Make 2016 the Year you Become Debt Free

So one of my goals for 2016 is to become debt free.  I’ve been using the Dave Ramsey’s method of paying down debt for a while now, and let me tell you, when you stick to it, it works.  I faltered a little during the end of November and December, but I’m back on the wagon for January.  I made out my budget and so far I’m sticking to it.

It’s not always easy to stick to a budget, but let me tell you, when you set a budget and tell your money where to go instead of blindly hoping your money will go where it’s supposed to go your debt does go down.

So my challenge for you for 2016, if you want to take control of your finances this year go out and pick up a copy of The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey and start following The 7 Baby Steps.  The first two steps can help you on the right path.

Step 1: Save $1000.  This is so important.  Life happens, unexpected things happen.  Cars break down, kids get sick.  This baby emergency fund will help get you through rough times without going further into debt.

Step 2: List your debts smallest to largest and pay off the smallest first.  When you see a debt disappear it gives you hope and encouragement to keep moving forward and keep paying down your debts.

Starting with even these first two steps can make a world of difference in your life, so I challenge you.  Make a change.

Not Keeping Up with the Jonses’- Living Paycheck to Paycheck

Approximately 1 out of every 3 households in the US with a household income above $75,000 per year live paycheck to paycheck1.  3 in 5 Americans don’t have enough emergency money saved to cover unexpected expenses. 2

Let those numbers sink in for a minute. Now think about your friends and family. How many people do you know that are living paycheck to paycheck or who are bordering on the brink of disaster?  How many names come to mind?  Now, of those names, do you know if any of these people live on a budget?  Now think about a few names of people who you know (or think you know because you’d be surprised) who don’t seem to stress about money.  Do you know if they live on a budget?

I had a conversation with a friend a few months back during a wine date night and she made a comment about how relaxed I seemed.  She said it was more relaxed than she’d seen me in years.  I told her it was because we started using Dave Ramsey’s system to get out of debt. Our debt is steadily going down and  each month I procure a budget telling our money where to go (instead of wondering where it went) and the end result is that I feel much more relaxed in so many areas of my life.

I have a coworker who is on the brink of disaster with his finances.  I listen to him talk about struggling with expenses and then I listen to him plan a ski trip and inside I cringe.  I’ve casually thrown around Dave Ramsy’s name and the words budgeting, but the reception I receive is limited.  He is both of the statistics listed and I am sad for him.  I cannot make him change, only he can do that.

I do not want to be the statistics listed above.  I don’t want to be chained down by debt, so I am taking steps to try to remedy my situation, and after a long while the light is at the end of the tunnel, a faint glimmering light of hope.  I’ve had to make changes and sacrifices.  I’ve had to tell myself NO.  I’ve had to tell other people NO.  Living on a budget is no easy task, and sometimes I do fall off the wagon and make a splurge I know I shouldn’t.  But I pick myself back up and get back to it.  I know I can do it.  I can get to debt free.  I’m 2/3rds of the way there, just a bit of a stretch left to go.  You can do it too.  The hardest part is starting, so I am here to encourage you to START.  Don’t be one of the statistics listed above.  Change your life!  Take control of your money!

1 Marte, Jonelle. One-Third of Households Making More than 75,000 Live Paycheck to Paycheck. The Washington Post. 16 April 2015.
2Morath, Eric. Most Americans Don’t Have Savings to Pay Unexpected Bills” Wall Street Journal. 7 Jan 2015.

Not Keeping up with the Joneses- Fashion on a Budget

My husband informed me a few months back that I needed some new clothes.  I absolutely dread clothes shopping and since we’ve been on the Dave Ramsey’s baby step’s plan I have had an excuse not to go clothes shopping.  Part of being on the paying down debt plan is training myself that if I can’t buy it at the grocery store (or the hardware store).  I probably don’t need it and for the past year (unless it’s been socks, underwear or something for an ever growing toddler) I haven’t felt as if I needed it.

My husband felt otherwise.  He felt some of my clothes were getting a little worn, and since I recently got a fairly large bonus at work he asked me to set aside some of the money and buy some new clothes.  So then the question becomes how do you look fashionable on a budget?  Even though I don’t like clothes shopping I tend to have expensive taste when I do go shopping.  I love the Gap, Express, Ann Taylor, Anthropologie, Banana Republic, Kenneth Cole, etc.  It’s been years since I’ve actually been into one of those stores, but I do remember the last time I bought jeans from Express (over five years ago) it was over $50 per pair.  Today, I cannot fathom spending $50 one ONE pair of jeans.  These days my thought process is more like, can I get this for $20 or less?

The truth is, you CAN get a nice pair of jeans with the fancy label for less than $20 a pair, you just have to be willing to put forth a little more effort than you might by just running into your favorite retail store.  There are many resale shops out there. You just have to find a few that meet your needs.

Style Encore is where I headed to physically try on some jeans.  Jeans tend to be the one thing I HAVE to put on my body to make sure they will fit.   Style Encore is a resale shop that sells gently used clothes with designer labels.   You would be amazed at the items you can find that look like they’ve never been worn.  It takes a little longer to leaf through the clothing in your size to maybe find what you’re looking for, and they aren’t always going to have what you are looking for but the price you pay is definitely a bargain compared to full retail price (even with sales and “bonus bucks”).  I will also throw in that I have scored some great deals at GoodWill.  When I was pregnant I got a load of maternity clothes for about $80 and I found a $20 bill in one of the pants pockets of the items I bought.

Thredup is my favorite online resale shop.  Since I hate shopping in stores I love that I can head to Thredup’s website, sort and filter what I’m looking for by size, color and type of clothes and it gives me pages of items to look at.  This is better than shopping at one particular store because there are so many different brands and styles.  If you’re hunting for  a long sleeve black sweater or a short sleeved purple top you don’t have to go to 8 different stores to find exactly what you are looking for.  I have found shipping to be fairly quick and returns to be fast and easy if you pick something that doesn’t end up agreeing with you.  Everything I have gotten has been in great condition and they always have several items listed that are new with tags for great prices.

Most online and retail resale shops also buy clothes so if you have anything in your closet you were putting in the Goodwill pile, check the labels first. You can bring these items to Style Encore or send them to Thredup for a tiny bit of cash or store credit.  It isn’t ever much, but it’s more than you would get from Goodwill which can further cut your final bill.

Red TopPantsBlue Top

Not Keeping up with the Joneses- Cash Flowing the Unexpected. . . again

I feel like we’ve been taking little money hits left and right lately.  The latest blow came last week when I had to drop my car off to get the A/C repaired.  I live in Texas, it’s summer and I have a toddler, so this was a bullet I was going to have to bite in order to have peaceful and cool summer car rides.  (If it was just me I’d probably sweat it out a week or two, but I have a toddler and there is no way I’m driving around with him in a car in Texas in summer with no A/C.)

I had been putting a little money aside in my budget so we can redo the floors in our house. . . ALL of my floor money PLUS some of our emergency fund was drained from the bank account in order to fix the car A/C.  My heart broke a little as the money disappeared. . .

When I told my husband the A/C in my car was going out he didn’t hesitate when he told me, you need to have that fixed, he wasn’t too upset that the floor money was now car repair money.  His view was that we HAD THE CASH ON HAND to combat this unexpected expense.  Even though the money was originally slated for something else, we were able to use it for a need instead of a want.  The new floors will come with time, they will just have to be postponed until we rebuild our emergency fund, (which is already happening a week later) and are able to set money aside in the “For New Floors Envelope”  And it feels like even though we experienced this little road bump we are still getting encouragement to keep on track with our budget and money plans as a few unexpected cash making opportunities presented themselves during the great A/C debacle.

It never ceases to amaze me how if you work hard (and pray a little or sometimes a lot) that your bumps in the road will be followed by a little bit of smoothness.  It seems like since we’ve started taking control of our finances instead of letting our finances control us better things happen where money is concerned.  (Like when you need money, money makes itself available to you or if you have to use the money you have more comes to replace what was spent.)

To learn more about Building a Budget go to http://www.everydollar.com and then head over to http://www.daveramsey.com to learn about the baby steps and how to take control of your finances.

Not Keeping up with the Jonses’- Learning to Cash Flowing Unexpected Expenses

When it rains it pours.  The weather in Texas has been just awful lately.  Everyone is complaining about how it never rains this much in Texas.  After doing a little rain research I am here to tell you it has rained this much before… it’s just been a while.  The Average rainfall for Texas is not quite 50 inches a year.  It has been 6 years since we have even seen normal rainfall rates because we have been under drought conditions, (though my bet is this year we will see normal if not above average rainfall totals since we are nearly half way there already).  Since the weather seems to be coinciding with my finances as of late so I thought I’d share with you some of what I’ve learned on my journey to get out of debt, as it seems that the rain has been falling in spades, unexpected expenses have been falling in spades too. . .

My husband and I are trying to slowly and steadily chip away at our debt by using a budget and Dave Ramsey’s philosophies about handling money.  While we might not be perfect it at and Dave may question some of our techniques, I am happy to be able to say that if I were to talk to Mr. Ramsey today I could tell him even though we may not always be 100% on with our budget we are 100% better at cash flowing emergencies today than we were a year ago and we continue to make progress every month.

This time last year if we were to have an unexpected expense that had not been penciled into to the budget that I had, (which was more of just a list of bills that needed to be paid so I wouldn’t forget), most certainly a credit card would have come into play and instead of our total monthly bills going down, they would hover around the same amount from month to month (like they seemed to do for years).

Since we’ve been working a new plan on paying down our debt by using a real budget (Check out https://www.everydollar.com/)  I can easily go in to the budget and reaccess where the money is supposed to go and divert it to whatever unexpected expense has come up.  This year it seems like it’s one thing after another. . .having to lay rock for a driveway so out cars don’t sink in the mud, having to dish out money for unexpected but exciting career advancement opportunity, having to get the septic system pumped for the first time, a new fan to replace the one that was about to die, a new mower for our 1/2 acre lot, car repairs, an increase in our mortgage escrow. . . et cetera, et cetera.  I am happy to report that all of these things have been cash flowed and NOT put on a credit card. Our total monthly debt continues to decrease and budgeting, while forever a challenge, is getting a little easier every month.

How do I cash flow?  When planning out our monthly budget I like to leave a little wiggle room.  We have expenses that arise quarterly and yearly and we have a few bills (like the electric bill) that can have a drastic difference in them from month to month.  I like to proactively plan for these things, so instead of waiting for the month these bills are due to come upon us and hope that we will have enough money to cover these bills I plan in advance.  The bills that are due quarterly I divide up to find the monthly payment and set that amount aside each month into savings.  I do the same with the bills that have to be paid yearly.  For the bills that fluctuate greatly from month to month (For us it’s the electric bill) I take an average of the payments over a year and divide by 12.  I use this number as my “payment” number in my budget.   Any month that the  actual payment is less that “payment” amount in my budget I divert the additional amount into the savings account.  This way when the bills are due I already have the funds set aside to pay them and don’t have to stress about having to come up with enough money.

The bonus to this method is that if a true crisis emerges or an unexpected expense comes up that I can’t cover from the normal budget funds I can pull the money from the quarterly/yearly categories and use the cash that would have been set aside to instead cover the unexpected expense now.   This considerable lowers my stress levels and then leaves me time to plan how to fund back the money that should have been diverted for the quarterly/yearly/etc. expenses,  and lets my debt snowball continue to roll.

ai_debt_13188

To learn more go to:

http://www.daveramsey.com/new/baby-steps/

Learning to Live on a Budget

My husband and I are weird.  I mean really weird.  We live in a small 1950′s house that isn’t perfect and requires us to do manual labor on a fairly regular basis.  Our newest addition to our vehicle fleet was a 1990′s Chevy truck and our newest vehicle by age is from 2004.  We don’t do flashy.  We don’t care if our lifestyle impresses our friends and neighbors.  My husband and I try to live within our means, pay off debts from past mistakes (of which there were many) and look forward to a debt free and prosperous future.

This journey isn’t always easy and we stumble and bumble along the way, but we have each other to report to, so we stay in line for the most part.  If we want something we wait until we have the money to buy it.  We sacrifice, a lot, but we’ve already paid off around $10,000 in debt and for the first time in almost 14 years I don’t have to stress about if there will be enough money to make sure all the bills will get paid.  A huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders when it comes to finances and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and that light is debt free living!

For us this journey started with Dave Ramsey’s book The Total Money Make Over (http://www.daveramsey.com/store/books/dave-s-bestsellers/the-total-money-makeover/prodtmmoclassic.html).  The book resonated with me so loudly as I read about how people, just like me, “were sick and tired of being sick and tired” when it came to their finances.  I decided to take the plunge and try Dave’s plan.  His babysteps are:

1. Save $1,000 Emergency Fund
2. Pay off all debt using the debt snowball
3. Build a cushion of 3-6 months of expenses
4. Invest 15% of your income into retirement
5. College Funding for the Kiddo’s
6. Pay off that House
7. Live and Give like no one else.

(You can find out more about Dave and his plan here at his website http://www.daveramsey.com/home/?snid=home)

The biggest challenge of Dave’s method is the budget.  It challenges you to make your money work for you instead of it just magically disappearing after each payday, but it works.  If you sit down and write down where you want all your money to go and then follow that plan over the months, your money starts listening.  You don’t have to figure out where it went anymore because it all has a place to go.  For me being a bit of a nerd, writing the budget down is the easy part.  Sticking too it is sometimes a little more challenging.  It took a few months to catch on as sometimes unexpected expenses do arise and when that happens you have to go back to the drawing board and rework all the numbers, but if you stick with making a budget and living off the budget I promise it helps!  Dave has made budgeting even easier with his new budgeting software Every Dollar (http://www.daveramsey.com/everydollar/?ictid=ag43). Check it out, it’s FREE.

Now, I won’t lie and say I follow Dave’s plan perfectly because I don’t always.  I went a little out of order on my debt snowball and my emergency fund might be a little bigger than $1,000 but in my case we have expenses that come up quarterly or yearly so those expenses have beefed up our emergency fund so that we have them when the payments come due.  I’ve also learned how to work a little magic with money since starting Dave’s program, so often the money earmarked for the quarterly expenses can stay in the savings account and I can wiggle the expense out of the monthly budget.  This plan really has changed my life.  Stress has decreased drastically and my husband and I fight less about money because we have a common goal we are working towards. Communication is key!  So I present this challenge, if you were like me and are “sick and tired of being sick and tired” when it comes to your finances, give it a try.  It can’t hurt any worse than what you’ve already done…

Peace and Blessings!