What goals have you set for yourself?

Success On Dartboard Showing Accomplished ProgressKJ: For this post, we wanted to dedicate the majority to discussing goal setting and checking in on the status of your goals:

    What is the biggest financial accomplishment you have achieved in the last month?
    What about the last 6 months?
    What about the last year?

Set Goals
So maybe your New Year’s resolutions haven’t paned out like you thought, but it doesn’t mean you can’t pick them back up and get on track before the end of the year or find new goals worth pursuing. Setting goals is the first step to this whole process, and if you haven’t done that, then spend just 15-30 minutes with a pen and paper and write out some goals (financial and non-financial) that you have for you and your family. We spend the vast majority of our life working, so why not periodically sit down for 30 minutes to find where you would like to be headed! Your goal list should include setting timeframes for when you would like to accomplish each of these goals. It could be very short (within the month), or it could be longer-term in nature like five years.

Create an Action Plan
Then, create a plan of attack on how you can accomplish your goals. It’s one thing to say “save for retirement,” and it’s an entirely different thing to put pen to paper and say, “I want to save $X/Y% to my IRA this year by putting in $Z per month.” Figure out if you will have to make any budgetary adjustments to shift your priorities in order to get there. Having a succinct action plan with details on checkpoints along the way will meaningfully improve your ability to actually accomplish those goals.

Time for a Check-Up
In looking at your answers to the questions at the top of this post, have you noticed a trend? Have you made improvements over the last year or have you stagnated? Just as it’s important to actually set financial goals, it’s important to keep up with them over time to see that you are accomplishing them. Especially with the compounding effect of savings over time, the more you let your goals go by the wayside, the worse shape you will be in when you finally come to your senses 5, 10, 15 years later…

Right the Ship
If you’ve fallen off the wagon (New Year’s resolutions often come to mind as the first goals to go by the wayside each year!), then find a way to get back on track. It’s better to get on track late than it is to never be on track, so find ways to begin meeting those goals or even ways to make up for lost progress if you’re able!

Our Turn
AJ: Outlining this made me a little misty! The year certainly isn’t over yet but what a great year it has been. I’m more proud this year of our accomplishments than any year prior. We are overwhelmingly blessed, for sure!

Biggest financial accomplishment in the last month: Planning for and purchasing two large, statement pieces of art with proceeds going to an organization we’re passionate about. Much like in our last post on budget myth busting, being on a budget doesn’t mean you’re cheap and can’t give back to causes that mean most to you.

Biggest financial accomplishment in the last six months: Selling our first house and buying our second house.

Biggest financial accomplishment in the last year: Taking my parents on a fully paid-for-in-advance trip of a lifetime.

None of our goals and accomplishments this year have been anything close to an impulse buy, but with proper planning and enough time, most anything is possible!

    So, what’s on your list?
    Are you where you thought you would be?
    What are you doing to get back on track and heading toward your goals?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

What goals have you set for yourself? 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.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Budget myth busting

Budget myth bustingAJ: On Monday we issued a challenge to save an additional $100 in the month of November. We honestly weren’t sure how it would be received, as it’s a busy time of year for everyone, but you all have embraced the challenge in a big way. Not surprisingly, we could all get by with a little less and going into the holidays is an especially relevant time to do so.

As I started to think about where our extra $100 would come from, I immediately had visions of what the outside world must think of us super budget-ers and wanted to do a little budget myth busting, if you will.

KJ: Since budgeting often has a lot of negative connotations and can garner strong feelings of negativity, we’re here (with your help!) to bust those common myths of budgeting, so you can see the importance of setting a budget at all stages of your life.

You have to tell everyone you’re on a budget
AJ: NO, SIR. I can assure you that prior to Kirby and I airing our budgeting laundry via this blog 99% of the people in our lives did not know we were on a budget. It’s not their business, and it rarely impacts the lives of those around us. Even when we indulge in lavish meals or over the top vacations we plan for it. We don’t skip and make it painful for everyone around us: we plan well in advance. What you do or don’t do with your money is very personal and private, and I encourage you to budget for yourself and not for a new conversation starter with strangers.

KJ: You certainly don’t have to tell everyone (we kind of do, since we’re running this fun blog), but it’s not something to be ashamed of. Just because you budget doesn’t mean you should be shy about it. It’s not taboo, it’s not some hideous disease your doctor just diagnosed you with. It’s actually an empowering way of life, so you can enjoy the things that are most valuable to you.

You’re cheap, and you can’t have nice things
KJ: In fact, I think budgeting is often quite the opposite. Budgeting allows you to know what you are spending, and allows you to direct your expenses (most of the time, but not always!) to what you actually WANT to purchase and what you most value. Often, budgeting can mean you’re actually buying something more expensive that can last quite a bit longer because you have planned ahead to make it work within your income and expenses.

AJ: I’m an odd balance of obsessive about quality and obsessive about value. Trust me, it’s as confusing for me as it is for you. I am a super planner to the max which means I’ve been thinking about buying Christmas gifts since last March. I’ve been purchasing necessities for our home (laundry detergent, toilet paper, cleaning supplies) well before we were close to running out so that come November and December when we have so many financial demands, the basics aren’t one more thing we have to consider. I buy Kirby undershirts and socks long before he admits there are holes in what he has now. This time of year I’m lucky if I make it out to shop one time every two months for anything other than groceries: I simply don’t have the time. But when I’m out I’m looking for anything and everything we might need – a cocktail dress for a client dinner, a formal gown for a black tie event that’s eight months away, a thoughtful gift for my grandma. Literally every shopping trip I’m on is one where I’m trying to get ahead so we don’t wind up with odds and ends of left over sale items and crummy gifts.

You eat like you’re in college
AJ: I almost didn’t even write this one because Kirby and I kind of, sort of, sometimes do eat like we’re in college. Mostly because we like junk. I have written endlessly about ways to make your grocery dollars go further (see also meal planning and why grocery ads are so important) but it’s especially important to note that we are a meat eating, alcohol drinking, snack having household. Stock up on the basics, save plenty for fresh produce, and stop eating fast food (KJ: except for Taco Bell I hope). Done.

KJ: We don’t eat like we’re in college: I had WAY more Rosa’s Taco Tuesdays back then. We live by our food budget, and we certainly don’t eat ramen noodles and hot pockets as our primary meals. Quite the opposite I would say. With proper planning, use of grocery ads, and an eye for a bargain, we eat quite well at home and on the go. The key to planning for our family’s meals is to make leftovers to have at work. That way, you can buy in bulk to get cheaper prices, but you also reduce your expenses for lunch and the temptation to just grab something quick at the local cafe or nearby restaurant.

Only poor people are on budgets
AJ: This one really irks me. I have well-intentioned, kind people in my life who find out Kirby and I have a blog on saving money and say “but you both have good jobs!” as if having a good job equates to being financially irresponsible. The old saying comes to mind: people who have money don’t spend it. If you have money, all the more reason to have a budget. If you don’t have money, you HAVE to budget. If you don’t budget, you’re done for! Well, not quite, but I’m really passionate about the value of budgeting!

Wealthy people are on budgets. It’s part of the reason they’re wealthy. Stand tall, budgeters, and go forth and be wealthy.

You don’t give to charitable efforts
KJ: Charitable giving – whether through your time or money – is a very important part of giving back to the community, so just because “you’re on a budget” doesn’t mean you can’t (or shouldn’t) give back to those in need. In fact, this often becomes some of the most meaningful part of our budget where we can give back to our causes that are dearest to our hearts – our alma mater, Camp Fire USA, and our local church are top regulars, but we also enjoy the occasional $25-50 for walks, fund raisers, and other charitable gifting that is important to others.

AJ: For us, charity provides a source of fulfillment beyond our everyday lives. I often find myself in the weeds of the stress associated with my job, the demands of having so many obligations and the general narrow-sighted ways of our culture. Giving of our time and providing financial donations helps broaden my perspective and helps center me. I’m big on both giving of time and of resources, as we don’t have a huge budget that we are able to allocate monthly to organizations. We are diverse givers – we love the 5k runs, we love the hands-on projects, we love the swanky silent auctions – they’re all important in their own way, and the older I get the more I wish I had done more earlier. Much like saving, giving of yourself has increasing benefits over time.

We are SO appreciative that each of you has taken a look at your situation and are already embracing our challenge. I am inspired by so many of you and so many ways, and I’m thrilled that we’ve inspired a passion in you that we believe in so strongly.

    What budget myths do you believe in?
    What’s keeping you from setting up a budget?
    Tell us what goals motivate you to get on track!

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Savings challenge for November

Stack of billsAJ: A few years ago when Kirby and I started down a path of more aggressive saving we started with a specific goal and it still continues to drive our decisions and lifestyle day in and day out. November, however, is always a struggle for us. We have two annual charity events that take place in November for organizations we care about greatly, family birthdays, and of course, Thanksgiving and the start of the holiday gift-buying season. So in an attempt to juggle all of our priorities and maintain our goals, we’re issuing a November Challenge – to save an extra $100.

KJ: So with the challenge upon us, what inspiration will we draw upon to find an extra $100 to cut to get closer to our goals of home renovation projects (yep, still have a number of things on our home’s to-do list)? Angela is a budget cutting specialist, so I think our extra $100 will come partially from our regular food budget (soup season anyone!?), some from keeping our home just a little bit cooler, and our “everything else” budget where all our discretionary expenses are grouped. Coupon searching, here we come!

Now it’s your turn
What’s going to get cut in your family’s budget this month? It’s only $25 per week, how hard could that be? Maybe it will mean one fewer meal out each week, cutting back on Starbuck’s, shopping just a little bit less, finding a great discount on something you already purchase, or using grocery coupons from weekly ads to stretch your budget just a little bit more. Here are just a few suggestions of how you can make it happen:

Separate your wants from your needs – When you learn to separate what you want from what you need, you will find budgeting decisions can be much easier. It allows you to think about what it is you need versus what you could live without.
Make a list – Make a list of all of your large, anticipated purchases coming up in November. Maybe it’s a fun thing like a nice meal out with friends, a new suit, or a couples’ massage. Maybe it’s something less fun like veterinary visits, car troubles, or home repairs. Once you have created your list, start to look at what you can do to either (1) reduce the expense – maybe you can share a meal, buy one less drink, or use a coupon, or (2) eliminate the expense. Sure, it’s not a great idea to push that vet visit or put off a home repair that’s urgent, but if your home update isn’t needed this month, maybe it can wait.
Start a budget – It’s easier to find a way to cut an expense when you know how you spend the money to begin with! Try building a budget to understand where your money goes each month.

Everyone has different goals and priorities, so there’s no one size fits all. Your $100 could come from one category, or it could come from a lot of budget categories. A Starbuck’s here, keeping it a couple degrees cooler in your home, and cutting out a couple drinks at the bar…you’ll be surprised with how much you can stretch your budget when you put your mind to it!

    What are you going to do to cut $100 in your November budget?
    What do you plan to do with the extra savings?
    Tell us how you made it work.

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The shifting retirement burden

KJ: Long gone are the days of our grandparents where they worked for a company for 30 years and received a pension for 20+ years in retirement. The chart from JP Morgan below shows the change in landscape of retirement options for employees. Basically a pension (that provides a regular income stream) is represented by the “Defined Benefit” line, and the 401(k)/403(b) plans we have all come to learn to love would represent the “Defined Contribution” line.

JP Morgan Defined Benefit Vs. Defined Contribution Historical Chart

Why the shift?
The short answer is: it’s less risky and less expensive for companies to offer defined contribution plans over defined benefit plans. More and more, companies have been shifting away from their open-ended liability of pensions to a more defined liability offered by a defined contribution plan. In layman’s terms, defined benefit plans require the company to be responsible if there is a shortfall in contributions and/or investment returns over time. With a defined contribution plan, however, what the company contributes to your account is the extent of their promise, so any future earnings, growth, and accumulation to provide for your retirement is up to you. Without getting into all of the differences between the two, the bottom line is the employee is more and more responsible for making sure their own retirement savings is sufficient to provide for their retirement income.

You’re responsible for your destiny
Now more than ever it is more important to rely on yourself and your savings to generate income for retirement. With Social Security in question too, if you don’t build it yourself, you may not have much (if anything) to fall back on. Kind of scary, right? I think it’s both scary and empowering at the same time because it allows you to focus on what you can control yourself and make adjustments as needed instead of just hoping someone else can or will take care of it. Chances are that professional advice in navigating this more complex world will be ever-more important, so don’t feel bad if you can’t handle it yourself! Seek the advice of a professional when needed.

AJ: Our generation has an incredible opportunity to shift perspective on the future by relying only on our own work ethic and ability to intelligently leverage the experience and knowledge of financial professionals to define our individual well-being. Proactively planning for your future, regardless of income or profession, ensures that the person most interested in your long-term success (you) is protected.

KJ: While it’s definitely a shift from the recent past, it’s a more empowering future to know your decisions and actions today will directly affect what you hope to accomplish in tomorrow’s world – however distant that tomorrow may be!

    How do you feel about this shift in responsibilities?
    Are you prepared to make the decisions you need to stay on track?
    Tell us how you make it work.

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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.

How do my savings compare?

KJ: Before the Great Recession, the savings rate in the U.S. was at all-time lows. Then, just years after the recession started, savings rates had crept up to a more comfortable level. Now that things seem to be getting better in the economy, this number has started to fall back down to dangerous levels. See the JP Morgan chart below that outlines the savings rate of the average American. Pretty scary, huh?

Historical Savings Rate JPMorgan Chart

With savings rates at such low levels, we need to figure out ways to bring it back up. The U.S. has been in a multi-decade long period where our savings rates have continued to shrink – especially compared to the levels of the 60′s and 70′s. Is it higher energy costs, easier access to high interest credit cards and loans, higher education costs, food costs, housing prices, or a combination of all of those that have caused this trend? Regardless of the cause of the trend, we all need to be a little better about how to break away from the trend and get on a sustainable path. Let’s get back to the basics of separating our needs from our wants. Maybe we don’t need two cars (and can survive as a one car family), can scale back on the dining out costs, and can get rid of the expensive TV (not quite able to break the first or last tie in our household!).

AJ: There seems to be an increased level of attention being paid to the haves and the have nots based on the great political debates currently brewing. Regardless of your political affiliation, the numbers in the above chart are pretty startling. Personally I’m concerned about the decreased level of focus individuals are placing on their own well-being and future planning with regards to their independent financial stability. Take time to analyze where you and your family stand with your own savings. Identify goals and obstacles and create a realistic plan to ensure you stay focused. We’re ultimately all responsible for the role we play in the future.

    What are you doing to keep your savings up?
    Are you doing anything to beat the odds?
    Tell us how you stay on track.

How do my savings compare? 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.