, how am I going to remember it all?  I have a strategy for that too!  If it’s important enough to be on a Must Do list, put it on your calendar.  This way, you still have the visual reminder without the pressure of an arm long list of things to do.

If you know that every Tuesday you have to do a dry cleaning run, don’t put it on the to do list, put it on your calendar.  Grocery shopping on Saturday?  Calendar.  Need to schedule your annual physical?  You guessed it.

Not only does this take away the pressure of the never-ending list, it also gives you a concrete date and time to get it done and keep from procrastinating.  Then you get to add it to the awesomeness that is the Got Done List!

What are your strategies for getting things done without being oppressed by the dark cloud that is the To Do List?

Why I Love Mint.com – And You Should Too

*This is not a compensated review.  I am a Mint.com user.*

How do I love Mint.com, let me count the ways…

For most people (not me) dealing with finances is a pain in the tush.  Very few people really enjoy checking up on their money every single day.  Mint is designed with both the number nerds and the “reconcile monthly because I need to” factions in mind.. and everyone in between.

Mint is NOT great for people who would rather bury their heads in the sand and ignore their finances.  But then, if that’s the kind of person you are, you’re probably NOT reading this blog.

What I really love about Mint:

  • It’s FREE!
  • I can add all of my accounts!
    • Checking Accounts
    • Savings Accounts
    • Student Loan through the Dept of Education (Not anymore because it’s paid off.. but it was!)
    • Auto Loan
    • Mortgage
    • Investment Accounts (401k in my case)
    • Credit Card Accounts (Don’t have one of these anymore either.  No credit card debt @ Momma’s house!)
  • I can view my entire budget at a glance, and it’s a BREEZE to set up
  • It’s simple to categorize my transactions – and the budget automatically updates based on those transactions
  • I can set up budget categories that roll over.  This is great for:
    • Quarterly expenses like trash pickup
    • Car repair funds
    • Home repair funds
    • Homeowner’s insurance and taxes
    • Car taxes and tags
    • Christmas fund
    • Lots of other things
  • The website calculates ways I can save money on my accounts or earn more money on my accounts and shows me financial products and services I may be interested in.  I have not used any of these yet, but since I don’t carry consumer debt and I’m not ready to invest yet, there’s not much reason for me to.
  • Mint calculates our net worth automatically and shows it on the home page
  • I get alerts when we go over budget in an area, or when a bill is due.
  • They have an App for that.  I can access my account from my iPhone.
  • I can see what my trends are and compare them with the national average.

I could go on… a LOT… but if you don’t have a Mint.com account, the bottom line is that you should.  You’ll have an easy to use, easy to track way to get a grip on your finances.  The best part is that it’s SECURE (did I mention FREE?) and available from anywhere you are.  All you have to do is log in.

What about you?  What’s your favorite budgeting service or software?  Why do you love it?

Don’t Be the Barrier to Your Success!

Every time I think that you’re on the cusp of becoming extremely successful in something you’re working on, you stop doing it.  What is making you scared of success?  ~ Jules

Those are the words that have been ringing in my head since yesterday at our girls’ only tea gathering.  They have given me pause and have forced me to think about how many times/ways/things I’m self sabotaging for fear of what will happen if I’m successful at my ventures.

What if I make a ton of money as a writer?  What if we get out of debt as quickly as we can?  What if I AM able to send Anna to the college programs I want her to attend?  What if I DO sell a lot of Avon to people who love it as much as I do?  What if I do lose the 140 pounds I need to lose?  What if I ignored all of the fearful things my brain whispers to itself to keep me from trying and failing… and tried anyway?

What if you ignored your brain’s whispers too?  What if we all stopped paralyzing ourselves with fear and negative self talk?  How far could we go if we stopped asking What If and just did what our heart leads us to do?

Here’s the answer to all of those questions:  I don’t know.  But I want to find out.

I will no longer be the barrier to my own success nor the engineer of my own failures.  I will no longer talk myself out of being and giving and doing the things I love and want in life. – ~ ME

Beginning today, and for as long as I possibly can, I am giving myself permission to reach for those goals and to succeed or just to fail spectacularly and keep reaching anyway.  I’m giving you permission too.