Thursday, March 31, 2011

Time for Spring Cleaning - Your Finances

So many of us are familiar with the idea of spring rolling around and picking up the feather duster (really? does anyone really own one of those?) and getting those nooks and crannies taken care of. You may do the windows or flip the mattress, or just other minor details that are not part of the regular cleaning schedule. What about other areas of your life? Let's look at a few ways you can spring clean your finances.

  1. Re-evaluate your budget. This is something that needs to be done from time to time anyway, so why not sit down with your spouse and seriously plow through it. Talk about what is working and what is not. See if there are any changes you can make from the last time it was modified. Make sure you are massaging it to work for you the best possible way.

  2. Check out your insurance policies. Can you drop your full coverage (we just did!)? Have you lost weight and might benefit from letting your life insurance carrier know this? Do you need to add life insurance now that you've added a new baby to the family?

  3. Revisit your beneficiaries. Make sure all of your insurance policies, 401k, etc have the correct beneficiary info on them in the event your unexpected demise (isn't that a happy thought?)

  4. Do you need those subscriptions? Are you using Netflix? Do you find yourself always returning those Featured Movies because you forgot to decline it? Do you actually read that magazine? Can you downgrade from a daily paper to Sundays only? Take a look at all of those things you get charged for monthly without a thought.

  5. Can you close any accounts? A lot of people only accounts with online banks that offer $25 FREE UPON SIGNUP and never use that account. Take the money out and close the account. You aren't using it and it's just something else cluttering up your life even when you give it no thought.

  6. Re-evaluate your financial goals. Will you pay off your debt sooner than expected? Make sure there is a plan to make that happen. Are you now debt-free and need to start saving? Make that change NOW.

  7. Clean out your personal finance records. I'm not saying trash everything, but make sure everything you are keeping is all relevant and stored together in some order that someone other than just you can decipher. Keep tax documents. Throw out ATM receipts. Shred any documents that are going to be trashed.

  8. Automate OR Unautomate your bills. What?! I know...sounds crazy. For those of you who are always paying your bills late, set up automatic bill payment with your bank. Of course, you'll have to make sure the money is in there when the bill is due, but you won't ever pay it late again. I would be shocked if your bank does not offer this. For those of you who cannot keep track of your money because it is automated, unautomate it and return to writing and mailing checks, or just manually paying bills online. This sounds crazy I know, but different strokes for different folks, you know. Make sure your system is working for you. Also--automate some money into your savings and/or retirement accounts while you are at it. You'll get to where you don't even miss it and your older self with thank you!

  9. Start your Christmas/birthday fund. I know it is hard to think about it now, but if you start saving for those special events now, you'll find that you are not stressed about where the money will come from when the big day arrives.

  10. Run one of your credit reports. I do this every 4 months so that annually I have check all three reports throughout the year for free as I'm entitled to. I discuss that more here if you want/need details.

  11. Close open accounts. Do you have store credit card accounts that are empty and need to be closed? I know, you'll reduce your available credit but you'll also reduce your chances of having your identity stolen. Since I wouldn't recommend closing them all down at once if you are concerned about your FICO score, go ahead and close all of the small ones now. The others can be closed as you pay them off if you desire.

  12. Shop for better service. Whether it be for your technology package, your garbage, your cell phone or your lawn service, call around and see if your provider still has the best price for the service. Do the same with your banking service.

  13. Check out your investments. Look at your IRA or 401k and make sure you are invested where you need to be. If you still need to throw some money into your IRA to claim it for 2010 taxes you have until April 15th, so make sure that happens.

  14. Evaluate your tax withholdings. By now you've probably done your taxes (if not, just do this step as soon as they are done) and you know how your withholdings compared to what you owed. Make any adjustments needed to make sure you don't owe next year or don't get as huge of a refund (unless that's just your thing).

  15. Look for things to sell. Look! This one cleans up your house and your finances! Find things around your house that are glorified paperweights. If you use your treadmill as a clothes hanger, put it up on Craigslist. If you have baby gear and no more babies, take them to consignment. If you have clothes that you just cannot or will not wear, take them to consignment or even donate them (get a donation receipt if you can). If you have a baseball card collection sitting in the spare bedroom in boxes and it hasn't seen the sunlight in 15 years, put that sucker up on ebay. This will free up some physical space in your house as well as give you some cash to apply toward your financial goals.

So take advantage of the warmer weather and breathe some fresh air into your finances!

Do you have any other suggestions?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Newton's First Law of Personal Finance

I have decided why so many of us have such a hard time living a financially healthy lifestyle.

We are terrified of change.

No, not that jingly stuff that your kids beg from you to throw into a fountain (do your kids do this? Ours do and I LOVE this innocence!).

I mean that most of us, by nature, resist change. Seriously…even Sir Isaac Newton knew this. In his first law of motion, often referred to as the Law of Inertia, (see, this is the geek in me coming out to play), he stated that An object that is in motion will not change its velocity unless an unbalanced force acts upon it. (not a direct quote, mind you, but an application of the law).

So we happily plug away in whatever direction we set out on because change is so hard.

It takes guts to look at your financial situation honestly. To face the truth of how much you make and how much you spend as well as how much you owe, and weigh out the imbalance of it all…it’s often humbling, embarrassing, and depressing. And none of us are really big on feeling that way. It’s easier to ignore it and play along. At least for now it is.

It takes gumption to go against the norm, and if you plan on living a financially healthy lifestyle (you know, below your means and with a plan for your money to work for you now and in the future), you WILL have to go against the norm. You will not be able to keep up with the Joneses. You will not be able to compare your newest tech toy with your neighbor. You will not get to discuss the latest movie in the theaters with your coworkers. You will have to explain to your children why they simply cannot have a particular toy. It doesn’t really feel good at first. You will feel different…and that is unsettling for most of us.

It takes courage to change your ways. Not only will you have to stop being like others, but you will have to stop being like the person you have previously been. Not only can you not buy the newest toy, but you might have to sell some of the previous models just so you can have some cash to pay down your bills. You will have to stop enjoying nice sit-down lunches with coworkers in exchange for a bagged lunch brought from home full of leftovers of the home-cooked dinner from a previous night (that’s right…you’ll be cooking at home too).

But you know what? You can do it. You see, Newton did not say that it would be impossible to change directions. It just takes an unbalanced force to change the direction. That force could be a blog post you read, it could be a neighbor’s repossessed vehicle, or it could be something more personal, like a job loss or a large unexpected medical bill. If you’re lucky, it will not take something that drastic to turn you around.

I have some really good news for you:

That Law of Inertia…it works both ways. The turning around is the frightening part. It is scary. It hurts. It depresses. But once you accept it, the freedom is yours to be had. The power you gain by sending in more than minimum payments and watching those balances shrink is amazing. Once you are headed down the road to financial independence, once you experience the freedom of paying off that credit card, once you feel the release of actually OWNING your car, it will take a lot to turn you back around again.

So if you haven’t done it yet, make that turn onto the road of financial freedom. That is the direction that you will want to be traveling so that your speed and momentum can grow and you can live independently. You will then be able to truly thrive.

Photo credit: blackcat79

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

WFMW - Promoting Your Giveaways and Linkies

Sorry I'm a bit late to the game today. Crazy day, I tell you!

I have a few Go-To locations for linkies and listing to promote my giveaways. I just wanted to take a brief moment to share those with you. Maybe you're new to giveaways and don't know how to promote or maybe you just are looking to expand. OR maybe you have a linky and want more people to list their giveaways in it! Either way...check out these locations to see all of the many, many places around the internet to promote your giveaways!

Savings Lifestyle Linky List (Formerly MommySnacks)

Cuckoo for Coupon Deals Giveaway Linky List

Blog Giveaway Directory Squidoo Post of Giveaway Linkies

My Four Monkeys (underneath each week's Monday linky)

Audrey's Giveaways List

So whether you are trying to advertise your giveaway or looking for somewhere to promote your linky, visit these sites and take full advantage!

Promoting my giveaways through (most of) the linkies list above really works for me! Go visit We Are THAT Family to see what works for everyone else!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

We Just Saved $500/Month! Ask Me How...

Okay, so this is not exactly a "tip" type of post, as I know not all of you find yourself in a similar situation or with a similar "out."

But we have saved $500/month that we were possibly going to have to spend in the future and I wanted to share my excitement with you about how.

A bit of a backstory, if you will:

We were a bit naive about school districts when we bought our home in Savannah. We didn't realize that if we had bought just 2 miles away, which is in a different county, that our education options would be much, much better. As it is, we live where we do and we can't exactly sell a house right now.

So we had a plan of action. To avoid Patrick having to attend the elementary school we are currently zoned for (which is awful by all accounts), we looked into some of the open enrollment and charter programs within the public school system. We narrowed it down to two that were relatively close and available for him to attend.

Plan A: Get into the closest Montessori program (there are two but one is really far away). This requires applying and then waiting for a lottery to be held to see if his name was drawn.

Plan B: Put his name in for an open enrollment school that is also part of the public school system.

Plan Ideal: Ideally we could get into both schools A & B and have a choice regarding which we wanted him to attend.

Plan C: Private school. Which we do not want to have to pay for, but are willing to in order to keep him away from his zoned school.

So we proceeded with the action plan. We did the open house at the Montessori school and then submitted our application. And started waiting.

We called the open enrollment school. Unfortunately...they are no longer open enrollment. Boo, hiss SERIOUSLY.

So Plan B fell through (and therefore Plan Ideal). We were solely dependant on Plan A to avoid private school tuition.

Well, Monday night the lottery was held.


Hip Hip Hooray! So excited and relieved! That's one huge weight off our shoulders! His education will be awesome and free!

Have you ever had to face anything like this? How did it turn out for you? Are you pleased with your options for education for your children?

Photo credit: saltoricco