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Food For Thought: Talk Budgets To Me Pt. 1

The holiday season is one of my favorite times of the year and let’s be honest, it is the time of year where I spend money on other people and enjoy it. It’s never a lot of money because in my former life I was a procrastinator and always failed to plan for Christmas even as the decorations were going up in October.

This year followed a similar trajectory. But in October I got a budget, made a plan and now all my Christmas shopping is done almost done.

And you know what I discovered about budgets? Budgets equal confidence. And confidence is sexy. Therefore, budgets are very sexy.

Wait, let me explain.

I clearly have not always felt this way about budgets.

For much of my life, budgeting was about the pain of discipline and the shame of failing.

Budgeting, at least for me, has always been about achieving perfection, and then feeling guilty when I proved time and time again that I’m not perfect.

Budgets made me feel inadequate and unsure of my ability to adult. Budgets were very unsexy.

Until I met a budget that I liked.

After that, I realized budgeting is a lot like dating. Sometimes you’ve got to kiss a few frogs before you get a prince/princess.

So if you haven’t found “The One,” keep looking. Never give up and think through these three things to recognize “The One”:

  • The right budget doesn’t hold your past against you, supports your present being, but is willing to help you plan for the future. You took out too many student loans. You ran up the credit cards. You don’t have enough saved for an emergency. Retirement? You mean I can’t work until I die? Oh. The right budget helps you start wherever you are and says, “You can do this.”
  • The right budget doesn’t make you feel like you’re always doing it wrong. The right budget says, “We can do this better, together.” You budgeted $100 for eating out. You spent $125. You technically “failed.”  A good budget says, “You spent more than you intended. Adjust and move on without guilt.”
  • The right budget puts you in the driver’s seat and empowers you to prioritize what you really want out of life. You say you value experience over things, but when it’s time to snap up that great flight deal, there is nothing but cobwebs and tumbleweeds in your savings account. The right budget helps you put your money where your heart is instead of just where your mouth and feet are. The right budget helps you set goals instead of just limiting your spending.

The reality is that you have to find a system that works for you. Before the advent of phones that are basically handheld computers, I used Dave Ramsey’s monthly cash flow planning sheets and his cash envelope system. I liked the cashflow sheets and kept a binder full of them, religiously, for years.

(If you read the OktoberFast Update post, you know I now use software called YNAB (You Need A Budget) to manage money.)

But I didn’t last more than two months with the cash envelope system, which was supposed to govern my daily money management. I probably had too many envelopes and I was not the best at always writing down what I spent. I also never felt the “pain of spending cash” as Dave Ramsey likes to call it. The only pain I felt was when those envelopes were empty and payday was off in the distance. Empty envelopes just increased my anxiety because the grocery store money was gone, but there was no food in the refrigerator, and I didn’t know why.

When Reese and I started Operation Do Better we were living and cooking together. We also were overspending on our shared grocery budget. We’re a little bougie. We like good cheese and wine. Having one envelope strictly for grocery money and meal planning helped us rein in that spending area.

And that leads me to my next point. No one thing is going to fix your finances. But a number of specific, very intentional steps might. Reese and I had to budget and then develop a strategy for how we met that budget. We saw spending less on groceries as a goal rather than a limit. We saw occasional spending fasts from things like eating out as a way to realign our priorities and to reach goals faster. Reaching that goal allowed us to reward ourselves appropriately. Rewarding ourselves appropriately encouraged us to keep going.

You might be saying to yourself: Ricks, this is all cute and what not, but why are y’all still in debt?

Fair question.

The short answer: When I quit my job, we also quit the system. Not just the system of regular steady income, but the system of managing resources and managing them well. And honestly, while we’re not out of debt, we’re actually only wrapping up year two of actually trying to get out.

You’ll have to read Part 2 of this blog post if you want a more detailed answer. 🙂

Now that we’ve refocused our attention on slaying debt and saving with purpose and intention, basically Operation Do Better 2.0 (3.0 starts next year), I have been stalking these Interwebs for tips and tricks on how to do better on everything from budgeting to meal planning. And what I have discovered between You Tube and various personal finance blogs is a whole community of folks pushing back against the mass consumption of everything, and opting out of the Cult of Credit Card Debt.

The older I get the sexier financial responsibility gets.

— Ricks

(Hat tip to blogger extraordinaire J. Money over at Budgets Are Sexy for inspiring this post.)


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Doing Better: Christina’s Story, Part 2

Christina Walker is Doing Better and this week she’s sharing the part two of who she’s re-writing her financial history and changing her family tree. Missed the first part of Christina’s Story? Check it out here.

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First steps to freedom

In 2007/2008 I got my head together again.  Thanks to some sage advice, I moved my money from a traditional bank to a credit union and sat down with a financial adviser to talk about cleaning up my credit and becoming debt free. In 2009, I met my husband David Walker Jr.  Early in our relationship, we talked about working jobs that we loved and having the financial freedom to change our family trees and travel the world.  We both had a mindset of not wanting to be in debt before we met each other so there wasn’t much fighting over money.  We did have one struggle that led to our decision to merge our separate bank accounts.  We once took a trip and it was a hassle trying to see who would pay for what and out of what bank account so shortly after we had to figure out a new and better system.  Today everything comes out of one account. It’s so much easier with tracking and accounting.  His money is mine and mine is his. We even have wiggle room in our budget for our own personal ‘blow’ money.

We then started reading books by Suze Orzman, Dave Ramsey, Robert Kiyosaki and other personal finance gurus to develop a strategy to become millionaires.  With the help of our friends, we projected our goals for the next five years. We jotted that information down in a notebook that we called our “Goal Book” and we have worked to meet those goals every year since.  But the major thing we did was put ourselves on a budget for a whole year and kept track of everything we spent money on.  By everything, I do mean EVERYTHING! We kept receipts for all purchases, small or big, for a whole year so we could see exactly where our money was going. Each receipt was kept in its own envelope and in categories which helped a lot with our taxes and our knowing where we spent too much so we could ultimately cut back.

Mine + Yours = OURS

246589_4070503641194_1466817754_nDavid came with his own baggage but not much. He had student loans, bills and a car that just broke down on him. But he  lived in a family house that was paid for and didn’t use credit cards anymore.   So most of his overdue bills were small things like a doctor’s bill, which was  easily payable.  But since the universe likes to make things interesting, he got laid off and my car broke down, forcing us to shop for a new/used car.  Now, I was strapped with a car note again.

But we were determined and we loved each other very much. We also both really wanted to see each other be successful.   So with the help of our credit union, lots of financial books and reading financial blogs, we devised a strategy.   We wrote down every debt we owned, from smallest to largest, and decided to do a debt snowball. We redoubled our efforts to cut down on unnecessary spending and put any leftover money we had each month toward bills.  David worked really hard to get back in school and to find employment.  I worked two jobs at one point to pay down bills. He’s now working two jobs to pay down bills while I take a break.

Real sacrifice, real reward

There have been a ton of tough moments.  When we first started all of this, we stopped socializing when the events 228166_10150203044152720_5542172_nrequired us to come out of pocket.  Now, we can afford to eat out and go on trips but that’s not what our goals entail.  Our goals require us to be frugal and sacrifice so that we could do the things we want to do later. Once a friend of ours said when we declined yet another invite,  “Y’all ain’t broke. Why don’t you come hang out?” We stuck to our guns.   In our minds, we were broke.  Not poor.  Being broke, for us, meant we had bills to pay off and life ahead of us.  It mattered that we stop spending thousands of dollars on trips every year or eating out for every occasion or having a lavish wedding.

We paid cash for our wedding.  We only had 20 people in attendance because that’s all we could afford.   People were upset, especially family, but no one offered to pay for a bigger wedding so we made due with what we had.   It was better than we expected and it was classy.   We are always complimented on our wedding photos and we’ve even had friends use some of our ideas to plan their own small, inexpensive weddings.

Paying it forward

Throughout the entire process, I have encouraged my friends and family to jump on the “freedom bandwagon” many times. Some got really excited and started their own plan and some didn’t.   In the end some relationships fell to the wayside because it was either their time to end, or maybe we differed on how David and I were now living our lives.  But we were serious when it came to being financially sound and we wanted to make sure our lives reflected the walk we were talking.

Some of the best moments so far have been paying off our new $18,000 truck — yes, it was too high but we needed a truck to carry around our two dogs and other equipment. It took us less than three years to pay it off because we paid bi-weekly and made extra payments for two years. All of that culminated in us being able to make a final $5000 cash payment to pay the sucker off.  We got David’s student loans out of default and paid back my four 401(k) loans. We  paid off an old overdue but significantly high energy bill from David’s family house, paid off all credit card debt, increased our credit scores by 100-plus points and reduced the interest rate on my loft from 6% to 4%.

Envisioning a beautiful future

382994_10150416391337720_776731016_nSince 2009 we’ve paid off  a little over $67,000  in consumer debt.  That may not seem like much and we still have a ways to go, but  it’s been cash since then and we’re completely free from a lot of the burdens we use to have. Having  each other first and foremost as accountability partners helps a lot. Writing down our goals in our notebook and creating a vision board also keep us motivated.   We know that ultimately we want to open our own business and have children, and we want to make sure we are financially ready to do those things before making those big leaps.  So the beautiful future we envision keeps the fire going…

Want to know Christina’s secret to slaying debt and saving for the future? Check out the last installment of her story next week!