Friday, March 20, 2009

Read Our Family's Story in Redbook

The April issue of Redbook is out and I am so pleased with the results! If you aren't able to snag a copy, they have made the article available online and you can read more about our debt-free journey.

My real-life friend and fellow Eleven Mom, Lynnae at Being Frugal, was also featured and you can read about her own story here.

A big thank you to Jonathan Sprague, Kathy Friend, and Gabrielle from Camellia Cosmestics for all helping me look and feel like a superstar.

It was a wonderful day and I will never forget it. I am so proud to have been featured for our family's financial choices and I hope we can inspire others to live a debt-free life and celebrate!

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Simplifying Your Money Management Resource List

Another big round of thanks to Julie for joining us in this half hour and sharing her expertise on money management. I hope you will be able to pick up her book and learn more about our emotional responses towards money and how we can improve our lives through these discoveries. The player above highlights the past few shows, but you can visit MomAdvice Simplified where all of the shows have been archived and be listened to or even downloaded to your iPod!

Here are some of the resources that were highlighted in today's episode:

The Emotion Behind Money: Building Wealth from the Inside Out- Julie offers valuable advice in this book on understanding our emotions behind money and how to gain control of our finances. Please be sure to check out her book or visit her site for more details about what this book has to offer!

CheckFree- Julie discussed automating those bills to make it easier for moms. If your bank does not offer free bill-paying services, CheckFree is a great option that has worked for my family for years. It is a free bill-paying service and they have the relationships with the companies. I am sent an email alert when bills are due and I pay each of them manually. You can also set it up to automatically take it out of your account. Feel free to share in the comments below if you have found a great service through your bank or a third party service that has worked for you.

No Spend Challenge- This was a challenge that our family embarked on to get our finances back on track. Scroll to the bottom to start the journey from the beginning and don't be scared to tackle a no spend challenge of your own.

Free Monthly Budget Sheet- You will find this great budget sheet to be helpful to your family in getting those family finances back on track. Visit our resources section for many downloads to help with your home management needs.

On next week's show...

Next week we will be joined by Stephanie Vozza, the Founder of The Organized Parent and organizational expert, she will be giving us simple and affordable techniques and tools that moms can used to stay organized in our home. Stephanie knows that most mothers have been in the workplace (or still are) before their “mom lives” began. She also recognizes that in corporate and home offices, there are tools and standard practices to structure a workday. But when it comes to organizing your personal life, it’s every mom for herself! Stephanie is going to guide us in this journey towards getting our mom lives as organized as our corporate lives were. That podcast will be airing next Thursday at 2PM EST so if you are looking to get your life organized again, be sure to tune in for that episode.

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MomAdvice Simplified: Simplifying Money Management

This week on MomAdvice Simplified, my weekly podcast for moms, we are joined by Julie Murphy Casserly to discuss tips on simplifying money-management. Julie will help us identify our preconceived thoughts and feelings about money, how to overcome negative thoughts and put ourselves on a path to a positive financial future. Julie is a CLU, ChFC, CFP® and a 14-year veteran of the financial services industry and author of the new book, The Emotion Behind Money: Building Wealth from the Inside Out.

Julie’s mission to “financially heal America” by helping people understand their emotions behind money, and how these attitudes affect how they earn, spend and save – or, conversely, accumulate debt. She delves into the emotion and psychology behind her clients monetary issues.

Just as a reminder, you can listen to the show live every Thursday at 2PM EST or you can listen later right here on my the left sidebar! Check back after the show for our resource list so you can explore all of the great links to the books and advice that we share during our half hour.

During this podcast, we are going to be offering one lucky listener a copy of Julie's book! I know this would be an invaluable tool for money management so I hope you will tune in live to hear Julie's wise words for understanding our feelings behind our spending.

Julie will be joining us live so if you have any questions you would like me to ask her, please leave those here in the comments and I will ask them on the air!

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Post No Spend Challenge Confessions

There was a lovely and thoughtful discussion over at Northern Cheapskate on the difficulties that people would have had with the No Spend Challenge. I want to stress that it was a completely voluntary experience and that while I committed to a no spend month, I wanted people to modify it to their lifestyle and what they felt comfortable with. If a day was what you were comfortable with, if it is a habit you are trying to break, if a week would shed light on your finances- then those were all great and wonderful ways to implement a challenge in your life.

Most of the comments said how difficult it would be to not go on a spending binge after the challenge was over. What a valid point that is! I have also received some comments and emails since the challenge was over wondering if I was having problems with spending and if it will have saved me money in the long run.

The weird thing for me is that other than my little $15 in yarn excursion for some gifts I am working on, a hair cut (which typically happens each month), a necessary birthday gift for my husband, and my $1 Diet Coke that I buy myself after grocery shopping, I had no inclination to run out and spend loads of money.

Here is the weirder part... My husband's birthday is this week and I got him a watch for his 30th birthday (a killer deal that I scored off of eBay). I took it to the mall to get it engraved and they told me it would take an hour before it would be ready. I had all of this time to shop and instead, I took my daughter over to the play area, whipped out my knitting project, and just sat and knitted while she played for an hour.

She was so happy running around and talking to the children and counting the blocks on the floor, and reciting her 1-2-3's at the top of her lungs and I drank all of that in and worked on my project. There was no tug to shop... although I did feel a tiny tug to get a cup of coffee.

What did change is that the challenge did shed light on some problems that I have with my spending.

I now know that there are a couple of days that are harder for me with my work and I am trying to get dinner prepared ahead of time or work on slow cooker meals for those nights to reduce our eating out.

I realized that I need to scale back on outings that cost money and so I am choosing to do one thing a week instead of a few.

I am entertaining more because, frankly, my house looks better when I know I have people coming and it breaks my day up.

And most of all, it has made me conscious of my spending habits and how I can improve them. Even a money-savvy gal like myself, needed a little wake-up call into how we could improve our financial situation.

As for the economy and the negative impact I had on it by challenging others to a No Spend Challenge... well, I won't apologize for that and I know that might anger some people. I live in a part of the country that is particularly plagued with job loss and I am doing what I can to prepare our finances and make our situation stronger. My husband lost his job for a year and it took us five years to recover from that. I want to build a safety net for my family and not spending helped us gain perspective on how we can make that happen.

I might not have the influence of Oprah, but I still hope I made a difference on how families can improve their finances. And can I say to Oprah, I thought of the No Spend Challenge first? You know, just in case someone needs that information for historical purposes.

Are you reducing your spending to protect your family or are you increasing your spending to protect the economy? Do you believe it is an either/or philosophy?

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Play It Again, Momma: The Poor & The Sick

Is there such a thing as being sick on a budget? Our family seems to think so! We try to even address our budget when it comes to our illnesses in life. Here are some ways that you can save money when you are sick:

- Try home remedies before reaching for the cough syrup. There are tons of wonderful remedies that you can do that don't require a big expense. I am a big believer in chicken soup, a warm bath, hot tea, and lots of rest. The rest alone is sometimes enough for me to kick what is ailing me.

- If you need over-the-counter medications, try and stock up on these items when doing your drugstore rebates. Usually CVS & Walgreens both will run rebates on these medications and you can get them for free or really inexpensively. Other great resources are the Dollar General, the Dollar Tree, and the generic equivalents available at your large superstores. The best way to save a buck is to have your medicine cabinet stocked with these items before you are ill. A 24 hour drugstore with no sale will run you quite a bit more than what you would spend normally.

- Organize your medicine cabinet so you know exactly where your items are. We have a three drawer plastic container where we have our medications divided by ailment (cough/cold, pain relievers, stomach) and we put these in there. I get really mad at myself when I have run out to get a medication, only to find it days later in a hidden drawer. Keeping this and your First Aid kit organized are the best ways to know what you have on hand when sickness and emergency situations arise.

- When you go to the doctor, ask if they have any samples of the medications you might need. Sometimes, particularly with my children, I am able to get enough for a few days.

- If they don't have any samples, ask if there are any prescriptions that they could give you off of the $4 list or free antibiotics from your local retailers. Call around and price check before you fill your prescriptions and always ask if you can get the generic version of any medication.

- If you start to feel ill, try right away to get in the doctor for treatment. A visit during normal office hours will be a lot less expensive than an urgent care clinic.

- When choosing a doctor, ask about evening hours and Saturday appointments. Pick a doctor with extended hours and this alone can save you quite a bit. I love that our doctor's office is open until eight in the evening and that I have many more options for appointment times.

- If you do become ill, try after-hours clinics or places like MedPoint to get the care that you need (unless the illness is life-threatening). I have saved our family a lot of money by visiting these places instead of the emergency room. Just walking into the emergency room can put me in the negative, before I have even been checked, so these after-hour clinics can be a wonderful option for the frugal family.

- If your illness does require a hospital stay, make sure to check your bills. There are many expensive and unnecessary charges that can be added to your bill. This is one of those types where diligence will be your best defense in lowering your hospital bill. Don't be afraid to ask what the charges are and have them explain the vague & general charges. You don't have to be rude, but you can be very firm and polite when asking someone to explain what a "lab fee" is for. You are your own best advocate when you are educated about what you are paying for.

- Don't forget to set up your emergency account for these types of situations. Check into getting a flexible spending account for your medical expenses. Consumer Reports offers this advice..."If your company offers a flexible spending account for your out-of-pocket health-care costs, go for it--but don't go overboard." Flexible spending accounts are usually use-it-or-lose it accounts. Figure out a rough estimate and go a little under that. Don't know what to do with all that leftover money at the end of the year? Check out these 24 suggestions for spending your leftover flexible account money.

- The best way to stop yourself from getting sick is prevention. Exercise, take a daily multivitamin, and make healthy lifestyle choices. People who do these things save tons of money on doctor visits and medications. If that isn't a powerful motivator, I don't know what is!

(image credit: Bryan Warman)

Potential Monthly Savings: $20 or more

What are some ways you save money when your family is sick?

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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Going Without Prescription Coverage

(originally aired: October 14, 2007)

I debated a long time about whether or not to post this, but I figured it might help someone else out there so I thought I would share my experience.

When my husband started his new job, we started a ninety day lapse in insurance coverage. We have purchased a temporary policy with a high deductible, but we are going without some of the perks that we had with our old policy. One of those perks was a reimbursement program on my prescription drugs.

I do want to begin by saying that the medication I was on was not working for me. I have IBS and I have depression and the drugs that my family physician had me on were not helping me at all. If there was a side effect listed with the medication, I had it. I am one of those people who experiences terrible side effects, which makes me hesitant to ever fool around with a good thing when it comes to my medicine. Unfortunately, since I have had Emily, I have not found that magical sweet spot where I have felt good and we have been bouncing me around on all sorts of medicines and no relief from either ailment. When my stomach medication was pulled by the FDA due to people dying from complications, I threw my hands up in the air and knew that I needed to make a change.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, so I talked with a girlfriend who is a firm believer in homeopathic remedies. My feelings towards these types of treatments have always been disbelief. I will admit it, I have always considered many of these remedies a waste of money. Her sister-in-law has three homeopathic practices and a long line of happy clients, so she said she could ask her some of the things that I could take after I explained everything that I was looking for, what wasn't working, and so on. I remember thinking that if it sounded too "weird" or "out there" that I would not take them.

Another important element to me was that I was not paying more for my treatment than I was for the prescription drugs. Always the frugal girl, I wanted my treatment to be affordable, but also to feel better.

My friend gave me a list of what she had suggested and none of it was strange or unheard of. For my stomach, one of her recommendations was a cup of hot water with lemon before bed (how frugal is that?) She also had a substitute for my anti-depressant and a few items that would boost my immune system.

I have been doing this for about a month now and I have never felt better in my life. My constant tiredness and that cloudiness that I felt is gone and I am feeling more like myself than I have ever felt before. I am amazed at the difference that I feel and how I react towards my family. I am experiencing no side effects and I see a noticeable difference in myself. I feel like me again and it has been a long time since I have felt that way.

The icing on the cake is the extra $200 that will be sitting in my account each month. My new medicines only cost me $50 each month! What a savings!

If medications aren't working for you, homeopathic remedies might be worth looking into. My depression and stomach problems were mild, but were having a negative effect on my life. With care from an expert in the homeopathic field, you might be able to relieve yourself of your symptoms and keep a little extra money in your pocket at the same time.

If you do have to take medications though, my articles on going without health insurance and my article on going without prescription coverage might provide some help! I also blogged on treating ailments when you are without coverage or are looking for the cheapest way to treat sickness.

Have you ever substituted homeopathic remedies for prescription drugs? What are your feelings towards these types of remedies?

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Celebrating Financial Milestones as a Family

This morning on WSBT, I discuss some ways that you can celebrate your financial milestones as a family. This topic is near and dear to my heart because I think it is so important to teach and share your financial victories and shortcomings in ways that your children can understand.

Here are two of our links to our past celebrations:

Debt-Free Party
Cars Party

We are now working on paying off our student loan debt so we can achieve our American Dream. I hope that all of this will inspire other families to start their own celebrations with their children!


We are offering two exciting giveaways on our blog- don't forget to put in your entry!

Last week, I provided a list of 35 Ways to Save on Your Grocery Budget that I hope will be really helpful for families. I want to add a #36 though that I know would make your day... how about free toilet paper and paper towels for an entire year from Scott's? Head over right now and put in your entry at The MotherLoot today. Please do not enter here, only entries over here will qualify. The contest is open until Tuesday night and then I will draw our winner!

And our brand new giveaway has just begun! Enter today to win a 10th Anniversary Harry Potter prize pack. We are giving away beautiful boxed sets of the Harry Potter series and the new anniversary editions of, "Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone" Please do not enter here, only entries over here will qualify. The contest is open until October 13th and then I will draw our winner! The contest is open until Tuesday night and then I will draw our winners!

Good luck, everyone!

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

35 Ways to Save on Your Grocery Budget

With grocery prices rising and package sizes shrinking, it can be difficult to stay within your grocery budget. Here are 35 steps towards improving your grocery budget and making the most of your money.

1. Buy the least expensive ground beef and rinse the meat instead to reduce the fat content.
2. Stop buying baby carrots and chop the carrots yourself.
3. Milk your milk budget by using powdered milk when the milk prices are too high.
4. Try making your own coffee syrups and coffee creamers to help save on your coffee expenses.
5. Dispose of the disposable items and switch to cloth napkins, washcloths, and and microfiber cloths to replace your paper napkins and disposable wipes.
6. Try making your own bread using a bread machine or making bread the good old-fashioned way.
7. Start keeping a price book to cash in on the best deals (you can download a free one here).
8. Take advantage of grocery delivery services or free in-store shopping services to help avoid impulse shopping.
9. Give wholesale club shopping a try for items that you use frequently, just be sure to use your price book to compare the prices.
10. Start making your own homemade cleaners.
11. Learn the art of stockpiling and create a system for storing your stockpile that works for your family.
12. Create a series of menu plans that you can rotate so you can make your grocery shopping easier and keep yourself under budget.
13. Try using coupons and utilizing free coupon services to help you score the best deals for your money.
14. Start gardening with simple foods that are easy to grow like tomatoes, herbs, cucumbers, and squash.
15. Try canning items from your garden to help cut costs in the winter months.
16. Make your own baby food or find a way to buy it cheaper.
17. Give cloth diapering a shot! They have come a long way and can save you hundreds and hundreds of dollars.
18. Sign up for free samples of food and toiletry items. You will waste less money trying new items out and these samples can help get you by when times are more lean.
19. Make your own mixes instead of buying them.
20. Try shopping at a less expensive supermarket.
21. Bring your own grocery bags for a grocery bag credit at most supermarkets.
22. Shop at stores that will double your coupons.
23. Bring cash and a calculator instead of using your debit card. This will help you to stay on budget better.
24. Utilize a slow cooker so you can buy cheaper cuts of meats and use the slow cooker to tenderize them.
25. Try making your own condiments like pancake syrup, croutons, and salad dressings.
26. Take inventory in your fridge, pantry, and freezer before shopping to avoid buying repeat and unnecessary items.
27. Try replacing one evening meal with breakfast foods instead. Most brunch dishes are less expensive and you can omit or stretch meat in these dishes a lot further.
28. Instead of buying prepackaged bagged ingredients, try packaging your own ingredients once a week instead. It will help get dinner on the table faster and it will save you money in your grocery budget.
29. Make a homemade pizza instead of buying pizzas in the frozen section.
30. Schedule a day in your kitchen every week to make cooking easier and to help save on the cost of buying convenience foods.
31. Feed your freezer and/or give once-a-month cooking a try to save on time and money.
32. Eliminate meat or make one night a meat-free night.
33. Make snacks items convenient so you don't have to buy the prepackaged goodies.
34. Buy and prepare whole chickens instead of buying chicken breasts as a meal or shred this meat for your casseroles.
35. Buy your meat in bulk.

(Photo Credit: WhamBam Pam)

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Vrooming Through Our Debt

Two envelopes came to us this week filled with two things that I had never seen before. No, in my entire life I have never held a title in my hand and I am now the owner of not one, but two old cars. This calls for some celebrating!

Just like our credit card free party, it was time to bring the kids into the celebration and share with them our great news. I decided we would have a Cars Party and hunted in the pantry for what we could fix.

Ethan worked on the centerpiece and picked his favorite cars to display. We put it out on our patio table and started gathering up the food.

No steak for this celebration? I had enough time to throw some hot dogs in the slow cooker and we put out all the hot dog fixings, a big bowl of pretzels, and cheese wedges.

In an incredible twist of good luck, Ryan had a presentation at work so he came home with a projector. I climbed on a patio chair and rigged up that old sheet from this weekend and made a very hillbilly-esque kind of outdoor theater for the kids. Yeah, you know it, they thought I was the coolest mom ever.
What did we watch? Walt Disney's Cars movie of course! They have seen this movie a ton of times, but it is like the first time every single time for Ethan.

We put our centerpiece to good use and played with our cars on the real and rugged road.

If that road feels too bumpy though, you can always use your legs for the road.

What's a movie without snacks though? I whipped up a batch of our homemade slushies and we brought the popcorn popper outside and popped a big batch of popcorn to share. Slushie sloshing and popcorn throwing were completely fine at this outdoor event.

If you need to take a nap while watching the show, seating is also available. Ethan pulled his clean blanket off the clothesline and took a little rest while he watched the show.

My liens on cars have been released. With credit cards and car payments behind us, we can start making a dent into those student loans and finally... our mortgage. Each step brings us closer to our goal and each step brings me more peace of mind.

The beauty of it all wore off yesterday as I screeched and clunked my way to stop. My car will be spending this week in the shop for some repairs. My husband's car is lacking A/C and will need a turn in the shop as well.

They might be a couple of old clunkers, but they are OUR clunkers now.

Boy, am I proud!

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Our Debt-Free Party

We finally celebrated our debt-free party, after making the final payment on our credit cards today. I wanted to make sure that it was really special and that the kids would be an active participant in our joy and elation of all we did to work towards this day.

Above is our centerpiece for the event. As cheesy as it was, it was symbolic of the fruits of our labor. I put the amount of money that we paid off into the basket to show Ethan what a big sum it was and how excited we were that we didn't have to pay this anymore. The money came from our Monopoly game and we were able to let him count it out and also used it to show how borrowing money works. This made things more tangible for him and we tried to make this a great teaching opportunity for why debt it so bad.

What should a debt-free family eat for their celebration dinner? Steak, of course! I used this marinade recipe and marinated the steaks while I prepared the rest of the ingredients for the meal. I got a big loaf of crusty bread with oil to dip it in, I made this Creamy Spinach Ravioli (minus the dill and prepared with half & half instead of milk), and I made a big batch of brownies for dessert.

Even Emily seemed to appreciate my modest culinary efforts. Most of the ingredients came right from the pantry so it was still an affordable dinner. The writing didn't turn out on the brownies, but we devoured them anyway. That will teach me to get anxious and pipe before they are throughly cooled.

What's a party without a good toast? I got a bottle of wine for our celebration and used our cut up credit card as an accent to our wine glasses. I poured pink lemonade for Ethan in the fancy wine glass so he could celebrate a toast with us.

We clinked glasses several times to get the best shot for you! Ethan loved clinking the glasses so he didn't mind the extra takes.

I finished the evening by reading my entry that I wrote about our happy return to the land of no credit cards. It actually was quite emotional for me to read it out loud to my husband because we went through so much to get to this point.

Thank you all for sharing in our journey with us and for supporting our efforts on the site. Cheers to you!

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This American's Dream

When the American dream consists of a McMansion, giant flat screen television, and an expensive car, I often feel like my American dream seems modest and unremarkable.

Yet, as modest and unremarkable as it is, I feel as though I am living what I would consider a dream come true. After battling a year of unemployment with my husband and a mounting pile of debt, we made our last credit card payment today. $13K of debt stands behind me and in front of me is a future that seems as bright as sunshine.

Yes, my dreamy life is now simple and delightful. I am living in a house that I can afford, in fact, we have been paying extra on it each month so it can feel more like OURS than theirs. My house is nestled in a safe neighborhood with people who care about and for us.

Our house rests on a bit of land that I can do whatever I want with. I can grow food for us to eat and sit outside with my children while they play on their hand-me-down swing set. My clothing can flap in the breeze on the line and we can eat outside in that beautiful fresh air.

My husband goes to work and comes home with a paycheck that we can rely on. When times of self-employment faced days of wonder about whether he would get paid at all, when he was laid off from job after job, when he worked for employers who did not appreciate what a great employee he was something like this almost seems foreign. We are so grateful for this amazing opportunity and for him to have a boss that says, "Please don't ever leave- we need you!" is nothing short of phenomenal.

I am able to put food on my table and gas in my car, despite the rising costs. We might not buy as much or go as many places to make up for the hike in prices, but we go where we need to and eat when we are hungry.

I stay home with my children, which is exactly where I had hoped to be. I cut every corner I could to make it possible, and I sit here amidst a pile of blocks in the floor and a crunching of Cheerios as I scoot my chair back, but one kiss from my peanut butter & jelly smeared daughter makes all of the noise of my life come to a standstill.

When my daughter lays down for her nap and my son enjoys his moments of quiet time, my house is quiet and still. The phone does not ring with collection calls, but it does ring on occasion to let me know that my library materials I request are in. To enjoy answering my phone and to not be fielding these calls is a relief.

Best of all, I share my stories and someone reads them. I never thought anyone would read anything I ever wrote and to know that our site continues to grow and that I am paid to write about my ordinary and extraordinary days is beyond what any person could ever hope for. I have a community that supports me and a family that loves me and it so wonderful to know that the people around me care about what I am doing.

I share these accomplishments, not to brag, but to show how you can overcome debt and that you can lead a simple and beautiful life with your family. As an American, you can chose to live whatever dream you could ever want, but it doesn't have to be a dream of consumerism and being hostage to a credit card company.

And if you are a person who can't answer your phone without worry, if you are struggling with an unemployment situation, if your credit card debt is bigger than your yearly income and you wonder how you can ever get out, I am telling you now that it is possible. Take it one day at a time and put as much as you can towards reducing your debt and building a safety net for your family. We started out with only minimum amounts put towards the debt and slowly worked our way up from there.

It was not without struggle, but rarely have I ever read a good story without a good struggle. Would I even want to read a story where it was smooth sailing and happy rainbows? Probably not! But a story where the heroine overcomes a mountain of debt, struggling each step of the way and documenting her wild ride to the top of the mountain, and then slides down her credit card statements to a rosy that is a story I would love to read.

So here it is...this American's dream came true and she tackled that mountain. And here she sits with Cheerios crunching under her chair and living that happily ever after that she always dreamed of.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

A Truthful Journey & Then a Party

Circled and etched in my mind for the past four years has been the 17th of each month. I have it circled on my calendar, I get an email reminder that the date is approaching, and the number to make my payment is programmed on my telephone. Yes, American Express and I have had a long relationship together... a relationship that has went on for far longer than I had ever dreamed.

Sometimes when people talk about their debt, they have a period of "fun spending" where they bought great items for themselves and their homes. They reference their shoe collection or expensive furniture that they just had to have and ended up charging them to a card. My debt had no element of fun in it. There was no rush of fun spending and then a feeling of doom and gloom afterwards- it has been doom and gloom all of the way.

The sad thing was that we were doing everything right. We were excellent at saving our money and had socked away well over the recommended amount needed to fund our emergency account. We both worked hard at our jobs and we lived well, but modestly within our means.

The loss of a job, we figured would be an annoying setback, but nothing more than that. The setback went on for almost a year though and sent our world into a tailspin. The only job that replied during my husband's search was in the Midwest and they could offer him less than half what he was making at his current job.

I remember sitting on a moving box and crying, as my son crawled at my feet. I remember the feeling of hopelessness and despair. As we packed, my husband suggested giving away stuff or getting rid of our things so it would be easier for us in the move and I remember telling him that we EARNED our items and that we DESERVED to keep what we had. Yes, everything felt like it had been taken away and I was keeping everything that I owned and no one was going to stop me from that. You could take my husband's job, you could take my car, you could take my house, you could take away my church and my friends- but I was taking EVERYTHING out of that house with me.

As we journeyed to our new home, I peeked at Ethan behind us and looked at my husband's sad face. I was so angry at God and angry at the world for what was happening to us. We had done everything right and here we were...with everything so wrong. I wish, at the time, that I realized that I had everything I needed sitting in that car with me that day. I didn't need that moving van of stuff that represented what I was. These two people who rode in the car with me were everything that I could ever want.

As we settled into our new home, we started our life behind on all of our bills and with over $13K of debt. The kicker was that almost $8K of it was the cost to move all of our belongings cross-country. The rest was my husband's student loans that we had gotten behind on and then the occasional, "Oops, we are overdrawn again" and a frantic writing of checks to ourselves from those convenient checks that they kept sending me.

Finally, one day I decided to not be a victim anymore and decided that I was going to be proactive about tackling our debt. I made a plan for how we would pay everything back and make our financial lives right again. It was a simple technique of snowballing our debts, but just to have a plan made me feel far more liberated and in control then I had felt in years.

We have been working on our financial goals since then, sticking to our plans and meticulously documenting the progress that we have made towards our goals. I am so happy to say that April 17th will be the last date that I have with American Express and I am ending our relationship for good. Our time together was never fun, we never had that great of a relationship- they just always seemed to be at an advantage. Frankly, I am tired of paying for our dates and I am moving on.

In honor of our final payment to the company, I am going to have a wild and crazy party (within our means, of course). I was wondering if anyone had any fun ways to celebrate ridding yourself of credit card debt? I am looking for fun party ideas- cheesy ideas, wild ideas, symbolic ideas for celebrating.

Remember, this is a party that has been four years in the making! I am ready to party like it's 1999...or um, something like that but a little bit hipper.

I can't wait to get your feedback and ideas!

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Does Your Safety Net Look Worn Out?

I have always tried to keep money in an emergency fund for the unexpected because, frankly, the unexpected seems to happen a lot in our family. About five years ago, we faced an unexpected time of unemployment for my husband's job. Without that emergency fund strongly in place, I truly believe that we could have ended up in bankruptcy. Trying to be dedicated savers, we had put all of our money into a savings account to prepare for those rainy days.

Well, that rainy day came in our house. And it rained. And it poured. And it thundered. And it... well, you get the picture. He went almost a year without finding a job and I tried to help with the finances by working full-time until he found something. Even though we were drawing an unemployment check and I was doing my part working full-time, we were just covering my husband's pay and we were missing our additional income. We had a new baby, a new mortgage, and a huge amount of student debt.

What we had to be thankful for was a fat savings account that would ride us through the storm. We had saved up around $15,000, after purchasing our home, for those rainy days that were ahead. During that time of unemployment, we managed to eat through all of that saved money and then accumulated more debt on top of that.

Now we are better money-managers, but we are working with only one income. I feel very privileged to be home with my children, but I miss being able to jump right in with my own income in these emergency situations. That safety net just isn't what it used to be. In fact, my net looks a little threadbare and it often scares me. I have found because I have faced uncertain times in my financial past, that it is rare for me to feel true certainty when it comes to my finances. What I mean to say is that I can't seem to put my finger on a magical number that would be right for my emergency fund so that I could feel at peace with an unemployment situation happening again. Gosh, $15,000 seemed like a magical number at the time and wasn't magical enough.

Now with each paycheck I am trying to sock money away into an emergency fund for our family. The big question is...what is more important- building up your emergency fund OR paying down your debt?

An emergency fund trumps debt, at least it does in my family. We are steadily paying down our debt, but we are also putting our nickels and dimes away in our emergency fund too. If given a choice between putting money towards my credit card or putting my money towards my emergency fund...I would lean towards saving. The reason is, if something unexpected should happen, I would need that money from my emergency fund a whole lot more than looking at my extra $25 payment that got absorbed into my credit card.

I am wondering what the scenario is in your homes. Do you have any emergency fund? Is your emergency fund in a savings account or do you keep your money elsewhere? What is your magical number/equation you use for deciding how much to put in your accounts?

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Five Positive Financial Goals For the New Year (Part One)

As the year draws to an end, we all begin to focus on the things that we would like to change for the new year. It is a great time to be reflective and see what didn't work for us and also to find our opportunity to make positive changes for the upcoming year. Isn't renewal great? A chance to start fresh and to begin the year on good footing. That is the best part for me about starting a new year. Sure, I am a year older...but I am also a year wiser too! Another year to draw experience from and to begin our reflective thinking on how we can be BETTER! How amazing is that?

Here are some great ideas for making a positive change in your finances this year:

1. The Power of Positive Thinking- One way you can begin the year on good footing is to begin the year by thinking positively and trying to carry that positive thinking with you throughout the year. This is one thing that I am really going to be working on and I believe that it will improve my outlook greatly.

Looking back in the year, you can maybe see things that you didn't do correctly. Maybe you used your credit card? Maybe you had enormous medical bills for the year? Maybe you strayed from your budget?

While you can look back on your year and kick yourself for all of your stupid financial mistakes, the simple fact is that it won't change anything about what you did wrong....But, what you can do is look at those stupid experiences and say, "Here is how I am going to change that this year."

The pure and simple fact is that I have made dumb financial mistakes. I took out a lot of student loans and didn't finish school. I got a gym membership that ruined my credit history and caused me to take out high interest loans for my schooling. I borrowed against our credit cards when we had no money coming in for almost a year. My life is paved with some really stupid financial moves.

BUT! I am pulling myself up by my boot straps and I am working my tail off to make things right. I have put pen to paper and made financial goals for my family and we are working to meet those goals. I am wiser with my money now and I am making positive changes in our budget to reach the goals that we need to reach. We are beginning to see light at the end of our tunnel and it feels GOOD!

Focus on these things- not the bad! That is a goal for me this year!

2. Get Organized- I have been flipping through this month's magazines and am beginning to see a theme into what people are looking for. This is the time of the year where we say that we want to get organized. But how does organization relate to the financial situation? To me, finances and organization go hand in hand. Without organization, my finances would be a wreck and that is why it is a continual goal for me to get my stuff in order.

Organization in your life will lead to lots of positive changes and your finances can change right along with that.

Are your bills late? Are you always losing those receipts for your reimbursements for your medical expenses? Did you misplace important tax paperwork and won't be able to use for your deductions?

Those scenarios can be sickening, especially if those are positive amounts that could be made into your account or you are suffering from fees and higher interest rates because you can't get your stuff in order.

Figure out how you can get things in order so that you can make these scenarios work. For your medical expenses, a three ring binder divided by months can be great for keeping track of receipts and your Explanation of Benefits. Use this to keep track of what has/has not been paid. Then if the company calls and says they never received your payment, you have your written proof that payment was sent or reimbursements weren't made.

Start keeping a calendar with dates for important account activities or send yourself email reminders from the company for your payments. Better yet, set up automatic deductions so you don't have to stress about whether or not your bill has been paid.

There is so much that I plan to organize this year and the magazines are proving that I am not the only one looking for answers. Getting my life in order is top priority.

3. Get Healthy- Getting healthy and losing weight are top on everyone's priority list right now. Getting healthy is important to me and it is not only important to me because I want to feel good, but being healthy is top on my financial priorities list too.

If I can make positive changes in my activities and I can get my health issues in order, I can save myself a ton of money. I will be making less trips to the doctor, purchasing fewer prescription drugs, and I will have more energy to help with our family finances.

Getting healthy, to me, will not require spending money. I will probably be discussing this more in a future article, but I really did want to say that. When people say that they want to lose weight or get healthy, many times these scenarios involve spending money. I don't like to spend money, so I am trying to do this through cheaper means.

This means that I will get exercise through walking or jogging outside (during the warmer months) and renting free exercise videos from the library for the cooler months. No gym memberships for me because I can get exercise for free from home.

Drinking more water is also tops on my priority list and, lucky for me, this is free!

I also did make the switch to herbal medications and have seen so many positive changes from switching to these instead of my prescriptions. These are saving me tons of money and I feel a hundred times better. While this option might not be for everyone, I am saving hundreds of dollars for our family by seeking alternative medications.

4. Relieve Stress- Stress can do a number on our bodies and my stomach is living proof of why stress is so bad for you. I am trying to reduce the amount of stress in my life and this is an important goal for me.

How does stress relate the finances? Well, if I am constantly stressed out, I find that I am in stomach pain or I don't feel good. If I am stressed out then I find myself going out to dinner because I am too stressed/tired to cook. Maybe my stress causes depression for me or it puts a strain on my family? These scenarios are not good for a family and they aren't good for my finances.

I find myself stressed often and the thing about it is...I put it on myself. I volunteer for everything because I want people to like me. I am a people-pleaser. I am a bend-over-and-take-it-because-everyone-needs-me kind of person, when I should be more of a, "Sorry, I can't help you this week!" kind of person.

This doesn't mean I am saying no to everything, but this will mean that I am going to say no. This is a really hard one for me, but I am kicking myself six days out of the week because I said yes to something that I shouldn't have.

I am going to use that time to refocus my life AND my spirit. I am trying to renew hobbies that I am missing out of my life. For example, I love to read and I never had time to do that. I want to make that time for me because reading helps relieve stress and feeds my need to connect with myself.

Other things I would like to pick back up- doing Suduko, doing yoga, and reading things that feed my spirit.

5. Reach My Financial Goals- If you haven't sat down and wrote out your financial goals for the year, there is no time like the present. Sit down and really think about what you hope to accomplish this year.

This year, my goal is to pay off the credit card. We have been working towards this goal for almost four years now and we are now under $2K. I will pay this off this year and we will be credit card free.

As we snowball our debt, we will move our credit card payment to the cars and get those paid off next. We are not that far away from owning them, but we do have some auto repairs that will need to be done this year. Our hope is to get these taken care of so that we can enjoy our first year (next year) car payment free.

These are just a few positive financial moves that we hope to make this year. I will be sharing five more positive goals you can make, in the upcoming week, and I hope that it will inspire you for making your resolutions and goals for 2008.

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Friday, December 28, 2007

When Do You Let Your Car Go?

When do you decide to let your vehicle die? At what point does the fork in the road become clear? I was hopeful it would be clear after I finished paying my car off, but now I am not even hopeful that we can even make it that far. This is the closest I have ever been to owning a car, and now I am just hoping that it lasts until my last payment is over.

I have heard some squeaking going on for a long time, and we had decided it was most likely the brakes. But then we had just replaced the front brakes, so this theory wasn't making any sense at all. I was still hopeful it was just the brakes so we figured we would replace these after the holiday season.

Then we started to hear a sound like something was dragging under the car. Ryan assured me it was probably packed ice underneath, from all of our snow, so we decided to go with that theory. After all, it was the cheapest!

My car sat in the garage for three days after the packed ice theory, melting our theory in a puddle on the garage floor. Oh no, these things can't be quite that simple.

Our theory came to a grinding (pardon the pun!) halt that day, as the dragging sound persisted. Ryan and I rarely made eye contact. He would start to talk about it and I would look out the window. "It's Christmas. It's the end of the month. This isn't the right time."

But when are these scenarios ever the right time? When is a good time to hear a dragging sound under you car?

I took it into the shop yesterday and got a twenty minute rundown of everything wrong with the car from their technician, just an hour later. The rear brakes were shot, but worse, the calipers were cracked and broken. The cost- $575. That would have to be done today.

The car is due for its 100K tune-up ($340), the car is leaking oil and requires a new timing belt ($1,200), the front brakes have 20% left on them ($240). All of these scenarios need to be happening within the next six months in order to keep my car running smoothly.

According to my calculations though, I just need the car to run another six years so that we can pay down all of our debts. Six years seems like twenty now that I receive the estimate.

I agree to the rear brakes and then wonder what is the next best step to take. Do I ditch the car (a '99 Subaru Outback) or do I pay up and trudge on with my goals in mind?

Despite the bleakness of this, here is what I was thankful for:

1. It is the end of the month and Ryan is only paid once a month. This is a very lean time for us, and we were able to pay for this repair out of our account without putting it on the credit card. Although I felt sick as I handed my debit card over, I knew that we had that money.

2. Here is why we had the money...I have this site. No, I don't make enough for a full-time income, no I am not rolling in it (by any means- see above for car description for further clarification) but I am a contributer to this household. A little pipe dream paid for my beat-up Subaru to have a little surgery. That made me feel really good. I realize my husband pays for everything else, but when it comes to emergency situations like these, my paycheck is the one that pays the bills.

So we ponied up the money and I have my car back and now we are faced with the decision on how to proceed. We sat down and decided that Ryan could definitely fix the front brakes, but a new timing belt and small oil leak would need to be done by the pros. And a 100K tune-up...well, don't all cars need that?

With ten more payments to go, do I pay up or start hunting for something else? Sound off!

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Check It Out: An American Hedge Fund by Timothy Sykes

Timothy Sykes sent me an advance copy of his new book, "An American Hedge Fund" for review. We were so thrilled to have our review included in his new book. We wish the author much success with his book launch and hope that you can get an opportunity to check this book out!

Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to play the stock market? In, “An American Hedge Fund” Timothy Sykes takes you on a roller coaster of ups and downs, sharing his wild experience of how he was able to make two million dollars as a stock operator and by creating a hedge fund.

Timothy takes you on the journey from the beginning, sharing his passion for making money quickly at the tender age of twelve. With hopes of making money with his baseball collection and then trying his hand at stringing tennis rackets to make some extra cash, Timothy always possessed a desire to make money fast and had the entrepreneurial spirit to make it happen.

While his classmates were making dates and planning for their prom, Timothy was dreaming of investing money and winning the stock market game. With his $12,415 Bar Mitzvah money, he was able to turn this sum of money into $1.65 million dollars in the course of just four years, all while finishing his high school career and beginning his college career at Tufts University.

Timothy shows how his good research and great gut instinct gave him the skills to know which companies to invest in and when to pull that money out. He shows how he was able to obtain his financial success, but also is wise enough to share his mistakes and what he wishes he would have done differently when looking back upon his youth.

I loved this book for a number of reasons, but the one thing that I really appreciated about Timothy’s story was that playing the stock market was a game for him, not necessarily that he wanted to be wealthy. He seemed to enjoy the thrill of investing and winning the game, but did not seem to be trying to achieve great wealth or notoriety. For him, investing was a fun hobby and his parents supported his dreams, but also wanted him to stay grounded and levelheaded about his fame and fortune.

This really struck a chord with me in my own financial journey. For me, saving money isn’t necessarily because I have to, but it is a game for me to see how much I can save by making changes in my life. It is not necessarily that I have to make my own bread, for example, but when crunching figures I find deep satisfaction in knowing how much I could save by making that small change in my life. For me, it is about saving money and the satisfaction I get from keeping money in my account. For Timothy, it is about how he can take that money and make that money grow by making wise financial investments.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in seeing how to work the stock market and also how one young man was able to turn a small investment into an amazing career as a millionaire hedge fund manager.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Personal Finance Corner: Creating & Meeting Financial Goals

I love reading personal finance blogs and have learned so much through these blogger's entries. I am not a personal finance guru, but enjoy reading the advice from the experts.

This past month we sat down and evaluated our financial goals for the future. We currently are carrying a mortgage on our house, have two car payments to make, a small amount of credit card debt (from when my husband was unemployed), and a sizable amount of student loans. I am a big fan of Mary Hunt and her website, and for her members she offers a rapid debt repayment calculator, that can help assist you in figuring out how to become debt free. Her idea, like many financial advisors, is to snowball the debt to get rid of it. When we pay off a debt, we simply move our payment over to the next debt and pay that off. Then we move those two payments over to the next debt, and so forth. Using this idea helps you pay your debts down quicker without putting any additional money into it (unless you choose so) and requires little effort on your part.

Once we put all of this information into the calculator, we were able to see that we could potentially own everything that we have and pay off all of our debt by 2014. What an achievement that would be for our family. All of this rides on the fact that our cars hold out that long, that my husband stays employed, and that no major catastrophes occur that could deter us from reaching these goals.

My husband was not too keen on keeping our cars for another seven years (his is a 2000 & mine is a 1999) and he didn't know if he wanted to stay in our house that long either.

My theory on the housing issue is no matter where we live, we will have to put work into our home in order for us to live within our budget. When we did searches on houses in our area, even the million dollar homes would need to be adapted to our taste. The more updating we do to the house we already live in, the more I love where we are. We have plenty of room and there are always things that we could do to the home we are currently living in that could make it special for us. This is also our first home, as we have previously lived in a townhouse and apartments, and I am proud of the home we have. Think back on your own first home...Was it everything you ever dreamed of? Maybe, but maybe not. This is our first home and being in our twenties, I am proud of what we have.

The cars are not the best cars on the block, but I have never felt the pressures of keeping up with anyone in the car department. In a sea of SUV's and fancy minivans, my Subaru Outback is different, but it is safe and functional. Aren't those the most important things about a car? If we care for the cars that we have, doing the routine maintenance of owning a car, they could run for many more years.

Have you set financial goals for yourself? Do you find them achievable?

Just some food for thought, but read this article on a woman who is living on 12,000 a year and struggling to get by. She has some creative ideas for staying within her budget. Likewise, how about a family who is struggling to live on $150,000 a year. What do you think about these two situations? How do they compare to your own?

Finally, just to put it all in perspective, did you realize that if you make $2,200 that you are considered rich according to a global study. I bet many of you never thought you are rich, but after reading this article, it might help you to realize just how blessed you really are.

I hope this offers some food for thought! I will continue to share our progress as we tackle our financial goals and will also continue to share ways (on our site and the blog) that you can reach your own goals!

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