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.

 

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.

 

“It’s Not About How Hard You Hit, It’s About How Hard You Can Get Hit…and Keep Moving Forward!”

Since beginning to log our journey to keep ourselves accountable there have been several ups and downs emotionally, spiritually and mindfully, and it’s only been a week!

Starting good behavior does not negate the effects of bad behavior over years. My family and I are broke because we’ve been behaving how broke people behave for way to long. Spending more than we make, not sticking to a budget, spending money meant for savings or emergencies, eating out all the time and just not paying attention took us nowhere fast. Even though we are now seeing correct mindsets and practices toward financial changes, we are not seeing the immediate results that we would like. Saying you are saving $720 a year is noticeably different than having $720 in your bank account now. Duh…It takes a year!

Time isn’t the problem, time is going by whether we like it or not. Our attitude is the problem, and we know it. We’re impatient. Most of us, if we are honest, quit when we don’t see immediate results. We’ve all heard it before, we live in a microwave society; but it’s more than that isn’t it? We live in a wifi society! We live in a microprocessor society! No more dial up! I honestly believe as a youth it may have done my character good to see the little guy on AOL frozen in time for a couple of minutes as I listened to the irritating screech and whir and hum of a dial up modem trying to connect to my mom’s old phone line. Today…I would go bananas to endure that!

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We are taught in school that sums and products are immediate answers: 1 + 1 = 2, 2 x 2 = 4 and so on. I cannot remember a time however when someone taught me 1 + a month + a week + 1 = 2, or 2 + a day + effort x 2 = 4. Time was never factored into the equations we were taught in school, but there it is…time…staring us in the face. Ten years may as well be an eternity when a person thinks of the financial peace they would like to have when it ticks by mere seconds at a time. Those seconds are also the very thing that robs a person when they sit and wait because they feel powerless, or it takes to long. People are waiting for something to happen instead of making what they desire happen over time.

Inaction and time are a troublesome combination. Passivity keeps us from setting goals and pursuing them. Because no goals are set, when hard times happen, it’s easier to sit down, throw our hands up and say “I quit.” When the bill collector calls after the mind has been set to do better, it says, “sit down, take it easy, try again tomorrow.” It is the voice that whispers, “Monday is a good start day, do it then. For now, eat a taco, you deserve it.” Tomorrow and Monday will come! Is reaching the goal any closer?

Is the destination you’d like to be at nearer? No trip is taken without a person’s mind being fixed on it. When it’s written down with an expected time line it starts to become reality. How many places have we never been to, but because Maps had a documented route and how long it took to get there, we traveled with ease? How many times have we thought about going somewhere, but weren’t truly excited until we hang up the phone after making reservations? But did we sit down and wait for vacation time? No! The trip might be a month away but we automatically started preparing for the it! How? We ask questions of what we might need. We do our research to see what kind of help may be needed while we are there. We save money, we write down the activities we want to do on our trip. We don’t sit idle! When we do sit idle, we may miss opportunities to enjoy something we otherwise would not.

“What keeps me going is goals.” Said the late Mahammad Ali. Who better to understand that if a person has goals, they will strive to meet them? muhammad-ali-in-action.jpg

People who have goals will rise up in the morning to chase them, even when it doesn’t look like there’s any hope. They will run after it even when their legs hurt, when they are miles away from their destination, when they fall down, and when a mountain is in their way. They will fight for their goals even when that mountain is ready to crush them. They are unstoppable.

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.

What Causes us to Fall

Some of us, if not most of us, are at the bottom of a mountain looking up for one reason or another. It may be because we’ve never tried to climb one because we are intimidated by the thought of trying something new. Another may be overwhelmed by how daunting the task is. Others may have tried, but realized the persistence needed is just something that they didn’t have, and gave up. Then there are those who have climbed, got too overconfident, and came crashing down.

“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”  Proverbs 16:18

My wife said something interesting to me when we decided to record our journey. She said there were warning signs she recognized; and she mentioned them a couple of times to me before, but I never listened. The funny thing is, I don’t remember her ever saying anything to me, which probably proves her point. There have been times in our marriage where what may have been gentle reminders from her, were mistakenly taken as harsh criticisms by me. When perceived criticism causes anger, or a blown off reaction, it’s easier to just not say anything.

Such is life with a prideful person. It’s difficult to talk to them, it’s even more difficult to reason with them when they are in the wrong. I know this because I fell into this category for many years of my life and my marriage. It helped lead us into where we are now: staring at the top of the mountain while trudging in the foothills.

Married people MUST communicate, and sometimes they must let each other know that there is a problem. If one is too prideful to admit they are not perfect or make mistakes, it will only lead to disaster of some kind. I’m glad she was patient and forgiving enough to let me hit the bottom so I would finally listen.

So what to do if you find yourself in a situation where you can’t talk to your spouse about money problems, or any other kind of problems? What do you do if you find yourself in a dilemma where your stupidity got you and your loved ones in a bad spot today? I would suggest for starters, looking up past the mountain into the sky. That is where King Jesus sits on His throne, and prayer is where humbleness begins. Prayer is like an about-face, like a prideful Prodigal Son coming to his senses and realizing there is a better life out there, but first he must change and be humble (Luke 15:17). Once that happens, the Father is there waiting with open arms. Chances are, if done with the same humble attitude, so is your spouse.

In the end, life’s not about the money, security, fancy cars, big homes and lots of travel. It’s about kneeling before Jesus, hearing Him say, “Well done, you good and faithful servant,” because He is well pleased with what you have done in this life for Him and others. Doing for Him would be giving your life over to Him and trusting what He has for you…humbly. Doing for others? Why not start with your spouse? An attitude of gratitude and not being above it all will help start getting through that foothill snow, and giving you a partner to climb the mountain with for a lifetime.

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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.

Staying Constipated…I mean, Consistent!

Certainly constipation is what I would call my cash flow right now. It’s not going up, but most importantly, not going down. Part of what I’m learning through this fairly new process is that it’s going to be slow going. VERY. SLOW. GOING.

My problem is I’m too impatient. I mentioned in a previous post that my wife and I have been through Financial Peace University. Props to Dave Ramsey I give of course, his program was an answer to a prayer I had years ago. Again, I’m too impatient. K (my wife) and I were talking the other day, and I found that a big part of my problem is I want this hard, painful, not knowing what to do next part to be over. It feels like we’re starting all over again and we should be so much further than where we are right now. I’m finding the only thing I can do now is sit and wait on the next paycheck to come in so I can pay more bills, and try to maintain what I consider the meager balance that is in the account. Sitting around does little for one’s patience.

I have found that I am a highly analytical person, I find it difficult to move on to one task when another is left unfinished. A task unfinished, for instance, is not having enough saved in my checking account to cover an emergency if needed. I get stuck, and I pour over it and worry over it until it drives me crazy. So occasionally, I have to step back, sometimes I have to break down, or work out, or go running, or just have a good blubber on my wife’s shoulder. Stress relief I’m finding is a must these days, so I decided to write a blog about it.  It helps me analyze the situation and sets in concrete accountability to whoever may be reading this. It sounds like an analytical solution to me.

We do of course, in the midst of discouragement, have to move on. One cannot sit in the dark and pout, or drink, or take pills, or eat, or do whatever escape one craves. Life must be lived, money or not. So I have tried to start developing some habits that people who do have money have developed. Besides writing about it, another habit is to read or listen to some kind of instructional wisdom or advice, at least 30 minutes, or 10 pages, every day. It’s a habit developed by wiser men than I. A presidential hero of mine, Teddy Roosevelt, was hardly seen without a book during his administration. Dave Ramsey talks about reading nonfiction books consistently on his radio program. Even Mark Zuckerberg has set a goal of reading a book every two weeks according to Business Insider. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me. The most recent book I have found is an audio book I listen to by Darren Hardy. It’s called “The Compound Effect.”

img_1821The premise of the book is that small, minute, almost minuscule good habits done consistently enough times over the course of time will lead to a person’s ultimate goal. Small steps like avoiding vending machines, not buying the kids McDonald’s for the fifteen hundredth time, and spending less than you make will eventually lead to a trimmer waistline and wealth. While if you did those same repeated habits negatively over the course of a lifetime, it could leave you fat…and broke. I’m closer to the fat, broke guy right now with my habits.

The catch for me: It takes a long time. It takes work that no one sees until it’s suddenly just there, but it takes a long time for that to happen! I’m impatient, remember?

This whole situation feels constipated, like nothing’s moving, “icky” as four year old daughter might say. Consistency, that’s key. I’m willing to take another rich guy’s word for it. My bad habits have gotten me where I am today. If I want out of the situation of living paycheck to paycheck, I have to do things differently. I have to start making better decisions and forming better habits to start building some kind of wealth for my family’s security and our dream of not only living well, but giving well. I have to do a mental flush if this constipated time of life is ever going to end.  Until then, I’ll just have to live life consistently well, maybe bloated, but consistently, for now.