Quit Telling People that Anyone Can Make It

I was wrong.
So wrong.
Way wrong.
I have no fear, really, in admitting it. It took some time and some major personal reflection to come to this conclusion.
But, I was wrong. And, in the process of BEING wrong I probably hurt some people. Or, at the very least, frustrated the hell out of some folks.

For some time, I strongly believed that with enough grit, determination, scrappy fortitude, and willingness to work very hard, that ANYONE could "make it" in this country. By "make it" I mean live independently, pay their bills, save money, send their kiddos to college....that sort of make it. The basic plateau of adulting. 

I did not care if you were white, black, brown, yellow, or red. If you were born into poverty or born into fortune. I did not care if your parents were immigrants. I did not care if you had children already or if you had a learning difference. I didn't care if you were raised in a neighborhood surrounded by terrible violence by a single mother with no education. 

I believed in the old platitude that Americans could strap on their work boots, work their tails off, and that's it. That's all they needed.

I was DEAD. WRONG.

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Recently, the National Coalition for Low Income Housing released a report that showed there was not a SINGLE STATE in our country where a minimum wage worker could afford a two-bedroom apartment. Not one.

Well, Pudgy you may be thinking, 2-bedroom apartments are BIG. Why do these minimum wage workers need so much damn space? 

Or, what the hell are adults doing working minimum wage jobs? Those are for TEENAGERS. Adults need to work adult jobs with their adult degrees that they earned from their adult colleges, right?

Wrong.

That may have been your experience. That may have been your family's experience. But there are a myriad of experiences to be had on our way to adulthood out there and, if you ask a lot of government officials and conservatives out there, just landing a job.....ANY JOB....regardless of what that job pays, is the end goal. You have a job? Good. You're good to go then. Right? What the hell are you doing taking food stamps? Medicaid? Hand outs. YOU. HAVE. A. JOB.

So, I thought I'd lay out some math for some folks. I was hoping that not only would people who agree with me on these points would read and share this post....but that people who feel like "anyone can succeed" in the current economic and employment climate read and share it as well.


I'm going to be talking about my own state, Wisconsin, for the purposes of this content. Mostly because it's where my personal experience is derived from. I feel it's very "middle of the road" as far as economy goes (maybe on the lower cost of living side). 

I was a Sociology major, which isn't good for much honestly. It's kind of like being an Art History major or something. Unless you find a VERY SPECIFIC JOB, you're pretty SOL. However, being a Sociology major meant I had to take statistics (I think I've told ya'll this before). I loved statistics. Coming from someone who freaking hates math, this is saying a lot. I liked how it just MADE.SENSE. If the statistics came from a reputable source, you couldn't argue them. There are extenuating factors to influence them, sure. But numbers are numbers.

So here's some numbers.

These come from the US Census Bureau. 

The median household income in Wisconsin as of 2016 is $54,610. 
The median cost of a home in Wisconsin is relatively low, comparatively speaking, at $177,000.
Our unemployment rate is at a record low (as of April of this year) at 2.9% 


So, just by looking at this small snippet of "economic life in Wisconsin", one could say "Hey, we are doing pretty good. If a person watches their spending and doesn't aim TOO high, they could have a house and a fairly decent paying job".

And you would be right.

But there are also other numbers

A study from UW-Milwaukee found Wisconsin, yes...our state, incarcerates more black men than any other state in the country.

Black men are more apt to be given prison time for drug offenses than white men who commit the same offense.

What does this have to do with economics? Take one income earner out of the picture and bam, you've got yourself a one income household left and, if that person is lucky, they're making a bit above poverty wages for their family. Also, according to Wisconsin Works,  despite having higher education levels and higher job training completion rates, African-American welfare recipients did not fare better than whites in terms of gaining employment. In addition, black welfare recipients were more likely to be required to take pre-employment tests and drug tests than were their white counterparts (source: pubmed.gov).

We wonder why so many turn to the family structure of a street gang and the quick, "easy" money of drug sales? 

If you're behind the 8-ball from the get-go because you happened to be born African-American, happened to be born to a single mother into poverty, your climb to the top, or even to the middle, is going to be fraught with setbacks.

According to a 2013 study, over 90,000 hourly workers in Wisconsin were at or below minimum wage. 

How can you be BELOW minimum wage (which is a whopping $7.25 an hour)? Have you ever waited tables? Yeah.

(Tip your waitresses!)

These minimum wage workers are typically not given enough hours per paycheck to receive benefits through their employer and are more likely to receive state assistance. This is a money savings for their company, but a giant imposition on the worker.

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But, you say, those people shouldn't be working minimum wage jobs, right? They should go to college and get skills to improve their chances at a higher wage.

I used to say this. Go ahead, I'll give you a moment to picture punching me in the face. 

To go full time to a technical college in our area to gain a marketable skill is roughly about $4300 a year, or $358.00 a month. You could take out loans and may apply for grants, but then you have the issue of full time college attendance. Where do your kids go and when do you work? 

Many schools are now incorporating "learn at your own pace/schedule" online classes, where you can remote in and listen to pre-recorded lectures on your own time, take the tests on your own time, and complete the classes at your own pace. 

I, myself, put myself through college while working and having children. It sucked and I was SUPER fortunate I had a husband at the time to watch the kiddo. I was not so super fortunate to be financially literate at the time, which is why we are still paying on what was over $50,000 in student loans.

So, we want people to educate themselves, but at a hefty hefty price that will be hanging around their necks like chains for a very long time.

We are asking these folks to pay gobs of money to gain skills that will likely only afford them a small uptick in wage.

Maybe it's time to look at the wages as a whole. Cost of living is rising astronomically....wages have remained stagnant. 

Maybe it's time to consider what it cost to attend college and WHY it's so damn expensive. WHY it's gone up over 110% since many of our parents were college-aged. 

I have three children. To send all three to an in-state school with in-state tuition would cost me over $91,000. And that's NOW. My youngest is 2. I'm sure it'll go up quite a bit by then.

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So what's your point, Pudgy?

Here's my point.

If you're one of those keyboard warriors sitting on Facebook telling everyone your Horatio Alger trope about how you rose up from nothing to become a resounding success....just.....stop. Shut it.

Yes, we all have stories. I have a story. You have a story. Your story is not THEIR story.

I had parents who stayed married and both worked. I was born white. I am well read and had access to safe neighborhood schools and mentors who fostered my love for the arts and for reading. I grew up healthy. We didn't have a lot of money but we always got by and I never wanted for a THING. I have privileges up the ying-yang and they are part of my story that I never considered as I was waxing poetic about "rising up".


Here's the thing. Are there dirtball jerkface don't-want-to-work losers out there? 
Absolutely. They are paraded out daily on the afternoon TV shows.

Are there welfare queens taking advantage of the system?
I'm sure there are, somewhere. But, it's become a bit of an urban myth. Like how everyone knows twins named Lemonjello and Orangejello or whatever (You don't. Trust me. Neither does your uncle's cousin's brother's roommate). 

It's not every mom purchasing groceries at Pick N Save and having to use her Snap card. And don't be the asshole who sits there and nit-picks what she has in her basket. 

Here's an idea and here's where my eyes started to open and my mind started to change. 
All the whining and internet posting about "Anyone can make it, you just don't WANT to and that's what's wrong with America/Millennials/Whatever" probably didn't encourage a SINGLE person to do better. To pick up a book. To register for a class. To seek out a better job. If anything, it just pissed people off.

So, what to do instead?
Maybe gain some knowledge about personal finance and help someone out who needs it. Maybe just a little bit of assistance with budgeting can make a world of difference for a mom who can't quite make it to the end of the month before she gets to the end of the money.

Maybe get involved in lobbying your state government to consider state tuition costs or minimum wage increases. Don't fear that OMGEVERYTHINGWILLBESOEXPENSIVE if the minimum wage goes up a few dollars. Everything already IS OMGSOEXPENSIVE and the minimum wage has barely moved. Time to start bringing them closer in alignment.

Maybe, if you have some time on your hands, volunteer with a food pantry. Donate baby items to Caritas. GET TO KNOW some of these folks and you will find that a lot of them haven't lost the will or the ability to work, they've just lost a bit of HOPE.

Here's the deal, at the end of the day:
There is hope for internet assholes. There IS. 
I sought out information, I saw disparity, lack of fairness in the system, and the real numbers. 

I was wrong.
I'm hoping I can put myself on the right side of things and help encourage SOMEONE. Anyone.

Do I believe "anyone can make it"? Maybe not in this current economic climate. It's stacked against us in so many ways. But I do believe anyone can gain hope and encouragement. Even online. 

And that's a start. 
 

5 Kick Ass Money Books for Graduates

If you know me at all you know I love my books. Books about money, money and saving related memoirs, Sociology related books about work, marketing books. I'm a full out uber-nerd for all kinds of reading material that others may find painfully boring. 

But, with it being Graduation season, I thought I'd lay out five quick favorites that would make REALLY great gifts for the grad in your life. 

These are affiliate links if you feel like picking any of these up through those, but as always you don't have to get them through my links. All of these are available at your nearest bookstore (typically) Amazon, or for FREE (we love free!) at the library! 

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1. MINIMALISM: LIVE A MEANINGFUL LIFE by THE MINIMALISTS
I was first introduced to Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn via their Netflix Documentary of the same name. I LOVED it. It drew me in, completely. At the time I watched it I knew I was looking for something DIFFERENT. I knew I wasn't much of a shopper, I knew I wasn't very happy chasing materialistic endeavors.....I knew I wanted LESS, not more. I just didn't realize there was a name for all of it. 
The book is a good companion to the documentary, which I highly recommend. It details how Ryan and Josh (together "The Minimalists") began their working lives climbing the corporate ladder, amassing fortunes, and how that did not lead to lifelong happiness, puppies or rainbows like it was supposed to. 

This is a FABULOUS book for that kid just entering adulthood who may not QUITE know yet what they want out of life, but who doesn't seem the type to want to jump into the rat race and chase McMansion dreams and BMW wishes. 

2. NICKLE AND DIMED: ON NOT GETTING BY IN AMERICA by BARBARA EHRENREICH
I REALLY admire Ms. Ehrenreich's writing and her investigative journalism. This book originally came out in the late 90's/early 2000's I believe (my copy says 2001) and was written by Barbara after she worked several low-wage jobs undercover to report on how difficult it is to actually SURVIVE with one low wage.

Even though this book is about twenty years old, the themes, the story, and the message remain applicable today. 

I read this book when I was right out of high school, working SEVERAL low wage positions at one time and realizing how I had been sold a load of malarkey by the Baby Boomer generation. You could be a hard worker.....that wasn't always going to translate to financial security. This book laid it all out and then some, in stark realism. 

This book is great for that kid who may not be going off to school and perhaps doesn't have a whole lot of motivation towards future endeavors....or is could be fabulous for that Baby Conservative who maybe believes $8.00/hour is sufficient to sustain a family.  

3. THE TOTAL MONEY MAKEOVER by DAVE RAMSEY 
Ok, this one I have a love/hate relationship with sometimes. Yes...yes...yes, I named my damn blog after a Dave Ramsey concept, but sometimes I don't jive with the D-man. And that's OKAY. You can't just got full boar into a concept and ignore any sort of free thinking. Maybe it's because we aren't terribly religious and there is a LOT of God stuff in there. But, if that floats your ark full of animals, you'll probably love it. I ignored it quite easily.

That being said, the Total Money Makeover DOES work. We are proof. We applied the Baby Steps and we paid off a shit-ton of debt. The book teaches very simple principles: saving, investing, debt avoidance, and a healthy attitude towards money as a whole. 

It's honestly a good stepping stone for ANY graduate, I think, if you want something very simple and easy to follow. 

4. START BY JON ACUFF
This is a FABULOUS book for anyone who, like me, just cannot freaking work for someone else. Born entrepreneurs. With this comes a big of fear and as the subtitle says, this book asks you to "punch fear in the face". 

Acuff is the author of a whole slew of books about work life, success, and marketing. He's also a pretty funny and entertaining writer, which makes this a very easy read. I finished it in about a day and got a lot from it. 

Grads of high school OR college can find value here just by learning how to do just as a the title says: START something. Getting over the fear of starting is half the battle.

5. HOW TO MANAGE MONEY WHEN YOU DON'T HAVE ANY by ERIK WECKS 
Because, let's face it, most Grads are broke as a joke....at least for a little while. Unless they're trust fund babies and then you probably don't need to buy them anything as a gift, they have enough stuff. 

This book is specifically for folks who need to learn to manage money when they have trouble getting by monthly. Which is, well, a lot of freaking people, right? I remember selling off old CD's at the pawn shop for a buck a piece just to get through the week when I was in my early twenties. Thank JEBUS I didn't have a family to support. 

But, even when you're barely scraping by, there are ways you can GET by and manage. This book covers that. It doesn't focus so much on "wealth creation", like other books, but rather on survival, which could be critical for new Grads out on their own for the first time.

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I'm Kinda Diggin' on Digit Right Now

I first heard about Digit, the saving app/website, when a friend of mine in the photo industry posted about her success with it last year. 

Basically, what Digit does is it takes stock of your spending habits and it deducts "non-noticeable" amounts of money from your account and puts it into a "Rainy Day Fund". It also monitors your account and lets you know if it's dipping below a certain point, etc. 

Being that I'm a bit odd, I do this obsessively anyway, but it's kind of nice to get a little text every morning or so that says "Hey....you still have money". 

What I really love about Digit is it is EASY to forget about it....and then remember, log in, and see that you suddenly have a chunk of cash set aside. It's a sinking fund that someone else does for you, which takes a little bit off of my heaping full plate. Yes please. 

I officially started saving at the end of April, just about 2 weeks ago, and I've already saved over $130.00 that I honestly didn't even notice was gone from the account. I KNEW it was gone because we zero-base budget, but the amounts were pretty small and they add up quickly. We did something very similar through Disney when we were saving for our trip. It took out a set amount every week and just set it aside. Super easy way to save. 

Other features include being able to pause saving at any time, setting account minimums where the Digit app will not save for you if your account dips below a certain amount, and, as mentioned before, account monitoring. 

I've only been using it for a few weeks, like I said, but so far so good. I plan on putting the money towards a date night with the husband, something with the kids, or maybe some new camera gear that is DESPERATELY needed. 

If you want to sign up for Digit too, it's super easy. Plus, as an added perk for yours truly, I get referral bonuses.....you know, which are always nice. 

Follow the link and try it out. If the idea of some app dipping into your bank account wigs you out, you can always cancel. But, like I said, so far so good! 

Sign up here: https://digit.co/r/ZJ18ATJB-z?wn
 

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We Bought a Mattress in a Box

* This article contains affiliate links

My mom has this thing with mattresses. She may not admit it, but she's really concerned about the comfort, stability, and thickness of all mattresses.

So, I'm pretty sure she was one of the naysayers when we revealed that our new mattress for our master bedroom was coming in a box. From the internet. 

About three months ago, the husband and I started researching our mattress options. Our current mattress was an old-school pillow top from Basset that had been with us since our first house in Milwaukee. Well loved and comfy but a Queen, which gave us a minimum amount of stretching out room. 

Add a bed-hog dog and, well, we decided to opt for a King this go-around.

HOWEVER, being the frugalista that I am, I was not about to spring for some $2000 fancy-schmancy body-hugging future mattress. I had grown up on rummage-sale mattress finds, for real. I am no mattress snob.

My husband wanted us to research the memory-foam internet options. We looked into Purple Mattress, Tuft and Needle, and finally decided on Bear after watching a glowing review on YouTube of its comfort and support.

Here is the STORY OF A MATTRESS IN A BOX
 

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1. We Spent $880.00 After a Sale Discount
We found this to be a mid-range price for memory-foam or gel-foam "mattresses in a box". We didn't want to go SUPER cheap (Ok. My HUSBAND didn't want to go super cheap. I'd sleep on cardboard and cotton balls if it meant I could save money). 

2. It Came in an Easy to Store, Move, and Open Box
No lugging some huge mattress up the stairs and busting our brand-new sconces along the way. This came in a box about the size of a mini-fridge
 

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3. Looks Are Deceiving
When you open the box the mattress is rolled up like a blue burrito. I'm thinking "There is no way in hell THAT becomes a comfy memory-foam King mattress"
 

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4. It's the Bed Equivalent of Poppin' Fresh Crescent Rolls
You cut the wrapping and POP....out it comes. It spreads out and puffs up and there's your mattress. Directions say it takes 24 hours to completely "puff", but you can sleep on it right away.
 

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5. It's As Comfy as Advertised
I gotta give it to the husband on this one, it IS comfortable. And the movement transfer is almost nil....which will be MORE than welcomed. 

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VERDICT: Everyone gets a 100 night sleep trial, so there really is no risk if you end up hating it (except the whole "I have to squeeze this thing back into a box" risk, maybe?). So far, so good. I would recommend the Bear "Mattress in a Box" if you are looking for a more frugal alternative to your average memory foam mattress option. 

Wanna save a little on your Bear Mattress Purchase? Click below and get yourself a mattress, dude! 


 

Goodwill Haul May 2, 2018

I don't clothing shop very often and when I do, it's usually at Goodwill. I made a stop there today and here is my haul....complete with grand total. Check out the video on the Facebook page too and share to get the word out that you do NOT have to spend a butt-load of money for cute clothes! 

Blog Series: Building A Home ~ Brand New Build, Brand New Everything?

I'm going to tackle a bit of a touchy subject in this part of the Building a Home blog series. 

Basically, when building a home you are going to feel like you are bleeding money. Trust me. No matter HOW frugal you are.

Wait, that was just me? 

Oh, ok.

Anyway, even if you DON'T feel that way, a lot of money will be flying out of your account for various things. What DOESN'T need to happen, if you're wanting to stay under a reasonable budget, is new EVERYTHING. 

When we sold our home, I went through a minimalist frenzy and I got rid of most of our furniture. A lot of it was cheap stuff and what we held on to were the "good things". Which, basically amounts to 3 beds and our gargantuan couch that will not fit in the new house. 

So, I had to buy some furniture. Some basics. But, I stayed away from websites that encourage fancy duds for the home, big spending, or refurnishing the ENTIRE home from scratch. I didn't go for big ticket items like Restoration Hardware or Anthropologie, I instead waited out sales at Wayfair or hit up my favorite local "refurbished" store Vintage Bliss. I found patience was my biggest asset when hunting down furnishings. 

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So here's some ways to save big when it comes to furnishings

1. DELAY GRATIFICATION
This is so hard, I know, but there are NEEDS and WANTS. Most furnishing type stuff is definitely "want" more than "need", honestly. We needed beds and a new mattress for us (more on that mattress later). We needed to probably replace our couch. The rest was just pretty fixins. Know what can wait. Always pay CASH.

2. Stay Organized and Save
We made an excel spreadsheet of everything we wanted to get for the house, down to trash bins and towel racks. We budgeted out an amount for EACH item and socked cash aside each month for "extras". Anything that we couldn't get within budget had to wait. Once something on the list was purchased, it came off the spreadsheet and the total was adjusted. 

3. Don't Fear Used
We went into the nastiest flea market type store and scored a side table basically for free. We chalk painted it and it's super cute now for one of the girls' rooms. I got a TON of our stuff from a local used and refurbished vintage store whose prices are amazingly reasonable. On top of that, the pieces are typically one of a kind and don't look cheap and mass-manufactured. 
Don't be afraid to buy used, fix up, recover, or repurpose. 
Also, don't be afraid to ask about scratch and dent at appliance and furniture stores. 

4. Minimalist Design = Money Savings
I can't stand a lot of decorative clutter. It's probably why it took me years to put anything on my walls in my old home. Being a photographer by trade I'm always encouraging folks to purchase wall art, but I probably need to heed my own advice sometimes. 
But, having a minimalist aesthetic saves you money just because you don't have to buy as much STUFF. I don't need a bunch of tchotchkies that are just going to collect dust and become something to clean. 

 


The most important thing to keep in mind is to not get in the habit of just saying "Okay". Okay, we can buy that. Okay that upgrade is fine. A bunch of okays turns into a bajillion dollars. Keep tabs on what is needed, wanted, where you can save, and what can wait and you'll be able to move in worry free. 

 

Blog Series: Building A Home ~ Saving As You Build

Once you've decided to go ahead on the build, secured a plot of land, and put your money down to start the process, THEN what? 

Well, in today's market it's likely you sold your home BEFORE starting the build. If you had a home to sell. This is what we did. Luckily, the home we had been living in for the previous 5 years we got for a steal (it was a foreclosure) and we made a tidy little sum on it when we sold. 

This allowed us to purchase our land outright, which helped save us in the long run.

Here are some helpful tips on SELLING your current home to maximize profit: 

1. DECLUTTER. No one wants to walk through a house on an open-house cluttered with all your stuff. Decluttering is also good for selling off unneeded items. Allow people to see how spacious your home is and highlight that it has no storage issues.

2. STAGE. Remove personal photos, clean from top to bottom. Rid the house of any smells, stains, or anything that is likely to turn buyers off. 

3. HELP PROMOTE. Don't rely on just the listing to promote your home. Make your own ad and sprinkle it all over social media to reach the most potential buyers.

4. REMEMBER, IT'S A SELLERS MARKET RIGHT NOW. Inventory is so low that you can command top dollar for your house. So negotiate wisely.
 

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Once you've sold your home (and given the market right now this process could go lightening fast, so hold on to your hats)....you'll have to figure out your next move. 

I would HIGHLY suggest that this next move of "home while new home is being built" is at least a CONSIDERATION before you close on your old home and you're standing next to a truck full of belongings wondering "what now"?  Right now is the time you need to be AHEAD of the game. PREplan.

There are several options available for folks who are in the building process and need a place to go. 

LIVING WITH FAMILY
This was the option we went with, so I'll cover it first. My in-laws, because they're a nice mix of awesome and obviously stark-raving mad, offered to have my husband and I AND our three kids live with them while we built. What we hoped would only be a 5-6 month process turned into a year. A year in their basement.  
To go with this option, make sure your relationship with that family is strong enough to withstand close quarters. You WILL get on one another's nerves. Trust me. 
Sometimes the family will offer rent-free living and sometimes they may ask for financial chipping in. Either way, it's wonderfully helpful and generous if this is an option. 

EXTENDED STAY HOTELS/WEEKLY HOTELS
Some hotels offers extended stay options. This would probably work well for folks who don't have any kids. I couldn't fathom what it would be like to be in a hotel room with three kids for a year. No thank you.

APARTMENT WITH LOOSE TERMS
If you can find an apartment willing to lease month-to-month, this would be ideal. We looked at possible apartments at the beginning of our process. I couldn't find any that would accept month-to-month that were in a semi-decent area for my kids. So, we abandoned that idea pretty quickly. 

HOUSE SWAP
This has worked for several people I know. If you have friends that are snowbirds (in Wisconsin, a snowbird is someone who lives in Florida or Arizona or somewhere warm half the year) you may be able to use their summer home as a "house sitting" situation. They get the peace-of-mind that someone is caring for their home and you get an inexpensive option

Whatever your temporary housing decision may be, make sure it doesn't completely destroy your budget. If you need to get storage for your items, try to declutter to the point where all items can fit into one storage facility, not multiple. Our storage is $165 a month and I'm REALLY looking forward to kicking that bill to the curb, for reals.

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Once you are settled into your temporary digs, spend the time as the build is happening taking advantage of money-saving opportunities for things you know you are going to need. 

Since we were able to save so much by not having a mortgage while we built, we were able to put even MORE down on the house + purchase the majority of the furnishings we needed for the home. Cash only, of course. 

Also, it may sound like complete overkill, but keep meticulous records. Every email with the builder or vendors, every meeting with your bank, any piece of paper.  I put together a building binder and organized and re-organized it as we went along. Being UBER-organized WILL save you money, trust me. No build goes perfectly. You have to act a bit as your own construction manager or general contractor sometimes to make sure the plan is being followed and there aren't unnecessary funds being allocated or change orders happening that you don't understand. 

The closer you get to the end, you'll be saving more receipts for light fixtures, bathroom fixtures, etc.  Always keep your allowances in mind. I kind of made it a game. How UNDER could I get? :) 

As you meet with vendors, like the flooring folks or the masons, always ask to see a variety of items in a variety of budgets. Just because something is a "budget" option doesn't make it BAD or "cheap" looking. 

For example, we were allowed "X" amount of dollars for stone (our subdivision specifies there has to be a certain percentage of stone on the home). I went to the mason and the stone that was picked out as "standard" from the builder was.....well....it wasn't my taste. At all. I wanted old-school brick. So, I asked if they had any old-school brick that looked a bit vintagey and not only DID they, but it was a lot cheaper than the pre-selected stuff. 

WIN! 

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Once the papers are signed and holes are dug, your job is NOT over. Keeping close tabs and good notes on the whole process will save you not only money but tons of aggravation. 

 


 

UP NEXT:  BRAND NEW BUILD....BRAND NEW EVERYTHING? 

Blog Series: Building A Home ~ Planning to Save

From the word go, I knew I was going to hunt down any possible savings there was among the home-building process. I had heard horror stories of builds getting wildly out of control and people ending up with houses far above their intended budget and I knew that was not going to be my frugal ass. 

(Cheap. Some people say cheap. I prefer frugal.)

So, I did my research and I did my utmost to secure savings wherever I could.

Here is where we saved (and where we ended up spending) on our own build and how.

 

 (The things you find at your local favorite vintage store)

(The things you find at your local favorite vintage store)


1. Don't Go Custom
Here's the thing. We thought we WANTED to go custom. Our FIRST plan was a custom plan. I didn't want another big huge box of a house devoid of any personality. I SOLD our old house because that's pretty much what I thought it was. A big box. 
I felt like if we didn't go custom, we were going to end up with a house that looked like all the other houses the builder had built, but I was wrong.

Once we discovered that a custom build was way out of our reach, we met with a home builder who showed us what they could do to "customize" one of their pre-drawn plans. This saved us thousands. In the end, the little tweaks we wanted were just that....pretty little tweaks. A wall bumped out here, a barn door, etc. 

Savings Tip: Don't be a plan snob, there's a lot that can be done with pre-drawn plans.

2. Purchase Your Lot Wisely
Your land can eat in to a TON of your budget. Case in point: we were, last year, 24 hours away from signing on a .25 acre (yes...that's POINT 25) lot in Oconomowoc for $89,000. It was right on top of its neighbor. In a subdivision much like the one I was trying to escape. Thankfully, we thought better of it.
We did some digging (figuratively) and happened upon a mass of lots out in the country (be still my heart!) in a subdivision of acre to 3 acre lots, ponds, and trails. The lots ranged in cost from $15,000 to $30,000....a veritable STEAL from the other postage-stamp sized lots. 
We decided upon one that was already cleared (saving us about $20,000 in clearing costs).
If your builder HAS lots for sale, they are likely already cleared for building which will save you that clearing cost....but you may have to compromise with regards to neighborhood and lot size. 

3. Build A 2 Story
Two Stories are cheaper than ranch homes. Their footprint is smaller. So, this saved us and it was what we wanted anyway. A house make up of simple rectangles and squares is cheaper than a house with complicated angles, etc. If you want to expand your living space, consider a finished area of the basement or a 3 season porch, which adds to the resale value of the home. 

Savings Tip: Think of ways to maximize your living areas without adding to the footprint of the home, such as the option for a finished basement area in the future. 

4. What We Cut
I'm sure our builders may have thought we were insane, but we cut some of the stuff that some people consider "must haves" when building out home. This saved us a ton in the long run. 

First, we cut the fireplace. This was an upgrade with our builders anyway, but with some homebuilders fireplaces are standard. We had one in our old house and RARELY used it. It basically just took up a whole wall and led to a drafty living room. This saved us at least a few thousand. 

We also cut any tub in the Master Bath. I never used the tub in my old house and a shower is just fine. This saved us at least $1000. 

Other things we decided against that are common upgrades:  hardwood flooring, cathedral ceilings, quartz or marble countertops (we did a solidstone Hi-Macs from LG which looks just like quartz at a fraction of the price), the stone option for our porch (I went with a cheaper vintage brick, which I preferred anyway). We went with basic, included options where it just didn't matter, like toilets (the basic options were fine) and a slight upgrade where it DID matter (like waterproofing the basement).

Savings Tip: There are some "niceties" you REALLY don't need and you'll never use, trust me.

5. Stay Within Your Allowances
Once I started talking to our vendors, I realized that most people look at allowances as "suggestions". I took them as BIBLE WORD OF BUILDING GODS. I went SLIGHTLY over on our flooring allowance by adding a subway tile backsplash to our kitchen, but it was the CHEAPEST backsplash option. Otherwise, I was gonna be damned if I busted our allowances. I'm sure this drove the vendors crazy, but I like hard-fact numbers. Not "suggestions". 

I remember going to one flooring vendor and falling head over heels in love with this tiny 1940s type tile for our bathrooms. But, it was crazy expensive. So, love died that day. Don't allow yourself to be "sold" on something far out of your reach. 

Savings Tip: Don't be afraid to pester your vendors for quotes. They like to just give you ballparks. Get NUMBERS. Don't be surprised.

6. Remember, You Can Always Upgrade Later
Remember, you can always paint or replace the cabinets. You can get that amazing tile down the road. Don't let yourself be talked into all the expensive amenities right off the bat. 
STICK TO YOUR BUDGET

7. Take Advantage of Sales and Mix and Match
I went ALL OVER for our lighting fixtures. I scoured the internet for sales and clearance items. I happened upon the LAST TWO of our bathroom light fixtures at Menards for $22 a piece!! 
So, you may have to do a little leg-work, but you don't need to spend $500 on a light fixture. That's just insanity. 
Our lighting allowance was IN.SANE. I just said to my husband "Oh, watch me WERK."

Same with furniture. I've found a ton of cute pieces at a local vintage shop. Our couch was a Wayfair find that didn't break the bank. 

Just remember, you don't ever need the biggest, the best, the nicest.....when middle of the road or even ON MEGA SALE will do just fine. 

 Here are some of the mad-inexpensive items I was able to score just on AMAZON for the house (Affiliate links included):

 

Coming Up......Saving AS You Build......

Blog Series: Building A Home ~ Deciding to Build

At the very beginning of any journey there is a decision. Stay or go. Pay or save. Talk or stay silent. 

Build or buy.

I have to say, we AGONIZED over this for months. Ok. I agonized. Husband just listened to me agonize. I knew I wanted something different than our current home, which we were fast outgrowing and not really loving anymore, but knowing what our next step was rendered me frozen. 

I had dreams of a big, old, rambling country home with a 100-year history and secret passage ways. My thoughts on home ownership are rather romanticized. I will be the first to admit that. But, we live in Wisconsin, where big, old, rambling country homes are as common as Starbucks in big cities. They CAN be found. In spades.

However, my husband is not so much the "big, old, rambling country home" type. "Old homes, old problems" he would say. 

So, we entered into a few months of push and shove until I realized I was never going to get my husband to agree to move into some 100 year old farmhouse. No matter how much I whined. 

So, I stopped whining about it and we decided to build.

That was, however, not the end of the anxiety.
 


 My building binder. Notice Green Gables on the front. A girl can dream. ;) 

My building binder. Notice Green Gables on the front. A girl can dream. ;) 

Once the decision is made to build your home, the real work begins. Here are, from our experience, the first 5 things you need to do. 

1. Have A Big Ole Come to Jesus Talk
Once you decide that building is the way you want to proceed, sit down with a pen and paper and your partner and write out wishes, must-haves, and absolutely not's. See where you're on the same page and where you are miles apart. Do this before you spend a DIME, because once the money starts rolling out it becomes a lot harder to say Yes or No. 

Type up your initial plan and start a "Building Binder" where you'll keep all of the paperwork and notes that are to come. Trust me....they're coming.

2. BUDGET BUDGET MY GOD BUDGET
Going into a home build is no time to "wing it" with regards to budget. However, that's what a lot of people suggest. You wouldn't believe the people that told us "Oh, you'll go WAY over budget. It just HAPPENS." 

How? Because you're not watching the budget. 

We went into the build knowing exactly what we could afford and even though we added on a few items that we weren't expecting to add (such as a sunroom and a kitchen backsplash), we still stayed within our budget.

3.  Be Realistic
If you're going to stick to a budget you have to be realistic about your budget. This means knowing your numbers.
I assume you're all doing your zero based budgets (riiiiight?) and continuing that (along with cash only spending) will help keep a realistic control over spending on the house. 
Don't go into this project with champagne dreams and a beer budget, because there are a lot of vendors out there all too willing to give into your champagne dreams whether you can afford them or not.

YOU have to be the one who says NO.

4. Find a Builder You Trust
Here's the part I wish we would have done better. We ended UP with a trustworthy builder, but our first builder was a tornado-chasing shyster. They promised us the moon and we ended up with nada (and out $1000).
So, heavily vet your chosen builder. Read reviews, speak to clients of theirs, and meet with them to go over your plans and get their opinions. If they are promising you the world with no numbers attached to them, run. 

5. Embrace Patience
Damn, this is my Achilles' heel. I am THEE most impatient person. I want answers now, work done NOW, and I want speed and efficiency. The house building process is ALL about hurry up and wait. At ALL ends. It's all about a million pieces, people, and thoughts coming together to create a project. This has been one of the hardest realities of the process for me. 

 


 The Best Laid Plans..........

The Best Laid Plans..........

This is the beginning of a Blog Series I'm going to be writing over the next week or so about all things building. From the first plans to getting the keys.

We are by NO means experts, but we just spent the last year weathering this build so hopefully everything we've learned will be of some use to folks out there.

More and more people are deciding to build because the real estate market is insane and inventory is low. 

If you have ANY questions about the building process, comment below or feel free to send me an email at pudgygazellemail@gmail.com
 




Stay tuned to the blog for Building A Home ~ Planning to Save ....

 

8 Tips to Make Sure Your Kids Don't Suck With Money ~ Personal Finance Blog

One of the first things people will tell you about kids is that they're expensive.

They require things like food. And clothes (increasingly more fancy clothes the older they get, apparently). They require entertainment items and shoes and after-school activities and you have to buy their friends birthday presents. Then, they have to go to the doctor....the dentist....and if they're my kids....you better put cash aside for three sets of braces.

 Yes. Kids are downright spendy. And the thing with kids is they rarely realize just HOW expensive they are. They literally believe money fairies exist (and they collect teeth. Gross.)

  So how, in today's climate of MORE and GIMME and I HAVE TO HAVE IT do you raise a money conscious child? 

  Here's eight quick tips that you can apply to your household to help your kids find good financial footing early. 

 1. Talk About How Much Things Cost. Often.
Now, I don't mean bore them with parental "Were you born in a barn, do you know how expensive HEAT is?!?" arguments. But, let them in on the actual number facts of how much everyday items are.
  Keep it age appropriate, of course. For example, the other night my 10 year old said to my 7 year old (who was having a moment of sadness about moving to a new school) "Molly, don't you know Mom and Dad spent, like, $1000 on this new house!!" 
 Cue talk about actual dollar amounts.
 Now, often 7 year olds and 10 year olds are just not going to get the gravity of what hundreds of thousands of dollars actually MEANS....but it's better than having NO clue what things cost and no perception of expense.

2. Give them a Commission, not an Allowance 
Commission is based on work completed. So, when our oldest earns money, she has a specific task list tied to a dollar amount. Allowance is just giving a child money regardless of what they do to earn it. I want my kids to always attach work and money, money and work. 

3. When they Purchase Things, Use it as a Teaching Tool
Now, you don't have to make a trip to the toy store a big old boring "life lesson", but I always make a point to say "That costs $9.00 and you only have $5.00, can you afford that?"....or things of that nature...if my kids have money to spend. I want to get them thinking about not only true costs but affordability. 

4. Steer them From Impulse Shopping or "Reward" Bribes
Often I'll hear if I go to Target or something a well-meaning parent saying "If you're good here, we'll get you a toy" or bestowing some other sort of bribe in return for good behavior.
  Now, in the past I HAVE purchased my daughters something small for weathering a particularly hard doctor's appointment or something, but good behavior at a store is expected, not something that should only be done because a reward is expected.

5. Explain Credit to Them and Lead them to Responsible Use
Whether you are anti-credit or credit-responsible, it's important to explain what credit is to your kids when it is age appropriate to do so. Teach them that when they have a bill they should pay it in full and on time. Teach them that borrowing money is never the first option. 
  Many kids get their first credit card when they go off to college, but it's not a NECESSITY. You can build a good credit rating or history without credit cards. I personally feel there is no need to introduce credit cards to someone. 

6. Teach Simplicity and Contentment
I am big on "Contentment runs deeper than things" and although my children are incredibly fortunate, I try to keep things simple and teach them not to expect the biggest and best. Mostly because it isn't realistic and because I want them to know you can find happiness even with simple pleasures.
  With regards to clothing, I would say about 90% of their clothing is hand-me-down or used. The new clothing is typically given as gifts for Christmas or birthdays. A lot of their toys are hand-me-downs or were received as gifts. Christmas and birthdays are exciting times for them because that ONE item they've wished all year for is typically given. It's not just purchased for them the second they want it. 
  Also, kids are simple....I can guarantee you that experiences and time with you is far more precious to them than the latest gadget or outfit. 
  I try to teach through living as well. We don't drive the best vehicles, my wardrobe is pretty sparse and mostly used, and I don't take them shopping often to see me spending indiscriminately....because that doesn't really happen. 

  It's entirely possible that my lessons in simplicity backfired on me, however. Given the times. I used to take my oldest to this local "Living History Museum" that I just ADORE. I wanted her to see what people lived like 100 years ago. 
  Naturally, this probably bored her to tears. Oh well. I tried. :) 

7. Get them Started with Investing Early
We've all seen the compound interest charts where Person 1 starts investing with $100 a month at age 18 and it grows to millions even if he stops investing after 15 years. Then Person 2 doesn't start investing until he's in his 40s and doesn't end up with as much.
  So, the day they turn old enough to "get it", march them down to Edward Jones and start them investing. They'll thank you for it. 

8. Let Them Be Little
What's important, above all else, is to make any lesson age-appropriate and to let kids be kids. They don't have to be little financial experts. But, setting kids up for an educated financial future can only be a good thing. 

My goal is to make sure my children know the value of a dollar, the cost of living, and that they know to connect work to money. I'm hoping that giving them these nuggets of information when appropriate will set my kids up to definitely not suck with money when they get older. 

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Is Your "Dream" Killing Your Bank Account? ~ Personal Finance Blogger

Everybody's gotta dream, right? 
Dreams are what drive us, after all. If adults just abandoned their dreams automatically at 18 years old in favor of good ole common sense....well, great strides and discoveries would never be made. Amazing music would remain unsung. Incredible advances in technology would be non-existent. 

Dreams are wild, sometimes, but WILDLY important. 

 However, when you are in the midst of trying to get your financial footing, chasing rainbows with possible pots of gold at the end can easily lead you back to square one if you're not careful.

So, when do you make the leap into writing a book, becoming a singer, or starting a business without worrying about the bottom line so much that it stops any dream in it's tracks?

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DREAMS NEED COMMON SENSE TO WORK

Here's the brutal truth: Some people SUCK at things. Let's take me, for instance. I am ridiculously nonathletic. I run like Phoebe from Friends (if you haven't seen that running episode, just imagine a Muppet running at full speed). I get winded really easily. I can't see for shit so catching things like balls is nearly impossible. My arms are like bumpy white twigs that couldn't pull off a pull up even if my life depended on it. I am just not meant to be sporty. (Saying nothing of the team aspect of the whole thing....which is just far too people-y for me).

It didn't stop me from really falling in love with Crossfit....I'm just really not very good at it. I'll probably never enter any sort of competition or anything. But, it's a fun way to keep me fit, when I do it, and that's enough for me.

If you have something that is your DREAM you need to know your strengths and weaknesses. Not everyone can be anything. Our kindergarten teacher done lied to us.

As a side note, having common sense is not the same as being self-depreciating and negative. If you feel you have the skill, endurance, and support to attack a dream, by all means....keep chasing it. 

CASH FLOW THAT STUFF

 It's really important to start small. If you go full boar and start putting equipment for your new window washing business on a credit card or start credit flowing voice lessons or whatever, you're going to find yourself in a mound of debt before you even get off the ground. And that's going to hamper you. Maybe for good.

  When I started my photography business I was straight up un-em-ployed. So I didn't really have the luxury of "side hustling". I needed to make some bank immediately. So, I did a lot of stupid things. Things went on credit cards. They did. And I regret it. In a huge way. Because I don't even OWN any of those credit-purchased things anymore. 
  
  Cash flow what you can. Reinvest back into the dream. Take opportunities that get you closer even if they don't get you there all the way. And start VERY. SMALL. You'll be happy you did. Inch your way into what you want to do.
 
 I know internet stories of overnight fame and fortune are super fun, but often they don't tell the story of the YEARS of sacrifice, blood, sweat, and CASH that went into making it happen.

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DON'T LEAVE YOUR LOVED ONES IN THE DUST

Now, here's some tough love to add to the bit of a bruising I gave you above: If your spouse or partner is not "supportive" of your "dream", it doesn't automatically make them the world's biggest asshole.

It ALL depends on what you dream is, your level of common sense, and the type of PERSON you are. 

I will, again, use my own example.

I am a very determined person. Typically, when I say I want to do something....I do it. Eventually. If it's an idea I can't get rid of, I make it happen. I wanted to go to college and get a degree....so I did it (even though it took me 10 years). I wanted to start a volunteer project for hospice patients.....I did it. I wanted to start a photography business....and even though I didn't know squat about business (or really photography for that matter).....I did it. 

I remember sitting on our couch in our little starter house as I feverishly worked on my first photography website. It was chock full of somewhat fuzzy pictures of my then 9 month old baby. My husband sat next to me and said something to the affect of:

"So, you're...like...making this a real business?"
"Yes, why?" I replied. Not taking my eyes off the screen.
"Well...don't go too crazy. It's like you're hiring employees already....."

I wasn't (still haven't) but I was determined. 

I still kind of like to shove it in his face that he was initially not supportive of the business that took off and had kicked ass for 10 years. 
Jokingly, of course. He is super supportive now. 

But, if your spouse has some real, tangible reservations to what you are doing.....you are a team. You have to talk about your plans WITH them....and what affect they will have on your budget.

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INCLUDE YOUR DREAMING IN YOUR ZERO BASED BUDGET

Even if it seems small. Like notebooks. My notebook budget is pretty stupid huge. I have a dream of writing a book someday. That requires lots of notebooks to write the ideas I'll probably never flesh out. 
Because that's what writers do.
Write a bunch of shit and then abandon it. 

DON'T STOP DREAMING, BUT MAYBE STOP DOING IF IT'S DETRIMENTAL TO YOUR HAPPINESS AND HEALTH

Dreams are wonderful. They're healthy.

One of my BIGGEST and BEST dreams....that I often call upon if I need to escape....is retiring in Prince Edward Island, Canada. I see us in a little farmhouse. I'll write and make portraits and he'll....I dunno....listen to lots of music and maybe play again. 

I've even looked at PEI Real Estate. 

But, I'm well aware the difference between a big dream like that and realism. Realistically, PEI is in a completely different country that isn't all that easy to immigrate to. Realistically, PEI is a tiny island with not a ton of opportunity for jobs. Realistically.....I'm probably okay if the dream never happens if it would be a hardship.

But, that doesn't stop me from investing (literally) and hoping that someday we have enough financial freedom to seriously consider it as an option.



That's what acting on dreams in a real way can give you: freedom. 

So bust out a notebook (I have extras if you need one) and start making lists. Lists of HOW you can achieve something in short time. What can you do in 2 weeks time to get you closer. How about 2 months? Where do you want to be in 2 years and WHAT is that going to cost. Research like crazy and take notes. 

And then, get to work, dreamer. 
 

10 Easy Peasy Ways to Trim Your Budget ~ Personal Finance Blog

I'm a little weird. I think we knew that. I mean, what kind of person names "personal finance" as a "hobby"? But, I like finding ways of trimming my budget. I think of it as kind of a game. If I can save somewhere, I will. 

Think there's no money to be found? Think again! 

Here's 10 ways to trim your budget without feeling like you're losing out big time on life. Read it and pass it on to someone who could use it, spread the love! 

 


1. Cut the Cable Cord
I know a LOT of people who have gone this route in recent years. Given all of the options now available to us to enjoy television WITHOUT cable, I think the cable companies are going to have to start reevaluating the VALUE they are offering if they want to stay relevant. 

According to research, the average cable bill is $103 a month!!?! That's nuts. We only paid upwards of $85 a month when we did have cable. I know someone close to me (I'll protect their identity, as not to shame them lol) who had a cable bill approaching $300 a month because of all their extras.

I like TV as much as the next person, but DAMN. 

If you go with Netflix ($11/mo) and a Roku streaming player ($30) and maybe an Amazon account or something, you are still FAR under the average cable bill.

Possible savings: $50-$75 a month
 

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2. Ditch the Landline
We are currently living with my inlaws while we build our house and they have a landline phone. I swear, at least 99% of the calls they get are sales calls. Everyone has a cellphone, a landline is simply a waste at this point.

Some people are super attached to phone numbers they've had since they were kids. This was the case with my grandparents. So, when they both passed away my aunt had their phone number put on her license plate. The phone number lives....the bill does not! 

Potential Savings: $10-$30 per month

3. Fast Food and Restaurant Stops

This is SUCH a big one. I am TERRIBLE at this. I will raise my hand and admit it right now. I love Panda Express. I love it so so so much. And I'm gonna be totally honest, I'm hoping the CEO of Panda Express reads this and sends me gift cards for loving them so much. I have no shame.
But, going out to eat for lunch, to meet with friends, or for dinners because you're too tired to cook adds up SO MUCH. When we blow our budget, I know it's because of restaurants. I KNOW it. Everytime I go to Panda it's $7.70 (yes, I have that memorized).
This takes some white-knuckle willpower. But, start packing your lunches and save your favorite restaurants for special occasions. 

Potential Savings: Depends on how often you're doing this, but I would save probably $77 a month.

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4. Capsulize Your Wardrobe
I talked about "capsule wardrobes" before HERE , but to break it down it's basically eliminated unneeded or unworn pieces from your closet and only wearing a select few items. You can mix and match these items, but I would argue that what's nice about this approach is it shows no one really NEEDS a whole closet full of clothes. Kids don't need new clothes every month. They grow quickly, but not THAT quickly. 

When I shop for my three girls, if it's not on clearance or the sale rack, they don't get it. I don't buy items willy-nilly, we buy clothing when we go to the store to buy clothing. Meaning, I have a set budget when I arrive at the store. More than half of their clothing is second hand. Most of my own clothing is second hand and I don't buy anything that isn't on sale. I also don't buy a piece of clothing until I need it, in most cases. 

So, if you enjoy the ACT and RUSH of shopping sprees.....well, that's probably how you ended up needing to search personal finance websites. Right? 

Believe me, once you get into the habit of NOT clothes hoarding, it's relatively easy.

Potential Savings: $10 to $100's a month, depending on how prolific of a shopper you are

5. Refinance Your Mortgage
Keep a keen eye on mortgage rates. I know....snoozeville. I get that. But, when rates fluctuate down, you can pounce on that. Refinancing your mortgage can save you hundreds a month, a bonus just for paying attention. According to Nerdwallet, homeowners are losing OUT on about $13 BILLION (yes, with a B) a year by NOT refinancing. 

Potential Savings: $100-$1000 a month

6. Reconsider the "Hurried Child" 
I had a discussion with my oldest kiddo the other day. She's 10. I asked her if she felt like she was missing out because she's not in sports or organized things like dance or gymnastics or something. She's in her school's forensics and art club and she draws a LOT. But, as far as organized (read: SPENDY) after-school activities, she's out. 
She said no. She really had no interest in those things. She did dance once. It was, if I remember correctly, about $40 a month + the cost of costumes. Now, no disrespect to my kiddo but she's never going to be a professional dancer and she didn't even really enjoy it that much. I just felt like I was being a negligent parent because she wasn't involved in SOMETHING and it seemed like everyone else was.

Because everyone else pretty much is. The average cost of children's extracurricular activities nationwide is about $739 a year, or about $60 a month. Worth it? Depends on the kid, I guess. But, some kids are enrolled in MULTIPLE things: music lessons, dance, sports, groups. They barely have time to breath....and their parents are shelling out thousands not only in the cost of the activity but shuttling them around. 

My advice? Maybe, if your child shows potential or interest in an activity, limit it to one activity that they can really THROW themselves into. If they SHOW no interest in these sponsored activities....that's okay too! 

Potential Savings: $50-$60 a month

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7.  Start Doing Things Yourself
I'm a big believer in "if I can You Tube it, it can be done".....of course, this is complete and utter crap. I know there are some things I just will NEVER be any good at and those things need to be outsourced to a professional before I burn our house down or something.
However, I think we often sell ourselves short. 
I can, for example, paint an item of furniture. We bought a table for $6 at a secondhand store recently and chalk painted it and it's super cute. Savings? Who knows, but it's a midcentury piece that would probably go for a hell of a lot more from Target or something. 
I insource MOST of my work-related tasks. I don't even have an assistant. I answer my own emails, I do my own content creation, I take the pictures, I edit them, I build the albums, I go to the meetings. Now, a lot of people who do what I do for a living would say I was nuts and wasting a lot of time.
But, it keeps costs down on running my business. Which I like.
See what outsourced things you have that you could maybe learn to do yourself, like oil changes or hair trims.....you may surprise yourself! 

Potential Savings: Hey, endless! 

8. You're Not a Tree. Move. 
A lot of people look at moving as the biggest pain in the ass on the face of the planet. And it is. Seriously. I HATE moving. But, if your budget is not balancing and your home is just too much for you to handle....or WHERE you live in general is just so ridiculously expensive that no one can ever get ahead (San Fran. I'm looking at you.).....then you may have to uproot and move.
There are lots of options. Smaller home (homes have grown in square footage since the 1950s like absolute crazy). Moving outside the big city. Moving outside of high cost of living areas. 
Just sometimes you have to rip that bandaid off and DO IT.

Potential Savings: Thousands

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9. Trim Your Grocery List WAY Down
Look at ways to trim that food list. Growing your own fruits and veggies, if that's an option, is a great way to not only participate in a stress-relieving activity but also generate food for the family. 

Also, don't snub generics. My favorite cereal in the whole wide world is a generic (Hello Malt-o-Meal!). I buy generics on pretty much EVERYTHING. Most big grocery stores have "store brands" that have the same ingredients as big-name items. This can trim your budget considerably. This applies to prescription drugs as well. If there's a generic available, do it. 

Don't shop when you're hungry. In fact, it helps to have a regular shopping day, a set shopping budget (ours is $150 a week), a list, and a meal plan. You'd be shocked how much a meal plan can help you just buy what is needed, make items that can serve as leftovers for several days (lasagna is GREAT for this) and organize your shopping trips.

BRING A CALCULATOR and add up everything as you go. If you go over budget, put some stuff back. Use coupons, but only if they are for items you would buy anyway and are not for brand-name items (because these are still going to be more expensive in most cases, even with a coupon). 

Look to see if the deli and bakery have any "hey, this is about to expire" deals that you can incorporate into your meal plans and save! 

Potential Savings: Hundreds! 

10. BUDGET! BUDGET! OH MY LORD, FOR ALL THAT IS HOLY, PLEASE BUDGET! 
This is the #1 tip I can tell you. If you keep running out of money before the month is over, I can guarantee you that you are not budgeting. 

This means you sit down, pen in hand, paper in front of you, spouse if you've got one, and you total up ALL of your monthly income. Everything you've got coming in. Income from selling stuff. Income from overtime. Everything. Don't fudge the numbers. Just write it all out.

Then, you sit down and write out ALL of your monthly expenditures. Everything. Down to that candy bar you pick up at the Walmart checkout and that "quick run" to Walgreens to get God knows what. Every penny you spend gets written down. 

Now, math.

Take the first # minus the second #. Are you in the black? That extra money gets put either to debt or to savings, depending on whether you're debt free or not. If you're in the red....it's time to have a "Come to Jesus" and start cutting. And in that case, see numbers 1 through 9. 

Potential Savings: Endless. 

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I know waking up and realizing that your budget is just not working is really no fun. We'd all like to be able to just spend without hesitation. Well....maybe not me. That may send me into a panic-induced hysteria. I'm a terrible shopper. But, for most people....worrying about this junk is just.....ugh. The worst. 

But, that's why we do the written budget. That's why we assign jobs to our money and we know where each dollar is going. 

We are all here with ya. If you want some MORE motivation to up your take home, make sure you sign up for Pudgy Mail and get the 100 Side Hustles list FREE. You'd be surprised how you can add more dough to column #1. 

Let's Talk Medical Costs, Shall We? ~ Personal Finance Blog

I got a message in my PG inbox the other day from a reader who wanted to see an article about medical costs. They are on disability and medical debt was a concern. I spoke to other readers who also expressed concerns with the dents that medical bills make in their budget. 

  So, we are going to tackle this topic and I urge readers to TALK about this topic, whether it's on the PG Facebook page or just over coffee with a friend. It's so so SO important, and we'll get into WHY.....and what you can do about medical costs if you're looking to be financially secure and debt free in the future.

CHECKING MY PRIVILEGE
I realized that we have been extremely fortunate throughout our 11 year marriage to have little issue with medical debt or costs. This doesn't mean I'm completely ignorant on the subject, but I do have to acknowledge my privilege here. 
My husband works in a state job, so we get....probably...some of the best insurance coverage currently offered in Wisconsin. 
Our out of pocket costs are very minimal. When I had my 3rd child in 2016, I believe we paid about $2000 out of pocket, and that was after a difficult birth and an extended hospital stay for me. 

So, I KNOW. I know we are lucky as all hell to have what we have. If we had to struggle with medical costs, we definitely would not be in the position we are today. 

I don't say this to rub it in, quite the contrary. I say this to make it clear that I am not coming from a place of blind apathy to the struggle of medical costs in this country. Believe me.

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So, now that I've said that, let me tell you where I AM coming from.

After I graduated high school and was out on my own, I was completely uninsured. This was far before the ACA (Affordable Care Act), so you could BE uninsured without penalty. You just couldn't get sick. Right? I did not qualify for any state benefits. I was a single person with no children. I actually had a woman at our local community care clinic tell me that she could better help me with coverage issues if I were to pop out a kid.

Really. This happened. 

I worked as a bartender and waitress before I married my husband and those jobs do not typically lend themselves to stellar healthcare coverage, if any at all. So, when I screwed up my shoulder lifting big dining trays, I pretty much had to just suck it up and ice the hell out of it. Going to the doctor for it wasn't going to happen.

I went roughly 7 years without insurance. When I married my husband he was working a job that offered really great insurance coverage. Coverage that would have likely not existed under the ACA. The company he worked for had only 4 employees and was pretty "Ma and Pop". So, when we had our first two children we were beyond fortunate to be covered under their amazing plan. Everything was paid for. We never had any out of pocket costs. 

When he left that job and moved to a job that did not offer such great coverage, I (a self-employed person) took over the responsibility of our healthcare plan. We paid roughly $380 a month through Dean Care to cover our family of four, which is incredibly affordable from what I've found. What made it so affordable was dropping maternity care from the plan. I believe our deductible was $5000.

Then the ACA came along and we were booted off our plan.

Fortunate circumstances stepped in once again for us and it was right about that time that my husband found a new position with the state. Enter state insurance and we've been blessed with great coverage ever since.

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Over the years we have had medical bills, which we have included in our debt snowball since 2012. We haven't had any medical bills in the past few years, however. When they do come about, they take their place on the snowball until they are paid off. 

SCARY STATS
The statistics on medical care, coverage, and cost in America are scary. There's no other word for it. 
Roughly 27 Million people (per Wikipedia) still do not have health insurance coverage at all, which means with each illness or injury they rack up out-of-pocket medical costs. Without specialized insurance contract pricing, those out of pocket costs can be astronomical. I know when I had my last child, the cost before insurance kicked in was about $36,000. 

Many "average" families in the United States may still fall into the crack of making "too much" to qualify for subsidies or Medicaid, but too little to get ahead of mounting medical debt. 

One main problem that is uniquely American is that even with insurance coverage, it's a rarity for 100% of costs to be covered. Insurance companies negotiate with healthcare providers for "contracted rates" and for what they will...and will not....cover. 

Studies show over 43 million Americans have outstanding medical debt, with the average amount being $1766. Some Americans with on-going medical issues have revolving medical debt that rivals home mortgages or school loans. 

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WHAT TO DO? 
So what can be done to slow the bleed of medical spending? What can be done to reach debt freedom if medical bills keep cropping up? What can SERIOUSLY be done when it seems as if, no matter what, the system is designed to fail you? I am no fan of pointing the finger at systemic failures as the cause of debt, but in this case the system's shortcomings are clearly partly to blame. 

There are no easy answers, but approaching the debt head on and not hiding from it starts us off on the right foot. 

Here are some ways to attack your medical debt and not let it beat you:

1. DO NOT IGNORE

I know it can be tempting to not even OPEN your EOBs (explanation of benefits) or bills, but ignoring them will never help the issue. Once they are sent to collections (which some providers will do faster than others), you're kind of SOL. 
 So, keep your various bills organized. Make sure you look over EACH Explanation of Benefits (from your insurance company) and compare it to your billing. I used to work in medical billing and believe me, they screw up ALL the time. They are counting on the compulsive nature of people to automatically pay what the doctor tells them to pay or face possibly losing access to care. They double bill constantly. One provider has no idea what the other is doing. It's up to you to check their work. 
  
 Open a dialogue with the financial office at your provider. If they know you are actively addressing the bills, they typically will be more lenient with payment plans. Often, they will set up a very affordable payment plan for you as long as you promise to pay monthly.

2. FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT (NOT TO PARTY BUT TO BE COVERED)

Sometimes, insurance companies and some providers of care are the evil-est of all evil jack-asses on the face of the planet. They will deny things they know should be covered. They will red-tape you to death. They do not see you as a name with a medical issue. They see you as a number. That's just the way it goes. Good ole' American healthcare (can you tell I'm not a HUGE fan of our current system?)

But, we have to work under their rules.
So learn the rules.

One time I had a radiology provider refuse to cover a claim because they said I gave them the wrong information when I was admitted. I knew they were full of all the bull-dookie (you know this girl has all of her insurance information in her wallet at all times), so I ended up pulling their provider contract and nailing them with their own rules to get the claim covered (basically, to make a long story short, if the provider was late submitting the claim....as they were because they claimed I gave them the wrong insurance info, which I didn't....I cannot be charged. But they charged me anyway in hopes that I would not be aware of that rule and just pay it. See. Sneaky) 

It felt really good to nail them all with their own back-asswards information. They probably weren't counting on someone who used to negotiate insurance contracts for a living coming back to bite them. They make things intentionally confusing because they are betting on us, the lowly patient, to not have a clue what's going on.

So, get a clue. And fight them with it.

You have a right to resubmit claims, to appeal coverage, and to fight for attention from providers. You also have a right to demand pricing for procedures and care upfront. 

How many people even ASK how much someone is going to cost before it happens at the doctor's office?

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3. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF

Here's the thing, if you're overweight, a smoker, a drinker, or have other unhealthy habits, this is going to increase your medical costs....if not now certainly in the long run. So care for yourself the best way you can.

If you have an ongoing medical issue (diabetes, cancer, etc.), then follow doctor's instructions on how to live the healthiest way possible. Try not to skip doctor visits, even if you're afraid of the charge. Letting medical issues go just leads to more serious medical issues....and higher charges. 

  But it costs NOTHING to quit smoking. It can even be cost EFFECTIVE to eat better or in smaller portions. It saves you money to stop drinking. Over the course of your lifetime, you are better off if you treat your body more like a temple and less like a garbage can. 

 Some folks can't help their medical issues. But some folks can. If you CAN....help rather than hurt.

4. HIRED GUNS

If you are getting nowhere negotiating payment of your bills, consider hiring a professional negotiator/medical biller to help you arrange payment. They speak the language and can advocate for you. A medical bill negotiator can be found at www.billadvocates.com. (This is not an affiliate link. I just found them via a search.) 

Also, don't be afraid to negotiate costs BEFORE a medical procedure or visit. You can also pre-pay for a discounted rate with some providers. 

5. DON'T PANIC

When we panic we make bad financial decisions. We dip into our 401K, we use credit cards to pay on medical debt, we allow things to go to collections. 
The most important thing to do when facing on-going or rising medical costs is to keep the lines of communication open with who you are paying and your insurance company.
 Also, make sure you are always, periodically, checking  your coverage options to see if you can decrease your monthly premiums or find better coverage elsewhere. 
 I have some friends that go through Christian Co-Ops for coverage, some who have found affordable coverage through the ACA and carry a high deductible to lower their premium, and some who have moved jobs in order to get better coverage.
  In this country, where we do not have universal healthcare, sometimes you have to sacrifice what you WANT in the moment for what your family may NEED. And I KNOW that sucks. I know sometimes the premiums are more than the average mortgage. It's a shitty situation, for sure. Which is why I suggest making yourself a health-insurance expert. It's not terribly exciting, but knowing our options can lead us to more flexibility and cost savings. 


Depending on how much medical debt you have, there are several ways to pay it off: 

- I always suggest the snowball method first. List your debts smallest to largest (interest rates do not factor in). Pay the minimum on all except the smallest and attack the smallest with all extra funds. 
- If you cannot afford to snowball your medical debt, consolidate it with a consolidation loan. I'm not a HUGE fan of these, as it's just moving debt around and not attacking it, but it can make things more manageable and easier to address, especially if the medical provider is done billing you for awhile. 
- Configure a health savings account if you have on-going medical expenses/needs. 
- Just like anything else that is included in our budget, if you know that medical expenses are one of your larger expenses, you will have to adjust your other, more variable expenses to make room....if possible. So, for example, if you bring home $50,000 a year household income, and your medical costs are $15,000 a year or something similar, you are probably not going to be able to afford something like a large car payment or $1000 a month in groceries until you increase your take home or decrease your debt. Medical is going to take a larger bite of your budget. 

  If I can get a TAD political for a moment, I truly feel that until this country catches up with the rest of the industrialized world and gets on the Universal Healthcare train, we will always have an ongoing medical debt issue. Healthcare costs are astronomical in this country and our wages are not rising to meet the demand on consumers. It makes me sad that, very often, folks are turning to GoFundMe or similar means to cover medical costs when something goes wrong. 

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 A medical or health issue should never devastate someone financially, but they do all the time. 
  So, do your best to keep abreast of your charges, keep on the insurance company and provider's butt at all times, and be your own best advocate. Let's hope for change in the near future but until then, you are your own hero. 
 

Updates Like I Should Do More Often ~ Personal Finance Blogger

I know, I know...when I first kicked off this blog I was pretty good at updating things. Telling about how we saved, spent, and simplified. 

I want to get back to that. As motivation not only for readers but for myself. Seeing data in black and white just HELPS. 

So, here's where we are! 

So far in 2018 we have paid off $3339.00. 
Since 2012, when we started the process of getting serious about eliminating debt and working off all cash, we have paid off $67,801.41. 

The #1 reason we have paid off that amount: THE ZERO BASED BUDGET. No doubt. Without a written budget, it never would have happened. 

We started this journey 6 years ago with $124,364.63 in debt. The largest part of that being my student loans, unfortunately. I say unfortunately because my regrets are few, but I kind of regret that 10 years of college (I was a slow learner, apparently). I don't use the degree and the area of study I went into proved to be pretty useless. It'll be the last debt we complete and I cannot TELL you how happy I'm going to be when that sucker is GONE. Out of my life forever and ever. 

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In every life, decisions must be made. We made the decision to move out of our house before we were debt free. We made the decision to build a house instead of buying used and have been cash flowing the needs for the house as we go. Building a house can be ridiculously expensive if you don't keep everything in check. This means making your "wants" few and filling in the needs frugally. 

I plan on doing a whole run down of building on a budget once the house is done. 

This blog was started with the intention of it being REAL. Realistic goal setting, realistic budgeting, and me being completely real about difficulties in decision making, financial implications of decisions made, and frugal living. 

I promise that in addition to some articles I have planned in the coming months to update you guys with REAL numbers. It's what I like to read and see, so hopefully other folks do as well! 

I'm also planning some freebies and some regular mailing-list fun stuff so make sure you sign up for Pudgy Mail! 

Spring is right around the corner, so that means spring cleaning and spring ORGANIZING! Almost as fun as New Years! I promise! 



 

Can You Afford It? (Probably Not. **Sad Trombone**) ~ Personal Finance Blogger

I love Jeopardy.
Yes, that's an odd way to kick off a blog post about money, but stay with me...I have a point.
I love that show.
It's pretty much the only show I "save" and never miss. I try out for the show every time the online test pops up...and even made it to the in-person test once (where I got my ass kicked by a bunch of PhDs. A humbling experience indeed.)

Ok, I'm going off topic.....
Last week I LEARNED something from my regular Jeopardy viewings. Something I made mental note of. I said "Self....make note of this. This is blog fodder."

Mortgage. The word "Mortgage". It LITERALLY means "DEAD.PLEDGE".
Yes. As in "pledge to be beholden to this sucker until you DIE". 

Mortgage.

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I found this little Jeopardy tidbit to be both funny (in a nerd-joke kind of way) and sad. Sad I never really thought about the word origin "mort" before....and sad that all of us seem to be okay with signing our financial lives away on not only mortgages...but car payments, credit card payments, 90-days-same-as-cash deals, "Only $29 a month"! schemes.....etc. etc. etc. 

This is how the companies, regardless of what they are selling, "get you". I mean, you've heard the car dealership commercials, right? 
"All you need is a job and $99 a month and this brand new car is YOURS!"

Well, no. It's NOT yours. It's the bank's. It's not yours until you pay it off. Which you probably WON'T. 

The Story of Average Joe and Average Jane

 According to Experian Automotive Statistics, the average car payment is $493 a month (for a new vehicle loan). A statistic I found staggering....but moving on.

The national average household income is $56,516.  So, let's pretend we are talking about average Joe Neighbor here, who has an average income and just bought the average new car.

He is spending roughly 11% of his income on a car. But, let's say Joe Neighbor has an average house (this is starting to sound like a Talking Heads song. And I just dated myself horribly....).

Mortgages vary GREATLY in this country, where most people who live in high cost of living areas like San Francisco are priced completely out of the housing game. This is not HGTV where you can be a used bicycle salesman and your partner a part-time flower arranger and buy a million dollar home.

But, statistically the average mortgage payment in America is $1061.00 for a 30 year mortgage. So, if we are talking Average Joe Neighbor, he's spending 22% of his income on his house, 11% of his income on 1 car. So, we have now eaten up 33% of Joe's income. 

But Joe is married and Joe has a wife and Joe's wife wants a new car too, so...now we have 44% of the income taken up by house and two cars. 

So, honestly, Joe is not doing SO bad. So far. I mean, that leaves him $2662.00 roughly a month for food, clothing, utilities, etc. Right?

Sure....but Joe and Jane Neighbor have kids. And those kids need care. Let's say those kids are not in school yet. They need to go to daycare. Average daycare cost is $972 a month. PER.KID. So let's say Joe and Jane decided they could only really afford 1 kid anyway. They're still down to $1690.00 a month now. 

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Joe, Jane, and Little Johnny need to eat, too. Right? 

Per the USDA Moderate Food Budget, a monthly food budget for a family of three is roughly about $700. Now, I'll add some personal notes below, but I found this to be really high. But, Joe and Jane Neighbor work hard for the money and they are probably stopping at Mickey D's more often than they'd like to admit. Because they're average.

So, we are now at $990.00

For their average house, Joe and Jane are probably paying roughly $150 a month in utilities, $60 a month for cable and internet, $60 a month in gas for their cars, $250 roughly for student loan payments (if they have them, and let's face it...a lot of us do), and roughly $200-$300 a month repaying consumer debt. 

That leaves us at ABOUT $270 left over for incidentals like kid's activities, clothing, entertainment, gifts, or hobbies. Things people just spend money on like gym memberships, giving to your church, or a case of Girl Scout cookies (not that I've ever done that......**whistles**). Haircuts, MEDICAL BILLS (I think that right there may have just put us all in the red, right?), pet care, and house maintenance. 

But RECORD SCRATCH for a moment, folks.

Joe and Jane Neighbor are going to want to quit working at some point in their lives and retire, right? 

Tell me, then, if Joe and Jane do not have a 401K or some sort of retirement plan via their jobs, where are they getting the money to invest? If we are working off AVERAGE here, that money is long gone by the time the end of the month arrives. If we are working off AVERAGE, Joe and Jane are not going to get nice little monthly pensions when they retire. 

Pensions are a complete anomaly. If you ARE getting one, consider yourself a blessed little unicorn.

So, being average....can you afford MOST of where your money goes?

Probably not. 
And that's normal. 

But, do you WANT to be normal? 
There's the real question. 
 

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Back in 2012 when the husband and I really started to go "Gazelle Intense" with the Dave Ramsey Snowball, we realized that in order for ANYTHING we were learning to "stick", we would have to be okay with not being normal. 

Now, 6 years later, we have developed some abnormal spending habits that are pretty ingrained. Even though we are not yet debt-free, these habits have led to a payoff of $67,801 since then....and that's taking into consideration some MAJOR fall-age off the wagon at certain points. 

We are human. No perfection here folks and our debt-free journey has been rife with potholes.

BUT...we have learned. And here is where I tell you WHAT we learned about affordability, payments, and spending...in hopes that maybe you can apply some of that to your journey and speed up your debt-free process.

What We Learned

1. Never Ever Ever Buy a New Car
Now, I typically don't like to speak in absolutes. And I can tell you right now if I gave the green light for the hubby to plop down the bucks on a new Tesla he would probably be unable to resist the temptation. It's not that I don't like that new car smell. I'm a person. I get it. 
But, new vehicles are the biggest damn waste of money on the planet. They PLUMMET in value the minute you drive them off the lot, their "add-on's" are typically way overpriced, and the marketing from the car folks attempts to sway buyers into purchasing FAR more car than they would ever need. 

I drive our own version of a Dave car. A Dave car is a beater that looks not-so-great but does its job, gets you around, and that doesn't kill your debt snowball or your budget. 
It's not a TRUE Dave car because we did not pay cash for it. I will own up. We did that once, paying cash for an old Saturn Vue we named Suavecita. 
Suavecita died after about 9 months of very gingerly driving.
That kind of killed us on the idea of a true cash "Dave" car. I travel out of town for work several times a week, I need something that is at least not going to drop it's transmission after 9 months (like poor Suavecita). Plus, I beat the shit out of my cars. I will own up to it. I am a terrible car mom. 

So, when I needed a car I could fit 3 carseats into, I traded in my current vehicle and applied that trade in amount to a car that was 3 years older than the traded car and gave us the very minimum in payment. Sure, it's a little rusty. The door handle bits fall off sometime. There's a hole in the back hatch. But it drives and its a beast.

We learned awhile ago that really nice cars just really weren't worth it. 

2. Meal Plan Like a Mutha
We have been living with family for 10 months now while we build our new house. So, meal planning has been really tough. But, in normal circumstances, it does wonders for your grocery budget.

I said above that I thought $700 for 3 people was a LOT, and it is. I live in Wisconsin where groceries ARE relatively cheap, but we spend $600 a month for a family of 5 and this includes diapers, wipes, toiletries and milk-based toddler drink for the baby. 

The trick is to plan your meals out and only buy what you need for those meals. We buy off-brand cereal, we don't buy a ton of junk food (our kids are weird anyway and aren't really HUGE junk-food eaters. They've never even had a soda) and we stick to a "strict" $150 a week grocery budget. When the house is completed I'm hoping to grow, at the very least, my own herbs to use and maybe sometime in the future have a small garden. 

I have never felt like our budget has left us wanting more or feeling hungry. 

3. CASH IS KING 
If it's anything we took away from spotty D-Ram Devotion, it was that you don't borrow money. Now, mortgages (DEATH! UNTIL YOU'RE DEAD!) are allowed in D-Ram world. We extended that to cheap-o cars but that was "last resort/smallest loan possible" situation and those are included in our current snowball. Soon, they will be paid off. 

But with anything outside of our vehicles and our house, it's cash only. We do not borrow money for clothing, trips, gifts, or any larger purchase. If we can't afford something we want, we wait and we save.

This has led to us sucking it up quite a bit in some areas, especially furniture. When we sold our old house I went on a bit of a Minimalists binge, and I got rid of SO much stuff....including most of our crappy college-age furniture. 

So, we have pretty much no furniture for the new house....and we may be going without some stuff until it all can be purchased with cash. 

Delayed gratification. It eliminates the weight of something hanging over your head that isn't paid for. Like our cars are currently. Sigh. 


The most important thing to remember is to not fall prey to the idea that just because you think you can afford the "payment" means you can afford the item. This is especially true for things like furniture or other large-ticket items. You don't want to be paying $40 a month for years past what an item's lifespan is. 

Wait. Save. Pay cash or go without. You'll be all the better for it and will be living a life you can truly afford. 

What's a FICO Score and Why Should I Care (Or Not Care) ~ Personal Finance Blog

I'm gonna be straight with ya'll. In the past, I was a Dave Ramsey-ite til debt we did part. I followed every word he said (mostly....all that Bible stuff was readily ignored, if I'm being honest). Hell, I even named this here blog after a D-Ram ideal. 

 D-Ram was never big on the almighty FICO score. He advocated no debt what-so-ever so, eventually, your FICO score would be non-existent. And, in THEORY, this is a pretty decent idea. After all, if you are paying cash for everything you don't need to prove a strong credit history in order to borrow money. 

HOWEVER, and this is a big fat HOWEVER, it's not terribly realistic when you get down to the brass tacks of it all. Especially in today's economy. 

So, let's dive into the highs and the lows of FICO score awareness, shall we? 

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First things first, what IS a FICO score anyway? 
If you're over the age of, say, 21....or in your thirties and married and stuff and have no clue WHAT a FICO score is and what your's is....oh man, sit down my friend. 

Love 'em or hate 'em, it's definitely something you should, at the very LEAST, be aware of. 

FICO stands for Fair, Isaac and Co (creators of said score). The company specialized in data analytics (which contrary to popular belief or any other opinions is the most interesting of all maths....and the only math I ever did well in). The FICO score, a score to measure consumer risk, was unveiled in 1989. So, in the grand scheme of things, it's not really an old standard. Rather, it's become THE standard. 

 FICO scores take a look at your credit history (how much money you have borrowed) and assign a score from 300 to 850, which is supposed to show how much of a "risk" you are to borrow more money to.

FICO uses your payment history, amount of debt, types and length of credit usage as ways of compiling your score. Surprisingly, over half of people analyzed had a credit score of above 700 in 2017. I honestly expected that number to be worse, given the burden of debt most people carry.  But here's the thing, it has little to do with HOW much debt you have....only how on-time your payments are and your debt-to-income ratio. 

This is how people get in trouble with debt. Even if they have a crap-ton of it, they can still have a very favorable credit score....and banks will still be apt to loan them more money....making their debt burden worse and so the circle continues. 

When we went to get our mortgage, we were both praised for our unusually high credit scores. Yes, I was that annoying asshole who stopped the bank lady and told her NOT to praise us for anything, it was just an "I Love Debt" score and nothing more. (Side tip: if you are snowballing your debt and paying things off like crazy, your FICO score apparently spikes). 

I'm surprised they still gave us a mortgage, being what a twat I was.

But, there's some truth there. All a credit score REALLY says about you is that you like to borrow money and you're either good at paying it back or you're not. 
 

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Still, your FICO score is used to determine all SORTS of things: whether someone will rent to you, whether you can purchase a home or a car, even some jobs will run your credit to see if you are a person who is trustworthy....or...something.

At one point, my goal was to completely eliminate my credit score. We are not there yet, obvs, but maybe someday I will be 100% debt free long enough to make my credit score obsolete. It's a rarity, but D-Ram says it can be done and hell, I believe him. It's my white whale.

In the meantime, however, it's important to keep that score healthy enough to secure the mortgage for our new home (done) and now that we have that well in hand we can start focusing more on eliminating the need for it ever again.

Because if you're willing to pay cash for EVERYTHING....your need to serve at the altar of FICO vanishes. 

Think of how nice that would be....to no longer have 3 little numbers control your life. 

Think of what that will look like....

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The only real need you may have for a FICO score is to take out a mortgage. Getting a credit card is out of the question, right Gazelles? Buying a car? Typically not an emergency....so keep saving for your hooptie that you will get to drive until you are debt free. 

But, if you need to keep your FICO healthy for whatever reason you come up with, here are some quick tips:

1. Keep Your Credit Card Balances Low
Which shouldn't be an issue if you are snowballing your debt and cutting up all the cards anyway.
2. Do NOT Consolidate
FICO likes paying off, not moving around. 
3. They Say Do Not Close Credit Cards
If you pay off a card, what then? Well, CLOSING a card you've paid off will (temporarily) lower your credit score. Don't let that scare you. Get those bloodsucking tossers out of your life forever.
4. CHECK your score.
The only way to know if something is reported incorrectly is to keep tabs on your score. You can do this free via CreditKarma. You used to have to pay for that info, which was obvious bulldookie (because we don't pay for enough, right?) 
5. Pay Stuff ON TIME
This is really important. The thought of paying bills late is enough to give me itchy hives, but some people make it a way of life. Pay stuff ON TIME. Or, better yet, EARLY.

   Good luck dancing with dear old FICO, it's a love/hate relationship with them, for sure. But, if you are determined to be completely debt-free....you need to come to terms with not making FICO as important as everyone says it is. Because for someone who HATES debt, an "I Love Debt" score is useless.

Why I Can't Roll With MLMs (Or How to Lose Friends and Alienate People...Apparently) ~ Personal Finance Blog

  I've been sitting on this one for awhile.

  I have some dear friends that participate in MLMs (Multi-Level Marketing Companies), and I didn't want to make them feel bad or make them feel like I was coming down on them. So, let me preface this WHOLE thing with if you have put time and effort into researching an MLM and still feel it's a good financial move for your family, that is your right to do so. I trust you wouldn't do anything that was an obvious bad move and these are just my personal feelings on the subject. 
 I've made it pretty clear that I'm not a fan....and I've been saying for some time I was going to cover the WHYs of that....

  So, with that said, here we go....

 I've worked in "sales" in some way, shape, or form for quite some time. I've worked in retail, my husband and I owned our own retail record store, and I've had a service-based wedding business since 2008. So, I've had experience running my own business for some time, both retail and service-based. My father was an entrepreneur and ran his own business my whole childhood. So, I've been able to immerse myself in the "owning your own business" world. It's rough:  The up's and down's in income, taxes, marketing, sales, and personal connections to customers. There really is a risk and reward part to the whole "owning your own business" thing that is unlike anything else. 

 Multi-Level Marketing Companies are companies that people buy into, becoming a sales-person for their product. The way you make money is by recruiting other people to sell "under you" (becoming your downline). This is what makes it multi-level. Many MLMers will tell you that any business with a CEO is an MLM because anyone below the CEO is in their "downline" but this is not accurate (and that is all kind of a line that they'll feed you at those big rah-rah MLM conferences people attend).

There's quite a few differences between owning your own business and selling for an MLM company, and we'll delve into some of that here. 

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MLM Products Can be Unproven, Shoddy, or Non-Existent
The first hint that an MLM company you're dealing with is bogus is their product really isn't all that much to crow about. Because it's NOT ABOUT THE PRODUCT. It's about recruiting salespeople. That's how MLM companies make their money: the more people who buy into selling for them, the better they are doing. 

Do you ever notice that when the next "big thing" in MLMs hits the market, it seems like everyone you know is selling for them? There's no consideration for market saturation at all. Because the MLM company doesn't care. They get your on-board money and they have you shilling their wares and recruiting more people. Once everyone gets sick of the product, they can move on to something else, leaving salespeople out there without a healthy income stream because they completely flooded the market. 

A lot of the products that come through MLM's make promises that can't be delivered (like wraps for your tummy that are supposed to help you lose inches or Herbalife that has promised everything from weight loss to curing cancer). A lot of them have products that are not worth what they cost. Some of them don't have a product at all.

MLM Salespeople are Pushed to Perform High-Pressure Sales Tactics
I've read the manuals/magazines that are sent to MLM salespeople, and in those magazines they give "sales tips" for their sales people to try and win over folks who say "no". These tips include badgering, online PM'ing, and consistent positive reinforcement on social media. You know how some folks who get on-board with an MLM company never shut up about it? They TELL you to do that. That you live the life of the MLM company and become a cheerleader. And people are all too happy to do it. This is pretty much free marketing for the company. They send their sales folks out to do their bidding, and the salespeople are paying to do it. 

So, the next time someone private messages you to say "Hey, I saw on Facebook that you have a cold! You should try this essential oil!"....that's the MLM company directing them to use that tactic to try and gain new customers. 

It's annoying. To say the least. You can pretty much be sure that if you PM me with information on your "surefire way to lose inches/kick the flu/whatever" I'm going to ignore you. 

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Here's the thing. Any of us who own our own businesses more-than-likely use social media to market our wares/services. When my husband and I owned the record store I put out information about new records, sales, etc. Of COURSE.  It's the new world of marketing and advertising: social media, influencers, tag me,  etc. 

The way MLMs pound the idea of their item or service home is certainly a horse of a different color. It's like marketing diarrhea, as pleasant as that idea is (hey, there's probably an essential oil for that!)  They ADVISE their salespeople to hound customers (Did that customer say no? Maybe it was just no THAT DAY...come back another day with an offer! You are bringing something wonderful into their life! They just don't know it!). 

There Is Pressure to Stock Unnecessary Inventory
When you win prizes for being a top "seller" with an MLM, it's not because you sold a lot of product. It's because you BOUGHT a lot of product. The MLM does not care if you sell it or not. They care that you continue to stock inventory. 

Here's another difference between an MLM and a real retail store. When I owned my retail store, no one was giving us gold stars for buying a lot of records from the wholesaler. They didn't care if we made a purchase or not. We were able to survey what our customer really wanted and make smart inventory purchases based on those needs and wants. We didn't stock what would obviously not sell just to be able to purchase more from the wholesaler. 

Take the story of MLM Lularoe, for example. When you sign up to sell with them, you can buy certain items....but you have no control over prints. When I discovered this tidbit I was flabbergasted.  You get these boxes of rando prints and some could be complete, unsellable garbage. But, as some LLR sellers have relayed, the company tells you that "someone" will want them, eventually. That the sellers are just not trying hard enough to sell them. They don't BELIEVE in the company enough. They are not working their business like a business. This puts the fault on the shoulders of the retailer, not on the company for making items that are completely unwanted in an over-saturated market. 

Which leads me to....

Lying Liars and the Lies They Tell  
If some 30-something mom is inviting you to a "party" these days, you can be sure it's probably to sell you something. You can't even trust a party invite anymore. You're not a potential friend. You're a customer.
There's conventions...with cheers, and pep-talks (sermons?), and labeled swag and is this unlike other conventions? No....but conventions espousing the miracle of whatever-product are pretty weird regardless. MLM or not.
People will tell you again and again that such-and-such MLM has changed their life completely. That it made them believe in themselves. It saved their family. Made them a better mother. Whatever platitude they need to put on a brightly colored meme and stick on the internet. 

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Let me be real with you here. They are going to sell you on the idea that you can stay home with your kids and make a full-time income with part-time work. This is false. The true statistics are bleak. 
While entering into an MLM is typically less expensive than taking on a true business venture, statistics show that after 5 years, 90% of those who sign on to an MLM have left the company, per a research study on over 400 MLM companies by Jon M. Taylor, Phd. for the Federal Trade Commission. In comparison, The Small Business Association (SBA) found that 44 percent of small businesses survive at least four years, and 31 percent at least seven years. 

Per Inc.com, the MEDIAN income for an MLM Rep per year is $2400. 
A year. 
That's $200 a month.
Income.
Could you be the exception? Maybe. But, the statistics say you won't. 

In a direct quote from his study of over 400 MLM Companies, Dr. Taylor concluded: “In every case, using the analytical framework described, the loss rate for all these MLMs ranged from 99.05% to 99.99%, with an average of 99.71% of participants losing money in an MLM. On average, one in 545 is likely to have profited after subtracting expenses and 997 out of 1,000 individuals involved with an MLM lose money (not including time invested)."

99.7% of people LOSE.MONEY. 

Write that down. Put it on a sticky. Stick it on your computer. Look at it. Read it. 

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My intention is not to step on dreams, make people feel stupid for joining MLM companies, or to tell folks they cannot truly love a product an MLM may sell (though you will find many of these products are overpriced for what they offer and not good for a frugal budget). 

 My intention is to help people find legit ways to support their families, pay off debt, and become financially fit and every run-in I've ever had with various MLM companies have run, pretty much, the opposite of that goal. 

  So, I guess what I'm trying to say is, if you love Lipsense....save your cash spending money in your cash spending envelope and buy some Lipsense. If you love Scentsy (is it still called that?)....save your cash and get yourself some candles, girl. 

  But, if you're looking for a way to make money to help your financial fitness goals, there are far better roads to travel down than the MLM road to riches. If you want to invest in a business idea, do your due diligence and research the numbers.

  Any business venture is a gamble. A big one. But there are definitely ways of gambling smart and with long-term success goals in mind. 
 
 And please... Don't hate me :) <3

 

5 Ways to Get Through Lean Months ~ Personal Finance Blog

  We all have a time in the year where we will experience a bit of slow money flow. Well, maybe not ALL of us. There are those out there who make more money than they can ever spend and that's fine. Hi guys!! (HA! Like I know rich people. Right.....).

  Anyway....for the rest of average Joe's, "tight money months" happen. Whether you are conventionally employed in a salaried 9-5, hourly with hours that just won't stop being random, or you are self-employed (like me) and your income is all over hell and back. 

 My husband and I have supported a family of (now) 5 with self-employed variable income and regular salaried income since 2008. It's taken a few tweaks here and there to get it where it's not making us want to tear our hair out every month, but regardless of where the money comes, there's definitely a way to clean up your finanical house and get through those lean months without so much anxiety.
 

1. HAVE EVERYTHING IN PERFECT ORDER

Now, this is a tip I've left again and again, but it bears repeating. You cannot have an anxiety-free financial month if your finances and budget are a mess. If you have no idea WHERE all of the money you bring in is going, you're likely to have "lean months" EVERY month. So, WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN. And I mean everything. Especially if you're not doing a regular zero-based budget. Every stop at the store, every coffee, every ATM withdrawal. Every single penny spent gets noted. 

At the end of your "write everything down" month, you should be doubled over in shock and awe at how much money you WASTE. Trust me. That is the punch in the face you need to start budgeting and tracking your finances. 

2. PAD YOUR EMERGENCY FUND

Typically, lean months happen because an unexpected expense burns your budget. You should ALWAYS have your $1000 baby emergency fund on hand and never ever touch it unless you have to. A sale at Target is not an emergency. In fact, you shouldn't even be IN Target if it's a lean month! Have some control, man! 

How do you save an emergency fund? You go crazy. You get mad. You sell everything that isn't nailed down. Stick all that money in savings and there you go. Typically, it shouldn't take you longer than a month or two to scrounge up your emergency fund. If you're having a hard time finding the cash and you are gainfully employed (you both are)...time to go back to step one and evaluate what stupid shit you're spending money on. 

3. DO THE SIDE-HUSTLE

 I love a good side-hustle. I am currently freelance writing as a side-hustle. It's not a big money maker, but it makes enough to cover anything outside of our strict household budget that may come along, like Crossfit or a gift for someone. 
  NOW, I say this with a huge caveat that I've said before. Beware of taking on a Multi-Level Marketing "business" (imagine that with very large quotes around it) as a side-hustle. If you research these, often the independent salespeople for these companies make very little money and spend more than they make on the product. Even if you say you're just jumping on to get discounted product? If you're in such a financial way that you're having "lean months", you don't need ANY product an MLM is offering, even at a discount. 
  I plan on blogging at length on the whole MLM thing, but there are so many other options out there for side-hustle money: babysitting, dog walking, take in sewing jobs or sell projects that you create online (Etsy is good for this). Waitressing is AMAZING for fast cash. I waited tables for years and you can make a killing on Friday and Saturday nights at a popular restaurant and the hours are typically flexible. Deliver pizzas, clean houses, mow lawns, fix computers. Do you have a specialized skill? LEVERAGE that skill into some extra cash you can count on when things get tight.
 If you have kids (I have three), maybe try to find a side-hustle you can complete while at home with them, while they're in school, or at night after bedtime. Yes, time is at a premium when you have kids, but can you really relax anyway if you're all amped up about your stretched finances? Doing something productive to work on the problem will ease some of that tension, believe me. More so than, say, zoning out in front of Netflix bemoaning your strapped existence. 

4. SELL STUFF

 Lord knows I love decluttering and one of the best parts of decluttering is selling stuff you no longer want. You would be surprised what you can command for some old junk. Old cellphones can fetch a pretty penny on Ebay. Old toys, clothing that is clean and barely worn. I would forego the rummage sale route and maybe try to sell piece by piece for a bigger return on time invested. 

Keep in mind, it's JUST.STUFF. You likely have too much as it is. We all do. 

5. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF SALES OR SHOPPING SMART....OR DON'T SHOP AT ALL

We often talk ourselves into NEEDING to go to the store instead of actually being honest and saying we want our creature comforts and want to go get them RIGHT NOW. I know I'm totally guilty of this. If I don't have the stuff to make pasta or my favorite cereal in the house at all times I get downright annoyed. 
  But, we shop by a budget and if we want to go out to eat, that's budgeted too. If I spot a sale on something that may be a necessary item, I'm going to take advantage of (sometimes). But the best way to save money on an item is to NOT BUY IT.  You really need to get HONEST with yourself about needs vs. wants. This can radically change your lean months. 

                                                                    

  While there are great ways to deal with lean months, there are some dangerous ways as well. Payday Loans are something you NEVER want to find yourself embroiled in. They prey on the poor and those bad with money management. Their interest rates are insane and you'll likely never get out from under that debt. Stay FAR away. 

 So, what if you find yourself BROKE and OWING?  Strip your needs to the basic: food, shelter, clothing. Make sure your you and your family are fed, have a roof over their heads, and clothing on their back. Once those are taken care of, you can start to tackle the extras: debt, utilities, transportation, and entertainment. 
  If you are in a situation where you are in absolute dire straits with no way out....and no income...it may be time to seek out a state aid situation to help you get you back on your feet. 
  Your LAST resort should be taking out MORE debt to supplement a slow period. Avoid this at all costs, because it's just going to put you further behind the 8-ball. 

 Remember, slow months happen to everyone (except all those rich people I don't know). Take them one day at a time and remember this cliche but oft-true platitude: this too shall pass.

 

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