Thursday, August 27, 2015

Values Summit - August 2015

In my book (why yes, I do like saying that!), one of the steps is a Values Summit. It's been about 6 months since my last so I thought I'd share my own here. I'm copying and pasting my list from February, and then revising here:

1. Visa Paid off! Making Rent the number one priority (you know, Maslow's hierarchy of needs)
2. Rent  Internet - because we'd be in fetal positions without it
3. Internet Electric company (it's been really hot. REALLY hot.)
4. Groceries - girls' got to eat
5. Netflix - most shows the girls and I watch are on Netflix
6. HuluPlus - for more current shows
7. Restaurants - I don't cook generally once a week. Also used for dining with friends/family.
8. Subscribe & Save - I'm surprised it was already up this high on the list, but I'm turning to it more and more as I am considering giving up my Costco membership. Subscribe & Save totally helps with that.
9. Theatre Tix - moving up a little
10. Halo - my vaping products...but I'm working on it!(moved down a little)
11. Household Expenses - lightbulbs, new kitchen utensils, that sort of thing. Not dipped into every month, but let it accrue until needed
12. Fun - mostly for iTunes, but also accruing for outings.
13. Riley allowance - I make her save 20%.
14. Sylvia allowance (since she has a job and graduated high school, we agreed, no more allowance) 
14. Freedom Fund (i.e., emergency savings, also used for Betterment funding)
15. Girls Expenses - school supplies, kids' needs. I'm going to re-evaluate the amount spent in a few months and see if I need to increase or decrease the amount since I'm not really paying for anything extra for Sylvia these days, but right now, it's working out.
16. Amazon Prime membership - probably higher on our list, but leaving as is for now.
17. Dance Studio  (Sylvia's dance classes are her responsibility now) 
17. Car Purchase - one of my priority savings goals right now to build before my lease ends in two years.
18. Cell phones (monthly) - another that should be higher probably, but leaving as is.
19. Savings Goal I used to focus on one savings goal at a time, but reached a point where the minor goals have been met, so the ones left will take tons of time to build. 
19. Major Purchases - to fund things like replacing major appliances as needed
20. Freedom Fund (moved up)
20. Student Loan. Because my interest rate is low, I'm basically just making my required payments, but throw a tiny extra in the category to make an additional payment before the year is over.
21. Electric company moving up a la Maslow 
21. Fiat (lease)
22. Gas Co.
23. Student Loan moved up
23. Charity - moved up, and want to eventually increase. Because I was doing so much volunteer work in years past, I could get away with not making financial donations, but times have changed.
24. Fiat (lease) moved up
24. April fun $$
25.  Fiat (monthly) - parking, maintenance, charging fees. Doesn't get used on a regular basis, but letting it accrue.
26.  Medical - non HSA expenses. Not used often at all, and minimal going in monthly, but it's there.
27. New Cell Phones (SG) (lumped into Major Expenses category)
27. Home Office supplies - printer ink, etc., but also accruing for new laptop/tablet, that sort of thing
30. Graduation (Sylvia) 'Cuz she graduated! I'm hoping there will be enough in the Girls' Expenses category to cover any such-related costs for Riley, but I don't have enough info now to determine.
28. Car Registration (based off of last year's bills for both cars; also a tiny bit extra to cover the smog cert for the Camry)
29.  Camry (monthly) - parking, gas, etc.
30. Car Maintenance - fully funded right now, but will replenish as needed.
Costco I'm keeping it in the budget until I decide for sure, but moving to bottom
31. Car insurance
32. Xmas
33. Birthdays - this is actually a higher priority at the moment and any extra $$ goes here to cover all the October birthdays coming up, but year long, I just try to fund it regularly and spend according to the funds available
Adobe - allows me to convert pdfs into Word. Just decided to lump into Home Office supplies
34. Gifts (other) - weddings, anniversaries, other non-Bday/non-Xmas events
35. AAA membership
36. TurboTax (cover cost of submitting taxes)
37. Mayhem - anything that doesn't fit anywhere else, or where I pull from to cover overages.
Riley's France trip She decided not to go. I decided to create:
38. Vacation category. Frankly, travel is not that important to me, but sometimes it has to be done. Very minimal funding here, but accruing nonetheless.
39. Clothing - I hate shopping, but sometimes, I have to.
Charity (moved up)
40. Costco membership (moved down)
new 41. Seed Money to eventually start non-profit. Right now, not part of the monthly budget, but putting it into Values & budget to keep it on my radar. 

It's been suggested that I lump all the annual expenses into one category (Amazon Prime membership, AAA membership, etc.), but I like to keep them separate so that I can continue to evaluate how I feel about putting money towards each.  I think overall, the number of line items is fairly average; some have more, some have less, but this is granular enough for me. It has to work for you.

When we did the Values Summit on the YNAB forum, people used pieces of paper, post-its or index cards to look at each item one by one. I didn't do that this time around. I think that method is a little too overwhelming for me, but visual learners may prefer it - heck, you could even draw pictures to symbolize each line item! I may be obsessed with budgeting, but not so much with the crafts.

Personally,  I'm grateful to not have to do this with someone else, but if you are coupled, I strongly encourage you to do this exercise with your partner. Sure, in some cases, you will find differences, but by working together, you can collaborate on a plan that will eventually help you meet all your financial goals. If your finances are separate, then those values where you don't see eye to eye, you can take on individually.
Note that there is a Fun and an April Fun category. Fun is for family fun, and April Fun is for those times when I have lunch with friends or when I want to buy myself a little something. 

And of course, I have to close with another plug for my eBook, Balancing the Single Mom Budget. It's less than $5, so you can use your fun money :)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Balancing Choices on How We Live

Graduate college, get married, buy a house, have kids, retire and die. That's the American dream, right? For some people, sure. But it's also quite presumptuous to think that in a country this vast with this many people, all people would want the same things.

As America has gotten older, with each generation, more and more citizens are exploring other possibilities. 
Author and social psychologist Bella DePaulo has a new book out, How We Live Now, about the variety of ways everyone else is living. In the chapter on single parents, you'll find a few pages about our family. I'm thrilled and honored to be a part of it, just as it was a thrill and honor to be interviewed by the warm and smart Bella DePaulo herself!

DePaulo's skilled writing brings all of these people and their stories to life. I was particularly intrigued to read about those who have created intentional communities, as it remains my dream to build a community for single parent families.

 But I confess, I had a hard time picturing my own family in such a community. As I said in the interview with Bella, we are quite happy with our lives as we live them now.

We came about this less intentionally than others profiled in How We Live Now, but sometimes, you find that making the best of a situation really is the best situation for you. Or us, at least.

I've tried (a couple of times now) to fit the mold of one who wants the American dream, but it just never felt right.

Not long ago, I came across some papers written in a former life (when I was a teenager) about my dream life. Even in my yearbook, I predicted a 2nd divorce. Okay, so the fantasy about a Flashdance-style warehouse apartment was not all that original, but it was just the backdrop for the ultimate fantasy of my own space. And by that, I don't even mean owning it. Not that anyone dreams about mortgages, but I also don't recall wanting to claim property as "all mine!" Rent, for me, has just meant the price one pays for the benefit of a roof over your head. I never wanted to fix the roof itself.

DePaulo's book tells many stories of many others with their own dreams of 'happily ever after' that don't bear much resemblance to the fairy tales. Not that everyone is single. There are plenty of couples and even families, but they've chosen different life spaces than the picket fence in the suburban neighborhood. There's also a chapter on senior living, featuring many who did live the nuclear family lifestyle, but now have chosen other ways or places to call home.

I don't find the book to be preachy or in any way trying to sell readers on one way of living. It's not even dismissive of the more traditional nuclear family choice.

What the book does is open the doors to many homes that are merely different than what we normally see in movies or on TV. The readers are welcomed to explore new ways of thinking. The only "lesson" is to be intentional and think about what's best for you and your loved ones.

As for our family, we will continue to enjoy our abode for now. I think changes may be coming soon, and if and when they do, we'll figure out how to make those changes feel like the best situation for us at that moment.

Visit Bella's page to learn more about the book - or just go buy it on Amazon.  And oh yeah, my book is also available on Amazon! 

Monday, August 17, 2015

eBook Now Available

I've done it. Published my first eBook. Now available on Amazon.

While bits and pieces of my financial journey can be found through this blog, I thought about putting it all together in one place. Honestly, I've always wanted to write a book, too. I'm quite terrified, but I'm taking the plunge.

I still can't claim to be a financial expert, but I do have some things to say on how to change directions and can boast a few accomplishments:

  • My credit score is now 804.
  • I've gone from living paycheck to paycheck to living on last month's income.
  • I paid off $8,000 in credit card debt in less than two years.
  • I've paid in cash for my daughters and I to enjoy some wonderful experiences like seeing Newsies, going to the Hollywood Bowl, and some good meals with friends. 
  • I've paid in cash for car repairs, insurance premiums and moving costs.
  • I started investing in Betterment
If you or someone you know :) could use help in managing their budget, I hope you'll consider my new book, Balancing the Single Mom Budget.  And, of course, this link is associated with my Amazon account - though I have no idea if I still get a referral fee on a book written by me!

OMG, I wrote (and published) a book!