Too Thrifty Chicks

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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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OktoberFast: Failing Forward

Yes, I know it is essentially the end of November and this post is going up on THEE most high, holiest shopping day of the year, Black Friday.  But I promised y’all an update on OktoberFast.

Two months ago, right on this blog, I repented of my backsliding, wayward financial ways. I had seen the error of my money sins during Splurge September and I was going to “Do Better” this time. Or so I thought.

Yeah…so…no.

OktoberFast was kind of an epic fail, and I’m writing this post as a cautionary tale about budgeting, spending and well meaning but failed fasting.

If you don’t remember the OktoberFast Challenge ground rules you can read them here. But the basics of what I was supposed to do vs. what actually happened are below:

Journal my feelings instead of soothing them with “retail therapy.” I journaled 5 times in the month of October. There are 31 days in October and one thing I’m sure of is that I spent emotionally. That’s all I have to say about that. FAIL.

Save at least $300 by the end of the month. I technically accomplished this goal. But keep reading to find out why it’s not really a success. FAIL.

Go to the one grocery store I like, Trader Joe’s, twice a month. I went to TJ’s once, and looking at my checking account, I didn’t spend much money at any of the local grocery stores. FAIL.

Meal prep food I actually like to eat on Sundays. I didn’t “maintain” my grocery store high because I didn’t go to the grocery store. That means I didn’t cook very much. FAIL.

If I “must” eat out, eat a vegetarian meal at a sit-down restaurant. Lies! FAIL.

Use my library card. *in my whiney in my head justification voice* “You can’t check out coloring books from the library.” I don’t know that. I never checked and bought a fancy coloring book and coloring pencils. FAIL.

Replenish my personal hygiene products as needed. I did this, but drugstores are kind of my happy shopping places in New Haven. Book stores and the Kiko Milano makeup store are my top two happy places in the city. Going to a drugstore for a personal care item, invariably meant buying something more than what was on my list. FAIL.

Ricks, You in Danger Girl…

giphy (1)I am zero of seven on OktoberFast goals and it’s all my fault. I pretty much set myself up for failure.

I already knew that continuing to follow a really restrictive spending fast — no clothes, no shoes, no make up/nail polish, no hair products, no books, no coffee out, no credit card use — with no clear and specific reason, and no reward at the end of it was a bad idea.

I even said so in the post.

I figured, if it got me closer to my big hairy, real goal — being Debt Free by 40 — that would be its own reward. Lies! It wasn’t.

Also, the thing that always happens when you recommit yourself to your finances, but don’t actually do anything different, happened because…life and Murphy’s Law.

Serious dental work is my ministry, and I’ve known I needed some work done for some time. In my head, and on paper, I was putting a little something aside for that.

But in fact, something more immediate would always come up — mostly travel that I had already committed myself to before I had committed any actual money.

Of course, I didn’t want to “hurt” my savings that I had just restarted, so when the two created conflict, I found a “savior.”

‘Oh look,’ I thought, ‘I have this 0 percent interest credit card. I can pay the balance when I am paid for my freelance gig.’ Never mind that I had applied for that card to transfer some of the balance of my one credit card to help pay it off faster. It was an emergency. I should have used the emergency money for that.

Duh.

A Life Line

Though this challenge was doomed from the start, some really good things came out of it.

It reignited passion for Operation Do Better. Reese and I started Operation Do Better to change our relationship with our finances, and ultimately leave a legacy. We’ve had some set backs, but we refuse to give up.

It killed my procrastination disorder and my aversion to planning. I was pretty disgusted with my lack of planning for things that I knew were going to happen. I knew I was going to travel to Atlanta in October. I’d known that for months, but I failed to really plan for it beyond purchasing a plane ticket. That lack of planning ended up costing me a significant amount of money because I simply had not considered the logistics. I also was experiencing some frustration with myself for a lack of planning in other areas of my life and I’m taking a more proactive approach to how I do almost everything.

I reconnected with my accountability partners. Reese, our 5509 roomie Tasha and I  have been about this Operation Do Better life for a while now and the many changes that we’ve all gone through in the last few years — moves and new jobs — have left us all a bit shell-shocked financially. The fog is starting to clear and each month we’re working together to get a better grasp on the situation. We check in with each other periodically and I always leave those conversations inspired to keep going.

I learned about You Need A Budget (YNAB). In the words of the software’s creator, Jesse Mecham, “You need a budget. Yes, you do. We all do.” And boy is he right.

Up until now, I have used Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace and Total Money Makeover to address debt, and to some extent to mange money. Reese and I used it to great success to pay off debt a few years ago because we were (and still are) hyper focused on eliminating debt.

But I confess, the day-to-day management of money always seemed to stump me. I was telling my money where to go, but aside from my fixed monthly expenses, those variable, everyday expenses were like a black hole.

When I started my new job, I had to adjust to being paid once a month. I just celebrated my one-year anniversary and I love getting paid this way. I know up front that I have all the money I need to cover my expenses. It makes me feel a sense of control that I have never felt.

On the flip side, being responsible for managing everyday expenses and planning for emergencies and retirement are anxiety inducing. I often start the month with very good intentions, but ultimately end each month feeling desperate. I needed a practical strategy to manage those very different realities in my budget and YNAB has been that for me for the last 60 days.

(Hat tip to  blogger Dad Is Cheap. I stumbled onto this post where he talks about YNAB and decided to give the 34-day free trial a go. Before the trial was over, I bought the software and, so far, it feels like the best $60 I have ever spent.)

So, with only four days before December, I have money in my checking account and peace in my heart. And, y’all it feels so freaking good! I have laid out a plan and refocused on how I can save for emergencies and retirement, pay off what’s left of my consumer debt in 2016, and manage my daily cash flow throughout each month.

The best part is that it doesn’t involve me eating ramen four nights a week, though I love me some ramen.  It also doesn’t mean giving up the few things I consider luxuries. It’s guilt free, and allows me to savor the things and experiences for which I do spend money.

That feels like failing forward to me and it feels like peace and contentment, something I’ve never felt about money. I’m actually excited about budgeting, and that excitement might be contagious. I plan to write more about it so stay tuned.

Happy #StayInTheBlack Friday people!

— Ricks