Bologna Holiday

bologna

We are creatures of habit. We like the way we do things, bad behavior or not. We love to celebrate special occasions in life: a birthday, an anniversary or a holiday. Heck, at my house we like to celebrate when Friday rolls around! Most celebrations demand a debit from our checkbook for some reason. In my recent Microeconomics class I learned that most people are happy when they are consuming some kind of good or service. I can probably agree with that. The problem is that most of the time we pay for these goods and services when we can’t afford to. Think about it from a diet perspective. I can’t count the number times have we’ve been going along at a good clip for a couple of weeks, we eat right, we exercise, we avoid cookies and cakes, and then BAM: a special occasion. “Oh I guess I can eat this 2500 calorie piece of cheese cake, it is Friday after all!” We do this with our money so many times, and it absolutely kills our momentum.

Because we love our little extras, it’s no surprise when we are heartbroken because we are broke and decide not to go eat an extravagant meal for a special occasion, buy a hundred-dollar gift for birthday or Christmas, or take a vacation for an anniversary. My wife and I recently experienced this feeling during our fifteenth wedding anniversary. We would have loved to have had a big time somewhere with no kids. The truth was, we couldn’t afford it, the only way we could have done this is to take from our emergency funds or from our 401k, and at the time, it just wasn’t worth it. We opted to do something later on, if the opportunity presented itself. As luck would have it, a month later we are able to afford a couples retreat with our church for $175 bucks. We are also taking a Fall drive just to see the Autumn colors Oklahoma has to offer soon…it might cost a tank of gas and an eat out meal.

fall-drive

The point is, if you can’t afford to spend extra, DON’T, no matter what the occasion! A special day doesn’t negate the universal laws of mathematics. If you have to check your account to go out to eat because you might overdraw if you spend too much, you should probably eat the bologna in your refrigerator.

Be Real Budget Buster!

The first few months of creating budgets is tough. When a budget is made, BE REAL. Things are going to happen. The budget is going to get screwed up. Humans are not perfect, and to expect perfection the first go round of a budget is madness. Defeat is certain at first, especially when financial behavior is equivalent to that of a hormonal teenage drama queen, which can apply to males or females. Got kids, spouse or dogs? Junk food, flowers or dog toy is bound to bust the budget!

What do I mean by being real? Should one account for “extra” money in their budget in case of screw ups. That’s not exactly what I mean. My family prefers to do an every dollar budget. We allocate EVERY dollar of our budget until there is no money left to allocate. We picked this type of budget up through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. Every dollar of our income is budgeted in a certain way, so there’s nothing left over for “screw ups.” Which means whenever we bust a budget in one area (overspend more than we’ve budgeted) then another budgeted area automatically has less to spend; this equates to two whammies for the price of one. Big sarcastic YAY!

double-whammy

So being real? It means expect a little failure…at first. Strive for perfection, but don’t get disappointed when failure comes. It WILL. For an analytical guy like me, it makes me want to curl up into a tiny ball in a dark corner with my beans and start counting to see what went wrong. The very best thing one can do is shake it off, and try to do better, but don’t quit! Persevere with that budget! A few months of this kind of perseverance and there will be success.

FYI, any mentions I have of Dave Ramsey or any affiliates like Every Dollar, I don’t get a cent, and neither do they, I just really love the products.

 

Paper or Plastic? Or…Boxes?

“Please stop throwing away the bags.” Karen asked for the second day in a row as the bag hit the bottom of the trash can. I normally store my lunch in what has come to be known as “Wal-Mart” bags and toss it after emptying the contents of plastic containers that held whatever leftovers we had from the night before.

minion-plastic

“Why?” I thought with confusion in the five seconds it took her to answer the question right after I had thought it.

“We don’t go to Wal-Mart any more.”

This is not a post railing against Wal-Mart or any other big chain retail or grocery store. They have their place in our life, but they don’t have it as often as they used to. I remember one Saturday complaining to my wife that it seemed like we had just been to the same store the day before. Shortly after we realized we had actually been to that same store for something nearly every day that week!

After my family woke up and realized the way we spent money, groceries were automatically an area we began looking at closer. I have to give credit to my frugal wife, she is the one who took charge of this area of our lives and is doing an excellent job. These are a few observations I’ve noticed since we started to live differently:

Budget for groceries

Make an amount that should be spent on groceries, now according to Dave Ramsey, double it. We spend way more than we think we do. Once that’s set, start planning.

Plan a trip once a week

Don’t underestimate this point. Gas isn’t cheap. Whenever we are making a single trip to the store, we are hit with a double whammy. The money we are going to give some merchant for whatever item we happen to make the trip for, and the gas we are spending to get to and from the store. If we go more than once, it’s multiplied. Right now gas is about $1.85 a gallon on average here in OK. My wife and I live 6 miles away from our local Wal-Mart, her car gets roughly 24 miles to the gallon. Say we make two trips a week to buy groceries and what not; that is 12 miles each trip, so if we go 2 trips, we are spending 1 gallon of gas, minimum. Multiply that by 52 weeks in a year and we’ve spent the same amount we would in the store alone on one trip, $96.20. Doesn’t sound like much huh? Remember, this is JUST to go to the store, not to a ball game, not to drive to work, or any other fun family function. It’s even better if it can be planned on the way home from work.

Make a grocery list BEFORE going to the store

One would think this goes without saying, but we won’t. Think before leaving. Write down the days of the week, think about eating for each meal, each day. Put together a menu. Once the menu is built, buy the ingredients needed for it.

Combine ingredients across different meals to save extra.

For instance: This week, I’m eating oatmeal for breakfast. I am forcing myself, because high cholesterol dictates this. I will also be eating chicken of some sort at least twice this week, so I buy a big flat of it, to make sure that there is enough for myself, Karen, and left over for our lunches. Sandwiches are a good cheap meal: bread, lunch meat, cheese, mustard, veggies to go on sandwich. How about some beans? Good fiber! Yes, write it down. Need stuff for kids? Pizza, cookies, fruit, or how about they just eat what we eat? Got it all wrote down? Let’s go!

Try some place different

Do some research about discount grocery stores, there may be one near that will help save a bundle. According to Money & Career Cheat Sheet, here are a few of the more affordable stores across the nation. Incidentally, we love Aldi’s. It’s in the next town over, but it’s well worth the gas spent (or saved because we planned accordingly). I just had a friend exclaim how she’s going to Aldi’s today, she’s heard too much good about it. Sure, patrons have to bag (or box) their own groceries, but it makes grocery shopping affordable. It’s good for the environment too. We use Aldi’s own boxes to put our groceries in, rather than them crushing them and sending to a recycler. No plastic bags for me to throw into the bottom of the trash can and then go to a landfill because I’m not thinking when I come from home from work.

'That's Jeb Lambert. He was actually the first one to say 'paper or plastic'. Before that everyone said 'plastic or paper'... I mean, can you imagine?'

 

Eat what is bought

Again, this should go without saying; but I can’t count how many times we have bought good, wholesome groceries and they rotted in the fruit or vegetable crisper while we went on a fast food bonanza. Lately our refrigerator looks naked just before a trip to the store. One would think we aren’t making it, but we are, we are just controlling ourselves. Babies aren’t starving, the boys are fine, and K and I might be losing weight because we are making wiser decisions without going to the local Sling-A-Bean Burrito Shack.

Take advantage of discount coupons

Okay, I was going to try to go without mentioning coupon clipping, but I would be lying to say we haven’t had a cheeseburger or pizza every now and again. The only time we buy them, though, is when Karen gets a fancy coupon the store can redeem on her smart phone through email. It comes in handy in a pinch, but a pinch only comes once a week, and it’s BUDGETED.

Finally, give this a TRY. If it gets screwed up, so what? Try again. Savings will come but don’t give up! It’s food, we have to eat, but we don’t have to eat from stores that think they are monopolies. Save gas and coupons, save money by not bingeing because a grocery list was made, and relax. Everything’s going to be fine. Me and mine are out to prove it.

Pitfalls of the Climb

It’s interesting how just about the time a person thinks they are standing on solid ground and can breathe for a moment, the ground falls out from underneath their feet. That’s been our experience over the past few days.

'No. . . this isn't the fiscal cliff.'

 

Many companies do biometric screening for insurance credits as an incentive to keep employees healthy and well. It’s good for the employee, who can get a decent bonus to stay in shape; and it’s good for the insurance company, who doesn’t have to pay as many claims to employees who are staying well and away from the doctor. Such is the case with my company. Let’s just say, I wasn’t healthy enough to make the cut. It’s something that I am now making a full-time project and has lit a fire under me to change my habits, routines, and diet so next year the wellness credit will be mine. In the meantime however I found that the lack of said credit is more than likely going to eat up the money I save in carpooling, so there’s that.

Another challenge we’ve run across is a balance that has come due for my college course work. It was not a charge I was expecting to pay as I expected the Pell grant and student loan would be covering it. I received a refund not long ago for the amount of the balance due, so I assumed the balance was paid over and above and that was the reason for the refund. Turned out the opposite was true, the refund check they sent us was actually supposed to pay the balance that is now due and we simply had to “pay the refund back” as the good folks at the bursar’s office so eloquently put it. My eyes couldn’t roll back in my head far enough to accommodate the frustration I was feeling. In the end, we had to pay the balance due from our meager savings.

Ah yes, and to add insult to injury, my son’s “pay as you go” phone comes due every 30 days. Not every 31 days, every 30 days. Meaning that the amount is taken from our account a day earlier every month than it was from the previous month if the month had 31 days in it. Since there are several months that have 31 days in it, when that bill comes due is basically a moving target, this month it debited our account in the negative by $10.

I was hoping at the very least to have a positive balance to report once we were paid on the 15th….

cliff

I must admit, a couple of days this week I wanted to throw my hands up, stick my head in the snow and ignore it all, or freeze to death of hypothermia. I grab the rope, ready to repel, or just jump off the metaphorical cliff face in frustration, harness or no harness (a bit mellow dramatic I know).

All of these things are annoyances. Pitfalls on the journey up the mountain. Nevertheless, we have to keep going, at a slow pace, even trudging if need be. IT’S GOING TO BE SLOW GOING. Pay more attention to billings, get out the paper, write it all down, and build the budget again. Hammer another stake in the cliff face and pull ourselves back up.

 

Just One More Level…(okay, maybe one more)

“Don’t waste your time chasing things that will never be beneficial to your future.”

April Mae Monterrosa

I used to consider myself a gamer. I love RPG (roll playing games) like the Final Fantasy series or The Legend of Zelda. Knowing this, my wife purchased “Twilight Princess” for Playstation 4 for me for Christmas one year. I thought it was a great gift, finally a game for Dad! I began playing immediately and was automatically hooked. Graphics were great, controls were easy to use, and the story line was exhilarating.

It was also LONG. I played this game every night for two to three weeks until victory was finally mine. The end of the game is always satisfying when it’s been challenging, and I considered that game formidable. I watched the cut scenes glassy eyed, satisfied with the long, hard, magical quest that Nintendo had programmed just for me and considered myself quite the champion. I could sleep knowing all was well with the world. Until….

Programmed into the game is also a timer to tell a gamer how long it took play to the end. Much to my surprise, my time came to a whopping FORTY HOURS! Reality suddenly started crashing down around me. I couldn’t believe it. An entire work week was spent after I got home from my real job to play a fantasy game that was both entertaining and fun, but didn’t change my life in the slightest. There was no education, no Bible reading, no growing closer to my wife and kids by acknowledging they exist, no contributing to the common good of man; it was just a bunch of pixels on a screen which fed some chemical high I had at the time. I don’t think I’ve played video games in quite the same way since.

I started this journey, by taking the time to look at my budget, and it revealed a couple of areas where I needed to spend some extra time. I was able to see exactly what my monthly costs were individually. Cell phones and car insurance were crazy high at $173 and $228 per month respectively. I needed to lower those numbers and I’ve covered cell phone charges in a previous post.

On to a different insurance broker to get a new rate quote on car insurance to save some money (I realize how much that sounds like a Geiko or Progressive commercial). All I needed was a declaration statement from my current provider to send to those providing the quote. Once it was sent, I was glad I did, because I found a local business that provided a quote that will save me not only $500 on my car insurance per year, but another $100 on my mortgage insurance per year (with more coverage). That’s an extra 50 bucks a month in my pocket! Changes will be made as soon as possible.

Most people, when they see their expenses monthly, simply see a number that is going to decrease their income and whatever is left is considered “mad money.” Money they can just spend. They’ve done their due diligence once, and maybe at one point in life the costs to do business to comply with the law, like car insurance, is acceptable to pay, so they do so happily, and that’s great. Then years slip by, as masses of people are being entertained, or chasing some high, like me, before they realize that there’s other companies out there that might give them a better deal.

Successful businesses understand time is money. Why can’t we as individuals? Every single day, countless numbers of people are zoning out through watching television, playing video games, trolling social media and not paying attention to what time it is, or how much time they’ve spent being entertained, rather than expanding their minds or doing something more productive. Turn off the TV. Make a budget. Call another company. You might be glad you did.

Staying Sane Through Saving

One of the problems in life is the perpetuity of it. We all have routines. Those who brush their teeth twice a day will continue to do so twice a day. If you chew with your mouth open when you eat, chances are it will take an act of God to keep you from noshing with annoying noises. Non-morning people have a hard time getting happy before 9 am, while morning people can’t stop annoying non-morning people. The circle of life seems to spin at a dizzying rate, while we continue to do the same things we’ve always done day in and day out. It takes conscious effort to change.

Karen and I woke up to this fact. It took emergencies to kick us in the butt and realize that one more and we were down to zero. So we changed our mind about the way we spend money on not only non-essentials, but also the essentials. It was time to trim any fat hanging out, and there seems to be plenty. An emergency won’t look so forlorn while trying to do something different. Doing the same things over and over got us into this mess, so we started looking at bills that didn’t have to be the same over and over.

Gas: it’s been the bane of anyone who has a forty-five minute to an hour commute or longer every day since 9/11. There just doesn’t seem to be any getting out of spending the same amount of money on gas week after week if you commute quite a distance between home and work. Or is there? Better gas mileage is what I need!

Many of us start thinking more efficient gas mileage means getting an oil change, or maybe a new car! It’s crazy how we can justify it, but we do. For some reason people think getting a new fuel-efficient car justifies the car payment; as if the $60 savings in gas every month will eventually pay the $230 car payment every month, but it doesn’t..the math doesn’t work. That’s probably an entry for another day.


Why not cut the gas mileage in half on a car I already own by car pooling with someone in my neighborhood? I’m not sure why I’ve never taken the idea seriously before, but I haven’t. “I don’t want to bug anyone.” I think to myself. FYI, if any readers out there want to bug me by telling me they can help me save $720 a year, feel free. By the way, that’s a calculation I figure I will be saving carpooling between me and my sister-in-law, who works across the parking lot from my office. I literally can throw a rock and hit her office window from the parking lot. We both need extra money, she gets off the same time I do almost every day and it helps take a whole extra car off the road (for all you environmentalists out there). I had to think really hard to find a reason NOT to car pool. I have to get up a little earlier, but I probably should be anyway. I’m one of those non-morning people.

Next up, phone prices. Yeah, if you have AT&T or Vorizon, you know what I’m talking about. They have good service, but they’re proud of it, and you’re paying for it. When my phone bill is higher than some car payments I’ve had in my life, there’s a problem. So my wife and I looked at some of that precious data and decided that we would be able to get by on 2 GB less. Shared data of 3 GB for us will save about 20 bucks. Since AT&T have put out a new promotion for no more overage charges, we are happy to let them help! So, multiply that by 12 months and we’ll have saved about $240.

Between the two, I’m looking to save almost $1000. This will meet the first of Dave Ramsey’s baby steps for us. Have a thousand dollars for emergencies. It will mean scraping up and NOT SPENDING the amount that we save, but it will be there. I’m starting to get used to the idea that it will take a while, but I also know that it will be here before I expect it, because good behaviors like this will compound and have ripple effects. It won’t just be all the money we save, but the integrity we receive by continuing the fight this fight. To some, $1000 isn’t much, but for those who feel we are sacrificing our privacy on a ride after a long day, or a few pictures or videos of our favorite media, for normal people – like my wife and I, it will be well worth the saving.

The Foot of the Mountain

Lost. That’s how I feel when it comes to our money, and our budget, absolutely lost.

It’s different when my wife and I have just graduated from Financial Peace University, created a budget, paid our bills and put money in the bank. Life is good during a time like that. We got some extra income in because we are reaped what we sowed. Then we decided we are ready to buy a house because we had some extra cash, and it’s probably the next best thing to do. After all we don’t want to be retired and still trying to pay off our mortgage. Along with our sons who were getting old enough to be pretty independent, we just had a new baby girl, I had to put her in her carrier in my truck to move the last load from our little rented duplex to our new four bedroom home. I was all smiles.

Looking back on it now, I can see where our mistakes were. We should have stayed put. Karen just had the baby and we had forgotten how expensive it was to just do that. I should have let life reach some kind of equilibrium. I should have let the money we received grow in a bank account somewhere and used it as a down payment LATER, when we were ready. Life could have been different. The moment we signed those papers, we started rolling down hill, and we never recovered, not really. The utilities were different, the travel was different, the money was different, we never set the budget in stone again, and we spent crazy amounts of money to make an older house half way livable so we weren’t spending so much on energy bills and the kids had a warm, or cool place to sleep depending on the season.

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 9.18.01 PM.png
Now as I take a very clear look at our REAL money, not what I think is there, not what I think we spend, but what we actually do, and I see what we actually have. Now, five years later I’m staring at a budget that looks like this…
I’m pretty stressed. I’m pretty horrified.

Loki’s our dog by the way….

 

 

 

When I look at this budget and list, it’s not a huge deal, at least I don’t think it is. There’s nothing on here that is just crazy, other than phones and car insurance that I will be posting about later on. To be honest, we have been coasting so long with what we had, and it may have been just enough, that when an emergency hit (I’ve had some medical issues that needed some attention), and the car broke down in the same week, well, the avalanche stopped. There’s not really anywhere else for it to go; we are at the bottom of the mountain. Oh sure, we have a little in retirement accounts, but we know that if we go there, that’s just going to prolong our perpetual bloodletting.

We have decided enough is enough. This blog is a tool my wife and I are using to get our bank accounts back under control. It’s not about sympathy, we are suturing our wounds, and plan to make this blog our accountability check. I plan to give at least a report two or three times a week on what we are doing to crawl from a money hole back into the light. If you are family and friends, encourage us. If you are someone just like us, follow our lead, it’s time we get wise about spending and do what needs to be done to stop the madness. It’s time to start crawling back up the mountain to conquer it. We hope and pray that as we find hope, and we will, that you do too. We’re starting with a budget of $20 for savings. If the Lord’s willing, and I believe He is, it’s time to make it grow.