Thursday, October 28, 2010

Stuck in the Middle

If you are just joining us from Carnival of Money Stories – Halloween Aftermath Edition hosted by Live Real, Now, I want to extend a warm welcome to you. Things look a little crazy around here right now, as I just started a series of giveaways to enter for Christmas goodies. It will run the entire month of November, featuring over 30 sponsors. Feel free to join in! If you don't want to win stuff, feel free to stick around and browse about anyway. We'd love for you to hang out for a while!

We've been on our debt repayment plan for 1 year now. Following Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover we established a tiny emergency fund and started paying off debt.

Our first steps were the big ones.

  • We sold off a lot of stuff including a third car that was Chip's "play" car. (I still applaud him for that).
  • We downgraded in vehicles to use the profit off the sale of the van to pay off debt.
  • I had already learned how to shop frugally, but in the past the money I was saving in shopping was not being spent wisely. So our debt was not being eliminated in these efforts. That changed.
  • We refinanced our home to save over $250/month in mortgage payments.
  • We basically stopped buying things unless they were necessary (with the exception of food. Eating out is where we still struggle).

We banked a lot of money up front. We made a lot of progress. In the first year, we've paid off $19,170.86 and increased our net worth by $32,328.22.

It was fun.

Now it isn't as fun.

The progress is slower now.

Life sometimes hits you hard and that large payment you wanted to send to pay off a big chuck of debt is retargeted to pay an unexpected doctor's bill or car repair.

I feel stuck.

I know the end of the road is out there, but since I'm not approaching it as quickly as I once was and the ride isn't as exciting as it used to be, I am starting to get bored of the trip.

Not bored enough to turn around, of course. I mean, that would be totally counter productive and stupid.

But just tired of being on the road.

"Are we there yet?" is a pretty good analogy of how I feel about our debt repayment at this point. And no, we aren't. We aren't even halfway there in fact.

I'm trying to find encouragement along the way, but that isn't always easy.

I mean, it's cool to read about someone's success about becoming debt free and celebrate with them. But in the end, it's just a reminder that I'm not there yet. And that is depressing.

I try to help others see that mindless spending is not smart and going to catch up with them one day. Hopefully they will wise up before it does. But then I feel completely unequipped to do that because how am I any better with our loads of debt that still haunts me?

Sadly it is so much easier and takes so much less time to get into this mess than to get out.

And I'm tired of trying.

I'm not going to stop.

But I need some encouragement. Some inspiration. Some cheerleading.

Anybody know where I can get that? Am I just being a whiny baby who needs to deal with the damage we've done and shut up?

Are we there yet?


Photo credit: runrunrun

Monday, October 25, 2010

8 Financial Discussions to Have With Your Spouse (or Fiance)

Welcome visitors from the Carnival of Personal Finance #281: Halloween Candy Edition hosted by Consumerism Commentary. I hope you enjoy your stay here. You happened upon my blog at the beginning of a series of giveaways that will be going on. You can see the current ones listed in the right sidebar. Find something around here you like and stick around for a while. We'd love to have you!


Getting married is a huge commitment. You promise to put up with another person on their ugliest of days, take care of them no matter what, stay true to them exclusively, grow old and ornery with them, and figure out how to put up with their most annoying of habits that seem "cute" before about 2 years into the wedded bliss stage.

Sorry to glamorize it for you. =)

Seriously...don't get me wrong. I love my husband dearly and I am so glad that I can still call him my closest and dearest friend. But together we haven't always been smart with money. Some of it was out of stubbornness, some out of stupidity, and some out of naivety. So I'm going to tell you that there are (at least) 8 financial discussions that you and your betrothed should discuss before the big day. If you've already passed that day and haven't had these discussions yet, it's never too late to get started!
  1. Debt: "Hey there, Baby. How high is that balance on your credit card?" isn't the sexiest pick up line. But it is something you definitely ought to know before taking on the legal liability of that card as the spouse. Yep...even if your name is not on it, the whole "what's yours is mine" rule applies unless there is some sort of legal pre-nup you guys have created. Crazily enough, there are some people who go into marriages having NO IDEA what they are getting themselves into debt-wise. It's not too rude or personal to ask the person you are about to wake up next to with morning breath. It's essential.
  2. Financial History: Does your fiance have something in their financial past that might make joint accounts a problem? Believe it or not, some people go into their relationships without disclosing they have a foreclosure or bankruptcy in the past. They feel that now they are "past" it, they do not want to feel its pain again. However, a lot of bitterness will result if one spouse discovers they were clueless about a prior financial offense that might delay or incapacitate your ability to buy a car or house or furniture together.
  3. Financial Goals: What is the plan? Do you both want to work forever? What do you want to do in retirement? Do you want to stay at home as a wife and/or mother? Do you even HAVE a goal? Sure, goals can change, but it is good to at least have these discussions to start the planning process. And these goals aren't written in stone, so they can develop and reshape as life requires. Just talk about it though!
  4. Joint Accounts? Will you have a joint checking account? Will you have separate checking accounts? Will you have one joint one for the bills and separate ones for spending? You have to decide what works best for your situation and personalities and go with it.
  5. Who will Handle the Account? If you go with a joint one, who is going to handle the bill paying, balancing, and overall being responsible that bills get paid on time and you don't overdraw the account?
  6. Do You Have a Spending Limit? Once again, if you go with a joint account with no side spending accounts, how much can one person spend (single transaction, per month, per week) without having to check in with the other. This requires some evaluation of your spending habits. If you set a $100 limit, it doesn't make sense for one person to spend $99 each and every day without checking in, so you might need a weekly limit. Find out what works best for you.
  7. When/How Will We Discuss Money? Money is a very emotional topic. Strange, but true. You don't want to do it when you are rushed or prone to being stressed. You shouldn't do it in bed (leave the bedroom for other things). You shouldn't do it while one spouse is preoccupied (during Monday Night Football, for example). Pick a time or place to do it and reserve your conversations for that time unless necessity requires otherwise.
  8. Lastly, And Probably Most Importantly: The Budget: You will have new bills together as well as possibly more money via combined incomes. A new budget is required. If you've never lived on a written budget, this is definitely time to start. You or your spouse-to-be may feel that you've always had control of your spending without having to write it down. And that may be true. But now that someone else will have full access to your account(s) with you, it will prove trickier than you know to keep up with everything. Make sure those debts, goals, and incomes are reflected accurately in a written budget. It's okay if the first one isn't perfect. You can alter it to fit your needs as you figure out what your (as a couple) spending habits and needs will be. You will also change it as life makes you change it (raises, children, medical bills, etc). But get it in writing so you have a starting point.

Although these are the non-romantic details of a marriage, you cannot ignore those less-beautiful sides of this union. I promise you there is nothing less romantic than a couple who are constantly fighting over finances and making accusations because they never discuss how to do this together. No amount of love will conquer that.

Talk it out. Take control of your money rather than letting it control you and your relationship.

Photo credit: penywise

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

WFMW - Unusual Place to Put Vicks

As cooler weather approaches, so do the stuffy noses, runny noses (seriously...how can they be stuffy and runny at the same time?!), and the like. With little ones in daycare we exponentially increase our risk each year of getting and keeping colds.

What works for us?

A few years ago when Patrick was little, an experienced mom told us to put Vapor rub on the bottoms of his feet. This would work better than on his chest, she said.

We thought it sounded crazy, but we tried it anyway.

You know what?

It worked! It worked much better than putting it on his chest. And why is that?

I have no idea.

I don't know if it stays on better or if it absorbs through his feet (you know those weird Chinese get-the-toxins-out-via-your-feet pads) or what, but it works.

I can't tell you why, but I can tell you that it works for me.

Go visit We Are THAT Family to see what works for everyone else too!

Monday, October 11, 2010

8 Ways a Bigger House Can Cost You

Bigger is better, right?

I mean, we live in a society where that is true in most things. We upsize our value meals; restaurants have increased their portion sizes over time; we like SUVs when we only have 2 children to transport. We've some home come to the "realization" that bigger must be better.

And I too have succumbed to this mindset in so many areas of my life. Including house buying. In the first house that we bought, we had three rooms that were only touched about 2 or 3 times a year. In the current house we have a living room that rarely gets used in any way other than an entry and a spare bedroom (yes, we have guests, but 90% of the year it is unused). It's crazy.

And it's costly.

So many others have figured it out before I have and have downgraded their homes. They have decided to live on less. Not out of necessity, but out of pure choice. To simplify their lives. They have figured out that owning a bigger house costs more. And in many more ways than the obvious. Let's look at eight ways owning a bigger house can stretch your finances.

  1. Purchase Price: Of course more square footage will cost you more up front. This is pretty much a no-brainer, but I had to list the obvious.
  2. Taxes: And certainly a larger house will require more taxes from your city, county, etc. This is really no surprise either, but one that is probably not on the forefront of your mind when buying a home.
  3. Insurance: More area to protect/cover = more costly premiums. This also should be a given, but we don't all think about it going into a purchase.
  4. Furnishing: If you have an extra bedroom that you plan to use as a bedroom for guests, you most likely will still buy a bed for it. A bed that no one sleeps in for the majority of the year. You will probably buy a nightstand, an alarm clock, a lamp, and maybe a dresser as well. That's several hundred dollars that you would not have spent if you didn't feel you needed a guest bedroom.
  5. Cleaning: It's absolutely more costly to clean a bigger house. I don't mean in hiring a maid, although if you do this, you will pay more. I mean in cleaning products and in your time. And you do have to clean those "unused" rooms because dust collects, water in the toilets stain, and dirt from the A/C scatters.
  6. Bills: Heating and cooling a larger home will surely cost more. You can close off vents and close doors to unused rooms, but now your heating/cooling system is not working as it was designed to and you may be putting unnecessary strains on the unit.
  7. Maintenance: Which brings us to maintenance. The more sinks you have, the more possibilities to need to replace a faucet. The larger the AC unit is, the more costly it is to repair.
  8. Clutter: The more walls you have, the more likely you are to buy things to hang on them. The more furniture you have, the more likely you will feel the need to buy some type of decor to accessorized it. And knickknacks not only clutter your home, they clutter your mind too. Have you ever met a collector of all chotchkies? Are they crazy to collect those items or crazy because they have collected those items? I think it is cyclic.

So there it is. My list of ways that buying a larger home can really strain your budget. Some are quite obvious, but some are not clear until you find yourself not wanting to clean those 4 bathrooms every week or change out those 5 light bulbs throughout the bedrooms. Owning a larger home can be a strain--especially when it is totally unnecessary for life.

Photo credit: hcampbellk

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Our Financial Status - Update #12 - September 2010

So, another month has gone by and here I am to confess our successes and our shortfalls.

INCOME:
$936 over budget. Hooray! Although one of Chip's paychecks was lower than normal (coming off a week of vacation and being paid hourly for that week), he got an extra one during the month along with one "high" one, so things were great.

UNDER BUDGET:
Baby Supplies: $31 over for the month, but since I have such a huge rolling budget on this one, I am still $154 under my rolling month-to-month budget in this category, I can afford to be over for a month. That's the point of having it roll. Hooray!
Hair care: Same as baby supplies. Although I was $17 over for the month, that's why I have this budget rolling, as I was still $13 under the total rolling budget.
Clothing: And as the two above--although I spent $4 over my monthly budget, I was still $44 below my rolling budget. I'm currently getting fall/winter clothes for the kids though, so this one might work itself out in October. We'll see!
Home Supplies: $2 under budget. Don't even remember what this purchase was for, but it fell within our guidelines.

ON BUDGET:
Mortgage/Timeshare/HOA: Nailed it.
Auto Insurance: No surprises here.
Term Life Insurance: Just as expected.
Mobile Phone: We were on budget for the month, but have a rolling $4 overage. I'm waiting to work itself out during a month or two when we are slightly under budget.
Alarm Monitoring: Bingo.
Pest Control: Once again, nothing unusual here.
Childcare: On our newly lowered budget. Hooray!

OVER BUDGET:
Gas/Fuel: $144 over budget. We traveled for Labor Day to visit family, so we used extra gasoline than usual. Additionally, Chip has not been assigned to a particular store (again) yet, so he is traveling a lot and I don't know how to reset the budget until we are more certain about where he will be traveling daily. So I'm leaving this alone until he has a "home" again.
Auto Service/Parts: $173 over budget. Chip's car needed a new windshield thanks to a large crack that mysterious showed up and ran right into his line of vision.
Television: $20 over budget, but I paid October's bill early, so it hit during September. It will work itself out
Power Bill/Water Bill: $199 over budget. I know, right? We actually paid two water bills this month because I paid the August one late. And our power bill was OUTRAGEOUS because August is horribly hot in Georgia and the bill we get in September is always AWFUL. Now that the weather is so very pleasant, I'm hoping to open some windows and balance out some of the overage from previous months!
Eating Out: $141 over budget. We really have no excuse. A lot of late dinners and poor grocery/meal planning made this happen. We did intentionally eat delivery pizza for Chip's birthday but have no excuse for this kind of overage.
Groceries: $113 over budget. It always depresses me when we eat out over budget AND have a over budget grocery category. It's pitiful and unnecessary. This was once again poor planning.
Doctor: $153 over budget. We didn't use a co-pay during this month (although I budget for one every month), but we did pay off the final $178 we owed from Chip's vasectomy! Hooray for the depletion of medical debt!
Pharmacy: $23 over budget. Chip was dying for some acid reflux medication and since we had used our budget in the previous months, there was no build up of credit in our rolling budget.
Home Services: $55 over budget. $15 was from e-mealz (I am going to add $5/month into this budget right now for that...not sure why I haven't already done that) and $40 was a renewal of our Sam's membership. Oh well.
Gift/Gift Shipping: $57 overage. We bought Patrick a birthday gift and a niece a birthday gift. Really not too bad considering....
Make-up/Toiletries: Although I spent nothing in this category, I'm still $6 over my rolling budget. Hopefully this one will work itself out soon.
Gas Station Snacks: $6 overage resulting from our traveling during Labor Day. This is a weakness of Chip's when stopping for gasoline.


ADDITIONAL COMMENTS:

  • We sent $719 over the minimum payment to the credit card that is next on our debt snowball list. I'm hoping to really throw some money at it in October! I just hate seeing the overages in un-necessities (like the eating out overages) and thinking about how much more I could have sent.
  • Emergency fund is good to go at $1500 still.
  • We paid off the remainder of all medical debt (we still previously had one $178 bill leftover from Chip's vasectomy that we have been putting off paying).
  • We paid $128 to renew our car tags. I didn't budget for it but we were able to pull it off still.
  • We spent $61 during September preparing for Patrick's birthday party. There won't be many additional costs to add during the October budget, so I think we pulled off his entire party for under $100 (including gifts!).
Change in Networth from October 14, 2009: + $29,887.31
Debt Paid off Since October 14, 2009: $18,218.38

And that is September in a financial nutshell at our house.

How did you do this month?

Monday, October 4, 2010

8 Items to Donate Other Than Money

If you find yourself here via the Carnival of Personal Finance #278 – Thanksgiving Edition hosted by Canadian Finance Blog, consider yourself welcome. Pull up a chair, grab a glass of sweet tea and look around. If you find what you like, you can always subscribe, follow me on Twitter, or Fan me on Facebook using the links in my right sidebar.

Money is tight for a lot of people these days. Because of the economic downturn our country has seen over the last few years, many non-profit organizations have suffered because people are clinging a little (or a lot) more tightly to their wallets. When these organizations depend on the generosity of others and those others are not as confident of their financial standing, many programs can fall apart or have to make drastic cuts themselves. Additionally, more people are qualifying for the needs that some of these organizations provide. Supply and demand is completely off balance.

However, there are things other than money that you can donate if you are currently finding yourself a little more strapped for cash but feeling bad about not being able to help as you wish.

1. Clothing
Whether it be stuff your family has outgrown or items that you just are not using, there are a number of places that will gladly take your gently used clothing. You can always do a standby of Goodwill or the Salvation Army, but there are thousands of others.

You can send clothing in good condition to local homeless shelters. Maternity clothes can go to crisis pregnancy centers. Business attire can go to organizations like Dress for Success (women) or Career Gear (men).

You can even donate unwearable clothing to The Socity of St. Vincent de Paul, as decent items they cannot pass as good quality are sold as rags.

Items that are torn, stained or unwearable can be donated to PlanetAid, who resell these to textile manufacturers to be repurposed as carpet padding, insulation, shop rags, and other byproducts. I actually used to work at a textile mill that did this. It was a great learning experience for me since I did not know that type of business existed previously.

Worn out sneakers (any brand) can be donated to Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program. This organization repurposes the material into sports surfaces—like tracks, tennis courts or playground padding. Since 1990, more than 25 million pairs have been collected.

2. Building Materials:
There are a number of organizations that will gladly accept the remainder of the flooring that you didn't need after the installation or some tinted grout mix that just didn't match your tiles but you were not allowed to return. Habitat for Humanity specializes in building homes for underprivileged families and can always use supplies and will gladly accept large donations of supplies. For smaller donations, you can give to their ReStore organization and all proceeds from those purchases help fund their building projects (and you can get some great deals there!). Make a Wish foundation also accepts donations to assist in building items to help children's dreams come true.

3. Electronics:
Of course many local organizations working with children will accept decently up to date computers and you should check those out in your area. If you can't find anything locally on your own, you should check out Recycles.org and they can assist you in finding something in your area.

What about cell phones? Cell Phones for Soldiers will rebuild/refurbish usable phones and distribute them to servicemen and women returning home from overseas. Non-usable phone are recycled and the profits are sent to military personnel overseas in the form of a calling card. 1 broken phone = 60 calling card minutes.

4. Eyeglasses:
What do you do with an old pair of glasses? You obviously cannot use them (effectively) anymore. OneSight, whose mission statement is to "restore and preserve clear vision for more than 314 million adults and children in need worldwide who cannot see clearly" could certainly use them. You can donate individual pairs of glasses at any: LensCrafters, ILORI, Optical Shop of Aspen, Pearle Vision, Sears Optical, Target Optical or participating local practitioner. Find the donation location nearest you today! Seriously...how easy is that?!

5. Clicks and Searches:
A number of sites now online will allow donations to be made because you simply clicked a few buttons. It's donating some of your internet time...and I know we all have that to spare. You can use The Hunger Site, Care 2, Ecology Fund, Free Rice, The Solar Site, Bhookh or you can search around on The Nonprofits, which lists 76 click to donate sites for non-profits in one area and you can choose the charity that fits your heart's passion.

There are also ways to use search engines to donate to your favorite causes. Because you're searching anyway, right? So instead of making Google more and more popular (is that possible) and earning Swagbucks (yeah...I do it too), use Dreamer, Do Great Good , GoodSearch , and/or Livoogle.

6. Body Parts:
Don't laugh. I'm serious.

But I'm not talking about your big toe. I mean blood, plasma, platelets...all those things that various blood banks across the country are always in need of are a great donation. It takes a minor amount of time on your part. You don't need anything you don't already have. You get a free cholesterol screening and juice and cookies along with your donation. And if you give during a drive you might score a free tshirt. But you're giving life. Literally. Blood and its components don't last very long so the need is constant. Search one of these national blood banks for a donation location near you: United Blood Services or American Red Cross. Also you might want to search (use one of the search engines above!) for a local blood bank.

Or you can donate hair. If you have 8 inches of hair (or more) that you can cut off you can donate it to Beautiful Lengths (free wigs for female cancer patients), Locks of Love (hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children 18 suffering from long term hair loss from any diagnosis), or Wigs for Kids (12 inch minimum - creates custom hairpieces for children with hair loss).

7. Shop for Free and Donate Items:
I have discussed many times through my pharmacy and grocery shopping posts of old that I would frequently use coupons, sales, and rebates to score items for free. It's great to get something you need for free, but what happens when they keep putting peanut butter on sale and you can get it for free with a mail in rebate or coupons, but you have a peanut allergy (totally a hypothetical situation...you rarely get peanut butter for free!)? You can still "buy" it for free and donate it. I've done this with a lot of grocery items and personal care products. If I don't like a brand of shampoo and don't need shampoo for free, it goes in my donation pile that gets sent to our church's pantry once a month. Just do a search (remember those search engines listed above!) for Free Walgreens or Free at CVS or the like and you'll hit THOUSANDS of websites and blogs telling you what you can get free this week. Go "buy" these and donate them.

8. Your Time:
All of the above organizations (and thousand more) would love your money and your gifts. What they are usually desperate for though is volunteers. Find an organization that really grabs your heart and then ask how you can volunteer. Maybe you can love on pets, mentor a child, cook a meal, build a house, mow a lawn, clean an apartment, tutor a child, sort through donations, or a number of other tasks. You don't have to be particularly gifted in any field. There is always something to do and usually two hands are needed for that task. Maybe you can sort mail, run errands, do some filing, clean a pet cage, help people fill out forms, vacuum a non-profit's office building, or serve a meal.

There are so many needs in this world. Many of them on the other side of the world. Many of them next door to you and me.

Give someone a hand even if you don't feel you have much to give. You will both be blessed for it.

  • If you can't feed a hundred people, then just feed one. - Mother Theresa
  • If you have much, give of your wealth; If you have little, give of your heart - Arab Proverb
  • They who give have all things; they who withhold have nothing - Hindu Proverb
  • Don't say that you want to give, but go ahead and give! You'll never catch up with a mere hope. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  • Some people give time, some money, some their skills and connections, some literally give their life's blood. But everyone has something to give. - Barbara Bush
  • I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver. - Maya Angelou
  • No one has ever become poor by giving. - Anne Frank
  • A handful of pine-seed will cover mountains with the green majesty of forests. I too will set my face to the wind and throw my handful of seed on high. - Fiona Macleod
  • I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. - C. S. Lewis

Photo credit: dolmansaxlil
 

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