5 things that are making me happy (and 1 thing that is pissing me off)

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I can’t claim credit for the title of this post- I stole this idea from my blogging inspirations: The Frugal Girl and The Non-Consumer Advocate.

But, in the spirit of not focusing on the negative parts of this week, here are five things that are making me happy (and one thing that’s pissing me off, because I can’t resist).

Five things that are making me happy

  1. The sun is out! But it’s not 100 degrees. That’s a lovely change from hot/humid or gloomy/rainy/humid.
  2. I’ve managed to make dinner at home again every night this week so far. And a lot of it was really delicious grilled things (brats, chicken and pork) which I am very much enjoying.
  3. I went to the gym every workday last week and I’ve gone every day but one this week (due to a team outing at work).  This is huge for me- I may have my spending under control but consistently going to the gym has always been a challenge. But I’m on a good streak right now. I’m hoping I can keep it up!
  4. F has been really affectionate this week. She’s started giving me kisses so big and hard that they’re actually bruising my cheeks and has been asking for hugs and snuggles.  She’s generally not a particularly affectionate toddler, so I have been soaking up the extra love 🙂
  5. F and I are going up to spend a day with my dad this weekend, which is always fun. I love living close to family- it’s so nice to be able to just decide to go visit for a day and not have it be a huge ordeal. We were only 4 hours away before, but it felt much farther.

One thing that is pissing me off

  1. For the last few months, I’ve been semi-regularly getting my groceries through Walmart’s new grocery service (i.e. you order groceries online, they bag them up and you pick them all up curbside). I usually have really good luck with all the food, but the last two weeks, the produce they’ve picked has started going bad really quickly.  This week, I had two bananas and two peaches go from not ripe to spoiled in less than 24 hours and a cucumber that went bad almost immediately upon being cut up (which is not normal). I’ve had to throw out a bunch of food this week and that kind of waste just really pisses me off.  I’m going to give them one more chance and then I might have to reconsider this service.

So there you have it. What’s making you happy this week?

Frugality is not an all or nothing proposition

Slip-ups don’t mean failure and failure doesn’t justify quitting

Today wasn’t a great day. It’s rainy, my morning started with the dog peeing on the floor (for NO. DAMN. REASON.), F was dragging her feet about going to daycare and I was already stressed out by the time I got to work.

I know (from many years of experience) that stressed Liz makes a lot more non-frugal decisions because, you know, cortisol. And emotions.  So today, despite having brought my lunch to work, my co-worker and I went down to the cafeteria where I bought a very large, overpriced, not very good for me taco salad. And don’t you know, I’ve felt like crap about it all. damn. day.  Where do I get off coming here, talking about frugal living, when I brought my lunch to work and still didn’t eat it? It’s a stupid thing to feel guilty about, but sometimes, things seem worse when it’s already been a bad day.

It’s days like today, when I make choices that don’t feel good later, that I try to remind myself of my own guiding principle with money: frugality is not an all or nothing proposition. 

This is something that B and I (mostly I) sort of learned the hard way when we first started budgeting (turns out we learn a lot of things the hard way- it’s like we’re stubborn or something…).  I’m not usually a black and white person, but I took a very black and white approach to budgeting.  Either I did it perfectly or I didn’t do it at all (btw, this is NOT the Dave Ramsey approach- he’s very clear that you will fail at your budget a lot before you get it down).  Every month, I’d forget to include something in the budget or we’d accidentally go over on a category, or we’d be out and I would have forgotten to bring the cash envelopes.

So every month, I’d toss the budget out the window, because it didn’t go right. I didn’t do it right. I didn’t account for everything.

It took me a long time to realize that I was using perfection as an excuse. By treating frugality and budgeting as something that I had to do perfectly, every month, all the time, I was setting up an unreasonable expectation that I could never, ever meet.  And the truth was, I didn’t want to meet it. I didn’t want to have to budget, I didn’t want to have to think about money, I didn’t want to feel stress from money. I wanted to avoid it all and just hope that it all worked out.

Facing myself, admitting that I was being a coward about this and accepting that failure was going to happen was hard. It took a lot of practice not to give up the second that a month ended up having unforeseen expenses (hint: they all do).

But eventually, I came to embrace the 90/10 principle (or 85/15 depending on the month). If I can make frugal choices 90% of the time, then I’m 90% better than when I was doing nothing.  Rather than focusing on the 10% of things that don’t go well, I try to remind myself of that 90%.  And I try to remind myself that frugality is not an all or nothing proposition. Slip-ups don’t mean failure and failure doesn’t justify quitting.  But some days, like today, I really need the reminder.

An attitude of gratitude and an attitude adjustment

I am in desperate need of an attitude adjustment today…

 

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Dave Ramsey is fond of pointing out that living on a budget and managing money are easier if you approach them with an attitude of gratitude. Instead of focusing on what we can’t afford and can’t do, we should try to focus our energy on things that we can afford and can do.

Today….I am very much in need of an attitude adjustment.  It was a hard, long weekend alone with my toddler and I am still feeling very crabby and resentful today.  Resentful of friends whose spouses are around, resentful of my husband for not having to deal with the sometimes overwhelming mundane work involved in keeping a household running and resentful of the “things” that other people have- houses of their own, cars that work right (my stupid car trunk keeps not opening at the most inopportune times), etc.

Resentment is an icky emotion and if left to fester, often has a way of taking over and making everything terrible.  I know- I’ve been caught up in resentment spirals before, most often when I’m stressed out and B. is away (he is probably my biggest asset for staying grounded when I’m stressed- he’s so unflappably calm!) And it’s not good for anyone. I make poor financial choices when I’m stressed out and resentful, I yell at my toddler, I get frustrated with the dog…it’s just not good.

So today, I am in need of an attitude adjustment.  So, instead of focusing on all the things I can’t do or don’t have, I’m going to focus on five very concrete things that I am grateful for today, to remind myself that even though there are things I would like to have that I can’t right now, I still have a lot.

5 Things I’m Grateful For Today

  1. The blessed break in the heat wave– 85 degrees has never felt so cool, you guys.  The humidity and heat wave broke over the weekend and has been replaced by some truly gorgeous July weather.  F. and I went to the park after work today and had a really fun time running around and looking at the flowers.  Outside time= happy toddler (and happier mama too!)
  2. The ability to have choices about what to do with my money– I know that so many people out there (my readers included) aren’t in a place where paying down debt is even an option. Where they’re having to choose between bills and food. Where food and housing insecurity are real, unending worries.  I’m profoundly grateful that B. and I make enough to be able to meet our basic needs and even have some money left over for little luxuries. That’s more than a lot of people and sometimes I need this little kick in the pants when I’m starting to wallow about what I can’t afford.
  3. My awesome landlords– It’s been hard to go back to renting after owning a house for so many years before we moved, but that transition has been made easier by the best landlords anyone could ask for.  B. and I are very lucky to have had a lot of good landlords over the years, but the couple that owns our current house are some of the best. They’re responsive, they’re kind and they take really good care of the property. I may not be excited about renting, but I couldn’t ask for better landlords.
  4. My supportive teammates at work– I’ve been feeling pretty negative about my job recently (not “so bad I want to leave” negative,  but “I’m bored and therefore frustrated with minor things” negative) but I got a great reminder today of the awesome team of people I work with. I had multiple people come up to tell me how much they enjoyed listening to my presentation and how interesting it was.  I so appreciate when people take the time to say these things, because it always feels great to hear (and I try to make a point to say them to others!).  Today’s presentation really helped me feel like my contributions are valued and important AND helped remind me what a great group of people I get to work with!
  5. Online library books– I just set up my online account so I can check out books directly to my tablet. This technology is amazing- I’m never out of new and interesting things to read and I’m grateful to have the technology to be able to take advantage of this great feature.

There we go. Five things I’m grateful for today. And you know what? This sounds corny, but I do actually feel better after writing that list. What’s on your gratitude list today?

Frugal Friday

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It’s Frugal Friday- my weekly round-up of frugality wins and frugality fails chez moi.

Frugal Wins

  1. We didn’t eat out at all for dinner this week- I’m counting this as a major win, considering it’s been approximately 1.3 billion degrees (give or take a few degrees) here all week and I have had no motivation to turn on the stove. Or cook. Or move from the couch. SO HOT.
  2. I didn’t turn the thermostat down- Again, it has been HOT here and the house we’re renting was enrolled in the “on demand” program (or something). Basically, during times of peak demand, we get less energy to our house. Saves us some money. Helps the energy company manage high demand. But let me tell you what- the air conditioner has NOT kept up during those times and the house has gotten HOT. But, I sent F. to bed in only a t-shirt, pulled out my lightest pajamas and we muddled through a much hotter than normal house.
  3. I paid for a doctor’s visit in cash- When B. deployed, we became eligible for Tricare, but F’s current ENT wasn’t a covered provider under Tricare. However, Tricare is free and our health insurance prior to that most certainly was not (well over $300/month).  So paying for one or even two ENT visits out of pocket (even at $170) a pop is still a much better financial deal for us.  (And yes, I called the ENT before we switched to get an estimate of what her visit would cost without insurance). Also, my self-pay amount was about 1/2 the price that my insurance company settled with the provider previously.  (Note: I am not in any way advocating not having health insurance. Health insurance is vital to protect your family, both medically and financially, since medical debt is the leading cause of bankruptcy in the US.
  4.  I took F to different free things to do.  We went to a free local splash pad last Saturday, we went to a free mall play area today and we have been VERY creative at finding fun indoor activities at home.  And tomorrow we’re meeting friends at the splash pad, for a very frugal and very fun playdate!
  5.  I managed to combine vacations and save money- My sister just had a baby and I have been eagerly trying to find a way to go visit her and her husband. I didn’t think it was going to work (flights were well over $700 and work right now is insane) but then a friend suggested that flying out of other airports might be cheaper. I already have some travel planned to Chicago in August and it turns out the a flight from Chicago to my sister and my sister to here was $300 cheaper than a flight from here to my sister and back. Plus, I’m leaving Chicago two days earlier than planned, so the flight minus the two nights I don’t have to stay in a hotel averaged out to approximately $200 to go visit my sister and brother-in-law. I can’t wait to snuggle their sweet new baby!!

Frugal Fails

  1. I did not plan food right this week- In a rare turn of events, I did not buy enough fruits or vegetables this week, meaning that I ran out of vegetables for lunch well before the end of the week.  So I ended up buying a side salad at work today and some popcorn yesterday. BUT! I still brought what I had, so I didn’t have to buy a full meal. So…kind of a win?
  2. Starbucks- always a frugal fail. I was tired and I make bad money decisions when I’m tired.  Caramel macchiatos from Starbucks are my kryptonite. #basic (seriously people, you know you have a problem when your toddler tells you she wants caramel macchiato for dinner….)

How did you all do this week?

 

Our take on the Dave Ramsey Method

In this previous post, I went through the basics of the Dave Ramsey method for achieving financial independence.  In that post, I alluded to the fact that while we subscribe to the general plan, there are a few areas where we differ from Dave’s recommendations. I would say that we generally follow about 85% of what he lays out (which is, incidentally, my approach to almost anything- diet, exercise, sleep, etc.  As long as it is good/works 85% of the time, it doesn’t need adjusting).

The parts we do follow: 

  1. Save $1000 
  2. Not acquire any new bad debt– both our cars are paid off and we never use the credit card we have. Any further cars will be purchased with cash.
  3. The debt snowball– it’s REALLY motivating to pay off debt, so the structure of the debt snowball really works for us.  Also, at this point, the only debt we have is federal student loan debt, so the interest rates are all reasonably low.
  4. Budget meetings and zero-dollar budgeting– When B was stateside, we had budget meetings at a minimum of weekly. Usually one big meeting toward the end of the month and little weekly check-ins each week.  Also, at the end of each month, we zero-out our money for the month and put whatever excess we have left (from areas where we spent less than we budgeted) toward student loans.
  5. Dave’s philosophy: “Live like no one else so you can live like no one else”- We are very conscious of our spending and make decisions that are different from a lot of those around us, in order to gain the financial independence we want. We rarely go out to eat, my toddler and I get all our clothing from consignment or thrift stores (for some reason, good quality consignment men’s clothing is hard to find), our cars are 15 and 11 years old, we rarely eat red meat, our phones are refurbished, older models and all our furniture is the “Ikea/Craigslist” special.  We agree with Dave’s philosophy that being intentional with your money allows your money to work for you and those are items that we just aren’t interested in spending money on.

The parts we don’t follow: 

  1. The baby steps, in exact order–  When we started this journey, we knew that even if we were laser-focused on paying down debt, we’d be looking at a minimum of 4-5 years to pay off all the student loan debt. Paying down debt is important to us, but not so important that we’re willing to sacrifice all our family time trying to hustle and pay it down faster.  We’re content with a 5 year plan. BUT. That means that not planning for the future doesn’t make sense.  As such, we have a fully funded emergency account (baby step three) and we both fully contribute to our company 401k accounts up to the amount the company matches.  Since we’re going to be paying off debt for at least 5 years regardless of whether we do these things, it didn’t make sense to us to forfeit five years of essentially free money (in the 401k match) while we paid down debt.  It’s true that in five years we will be able to pay a lot more toward retirement, but for now, we’re at least not leaving money on the table.
  2. We have a credit card– Dave swears that it is possible to not have a credit card, but that hasn’t been our experience.  None of the car rental places around our metro area will accept a debit card (we’ve tried)! Also, right now, the international charge for using the credit card is lower than our debit card would be, so B has mostly been using the credit card instead.  However, we don’t use it for daily purchases, mostly because we aren’t fully in a financial place where we trust ourselves to use it responsibly. Hopefully we’ll be there one day, but for now, it mostly sits around. I use it for gas once every six months so they don’t cancel it!
  3.  We don’t pay cash for most things– We totally used cash for clothing, restaurants, car repairs and fun money in the beginning, but we’ve gotten to the point now where there aren’t any areas of our budget that we’re likely to overspend on. I think that years of paying with cash was very necessary for us, as it helped us think about how much we were spending and how much we had already spent. But the thing is- that ability didn’t go away when we stopped using cash. I update our budget daily, so I’m always very aware of how much money we’ve spent and what we have left. As the need to self-regulate by using cash has receded, so has our cash usage.
  4. We are not “gazelle-focused”– When you look at our budget, there are certainly areas where we could cut back.  We could move to no restaurant budget at all.  We could get rid of the maid and the lawn care.  We could decrease our grocery budget and buy more rice/beans, rather than meat. We could get rid of our fun money.  But realistically, we both know that we won’t be able to stick to a budget that restrictive (and are profoundly grateful that it isn’t a necessity at the moment- I am acutely aware of the privilege inherent in being able to choose to afford luxuries).  So we tried to put together a budget that allowed us to put a decent amount of money toward debt while still allowing us to live our lives for the next five years.

So there you have it. My philosophy toward life in general is that most situations aren’t all or nothing propositions and our approach to budgeting and finances is no different. We took a lot of Dave Ramsey’s principles, combined them with our knowledge of what would and wouldn’t work for our situation and personalities and managed to come up with something that works for us, and works well. Is it 100% Dave Ramsey? Not at all. But it’s helping us accomplish our goal of financial independence so I’m okay with not following the plan 100%.

Any other Dave Ramsey followers out there? What parts do you follow religiously? Where have you fudged the rules?

 

 

Why I love having a budget…

How having a budget makes sushi day at work more enjoyable!

Days like today are why I love having a budget. I came in to work this morning and saw chefs from a local sushi lounge setting up in the cafeteria at work. I brought my lunch but you know what? The sushi lounge only comes about once a month and I rarely get to go out for sushi these days (Toddler + sushi restaurant = total chaos).  So I decided to get sushi.

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So what, you ask, does this have to do with budgeting? Simple. I looked at my budget and knew that I had the money available to enjoy this treat. I don’t feel even the slightest bit guilty about abandoning my very frugal lunch once a month for something that I get a lot of enjoyment out of. This is why I like having a budget.

And honestly? I enjoy this more knowing that a) it only happens once a month, so I better savor it now and b) I’m spending my money intentionally on something I’m really going to love.

Be back tomorrow- it’s face-stuffing time! (I mean savoring time…really, I do…)

The Dave Ramsey Method

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As I’ve mentioned before on the blog, we use the Dave Ramsey method of budgeting and finances. If you want to know more about Dave Ramsey, I recommend starting with his book- The Total Money Makeover. This is the book that really lays out the budget-specific parts of his financial plan.

We chose the Dave Ramsey plan for a couple of reasons.

  1. Someone my husband worked with recommended it – We weren’t really looking for a budget or financial plan, but someone recommended this book to my husband and after we both read it, we really felt inspired by the plan (note- not inspired enough to actually commit for another 2-3 years, but inspired to at elast start thinking about money)
  2. It’s a financial independence plan (not just a budget)- My husband and I are fiercely independent people, so neither of us really liked being financial beholden to others. But growing up, my experience was that was just a way of life. You had credit cards and debt and car payments and a mortgage and that was just normal. Dave Ramsey’s idea that you pay for things in cash and not buy them if you can’t pay cash was revolutionary to me (which sounds super sad in retrospect, but there you go). In any case, his plan is all about getting rid of debt, not just organizing your life and finances around paying for your debt.
  3. It’s behavior based- The principles that Dave outlines in his book (more on that in a minute) are based on behavior. His book uses behavioral principles, rather than solely financial best practices. His reasoning is that all the good finance in the world won’t help someone with a behavior problem, so you need to address the behavior problem to sort out the finance problem (I’m dramatically oversimplifying here, but that’s the basic gist). This principle is so true of pretty much anything that presents a challenge to someone and I’ve found myself applying this principle to other areas of my life beyond budgeting.

The Dave Ramsey Plan

I’m going to be concise and gloss over a lot here, but these are the basic tenets of the Dave Ramsey plan (with more attention given, by me, to the beginning of the plan). You are supposed to follow, in order, the baby steps that Dave lays out.

Step 1: Save $1000– Did you know that 60% of Americans wouldn’t be able to cover an unexpected $500 bill? This is the point of this baby step. Emergencies happen and the first thing you have to have in place is some easily accessible cash to cover that.

Step 2: Debt snowball– This is where the magic happens. In this step, you make a list of all your debt (not including your mortgage) and list it from smallest to largest. Then, any extra money you can cut from your current spending gets applied to the smallest debt first. The idea is to get something paid off quickly and get what Dave calls “quick wins.” Then, you take whatever you were paying on that debt and apply that amount to the next smallest. And so on. Hence the snowball- each paid off debt snowballs more money into the larger debts.  This step is controversial for a lot of people, because you pay off debts in order from smallest to largest and ignore all other details (like interest rate). So you could theoretically be paying a student loan with a low interest rate first over a credit card or car loan with a higher interest rate.  It seems counter-intuitive, but the psychological win of actually paying something off helps motivate you further. And it’s true! Paying off debt makes me want to pay off more debt.

Step 3: Build a true emergency fund that covers 4-6 months of basic expenses.  Basic expenses include housing, utilities, transportation and food.  The essentials. What you would need to get by until you found another steady source of income.

Step 4/5: Fund retirement and fund college savings accounts. These are the steps that happen only once your debt has been paid off. The idea here is that you put nothing  toward any of these accounts until the debt is gone (more on that tomorrow). Dave always says “pay yourself first,” hence the reason that funding retirement comes first.

Step 6: Pay off the house!

Step 7: Build wealth and give back

Ahem. We’re obviously a LONG way away from steps six and seven.  But hopefully one day I’ll be able to come back here and tell you all that we’re there. But not yet.

That’s it, my friends. The Dave Ramsey plan in a nutshell. Deceptively easy and simple. Check back in tomorrow- I’ll be talking about our take on the Dave Ramsey plan.