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.