The World Turned Upside Down ~ Personal Finance Website

What do you do when you want to build a house, but you're frugal, and a saver, and a budgeter and want to stay that way?

You turn everything upside down, stick your belongings in storage, and bunk with your inlaws during the duration of the build.

At least that's what we are doing. 

And it's been....a trip, that's for sure. Three kids + husband + me in a roughly 600 sq foot space for 5-6 months? No comforts of home with us, really....everything is stored away. The kids are nuts sometimes. Bridget is learning to walk and into everything. Their TV is weird to me and privacy is kind of a foreign thought at this point. 

But, by my estimation we should be able to sock away about $20,000 by summer's end and hopefully get everything well organized and squared away by the time we are given the keys to the Little House in the Woods (as I've taken to calling it).

I consider this our sacrifice to win right now, because if we were spending the equivalent of a mortgage payment on a rental over the summer, our plan would not work out so well.

We are carefully budgeting every aspect of the build and cutting out anything that isn't necessary on the new house (fireplace? Nope. Master Bath tub? Unnecessary)

Can you build a new house on a budget? YUP....and we are well on our way! 

The Miseducation of Pudgy Gazelle ~ Personal Finance Blog

I like real stuff. 
Real stories.
Real ideas.
Real people.
I've started to grow tired of fluff and nonsense.  

I like real stuff. 
So I thought it necessary to throw REAL all up on the blog and, from the get go, be as transparent as one can possibly be.

I voted Republican at one time.

I did.

I was working my tail off as the sole owner/operator of my business....we were hustlin' that hustle like all the people told us we should. 

Someone once said to my husband and I that we would stop voting Democrat when we "made some money"....and I'm ashamed to admit that they were right. I was making money and dammit I wanted to keep it. I was paying at least 40% of my income out in taxes and I was blaming the wrong group of people for that grand injustice. Instead of looking at myself and saying "My God, I'm self-employed, I get to stay home with my kids, make my own hours, and make a pretty damn good living wage".....I started to get greedy....and it made me someone I nearly didn't recognize.

 So, what changed everything?

Trump. Trump did. 

When he came along, the lines of communication burst open like never before. Friends I held dear were posting things online that I could have easily dismissed. I could have held firm to my "belief" that socialism is for suckers, that no one should have to pay their hard-earned wages to help anyone else, and that "bootstrap" mentality is all anyone needs to get by.  I worked hard and, dammit, everyone else can too and expect the exact same results. 

I could have dug in my heels. 

And at times I did. 

But then I started reading. A friend would post some statistics....and I would follow the link. I would consider it's source (because Lord knows some sources are cray....on BOTH sides) and then I would take in the information. 

I'm a Sociology major. Always will be....and I LOVE stats. I love hard numbers and proof. Hell, it's the only math class I ever did well in. Stats make SENSE. You cannot argue with statistics (if sourced correctly and honestly). 

So I listened. And I read. And it started to make sense. 

It made sense that I had an easier time succeeding than some of my counterparts. I had privilege that they did not. 

I grew up in a working class home in the 1980s.....when "working class" meant you could afford a decent, modest house, healthcare, and the occasional vacation. 

Working class doesn't mean that anymore.

I grew up with two parents who remained married and both worked. 
I grew up with a grandmother who instilled in me the idea that I could do and be anything. 
I grew up with books, access to additional education, healthcare at my fingertips, regular dentist visits, the ability to play sports and participate in plays. 

I grew up white. Blonde haired. Blue eyed. European last name. 

All of this seems rather pointless to mention until you sit back and realize that regular dentist visits could be a major luxury for some.....and it's not because their parents don't "work hard enough" to afford them. It's because the COST of said visits keeps rising while incomes are remaining stagnant or falling at an alarming rate. 

And all the while, conservative voters like me were sitting back and thinking those damn kids and their need for fillings.....why don't they eat less sugary snacks? I mean, I'm paying for those too! 

Grumble, grumble.

When I started this blog, it was because I truly have a strong passion for helping people sort through their finances. (Can I just say I hate the word passion......how about affinity?...that's better).  I love showing people how to arrange a zero-based budget, how to kick the addiction to credit cards, or how to be frugal. But, I'm realizing that this affinity for personal finance also has to come along with a view on social and economic issues that I can live with, that I can be comfortable with. 

When Trump hit the ground running with his campaign and I began to hear the stories about costs of college sky-rocketing, people who were in danger of losing their healthcare, and folks who were unable to make ends meet even working multiple jobs.....I started to pay attention. Not to say that Trump CAUSED all of these things, but he definitely made it more acceptable to come out as a staunch conservative with certain "feelings" on those subjects....which led to stories.....

With all of the NOISE out there....the name-calling, the talk of emails, the talk of grabbing lady parts with Billy Bush and the screaming back and forth with no end or agreement in sight.....I found a SIGNAL. A signal through the noise. 

What side of history did I want to stand on?  What, at the end of the day, did I want to tell my CHILDREN....who whether we believe it or not, are listening....I believed?

I believe STRONGLY in a frugal lifestyle, in minimizing or eliminating debt, in saving not spending, in investing and personal responsibility.  All of that would point to a fiscally conservative mindset, right? Well....not quite. 

I also believe in fellow human beings, in doing what's right, in helping those who need help and in teaching those who, with knowledge, could foster a better life for themselves. 

There are ALWAYS going to be people who feel ENTITLED to things. People who feel that regardless of MATH, they can spend themselves into oblivion and whine that they can't make ends meet. The issue here, and what spoke to me, is that this is not a liberal or conservative issue. It's a character issue. There are folks on BOTH sides of the aisle that have this entitlement issue. Big, huge companies that can't balance their budget down to the lazy dude who doesn't want to work 40 hours a week but still wants brand name shoes. 

These folks are held aloft as the MAJORITY, by conservatives and liberals. SEEEEE, the big companies are the bad guy! SEEEEE, liberals are lazy jackasses who don't want to work.

This broad-brush painting helps NO ONE and only leads to such division that absolutely nothing gets accomplished to benefit anyone.

The only ones "winning" are those who surround themselves with "yes men" who will tell them they are amazing regardless of what the statistics show otherwise. And even then....it's not a real win. It's in their heads. A false sense of accomplishment. 

 You are not winning anything by supporting the end of social programs, by insisting that people keep coughing up the ridiculous rising prices of college, by saying "well, I have healthcare so I really don't care if my neighbor does".

Know what that leads to?

A country full of dumb, sick dullards with no skills and no hope. 

Good GOD, that's not what I want out of my country. We are already lagging behind European countries, behind our neighbor Canada and WHY? Because we are so damn stubborn and refuse to admit that we, as a country, REALLY don't have it all figured out. We are so busy fighting among one another about TOPICS while the big issues go years unsolved, and we begin to reap what we have sown. 

 People say that "arguing on the internet" does absolutely nothing....that is doesn't change minds. And, that's probably.....statistically (YAY!).....true. 

 But, if people would commit to just seeing what the other side has to say. Of not taking one story and making it the case for an entire group of people. Of having FAITH in their neighbors....things could change. 

 Do I believe in some conservatives when they say we have to SPEND LESS? Good God yes. But the fiscally responsible conservative has been skewed....and replaced with someone who wants to cut needed programs under the guise of "spending less" when, in reality, it furthers another agenda: religious, racist, or otherwise. 
  
  Do I believe in liberal leaders who say we need to support affordable college and free healthcare accessible to all? A living wage and family leave for new parents?  Good God yes. But a lot of this has been skewed by folks who believe this is all just "handouts" and if you cannot provide these items for yourself, you've lost at the game of life, somehow.

 It's all a mess.
 A big, fat, ugly mess and it gets more ridiculous every day and, honestly, I don't even know what the point of getting this all down was.


 Maybe, just maybe, it's to prove to one person telling their story that someone IS listening. I swear. That minds can be changed. That perspectives can move with knowledge. 

 Maybe it's to apologize for being that idiot on the internet who said things like "pull themselves up by their bootstraps" and "work three jobs to put themselves through college like I did". (Though I still believe everyone needs to stay away from lottery tickets!) 

 Maybe it's just to ease my own troubled mind, I don't know.

 It's all a mess, but it's been a mess before and we've come through okay. 

So hang in there. Love your neighbor. Help where you can. Be frugal. Save.

And have hope. 

Rockin' That Side Hustle ~ Personal Finance Blog

That WORD. Hustle. Dude.....what does that even MEAN.

I've ruminated on that. A ton.

You hear these business coaches and they preach "embrace the HUSTLE"...."you better HUSTLE girlfriend"

I'm HUSTLING dammit! 

But here's the thing.....am I....are you....doing everything in our power to maximize our earning potential (thereby increasing the amount of green we can throw at that debt monster?) 

Or, are we being lazy gazelles who somedays are probably just like "Screw it, let the lion eat me"

I hear ya. 

But, if I'm able to get serious for a moment, creating a side-hustle...especially one that is in a niche you can excel at, can be not only amazing for your pocketbook but for your self-esteem and "desire to hustle" as well.

 

WHAT SHOULD MY SIDE HUSTLE BE? 

This is where the sky is the limit and you need to look deep inside yourself and be honest about your strengths and weaknesses.

For instance, my mother-in-law is an AMAZING organizer. She lives to organize. It's a skill she just HAS and in spades (I am actually scared of the damage she could do in a Container Store). I've always said if she ever needed or desired a side hustle, she should become a professional organizer. Not only are there not any other PO's in our area (that I'm aware of)....but she could make a KILLING....she's so good at it.

No takers on that idea yet, but I claim ownership once it's acted upon.

There are TONS of options for "side hustles"....and what's great about a side hustle is you can build it around your schedule, responsibilities, and your availability. You set the hours you are willing to put forth and how much you want to charge. It's governed by YOU.

Here are some other options to consider:
1. Personal Shopper (go to the grocery store for home-bound or disabled folks). Run errands, pick up prescriptions, etc.
2. Landscaping - LOTS of people love being outside and LOTS of people hate it just as much. I'd gladly pay someone to do some planting and weeding. 
3. Babysitting
4. Dog watching/Pet sitting
5. You could sell something you make. Are you a fabulous artist? Do you make something unique that could be of value to the public? Have an idea for a new product? (Watch your COSTS on something like this, however. The cost of doing "business" may not be worth it)
6. Writing - There are companies that pay for blog content, ghostwriters, etc.

You really need to take inventory of what you enjoy, what you excel at, and what you can monetize. 

HOW ABOUT MLM'S? 

MLM stands for Multi-Level Marketing. These are those companies like Avon, Arbonne, Norwex, etc. A lot of folks jump on these as side-hustles because they are told you can "work from home/in your pajamas"....that you can make a full-time income and that it's your "own business". 

They can send in their start-up funds and BAM....built in business. They coach you on what to sell, how to sell, where to sell, and who to sell to.

Now, I'm gonna be straight with ya'll, I am not a fan of MLMs.  This is just my personal opinion. I know a lot of folks who work their own MLM hustle and good on them for doing their thing. I'm just not a fan of the high-pressure social media marketing tactics, the promises made and often not kept by the parent company, and the whole platform that this is "your business" when really, it's the parent company that is making the bulk of the money and a very large percentage of sales folks are barely scraping by. 

Not to mention the cost of upkeep on new products, etc. 

Many MLM folks end up tapping their inner circle over and over again for sales, realize that it's a lot more work than it's worth to really make a good amount of money, and eventually throw in the towel.

HOWEVER, caveat to that, if you are happy in your MLM side hustle and you find that the money you are making with it is fulfilling your need to pay off debt or move along in your debt-free journey in some other way, then you do your thing. If it's something you succeed at, you should keep at it. Just tread CAREFULLY.....and remember the parent company is always going to be in it to make the most money as possible, first and foremost. 

 Sales is a TOUGH side hustle, even if it's not via a MLM. 

We had a retail store for a while and while we never really started it to make a lot of money, the markup on our inventory (new vinyl records) was not very high....so we were constantly having to "hustle" for used inventory, where the markup was better. 

A side-hustle is much more profitable if it's a service you can provide, not necessarily a product. 

HOW DO I GET THE WORD OUT?

This is where social media is the bomb (people still say that, right?)

Depending on what you decide your side hustle should be, get the word out to your "base" on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram.

Now, don't BOMBARD those you love with your new idea. Just put it out there. 

If you're offering a service that local businesses may benefit from, make up some flyers or order a reasonably priced rack-card from  Vistprint and take it on down to the businesses that could use you.

Maybe take out a small ad in your local paper. 

START SMALL....once you get those first few "customers"....and knock it out of the park with them...the word of mouth will start to grow.

Remember, this is a SIDE hustle...not a GET RICH QUICK scheme.

TOO LEGIT

Even if this is a side hustle you still have to be working legitimately. This means pay your taxes, claim your income, pay sales tax, don't skirt the system. Don't be that guy.

Make sure what you choose to do is LEGAL for you to do (that you don't need a license in your area to perform that service, for instance). 


 


The great thing about the "side hustle" is you can be creative and also take your time and try out some different things. 

Currently I'm trying out writing....ghostwriting, blog writing, content creation.....who knows, maybe I won't have time to really "hustle" that much work and it won't be worth it.....but if I have time in the day, I wanna be hustlin'.......for now, anyway. 

10 Signs You're Probably Bad With Money ~ Personal Finance Blog

We all have strengths and weaknesses.

I am terrible at math. Like, counting on my fingers even though I'm 36 terrible.

Math teachers used to tell me I had to work on it because "it's not like you'll always have a calculator with you"

In your face, Math Teachers.

I am pretty good at personal finance though....but it wasn't always that way. It was a skill I had to learn on my own, through LOTS of trial and error. Through applying what I learned via mistakes. 

This is kind of how we get good at any skill: trial and error....and knowing when to ask questions and say "I don't know".

But how do you KNOW if you're bad with money? Here are 10 signs I put together that may point to you being not so handy with the budget, if ya know what I mean.

1. You Are a Chronic "Late Payer"

Late payments on anything has always been one of my greatest fears. When I first moved out on my own as a young adult, I believed if you paid something even a DAY late....they would throw you in jail, destroy your financial future, take your car, turn off your lights....whatever.

Even after I realized that doesn't really happen until you become one of those people who doesn't pay bills regularly....well...regularly, I still became obsessed with getting things in on time. 

People who are bad with money pay things late....or not at all...mostly because they're not on top of their budget or organized with their schedule of payments. 

What's helped me is a written calendar. Writing things down is proven to help you remember them. You can also set up automatic payments through most banks. 

2. You Spend to Get Yourself Out of a Bad Mood

This is SO friggin' dangerous. Because bad moods are unplanned....typically. So the spending is unplanned. And usually you're gonna go off and buy a bunch of crap you don't need. 

3. Your Credit Rating Sucks

Now, being a follower of Dave Ramsey we don't worry TOO much about our FICO scores. But, they're amazing. Because of afore mentioned chronic on-time payments of everything. But, if you're bad with money, your credit rating is probably pretty crappy. Because, well....you're bad with money.

4. You Buy More Than You Can Afford

You're probably easily persuaded by salesmen talking about "affordable payments" or easy financing. Because you don't think about it further than "do I have that payment for next month in the bank". So, you're gonna buy more car, more house, more entertainment items than you really can afford. 

5. You Have Absolutely No Budget

Budget? What's a budget? Budgets are boring. Too controlling. Pshaw!! You don't need no stinkin' budget! You'll stop spending when the money runs out! 

6. You Don't Save

This is kind of a given, but with the "Now is important, screw the future" mentality of most folks who are bad with money, they probably don't have a whole lot invested for the future....or saved....or much of a plan where that is concerned. 

7. Credit Cards = Free Money

Your view of credit is more spending power....a means to get what you want that you can't readily afford with cash. Your way of using credit is irresponsible and dangerous. Which leads you to overspending and a cruddy credit rating. It's all cyclical. 

8. If You Can Find Someone Else to Handle It, You Will

A lot of folks who are bad with money will seek out a partner who is at least FAIR with finances, so they just don't have to worry about it....removing all personal responsiblity for the whole hullabaloo. Or, they'll live in their parent's basement forever. That can happen. (shudder)

9. Bills Surprise You

If you get a credit card bill in the mail and you're afraid to open it because you have NO CLUE what the number inside is.....you just know it's BIG....you're probably bad with money.

Bills shouldn't surprise you. If you have a budget and you're on top of it, they should be relatively easy to predict. 

10. You're Stressed Out

Here's the thing. I probably stress about money too much. Mostly because I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (legitimately) and I stress about everything. I'm aware of this huge flaw of mine and I try very hard to remind myself that I'm doing everything in my power to keep our finances easy to manage and organized.

But, if you find you're regularly getting to the end of the money before the end of the month....or you're awake at night in cold sweats over exactly HOW you're going to manage to pay something....this is the biggest sign that something has to change. 

I have NEVER understood folks that could owe THOUSANDS and not fret about it. I always hope that maybe they are secretly stressed and they're just really good at hiding it (otherwise they're obviously aliens). Owing money is SCARY....and stressful. Having lost control of your finances is scary....and stressful.



But there is ALWAYS hope. There is always a chance to say ENOUGH and to regain control. 

So, even if do suck with money, you don't ALWAYS have to be that way. You can be reformed! The first step? 

Take a look in the mirror....and say "Self....you suck at this. And it's okay. We are gonna get better."

Today? Today is Day 1. 

Really Awful Financial Advice ~ Personal Finance Blog

We love our family and friends, right? I mean....they want to see us succeed. They want to see us do well with money and not end up broke and homeless.

So what's with all the crap advice? 

Amirite? 

No, for real....they mean well...they really do. But if you have friends or family that have mouths and can speak....they've probably handed you some really awful financial advice at some point. 

Here are some of my personal favorites.....and what to do instead. 

1. Everyone Has a Car Payment, It's a Fact of Life

I've gotten this one. It may be that a LOT of people always have a car payment, but it's kind of crappy advice to say that it's a fact of life we need to just accept. Maybe some of us need to accept that we don't NEED brand new, fancy cars.....that paying cash for a usable vehicle IS do-able. It's not a unicorn fantasy. 

2. There is "Good Debt"

Things like your house.....because you can write off the interest. 
Student loans....because it can lead to a better paying career (um....sometimes.)

But this is false false false. The only "good debt" is no debt. Investing the money you WOULD have paid on a mortgage is going to give you far better returns than a paltry interest write off, right? 

So make having a paid-for house your goal. Not acquiring "good debt".

3. Enjoy Life in Your Twenties, Don't Worry About Saving Until You "Settle Down"

There was an article that came out, I think a few years ago, written by a twenty-something who said something to this effect. That worrying about saving and investing was for "old people".....you know, those of us in our ancient thirties. Your twenties were for spending and partying and being stupid with money. When else were you going to have so much fun? (As if being stupid with money equates to fun, I suppose). 

This is dumb. 

If you start even a nominal investment at the age of 20, you're going to likely be a millionaire by retirement time. 

Read up on compounding interest one night instead of hittin' the clubs. It'll do ya some good. 

4. Borrow Against Your House to Follow Your Dreams

I saw this on "Outdaughtered" uttered from a "Financial Advisor" (I'm gonna go ahead and use that term loosely here). 

This is also dumb.

Don't leverage your house to take a gigantic, costly business risk or do something equally misguided as buy a yacht or something.

Save. Start slow. Pay cash. SLOW. DOWN.

5. If You Can Afford the Payments, You Can Afford the Item

Um. No. Just NO. Dude, this is how people get looped into leasing BMW's when they make $15/hour. This makes your life about payments.....about debt....about OWING. 

If you can't pay cash, you can't "afford" it. Car salesmen ESPECIALLY like to throw this one at you: "What if I told you that you could be driving a BRAND. NEW. LUXURY VEHICLE. for low low payments?"

Don't do it, dude. Don't do it. You may be able to technically clear $400-$500 a month for a car...but you're living a lie, and we ALL know it. You can't afford that car. You're playing the car salesman's game. Lots of people lose that game. 

6. Shopping is Good "Therapy"

You'll see this a lot on TV or online. "Retail therapy". Feeling down? Go shopping! That'll pick ya right up! Wander the aisles at Target....see all the shiny new stuff. Go without a plan! 

This is a good way to spend yourself silly and come home surrounded by shopping bags wondering what the hell happened.

Shopping is not good therapy. It's a lot like drinking....you may feel really awesome in the moment, but you're gonna feel like absolute shit later. Trust me.

7. Hey Teenage Daughter or Son, You Shouldn't Work in High School....you Should Have Fun and Concentrate on Homework

This is probably personal opinion, but teenagers who have never held down even the most menial of jobs become adults with crappy work ethics. I've interviewed these adults. I've hired SOME....and regretted it. I've seens their resumes and I've talked to them about their thoughts on work.

Even if it's a few days a week or just over the summer, they have to WORK.....they have to get their hands dirty. It's not to get rich, it's to LEARN. You owe them an opportunity for that experience. Trust me. I started working at 12 (hello paper route and regular babysitting gigs). I've always said it was the best thing I ever did. I learned a TON over the myriad of jobs I held through high school.

Namely that I have to work for myself or perish. :) 

8. You Have to Get a Credit Card ASAP and "Build Your Credit"

This is exactly how people get into trouble in the first place. Especially in college. No one is sitting you down teaching you how to responsibly manage money. I mean, I'm 36....I never once got a "personal finance class" offered to me in high school OR college. 

But hell, let's hand these newbie adults $5000 to $10,000 on a card and let them go nuts. 

Good idea. 

***************

Deciphering the good from the bad when it comes to advice given comes with time and practice (and lots of following bad advice and seeing how bad it is).

Your best bet? Don't listen to broke people. Don't listen to people who hold tight to old ideas of money management that are proven false. Don't listen to people who are up to their eyeballs in consumer debt (and, well, given the newest numbers that list that in the TRILLIONS for Americans, that's pretty much everyone).

Listen to your gut feeling....and what's best for your family's legacy. That'll always lead you in the right direction.

 

Adventures in Frugality ~ February 2017

Oh boy, it's been stress-city round these parts. 

I blame tax season. I have a love/hate relationship with tax season. It speaks to my love of personal finance organization, charts, and reports. Love of statistics and color-coded Excel spreadsheets. I love it.

It's the owing I'm not too big a fan of.

And we owe. We owe pretty much every year because I'm self-employed and that is such a roller coaster that it's always difficult to predict how I'm going to do year after year. 

2015 was a cluster....well....you know the rest. We started a retail business....I went haywire with the idea that I SHOULD be doing something different with my life....my own business that I had poured heart and soul into for 7 years got put on the back burner. It was kind of a mess. HOT. MESS.

We got our collective shizz together though, and I killed it in 2016. I got everything back on track and I'm super happy with where my photography biz is right now. My #1 focus. No more business ADD. 

But, with taxes looming I knew because I did SO much better in 2016 than 2015 that we were going to owe a tidy sum.....so I started socking it away early, in anticipation.

And yeah. It's a tidy sum.

But we're ready for it. It stinks but we are making adjustments to make sure we don't owe quite so much next year.

I guess I need to look at the lemonade from the lemons: it means I had a really good year.

WON:

- How did we "win" in February? Well, booking for my business were fantastic and I booked a handful of events that helped us have a very relaxed "off season" month. Typically February can go one of two ways: lots of bookings for upcoming events and I'm happy.....or it's dead as a doornail and I have the sads. 
Self-employment, man. It's not for the faint of heart. 

- We put our house up for sale!!! Finally!!! I feel like we are really moving forward with our future plans and this makes me SUPER happy. 

- Got rid of a TON of clutter as we staged our house for sale. Sold some stuff on Ebay (to the tune of $60), listed all of my old vintage kids clothes on Etsy and sold some ($137.00 total this month). Sold a tent ($100) and some other furniture ($100 also).

We'll be getting rid of more after the house sells....new house, new stuff. Some of our furniture we've had since we were single and it's showing it's age for sure. 

- After a brief hiatus I revisited Every Dollar (www.everydollar.com) for budgeting. I'm still writing everything down as well, but it helps to lay it all out there too. 

LOST

- OMG, WAYYYYY too much eating at restaurants. It's our achilles heel for sure. I knew it was going to be an issue this month with putting the house up for sale and having to constantly vacate for showings. We didn't want to continue to make a mess in the kitchen with dinner that we just had to keep cleaning up when people wanted to see the house.

So it's been pizza. Restaurant stops......bad bad bad.

So, we talked and decided we needed to add a buffer to our budget in March to take care of this issue. We will probably be stopping for easier dinners more often, with being away from home, so that needed to be addressed.

- With taxes looming and putting the house up for sale, we haven't really dedicated a lot of time to the debt snowball, but we were able to throw a little extra at it. 

Paid off in February: $1193.99
 

Why We Have To Do Things Differently Than How Our Parents Did Them ~ Personal Finance Blog

   Finances is not something I speak about frequently with my parents. We are in that limbo-type age group where we are raising families and our parents are quickly approaching retirement, if they are not there already. We didn't talk about money growing up. It was taboo....it was something that we were just going to assume was "there" when we needed it and we didn't need to worry our pretty-little-kid-heads about adult matters.

During the last election (shudder), a lot was being mentioned about how things "used to be". 

Well, let's talk a BIT about how things 'used to be' and how we HAVE to approach finances differently than our parents and their parents did....even if they wax nostalgic about the "good ole days" and believe their way was ultimately best.

Because times, they are 'a changin' and all that....and if you're still holding out hope for a job with a pension and social security benefits that will keep you...well...anywhere near secure......you may be holding on to that hope for a really long time.

My Grandparents (may they rest in peace) survived the Great Depression. Grandma used to regale us children with stories about Christmases with little more than an orange in her stocking. 

While raising 8 kids in a 2 bedroom home in Wisconsin during the 1950s, they were placed smack dab in the middle of what people fondly remember as the "good ole days". When times were good, violence and poverty were nil, people had jobs they kept for 40 years and retired with fat pensions and the pride of a life lived supporting their family.

People and their rose colored glasses. 

Per financial website wisebread.com, the average American yearly household income from 1950 to 1959 ranged from $3210 to $5010.

A. YEAR.

Adjusted for inflation that's about $32,000 to $50,400. Very similar to where we fall now. 

In the 1950s, three out of five American families bought homes. The average size of that home being roughly 1000 square feet. Yup. 1000. 

We have more than doubled the average size of a new home these days. We need room. For all our stuff. 

People typically waited until they were secure in a job to purchase a home, and they typically stayed in that home their whole lives.

However, their appetite for discretionary spending on items such as clothing, cars, and television sets was peaked in the 50s. The typical household had 1 car, which they very often fixed instead of replacing when things when awry. 

In the 50s, Americans typically saved about 9% of their income. They had jobs that promised nice pensions and retirements, typically. Unions were strong, employment rates were high, and
poverty was something the middle class could escape and ignore by moving out of the city and building their nice little 1000 square foot cracker box house in the suburbs. Which they did in DROVES. 

We dream wistfully about a return to the economic prosperity and good feelings of the 1950s, but the country is no longer set-up to support this....and hasn't been for some time. 

Manufacturing jobs, which saw their boom in the 50s, are being replaced by automation and outsourcing. The unskilled, uneducated worker can no longer support a large family, buy a home, and work the same job for 40+ years expecting a big cushion when he retires.  It just. doesn't. happen.

In the 1980s, the folks raised in the booming 50s became parents themselves. Our generation was born (WOOT!) and we were raised in a time of great consumer spending. 

The 80s kicked off with a recession (I was a baby so I don't remember a thing!...However, I think I remember my parents telling me once that the interest rate on their home mortgage was 9-12%!!!!!) 

Electronic and tech jobs started to grow, replacing Rust Belt manufacturing positions. The issue here is, most tech jobs required college degrees....which a lot of kids raised in the 1950s didn't deem necessary. 

College tuitions absolutely soared and many kids were raised in paycheck to paycheck households. The mom and dad both going off to work became the norm and latchkey kids followed. 

The 1980s were still, however, a hold-over time where parents without a lot of education or job-skills could still find work in various factory jobs and make a good living for their families. 

In our area, the local GM plant was THEE PLACE to land a job after high school. You'd have it "made", adults would tell us. 

Sadly, the GM plant closed some years ago....leaving legions of uneducated and limited-skill workers without a plan, a future, or a nest egg. 

We didn't save like we should have in the 80s and 90s. We bought more. We bought bigger. We took on gigantic mortgages and had 2-3 cars per household. We took out credit. LOTS of credit. We didn't sock money away....we didn't invest like our parents did. 

Sadly, once the 1980s kids reached college age, they were staring down the barrell of $20,000-$50,000 in loans for your average bachelors degree and their parents were likely beginning 2nd careers at the bottom rung. 

So, what can we do now to live successfully and finanically fit in these times of economic uncertainty, extremely expensive college, and high cost of living in general?

First, forget what our parents modeled for us. Forget the "good ole days" our grandparents whistfully wish for. Those days are not only over...they are not coming back. No matter how much men in suits and ties (that are WAY. TOO. LONG., dude) tell us they are.

We need to live in the now and plan for the worst finanically, NOT what we hope will happen. That's not to be all doomsday and tell you to dig a cellar and start stockpiling gold bullion and cans of beans, but you need to think rationally and take into consideration today's economics.

I honestly believe that my generation, those born in the late 1970s/early 1980s, were probably the last kids to go off to college as a social growth opportunity as much as an educational one. You went to "find yourself"....to discover skills and passions. To have your eyes opened by some crazy professor who wore Birkenstocks and smelled like tobacco. 

Our kids really don't have that luxury. Few of us can afford to spend upwards of $40,000 so our kids can go "find themselves". We need them to do that earlier....and develop marketable skills that will allow them to move out of basements and make a living for themselves and their future families.

We also need to teach kids about investing and compound interest WAY early. I didn't learn about these things until I was in my THIRTIES. I mean, do you realize if I had been investing through my 20s how much I would have now?

To think about it makes me a bit ill.

We need to institute high school classes that are REQUIRED that teach the basics of economics, savings, debt avoidance, and investing principles. Exciting stuff? Not really.....but the only way we are going to turn things around even a little is to foster a gang of educated young folks. 

We need to instill in our children the absolute importance of skill-building. Marketable skill building. You can still foster their love for sports, the arts, or hobbies....but the writing on the wall is you HAVE to have a marketable, pay-able skill in order to make ends meet. 

This does not necessarily mean that 4 year college is necessary for every person anymore. Technical schools have some fabulous programs and at a fraction of the cost of many 4 year institutions. Healthcare jobs are still in high demand. Tech jobs are in high demand. The market may have wildly changed since our parents could make it as line-workers at the GM plant, but that doesn't mean we can't adjust and thrive! 

Things are wildly different than they were in the 1950s. In the 1980s. In the 1990s. This is OUR time. We have to do things differently than our parents did them. We have to prepare our kids for THEIR time. We have to realize that, as much as we may love them, our parents probably made a lot of financial mistakes.....as did their parents before them. As we become the "sandwich generation" (caring for young children AND aging parents)....some of the financial mistakes they made may come back to haunt us. 

But we will be better prepared. We will be knowledgable about our options. We can start now and maybe urge our parents to start planning for their life beyond independent living (this can be a super-hard discussion and probably warrants it's own blog post).

It's our time. Proceed accordingly.

Clearing Space ~ Personal Finance Blog

So, we are moving. 

YAY! 

Finally! I feel like we've been planning this out FOR-EV-ER. 

So, right now we are buried in the vast muck of de-cluttering and staging our home for sale. Our house is about 2400 sq. feet, if you include the basement. I feel like we are not pack rats by any means, but it is AMAZING what you are willing to throw away, give away, or sell when your mind is on a goal.

Today alone I took 2 packed Ford Flex car-loads to Goodwill (Seriously, if anyone ever buys any of my children a stuffed animal again, I will shiv them). I sold a desk, a clock, a tent, a chair, and some photography equipment. I threw away a TON of worthless crap, papers....just garbage.

It's coming along. 

I am fast realizing that happiness and a clear mind can definitely be buried under years of STUFF. Stuff we never needed.

We had to go to Menards today (Menards is like Home Depot for Wisconsinites)....and pick up a few items to fix up some house stuff: caulk, some mulch, a new toilet seat. We budgeted everything out and came $200 under budget (WOOT!). 

Driving home my husband said "You know, it's so WEIRD spending money now. I look around at everyone at the store....and I think, everyone is just buying STUFF. Stuff they probably don't need."

Even us. Except for the toilet seat. TOTALLY needed that. 

We've run into the issue of being acutely aware of everything we buy and if it brings us happiness, if it's actually needed, and if it's a good use of our money. Not sure if it's an "issue" (except when we stand frozen in a store terrified to buy ANYTHING.....which happens). 

But it's there. We've eeked our way into an unintentional minimalism of sorts.....to the point where some people (*cough* motherinlaw *cough*...I say that with love!) are afraid we may be getting rid of TOO MUCH....and what are we going to, you know, sit on....or read....or decorate our new walls with? 

Never fear....it's all intentional. Intentional living...intentional de-cluttering...and moving. Intentionally. 

10 Ways We Screw Up Our Finances ~ Personal Finance Blog

The average American household has roughly $16,000 in revolving credit card debt.  The average American HOUSEHOLD income is roughly $44,000.  About 24% of all Americans have no savings at all. Recent polls show about 52% of American households find it difficult to pay bills every month. 16% were late on their mortgage payment. 18% spend more than their income (and I betcha a cool million that statistic is low). 40% of working Americans are NOT saving for retirement. FORTY. PERCENT. PEOPLE. 

We Americans are not terribly good with money, as a whole. Financial fitness wasn't taught in school when I was a youngin'. We never had a class that went over savings, mortgages, bill payment, or insurance. But, damned if we didn't learn what an equilateral triangle was!

But I digress.....

Typically, with folks in my generation, we learn late that being financially fit is a MUST if you're going to live a happy, healthy, stress-free-as-possible existence.

So, how do we go astray?

Here's 10 BIG ways we Americans screw up our finances. But, all is not lost, people. There's always hope. There's always time to do it another way.

1.  Using Credit Cards

This is a big one. Statistics show you spend 12-18% more when you use a credit card than you do with cash. Precious few people are responsible credit card users, even if they believe they are. If you're one of those people who puts EVERYTHING on a card to get "points" or "miles" and then "pays it off at the end of the month"....you are one job loss away from financial bedlam. 

Cash is king. Cash is tangible. Cash stops you from overspending. It's simple science: you spend more with credit. Use cash! Points will never make you rich. You will never beat the bank at the game they invented. Use cash, save the difference.

2. Not Having an Emergency Fund

There's a reason this is Dave Ramsey's 1st Baby Step. All the other steps rely on you having funds to cover an emergency. A REAL emergency, not Christmas. Not new shoes. 

Your baby emergency fund helps guide you along debt repayment. But, most Americans have less than $1000 in the bank for emergencies. They rely on "emergency credit cards". See #1 for why that's a bad deal. 

If you're saying "PG, we live paycheck to paycheck, how can we get an emergency fund?"

It's time to start selling stuff. Sell so much people think you are crazy. Sock away every dollar you make, you'll be amazed how fast you can grow $1000. Some people take sacrifice to a NEW level: they sell their car and drive a hoopty....they move to a smaller house or an apartment....they start eating nothing but Ramen. What level of sacrifice you're cool with is all personal to you and your family, but it CAN be done. Even on a tiny income.

3. Keeping Up With Those Joneses

So and so has a brand new house. So and so has a 2016 BMW with leather seats. So and so is carrying around a Louis Vuitton and dammit doesn't she look good? 

Envy. We WANT that. How come THEY have it and I don't. Envy drives spending. Brands know this. Salespeople know this. 

It's SUPER hard to ignore that. It's what makes the world go round. But, striving for a lifestyle you simply cannot afford is not bright....and it doesn't matter what you buy, it's not creating a lasting legacy for your family. 

I once saw on TV this woman justifying her designer handbag collection by saying it was an "investment".

It was one of those moments when I remarked "you keep saying that word. I don't think it means what you think it means". 

THINGS don't matter. People do. Pick one stupid purchase you make on a regular basis (like Starbucks every morning or expensive brand name ANYTHING....) and filter that money into a growth stock mutual fund. Let compound interest work its magic. THAT'S an investment.

When the Joneses hit retirement age and don't have a proverbial pot to piss in....then they will be envying YOU.

4. Not Having A Budget

If you're spending with out a plan, plan to fail. Seriously. There's no way in h-e-double-hockey-sticks anyone can just go and spend wildly without any set plan and expect to be financially fit.

Now, we budget like crazy folks. Every cent that enters our home has a job. If it's left without a job, it goes to savings or debt payoff. That's it's job. I do the budget on an every-other-night-basis....because some sick part of me finds great enjoyment in balancing the budget. I'm a mega-nerd. There might be something wrong with me.

Get a budget together. Work on it. Don't give up if the budget fails the first month. It takes about 2-3 months to get it working well. 

5. Going Out to Eat

We are eating our savings. Believe me. Stopping in for a quick lunch, going out for an expensive date night dinner....we spend a ridiculous amount of money on restaurants. It stops being "special" and just starts being what we do on a regular basis. 

Learn to cook at home. Learn to meal plan. Save, save, save!  Reserve going out to eat for special occasions. Make it "special" again. (We REALLY need to work on this!)

For one whole month write down EVERY restaurant visit. Every fast food stop. Every Starbucks run. See that number at the end of the month? Gross, eh? Yeah. Food is a budget killer. 

6. "I Deserve It"

I work hard. I sacrificed. I NEVER get to....  Just this once. Life is short. YOLO. All that. We justify spending in a myriad of ways. I've done it. We've all done it. A lot of this takes a re-frame of your thinking. Sure, we all want something to show for our hard work...whatever it is we do....but what if that "something" became debt freedom and a healthy retirement instead of a new car? 

Sure, people can't really SEE your healthy retirement....at least not until you retire and buy that killer dream house with green shutters on Prince Edward Island (ok, that might be just me).....but you can see it. And it secures your legacy.....far more than a car, a shirt, a knick-knack, a piece of jewelry.

7. Keeping Separate Finances from Our Spouse

This rarely works out well. You can't have a partnership where the left hand has no idea what the right hand is doing and expect to have a joint financial fitness. 

You are partners and any plan works better when you work it together and keep one another accountable.

8. Ignoring Ways To Make Money

I'm super lucky because I'm self employed. As hard as that is sometimes (especially during slow season)....I have a skill set that can be applied in so many ways that pay. I can do commercial work, food photography, head shots, family shoots. When things get slow I can start planning for Senior Portrait season and taking deposits for that. Weddings book all year round. 

This week we started clearing out our closets in preparation for staging our house and I came upon the massive collection of vintage children's clothing I've amassed over the past 9 years. I decided instead of moving it to the new house, where it would no doubt just clutter up a basement closet.....I was going to sell it off. 

I started a little Etsy store called "What Alice Found" (it was an old name. I used to be a big Lewis Carroll junkie)....and listed every piece on there. In less than 20 minutes from the first few listings I had sold $40 worth of vintage stuff. Check it out if that sort of thing does anything for you :) 

It may seem like a pittance, but that adds up....and if you can get creative, you can create a cash flow that pads your debt repayment, savings, or investing fund. 

If you're NOT self employed, make sure you're always keeping your resume up to date, just in case a great opportunity presents itself. Take advantage of overtime if you can. Leverage a skill you may have after work (like fixing computers or teaching yoga).

There's a great place for people to go when they need money: TO WORK! If you can't find the work, create the work. Get creative! 

9. Taking Out Loans

I'm not even going to MENTION Payday loans here because those are the work of the Devil. I've never taken one out myself but I've heard they have ridiculous interest rates and they pretty much decimate your finances. They are BAD HOMBRES. (ha!) 

Regular loans aren't much better, honestly. The only loan Dave Ramsey approves is a mortgage and only under certain circumstances (which we are choosing to go a different route on and hoping he doesn't somehow find out and smote us)

But HELOC loans? Bad news. Loans from family and friends? Even worse. Don't make your family your lender. It's just a good way to make every family gathering really awkward. 

I was recently watching that show Outdaughtered (which is SUPER CUTE, btw) and the couple on there was kicking around the idea of buying into a spin cycle business. Well, problem #1 is they didn't have the cash on hand to buy in to anything (there were about 100 problems with their plan, but that was the big one). They had some financial planner come and talk with them and this lady actually SUGGESTED they borrow against their house to buy into this plan.

I almost threw the remote at the TV (then I remembered we scored our TV at a tremendous deal and I didn't want to have to buy a new one). 

No. No. Bad. NO.

If you want to take a vacation, start a sinking fund and save for your vacation.

If you want to re-do your kitchen, start a sinking fund and re-do your kitchen when it's full.

Once you are debt free, socking away money for things you want should be a breeze....you're already pre-conditioned to allocate money! 

10. Declaring Bankruptcy

This is a LAST. RESORT. MOVE. guys. Even D-Ram suggests a 401K Loan (EW) over Bankruptcy. It's that damaging. 

You may feel like the hole you dug yourself is inescapable. You may feel helpless and hopeless looking at a stack of bills and no money in the bank.

But don't throw a grenade on your entire life because things look dire now. 

Start with one thing: write EVERYTHING down. See it on paper. And then just BEGIN. Take an extra job. Call your creditors and see what you can do to possibly lower interest rates. SELL EVERYTHING YOU FREAKING OWN. Seriously....if you are at the doorstep of Mr. Bankruptcy, it's time now to liquidate everything under your roof and claw your way out.

Is it hard? OH YEAH.....is it worth it? YES. Because after you're done....after you're free....and you did it without bankruptcy....you are TRULY free. 

******

There's lots of things we all do every day to screw things up. I get weak and order Panda Express. My husband gets weak and doesn't join me for budget meetings all the time. The kids NEED stuff (dang kids and their needing things....lol). 

But this all CAN be done, and it's not a life of servitude and sacrifice all the time. Even if I may make it seem that way sometimes. 

You can live a wonderful, full life and still be financially fit. A little self-awareness goes a LONG way to start down that road. 

 

Adventures in Frugality ~ January 2017

Well here we are! One month into 2017. Things are going well with the plan...we are back on track, mostly, with our budget.

It's been a super-stressful month to say the least. We made the decision to go ahead with our move...made the decision to build....in a city that is an hour away from where we currently live. With lot prices that are double or triple what they are here in B-town.

We went over and over and OVER our numbers, our budget, our projected income, our spending habits, our needs, our wants....I feel like January has been nothing but MATH.

I hate math.

Here's how we WON and LOST in January! 

WON:

- I feel like we have really done our due diligence with the house. We are still waiting on our pre-approval from the always awesome Churchill Mortgage, but we've run the numbers umpteen times. I feel good about that. We are not walking into a new home blind or without taking into consideration what is reasonable. It's SO easy to get carried away with a new home build. 

- Bridget has been packin' on the winter pudge, and growing out of all of her clothes. Turned in a crap-ton of old stuff to Kidz Kloset in Janesville and got a whole bunch of new (well, new to us) stuff! Saved a ton! 

- We checked ourselves (before we wrecked ourselves, literally) and we have been really good about the restaurant visits this month. We did take ourselves out to sushi with a gift card the hubby got for good work at an event. Savings: $50. Woot! 

- We were able to put a sizable chunk down on our vacation sinking fund. We signed up for a service that just takes a little bit out of our bank account each week and puts it into a savings account....it's a great way to save without the hassle! You can still enjoy life while being on a budget...you just have to PLAN! 

LOST: 

- Freaking dental work. Kid #1 started her braces journey this month. Our dental insurance only covers up to $3000 LIFETIME. Anyone whose kid has had braces knows that's a joke. Thankfully, we were able to cash flow the remainder. But dude. Teeth are expensive.

- Because it's slow season here in self-employment land, we weren't able to really "kill it" on debt repayment, but we were able to bump it up a little bit. 

AMOUNT PAID ON DEBT: $1189.99

Next month we will be, HOPEFULLY, moving ahead at a break-neck speed on the house situation....and putting Casa Reseburg up for sale, which is terrifying! 

Stay tuned! 

When You Are Legit Terrified to Spend ~ Personal Finance Blog

I have OCD.

Not, like, "oh, I'm really organized and tidy" type cute-sy Monica Gellar OCD.

I have real OCD. I was diagnosed at 19. There, there's something you probably didn't know about me (or expect me to just throw out there in a finance blog, but there it is).

My OCD manifests itself here and there. I'm medicated, so it's pretty under control. I do have certain things that make it go a bit wonky at times. Certain sounds drive me absolutely bonkers, to the point where I have to leave the room. I really, really, REALLY dislike crowds. Surefire way to send me into a full-on panic. I don't like things that go fast or spinning wheels. 

Very odd things like that. Over the past 15 years I've learned to control and/or squash a lot of my issues....but I do tend to pick some up sometimes, if I'm not careful.

Sometimes, I get really nervous about "running out" of things. So much so that I'll buy, say, 3-4 containers of a condiment....just so I don't run out. I don't like to finish things, like soda ...because what if I don't have another one?

Now I'm just kind of sounding nuts.

I promise, I have a point.

Since starting our debt-payoff and savings plan a few years ago, I've worked REALLY hard on not being a over-spender. I try to find deals where I can, I try to save, I try to delay gratification. 

The husband and I made the decision this week on where we are going to move and to what....and it led us to the decision to build a house. Now, this always seemed, to me anyway, like a really out-of-reach idea for us. The numbers are.....scary. Dave Ramsey tells us not to move or buy a house until we are 100% debt free. Yes, true. We are deviating from Dave's plan a bit to get our girls to a new city. A city where they have more opportunity. A city where my earning potential as a self-employed person is greater. An area I've missed terribly since we left it 7 years ago. It's our home. We want to get back there.

We had some major "Come to Jesus" talks about this. Is it a good idea? Should we just stay put? Are we being stupid? 

I believe each family in the midst of their own financial fitness journey has to make the decisions that best fit their path to wealth. We can move and still continue to pay off debt at the level we are currently.....and that made it an easier decision to make.

HOWEVER, I am finding that over the years I've developed a bit of an aversion to spending money. Any money. Which makes spending the most money you've ever spent on a thing very hard. I keep running the numbers. I keep having these panic moments of "what if I don't book any work!?! What if one of us loses our income!?" 

It's the same panic I get in crowds: What if I lose a kid? What if someone with the flu brushes up against me and then I get the flu? What if there's a fire and I can't get away? 

It's the same panic I get in fast moving cars: What if our wheels fall off? (Yes. This terrifies me.) Despite my husband's insistence that this doesn't really happen, I swear I've seen it.

We've weathered job loss in the past and we know we are very responsible people who can take what life throws at us. Doesn't make the decision any easier. 

I've developed a visceral reaction to spending money. I'm convinced myself that if I just collect enough data saying "Yes, this makes sense" that I'll feel better about it.

Not so sure. I guess I just needed to get that out :) Right now, I'm blaming it on the OCD. That way, I can say that at some level I'm being completely irrational :) 

Can anyone relate? 

We all make day to day decisions regarding finances that drive our family either forward or backward. We decide to buy the pants. We decide to buy the car. We decide to invest. We decide to not loan our friend $100. We decide to stop eating at restaurants. We decide to use cash only. These are all decisions that people could argue for or against until the cows come home. 

I keep thinking "People out there are going to think this is a bad idea". What people? I dunno, people. People who will see us spend. I worry about that a lot. If I buy myself a magazine or a sweatshirt, I'm being really wasteful because I don't really need it. This is one hell of a sweatshirt. 

My point?

At some point, we need to TRUST ourselves. Especially if you're to the point where you've been running a strict budget for years and you are on a very good trajectory. You need to trust that you are responsible. You need to KNOW yourself, and what you can handle. I know I'm not a person who is going to go buck-nutty and spend $50,000 furnishing my new home with Pottery Barn. That just isn't me. We are going to save cash until we can replace some of our more worn out items. I know I'm not the person who is going to upgrade the house to the hilt so it is $100,000 more than the initial base price. I'm going to make smart decisions based on what we really NEED. 

I guess I don't trust myself yet. I feel like if I fail, if I calculate wrong, if I can't make my business work there like I have here, then I fail our family....and that would suck.

Sometimes, we look fear in the face and we run, it's just too scary....too real. Sometimes we face it down....we say yes and make it work. I've done this with my job...I've done it with having a third kid and within personal relationships. Life is long. It's hard. And living in fear of making a wrong decision when you've become a ridiculously cautious person.....not sure if that's a way to saunter down your own road, right?

So, that's where my head is right now, Gazelles. How you doin'?  :) 

 

(NOTE: Not our new home. But it's pretty, right? )   

(NOTE: Not our new home. But it's pretty, right? ) 

 

So Now What? ~ Personal Finance Blog

So yeah, you may have heard....we've got ourselves a new President. 

Yup. 

Can't say I'm exactly THRILLED about the nation's pick. But, this is a personal finance blog so I'm gonna stay on task and we are gonna talk about how a new Administration should affect your approach to your personal finance journey.

1. RECOGNIZE YOUR PRIVILEGES ARE NOT THE SAME AS OTHERS
This is a really important step 1 and one that has, admittedly, been difficult for me in the past. We are not all the same. We are not all on equal footing financially. We do not all start equally. We do not all have the same privileges afforded to us.

Keep in mind, this in no way discounts any hard work, sweat, tears, and agony you may have put towards scratching and clawing your way to your current station in life. This is the part I had to learn....and learn I did over the past year. 

I wanted to believe that if I could do it....anyone could. And I still believe that in many, many, MANY cases this is true. I worked multiple jobs. I put myself through school. I started a business. I've worked when I was sick. I've missed time with my kids. There's been sacrifice. There's been HARD work. I have never skipped an opportunity to WORK for what I want. 

HOWEVER, I have also had some privileges that have helped me on my way and it's very important that I take that into consideration when evaluating my finances. 

For one, I was born to a 2 parent household and I never wanted for anything growing up. We always had housing, food, clothing, and educational opportunities. This was a springboard. A big one.

Since being married, I have always had very good, affordable insurance. I'm very fortunate that my husband works for the state and our insurance is great. I never have to worry, right now, about that situation. I have friends who pay thousands a month for their healthcare and it's insanity. We have to fight for THEM.....because healthcare in this country is a hot mess. 

Sit down and make a POSITIVE leaning list of everything that you have going for you. This will help you recognize what you have to leverage on your way to financial fitness. GET REAL with yourself. You don't have to be ASHAMED of your privilege....but you do have to acknowledge it if you intend on seeing your financial future prosper. 

2. DON'T BOW TO FEAR MONGERING

There's gonna be a LOT of that going around. Fake news sources spouting hate-filled rhetoric.....people telling you that mortgage rates are going to sky-rocket or the middle-class taxes are going to balloon. 

It's a lot easier to seek out CREDIBLE news sources (they are out there, I swear!) and educate yourself on exactly what a Trump Presidency means for our country's economic future. 

Then, apply that knowledge to protecting your family financially. That means focusing on eliminating debt that cuts into your biggest wealth-building asset: your income.

Here's the biggest take-away I hope I can impress on folks: Don't make financial decisions based on fear.  Because you'll make hasty decisions. Stay the course, continue to budget and to embrace frugality. It's the best way to protect yourself REGARDLESS of who is president. 

3. DON'T DESPAIR

Seriously, my husband and I talked briefly about it this morning as we prepare to move our family to a new city and start a new life.  We wondered if rising mortgage interest rates were going to affect us so much that it would put a wrench in our plans. We worried what else was coming down the pipe that was going to affect me as a self-employed person or affect him as a state employee. 

You can BE worried....you can BE upset. You can even act on your anger (as thousands of marchers and protesters have illustrated today). But don't despair. Don't GIVE UP.....don't let fear freeze you to the point where you believe a debt-freedom plan is pointless. 

It's not. 

4. KEEP GOING

Here's the thing....our new President has been endowed with some great power. Power to really screw things up for people, financially and otherwise, if he's not careful. 

For example, if he repeals the ACA without a replacement.....that could mean thousands in budget-devastating medical bills for people who cannot afford healthcare or who have pre-existing conditions and cannot get coverage. 

As responsible citizens and FINANCIALLY responsible people (as we all are, right?)....it's our duty to be aware of this and hold his feet to the fire...demanding he work for us, not the other way around.

But, the sun goes on rising and setting....and as I said above....it's so important for your family and your legacy that you stay the course....keep investing, keep saving, keep paying off debt, keep looking for ways to earn extra income. No matter what he does, he can't slow down a nation of people willing to go to WORK. 

*****

I know a lot of us are scared. We don't know what to expect and we don't have high hopes. It's not all sunshine and roses on the financial front, and I know that. I am holding on to hope that we can still kill it with debt payoff this year and get to where we want to be financially and physically. 

But, trust me, it brings a lot of calm to your whole world if you know your personal finances are well-in-hand and organized. 

Take care of each other....and chin up! 
 

The Personal SWOT Analysis ~ Personal Finance Blog

I'm a nerd. I think we've WAY established that. I love lists, and books about finance, and budgets, and Excel spreadsheets. 

I don't like math, but that's neither here nor there.

Give me a calculator and I'm good to go.

When I was in college I took a Business class where we learned about the SWOT Analysis....and it ended up probably being one of the most useful things I learned in college (totally worth the $60,000 price tag, for sure....*cough*) 

When attacking your debt and cleaning up your financial future, applying a Personal SWOT Analysis to yourself and your situation is SERIOUSLY helpful....and can get you on your way to big-time financial fitness.

SWOT stands for: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats

When you run a business, it's monumentally helpful to evaluate these 4 items on a regular basis. It keeps the business moving forward. 

Think of your family as a business. Applying the SWOT Analysis when you sit down to evaluate your own finances can help you achieve your financial goals and move your family forward. 

Here's how I do it:

STRENGTHS:

I love the SWOT Analysis because it starts off on such a positive note. What are your strengths? When it comes to debt repayment, saving, investing, or work....what do you do WELL and what can you continue to do that works?

Do you have a skill that you can monetize and add to your family's income? Do you have a strength for selling items and applying that to debt? Are you the saver in the family? The frugal one? Sit down with a pen and paper and identify you and your spouse's strengths in the situation and then build on those. 

For example, my strength is I am self-employed....so the more I work the more money I make. I can apply my skill set to various jobs and make more money for the family as a result. 

When we sit down for our budget meetings, I can identify where I can bring in more money through various photography jobs. This is a strength. 

WEAKNESSES:

Here's where the "Come to Jesus" moment comes in. Where are you not so strong? This requires honesty on your part and on the part of your spouse. You can't fix an issue if you're not willing to own up to it.

My weakness is restaurants. When I'm on the road for work I stop at fast food places FAR too often. 

Our weakness together is not sitting down for our budget meetings on a regular basis. Laziness. That's all that is. 

By regularly going back and identifying our weaknesses, we can help one another keep them in check. 

OPPORTUNITIES:

Here's where a lot of folks believe they are stuck and can never break free. They don't believe they have any opportunities. 

We ALL have opportunities to turn things around. Some have more than others, some opportunities are harder to find. Some are painful, but they are opportunities none-the-less. 

My job is in photography, and I realized that while we are in Baby Step 2 and paying off debt, I had the opportunity to fill in empty spaces on my calendar with sub-contract wedding work. Is it always "fun"? No....but it pays and it's something I can use as extra to apply towards debt.

My husband has opportunities to work overtime sometimes. We are given opportunities to sell things that we don't need or use....freeing up physical space that was once full of clutter, freeing up mental space, and freeing up funds for debt repayment. Look around your house....where are your "opportunities" for money? You'd be shocked what you can get for stuff you have just lying around taking up space. 

Once you refocus your mind to ALWAYS see opportunities to save, make money, or move the needle forward....you start to gain momentum. Always looking for reasons why you CAN'T do something is a sure-fire way to stall ALL momentum. You will remain stuck. 

I can come up with 1000 reasons why we can't ever be debt free.

All I need is one reason why we CAN to build on. 

THREATS:

I caution you to NOT get too mired down in threats to your plan. This is the "1000 reasons why we can't". However, you have to identify the threats in order to beat them.

Various threats to your plan can include daycare costs (ridiculously expensive and very often unavoidable), huge student loan debt with a job that doesn't quite pay what you thought it would, a shopping addiction you can't quite get a handle on, or unexpected medical issues.

Life HAPPENS. There are always going to be threats to your plan. We've had various things come about that threatened our forward momentum. Namely, my husband losing his job a few years ago and the dumb decisions that followed that "surprise". 

Very often, THREATS are things that can be augmented, combated or out-and-out avoided if you think about it hard enough. 

Sometimes, you may have to take on a second job. A third job.....just to get the needle moving. Talk to your spouse, own up to an issue you may have with spending, and have them step up and make you accountable. Credit cards are a HUGE threat to your financial fitness. Cut those suckers up and be DONE. Be pro-active with your healthcare. Stop smoking, start an exercise routine, eat well and head-off potential issues before they snowball. 

You control your life. Don't allow yourself to become the type of person that bad things are always just "happening to" and that's why you can't get a handle on things. Sometimes that means pulling off a really stuck-on band-aid....and that freaking hurts....but the end result is so worth it. 


******

You have to be super intentional about every move if any debt-repayment/financial fitness plan is ever going to work. That means you're always thinking in terms of the plan. 

Whenever we "go rogue", we always regret it in the end. Even if spending was fun.....even if we enjoyed the spoils of our wayward behavior....we know now the long-lasting affects of bad decisions.

Performing regular personal SWOT analysis on our behavior and our plan, thinking of our family as a corporation, helps us remain intentional, beholden to the plan, and accountable. 

Try it! You may not think it's nearly as fun as I think it is (because, like I said, giant nerd here)....but you can't deny how helpful it will be! 


 

10 Things You Don't Need to Buy ~ Personal Finance Blog

Buying things is fun.

Sometimes. After years of working with a strict budget, I've kind of lost my zeal for shopping in most cases (sometimes I still get the bug). I do, however, love a good deal and I do love finding alternatives to higher priced items to try and "rig the system" in my favor. 

So, here's 10 things I've compiled that you simply do not need to spend your hard-earned cash on....or can substitute for something cheaper.

Hopefully this will help people shave some extra from their zero based budgets! 

1. NEW BOOKS/MAGAZINES

This is a hard one for me to put first, mostly because I am a book junkie. I freaking LOVE a brand spankin' new book. I got some money for Christmas and I bought myself 2 books that I'd had my eye on for some time. Typically, however, unless it's a forever-favorite, I sell the book after I get done reading it.

But, buying magazines in bulk is huge waste of $$. They're mostly trash and any news or ideas to be possibly garnered from them can be retrieved from the internet. Since the advent of Pinterest I've largely stopped buying magazines (though I did shell out some spending money for the Newsweek Hamilton special)

Books. Well, that's what libraries are for. 

2. BRAND NAMES (IN MOST CASES) 

I always try to find alternatives to brand name items. In MOST cases, a suitable substitute can be found that will save you a few bucks. 

Cereal is a big one. We are a big cereal loving family but that shizz is expensive. Our kids are totally okay with Malt-O-Meal bagged cereal, and some of their offerings are actually BETTER than the original. 

I still buy Special K, but that is typically pretty reasonable for a big family-size box, because, I'm guessing, most kids hate it. 

Through research, I've been able to find acceptable, inexpensive alternatives to:

My Face Lotion (used to be hooked on Cetaphil, now I buy the CVS knock-off. It's identical) Saves about $3 a tub! 
Toiletry items such as Shampoo for the kiddos, razors, and even makeup. Lord knows I am not about to shell out $25 for a blush or $45 for some foundation. I'll research the main ingredients and drugstore that stuff. 
Most Food: Most food items have an off-brand alternative that is workable. I have SOME exceptions to this where I've tried the off brand and it sucked. It's all personal taste I guess. 

3. NEW CHILDREN'S CLOTHING
Personal opinion time. I think new kid's clothes are a wild waste of funds. They destroy them, they grow out of them SO fast, and there are so many places to get gently used items at a fraction of the cost. 

Most if not all of the new items my children have were received as gifts or purchased by their grandparents for fun. Typically, a few times a year, I go to consignment shops like New to You Kids or Once Upon a Child and stock up for the kiddos on cute stuff. If I turn in boxes of THEIR gently used items, I get cash or credit towards my purchase. 

Thankfully, I have 3 girls, so you know hand-me-downs are going down in this house.

4. LOTTERY TICKETS

I've covered this in it's own blog, but you'd be much better off just removing a $5 from your wallet and setting it on fire. 

5. GYM MEMBERSHIPS

I'm going to go ahead and put a big caveat to this. I spend my weekly allotted "fun money" on a membership to CrossFit ($20 a week). Because it's my one time of the week that I get to myself to lift heavy stuff and sweat out any frustrations I may have. That's where I choose to filter my spending money. 

HOWEVER, research has shown that a large majority of Gym Memberships go underused or completely unused. Many of them are also very hard to get out of and drain bank accounts on a monthly basis. 

If you think you're not going to get the most out of your gym membership, find ways to work out for free at home. 

6. BRAND NEW CARS

As soon as you drive that new car off the lot....it loses value. FAST. Value on new vehicles drop like a ROCK. Don't believe the car-salesman spin that they are an "investment".....cars are a huge money waster so you're best off doing your utmost to get a good, used vehicle. If you can buy a beater with cash, even better. Until you are debt free, that is. 

And, take it from me, check the gas mileage before you plunk down cash because the SECOND I can unload my gas-guzzler of a baby-bus I'm doing it. Because HOLY. CRAP. But, the baby-bus is definitely a beater of a car. It had pieces starting to fall off of it the day I bought it LOL....but it was a cheap route to a 3rd row seat, it's a solid car in most respects, and it gets me from point A to point B. I traded in a 2011 vehicle that I had purchased new (dumb.) for a 2009 used vehicle that I negotiated the bejesus out of. Yes, the car is 8 years old, but it's fine and dandy for my purposes. 

This goes for LEASING a vehicle as well. If you think this is saving you money because the monthly payment is lower (Payments! ACK!) ....think again. It's actually the most expensive way to own a vehicle. 

7. BARGAIN SHOPPING DEALS

Here's the thing, this is where people get in trouble on days like Black Friday. They buy things they would NEVER normally buy because it's "such a great deal". It's NOT a great deal if you don't need it! 

Just because something is 80% off doesn't mean you need to buy it. Some people have a hard time passing up a good deal no matter WHAT the item is....it's like an addiction. 

Walk away, keep your money in your wallet. 

8. CIGARETTES

Don't even get me started. I was a smoker for 11 years. I was one of those idiots who kept saying "Oh, once they reach $5 a pack I'm gonna quit". Nevermind that they were KILLING ME. 

Cigarettes have no freaking redeeming qualities. They stink, they WILL kill you eventually, they are terrible for everyone AROUND you, and they are ungodly expensive. 

Suck it up, white-knuckle it for a few days, and quit. It's the best thing I EVER did.

9. KNICK KNACKS

Oh Joanna Gaines, we all want to embrace your ship-lap laden farmhouse style. I love it too. So says my Pinterest account. But, it is SUCH a waste to go out and spend, spend, spend on things that just sit on a shelf waiting patiently for you to dust around it every few weeks. 

We recently cleaned house and I mean CLEANED. HOUSE. and I'm finding knick knacks are the first thing to go. I have a few that were my Grandmothers that I'll probably never part with....but outside of a select few decorative items that will probably get the pitch when we move....it's such a waste of funds. 

The older I get, the more I find I want CLEAR. SPACE. free of any knick knacky crap.

10. LANDLINE PHONE

You Just. Don'T. Need. It. 

Seriously, I don't know anyone who doesn't have their phone with them at all times. It's an epidemic. So stop wasting on a landline. We had one for awhile because we thought it was important that our daughters have a set home phone number. I noticed that no one ever really called us on it....and if they did, I let it go straight to the answering machine because I hate the phone in general and everything it stands for.

If you want to reach me, message me on Facebook or text me like a normal person. :)

The phone sucks. Get rid of it. :) 

 
*****

There's plenty of other items you can probably add to your own list of things you just don't need to buy. This is mine. Lists will change based on things you consider important. 

But, part of reaching financial freedom and DEBT freedom is perhaps evaluating WHAT you find important and WHY. If it's important to you to have a brand, spankin' new vehicle that drops in value if it's breathed on wrong....WHY?? Is it for your own self-satisfaction that you "deserve it".....is it to impress others? 

This is a time to really look deep inside and see what makes you YOU. What can you rid your life of to help you on your path? 

It's scary, but free-ing at the same time. I highly recommend it! 
 

Catching Things Up: 2016 ~ Personal Finance Blog

So, after a hiatus much longer than it should have been from full blogging (though hopefully you've been continuing to follow our journey on Facebook)....I'm back, folks! 

For better or worse! :) 

2016 is over and I'm happy to report that we ended the year on a strong note with regards to our debt-payoff plan and personal finance in general. 

Here's a quick run down of how the year went for us! 

TOTAL DEBT PAID OFF in 2016$30,189.45  

TOTAL DEBTS PAID OFF COMPLETELY IN FULL: 2 (1 Consolidation Loan and 1 Credit Card)


LARGE ITEMS CASH FLOWED IN 2016:
- Deck Repair ($1000) 
- Christmas
- Maternity Leave
- All business expenses ($18,000 +) 

We also began a sinking fund for a trip for next year (shhhh, it's a secret!

THINGS WE COULD DEFINITELY IMPROVE ON IN 2017:

- Budget Meetings: While I continued to do our zero based budget all year, we didn't always sit down for our joint budget meetings like we should have. Things got way busy with weddings and babies and kids and stuff and excuses, excuses. We NEED to continue to make an effort to do this in 2017, because we always kill it big time when we work together on the goal.

- Cash Cash Cash: We cash-flowed everything this year (we didn't use credit at all this year, which I am VERY proud of. Our credit cards are cut up, gone, kaput....never to return!) 

However, there were many weeks where I was lazy and didn't get our physical cash out of the bank to fill our envelopes....which meant we used our debit cards....which meant our budget got wonky. 

- Restaurants: We ate out at restaurants FAR too much in 2016. I was all over the state for work so it was just easy to pop into Panda Express (if I could find one.....which is always a bonus....my weakness is Orange Chicken, for sure). 

Having a new baby, the husband and I jumped at ANY chance we got to get the heck outta the house for a moment and enjoy a meal in silence. 

- Christmas: Even though it was entirely cash flowed and saved for, I went over budget. I think the problem is we don't really buy much of anything for our kids in terms of clothes and toys throughout the year....so Christmas comes and we go nuts. Kind of like fasting for a long time and then being set in front of a beautiful buffet. 

SELF CONTROL, PUDGY's.....seriously. 



HOWEVER, all in all I am really proud of our progress this year. I think being aware of documenting our journey online has seriously helped, which is why I'm going to dedicate myself to blogging all year instead of abandoning the blog during wedding season. No excuses! Get up and do it! 

I'm planning a blog for tonight or tomorrow about the TOP 10 THINGS YOU DON'T NEED TO BUY....so stay tuned! 

Thanks for following along this year and I'm hoping to be a source of motivation for folks in 2017! 

 

Talking to Your Kids About Money

So, last night our oldest, who is 8, asked us how expensive something was.....and our knee jerk reaction was to tell her that it really wasn't something we wanted to discuss and that asking questions like that was rude.

We've been raised to believe talking openly about money is taboo. It makes people feel bad, it sounds like you're bragging, or it's just WAY too much TMI. Plus, so many of us are "faking it" while drowning in debt, how would we ever have a truly honest conversation about finances? 

It's smoke and mirrors. 

I rethought our reaction to our 8 year old's question. What if we were more OPEN with our kids about cost, finances, money matter, debt, and those sorts of things. Not to bog them down with adult issues, but to prepare them for what they will eventually face.

I know, for a fact, that when I graduated high school I had no CLUE what most things cost.....in the "real world". I brought home about $170 a week at my job and I thought that was okay. I could pay my car payment (yes, I was 17 and had a car payment) and my gas and fun stuff and I thought that was good.

Then I had to move out on my own and....well....lets just say $170 a week will buy you a cardboard box and a spot under a bridge....and not much else.

So, here's some ideas about opening up Pandora's Box and having the "money talk" with your kids:

1. Don't be afraid to be open and honest

We had a bad reaction to our daughter's question. We shut it down. Parent Fail on our parts. We should have explained that some folks don't LIKE to talk about money, but that there really wasn't anything wrong with her question. How is she supposed to learn?

We have been looking at houses and have been honest with her about what they cost. I'm not sure if she has a concept of how much 6 figures really IS.....in terms of work....but she knows its more that she has in the bank : ) 

2. Introduce them to the concept of work = money

And do it early, because Lord knows if you don't you're gonna have a lazy, entitled beast of a child on your hands at some point. Who will be living in your basement. At 30.
One system suggests paying out a commission for chores...not an allowance. Allowance is free money for doing nothing. Commission is earned. Don't do the chore, you don't get paid.

3. Let your kid learn and fail

When we went to Disney, our 8 year old earned her own spending money. We tried very hard to guide her choices in purchasing, but the choices were ultimately hers. 

We beamed with pride when she decided NOT to buy something because she wanted to hold out for something better. #delayedgratification

I remember when I got my FIRST job ever....delivering newspapers....I got a check after 1 month of work. The check was about $250 if I remember correctly.

I took that check, cashed it and took it directly to my local Shopko and spent every penny.

Granted, I think I was 11 years old...but still......My Lord. 

A fail, yes....but I needed to learn from it as well. I only really look back on that now and shake my head. 

4. Explain credit and debt in terms they can understand. 

Perhaps if you LOAN them any money, like a dollar or two, explain that if you were a bank doing the same thing they would have to pay you back....and sometimes with MORE money attached as interest. So explain to them why this can be a slippery slope. 

Of course, these conversations need to be age appropriate. Your 4 year old doesn't need to hear about your Discover card woes. 

What they CAN start to understand is the concept of advertising and how things are not always as good as they say they are. Like airline miles. Or car leases. 

Also, let them SEE how debt hinders your life. Don't bog them down with adult issues, like I said, but we explained to our oldest that we were NOT spending a lot now so we could pay off debt and have a great life in the future....so she understands it's a marathon...not a sprint.


5. Work and Teen Jobs

I don't have teenagers....obvs....but I WAS a teenager and one thing I totally give my parents credit for is they always insisted I work. I wasn't going to sit on my butt hogging up all their food and housing without contributing to society a bit.

Plus, I needed to learn how to have a good worth ethic. How to show up...dressed appropriately...ready to do my job and serve my customer.

I had a TON of jobs as a teen: sub shop cashier, pizza joint waitress, Walgreens cashier, music store assistant manager....and I learned something from all of them.

Mostly that I wanted to be my own boss....

But hey, I learned! 

Maybe money talks are taboo BECAUSE we don't start early....and we often leave honesty to the wayside.

Let's make money talks like the sex talk: it HAS to be done....it has to be age appropriate....and it has to be HONEST. 

Adventures in Frugality (May) ~ How We Won/How We Lost With Money This Month

Ok. So, know how I said May was gonna be our month to get back on track with the debt snowball, to start to kill it again, all that jazz?

Yeah, well...don't count your chickens, right?

I had the baby (and she's oh so cute) and stuck to my plan to take 3 weeks of maternity leave before jumping back into taking photography clients again. 

However, what I didn't plan on was additional hospital time because of post-partum preeclampsia. Yeah. 

All I have to say is thank the Good Lord for health insurance because what it cost to have Bridget, then get sick after having Bridget, well...let's just say we'd be well on our way to debt payoff if someone just handed that amount to us in cash. It's ridiculous. 

So, we didn't do ALL that well with regards to debt payoff this month. We are down....not out. 

HOW WE WON

There's always a silver lining, right?

DECK REPAIRS
So, this was not a very well planned household repair need, but once my husband's foot went THROUGH the rotten wood of the deck we realized what a hazard the 3 tier deck on the back of our house was and decided to get someone in to fix it. Was this an emergency? Nope. So, we cash flowed it. The fact that tight budgeting ALLOWED us to cash flow the stupid deck that I hate spending money on? A win that I will accept begrudgingly. 

RIDING THE HAND-ME-DOWN EXPRESS 

So, we had pitched most of our baby stuff pre-pregnancy with Bridget. Because we are dumb and isn't that how it works? You get rid of all the baby stuff and then get pregnant? 

Thankfully, we have awesome friends. Bridget is shackin' up in our friends' kids' old crib, wearing used clothing, and we got a ton of baby stuff from my friend who had her kid a year ago. Bridget doesn't seem to mind the boy hand-me-downs. 

Baby stuff is super pricey and really, you don't NEED most of it. I mean, seriously? Wipe warmers? Dumbest invention ever. 

My one issue is that previously mentioned hand-me-down crib is set up in our bedroom. We have three bedrooms and have yet to get bunk beds for the older girls...so things are a bit cramped. 

END OF THE SCHOOL YEAR HURRAHS! 

Ok, we had really nothing to do with this one, but it's a win. Molly ends her school year this week. That means no more private school tuition. $180 a month savings. WOOT! 

End of the school year ALSO means I get a three month reprieve from shelling out for more glue sticks, field trips, special event t-shirts, so many pizza days I should buy stock in Pizza Hut, clothing that fits the dress code, and packed lunches they never eat. 

Can you tell I'm a burnt out elementary school mama....because yeah. I am. 


FREELANCING MY BUTT OFF

I never considered freelance blogging before. It always had this air of scamminess about it. Like, really? You'll pay me to write stuff? Seriously?
But I tried it out and lo and behold I made $100. Not exactly Pulitzer Prize level cash flow there, I know, but I blog constantly.....why not get paid for it. 

So, I sat down and came up with about 100 or so blog post ideas that I can submit to various places that accept freelance submissions. Figure if I can get at least a few of them published it'll be nice for cash flow towards the snowball. 

HOW WE LOST

EMERGENCY FUND DIPPAGE 

I try not to TOUCH our $1000 baby emergency fund. Ever. Because who has that many "emergencies", really?

Until our dog decided to up and have a seizure the night we brought Bridget home. Seriously, we CANNOT bring a baby home without some sort of drama. With Betty it was the day I found out my Grandmother had cancer. With Molly I was so sick with preeclampsia I couldn't enjoy any of it. Now, seizure having dog.

I rushed Mickey (that's the dog) to the emergency vet....and $500 later we were told he was a bit dehydrated but that's it. No reason for the sudden seizure...and he hasn't had one since.

So yeah....goodbye 1/2 of our baby emergency fund.

It's refunded as of yesterday, but that sucked. 

SNOWBALL HALTED

We made absolutely NO progress on the debt snowball this month, which bites. We had to pay deck-dude $1000 upfront to start on the deck demo and that was about the end of it for "free flowin' cash".....Stupid danger-to-others deck. 

So, May was kind of a wash....which stinks. I feel like with every passing month that we don't put loads toward the snowball we are wasting time where we could be living our best, debt-free life. I know it'll come...that it's a marathon, not a sprint....but dang if I'm not impatient to make some big strides. 

June I have plans, mostly to finish paying off Deck Dude and get that in my rearview mirror. I'm having a joint rummage sale with a friend to clear out some clutter and generate some extra cash. But big-time snowball work won't be able to happen until probably July....where we'll have to really make up some lost ground. 

How are all of your debt-payoff goals doing? I want to hear from you! There's power in community! 

MAY 2016

TOTAL DEBT PAID: $1389.99  (sad trombone)......

Having a Baby in the Baby Steps

So, we are now a family of 5. Crazy! New nugget Bridget Frances was born April 26 at 10:01 AM. 

Everything was fine with the birth itself, but afterwards I developed postpartum preeclampsia, which I had experienced with my 2nd daughter so I knew what signs to look for and what to expect...somewhat. 

What I DIDN'T expect was my current OB handling the issue in a completely different way than my old OB. When I had my middle daughter, I was put on bed rest for three weeks following her birth. I wasn't given any medication to control my blood pressure....I was just told not to move out of bed, not to watch TV, not to use the internet....it was awful. Here I had a newborn and I couldn't even be around her in fear of my blood pressure spiking.  It took nearly a month for everything to regulate on its own.

So, this time around I wasn't wanting to experience the same bed rest predicament. Thankfully, my doctor was on it. I was readmitted into the hospital for a magnesium drip and after 2 days I was sent home with a prescription for Labetalol and hopes that my blood pressure would continue to fall. 

But it didn't. 

So, another doctor visit....and a new prescription...things seem to be working themselves out. 

So, what does this all have to do with personal finance?

The Dave plan advocates having a "Storm Cloud" fund for things like pregnancy. We socked away enough to keep me out of work for a month. This was no small feat, given that I'm self-employed and I rely on consistent marketing efforts to book new clients. 

What the Storm Cloud mode does is makes sure that if anything goes awry with the pregnancy or birth, you don't necessarily have to worry about money as you deal with the upheaval of new baby or possible complications. 

Thankfully we are supremely fortunate to have incredible health insurance (thank you hubby's state job).....so the consistent in and out of the hospital will be covered, mostly. But, as I heal, I don't have to worry about working, which is a blessing the Storm Cloud fund has bestowed. 

Babies are expensive, but I strongly believe if you "wait until you can afford them", it won't happen. But, that doesn't mean you can't spend your 9 months of pregnancy financially preparing for their arrival...and anything that may happen that is unexpected. 

I'll be returning to work next week, but I'm happy to have been able to spend the last few weeks healing and soaking in our new life as parents of three. 

Adventures in Frugality (April) ~ How We Won/How We Didn't

STILL a family of 4.....so weird this will be the last month budgeting under that guideline. 

How We Won in April

- Paid off DEBT #1 in full: A Consolidation Loan so old that I was thinking it probably should have been granted it's own 529 fund with the rest of my kids....or at least its own bedroom here at Casa Reseburg. 

It felt REALLY good to kill that first debt....and now we are on to the next on the snowball. Momentum! 

- I did NOT lose my mind and plunk down $500+ to meet David Tennant. I should be totally commended for this. It was not easy. : )  Delayed gratification and all that.


- Landed my first article that someone is willing to pay me for. It's the very first time I've ever tried to "write for compensation" and it paid off.....literally. The article will be published on May 6th. I don't know whether to be excited or sick with fear.

- Instead of buying ANY new maternity clothes to get me through April, I made due with the...oh...10 pieces or so I have left that actually fit. Probably a good thing I work from home and that yoga pants are so stretchy. But, I have a REALLY hard time spending money on clothes, especially if I know I can only wear them for a limited amount of time. 

- Hit up the store Once Upon a Child to do all of my necessary baby clothes shopping. It's a 2nd hand store but I found once I got there that their prices have kind of risen significantly since I used to shop there when Betty was a baby. Kind of disappointing. If I'm buying used I want it to be at a significant enough savings over new.

I budgeted $250 for the trip and came in at $119. WIN WIN! Baby is outfitted for the next 6 months and at a bargain basement price. 

Where We Could Have Improved.....

- While we have a sinking fund and "storm cloud" fund for April, knowing I wasn't working, we still ventured "off budget" for a few items: namely a battery for our mower, a few wayward food trips to the grocery store (the baby wanted shoestring potato chips. It wasn't all my fault). We were not "gazelle intense" this month....even though we PLANNED not to be so...but it still bugged me.

- Side-Adventures in Self-Employment:   I've been self employed in the wedding industry for 8 years....and every month is a hustle. A hustle to book work, to maintain client contacts, to sell, to bring in income. I'd like to say it's always easy but that would be a big fat lie. Some months are crickets and its TOUGH. You have to keep creating new revenue streams, new client connections and marketing avenues.  So, because I was pretty baby-focused this month.....it took some major time/effort/energy away from all that. Plus, because I focused a LOT on a full-time job I had decided to try out this past year I lost some major marketing momentum. 

May it'll be gangbusters. I'm holding myself to it. 

DEBT PAYOFF APRIL 2016

Total Debt Paid Off:  $2403.00

 

Does 4 Year College Even Need to Be a Thing Anymore?

   When I was a senior in high school, there came a time when people around me started getting their college acceptance letters. This was back in 199......well...199...something...and it was still pretty much a given that if you weren't headed off to a 4 year college after high school in order to participate in all the glorious freedom and debauchery (and, you know, learning)...you were resigned to staying in your hometown wallowing in loser-dom. I remember the stabbing jealousy pangs I felt when my friends started showing up to school in their chosen college's sweatshirts. 

Not that I would have been caught dead in some collegiate sweatshirt at that time....but whatever. Not the point.

  I had a very Felicity-esque view of higher education. I imagined I would go away...far far away....to some liberal arts college with big 900 square foot dorm rooms that I would share with artistically-minded individuals who would become my closest, lifelong friends. I would take classes with inspiring professors who would urge me to write. I would meet some dashing upperclassman and maybe chop my hair off in a fit of new found independence.

This was my college dream. The reality was nowhere close.

This was my college dream. The reality was nowhere close.

So yeah. None of that happened.

I didn't go to college after high school. I pretty much drifted. I had no IDEA what I wanted to do as a career....and college, even then, seemed prohibitively expensive. Sitting in my high school counselor's office with my dyed hair and "HEROIN SUCKS" t-shirt (well...it does....so I've heard!) ....I was told "I don't think college is for you".

So, I entered the working world and resigned myself to the fact that I would never be Felicity Porter off to somewhere like Sarah Lawrence. 

I was going to be Amanda.....off to the car-part factory.

Eventually I decided that if I wasn't going to work in a factory forever I needed some higher education. I decided this after searching the want-ad's for a decent job and finding myself still "wanting". I had no discernible skills outside of a penchant for dramatic prose, which I scribbled in notebooks late at night, and an inability to shut up. Not too many people seeking those "job skills".

I hopped from one discipline to the next. First I was an English major at the local community college. I had no idea what my job trajectory was....but it seemed a good a major as any (are we noticing a theme of no direction yet?). Then I switched to the technical college and studied Criminal Justice. Very useful.....but I wasn't very good at it.  I then made the leap to a 4 year, private liberal arts college....where they charge you for EVERYTHING and in spades. 

My mind was not on cost, at that point. Good ole' student loans would carry me through and I would worry about it later when I landed that fat-cash job that a college degree was sure to garner me. 
I switched to Sociology as a major my Senior year and graduated 10 years after beginning my hop-along journey.

I was seriously excited the day I graduated. I thought this would take care of everything. I was "unstoppable"

I was seriously excited the day I graduated. I thought this would take care of everything. I was "unstoppable"

My college experience wasn't like any TV show. I never stayed 1 night in a dorm room. I never attended one "kegger" or college event. I never did anything but go to class and pay money. I was an "adult returning student" who was pregnant my entire Junior year. I worked full time at a medical company during the day and then would head over to class at night...with the rest of the moms and dads trying to improve THEIR lot in life at the same time.

I never got to really be "inspired" by that great professor....I was too worn out, most days, to really pay too much attention to anything outside of what I needed to do to finish.

When I graduated with my degree in Sociology I was over $60,000 in debt. 

And didn't have clue one what I was going to do with that degree. 

By my graduation year I had already started my own business (you know, with all my free time) and it was growing pretty steadily. The business had jack to do with Sociology and I wasn't using any of the knowledge I was paying so much for. Not one single client asked if I had a college degree.

I graduated in 2009. Now, 7 years later, I look back and think "What were you thinking". You went in headlong into higher education with absolutely no idea WHY. 

If you do a quick search of "Sociology" on Indeed.com....the prospects are pretty depressing. Unless I want to go BACK to school and spend another $25-$30K for my Masters....I'm pretty much resigned to $12-$15/hour jobs. 

So what's the lesson here:  I'm an idiot. 

Well, not just that, but going into something so ridiculously expensive without a good PLAN and a WHY is just stupid. People put more time and effort into planning their weddings. Seriously. 

Since dipping my toe into the working world, outside of self-employment, I've found most employers don't even really care WHAT your degree is in....just as long as you have one. I guess it proves you have follow-through. You can show up. You can finish. 

I could have totally proved that at a much cheaper school.. 

 


With all the talk these days of the rising costs of education, I have to wonder if a 4 year degree even needs to be a THING for most people anymore. Sure, if you're set on being a Doctor, a Lawyer, an Architect, something of that nature.....you probably want to set your sights on that 4 year degree. But what if you don't know? 

What if you're in life-limbo and you really don't have it all figured out yet?

There was a time when going off to college was your TIME to figure all that out. To "find yourself".....but these days, that's an awful expensive journey of self-discovery. And if you get there and figure out you want to be a Firefighter? An Electrician? Something that a technical college can help you with....then what? You just spent 5 figures (sometimes 6) on a piece of paper you may not ever utilize. 

And if you're most people....you'll have a mountain of student loans to contend with and STILL have more school to go if you want to "chase your dream" outside of your degree. 

So what are we supposed to do.....better yet, what do the prospects look like for our kids? 

The majority of the folks I know are entrepreneurs. They started their own thing and ran with it. Most of them ALSO have college degrees and I would be willing to bet probably 75% of them don't use them or have NEVER used them. 

Why are we not fostering the entrepreneurial spirit in our high schools? Are we still beating the age-old dead horse that a 4 year degree is the only way to get ahead? We need to be teaching small-business administration and simple things like how to get a business license, file your taxes, or marketing your own business. 

Enrollment in trade schools or technical colleges has been spotty. There was a huge boom from 2009 to 2014.....but I know in some places enrollment has stalled. There's many reasons for this, but mostly because a lot of the students are older and have families, full time jobs, and other commitments....and simply put, the cost is still prohibitive. A 40 year old mom of 3 with the need to feed her family can't exactly just chuck it all and take on full time classes to further her career. 

I still believe, also, that there's a lingering sense among high schoolers that if you're not off to a 4 year school, you've somehow failed at life already (before you even get going?)  But, is the college experience of old dead and gone? Do we need to just accept this and change the landscape?

I have to wonder....what are school guidance counselors doing to direct kids for after-high-school life?  If your parents didn't go to college, what kind of advice or direction can THEY offer? 

Do we really expect everyone to have it all figured out at 18 and to also sign on for a GIGANTIC financial burden at the same time.

The reason the student loan crisis is where it is at this point is because there's a gigantic lack of direction and education where all of this is concerned. 

No one ever helped me fill out my FAFSA (or ever really explained what a FAFSA was. They handed me one and said, here....fill this out)....no one sat down with me and explained student loan repayment (I remember I had to sign a little slip of paper saying that I understood loans had to be repaid....that's it). No one asked what my strengths were....where I SAW myself in 5 or 10 years....if I had any ideas that could possibly lead to a great self-employment opportunity. 

I left high school and I was on my own. 

I'm guessing it's still the same. Which would be all fine and dandy if kids were being equipped with the skills and knowledge necessary to handle such a monumental task.....but I fear that's not the case. 
 

Research has shown that the parts of the brain involved in decision making are not fully developed until the age of 25. 

Most kids who are shipped off to 4 year college are DONE by then, having supposedly already MADE all of the "decisions" that are going to follow them for the rest of their working life. 

Is it any wonder why so many of us reach 35 years old and start saying "I wish I would have.....".

Doesn't this seem a bit backwards?

Maybe it's time we CHANGED the social norm. Maybe, just maybe, if the bulk of folks stopped accepting that college just costs what it does, is what it is, and is SO necessary....the push back would enact some change...however small.

Maybe if parents started explaining to their kids that there are a WEALTH of options at their feet and that they DON'T have to have it all figured out at 18....it would take some pressure off the kids and allow them to explore their skills, to try some things and to live on their own without having to pay $20,000 a year to do it. 

Maybe schools need to realize that not everyone is MEANT to be on a 4 year college track. That the world needs masons, cabinet makers, construction workers, and auto body repairmen. That these roles have VALUE and should be fed and fostered. IN high school.

(They also need to realize that these kids need job SEEKING skills like interviewing. That they need basic economic skills like how to write out a check or file taxes......but I digress)

Maybe....just maybe....the world of Felicity has run its course and its the dawning of a new era in this country of skill building, of job creation, and of dream seeking.

Just maybe......