Adjusting the Budget for Job Loss, Planned or Unplanned

Do I need to find another part-time job?

Job loss was one of the biggest realized fears that crept in after the COVID-19 shut-downs in March of 2020. Many people were forced to adjust their lives and their budgets due to being furloughed or laid off with short notice. Thankfully, along with the loss of those jobs came higher and extended unemployment benefits, economic stimulus packages, relief from eviction or foreclosure, and fewer opportunities to spend money. Who knew that after mass lay-offs around the country that now, a year later, there’d be a shortage of labor, not jobs! A large percentage of the workforce learned how to adjust to one income or a lower income and have now chosen to be unemployed, with or without the government benefits.

In my situation, the business my mother and I started about 15 years ago managed to stay afloat through the pandemic, but the effects it’s had long-term on both of us, as well as our client caseload, may lead our business down a path of never fully recovering. We are considering closing our family therapy practice for good. This is a combination of forced and chosen job loss, for which I now have to adjust our family budget.

Over the many years, I’ve slowly reduced the number of hours I put into the business and also the amount of my pay. I have a very flexible schedule and work exclusively from home, which has been such a blessing at the current stage of my family. I still have two preschoolers at home with me three days per week and two older children with very busy extracurricular schedules. The paycheck has been smaller than when our business was at its prime and our caseload was overflowing, but the extra money has been essential to getting us ahead in our journey toward FI. We’ve been able to contribute the full amount of my part-time income to investing and charitable giving, while meeting all of our living expenses with my husband’s salary. Now, we will have to make cuts as my mother and I move closer to closing the doors to our practice for good.

My total take-home pay is currently $1,910 per month. $1,700 of that goes toward my ROTH contribution (averaging out to $500/month but invested as a lump sum at the beginning of the year) as well as my husband’s and my combined contribution to our joint brokerage account ($1,200 automatically invested into VTSAX monthly). The other $210 is set aside to make charitable contributions of our choice each month. This giving is in addition to tithing.

The last thing I want to do is cut out our investing or our giving when I lose that monthly income. Whether we’re a one-income or two-income household, we still plan to hit FIRE by 50 (or hopefully sooner). Continuing our current rate of investing is essential to meeting that goal. So, I now have to make some tough decisions about where to reduce our spending or whether to take on more work to replace that income.

I can also take into consideration the cash flow we are receiving from our rental properties, if that’s where the money is best served right now. However, we’d ideally like to put all our cash flow this year toward reserve funds or future real estate investing.

So, I decided to dedicate a slow, rainy, unseasonable cold morning at home to analyze our current expenses and determine where I can “find” as much of that $1,910 per month in our budget. There is a strong possibility that my final paycheck will come in June, so we will need a total of $11,460 for the last 6 months of the year to make up for the loss. That’s a big chunk of change!

Our annual budget was my first place to look. I discovered that I had budgeted some overages in our savings categories above the contributions mentioned above. Because we already have a 12-month emergency fund, plus money set aside to buy our next two vehicles in cash, I decided to re-allocate the $1,000/month going into our online savings account. That adds up to $6,000 over the 6 months that I’d be without my part-time income.

Then, I reviewed what I had budgeted for a new life insurance policy this year and what we actually spent. After reading about life insurance options, listening to a couple podcasts on the topic, and doing some comparison shopping, we were able to secure a term life policy for my husband for much less than we had budgeted. We had $860 set aside for that new policy (as a supplement to the one offered through his W-2 job), but we only spent $380 and paid in full. Therefore, we had a surplus of $480 in that category. Additionally, we’ve already pre-paid for all of the kids’ summer activities and camps, as well as the registration fee and August tuition for our preschooler, leaving us with no child care costs for the summer. We will not have to pay the $749 monthly preschool tuition for three months, and we can remove the $300/month we’ve been budgeting for kids’ activities and camps. That leaves us with another $3,147. A few additional cuts include a decrease in cell service fees for a savings of $100/month by switching to Mint Mobile; cancellation of Camp Gladiator membership for a savings of $79/month; and cancellation of private horn lessons now that our eldest daughter will be receiving additional band instruction each day at her public high school for a savings of $100/month. These three changes add up to $1,674.

Also, I’ve resolved to going back to at-home haircuts for all the males in my household, which amounts to a savings of $85/month. That will provide us an extra $510 through the end of 2021.

The total amount “found” in our annual and monthly budgets to make up for the loss of $11,460 in income is $11,811!! I was able to complete this analysis in less than half an hour using the detailed spreadsheets I keep for our family’s income and expenses. With the conclusions drawn, it will not be necessary for me to find other part-time work to replace my lost income for the second half of the year! We can continue making substantial progress toward our FI goals without sacrificing what’s important to our family or seeking additional sources of income.

Many people fear that having detailed budgets and tracking expenses will limit their spending and, therefore, their happiness. However, I find that these practices provide the opposite: freedom! And for me, freedom with my time (and my family’s time) is the ultimate goal of pursuing financial independence.

If you find yourself in a similar position, either preparing to leave your current job or fearing that you might lose yours at any moment, I definitely suggest tracking every dollar you spend, if you haven’t started doing that already. Once you have a framework, finding places to make cuts is pretty easy.

If you’re already a great budgeter, think of your income loss as a total dollar amount through the end of the year instead of what you need to cut or save each month. Recognizing that there are annual expenses/allocations that might be easier to cut than your monthly ones might give you a little room to breathe (and spend) when the expected or unexpected happens.

For more specific ideas on where to make big cuts, check out 9 Ways to Save this year.

Spring Cleaning vs. Spring Spending

Good morning! When I previously tried to write this article, my finger slipped and hit the publish button while in the beginning stages of my first draft. It’s definitely not a best-case-scenario for any writer. Lol. This time around, I’m hoping the final draft is what ends up in your Inbox. Thank you for reading… again!

Spring Cleaning is a phrase we’re all familiar with. Some families take it to the extreme … scrubbing every wall, every bit of exposed tile grout, and even the front sidewalk. Others use Spring Cleaning to motivate themselves to get rid of excess by de-cluttering every room. And then, there are the Spring Cleaners who take this time of year to organize, organize, organize by color-sorting bins in the pantry or clothes in the closet, separating mini craft items into jars, and making the laundry room more accessible. Quite possibly, your family does all OR none of the above during this season of sunshine and renewal.

However, there’s one thing that every family likely has in common during the Spring season: an increase in spending. Data shows that this time of year is HUGE for retailers. Unfortunately, I don’t need research to prove this trend to me because I’ve noticed the spending binge in my own household. I’m definitely not alone; this article and associated charts clearly illustrate the significant Spring spending increase across the country. The Wall Street Journal has also predicted a further increase in spending this year, leading into summer.

So, how does a family that’s eager to take advantage of the better weather and longer days minimize this Springtime splurge?

Take Inventory as You Clean

Taking inventory comes up often in my articles… because it works. Just as tracking every dollar helps you save money and tracking calories helps you lose weight, taking inventory reduces your tendency to collect unnecessary items while out running errands. It’s your hedge against impulse purchases. Imagine yourself walking into Target. Do you gravitate toward the dollar spot right away? If so, being hyper-aware of how many coloring books, floral-covered journals, blue tooth headsets, and tiny vases you already own will hopefully make the idea of picking up another one, even if it only costs $3 or $5, cause you to groan rather than grab.

Make a “Needs” and “Wants” List with a Specific Budget

As you clean and organize each room, make a list of your family’s needs and wants. Maybe you’ll recognize that you need to replenish your supply of shampoo and soap while scrubbing the bathroom. Maybe you’ll notice you’re out of cinnamon and baking soda as you re-organize your spice cabinet. Maybe it’ll dawn on you that your kid’s mattress is nearing its 8-year expiration date. Write these items down on a “Needs” list and estimate what they’ll cost you. Then, do the same with “Wants” in each room, such as a new set of bath mats, an upgraded blender, or a neutral set of sheets to cover that new mattress. Based on your monthly budget, assign an amount you’re willing to spend on these Wants. Keep your lists with you, and then when out shopping, stock up on the Needs and vow only to buy the Wants if a current sale puts them within your set budget. You might even jot down in which month you should buy the Want items based on the best time to buy.

Redecorate as You Clean

Make Spring cleaning a lot more fun and interesting by redecorating your home with the items you find tucked away in cabinets, closets, and even your holiday bins. You could also make use of the crafting and paint supplies you uncover to update and/or create your own home decor. Involving yourself in a project, especially if you get to repurpose your own possessions, can give you a true sense of pride and accomplishment, while also salvaging the cash in your wallet.

Sell, Sell, Sell

Sometimes, a Spring shopping spree is just what the doctor ordered. It’s fun! You get out to see what the stores are offering and come home with new things to refresh your space and your spirit. Even the most frugal folks can identify with that! However, if you don’t want to sacrifice your savings rate by splurging on Spring goodies, unload your stuff in a big sale first. As you de-clutter, separate your items into categories, such as adult and kids’ clothing, kitchenware, sports equipment, tools, toys, baby items, linens, etc. Then, identify the best options for selling the items in each category depending on where those items will garner the most traffic and the highest prices. For example, if you have designer clothing items in good condition, try selling through Poshmark. If you have unique collectibles, eBay might be your best option. If you’ve accumulated dozens of products that you’ve never opened, an Amazon shop could give you the highest return. Tools and kitchen items will likely receive a decent amount of interest on your neighborhood Facebook page or Nextdoor site.

But if you have a large variety of items that span multiple categories, a well-advertised, old-school garage sale will earn you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to put toward that shopping spree. I just recommend that you pay yourself a percentage (to go toward investing/savings) at the same rate you save from your monthly income (10-25%) before you hit the stores.

I hope this beautiful time of year gets you out and about enjoying the changes this season brings, not just into the stores taking advantage of the advertised sales. However, if you do find yourself drawn to your favorite retailers, let us know what tricks you use to spare yourself from falling into the Spring spending trap.

Travel Well on a Budget, Part 2

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 26

There are so many options on where to stay while on vacation these days… from luxury hotels to extended-stay motels to RV resorts to cabins to vacation home rentals to tent-camping. Even with a large family, many hotel rooms can now accommodate everyone. It can be really hard to narrow down the choices and make a decision.

The good news is that when there are various options and abundant supply, the buyer often benefits from all that competition. You just have to be prepared to do the research.

Once you’ve settled on which type of accommodations will provide the best value and experience for your trip, the following list can help you save money on them …

Check Rewards First

Just like shopping for airfare, check with your credit card rewards and/or your hotel chain membership to determine whether you have enough points to book a night or two at a hotel. If you don’t have a hotel card or rewards membership, but your trip is several months away, consider applying for a card with a great bonus offer so you can collect and redeem miles at least a month before your travel dates.

We recently applied for the Hilton Honors AMEX, thinking ahead to two destinations this year with excellent (but expensive) family-friendly Hilton resorts. Because of the bonus offers and by using the card to pay for part of the stay (thus maximizing the points per purchase), we should be able to get 4 nights covered with points this year.

Get the App

Hotel apps can also help you earn free nights faster or offer upgrades and discounts. I like the hotels.com app. I’ve earned two free nights (1 free after 10 nights) and taken advantage of significant savings due to “secret prices”. Also, if you access hotels.com through the Ibotta app, you can earn cash back for your hotel purchases.

Map It

When searching for a hotel or vacation home, I always use the map function to make sure I understand where a hotel is located before clicking to find out more info. The maps on the search sites often show tourist attractions, the airport, and parks in the area so it’s easy to determine how close the hotels are to everything.

If your goal is to minimize transportation costs, stay close to it all. If your goal is to minimize lodging costs, stay a bit outside the city or in a small town nearby.

Take Advantage of Filters

When it comes to a hotel, I look for at least 3 stars, a very high review rating, and amenities that will save us more money, such as free breakfast, free wifi, free parking, in-room kitchen/ette, free airport shuttle, etc. Bonus if there’s a nice pool, water park, playground, and/or hiking trails onsite… something that can entertain kids between other planned activities.

Keep Your Options Open

When I find a great hotel at a decent price, I book… but only at the free-cancellation rate. Then, I set an alert/reminder in my phone to go back and check hotels again just before the final cancellation date. I re-do my hotel search then to see if the hotel we booked has a better deal or if another one has dropped in price.

Alternatives to AirBnB/VRBO

Looking for a vacation home rental but don’t want to pay the excessive fees? Ask your friends or put up a post in Facebook groups. Often times, a vacation home owner will be willing to rent it out without going through these sites (especially if you’re a friend or acquaintance).

You can also try local property management companies or Vacasa to find the same homes listed on AirBnB or VRBO at slightly cheaper rates (and fewer fees).

Another tip is to find a few homes you like in the area on the major rental sites, then reach out to the owners directly to negotiate a lower rate, especially if the homes are still available less than a week before your travel dates. Send an email to 4-5 owners offering the price you’re willing to pay. Chances are, at least one will agree to take less than their listed rate rather than make nothing on a vacant home.

In summary, finding great deals on vacation lodging requires a bit of time, research, comparison shopping, and possibly some negotiation. It’s worth it, though, to save that money to put toward activities while on your trip or to have enough left in the budget to book your next vacation!

Today’s action step is to continue to do research on the places you’re interested in traveling to this year. Add estimates for accommodations to your travel budget spreadsheets.

Save on Kids’ Activities: Get Creative with Extracurriculars

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 13

Gymnastics for the preschooler to help with balance. Music class for the baby to encourage language development. Soccer for the big kids to teach sportsmanship and teamwork. Riding lessons for the horse-lover. Dance camp for the tiny aspiring ballerina. Yoga or a Bible study group for Mom’s mental, physical, and spiritual health. Monthly golf games to counter Dad’s work stress. A YMCA or pool membership for the whole family to spend time together.

It’s all too much. These extracurriculars can become easily justifiable, but the expenses quickly add up. I’ve often heard friends of mine say there’s nothing that can be cut in these areas; I’ve been there before too. We’ve tried all of the above, but I needed to cut back. We were over-committed and over-spending. Plus, the kids weren’t getting as much out of every experience as I had hoped.

I quickly realized that we had to limit everything to what was providing the most value and determine which extracurriculars could wait til later. This required asking some hard questions and thinking outside the box (or even counter-culturally) for solutions.

I recommend asking the following questions before signing up for something or continuing with an extracurricular activity:

  • What’s my WHY? What’s the true reason for this membership/activity/group?
  • If I’m doing this to learn a skill, can I learn it for free from a library class, a You Tube video, a good book, or a friend?
  • If I’m doing this so my kids will learn teamwork and participation, can that be accomplished through free school activities such as UIL or PE classes already offered? Can I organize a weekly kickball game in the neighborhood?
  • If I’m doing this to make friends for myself or my kids, can I find other options such as a neighborhood bunco group or small group at a local church or a nearby parent/child playgroup? (Search Facebook or Meet Up and ask around for options.)
  • If I want to start a young child in a sport or activity that I love, can it wait until he/she is a tad bit older? Many times, we sign our kids up for something and get so disappointed when they show no interest or seem to have no idea about what’s happening. But give it a few years and that will likely change. Also, at an older age, kids can articulate what they do and don’t like about an activity, helping you determine which are truly the best options for them. Despite considering lessons as an earlier age, my eldest daughter got into music, theater, and dance once she entered middle school. Because she was old enough to know what she liked about them and was mature enough to put in the effort necessary, she learned new skills rapidly, much faster than the pace that would’ve been required had she started in elementary school with private lessons. And the middle school classes are free as a part of her school day.
  • If the extracurricular is for exercise, what are our family’s favorite options to get in free work outs? What about that class, sport, or gym truly motivates us? Can it be replicated elsewhere, including at home or in a local park?

When you determine which extras are most important to you and your family, consider the following solutions or alternatives to save money:

  • Swap hours with a friend. Maybe you can tutor her kids and she can teach sewing to you and yours. Maybe you can mow a friend’s lawn in exchange for guitar lessons for your kiddo. Maybe you and a neighbor can swap babysitting hours for kids’ swim lessons.
  • Take a You Tube class. My 5 year old occasionally asks to attend dance class. We’re not sure if she’s truly that interested in learning dance, if she likes the idea of dance because friends attend lessons, or if maybe she just wants to wear a leotard and tutu. So, we found a You Tube channel with adorable and easy-to-follow ballet lessons. When my little one is “in the mood to dance”, she goes to that channel and follows along. She’s quite good at it, but she’s not consistently interested, and this type of video lesson is enough to satisfy her for now. We’ll reassess in a year or two but save our money for the time being.
  • Offer to work. If you love your gym or yoga studio or Pilates class, can you offer to work one morning a week at the front desk in exchange for a membership or a significant discount? What if you volunteer for the sports board? Can you get a discount on registration? It doesn’t hurt to ask.
  • Skip the skills camp in the summer (for younger Rec-level kids). A week of soccer camp can cost as much as the fees for a whole season of Rec soccer. A week of dance camp is equivalent to a few months of classes. A week of horse camp can exceed the cost of 5 private lessons, and while at camp, riding time might be very limited. If you still want your kiddo in camps for summer so they can be with other children and get out of the house, I get it! Try swim team, which provides daily swim practice for 2 months and a team full of friends for a fraction of the cost of private lessons. Check out the local VBS camps in your area. Most are free. Libraries (if re-opened this year) often offer free summer camps or day programs as well.
  • Take advantage of all the extras offered when you register. Does enrollment of the gymnastics class allow you to attend open-gym days for extra practice time? Does your sports program offer additional clinics or trainings? Does the gym membership offer 2 hours of child care? (If so, then exercise for an hour and use the extra hour to catch up on work, reading, phone calls, etc.)

Today’s action step is to re-evaluate all the extras. Be sure to know WHY you’re involved in them and whether they’re worth what you’re paying. If not, cancel and try an alternative!

Eliminate the Ads … Eliminate the Temptation

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 11

Who knows you better than you know yourself? Your spouse? Your parents? Your sibling or your kids? Your BFF?

Wrong.

Retailers know you better. 😔 They can *predict* what you want before you even know you want it. They understand your impulses and your brain chemistry better than you do. They have you psycho-analyzed better than the best therapists around. If you’ve seen The Social Dilemma, you know this unfortunate truth.

Therefore, you gotta stop those retailers in their tracks. You gotta set boundaries and block them from your phone and your email.

To continue down the path of resetting spending habits, today’s action step is to eliminate the ads!

1. Unsubscribe to retailer emails. All those emails about upcoming sales, can’t-miss offers, and travel discounts seep into your subconscious and encourage you to spend, spend, spend because ya know, it’s a DEAL. Unsubscribe! Try it for a month and then assess whether you are really missing anything in your life that you HAD TO HAVE and didn’t catch on sale. If you are, I’m pretty sure you know how to find that retailer’s website or store location again.

2. Change your Facebook settings. Under Settings, go to Ad Preferences. There, you can turn off ads from specific retailers and categories. Then, go to the Ad Settings tab and turn off the features in each section that allow targeted ads to appear in your feed. You’ll still see ads, but hopefully they won’t have as much effect on you because FB is no longer reading your mind.

Eliminate targeted Facebook ads

3. Toss all snail mail ads and catalogs in the recycling bin before opening or reading through them. Same reasoning as in #1… if there’s something you really need or have saved up for, you can find ways to get discounts when you are ready to buy, not at the time the retailers are convincing you to do so.

4. Fast-forward through commercials(if possible) or watch commercial-free shows on TV. You can’t be sold if you don’t see the ad.

Please comment below if you have further suggestions on how to avoid seeing the hundreds of ads that flood our daily lives.

Save on Groceries

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 9

Food is the third largest expense for most households, especially if you have growing children or pets in that house. A family of 4 in the US spends around $700 – $1000 per month. When I first started tracking our spending, I discovered that our family of 6 was spending close to $1500 per month on groceries and eating out. Woah! That’s a lot of money!

Thankfully, I quickly found ways to reduce our food expenses, starting with grocery shopping. The following tips show how our family dropped our monthly grocery bill from around $1200/month to $800/month. We’d like to get that down much further, so we continue to try to find ways to cut back although we do not have discount grocery stores in our area.

  1. Ask yourself whether you HAVE TO go. One of the best ways to save money on groceries is simply to go to the store less often because once you’re there, you know you’re going to buy something else … and another something else… and another. I get it if you have a sick child and ran out of his medication or if you need more baby formula. However, many of our *quick* grocery store runs are for want items as opposed to need items. Can you make a slight change to tonight’s recipe so that you can go without a certain ingredient? Can you bring a different dish to the potluck than what you had originally planned? Can you make pancakes or muffins rather than instantly replacing a favorite cereal? Find ways to eliminate those in-between trips, and you’ll spend significantly less.
  2. Take Inventory. As I mentioned in a previous post, making note of what you already have in your fridge or pantry and determining how best to use them in the weeks ahead will prevent you from buying duplicates or even substitutes when at the store. Know what you have and don’t buy more (unless there’s a deal really worth stocking up on).
  3. Don’t bring the kids. Easier said than done, I know. However, kids can make you stressed… stress makes you cave to convenience… and convenience costs cash. If you are able to change habits and go to the grocery store less often, you most likely can find an hour each week or a little longer every other week to go alone. It’s glorious. And necessary.
  4. Know when your store sets out clearance items. I called my local grocery store and asked what time they set out clearance items daily. At the Dripping Springs HEB, they stock those specific shelves between 6 and 7 am. Eek! That’s not even close to my usual shopping time, but I still always check the racks because I have found so many items I would’ve bought anyway marked way, way down. If your store doesn’t have a clearance rack, maybe they mark down soon-to-expire meats or day-old bread at certain times of the day. A quick phone call or short visit with a manager is all it takes to get the inside scoop.
  5. Keep your grocery list generic and shop the sales. This brilliant idea came from a podcast featuring the Saving Sherpa on Bigger Pockets Money Episode #75, during which Justin shared how low his grocery bill can go. It is completely unrealistic for me to feed a family of 6 on $15/week, which is his personal budget, but hearing how he shopped was pretty inspiring. Instead of planning very specific meals with very specific ingredients, his list remained generic so that he could shop based on sale prices, seasonal produce, and in-store coupons. His list might read “Protein, Fruits, Vegetables, Lunchmeat, Fillers (i.e. rice, potatoes, bread, tortillas), Snacks, and Yogurts”. The most important aspect of this idea is to break habits and buy based on value, not based on routine or rigid meal plans.
  6. Before you grab an item from the shelf, ask if it’s something you can make from scratch at home. If frozen waffles aren’t on sale this week, can you make extra waffles on Saturday morning and freeze them for later in the week? You can ask this same question when shopping for granola bars/balls, cookies, rice krispie treats, muffins, frozen pizza, sweetened coffee creamer, bagged popcorn, chex mix, lunchables, veggie trays, fruit salad, jars of soup, pre-made/frozen meals, and so on. Not only is it usually cheaper to make something with scratch ingredients, but it’s a lot healthier too.
  7. Make the most of store coupons and apps. Use your local grocery store app to save money on groceries. I’m a big fan of HEB… everyone in Texas is! And with the featured HEB digital coupons, I’m an even bigger fan. HEB is already known for their in-store yellow coupons and their weekly meal deals, but the app offers additional featured coupons and even sends users freebies every once in a while. If you add a cash-back app, such as Ibotta (enter referral code “wpcrvpk” pretty please), you can even double up on some coupons or on other items you bought. In fact, there have been many, many times that I’ve saved using an in-store coupon and then received additional money back from Ibotta on the same product. Ibotta pays you back on specific grocery items listed in their app, and it changes weekly, but it also has “any item” options that will earn you some money back for simply redeeming a receipt or buying bananas. All you have to do is select the items you purchased, take a picture of your receipt, and cash in. I’ve earned over $200 since I joined in Oct of 2019.
  8. Know what to buy when. Usually, vegetables and fruit are cheaper when in season. This guide might help you to determine whether now is the time to stock up on berries or whether you should wait until a different season of the year. Also included below is a guide of which fruits and vegetables freeze the best so you can stock up when they’re on sale.

To take action today, listen to the podcast mentioned above and download the Ibotta app. Also, go to your pantry and fridge to check out what foods you’re stocked up on. Come up with at least 5 meals you can make from what you already have. Then, calculate what the cost is for each of those meals. Set a goal for meal costs in your home. We aim for $2/person for homemade dinners.

Then, when it’s time to go to the store again, download your grocery store app and check what’s on sale or what coupons are offered. Make your list and your meal plan starting with those sales.

Tackle Transportation Costs

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 8

Transportation is #2 (behind housing) in the top monthly expenses incurred by most Americans. Car loans, car insurance, gas, repairs, and depreciation all lead to the high cost of car ownership. It’s estimated that it can cost over $9000 per year in addition to the base cost of a car. But most of us, especially with a family, can’t fathom managing our daily lives without the convenience of multiple cars.

There are a few ways to significantly reduce transportation costs, but these will require quite a change in lifestyle:

  • Share a car – this option might be more do-able than in the past because of the increase in remote work and school situations.
  • Sell or trade in your cars for smaller, older, or electric vehicles.
  • Bike to work and to run errands. Maybe a cargo bike is in your future.
  • Eliminate all cars and use public transportation or ride-share services. Rent a car for road trips /vacations.
  • Switch to a job with a shorter commute or work out a plan to work from home 2-3 days/week to reduce gas charges and reliance on a vehicle.

However, if a drastic change isn’t in the cards this year, here are a few things you can take action on now to save on the high costs of transportation:

  • Shop around for cheaper car insurance (consider raising your deductible and ask about all possible discounts, including safe driver, company/occupation-related, good grades for teenage drivers).
  • Plan a weekly schedule for errands so that trips can be combined on same day to reduce outings and gas-usage.
  • Change kids from car-rider to bus-rider (this is a battle in our house!).
  • Pay off your car loan.
  • Refinance your car loan.
  • Vow to buy a used vehicle approximately 6 years old or older from now on.

Today’s action step is to shop around for car insurance, make a plan that reduces your car use, determine whether you can pay off or refinance your car loan to get monthly costs down, and plan to make one of the BIG changes suggested above in the near or distant future.

In our household, we continue to make the conscious decision not to inflate our lifestyle with regard to vehicles despite how embarrassed our 13 year-old is of our minivan and how cool our friend’s new Tesla looks. I currently drive a 2015 Toyota Sienna with over 100,00 miles on it. We paid off the loan on my van as one of our financial goals in 2018. My husband still drives his 2005 Ford F-150, which has over 250,000 miles on it. He takes great care of that truck, and we use it minimally so it can last much longer. Neither of our cars looks especially cool, nor are they stain-free. We could easily justify an upgrade, but it’s not worth sacrificing bigger priorities in our family’s life.

Tomorrow, we’ll dive in to how to save money on the third biggest expense for most households. Can you guess what it is?

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action

Happy New Year! Soon enough, everyone will be asking you what your New Year’s Resolutions are.

They never seem to last, but if you set some firm foundations in the first month, you have a good chance of not backsliding the rest of the year. One of the foundations I set for 2021 was to sign up for a boot camp. I’m the worst at attending workout classes, but thankfully, a friend asked me to join a biggest loser challenge for the month of January. Enter in a little competition, and that might push my butt out the door and to the class, even on a freezing winter day.

It seems that most resolutions are related to diet and exercise, career success, spiritual well-being, and money habits. One of my favorites, though, is from Jimmy Fallon’s 5 Word Resolutions last year:

Less upsetti and more spaghetti!

(Perfect for our current 2020 social climate.)

All kidding aside, one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your family, especially after what 2020 dealt us, is to get on track financially. If you’ve received this email, it means that you’ll be getting daily action steps for the next 30 days that worked for my family to significantly increase our savings rate and our net worth in just a couple years. We’re on track for financial independence sooner than we could’ve ever imagined, which is opening up more opportunities than we’d ever dreamed of. I hope that these action steps help you to get back on track or to expedite your financial independence journey.

Please comment on posts along the way to provide your feedback and to let me know what works for you in your personal finance journey. I’m still learning every day and love to get advice from others on how to earn and save more.

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 1 starts tomorrow!

9 Meaningful, Last-Minute Gifts for Under $7

A box of multi-colored gumballs. An ornament with the previous year sketched in glitter. A whistle. A bathrobe three sizes too big. A stuffed animal. A set of dishes with playing card designs on them.

What do all of these items have in common? These were gifts purchased for me as an adult… from other adults. I don’t want to sound unappreciative because I am truly thankful every time someone gives me a gift, whether big or small. However, I think those gift-givers would have preferred to give me something that wouldn’t be re-gifted soon after. I’m sure they would have preferred to save their money and gift something a bit more meaningful and personalized. I assume every gift-giver’s intention is to not only say “I love you” or “I appreciate you” with their gift but also “I know you.”

Hopefully, you can find an idea or two from the list below that will allow you to save money, personalize a gift based on the receiver’s interests, and avoid a difficult crafting attempt (and subsequent Pinterest fail).

Simmer Pot

Holiday Simmer Pot

This gift is perfect for a friend who loves Christmas, candles, or just a yummy-smelling home. It’s especially great as a hostess gift! And all that’s required is collecting ingredients from the grocery store or your own kitchen, tossing them in a bag, tying on a cute ribbon, and writing a sweet note, including instructions. (Click on the picture above for details.)

Calendar with Important Dates

Buy or create a cute calendar, then personalize it with events and special dates meaningful to you and the receiver. You can include date nights with a partner or promises for monthly nights out with a friend. You can populate it with family birthdays and add a gift idea. Additional options include concerts or plays coming to town, free events in the neighborhood, and fun festivals nearby. Check out Dripping with Kids for events and activities in the Texas Hill Country.

DIY Seasonal Banner

Easy DIY Banner for a Baseball Fan –
add a team pennant or name for a more personalized touch

Ok, yes, this is technically a craft, but it’s not a hard one. This handcrafted gift is easy to make, and it would be a fun addition to anyone’s decor. Choose colors for a specific season, for a particular interest like a sports team, or just colors that match the receiver’s living room. Purchase fabric in those colors, cut them into strips, and tie the fabric around wire or twine.

Travel Map

For a teacher, friend, or family member who loves to travel, print a beautiful oversized map of the United States or a blank one to color yourself with bold or pastel colors. Another option is to find a fabric print with a map on it. Then, glue or staple the map to cardboard or foam backing and frame it. Finally, purchase small pins for the receiver to use to mark all the states he or she has visited.

Hiking Kit

For the outdoorsy type, purchase travel size sunscreen, bug spray, and a few protein bars. Then, print a list of local hiking trails to add a personalized touch. Dig up your old fanny pack or gently used backpack and stuff the gifts inside. You can also change up the theme for a beach-lover by filling a wide-brimmed hat with sunscreen, snacks, and a list of the best beach hideouts.

Family Game Night Pack

Perfect for your neighbors, a white elephant party, or another family you’ve been hoping to start regular game nights with… pack a wrapped shoe box or decorative photo storage box with a cool deck of cards, a mason jar full of charades clues, easy snacks like popcorn and candy, and an invitation to come over on a specific night to play.

Book with Personalized Review and Bookmark

Everyone has a book-lover on their holiday shopping list. Why not gift him or her a book you absolutely loved with some personal notes inside? Grab a favorite book from your shelf (you probably won’t read it again), as well as a few sticky notes. Find the best chapters or a few pages with character descriptions that remind you of the gift receiver or some mutual friends/family members. Jot down funny or sweet notes for him or her to find while reading the book. Include a clever handwritten review and bookmark at the front of the book.

Cup of Warmth

Small, thoughtful bags to make cider or hot cocoa are an affordable way to show appreciation to teachers that go above and beyond, crossing guards with broad smiles, letter carriers with a skip in their step, or neighbors who always have that spare ingredient you’re missing. Cost for each treat bag is about 40 cents, but with a sweet note added on, it’s worth so much more! 🧡🤎 (Each bag includes one packet of apple cider mix, a small cinnamon stick, and a couple cookies. For hot cocoa, include a couple packets, peppermint sticks, and marshmallows or chocolate chips.)

Baking Kit

You can quickly think up a sweet friend or talented family member who loves to bake. This easy but thoughtful gift will put a big smile on the amateur baker’s face! Include candy molds and chocolate melts, plus a jar of cake or cookie mix, and a few cookie cutters and cupcake liners. Wrap it up in a pretty box, include some family recipes, and write out an invitation to enjoy an evening of baking together.

Although each of these gifts will show a loved one that you care, quality time might be the best gift of all. I hope that each of you reading this gets the opportunity to spend time with your family and friends this holiday season… whatever that may look like in 2020.

Spend Nothing Week

Is it time for a spending reset?

In August of 2019, I decided it was time for myself and my family to become hyper-aware of our mindless spending and to hit the reset button. The result of this decision was a Spend Nothing Week, which provided us with a reason (or excuse) to just say no to the frequent discretionary spending we were doing.

As the Spend Nothing Week went on, I posted about it on Facebook. My posts and photos are shared below. Upon reflecting on our week of resetting our spending, I realized that awareness is just the first step; changing habits requires the hard, consistent work. Since taking the Spend Nothing Week challenge, we’ve definitely improved in making better use of the food we have at home … eating what’s available rather than what we’re craving. However, we haven’t managed another Spend Nothing Week in over a year. It seems we’re due for another spending reset, or better yet, maybe we should attempt a whole month of spending nothing. Can we do it?

Mom’s Piggy Bank

Aug 26, 2019 – After realizing how much money we spent on school supplies, clothes, shoes, band fees, end-of-summer excursions, and then listening to my kids continually ask for MORE, I announced to my family that we’re having a Spend-Nothing Week! Anyone up for taking the challenge with us?
Step 1 was to do pantry/fridge inventory and figure out meals with our limited supply of food in the house. I hadn’t planned for this so there was no big grocery trip last week to prepare. We had zero fruit, hardly any meat in the freezer, 3/4 gallon of milk, a handful of pre-packaged snacks, and only half a loaf of bread.
However, I was feeling super confident with my meal plan this morning and thought, “for sure, we can do this!“ Then, within the first few hours of Monday, a youth group pizza party invitation came up, and the kids poured almost half a gallon of milk into their cereal bowls this morning, BUT crises averted when I discovered a small balance in my Venmo account and transferred it. I grabbed a few groceries and paid for the $5 pizza ticket… we’re back to being in the black!!
Let’s see how long this lasts…. 🤔😬🤞

Aug 28, 2019 – I’m disappointed to report that there have been a couple hiccups with Spend-Nothing Week. The hubs STRONGLY suggested I get gas in the car if I wanted to continue to drive it. 😜 And then at my dentist appt today, I discovered that my deductible hasn’t been met, and I had to fork over $50. 😩 I guess those were non-negotiables, but I’ve mustered up all the willpower and stubbornness in my body to resist buying a new pair of sunglasses to replace the ones I lost this week and also to buy a new TV after one of the kids BROKE the screen of the one in our living room! 🤦‍♀️😖 (I’m sporting free shades from the dentist office today. 🤣)
But there is a plus side: The fam is getting Chick-Fil-A for dinner without a single dime being spent, thanks to app rewards and some freebies we had acquired!!

Aug 30, 2019 – Celebrating the end of Spend Nothing Week with steaks from the bottom of the freezer 😋, a salad made from veggies the kids won’t eat (including 1/2 a head of barely-edible lettuce), the last few potatoes, and margaritas, plus flourless PB blondies!! It was delish, but shelves are bare, and we definitely won’t make it another 12 hours without milk for the toddlers. I’ve never been so excited for an early Saturday morning grocery trip before! (I’ll share how much I spend tomorrow.)

Aug 31, 2019 – The day after Spend Nothing Week included a BIG grocery trip. Here’s a picture of my receipts from that day:

BIG grocery spending after Spend Nothing Week

Yep… that adds up to about $440 spent at H-E-B this morning. 😱😱😱 I made THREE different trips inside bc I realized in the parking lot that I forgot things and did not want to go back another day. The total definitely caused a bit of sticker shock, but I bought 2 weeks worth of groceries (hopefully), and if we actually make it 2 weeks, it will still be a big improvement on what we usually spend.

Recap: Total amount of money that we charged on our credit card was <$100 between Sat, Aug 24th and tonight, August 30th. The only money that left our bank account was a recurring medical bill. Full disclosure, I did go to the movies on Sunday evening, but I had paid for the ticket in advance, and on Sat night, I bought a beer and fries using a gift card. So, we did not, in fact, spend “nothing”, but it was the closest we’ve ever come, and it leaves room for improvement!