A Look Ahead, How Our Finances Will Look in 2016

wpid-img_20150727_223644.jpg2015 was an exciting year for us financially speaking. We managed to pay off over $27,000 worth of debt, including paying off a loan in full, almost two years ahead of projected schedule. We took a family vacation which, while not super expensive, was budgeted and paid for in full, which is always a good feeling.

If we were keeping on plan of paying off $70,000 worth of debt in 36 months (21 remaining now), we’d continue doing exactly what we’re doing with no real change, and a part of me wants to do just this. I want to keep this momentum going and just deal with it once and for all. It’s tempting to think that in 21 months we could be (non-mortgage) debt free. Has a nice ring to it…but like most things in life, plans, especially ones that have a long term forecast, can change.

The biggest change for us will be that we will be buying a second vehicle in the first half of 2016. This is something we have put off for years but we’re being pulled into too many directions and living with one is simply too inconvenient. I’ve already talked about this decision so I won’t bother getting into it again, but when I made the 70k plan, obviously buying a vehicle was not in it. Such is life. Ballet lessons must be attended whether my husband is in town or not with our one and only vehicle, or not!

We’re going on a trip. Like a real-life, passport required, airplane trip. This is something we haven’t done in six years. Other than our family get-togethers (every 2ish years) we haven’t done any travel and the time has come. An opportunity arose and we jumped on it, we’re heading to Nashville in March with four of our best friends and we’re really looking forward to it. This is also a trip sans child which will be…different…she comes everywhere with us and that’s how we like it but adults need time too.

We’re going to boost our savings. Saving isn’t quite as fun as paying debt off but I’d like to spend a little time and put a bit more in the ER fund. We have a little one now but it’d like it a little larger. I’m of the opinion it doesn’t make much sense to save much when you’re in debt, and that paying off debt is a better return on investment, but I’d still like a little more padding while doing so.

I’m investing some money into me. This might be something I write about separately but in a few weeks I’m starting Invisalign (an orthodontic treatment). This is something (braces, no necessarily Invisalign) I have always intended to do but an opportunity presented itself recently with a professional colleague which I can’t walk away from. Long story short, I will never get it as cheap as he’s offering to do it.

I haven’t sat down to figure out all the nitty gritty details about everything, but with mentioning all above I’d still like to pay off some additional debt (over and above sustaining minimums). I can’t say how much but I’d be happy with $5,000 ”extra” for 2015, we’ll see how everything unfolds though.

Life happens and as much fun as it is to forecast our budget for 36 months, we need to adapt it to our life as it happens. I’m in a much better place mentally from a financial point of view, than I was 12 months ago which makes me happier than paying off all the debt. I feel like I accomplished a big breakthrough this year. I think maybe because I really know now that we can do it, but around living our life, and that’s ok with me.

What big goals do you have for 2016?

Merry Christmas Eve!

Today is my absolute favorite day of the entire year. I’ll be spending the next few days neck deep in all that is Christmas. I’m excited to see how Maria is tomorrow morning (hyped up beyond words I expect). I hope everyone has an amazing Christmas spending quality time with those who you love. Merry Christmas!wp-1450664770807.jpg

Thank You Toddler TV For Teaching that New Isn’t Always Better!

peppa carThis past weekend as mommy was nursing a bit of a Christmas cheer hangover, kiddo and I cuddled up on the couch to watch a little TV. Maria has a few of her favorite shows and most of them I don’t mind, but there are some really, really terrible shows geared at young kids. Some so bad I have to wonder how they ever got approval to air. Anyway, while we were watching a marathon episode of one of her favorite shows, Peppa Pig (which, unfortunately has taught her to start talking in a British accent) I became suddenly interested.

The episode was about the little pig family spending the day together and deciding to go for a drive in the family car. When the family piles into the car the kids comment on how much they love their family car, just in time for the car to break down and stop working. The family drops the broken car off at the garage and the mechanic gives them a ‘’brand new car’’ to drive while he fixes theirs for the day.

The family is intrigued with all that the new rental car offers. They love the fancy buttons that their old car doesn’t have and are having fun driving around in it…until it starts raining and they can’t figure out how to put the convertible top back up, causing everyone to get soaked. At the end of the day, they drop the rental car back off and pick up their car. The kids immediately note how much they enjoy their ‘’old car’’ and that, after their experience that day, realize they don’t need a new one despite how nice and shiny it was.

The other point that the show touched on was that new isn’t always better. This is something I also try and live by. The ‘’if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it rule’’. When Maria does come to us and say she wants something (often a new toy, and often similar to things she already has), we try and have her understand why she doesn’t need it furthering the discussion between wants and needs. It’s ok to want things, we all do, but to a three year old, everything is on a level of need.

This is a lesson that is really hard for kids to learn. I see it in my own daughter too. Though she has things which she loves, there are times she wants more or wants something new, often unnecessarily. This issue is magnified this time of year. The new, shiny and better things are everywhere, tantalizing everyone, children especially. It is nice to have a show, geared at the youngest of kids demonstrating to be happy with what you have. Thank you Peppa and George.

How Do You Decide if a Job is Worth It?

Truthfully, I love my job. Some days I can’t believe I get paid to interact with so many wonderful people and leave at the end of the day feeling accomplished and full. Like anyone though I have bad, well more frustrating, days but for the most part I love it. One of the things I appreciate about my job is the hours. I’m scheduled 9-5 which, for some is a curse but coming from a home where my mom worked many late nights and most holidays, I feel is a blessing.

Being in a career which is (mostly) a Monday to Friday 9-5 type-of-job is no mistake. During my undergrad, while trying to decide ”what’s next?”, the hours I would work were a priority for me. I hated being the child of a parent (especially in a single parent house), who worked erratic shift work. I, by no means fault my mother for this, it came with the territory and I completely understood, but it also made me realize I wanted a career that allowed a more conducive family life while pursuing something I would enjoy.

And so I’m in a career which I enjoy. For me it has been a fulfilling career choice and I’ve been fortunate to work with lovely people. There are things about my job though, which not exactly a part of the job, affect my decisions pertaining to my role within the particular office. For instance, as we get closer to purchasing a second vehicle, I think about some things more…like if at the end of the day my commute is worth it.

I couldn’t even begin to count how many dental offices I pass between my house and my place of employment. Obviously it stands they’re not all hiring (if any for that matter), but I find myself wondering what it would be like to work that much closer to home. Would I be happier? I have a love/hate relationship with my commute and I find myself asking ”is this worth it?” every day.

Some days the commute is a breeze. No issues, minimal traffic, everything cooperates. Other days our entire public transit system goes on strike, it takes (no joke), 4x as long to get to work via my husband driving the extra 30km a day to get me there, then home and spending almost $500 in a single month on gas. Though the latter only happened once (a few years ago and lasted months) it was a nightmare I wish never to relive. The extremes of my daily commute can be awful. Accidents on the bridge, parking in a DT area, the expense of commuting, it can really suck.

Having said all this, once I’m downtown I enjoy it. There’s a different clientele in a downtown area which can be challenging but I like it. I’ve been here for almost seven years so have little in comparison but I do worry if I’d be easily bored in an established suburban office. My husband, who has never had much of a commute (to the office, he is required to leave town occasionally for work) hates my commute. Loath might be a better term. Again, right now we’re dealing with one vehicle and three people who all go in opposite directions though.

I’m hoping when we get a second vehicle in late spring/early summer things will change a bit. I’ll still take some public transit (parking by my work is almost $200/month since we have no on site parking) but part of the commute will be eased. I’ll also be less dependent on my husband after work, who basically can’t do anything until he picks me up. If he wanted to run errands or take our daughter somewhere he couldn’t because he’s bound to my schedule.

I can’t get decide if I’m beginning to resent my commute to the point of looking at other employment opportunities or if I gaining a little more independence from my husband and our one vehicle situation will ease some of the stress from a job I otherwise enjoy.

What factors do you consider when deciding if a job is worth it? Though I didn’t mention an average commute for me is about an hour each way under current circumstances. Would this be a deal breaker for you?

Managing an All Cash Christmas

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One thing is for certain. Though we have some debt, we’ve never taken on debt for Christmas. I would never judge how a family decides to spend their money on anything, including Christmas, but I personally would never pay for something like Christmas with money that wasn’t already in my bank account. It just isn’t worth it to me. We have always had a cash Christmas and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Before I get into details of managing our cash-only Christmas I should explain how to keep expenses down, and it starts with example.

I have a young child who, for the first time is asking for stuff. Until this point she has received gifts, some of which were things she showed an interest in but never asked for something specific. In the last year this has changed. She very much as specific interests and has asked for a few items for Christmas. In no order:

  • Jellybeans and candy canes
  • Flowers
  • A doll
  • Play makeup (”real please, no fake stuff”- mommy disagrees with this one!).

Though I hope her lists to Santa are always this short and sweet, I know they won’t always be, but I can try. I’ll tell you right now though, I’ll have her understand at first question that she won’t be getting outrageous gifts for Christmas including: iPads, laptops or televisions. It just won’t happen. I never want my child to have such an expectation of Christmas gifts being that grand. For us, it’s not what Christmas is about.

I love giving and receiving gifts at Christmas though. It is a part of the season I want to enjoy but I want her to have a full understanding of the reason behind what we do and I think this will help manage the wants a little. By having reasonable expectations, managing an all cash Christmas it totally possible.

To have a cash Christmas you have to decide on a budget. To do this we make a list of everything we need to buy- from baking ingredients to Santa gifts to kiddo. Once we have a large list we assign a dollar amount to each. Sometimes we add the total and are done but more times than not we either start omitting things from the list or change the dollar amount. In years past I would easily spend $50 on baking supplies alone but now I bake with my sister instead and we split the cost.

Once the budget is decided, the money is withdrawn and put somewhere safe with our detailed list. Though a day-to-day cash budget doesn’t work great for us because we’re often going in different directions and prefer debit, we almost always do our Christmas shopping together so cash works fine. When we purchase something, the cash is used and the receipt is stored for record keeping. Easy peasy.

If we buy something online or with anything other than the withdrawn cash, we simply put the money back in our account. It’s important that we do this immediately so we’re not tempted to spend the cash instead.

Though I’m terrible at keeping receipts, I make sure all receipts from Christmas are kept somewhere safe until all gifts have been exchanged, opened and conformed they’re in working order (or with a child, that she didn’t receive multiples of whatever the thing may be).

With a cash Christmas, some things get put off, and sometimes for multiple years, but it’s all about priorities. My husband really wants to do a decent Christmas light display on the house but it’s not yet been in the budget yet (why are lights so expensive?!). Having put it off for a few years now, I’ve come to realize how badly he wants to do this, more for kiddo obviously, but he really wants to spend a day decorating the house so she can be amazed and show everyone- which I totally get– but until next year we’ll have to admire the neighbors.

Christmas is fun. We’ve done Christmases where we haven’t exchanged gifts at all and Christmases where we’ve gone a tad overboard, but its all be fun. One thing is for sure, a cash Christmas is the only way to do it for us!

How do you manage your Christmas budget?

3 Reasons Why Australia Should Be Your Next Holiday Destination

suitcase-468445_640While international travel may not be a common inclusion in the recipe for debt success list, there is an argument to be made for making it happen once in awhile. If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve found numerous ways to get travel rewards for the kind of spending that is in keeping with savings and debt reduction. If you are in a position to use those rewards/airline miles in any way that you please, overseas travel really does make sense. There are many places in the world which are actually very affordable, once you arrive. They can actually be a lot more affordable than traveling within the United States. One of these is Australia. Here are three reasons why you should put it on your short list of places to go in 2016.

The Morale Boost. If you have been cracking away at this debt thing for quite some time, you need a break. Going on vacation is something that more people should do, more often. But because you and I are focused on getting our financial ship in order, we put it off. It’s time to take a trip. Getting away from your day-to-day situation can be tremendously rejuvenating. The energy that you regain while being away on holiday can make your daily efforts a lot more effective once you return. This can happen anywhere, but because we’re talking about Australia, its unique various landscapes and beautiful cities make it a nation which packs a lot of options in for the visitor. Give it a try.

The Currency Factor. At present, the United States dollar is 40% more valuable than the Australian Dollar. While some things (like gas/petrol) are much more expensive in Australia than in the United States, other things are not. Top Australia money transfer companies can save you a lot on your holiday funds sent over.  Once you’ve arrived in Australia (and depending on where you are, of course), you’ll find that your holiday is much cheaper here than it would be in the United States. There are many places in the world where this is true, but few as culturally “western” as Australia. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

The Ease of Communication. There are many places in the world where you could visit on a budget, but few of them have citizens who know English. Australia is a rarity in that you’ll have no problem asking questions or getting around, because you’ll be able to read everything and talk to everyone.

Travel is one of those things you should not completely sacrifice if you are trying to get out of debt. The same can be said of investing and other things. You just have to pick ways to accomplish these goals which don’t take away from your debt reduction strategies very much. You can do it. Pick your holiday destinations sensibly, find deals on travel miles, and you’ll be able to travel to some amazing places, even as you eliminate debt.

Throwing a Great Christmas Party on a Budget

christmas treeI love Christmas, and what I love the most is being surrounded by the people I love, even more so if there is food involved, so needless to say I love a good party. Mike and I have been hosting an annual gathering for years and as much as I love having an annual event involving upwards of 16 of our favorite people, it can get expensive if we allow it.

It’s an expense we gladly take on and budget for though, because it’s something we enjoy and look forward to every year but that doesn’t mean we don’t do our best to keep costs down. Who doesn’t love coming in under budget? At our event, we play a few games and usually end up eating and drinking until we feel sick so how do we manage to keep costs for entertaining 20 or so people (including little people) under $100?, by following a few easy tips.

Choose Your Menu Wisely

Needless to say, food is our biggest expense when hosting. The thing with hosting parties is that you need food (in volume) but don’t want food that is so time-consuming you’re in the kitchen all night not enjoying yourself. I always look to see if I can plan multiple things with similar ingredients so I’m not dropping a few hundred dollars on random stuff I usually don’t have. I always try to pre-cook as many foods as possible and keep them warm in a warming try (yes, we’re that family who has access to multiple buffet warming trays) or crock pots.

For the menu itself we either do one to two ”mains” (think chili or sliders of some sort) and a few easy sides (veggie trays, humus and pita) OR a bunch of random appetizers. It really depends on who’s coming, how much time we have to prep and what’s on sale. Parties aren’t the time to experiment, stick with what you’ve made before or at least tried and think you can pull off. If you get into too much experimentation you could end up wasting not only your time but money as well.

Limit Alcohol: BYOB

When it comes to hosting, I personally have no issue with BYOB. We live in Canada, the land where a quart (a fifth to all you Americans), costs $30-$40 per bottle. That $10-$15 per bottle of liquor you have in that States will quite literally buy a few shots up here. So while I feel it’s less customary with American friends and family, it’s very much normal to tote your own alcohol to a party here. A huge reason why I don’t drink is the cost!

We do have a fully functioning Keg though which is always tapped, a beer fridge full of beers and ciders and usually a few bottles of red on hand. If you walk through my door you’re welcome to any of these at any time…but this is the only alcohol we provide for our guests. Sometimes (depending on the ratio of pregnant friends it seems), we’ll buy a pint to put in a punch too. By simply stating BYOB (over and above what we have) is a huge money saver for us.

Use Points

We collect grocery store points year round and cash them out at Christmas. I don’t exclusively shop at this store (Hello- I need to follow the sales!), but we still manage to save around $50-$100. Last year we used $70 to put towards the party, it was a huge help. I also used points from another store to buy some prizes for a few games we play which was nice.

Hosting a party isn’t for everyone but it’s something we enjoy doing. It can easily get out of control in terms of finances if you allow it but with a little planning you can have fun while still maintaining your budget!

Extra Tip: stay away from Pinterest, as much as I love it, it will have you pulling your hair out at making you think you should do something or frustrated that you can’t get something just right.

Houston Computer Support for Your Business Makes Sense

pidComputers are a lot more important to your business today than they have ever been before. For many businesses without the use of computers you would not be able to conduct nearly every part of your business. So why do so many businesses seem to neglect their computer systems to make sure everything is running well? Many small businesses may do this simply because they feel they cannot afford to have any type of help when it comes to IT, allowing basics to fall by the wayside and just doing the bare minimum to keep things running. If you want to avoid potential problems with your computer systems you should look into getting support through methods like cloud computing and IT disaster recovery and planning.

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Get the Insight You Need Most From an Austin Small Business Lawyer

pidRunning a business can be a great way to be your own boss but there are many responsibilities that also go along with being a business owner. Even if your business is small with just a few employees you need to make sure that all of the aspects of your business not only run well but are handled legally. This means making sure that all of your policies are according to federal, state and local legal standards and that any and all contracts you are a party in are going to provide you with the proper protections. In order to make sure of all of this it is important that you hire a quality employment and real estate attorney Austin, TX has today.

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How Our Budget Changed Since Having Kids

wpid-20150530_150552.jpgIt goes without saying that having a child will change your budget, maybe drastically, maybe not. Though there is some way to predict how things will change, until it happens and you know exactly what you’re dealing with, you don’t really know. Some changes in our budget genuinely surprised me, others not so much. Though every family will have a varying experience, here is mine.

Food Spending: Decrease

How did we go from a family of two to a family of three and spend less? We started planning a heck of a lot better. Before kiddo was born we weren’t the best when it came to grocery shopping and proper planning but being forced into it while on mat leave changed that. It’s a habit we still stick with pretty well and so glad. I realize a time will come when this will increase but for now, toddler sized portions are our old leftovers that would usually end up going bad in the fridge. With eating out, a lot of the time she and I will share a meal which works out well too.

Entertainment: Big Decrease

We have a 3.5 year old. That is now our entertainment, and time. Though the category overall is decreased there are a few increases within in it like cable and Netflix. Both of which I consider an entertainment category we have increased since having a kid. Where we used to spend more time out (think watching a big game at a local pub for a few hours), we now stay home at watch at home, usually while she’s asleep but have ordered a sports add-on package to ensure we get the games we want- still cheaper than a single night out involving food, transportation and pitchers of beer!

Extra Curricular Activities: Increase

We have an extra person in the house who is developing her own interests which cost money. My hobbies are pretty cheap to free (/I have a three year old so little to no time to do much of anything) and Mike plays soccer year-round. He’s always done this so no real change there. Maria played soccer this summer and will dance this winter/spring. A brand new cost in our budget which I’m happy to pay. My lack of hobbies more than make up for it.

Travel: (soon-to-be) Increase

No real change for the first, what will be four years, of her life. We managed with one car and it was fine(ish). Happy we were able to survive so long with one car cost but as I have said in the past this is coming to an end. Summer of 2016 we will, if all goes according to plan, buy a second car. This means: cost of new-to-us car, insurance, gas, registration fees and second car seat. My sister-in-law was gallivanting around Europe for two weeks this month and lent us her car. Having two cars was glorious. It was literally life changing and so much less stress in our day-to-day life. This is an increase I will happily take on.

Miscellaneous ”Stuff”: Increase

This is something we’ve honestly never tracked- the packs of gum, coffee, change for meters. Small stuff that adds up. This has indefinitely increased. We go to the local Dollar Store and she’ll usually end up with a small ”treat”. Though I have no way of tracking this I know we’d be spending less overall without her.

Baby Stuff: Increase

Needless to say, before she was born we didn’t buy any baby stuff. I received enough diapers at my shower to last a full 10 months (I think I bought one newborn pack) and we spent another 14 months worth of diapers (fully potty trained at 2, didn’t bother with stuff like pull-ups). Diapers were our biggest ”baby” expense. We received a lot in gifts (so grateful) and being frugal I was able to find great savings in things like clothes. I think we did well with sticking to necessities.

Holiday Spending: Increase

Though our Christmas budget didn’t change much (until this year), we spent money on other holidays that we hadn’t really before, like Easter. While we spent basically nothing on the holiday before, now we play the role of the Easter Bunny, which is fun. Same for basically every ”holiday” out there, though it might not be much we spend something.

Kids are an expense but they don’t have to be as expensive as some ”professionals” will have you believe. Like anything, there is often savings to be found with a little effort. You’ll also be surprised how few things you need. Having a kid also really aligned my priorities in all aspects, including money and some things that used to be important no longer are.

How did kids change your budget?