My intention is not to turn this into a money blog so please stick with me while I get myself back in the habit of writing weekly. Hopefully along the way you will learn something new or find one of these tips useful. And if there is something you would like me to write about (money or otherwise) leave a comment and let me know!
Money Tip #2: Track your spending. I use Mint which is a free online service (they suggest financial products and earn commissions if/when you decide to use suggested products). I also recently signed up for Personal Capital which I believe is similar though I haven’t spent much time in my account yet. Of course there is always an Excel spreadsheet that can be customized as basic or as fancy as you want. Here is a quick tutorial.
When you track your spending for the first time:
1. You’ll probably discover you spend a LOT on food…or clothes…or some other category. That’s good to know for the next point.
2. It allows you to make changes. You can’t decrease the amount you spend on wrist watches if you don’t realize you’re spending $500/month on them.
So give it a go. Sign up for a free account or open up a spreadsheet and start tracking. Then do me a huge favor and come back and comment about what surprised you the most about this exercise. If you already track your spending leave a comment and share what your experience was like early on.
There are few things in life I get really excited about. Money is one of them. I’m always on the lookout for a good financial podcast or new money blog. My husband (and probably many of you) think these are boring and dry, but I can’t get enough. Since I have historically not been great at posting on a regular basis I am going to start posting a money tip once a week in an effort to get myself back in the habit. I find myself watching entirely too many many shows online these days and since we recently added Netflix back into our budget I need something like writing to keep my mind engaged between episodes of Parenthood and Property Brothers.
Money Tip #1: Enroll in your workplace 401K. TODAY. Log into your Human Resources account from home if you can or set an alarm on your phone for your next scheduled shift and get the paperwork needed to start it. Most companies make the process really easy. If you already contribute to a 401K my stretch goal for you is to look into additionally contributing to an IRA.
Co-workers made fun of me at my first job out of college because I was always logging into my retirement account to check the balance. DO NOT listen to the people who tell you you’re too young to worry about retirement. Those people are probably poor and you should always be skeptical of financial advice given by poor people.
If you don’t have a 401K available at your job there are other options. Any of the big investment firms (Vanguard, Fidelity, T. Rowe Price, etc) have a whole team of people who can help you choose the right account for you. Saving for you future is important and you should start today. No excuses.
Don’t know what a 401K is? Need additional help? Feel free to ask questions in the comments section or send me an email and I’d be happy to point you in the right direction.
I’ve been thinking a lot about living a balanced life. I have always been drawn to this idea, but more so since I returned to work post-baby and my life suddenly became pure chaos. Piles of laundry, long commutes, and not enough sleep have been the norm for me since February. For reference, it took two months back at work before I found a moment to look at our budget when I used to review it daily. I was feeling completely overwhelmed by working full time and trying to be a mom.
How do you find balance when you can’t even keep your head above water? The answer: you can’t. I found myself in a situation where the bad days outweighed the good and even found myself being jealous of my daughter’s sitter. Not a good place to be. So…
I quit my job.
To be more accurate I stepped down from my position as supervisor and stopped working full time (effective today). I’m still doing some [very] part time work, but no more 40+ hours a week + commute + daycare drop off/pick up.
Seriously happy. And now I feel like I have margin in my life again which feels SO good. I’ve come up with a list of items I want to focus on now that I’m a [mostly] stay at home mom. Over the next few weeks I plan to make some very measurable goals out of these, but here is the summary of what I want to accomplish with my new job as stay at home mom.
1.) De-clutter and clean my house. Create a system to keep it clean and picked up.
2.) Focus on better nutrition and overall health for my family. Eat more veggies and non-animal sources of protein.
3.) Find activities both for me to enjoy solo and things I enjoy doing with my baby.
I feel like I want to accomplish a lot and the challenge will be reigning myself in and not getting frustrated when things are not perfect by next week. I have a tendency to overextend and take on too much at once, but I hope I am able to push through the disappointment and accomplish everything on my list. I yearn for balance and simplicity in my life and I am confident I am closer to finding both.
How have you found balance in your own life?
Remember when I gave you a little teaser in this post of the project I was working on? I had been searching for the right night stand for quite a while when my in-laws found themselves with a bed side table they didn’t need anymore. I think they were a little confused as to why I wanted an old nightstand with rickety drawers, but they graciously humored me and allowed me to have it. It started out like this:
I forgot to take a photo before the hardware came off, but you can see the outline of the old decorative brass pulls that were once a part of this gem. The stain had that yellowish tint to it that I can’t stand at all, but the construction was solid and I liked the basic design.
What I didn’t anticipate is how long it would take to sand such a small piece of furniture! I worked on it over the course of three days, and my best guesstimate is about 10 hours worth of work. So maybe I would have been better off just buying a new piece, but where is the fun in that? It definitely wasn’t a perfect sanding job, but my fingers could barely grip the sander by the end of it so I finally just had to call it quits.
The post-sanding photo is the one I let you see in the post mentioned above. That was almost a year ago. It got cold and rainy after that so I had a difficult time finding a day when I wasn’t working and the weather was good. Because the sanding was so labor intensive I also imagined the staining process to be a major time commitment. So I put it off, telling myself in the spring I would pick it back up. It didn’t help that I put it next to the bed and started using it, though I did cover it with a sheet in an attempt to preserve my 10 hours of labor.
Spring came and went and still the nightstand stayed in its unstained condition. For my birthday (July) I told Adam I wanted him to buy me the stain and supplies to finish, as well as allow me a day to focus just on this project. My birthday came and went and finally in August we bought the needed supplies. In September I found myself home one day with beautiful weather and no plans. I declared that I would finish the night stand. Adam suggested I stain inside, rather than carrying the heavy piece outside, so I put down my drop cloth, opened all the windows, and started to stain.
Just as I was shocked by the 10 hours of sanding, I was equally shocked that it only took me about 30 minutes to apply a coat of stain. It went on smoothly didn’t even require a sanding between coats. I applied two coats and was grateful I picked the stain + polyurethane mix. After just 1 hour of work (with a few hours of wait time in between) the piece was almost complete! The hardware went on in minutes, and this is what I ended up with:
I still need to put the new drawer runners on, but cosmetically it is finished. I am so happy with the way it turned out, and even though it took me almost a year from start to finish I am glad I took on the project. I showed my in-laws when they came to visit last and my mother in law responded “well now I want it back!”
Have you worked on or completed any DIY projects recently? Tell me about it or link to your post in the comments.
I love looking at houses. I scour real estate sites almost daily and I have as many pins for my future home as I do for food. And I adore food.
My home is not perfect, and I feel it will always be a work in progress, but I also thought it would be fun to share it with those of you who may never see it in real life. I’ve been putting it off because I kept waiting for it to be perfect, but since I’ve accepted the fact that it won’t ever be perfect I’m going to go ahead and do a tour now. I can always come back and update as I change things, right? So here we go.
Welcome to our humble abode. Please come in and forgive us for the dirty door. I never noticed it until I saw this photo. One day I plan on putting a wreath on the door. Of course, I’ve been planning that for about a year now. My MIL made me a beautiful wreath for Christmas, but now I have to come up with something for the other eleven months.
Once you come in you’ll go right up the stairs. No need to take off your shoes. And don’t worry- that ferocious barking is really just a friendly “hello” and an invitation to play.
When you get to the top of the stairs you will see the living area. The door at the top of the stairs is one of the doorways into the kitchen. Pretend I washed our stairs before I took the picture, okay? Thanks.
The living room is a hodgepodge of old furniture. The chair was $10 from a thrift store (don’t fret if you have sat on this- it went through a few rounds of Lysol and vacuuming before we ever touched it). The couch was a gracious hand-me-down from Adam’s Aunt when we got married. It’s a sofa bed that we have used for many guests, though it is definitely showing the wear of two dogs and a husband who likes to sit in the same spot every time. The black cabinet is my favorite piece in the room and something I will actually keep for a long time.
Here you see our little dining area. I’d love to buy a new rug for under the table (I’ve had that black one since my second year in college). We’ve also been looking for a new table. This little round one was great for our last place, but we have space for a little bigger table and it would be nice to have a little more space when we play board games.
I love the windows in this room and how open it feels. About 3/4 of the year we have the windows open day and night. It helps air out the place and makes it almost feel like our home is an extension of outside. I love that.
Now follow me down the hallway. We’ll skip the kitchen today as it is almost never clean enough for photos. To the left we have a very large closet that Adam wants to use as a nursery some day. The doorway on the right is our bedroom, and straight ahead is the bathroom.
I’d love to show you my little desk area, but for the past three months it has been buried under a pile of junk. Maybe I’ll do a before and after photo to encourage me to clean it up.
See the little bedside table? That’s the piece I sanded down last fall and never got the chance to stain. When the stars align (i.e. when I’m off work, it’s sunny outside, and we have no plans) I will stain and finish it. Right now I’m trying not to put anything on it so I don’t ruin it!
Thanks for walking through with me! It’s no designer home, but it is comfortable and we love it here.
How have you found ways to make your house a home?
A friend at work mentioned geocaching to me a few months ago and I was immediately intrigued. For those of you who don’t know, geocaching is a real world scavenger hunt using GPS coordinates. Basically someone hides a small container (like a small Tupperware) and then posts the GPS coordinates online for other people to find. I have been wanting to try it out ever since I heard about it, but plans were foiled by bad weather every weekend I found myself not working. Finally this past weekend we had beautiful weather and I convinced Adam that it was time we gave it a try. We downloaded the iPhone app and were off!
In each cache you’ll find a log sheet to record your name and the date you found the cache. The above was the second cache we found and the log sheet was short (the first cache I forgot to snap a photo of).
Our third and final cache for the day was the most difficult to find, even though it was in plain sight! We think it may have been moved from it’s original spot as our GPS coordinates did not match up perfectly. There were many treasures inside (the rule is you can take something, but you must leave something of equal or greater value). Because this was our first adventure we didn’t know exactly what we would find, but next time we plan on taking some trinkets to swap out.
I thought we would only do one to try it out, but we had so much fun we ended up finding 3! We were pleasantly surprised by how many caches have been hidden in our neighborhood, and I think it will take a while before we actually have to start driving to the locations.
If you like puzzles or treasure hunts you should give this a try! Visit the official geocaching website and create a login to get started. If you want to connect we are treasure hunting under the username NOVAdventurer.
Have you ever tried geocaching? Share your experiences in the comments.
If you missed last weeks post you can find it here. Today I’ll give you the specifics for each step in our journey.
1.)We made the decision to stop borrowing money.
This first step is self explanatory, although this is the step people get tripped up on. For me it was extremely helpful to have a spouse who was supportive and on board. If you’re not in a committed relationship, try to find a close friend who you can work with and use as an accountability partner.
2.) We formulated a plan.
Once you really commit, then you can formulate a plan. We used Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps as a guideline, although we adapted it for our needs. You can find his plan here.
How we adapted Dave’s plan to fit our needs
-We still put money into my 401K. I understand why Dave recommends stopping contributions (focused intensity), but I just couldn’t bring myself to break this good habit. Plus I may not always have the option of a 401K (if I stay at home with kids) and I wanted to start something that would be growing for the rest of my life.
-We still went on vacation. Sort of. While we didn’t take any exotic cruises or tour Europe, we did visit out of state family a LOT while we were getting out of debt. Both Adam and I understand deeply how precious the moments with our family are and we were not willing to risk missing those moments to get out of debt sooner. If anything I wish we would have taken more trips to visit family, especially those who lived multiple states away.
-We ate out occasionally. You’ll often hear Dave Ramsey say that while getting out of debt “you won’t see the inside of a restaurant unless you’re working there.” While we didn’t eat out all that often, we still ate out for entertainment or to enjoy a night with friends. If you choose to still eat out while you’re getting out of debt you MUST decide in advance how much you are going to spend. If you don’t track your spending or have a budget then you probably don’t realize how much you spend eating out. I encourage you to look through your account for last month and add up the numbers- you may be surprised. Then sit down and decide how much you want to spend this month and stick to it.
An important part of having a plan is to budget. You don’t have to get sophisticated about this. And a budget isn’t constricting (as I thought it would be). A budget is just a specific outline of what you will make and how you want to spend it. That’s right- you get to decide how to spend your money! We used an excel spreadsheet for the main budget but also supplemented with mint.com. Remember, the first time you write down what you think you will spend it won’t be perfect. But also remember if you’re about to spend an extra $50 on groceries then you have to go back to the budget and take that $50 from somewhere else. When getting out of debt you don’t get to spend money you don’t have.
3.) We created a visual reminder.
I probably made 3 or 4 different charts before I finally had one that worked. It was a simple grid where each square represented $50. I had totals beside each line so we could see quickly see our total paid. At the bottom of the page we wrote out the reasons we wanted to be debt free. Most importantly, we posted this on our fridge as a constant reminder.
4.) We set goals.
When we first decided to get out of debt, we used this debt reduction calculator to figure out how long it would take. We got married in June 2010 and running the numbers we figured it would take until June 2013. The total amount was a combination of many small loans, so we set deadlines for paying off each of the small loans and focused on those goals, rather than the 3 years it would take for the entire amount. Each time we set a goal that represented a reasonable estimate, along with a stretch goal. On our very last loan our stretch goal was to pay it off by the end of February 2013, but we actually exceeded our stretch goal and made our final payment February 1!
5.) We rewarded ourselves for small milestones and constantly talked about the “why.”
After each small debt paid off we would treat ourselves to a restaurant meal, ice cream, or have some small celebration. It felt so good to see each debt get paid in full, but we needed a little boost after each one to keep us going. On a daily basis we talked about the plans we had for once we were out of debt, and now being on the other side it feels amazing to see some of those dreams becoming our reality.
I would have loved to have paid for college out of pocket and graduated with no student loans, but I am actually grateful for the student loans in a way. Adam and I have learned how to delay gratification and wait for the things we want while we save up and pay cash for them. We have learned how to make a plan and stick to it. We have learned to rely on each other and support each other and for that I am so grateful. I love life and I look forward to the debt free chapter of our lives. Good luck on your own journey! I know you can do it.
Do you have any questions about how we achieved this major milestone? Any advice? Leave a comment or email myhomemakingexperiment [at] gmail [dot] com.