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!

Account-ability

Third Time Wife, Wedding Planning

image via stock.xchng | photography by nosheep

Once we’d decided how we were going to pay for the wedding, we both assumed that it was best to just set up a joint savings account at the bank we already used, that way we could easily transfer funds into and out of it as needed.

Then it occurred to me that, just maybe, it might be better to set up a joint checking account instead of a savings account. After all, while we were giving ourselves a certain amount of lead-time, eventually we’re going to be needing to take funds out on a regular basis to cover deposits and other purchases. Some savings accounts might allow a few withdrawals a month with no penalty, but towards the end that might be a problem.

A checking account it is, right? Until I actually looked it up and learned our bank charges a nominal fee for accounts not hooked to a minimum direct deposit or a $1500 balance. Um, yeah, not so good for starting out our wedding fund.

So the search was on–does anyone offer fee-free checking anymore? Not at the big banks, it turns out. But if you start looking local (and don’t forget about any credit unions you might be able to join) you can usually find a couple of options out there.

The thing is, you have to weigh the costs over the convenience. Our bank only charged $5 a month for balances under $1500–not extravagant, by any means, but a charge nonetheless. Putting away a couple hundred dollars a month means the fee would only be applied for the first few months, but when you’re on a tight budget, even a little bite could be uncomfortable.

Still, is $5 a month worth the time it would take to set up an account at an unfamiliar bank and drive over our deposits on the odd lunch break? If we went with another bank, it would need to be one with convenient ATM machines or–better yet–Saturday hours for when we needed cash for certain expenses. Not to mention the hassle of closing a new account.

But we’re online folks–the more we can do from our laptops the better. What kind of options are there? Well, first we considered a PayPal account. About the only thing you can’t do is write checks directly from the account, which may or may not be important to your vendors, but it does allow ease of deposits and transfers and a MasterCard Debit Card for most other purchases.

Another option was ING Direct–they offer both online savings and checking accounts, you can link up to 3 personal checking accounts to your online checking for ease of transfers, an ATM network with no fees and the ability to write checks against your account. Sounds like a definite contender to me!

Whatever route you decide to take, it’s helpful to have one place set aside to keep track of wedding expenses and available budget. Whether a piggy bank, a savings account or one credit card you use and then pay off each month.

Where are you stocking your wedding day funds?
Any options I haven’t listed here that maybe I should have?