It’s All About Choice


money pig Image from Good Search

Here we are, into the new year. The bills have arrived, which raises a question: Are you happy how you spent your money—or didn’t spend your money in 2013?

Did you go to the Nutcracker, after years of wanting to go, but thinking you didn’t have the money? Was this the year you baked bread, cookies or candy to give to the service workers in your life (postal, UPS, garbage, landlord)? Or was it the year you told those you normally spend money on that you’d given to a charity in their honor. Did you have a shopping budget, and stick to it for the first time ever? Congratulations! Keep going strong in 2014!

It all comes down to choice. This year, remind yourself that you are in control of the choices you make. Every day. All year. No one can upset you without you being “upset-able”. If you dread (insert group here) family, work, neighborhood… get-togethers, then make plans now to be somewhere else and with someone else for next holiday season. If that sounds impossible, another option is to make plans to show up at the event and not be offended, hurt, or angry. It’s about choice.

Back to your budget. Do you have it ready for the new year? It’s never too late.

Here’s a budgeting booklet download:

Print it out, put it together, and write in your categories. Most important is tracking your expenses. If this sounds too complicated, then save every receipt in an envelope and add them up. If your income varies, keep a running tab of that, too. Bottom line, you need to know income in, income out, and the difference +/-. If you have extra money, save it. Save it for long term (retirement, big goals), short term (six months rent, and fun.) If you come up short, look at where you’re spending. There are several factors to this part, but usually, it about the spending.

What Kids Cost


Inside of a classroom with back to school on the chalkboard

image credit: Good Search

57% of families with kids under the age of 18 have two working parents. Instead of seeing it as a double edge sword, see the good that comes out of it. The cost of back to school shopping this year—according to National Retail Federation, averaged $604. Approximate break down of: Clothing $200, Supplies $90, Shoes $100, Electronic Devices $200. From that stand point, two working parents is wonderful.

Sometimes, even with two people pulling in paychecks, it’s hard to feel like it’s worth it. When is date night? It doesn’t have to be an expensive night out. It can even be stay at home and use the good silverware and candles, or decorate the table, or a room for a change of atmosphere instead of going out.

Meet for a picnic lunch if you work near each other. I used to work with a couple who would always bring real plates and silverware, and homemade leftovers for lunch all packed in their picnic basket. They made leftovers seem like a fancy meal, but it was easy, and didn’t cost them anything extra.

Are you trying to teach teens about money? Give them an idea of what it cost to raise kids, especially if you’re not wanting to be the Saturday night babysitter, or in the position to be the daycare. They may hear you say, “That’s expensive!” Or “We don’t have that kind of money” but your actions may or may not match your words, especially when push comes to shove. I’ve known parents who become baby sitter, and buy food the the new couple starting a family. If you don’t want that to be you talk about the expense of teens having kids, and how it adversely effects so many involved.

Sit down with them and talk about the cost of raising a baby from pregnancy through first year $4,294.; Monthly cost to feed a family of four $1,014.; Average annual cost of child care for a 4-year-old in child care center $7,380.; Cost of raising a child born in 2010 until the age 18 (college not included) $226,920.; Annual tuition and fees at a public university (as of 2011) $8,240.

Is Debt a Deal-Breaker?


debt deal breaker Image credit: Good Search

You found The One! Perfect in every way. —Except they have debt. Is that a deal breaker for love?

According to Match. com, three out of four single Americans say they are turned off by excessive credit card debt. 46% of the women surveyed said they didn’t care how much their date spent on an evening out. (Match.com) My translation: It’s the quality of the relationship, not the quantity of money spent on a date.

Their in debt; you’re not. Does that mean the relationship is over?

It depends. Maybe your partner will never be as money savvy as you. Does that mean you walk? If they’re not willing to have a budget, clear the stars from your eyes. Their unwillingness to learn about deficits and surplus that will effect them—and you, are a red flag saying that they’re not willing to change at all. If you’re an excellent saver and are hard line, expecting miracles from someone who’s never had a budget, you may want to loosen up a bit on your ideal partner, or their ability to budget to your standards.

Are you both willing to sit down and talk about money, budgets and expectations you have of each other when it comes to money? (If they expect you to manage the household finances, are they willing to stick their budget so you can manage the money?) The money in many military homes is managed by women. Often, one spouse earns money, sends it home, and hopes when they get home the money has been spent/saved wisely.

Dating or married, have a written plan. If it’s not in writing, there’s nothing to go back to as a point of reference. If your relationship doesn’t have a strong foundation of mutual respect, don’t expect fibs and outright lies to bypass your finances. 30% of people admit lying to their partner about money. Ouch! (National Endowment for Financial Education)

If the divorce rate is around 50% why do only 3% of people with a spouse of fiancé have a prenuptial agreement? By talking about money ideals early in a relationship, there may be less push-back of a prenuptial being “unromantic”. Think of a marriage as part business deal, and the prenuptial holding promise of a future of love and commitment.

Ways to be a better saver of money


save money

Image Credit: Google

According to Rand Corp. economists, in a study on money saving behavior from August 2012 to March 2013, people who wrote their money saving goals down saved 64%. People who did not write down their goals saved 53%. In this study, savers were given money and some of the savers were asked to write the following: “I am a good saver. I will commit myself to achieving my savings goals.” A third group in the study were those assigned to an account where they could not withdrawal any money over the next six months. That group saved even more than the other two.

If you want to save more, write it down, or share it with a trusted friend or family member. It seems to be the act of pledging to be a better saver that makes a person better at saving. People want to have their words and deeds match, especially if others know about a goal. Another sure way to set you up for success is to have some of your savings hard to get to.

Savings? Words matching deeds? Accountability? There’s an app for that! Yep. If you can’t come up with your own motivation to save, there’s an app and website Stickk.com by Yale behavioral-finance experts. With this app you can create a contract and share it with others. You can even include a penalty if you slack off. The penalty can be something like authorizing a credit card payment to a charity. Stickk.com has found that users who do share their goal with supportive people and chose to elect the penalty, have a success rate of 80%, while those who keep their goal of savings private succeed nearly 40% of the time.

Fear or Dreams. What Motivates You to Save Money?


find money image credit: Good Search

I had a statistics professor in college who brought out the state lottery in class. “I don’t even mess with it until it’s over ten million.” Let’s remove some of the zeros from that. . . . What if you found ten dollars—what would you do with the money? What if fifty dollars was automatically deposited into your bank account every month? What would you do with that money?

What motivates you to save money? Is it fear of being without? Or, is it your dreams of  “one day” and “what if”? Do these aspects of motivation help you set goals, or pass through you thoughts until the next time.

Find out what motivates you. Fear or Desire. Decide to take a stand. If it’s fear and you’re not saving, then some may say you’re fooling yourself.  If your fear is not having enough, begin by putting aside money every single paycheck. You say you don’t have enough to do that. Do it anyway. Put aside even one dollar every paycheck. Do not label it “rainy day”; label it “savings”. You may scoff that one dollar isn’t enough. Hmmm… Funny. A second ago you didn’t have “enough” to save anything. You’ve got to prove to yourself there IS enough. Change your thinking, and change your life. Yes, even one dollar at a time.

If it’s desire and you take no action, you’ll never draw it to you. Sure, you may be gifted a car, or marry someone in “that” neighborhood, but that only goes so far. If you take action (and action begets action) you’ll change your consciousness, and by doing so, you’ll prove to yourself you don’t need someone else to save you —which opens the door for that good to come without strings, and enables you to share your good with others, too.

The on-line bank ING Direct (now Capitol One) allows customers to set up several savings accounts, and customers can name them. (Car, Travel, Financial Freedom, Life…) Happy saving!

Creative Gifting on a Budget


I recently traveled to a friend’s mid-summer wedding. The ceremony was in a gorgeous meadow that had a labyrinth. The path was as wide as a lawn mower. When we arrived to the meadow, I picked wild daisies to make the bride a wreath for her head. Then I took photos of the surrounding area. Next thing I knew, it was time to sage and bless each guest before their entering the labyrinth.

IMG_5600This wedding got me thinking of gifts that can be given from the heart. First, there was the opportunity for every guest (17) to bring organic, non-GMO fruit, vegetable, or flower seeds for the couple to plant and act as a reminder for them to nurture their friendships. The couple also asked each guest to bring  something from nature. In addition to seeds and nature, guests were asked to write a poem or message about, or to the Summer Solstice and read it to the group.IMG_5589

Up until the point of finding an item of nature, I had confidence that as usual, I packed light, and smart. But then I found two rocks—each in the shape of a heart. Why couldn’t I be happy with a leaf or feather! Sticking to my original plan, I was also giving the couple a great chef knife. My friend loves to cook and entertain. So, this meant I had to plan ahead and ship off the knife, and pack the rocks along with wrapping paper (only to get scolded by the bride for using paper.) One guest gifted the couple with catering the simple but beautiful hors d’oeuvres. Another guest made a six foot wine bottle holder out of wood he’d found, adding shape and holes to the piece of wood.

IMG_5578  IMG_5598

I’m on the good side of cancer—rebuilding strength. This was my first big trip, and I was determined to carry-on my bag rather than pay $25 for the same weight as some women’s purses. It wasn’t pretty and I ached from doing it, but I did it. It reminded me of a story I was told by a man years ago.

This man was staying in Africa for several months. He made friends with the locals. On his birthday, one of his new friends gifted him with a sea shell. This man knew his friend couldn’t have bought the shell, and they lived hundreds of miles from the coast. He said, “The ocean is far away. How did you get this shell?” His friend replied. “Long journey part of gift.” He’d walked a few days to honor his friend with a sea shell.

How can your journey gift someone? What can you do differently, or go out of your way to honor someone without a big expense on your part? I think my friend was more grateful for the head wreath, photography, and space clearing I did than the chef knife. For me, the big gift was the travel itself.IMG_5590

Ground Rules for Vacationing with Friends


splitting cost on vacation image credit: Good Search

Taking a vacation with friends can be fun—or not. Time together is all fun and games until squabbles over costs come into the vacation and memories. It’t hard for some people to talk about money, but it’s often harder to repair friendship over money issues that arise while traveling.

Before you go:

Discuss where you’ll go, who is going, and when. If you want to go to Italy in the Summer, and they want to go to  Ireland in the Fall, make sure no one feels “You always get your way.” If there’s a since of that from the start, suggest another trip, another time, but let it be known you’re going to Italy in the Summer—and you’re going to have a wonderful time!

If everyone decides to move forward from there, begin to put your plans in writing. Everyone going on the trip can get together and share ideas of what their ideal vacation looks like. Are you a four-star hotel type? Or do you like hosteling? If you earn points from hotel stays, and your friend earns them with a different hotel, what do you do? What if you have different frequent flyer airlines? These are the things that need to come up early in the planning stage. Maybe you’re both okay with not earning miles, and grabbing the least expensive flight, but if one of the two of you has enough miles for a trip on an expensive airline, you may not be traveling together.

What’s your vacation budget? Know it before you leave home and stick to it. Talk this stuff through with your friend. If you’re with someone who wants to experience high end restaurants but you plan to buy food from the local grocery shop, eat from food stands, or patronize the local mom and pop restaurant— You’ll want to have that discussion before the trip. Maybe you agree to one expensive night on the town. Get an idea of that means. I had an experience in Lapland, Sweden. A puny scoop of ice cream, a tiny piece of brie cheese, and a small vodka came to $75.00. Are you both on the same budget? Even if you are, it may not impact you the same. Maybe you say to your friend, “If you want to go to that restaurant, are you willing to without me, even if that means going alone?” Or have some days and evenings where you each do your own thing.

Once you have an idea of what the trip looks like, put it in writing. Include (researched) estimates of costs, timelines and budgets. If you can, either each pay for your airfare separately, and each send in half of the accommodations on your own—or try to have only a few bills and split all of them in half. (I don’t like to do this at restaurants, because my bill is usually much lower than others’.) If you’re eating meals at the beach house rental, equally pitch in for food, or totally do it separately. If they drink wine and you don’t, that’s not on your bill. If you insist on drinking soy milk and they can get by with less expensive cow’s milk, it sounds like a menu review may be needed before you get too far.

It’s really important to know your travel partner is saving for the vacation. If you save money and book your trip, and they don’t save, and decide they have to back out, you may find yourself in hot water (and I don’t mean at a spa in Hawaii.) I’ve had this happen to me twice. Once, there was a double occupancy requirement. My friend who hadn’t saved and backed out did pay the difference for me to go alone. Nothing was going to stop me from my trip.

Traveling together is a lesson in budgeting, communication, compromise and friendship. Go! Have fun!