With My Mind On My Money…

Everyday Adventures

Because I’m sure no one else has used that for a budget-related post, right? Right?!

Okay, yes, it’s cliche, BUT there’s also a nugget of truth in there in that monitoring our finances (just like making our own meals) means we’ll make better choices if we’re reminded of our financial status on the regular. It may not always be a pretty picture, but hopefully it makes us want to be better.

At least that’s how it’s working for me.

Used to be I’d just write down all my bills in whatever journal I was using that year and check them off as they got paid. What was left invariably went to gas and groceries and whatever else popped up for that month. When I designed my prototype planner last year, I created a budget page to include with each month and moved my money out of my journal.

Single Page Budget Worksheet

Single Page Budget Worksheet

This worked pretty well, but it left a bit to be desired. A lot of things had to be summarized (like a single line for gas and groceries, when those are multiple per month purchases), for instance, and so I tended not to use those lines and not track my spending as much.

While a lot of people make ‘get healthier’-style resolutions, I’m more interested in getting my finances in better shape, and that means delving deeper into my spending habits and actually budgeting for certain things as opposed to just using what was there (and, let’s be honest, maybe a bit more, dipping into savings or using credit cards).

Speaking of savings, it’s never been something I’ve been great at. There’s a lot of big thinking out there about money attitudes and how much you had or didn’t have growing up. The idea that windfalls must be spent now to avoid being frittered away is a common one, or just not being able to think beyond the immediate needs. I admit that I held a lot of those attitudes over the years and am actively trying to break them/make better money associations, but that early programming is tough, you know?

On the other side of not saving enough is spending too much, as in using credit that you don’t pay off each month. I have that. A fair amount, actually, and I realized that while I do look at more than just the minimum payment line on my statement, what I tend to focus on is not the balance of credit used but the balance of available credit. Two sides of the same coin, right? Yes and no. See, while I liked seeing the ‘available credit’ increase as I paid down the balance, it gave me a skewed perspective since the important number (the statement balance) was sort of an imaginary, ignored number. It stopped having meaning. Do you do the same thing? I doubt I’m alone in this.

All of those reasons and more were why I completely revamped the budget worksheet for the 2015 Creative Days Planner. It’s now two pages, has room for the budgeted vs actual expenses for those variable spending categories, and includes balance tracker, trend, and interest columns for the debt section so that I am sure to not just look at but copy over those amounts, meaning they become more “real” to me and keep me on track to start getting them paid off, not just down!

Two-Page Budget Worksheet from the 2015 Creative Days Weekly/Monthly Planner

Two-Page Budget Worksheet from the 2015 Creative Days Weekly/Monthly Planner

The budget worksheet is something I tackle the first weekend of each month and I schedule the payments through my bank’s Bill Payer at the same time, getting as much of it out of the way at one time as possible (certain bills don’t generate until later in the month, so there’s usually a second round around the 20th. While it’s sometimes approached with a tiny bit of dread, that’s another money attitude I’ve been working on changing. Instead I remind myself that I’m grateful to be able to pay all of my bills–even the credit cards!

Is your budget something you want to get more control over this year?

The Budget Bride | Debt & Savings Check-In

Third Time Wife, Wedding Planning

Remember this girl?

Bride climbing her way out of a rut

Yup, that’s still me, climbing her way out of the debt rut white saving for the wedding. It’s been just over a year since Todd and I decided to get married and the modest savings plan that went with it, all while I’m also trying to pay off my credit cards and other debts.

Let’s start with the debts:

Earlier this year I paid off my second store card and in August I’ll pay off a third. Store cards, I think, are one of the easier cards to pay off, regardless of balance, because the temptation to use them is easy to avoid: don’t go into the store! They also tend to have slightly higher interest rates, so it doesn’t hurt to get them out of the way. Heck, it just feels good to take another line off the payments list every month, you know?

But what I’m really excited about is that I also paid off my car this month! That’s the biggest shake-up my monthly budget has seen since my freelance writing contract wrapped up (only that was for the negative). Now that I’ll have the car payment funds to appropriate, it was time to take a look at the landscape and decide what to tackle next.

The dilemma is that I’ve got one store card left, only I really like using it. It’s my Kohls card and, if you’ve ever shopped their sales, you know how awesome it is to spend $100 while the receipt reflects $200 saved! It’s pretty much the only recreational spending I do, these days, and only every few months. And continuing to use the card increases the number of discounts I receive a year. I’m sure you see why I’m torn.

That said, I have 4 major credit cards (MC or Visa) that I’d really like to make a dent in, too. The smallest of them is not that much more, balance-wise, than my Kohls balance, and has only a slightly lower interest rate. And, while I’m fairly confident in our savings plan (as I’ll go into a bit more, below), I really like the idea of having a fall-back fund as the we approach wedding crunch-time, just in case something goes haywire at the last minute.

So I’ve decided to take a less convention approach, and pay down 2 cards at once, tag-team style. One month the Visa will get $200 and Kohls will get $50, the next month vice versa. No, I haven’t run the numbers to see what this approach will cost/save in interest and, yes, I realize I won’t be crossing them off as soon as I would if I focused on one at a time, but I feel better doing it this way, like I’ll see results faster, overall.

Plus, when I pulled my credit report and score a couple months ago, the main way I can increase my credit score (which was actually pretty good, I was happy to discover) is to widen that gap between my balances and my limits. While we’re not planning on buying a house right away, it is something we want to start thinking about post-wedding, and the better that score, the better our chances at a great interest rate!

Now onto the savings:

At first I wasn’t sure how well this was going to go. I mean, yeah, $100 a month seems like so little but also represented a big stretch for me. I’m happy to report that I’ve more-or-less stayed on track this past year.

A couple months had to be skipped due to life issues while others were only half-funded, but I made up for them with my tax refund this year and when I plugged everything into the spreadsheet I was happy to see that we’re right on track to meet our budget needs by the end of October, 2013. Sure, I’d love to be ahead of the game right now, but on-track is better than behind schedule and I’ve still got 444 days (just over 14 months) to make some headway.

There’s even a possibility that I can increase my monthly savings a bit, I just need to see how everything shakes out in August and September. And the biggest positive out of all of this is that I’m now used to saving each month. That’s something I’ve never been able to keep up with and I love having that cushion in the bank account (we’ve yet to combine the savings into a single account–I’m not even sure if we will, at this point), just knowing that after all the bills, groceries, gas, and rent are paid I’m not in single digits is a novel feeling for a girl who used to balance her online checkbook every other day to make sure I didn’t bounce anything!

I won’t be out of debt by the time we’re married (there’s still a few more accounts left to go after the two I’m tackling next, and their kinda biggies), but I’m looking at being in a lot better shape than I am now.

Pretty Book and Flower Icon


Any other budget brides want to brag on their saving prowess?
Let’s celebrate together!

Climbing Out of a Debtor’s Rut: Old Dog, Meet New Tricks

Third Time Wife, Wedding Planning

Bride climbing her way out of a rutNow, before you can tackle a problem–debt or otherwise–you have to know exactly what you’re dealing with.

Come on, I can’t be the only girl guilty of looking only at the minimum payment and remaining credit balance and totally ignoring the bottom line, can I?

Frankly, listing out your balances on credit cards, cars, student loans and whatever other debt you may have can make even the strongest girl want to run for the hills. Or the ice cream hidden in the back of the freezer.

I know, I had to do it. And I’m ashamed to say the tally (not counting my student loans) was already in the 5 figures. Ouch! How did this happen?

Oh, right. Lots of dinners out, that cruise I was going to pay off in 3 months that I kept putting off. The shopping on said cruise. More dinners out. Clothes. Shoes. A new laptop, laser printer, Wii and Wii Fit. Throw a few parties and you’ve pretty much got it.

Frivolous? Maybe. Do I regret any of the purchases or experiences? Not really.

The important thing is to not beat ourselves up too much over this because self-loathing is counter productive. Instead, we can be grateful for the past and keep moving forward!

So, now that we know the problem, what’s the solution?

Ages ago (or at least it feels like it, I suppose it was more like 12 years ago) I had a friend involved with a certain multi-level financial services company and, for a while, so did I. While it was a great learning experience (wherein one of the biggest things I learned was that I’m NOT made to be a salesperson) it wasn’t the best fit for me so I walked away. But not without learning a lot!

Tomorrow I’m going to go into the details of the how-to. It’s not a huge secret or anything, and if you’re familiar with Dave Ramsey you may have already heard of it. (He calls it snowballing. We called it Debt Stacking. I didn’t know who Dave Ramsey was until a few months ago, so take what you will from it.)

I do want to point out that last year I paid off 1 store card and will be paying off a second store card next month. This year I’ll also be paying off my car and that, plus the funds that’d been put towards the 2 now-paid-off cards will make it possible to pay off the remaining 2 store cards and get started on one of my major credit cards by the end of this year.

And that I’m pretty doggone pleased about!

Pretty Book and Flower Icon

Have you ever sat down and totaled-up your debt?
Did it shock you or have you always kept up with the total? 

Building Out the Budget

Third Time Wife, Wedding Planning
House bank with a deposit going in

image via stock.xchng | photography by iprole

When deciding what type of wedding we wanted to have in our pre-gaged state, we knew we didn’t want this big, huge formal wedding but we did want more than just a courthouse ceremony and dinner afterwards.

We wanted a party.

I love throwing a good party and, thankfully, Mr. RT shares my enthusiasm for these sorts of things, so a celebration is not something we’ll willingly forgo. Whereas the usual party funds can be eked out over a couple of months, I’m thinking even a low-key wedding is going to cost more than our usual party budget and, this time, I’m definitely not doing my own catering!

Which brings us back to saving up over time, a benefit we have due to our longer-than-the-usual long engagement.

Confession: I’ve never been good at saving. I never really learned how!

Money was tight, growing up, and what came in almost always immediately went out. Whereas my brother grew up in the same home and was absolutely rabid about his piggy bank (we used to call him Alex P. Keaton-in training), I just never got the memo and, as an adult, not much has changed.

Still, I have learned that if I have a specific goal in mind I do much better than trying to save for some nebulous whatever.

And during the second half of 2011 I managed to get a good start to my savings plan.

But aside from the budgeted savings, what else can be done to help supplement that starter budget built by monthly savings alone?

I’ve known grooms who have taken fast food jobs at night in order to afford a nice honeymoon for after the wedding, but getting a part-time job might not be a) the easiest thing these days and b) most effective with everything else I’ve got going on.

Are you crafty? Do friends rave about things you make? Maybe an etsy store is a way for you to put your talents to good use. I have plans for one of my own plus other projects that may well net some additional wedding funds over the length of our engagement.

Maybe you’ve got a lot of items in your closets and garage and it’s time for a garage sale or an eBay blitz? Or register for items that you can use for the wedding as well as later (though I understand some etiquette mavens frown on that).

You could check and see if your bank offers a rounding-up savings plan–you know the ones, right? Every time you use your debit card (which is every grocery and gas and whatever trip, for me), they’ll round up your transaction to the nearest whole dollar and put that “spare change” into your savings account. Some banks even match those coins for a certain introductory period. It’s a high-tech version of saving your change in a pickle jar–though there’s something to be said for that, too!

And speaking of debit cards: does your debit or credit card have any points options available? And can you exchange those points for gift cards? Might as well put those points to good use, right?

But the real goal is to have a wedding that suits your style and budget without having to open a wedding credit card or get a loan to cover expenses. What’s NOT the best way to start out a life together? More debt!

How are you planning to supplement your initial budget?

Money Matters When Considering Matrimony

Third Time Wife, Wedding Planning

Continuing on in the quest to quell my initial objections to a third marriage, our respective financial status was another facet I had to come to terms with before I agreed to become Mrs from Ms.

Dollar sign casting a long shadow

image via stock.xchng | illustration by rigor789

Ages ago I heard that sex and money were the two main reasons for arguments in relationships.

For the average couple of a first-wedding age in their early-to-mid 20s, both halves of the whole are either in college, just out of or just starting those entry-level jobs. Money has more to do with making ends meet than anything else.

Fast forward to the second or third-time bride and the picture might look a little different:

  • you’ve probably been in your career for several years, maybe even gotten a promotion or three;
  • you may have some savings, a retirement plan or investments;
  • you may also have a certain amount of debt either in credit cards, a mortgage, business loans or some combination thereof.

Remarriages also mean there’s a past to be considered. Does one partner have children from a previous marriage? Aside from the step-parent duties the other may be taking on, there might be child support or alimony to figure into your future budgets.

My financial past is has a couple of significant hills and valleys. I’ve been so upside down while finishing my degree that I couldn’t pay my rent and car payment in the same month (and only a bail out from a friend kept said car from being repossessed). And I’ve also paid off all the debt I was left with after my first divorce and lived credit card-free for a few years.

I may not have completely learned my lesson last time as now I’ve got a wallet full of store and major credit cards that I was not as wise as I meant to be with. Add to that a hefty student loan and my financial picture isn’t as bright as I want it to be. I’ve put a strategy in place for paying each off, in turn and over time, but it won’t be complete before we’re married. And that bugged me since Mr. Road Trip has recently paid off all of his major debts. I really was worried that I’d be burdening him, credit-wise, were we to marry before I took care of all of that pesky consumer debt.

Things like personal credit cards generally aren’t affected by one’s marital state, I learned (unless you add your partner onto the account, that is). Student loans, however, especially if you’ve petitioned for a reduced payment based on income or hardship, do take a spouse’s income into account to some degree, but they still belong to the person who accrued the debt, not to the marriage that came after.

For this reason, and to avoid any shocking revelations in the future, it’s a good idea to sit down and have a heart-to-heart (or, should I say, checkbook-to-checkbook) discussion with your intended, just to make sure you both know what you’re getting into. This is a good time to discuss things like combining checking accounts versus keeping them separate, future big purchases and the realities thereof and how you’ll handle the household bills (and which ones could be combined) once you’re married.

Because we were already living together–and Mr. Road Trip actually had a couple periods of unemployment after he moved to Florida courtesy of those wonderful economic dips a while back–we were pretty aware of where we both stood. Still, it was worth a discussion on our part just to make sure–we all know what assuming does, right?

On the upside–two people mean two incomes (usually) and that means a better combined buying power if you do want to make a significant purchase in the future.

Was debt something that crossed your mind before saying ‘yes’?
How did you make peace with the money monster?