Finding financial faith

Success image - Stuart MilesKJ: How do you find financial faith? Those times in your life when you’re struggling with “is it enough” or “am I on the track that I need to be?” With so many unknowns – especially in your more long-term goals like financial independence, children’s education, etc. – sometimes it can be difficult to keep perspective on the here and now. It’s this moment that you’re living in now, so learning to periodically take a step back and review your progress is important.

AJ: We’re only four months into this year, and it has already been a doozy. Sometimes I get so caught up in moving forward that I forget to acknowledge where we’ve been, which is a constant theme in my life.

Do you find yourself, like me, in a perpetual state of planning for the future at the expense of the everyday? Someone please say yes :)

Kirby outpaces me beautifully when it comes to really just living in the moment, trusting that we’re doing the right things for our future and that we’re on track to achieve our goals. Me? I like to track every time we don’t put as much into savings as we planned to, every time we go over budget on any given category and every time we have an unexpected expense. Clearly I enjoy that feeling of constant panic and always feeling like I’m chasing my tail, right? Nay.

I know I’m already chalk full of New Years Resolutions and that it’s no longer the new year (hello, Q2!) but I am going to actively resolve to find more financial faith. I have no trouble believing that the money we put into our 401(k)s, IRAs and mutual funds will be whatever they’re going to be but what is it about those variable day-to-day things that bog me down? Here’s my plan for combating my lack of financial faith and trusting that it will all be okay:

1. Create a goal
- Not all goals are met, accomplished, defeated, whatever you want to call it. Sometimes goals are just a place you look at, consider and keep walking past, but they’re important to ensuring you’re paying attention to the state of your business.
- Write. It. Down. Whether your goal is to save an extra $100 a month, pay down debt, or like me, make yourself whole on areas where you feel you’ve over spent, know what that number is and keep it somewhere that you regularly will see it.

2. Create a plan
- Create a timeline upon which you hope to achieve the goal. Whether the goal is realistic or not, give yourself check points and guardrails. Saying I want to recoup what I’ve overspent by 2018 isn’t a huge accomplishment but it keeps me from slipping into the abyss of things I MEANT to do.

3. Take action
- What’s a goal without concerted effort? Track what you spend, track what you save, track what you DON’T spend, track what you DON’T save. Awareness is key.

4. Celebrate the successes
- This is the most important step I always forget to take. Achieving wealth of any magnitude is a process, and creating a strong financial foundation is a huge accomplishment. Pat yourself on the back, say the serenity prayer and celebrate!

KJ: One of the important parts of setting goals is taking time to step back and reflect on the successes (or failures). Sometimes it’s a reflection on what you could have done differently, and other times, you get to reflect on what you did correctly. Goal setting isn’t about just setting unachievable goals and never accomplishing them, it’s about a process and what you do along the way is just as important as the end goal itself.

    What do you do to keep your goals in front of you?
    How do you track your goals progress?
    What do you do to reward your successes?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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January budget challenge: complete!

Spending challenge success checkboxKJ: We started this month with a post from Mr. & Mrs. H as they were about to lead into an entire “no-spend” month of January, and then just a couple weeks later they provided a mid-month update. Fast forward 31 days, and let’s see how they did!

Guest: Hi – Mrs. H here again, and boy – am I glad January is almost over! Just kidding…as much as it was hard to resist shopping impulses and food cravings to achieve this financial fast challenge, I’m actually appreciative of the peace of mind that it gave us. The goal was to simplify life and become intentional in consuming and buying resources, while getting a good handle on our budget.

For me, this meant:
1) sticking to a list when going grocery shopping (or any shopping),
2) reducing expenses that made sense (i.e. lowered auto insurance by $25/month by cutting out certain fringes and increasing our deductible),
3) cleaning out areas of the house (pantry, freezer, closets, attic, garage) – and use things up, donate, or throw away, and
4) be INTENTIONAL with any spending.

I think we did a pretty good job…I’d give us a B+, in fact! SOME things that were purchased we probably could have done without…but we intentionally made the plunge to make life easier (replacing the garage door, for example). However, the peace of mind this gave me in having a better organized house and using resources we already had, in welcoming friends into our home more than going out, and knowing that we CAN cut expenses – made this all worth it. I hereby declare January our official financial fasting month. I believe this will also increase our awareness to be intentional in everyday life throughout the year.

Mr H: Yes, dear.

KJ: We appreciate the “H” couple for undergoing this challenge and for sharing that with our readers! It can be budget-altering to change your perspective for a full month, and it can teach you how to differentiate between those “wants” and “needs” in your life – whatever they may be. I think we can all learn to live on just a little bit less. Every budget can stand to be a little more targeted in expenses, and putting the microscope over each item for a period of time can help you be even smarter about how you spend your hard-earned dollars!

    Did you try the no-spend month?
    Would you do this again?
    Share with us your experience!

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Surprisingly simple budget tools to kick-start your finances

Quicken Mint Yodlee MEnvelops Personal Capital LearnVest Home Budget Sync YNAB Excel Logo ProgramsKJ: Similar to our post on Quicken or Mint.com?, we wanted to dedicate this segment to writing about some of the OTHER personal finance software tools that are available to us all for little to no cost. With all of the technology around us and the immediate access to information these days, there are NO excuses for not tracking your expenses via one of these nifty money management programs, so start using one today. If one doesn’t work, don’t get frustrated, and just try another system until you find one that works best with your lifestyle and goals. Whether it is paying down debt, learning to invest, building an emergency fund, syncing across all your devices, or any combination of those.

Mint.com – Our personal favorite. Not only is it free, but it connects to *most* accounts and institutions. Sure, there are a few that can be quirky, but no system is perfect, so don’t let that stop you from getting your finances in order. From adding tags to a transaction (particularly useful for tracking expenses of our blog as well budgeting with work related business expenses) to adding cash transactions (if you were so inclined to carry cash and use that as your primary method of payment), it has lots of features. Plus, their budgeting tool is far superior to most other programs I have seen since they let you roll unused expenses over to another month and/or work with an “Everything Else” bucket that can be your catch-all for miscellaneous items that crop up each month.

Yodlee!Yodlee! is a good, free tool. They are similar to Mint.com, but I’ve found that they connect to even more institutions. And, better yet, you can use it to track all of your credit card rewards, airline miles, etc. – a very nice feature that most other personal finance tools don’t have. Their system is a bit more complex than most around since it can allow you to even send payments, make transfers, etc.

MEnvelopes – Anyone familiar with the “envelope system” of keeping track of your finances? Basically, you parse out your expenses into simple envelopes each month (food, shopping, etc.) and once you run out of money in the envelope for the month, then there’s no more to spend in that category. It can be a great eye-opening way to make sure you don’t overspend in a certain category each month. If you would prefer a more high-tech solution, check out MEnvelopes to help keep track of this on your phone and remotely. It’s the high-tech solution for the good old envelope system.

Pen & Paper – While you DO technically have to pay for pen and paper, they’re pretty cheap options, so I have included it in the “free” section. You can use a simple pad of paper or our preferred method of a Moleskine notebook to keep track. We use a combination of Mint.com and the pen and paper method of keeping track of our expenses. Mint.com helps track things electronically, and the pen & paper is where Angela really puts specifics down for grocery, dining out, and “everything else” items to make lists of upcoming items.

Excel Spreadsheet
I haven’t yet created a good Excel template to share with others to use, but I often find myself tracking our own finances periodically in a spreadsheet. There’s just so much customization and projecting you can do that is specific to your situation in Excel that you can’t quite do in a lot of other programs – paid or free. I find that a spreadsheet often gives me the flexibility to best track progress toward goals (vacation, net worth, etc.). The nice thing about Excel is you can also use it split up an existing account into portions. Instead of having three accounts with one for a vacation fund, one for an emergency fund, and a third one for a car purchase, I often keep track of these “buckets” by separating savings within an account for each goal. Then, I can project out future savings for each carved out expense to make sure we’re on track. This method is fun! Then again, I really like building spreadsheets (okay, okay…end Excel geek rant).

LearnVest – With both a free and a paid portion of the program, LearnVest equips you with the tools you need to set, manage, monitor, and track your expenses. They also have some neat goal setting functionality, and if you want to outsource some of the decision making to help you with your personal finances, they have several options to work with a real financial advisor to create your own financial plan. To get access to a financial advisor, it costs $19 per month plus a one-time setup fee (that ranges in pricing depending on which services you are most interested in).

Personal Capital – Similar to LearnVest, Personal Capital offers both a free and paid version that includes advice from an expert in the field. The free version is very similar to Mint.com – equipped with all the tools you need to make a budget and track your expenses – but their investment reporting and analysis tools are quite a bit more robust. Like LearnVest, if you would like to have one of their professionals help you out in managing your investment portfolios, they can manage your portfolio for a fee (outlined on their website, and varying based on your assets you would like them to manage).

In addition to some of the free (or nearly free) options above, we wanted to outline a few of the paid platforms available as well:

YNAB – Stands for You Need A Budget (YNAB). For $60, you can learn to take charge of your finances. The concept is simple, it gets you to live your next month on the prior month’s income. Sounds simple? It really is that simple. It also helps you better understand what you have to actually spend, so you don’t go over budget since you’re always just spending last month’s income!

Quicken – With several versions available, it’s hard to include EXACTLY what you may spend on Quicken, as your needs may warrant a more complex version. However, even in the most complicated of scenarios, I’ve found that the basic version can be a great fit for most needs. Also, once you buy the software, you can keep it for years without ever needing to upgrade (that is, unless some of the new features and tools are enticing enough to get you to purchase an upgrade). From bill pay TO tracking historical expenses (and net worth) TO creating a budget TO adding manual accounts (i.e. those pesky accounts that either (1) don’t have a login or (2) don’t seem to link to most personal finance software) TO keeping the data yourself (my preference for keeping track of historical information since the files are mine and are stored on MY hard drive versus many other systems that are in the cloud and subject to termination at any point). New to Quicken in recent versions too is the ability to sync your data across your devices, so you can have access to the data when you’re not at your computer – about time they catch up with the rest of the software choices out there!

Home Budget Sync – A neat little iPad and iPhone app that can sync your budget in the cloud. That way you and your family can stay on the same page at any point throughout the month. At only $4.99, it is quite a cheap option to try out and see if it works for your expense tracking needs.

    What cash management software do you use to track your expenses?
    Are there any personal finance programs we are leaving out that you can’t live without?
    Tell us about what methods you prefer.

Surprisingly simple budget tools to kick-start your finances is copyrighted by TheSimpleMoneyBlog.com without consent to republish.

Some of the links in the post above may be affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. We feel strongly about only recommending products or services we use personally and/or believe will add value to you, our readers. Read more about our commitment to providing quality product recommendations.

January budget challenge: mid-month update

Stack of billsAJ: Two weeks ago we introduced the “H” family and their month of financial fasting. Today Mr. H weighs in on their progress!

Guest: Hi folks, this is Mr. H. Mrs. H wanted me to chime in with my perspective at the midpoint of this financial fast. I would say things are going very well… but the garage door broke during the first week of this commitment. My immediate reaction was to cut off a week or so of groceries to make up for the loss… but that was a nonstarter as soon as we ran out of goldfish crackers.

One budgeted item for me was $10 a work day ($200 a month) to eat at the office. At first I was a little nervous because it covers both breakfast and lunch. After two weeks, I am happy to say I have come in under the $10 by about 35%. I was able to do this by increasing my consumption of oatmeal, sandwiches and hamburgers from the cafeteria.

For months I have been planning to “cut the cord” (cut off cable TV service) and this seemed like a good opportunity to finally make that happen. After exploring our options I discovered that most competition has been pushed out of our neck of the woods and our choices were limited to two companies. Neither of the companies endorse cutting the cord. In fact, they both charge a higher premium for internet-only services and one even imposed a limit on data usage to discourage the “cut the cord” movement. Instead of cutting the cord we were able to downgrade our TV package and supplement with NetFlix. This is going to save about $30 a month.

Another commitment was to eat out much less. Of course, as soon as we did, some good friends asked if we could go out to dinner with them one night. These friends do not have kids (yet), so a night out for them is always a little extravagant. I could see dollar signs jumping out the window at the thought of going out. BUT my beautiful and intelligent wife asked them to eat at our house instead of going out. They agreed and ended up having a great time chasing the kids and playing Candy Land. This was so much fun we want to do it more often even after the financial fast is over.

Overall, I am really glad we are doing this. Through the process of digging through the fridge and pantry we have found that it can be fun thinking of new ways to eat old food. You know, like carving the moldy part out of cheese and bread. ;-) Just kidding, I only did that once, but don’t tell Mrs. H!

Signed,
Mr. H

AJ: “H” family, we feel your pain! I also shared my meal plan for the month and for the first month in almost two years my plan has been ridiculously off-plan. I forgot to thaw stuff, I didn’t even have some of the necessary menu items, things didn’t sound good, all I’ve wanted to eat was sugar, yadda yadda yadda. On top of that, we celebrated my parents’ anniversary and dinner turned into after dinner drinks, that turned into more drinks, that turned into dancing and live music – dang it! That didn’t align with our budget or our New Years resolutions! So, we reset and refocus and tip our hat to January for breaking our wills temporarily.

January budget challenge: mid-month update is copyrighted by TheSimpleMoneyBlog.com without consent to republish.

Some of the links in the post above may be affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. We feel strongly about only recommending products or services we use personally and/or believe will add value to you, our readers. Read more about our commitment to providing quality product recommendations.

Icepocalypse 2013

Live Love Budget Snow Day #IcepocalypseAJ & KJ: Since we’re stuck at home in this #icepocalypse, we thought it would be good to spend a little extra time taking care of the finances, so we’re dusting off those e-mails, downloading our statements, and setting some goals – a little “winter cleaning” if you will.

So, in this snowed in environment – less emphasis on snow and more emphasis on ice craziness – how will you chose to spend your time?

Head on over to Quicken, Mint.com, Yodlee!, Personal Capital, or just good old Moleskine notebook? Pick your budget software of choice and let it loose! You’ll be a budgeting fiend before you know it.

Happy icepocalypse everyone! We hope you stay safe and warm.

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Some of the links in the post above may be affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. We feel strongly about only recommending products or services we use personally and/or believe will add value to you, our readers. Read more about our commitment to providing quality product recommendations.