Change is the theme this spring. As I mentioned in our last post, we are moving to a new house later this summer. And because I’m a planner, this means I’m eagerly trying to get all of our ducks in a row to prepare for the move. Things like school applications, arranging child care, signing the kids up for summer camp and extracurricular classes. We are also trying to figure out how we ought to actually do the move . . . hire movers? hire movers who pack? Move room by room ourselves? Part of this last idea appeals to be except that there is a twenty minute drive between our current home and our new home as well as a $10 toll fee for each trip. And all of this planning (and the things we are planning for) costs money.
We’re also trying to decide what updates we’ll need to make at the new house, as well as what furniture we’d like to have when we move in. Since money only stretches so far, Matt and I are likely going to hold off on big ticket items like building a deck and buying “pretty” furniture. That said, we’re probably going to spring for hardwood floors for the new house because Levi and I have allergies and because our beloved Toby really enjoys peeing on carpet (and that wouldn’t be a fun new addition for our new house, would it?).
Meanwhile I have been trying to make a mental shift in how I view our personal finances. To be quite honest, I have mostly taken a head-in-the-sand approach to managing our money, moving between two extremes: on the one hand, I don’t spend any money and only buy food or items for the kids (I reason that if I never spend any money then we’ll have enough . . . but this usually makes me feel like we don’t have enough; on the other, I set a budget for groceries and incidentals and find myself needing to dip into the following week’s budget to afford true incidentals once we’ve made our way through the set amount for the current week. For a while now, my spending has gotten out of control. I have gone from shopping second hand all of the time to shopping second hand once in a while and dropping a pretty penny (or more) on a designer bag. Months ago, in the midst of our house hunt, Matt sat me down and put it like this: “We can’t afford to move if we don’t stop spending so much.” I knew it wasn’t going to be easy for me to change, even though it hadn’t been so long since I was at the other end of the spectrum, pinching pennies and making do with what I had (and feeling super grateful for all of it).
And even though I knew making a change in my approach to spending money would be challenge, I knew that it was more important to me to go after our family’s dreams and my professional dreams too if I could learn to set financial goals and make smarter choices with money. First, I found an old notebook and started carrying it around with me in my purse. Every time I made a purchase, I wrote it down. I used gift cards to make necessary purchases, like summer clothing for the kids. I then was happily surprised to have one store give me awesome coupons so that a week after the initial shopping trip for the kids, I was able to buy myself a summer blouse and earrings, as well as adorable gifts for my daughter’s best friend’s birthday . . . and all for just over $30.
I really don’t want to give up shopping. Really and truly. It makes me happy to be among the racks and shelves, hunting here and there for this or that. After each shopping excursion, I usually leave the store in a better mood, excited to return home to add something beautiful to my home or to give my children cute clothes or fun toys. Then again, there are shopping trips where I leave the store feeling guilty, empty, and stupid for spending so much money. On those trips, I will usually tell myself that at the very least, I got a good bargain or I shopped at a reasonably priced store. The icky post shopping guilt, though, doesn’t always go away. After a while, and many conversations with my husband, I started to realize that I was abusing shopping and turning it into a bad habit, rather than an enjoyable way to find the things that we needed.
Ten days ago I picked up The Power to Prosper by Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary. In this book, Singletary challenges readers to closely examine their spending habits and debt, as well as how one’s personal financial decisions affect other people in their lives. Singletary recommends that individuals who are in debt forgo vacations in order to pay off debt. She recommends finding a roommate and/or minimizing one’s cell phone plan if one is unable to pay rent or needs to borrow excessively from parents, friends, etc. in order to pay the bills.
Luckily, because of my husband’s passion for finance and living conservatively (he is the kind of guy to wear his shoes until the sole of the shoe is flopping off), we are not in debt. My husband is a wonderful provider and has been very patient with me during the most recent two years or so since I’ve started shopping more and more. Even while I have had my head in the sand and still been out shopping my heart out, my husband has been managing our finances and saving as much as he thought we could.
However, we haven’t been saving nearly as much as we might have; I know we could have saved more. And for many reasons, including emergency job loss (it is a tough economy) to saving for our children’s college funds and our own retirement, I know we NEED to save more.
(this little woman has big dreams. She’s going to need to learn good money habits from her mom and dad).
Not to mention that very soon our monthly mortgage will be going up . . .
As part of Singetary’s challenge in the Power to Prosper, she tells readers to create a budget and to fast from spending for a total of twenty one days. I am on day 9. Phew! Only 12 more days to go! It hasn’t been easy.
In the last nine days, I have wanted to spend money on going to the movies, eating out, on new shoes and costume jewelry (those mail flyers used to get me every time with their reminders! DSW tells me they “miss me” :-( Aww. Too bad. LOFT tells me they want to wish me a “Happy birthday” with a $15 coupon. Well thanks LOFT. Unfortunately I think I may have to pass that coupon onto a neighbor. Which will be hard, but, well worth it). I also wanted to buy a new sarong to wear to the pool this weekend, and I wanted to buy a $5 SEX AND THE CITY 2 DVD which wooed me at the checkout counter at Target.
Singeletary recommends that those of us who like to shop refrain from going to shopping malls and other tempting stores during the fast. I have taken the advice and busied myself with other, probably more useful, activities, like riding my bike with my kids, finger painting, pushing my son in the neighbor’s tree swing, and making sure that I make it to every single extracurricular activity that my children are signed up for (these activities are expensive so missing the classes not only adds up but takes away from time where my children can grow and learn new things).
(this little man deserves to have a financially responsible mama)
One exercise in the Power to Prosper that has been particularly useful was making a list of what activities I like to do that don’t involve shopping, as well as making a list of what makes me happy and what I feel grateful for. Here’s what I came up with: Talking to my kids, talking to my friends Linda, Andrea and Melissa, going to zumba, yoga and pilates. I love lighting candles and listening to music. I love watching reruns of SNL and Big Bang Theory (admittedly though, cable does cost money). I love to go hiking. Music nights on the green. Art festivals. Museums. Riding my bike. And I enjoy working; though, I have probably been doing too much of that lately . . . though that’s another post.
Anyway, there is a lot to be thankful for: my health, my kids’ health, my husband’s health; my mom quit smoking this year, I have four beautiful nieces and nephews, a roof over my head and a working car. I have the luxury of working part time and spending much of my time with my children.
Making the shift to a saver who enjoys life from that of both a saver who never indulges and a spender who never thinks about tomorrow is going to be an adventure.
To you, I pose this question, how can you improve your personal finance decisions? If you are a saver, how could you enjoy your money more? If you are a spender, where can you make changes in your spending? To everyone, do you have a budget? Do you have any simple suggestions for saving money? I’d love to hear about others’ thoughts and or experiences regarding spending, saving, and financial planning.