Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Resisting the "value" temptation

Sometimes “value” is a hard thing to resist. A jar of sour cream is $1.99, BUT for just $.20 more you can have twice as much. There is no guarantee I will use the sour cream, but it’s only 20 cents…so for the sake of the “deal” I have to do it, right?
A hard lesson to learn for me was putting the blinders on to marketers’ deals, steals and “irresistible offers” and focusing on the quantities that my family will actually use. With some items like toilet paper, there’s really no downsize to maximizing the bang for your buck, but it gets tricky for perishable items, or items that you only need so many of. The good deal I scored on sour cream becomes $.20 wasted when I throw out half a leftover, expired container.
One of the most significant lessons I learned in my course on environmentalism is the focus and effort poured by marketers into driving the consumerist forces of our society. My wasted $.20 also translates into wastes added packaging material that will wind up in the landfill by consuming more than our family needed. The costs to over-consuming reach farther than what appears on the surface.

It’s hard posting a consumerism driven post so close to Christmas (because I really love Christmas), but it was on my mind. I treasure this season for times together with family, baking, and my Saviour who is the Reason for the Season.
Merry Christmas to all!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Making the System Work for You

This is us the weekend we decided to change the way we look at our family's finances. Yeah, I wasn't that thrilled during the actual conversation. Trust me.

So, you've made the decision to clean up your finances, to get organized and in control. It's a little intimidating making that commitment, not knowing exactly what's ahead, and how things will work out. When you're in that starting point, the safest way to stay on track is to make things as simple for yourself as possible. If you're using the magic jars, the best way to begin is with the tried and true method. From Gail's website and interactive budget you know that your variable, or "life" spending, should be about 25% of your net income. (The budget is posted a couple months back) The jars that Gail has assigned are Food, Transportation, Entertainment, Clothing and Gifts, and Other. If you're just beginning, it's best to start with these divisions.
Once you've gotten the hang of spending with cash, and only withdrawing from the bank machine once a week, you get to play with the system to make it work best for YOUR family. It's your money, and every family is going to have their own quirks and needs. The basic starting point is pretty universal, and as you go it can be tweaked to work better for you. If you are making changes to the basic standard though there are some guidelines I'd suggest.

1) Only make 1 change at a time. If you decide you want to change the withdraw schedule, AND the number of jars, AND the amount you're taking out it will be too much to deal with all at once. Prioritize which changes are the most important to make and start there.

2) Keep the number of divisions between 5-7 jars. The more divisions you have, the harder it is to track exactly where your money is going. If you keep it simple you make less work for yourself.

3) Don't make a change without your spouses input. When we decided to change our withdraw schedule from weekly to semi-monthly (Based on Ted's pay) it took 2 or 3 discussions for me to warm up to it. Considering I'm the one that is in charge of day-to-day spending I needed to be on board. It's worked out for the best for both of us, but it took some practice for me to think of a budget for 15 days as opposed to 7.

4) Review what's working, and CELEBRATE it. Be proud of the work you've put into managing your money. For a lot of people it doesn't come naturally and it's not easy. Don't beat yourself up over slip ups, but don't dismiss them either. Try to figure out what needs fixing and fix it.

5) Keep it about the team. I was not eager to start, I hated talking about our finances, and I didn't want to fix what needed fixing. It was only after I realized how much BETTER I felt talking about things that I wanted to make changes and make things better. Without a spouse that was encouraging and kind I don't know if I would've done what I needed to do. Making taking control of your finances a together thing will bring you more understanding of your spouse and increase your chances of success.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Make a List, Check it Twice.

I am not a natural list maker.

Many people in my life depend on their daily to-do lists and agendas full of details and check boxes. When I was younger I always thought the running mental tally written in my brain would suffice. As I got older, and my life got busier, I found it became easier to fall behind. When times were really busy I would miss things altogether. I still remember that pit-of-stomach feeling in university when a prof would mention an assignment due next class, and I would think "I was SURE that was due NEXT week!" Not taking the time to write things down, and plan things out had negative consequences not just on my productivity, but in the confidence I had on my own capabilities. It's hard to keep cool, calm, and collected when you've missed things that are important.

I've discovered that forcing myself to commit things to paper, even though it doesn't come naturally, brings much a needed order to my priorities. There's an added satisfaction in CROSSING a chore off a list, rather than just completing it and moving on. At the end of the day I can examine what I accomplished. In the middle of the day I can better focus on what is most urgent. And at the beginning of the day, I get a rough idea on how my time is going to be devoted. There are still days that I skip making a list. Sometimes I make one then lose it in the shuffle of tidying and baby-minding. The days that I don't make a list, I can feel the toll that it's taken on my productivity and prioritizing.

Sometimes taking the time to sit down with your partner and make lists can help focus and prioritize the situations you are dealing with. Whether it be things you want to accomplish over the span of a weekend, or your long term planning in terms of your finances, committing your plans to paper will help ensure that you're aligned in your goals. Making lists together will hopefully help spark conversations of dreams and priorities and give better perspective on what is at the forefront of your spouses' agenda.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Positivity Despite...

I recently told my husband I was discouraged in the face of negative comments on my blog. Really, it was just one comment, but it's still something I think a person never gets used to. It's difficult when a person who obviously knows you somewhat is discouraging behind the veil of anonymity.

My husband sometimes just understands what I need to hear. Not what I want to hear, but what's best for me to hear. He said "the whole point of this blog was to open dialogue that isn't easy to open. It's to have discussions about topics that are personal and that in the past haven't been talked about. That's exactly what you've done here, you've opened discussion, and people are debating both sides."

It was a humbling reminder that I can't expect everyone to agree with me. Whether it's about money, or my family's personal decisions, if I'm putting it out there, I need to be brave enough to deal with differing points of view.
My life would be really boring if everyone around me had the same opinions I did.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Eating Well While Saving

It's not just about saving money, but saving on time too. Depending on where you are in your life, there's a good chance that your time is at a premium, and you're willing to invest a little extra to give yourself more time flexibility. An awesome goal for any household is to find ways to have both-cut spending and cut down on time spent cooking.

A friend introduced me on her blog to the idea of cooking once, eating for a week. I see the wisdom of this on so many levels. Stock up on what's on sale (Ground beef for example) and cook as many pounds of ground beef you need for however many meals you are preparing. Divide some into the base of a Shepperd's pie, add tomatoes and freeze cooked pasta sauce, add beans and vegetables and freeze a chili for a cool winters day. On nights that you're running behind, too tired to cook, or surprise! guests show up, you have a meal that only has to go from the freezer into the oven. You paid bottom dollar for the most expensive ingredient, and you know EXACTLY what went into your food. There's nothing like pulling out a ready made meal out of the oven and getting that faint whiff of preservatives. Nothing more unappetizing anyway.

Because we don't have a deep freeze, we can't quite pull of the "cook once, eat for a week" kind of schedule. In our household, we usually go by the model of "cook once, eat twice." And I don't mean cook, and have the exact same thing the next night for supper (though the eating of leftovers does happen in our house). We do our best in this house to remodel our meals after they've been served, so it's a completely different feeling the next day. One of my favourites is BBQing two extra chicken breasts when we make any kind of chicken dinner. The next day it becomes a big chicken salad, whether greek, southwest or cesear. Any chili in our home gets remade into sloppy joes the next day, because I love them. When ground beef is cooked it can become a hundred different things with different seasonings.

When I make two meals out of one, my kitchen cooking time is cut way down. When I make two meals out of sale items, I get more bang for my buck. The real test would be to invest in a deep freeze (huney??) and see how far cooking and freezing can take our family.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Finances aren't everything

I know that every post I make is financially focused, but our family is currently in a journey that is discovering where our finances are placed in term of priority. And it's certainly not first.

Being secure in our family budget is incredibly important to us. We need to know we're not living beyond our means. We need room to breathe, and hopefully, we need a little left over in order to be able to afford things like family trips, and updates to our home.

Our priority though, in making a financial structure for our family, is OUR FAMILY. We're doing it to be good examples for our son. We're doing it to take the stress of being stretched too thin out of our home. We make a plan to have goals in sight and achieve them, and hopefully when Sam is older we can include him in our plans and goal-making.

We recently faced a decision, a crossroads. We were in a position where there was an opportunity for me to work full time, out of the home. This job would certainly give us the opportunity to afford more travel, and update our home. We would be able to afford more stuff. But we sat, we discussed, and we decided that stuff, is just stuff. It can never replace the time I spend with my son every day. By being home, I feel our family eats healthier, because I have more time to plan and execute healthy meals. We have many lunch times together when Ted is not away. Because I maintain the household in terms of day-to-day chores, our evenings and weekends are our own. With a full time job, I would lose so much more than we would gain with extra finances.

So the decision was made, TODAY, that I would begin selling Epicure Selections. I work from home. I set my hours. I LOVE the stuff. I am not sacrificing time with Sam, and we are still gaining financially.

I am so blessed I know to be in the position that we are flexible enough in our finances to be able to work in the home.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Micro and Macro

I love economic speak.

We were talking about the roles we play in terms of our household finance, and the best description we could find for those roles is micro vs. macro.

I am not a big picture girl. At least, not with my money. But I am working on. It used to be that it was guaranteed if I went into the mall with $60 to spend on something, I'd be walking out with nothing left. If what I was looking for was only $25, I'd get a bonus item. And a latte. Lots of lattes. I'm trying now to save some of the allowance I have for bigger purchases, fun things to do, and yes, the occasional latte.

The way this affects our attitude on finances is that in terms of budgeting for long term/abstract concepts, Ted is very much in command of where our money goes. He is so good at focusing on our long term dreams and making them tangible. He can imagine things, add up the costs, and make a plan that's going to work. He also saw that incorporating me into our household finances was so important, and our jars was the perfect compromise.

The jars give me limits. The boundaries set out are not meant to say "I can't trust you with our money." In fact, it's just the opposite. They play on my strengths. He is saying to me, "Here's our weekly household budget. I know you will provide for us what we need within these means. You will stretch them. You will be creative with them. You will make this household budget go farther than I could ever take it." And he's right. I coupon clip, watch for sales, and get creative on getting the most out of what I am given. He's encouraged me to use my strengths positively for our home. We were lucky to discover that I excel most on the micro scale, and I am blessed with a partner who has a gift for the macro.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Go Go Gadget Creativity!!

We went to a wedding this weekend. It was out of town and involved travelling 5 hours, away from the move in progress at home. Normally for a wedding we make exceptions from our jar money, the wedding gift and associated costs will come from other savings, but this time our wish was to do it all from our normal weekly costs.

This goal we set out with left us only $15 in grocery money when we got back. $15 for three days worth of breakfasts, lunches and dinners, before we can fill up our jars again and restock the house.

Let me set the scene. My goal as we left for our trip was to consume as much of our perishable food as possible. I hate to think of wasting food, so I carefully planned our meals to try to use everything we had in our fridge. Since we just moved across 3 provinces, we don't have the kind of stocked pantry that a household usually has. There was no bean soup in the back recesses of a cupboard, no Kraft Dinner from a past pregnancy craving. Our shelves are painfully bare, as I didn't have time before we left to stock up on many staples.
On our drive back from the wedding I was talking to Ted about buying groceries, and I told him, "I think we can feed ourselves for three days with this $15." The ideas I kick myself for later. Now under normal circumstances, $15 is quite a lot for two people over three days. It's the unstocked pantry that made me start to second guess my challenge. I did have a few supplies, carrots and a head of lettuce in the fridge, half a box of pasta and rice in the pantry.

I hit the grocery store, studied the weekly specials, and came out with 3 days worth of groceries for $15.27. (Change scrounged from car/bottom of purse)

That grocery trip definitely struck me that if I can pull of three days for $15, where on earth is the rest of my budget going? Yes, babies are expensive, and yes, I am missing our usual staples of eggs and milk, but I wonder if half of what I consider "necessary purchases" during the week are in fact really necessary? Do I take my weekly grocery budget to it's limit this week simply because it is there to spend?

I think a key ingredient in maximizing my food budget is creativity. I need to examine exactly how focused I am on taking what's available, what's inexpensive, and what's healthy and combining it with my best ideas and recipes.

Dinner number one for the week:

BBQ chicken breasts with rice and BBQ carrots

Monday, August 16, 2010

Less Blogging

More moving.

Over the past couple weeks we've crossed 2 provinces, stayed in 4 places, and have finally made it into our new house. We have floors to lay, unpacking and organizing and assembling to do, and NO INTERNET.
Will get back to blogging next week!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Building the Budget, Filling the Jars

When I used to hear someone talk about “building a budget” it made me cringe. It sounds like such a gruelling , painful process . I’m not a great number cruncher in that I don’t do well with taking abstract numbers and translating them into a concrete method of living. I married someone who has much more skill in that department, but still for our family, getting disciplined was usually put on the backburner.

Then we found Gail’s interactive budget worksheet online. For Ted, the fill in the blank aspect was really appealing, since we didn’t need to take the time to make our own worksheet in excel. For me, it was appealing because it’s all colour coated and pretty, and suddenly not so scary.

The way that we started was to gather all our bills for the past 6 months, and averaged them. Our heating bill had both summer and winter months in there, so the average gave us a pretty good picture for our year’s spending. Same goes for the electricity. I was pregnant at the time, and soon to go on maternity leave, so we had to calculate our budget based on my mat leave earnings. Had I gone back to work, we would have had to make a second budget at that time.

Once you do all the work of plugging in numbers, at the bottom you are told how much you have to put in your jars. Gail gives the options that if you are left with only $20 in groceries, you need to cut expenses or make more. That’s the hard part to face. Make sure that how the jars are divided is something you can live with week in and week out. If for your family, you need less on transportation, but more in entertainment, you can make adjustments to suit your lifestyle. The bottom line is the bottom line though, and you have to stay within the funds available.

I know that for the foreseeable future, we will be using the jars in our household. They make SENSE, they’re simple, and they’re US. Somehow they’ve just become an intrinsic part of how we run our household, and what we aim for in our lives. They remind me of the goals we have every time I walk by them. We get SO many comments on them when people come over. They open up conversations about money. They stare you in the face when you wish they wouldn’t. They make it clear that in life, there have to be boundaries for our own good.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Why Put Off Til Tomorrow...

...what you can put off forever??

This line is often (somewhat jokingly) passed around our household. I am a procrastinator. I married a procrastinator. Sometimes we find that even harder than budgeting our money is budgeting our time.

We were trying to figure out today how we actually started with the jars. We had come back from a wedding, we had been talking a lot about money, but Ted had trouble recalling how we came about actually sitting down and working out our first budget. I told him it was a Friday, therefore in our house the Til Debt Do Us Part marathon was on, and we were watching Gail chew out a couple for their outrageous spending habits. (If you've never checked out this show, you seriously have to. She's so REAL about facing the music of your family's finances, and she makes it all make sense.) I remember distinctly Ted just grabbed our laptop, grabbed the bills from the past 6 months, and we just DID it. (I'll come back to what we did in a later post.)

How many things are just brushed to the side in my day to day life? How many of my projects are permanently in the "in progress" stage? We're in the middle of a move, and I'm finally having to face up to those back of closet, buried in basement, back of the mind piles. In our new home, we have a couple targets we want to reach. We are in a much better starting position in terms in terms of organization. We have purged many of the things we have no need for, and we're implementing from day one systems to keep the stuff under control. I've made a commitment to pick just one household project a week to complete. It can be sorting a tupperware bin of old household decorations, reorganizing my cupboards, or writing and addressing my Christmas cards. I think as a result of this my house, my life, and certainly my finances will be in much better shape.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Change of Plans

I kind of suck at structure. Which is funny, because I actually crave it in my life. I love knowing what's expected of me, and then fulfilling those expectations to the best of my ability. When your job description however is Army wife, and Mum to a 9 month old son, knowing exactly how things are going to go doesn't happen. Ever.

I decided that I wanted to be organized this move. This is the first army move that we've had (the other two times we moved ourselves and didn't have assistance from the military) and I'm not 100% sure what to expect. I figure, the more I know, the smoother things will be.

I made a meal plan for the last two weeks in our house here, using as much of the remaining food we have in the house as I can. I really focused on the meats, since it's generally the most expensive thing that we buy, and the thing I want least to waste.

It's kind of expected that at least once a week I'll get a phone call that starts with, "Hun I'm not going to be home until late." It's just part of the lifestyle. In the final two weeks before the move though, my carefully laid plans have now shifted back a day, and rather than coming up with a creative solution for the extra day I'm instead left asking myself why I made a plan in the first place.

The (very drawn out) point is this. Sometimes, things will change, plans won't go our way. It's the case with our food, and it's the case with our finances. Would it have been better for me to make no plan at all, knowing that there's a chance it may be thrown off? Not at all! And for me to let go of my financial goals just because a wrench MAY be thrown into our plans is not the right way either. Yes, things are going to come up. A car will break down, or I'll slip up and make a poor spending decision. It's still worth it to try. I know that the time I invested into my meal plan means that I'm farther ahead than if I had made no plan at all. And I know that when I try to be disciplined with my finances, I'm farther along than if I had thrown up my hands and said "It's too hard, I can't do it." Sticking to a non-perfect plan is better than living by no plan at all.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Planned Spontaneity

I told Ted the other day that our family needs a spontaneity jar in our household weekly budget. He said if we had one it would have to be named the "perpetually empty" jar. And in our household, it's true. I love being spontaneous, and making fun plans when I get the chance. Luckily I am married to someone who balances that out a bit, someone who's grounded, and who enjoys having and making a plan.

This past weekend we had a barbecue to say "bye for now" to the friends we are leaving behind when we move. I had been thinking about hosting some people for a while, but wasn't sure what the right time was, or the right kind of event. I visited a friend at work, and brought the idea up with him, and it just took off. I set a date, started inviting people, was happily planning the menu and THEN remembered to tell my husband. It was at that point that my husband brought up one of the more mundane planning details, "Soooo, where is the money for this event actually going to be coming from?" Right. What a buzzkill. Valid, valid buzzkill. He knew I definitely had our budget for the next few weeks very much tied up already. We were hosting some friends for a few days, we had groceries to buy and cars to fill up, and there are so many little things that need to be bought in connection to the move that I had no real flex.

I needed to be reminded that plans require plans. So we sat down and had a spontaneous budget meeting. Not nearly as much fun as a barbecue. I presented my case that hosting people is important, and that taking the time to say goodbye and thanks for the friendship is important. Ted replied that he agreed with that sentiment entirely, but an event like this shouldn't be drawn from our grocery budget, because it's not groceries we're buying, it's event food. Ted helpfully suggested a compromise. What if my future personal spending money (allowance) was garnished, to pay for the spontaneous plans I had made? (In our household we decided to give ourselves personal spending allowances rather than having an entertainment budget for the household. Once our family is a bit bigger and have kids that are a little older we'll probably reconsider the need for an entertainment jar.)
We were both so happy with this compromise. The big deal for me was getting the chance to have our goodbyes here, to spend a little to get a lot back. Having personal spending money once we've moved is not as important to me as it is here. We compromised. We made a plan we could both live with. We didn't have to compromise our weekly cash budget. This whole experience made me look forward to the Monthly Money Meetings we'll be starting in the new house, so we can do productive communicating like this more often. And hopefully we'll still have flexibility for some fun in there too.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Our Grocery List

I've had a couple requests for a template of our shopping list/meal plan. On this list are foods we generally buy, some we get once every few months as a treat (bologna, appetizers) some are staples in our household. (SB chicken breast, bananas, cheese)

I tried very hard to get a copy of the file onto this post and it didn't work for me-so if you have the desire to make your own or edit mine let me know and I will send you the excel file!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Canadian Coupon Websites

Just wanted to let everyone know the websites our family uses for coupons.

These websites do NOT require a printer. Browse your coupons, pick which ones you want, and hit send. They will mail you your coupons within 5-10 business days. These coupons are for products I use regularly like Head and Shoulders, Pampers, So Good, and a ton more. Save a few bucks at the store next shop-give them a try!

Monthly Money Meetings

Sometimes in our family we get into a negative routine where we only discuss money when one of us has an issue with it. Hubby thinks we're not saving enough. I think we're not living enough. Our priorities get out of sync. We'll then sit down and discuss our finances. Usually in this situation one of us is starting in a bit of a funk, and while we don't let the discussion end until we're on a positive note, it's sometimes a painful road to get there.

My friend told me that her and her husband have monthly money meetings, where they sit down and discuss the month they've had and look forward to what's in the future. I immediately asked myself why on earth we didn't think to implement this for ourselves. I was struck with how positive it would be preparing for this discussion, coming together as a team to reconstitute what our family's long and short term goals are. Everyone wants to live debt free, but it's something so much easier said than done. Taking the time to sit down month to month and say "this is what we need to do this month to be on our way financially" will help make it possible.

I presented this idea to Ted, and we both agreed it's something we want to do. Our family having a monthly financial meeting means we will plan better. We'll have a forum in which to defend our positions, convince the other person, and listen to the other side of the coin. In the old method of a heated discussion, I would turn to my spouse and say "We never do anything fun, I want us to travel more." In the new forum, I get to say, "Here is some flex in our budget, or here is what I'm willing to cut for X amount of months in order to pay for a vacation as a family." We'll have a chance to reaffirm what we are working towards, and re-evaluate our priorities moving forwards.

First meeting will be in our new home-I'll be sure to update how it went and what we covered.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Prioritizing Spending

Ted and I were in a wedding together last August. It was in Ottawa, and seeing as we live in New Brunswick, we had a lot of time to talk on the way there as well as the way back. I'd say this drive was a pretty pivotal point in terms of our relationship and how we see finances. It was after this drive that we implemented a weekly spending budget, and set up our allowance jars.

Weddings are expensive. We had spent quite a bit on the clothes, meals, getting there and all those other incidentals that add up. On the way back we got on the topic of saving for a house, and how we were going to have to change some habits to put save the kind of down payment we both wanted to make. Inside I was cringing at the though of tightening our belts, and on the outside I was...well pretty obviously upset too. My fear was that we were going to put our life into saving, and not LIVE in the time between then and buying a house.

When Ted puts his head into something, he goes for it very intently. He gives it 100%. I was afraid that saving would become all he was focused on, that numbers in the bank account would be put ahead of having new experiences, of doing things as a couple, and making memories together. But, I know myself, and if I were left handle our family finances alone I would swing too far the other way, and put most of our focus on living, rather than looking ahead to the future. I guess that's where a team mentality comes in. The next week we sat down together, multiple times, and worked out our incomes and expenses. We cut out a couple of things that I struggled to let go of, like a trip to Ontario after our son was born, but Ted gave some ground as well, and let us keep our babymoon before our son was born, and our trip to see my Mom after he was. Letting go of that Ontario trip was so hard for me at the time, but it worked out so well, my brother and sister in law and his parents came to see us at our home instead, and we didn't have to worry about packing up a one and a half year old and travelling with him.

We set aside a large chunk of our variable budget towards house savings, and that sacrifice means that we will have a manageable mortgage payment each month, and therefore we'll be able to have experiences when we are in our house. We were able to look at houses that were a little higher priced, and ended up finding the perfect house for us, the house that was meant to be OUR house. Compromising then meant having more later.

The lesson that I took out from all our struggle to find balance is that delayed gratification really does pay off. The things sacrificed by us, like dinners out, new clothes, and trips, means that our quality of life will be higher going forward. I still need to remind myself often, that we can find things at home for free to enjoy, that stuff is just stuff, and things don't make me happy. I still need to remind Ted that sometimes we have to let loose a little, to make the decision together that we will spoil ourselves, that saving will always be there, but experiences as a family at this stage won't be. It's a work in progress.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Organizing Meals

In our household, I've found the way we spend money on what we put into our mouths reflects how we spend in other aspects of our lives. When we first got married, our meals were rushed, disorganized, and not planned out. As we got settled into our daily routines of marriage, I decided I really wanted to make a plan for our suppers. I hoped that if I invested a little bit more time into what we ate, I'd lose at least a little of the stress associated.
I was so pleased to find that is EXACTLY the way it worked out. I went from getting home after work and immediately stressing about what was for dinner, to knowing what we were going to make, what goes into it, and having all the ingredients needed on hand. Of course, exceptions were made, when I was pregnant I was an extremely moody eater, and had sudden aversions to foods I previously enjoyed (bacon), but for the most part, I find a meal plan pretty easy to stick to.
When you're planning your meals at the beginning of each week, that means your grocery shops will be planned. Which means you know pretty much exactly what you're going to spend. This change virtually eliminated impulse shopping for us. If it's not on the list, we don't buy it, and if we left it off the list, it was probably for a good reason. We don't just shop smarter, we shop HEALTHIER now, and we generally only shop once a week.
Ted, being Ted, took things up a notch and made me an excel spreadsheet of all the foods we usually buy, divided into sections of the grocery store, with the days of the week typed out at the bottom. I can write down lunches and dinners for the whole week, then after our shop post the whole thing on the fridge. Things like cookies, baked goods, and pizza pockets don't exist on the spreadsheet, so they don't make it into the cart.

I found that being organized with making a meal plan and a grocery list was a first step to financial organization. It's a small and really important way of being responsible with the things you've been entrusted with. It was a great lesson that sometimes one small change can lead to a whole bunch of other small changes, that turn into a bigger picture kind of change.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Taking the Lead

I mentioned in my last post that I had a great, honest, open discussion with my sisters about finances. One element of this conversation that really stuck out to me was who takes the lead in the family in dealing with the money. There are a few factors in making that decision, and many different ways to make taking the lead work for your family.

Sometimes, people are just numbers people. My brother is one of them. He sees numbers everywhere. He can recall to the day how long he's been married, he does math off the top of his head, he is continuously amazing me with his mad skills. My husband is similar, he just gets along well with numbers. They play nicely together. Finances in the same way make sense to him. He's a natural saver, a planner, and a researcher. He makes wise decisions with his money. He was the hands-down logical choice to make decisions in regards to our family's finances. He does, however, require some balance.

Being a natural saver, his instinct is to save. And granted, most of the time when he says "we can do without" he's right. I naturally have "Attention Deficit...'Ohhhh Shiny!'" This sometimes gets the best of me, as was definitely the case when we first got married, and we had barely enough furniture to sparsely furnish our 2 bedroom townhouse. I definitely required lots of leading and coaching from him when it came to spending wisely and prioritising responsibly. He, on the flip side, needed coaching when we actually had to spend. In the weeks leading up to our marriage he tried many times convincing me that we in fact did not need a couch. At all. It took a few weeks of death stares in our empty living room before he actually caved. When it came to having a baby, we approached getting the gear with a bit more balance. We priced out all the gear we were going to need, shared the list with family and friends, and then prioritized on all the leftover items that weren't gifted to us.

We have now settled down into where we are both comfortable leading, and that's with our strengths. Ted is our financial leader. He manages our day to day finances like bill payments, as well as our long term goals like savings and a down payment. I take the lead when it comes to our expenditures. Being the person spending more time in the house, I know when things need to be updates or replaced. I know when our son has outgrown something, or when something in our kitchen is worn beyond repair. I also know when we need to loosen the purse strings a little for the sake of our family. When saving has gone a little far and a vacation has become necessary.

This is a system that works really well for our family, but it took us a while to get here. Have you found a system that works for your family? Are you still breaking one in? A good question to get started with is asking your spouse what role they think they play in the finances, and also what role they think you play.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Why do I blog?

A couple of things happened over the last couple weeks that reminded me of why I started blogging about money, and why I CARE so much about being responsible with money.

I got asked about my blog, if I had any formal training in finances. My answer was "I wish." And I really, really do wish. Our conversation went on to a little about where we each were and how easy it is to feel like you've lost control of the reigns, and as a joke I got told maybe I could be brought in for a financing consult. I was floored, because just the other week, I made a confession to my husband, that this would be my dream job.

I would love to work with a family, and help them organize their financial paperwork and change some habits. Due to the no formal training thing, I know I'm not equipped to make a budget, or really even tell people what they should do with their money, but I can work a filing folder and a label maker with passion. Something as small as having a place in your house where you consistently sit, review your bank statements, pay bills, and file them can make a huge impact on your relationship with your money. That leads to me the other event that cemented in my mind why I blog.
We had an impromptu family gathering, and as the guys hid away downstairs and watched the hockey game (the Habs won) my sisters and I had a real, honest discussion about money. We talked about where we've faltered a little, and about how hard it is as a newly married couple to make good decisions about finances. We all had similair stories, we all had to learn. After discussing some failings, the conversation turned, and my sisters and I got to talk about how it gets better. We talked about things that work for our families, and that there really is hope, even if the thought of money has made you sick and kept you up at night. I walked away from that conversation so encouraged. I knew I wasn't alone.

That initation of the conversation, that is what I want to bring to my blogging. I want to make it ok to say, "Yeah, I've made some mistakes. I didn't do so hot at this or this." I want people to know that it can always be turned around, and that positive changes can be made. As scary as money can be, noone should feel alone, because most of us have been there before.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Facing the Music

The hard thing about being more responsible with finances, is that it really is hard. A lot of times I said, "I want to be better with my money," but I didn't want to actually WORK at it. I wanted to be better with my money, without changing a thing in my behaviour. Some of the changes that were hardest were the really little things too, the little habits that needed to be broken. But, those little habits, added up over time, ended up being pretty big changes in the end.
The painful/helpful ones were:

Leaving the plastic at home.
If I make a budget that means $5 a day for lunch, (or now that I work from home a snack or coffee date) I leave the debit/credit at home and take a five dollar bill. It's really hard to spend more than what it budgeted if you physically don't have it on you. This goes for mall trips too, if you take what you're going to spend, and just what you're going to spend, you always come home on budget.

Checking my balances daily.
I don't really do this anymore, but when I was first struggling to change my behaviour I went on to my internet banking everyday, and tracked exactly where my money went. I needed to make my spending about real numbers. It was so painful at first, looking at my Visa everyday, seeing exactly where the money was going to, seeing time after time that I spent more than I should've in black and white. Knowing that I would have to face the music when I got home was a good deterrent from spending spontaneously.

Making a schedule.
On the same day, around the same time every week, I get out our cash and spending money for the week. Making it part of the routine means that I am going to fill up my jars, and making sure that it's on the same day means I'm not tempted to withdraw our cash a few days early, and then struggle the next week to make it to the end of the week without getting to the end of the money. There are times I made exceptions of course, next week we're away, so I'm taking out our budget a day early so I have time to buy supplies to take on the road.

Full disclosure
This was particularly painful. Telling my spouse about times that I spent. Many times. Times I didn't want to admit it even to myself. This is another facing the music kind of change. If it's hard to justify to another person, do I really need it? And if I don't really need it, why am I buying it?

Making it fun
When we first got our jars I was a complete dork. I decorated them. I made the labels all pretty, and put them on display. It made me want to fill them up. It made me not want to empty them. I loved the sound of change being put into them after a weekly grocery shop. By celebrating the jars, I stuck to the jars.

Are there any hard/small changes you made, that benefitted the way your family budgeted?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Buying a House-Advice

That picture is of mine and Ted's very first place together. We learned a lot there, as newlyweds, how to run the house, how to work out disagreements, how you have to actually cancel a lease when it ends, it won't just end itself. :o)

I know the best way to learn sometimes is to ask questions of the people that have gone before me. Lots of questions. And ask, "What one thing would you change about your experience?" What would you spend more (or less) of your time on?"

Well, I'm asking anyone/everyone for advice, and their experiences when it comes to buying a house. Tell me a little bit of your story, brag about what you did right (or wrong), and what you'll repeat in the future!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

House Shopping

In less than one week, we are leaving on our HHT (House Hunting Trip) to hopefully buy our very first house!

Being married to a saver, this is something we've been (im)patiently waiting for, and we've been making a lot of our financial decisions looking forward to this major purchase. I hope to update everyone as we're looking, we're so excited to take this big step!

Weekly Budget

A big reason we arrange our budget the way we do is because of the show “Til Debt do Us Part.” The show basically takes couples that have gotten themselves in tens of thousands of dollars of consumer debt, and gives them strategies to become debt-free. The host, Gail Vaz-Oxlade, equips couples with tools to manage their debt, and be well on their way to financial security. Our favourite of the tools that she gives, is a pre-determined “variable spending” budget in the form of jars.

Our jars are actually magnetic spice holders, because we have a shoebox sized kitchen, but the jars are in the categories of “Groceries,” “Transportation,” “Clothing/Gifts,” “Other” and our allowances. When the baby is a bit older we’ll introduce an “Entertainment” jar for things like trips to the movies and the zoo.

The point of the jars, and this is a big one, is not for SMARTER spending ( though your money will of course go farther if you spend wisely). The jars are to LIMIT YOUR SPENDING. If, there is a great deal on chicken for the week, and I want to stock up, I only have the flexibility of the cash I have on hand. There is no “dipping” into future jars (or else the dipping would just be ongoing and defeat the point of a budget.)

Gail’s personal website has a budget builder tool, which helps you in determining how much of your budget should be going into each jar, as well as savings and debt repayment. The rule of thumb is that no more than 25% of your income should be spent on life, and therefore supplying your jars.

For anyone that is big on visuals, or is really tempted to whip out plastic and then be shocked at the credit card bill at the end of the month (me,) this is such a great tool. It’s worth sitting down with a whole bunch of bills/paystubs/bank statements and taking the time to do the worksheet, because being informed is such a big part of taking control of your finances.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

I'm back with a passion!

After months of wanting to come back to my blog for keeps, I am making a new committment. We have so many new things happening in our lives, and the two biggest changes of all have so much to do with our family finances: having a baby, and buying a house. I want to share the stuff we've learned, and most of all I want to hear from people about the tools they use, and the successes they have.

This week I'm going to blog about our weekly budget, and the system we've found that works for us, and where we found it. I'm also going to talk about house shopping, and the hard lesson I'm relearning daily: needs vs. wants.

I hope we can share some cool tips, experiences, and advice!
Happy blogging!