Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Small Steps to a Financially Fit Future

The new year has me reflecting on the past and anticipating the future.  I look back a couple of years to the time in which my husband opted to go to Korea.  He chose this duty station so that he could earn extra money that would enable us to deal with some financial issues.  We anticipated transitions in our future and knew that we needed to ready the house for the possibility of sale and we needed to reduce our debt to ease our transition.  That transition is soon approaching.  I now know that the very near future holds change for us.  Although we are unclear as to what it will be, there will be some sort of change in five months.  I have to admit that I did not make the progress on the house and debt that I had hoped that I would.  I started out doing well. I was focused and determined.  Then life happened.  I spent money on two trips to Korea (one for Christian and one for myself) and on airline tickets for Herb to return home twice.  I took a road trip to New Mexico to care for my aging grandfather and then an additional three trips to new Mexico for funerals.  I spent money to get Keegan home for Christmas and then to move Christian to Washington D.C. for graduate school.  We funded most of Christian's undergraduate program, paid for private vocal instruction for Maceo and got blacksmithing instruction for Bishop, among many other things.  Although I have no regrets about these things I do have regrets.  For instance, I spent way too much money on eating out.  When I get the least bit tired or overwhelmed I tend to eat out.  I am sure that I would be appalled at the amount of money that I have spent on food.  But, all of that aside, as I look to the future I know that I need to make progress on our larger financial goals
 I hope to do that by taking a series of small steps, consistently and with determination.

1.  Have a reality check.
List all expenses and debts, include balances and percentage rates. 

2.  Evaluate all subscription-type services.  I have already taken a closer look at our cell phone plan an made some adjustments.  I know that I need to adjust our netflix plan.  Ultimately, I need to go through the list and analyze each and every expense.

3.  Last year I kept track of daily expenditures for most of the year.  I thought that I would routinely divide those expenditures up in to categories and calculate just how much I was spending.  I never did do those calculations.  It was cumbersome.  This year I am going to take a slightly different approach.  I will use my 2014 expenditure log to help me develop categories of spending and to do some comparison between this year and last.  My intent, at the moment, is to track and analyze spending in, at least, the areas of groceries, gas, education, eating out and iced tea consumption for a month every three months or so.  I will then make goals accordingly, some possibilities include:
-reduce eating out by at least two times per month and put that money towards house/debt.
-give up purchasing an a.m. tea at least four times (bare minimum) per month and put that money towards house/debt.
-institute 'no drive' days routinely so as to reduce gas expenditures.
-reduce grocery bill by 25%.

4.  In order to reduce our utility bill I will consider increasing rain water harvesting, reducing dishwasher usage, using a dish pan for rinsing when hand washing dishes, possibly utilizing a clothes line,  decrease tv viewing and phantom power usage, and, if still in this house for next winter, make sure that we check the seals on doors and windows and have a cord of wood.

5.  I have given us a clothing allowance of $100 per month.  I will utilize a clothes shopping approach that was quite effective this year.  I will make some clothing purchases through Kohl's online clearance going first through Ebates and then using Kohl's coupon and cash.  I will also return to checking for clothing at thrift stores and will expand my search to consignment shops.

6.  In order to fund gift giving during 2014 I utilized a variety approaches.  Throughout the year I collected all change in the Christmas Jar Of Change and saved $177.  I also redeemed credit card reward points for a total of $150 and earned $45 in Amazon gift cards through Bing and Swagbucks all to be used to purchase Christmas gifts.  I utilized Groupon, Ebates, Kohl's coupons and at least $200 in Kohl's cash, clearance shopping, and even shopping in my home, passing along beloved treasures to others who would greatly enjoy them.  These are all methods I will employ again this year.  I already have $12.92 in the Christmas Jar of Change!

7.  I will attempt the 52-week savings plan again.

8. And, in order to prevent tapping in to the 52-week savings plan jar to take care of unexpected expenses, I will put $40 per month in an emergency fund.

9.  I will seek to utilize all my resources better.
The ways in which this can be done are so broad and varied I could probably do a blog entry on this subject alone.  And maybe I will.  Meanwhile, some ideas include:  get a second outdoor trash can to the curb each week and make sure that each can is full (as I will be doing a lot of cleaning and sorting and purging I know that I will produce a lot of trash and I want to use my curbside service to its fullest so that I do not have to pay someone to haul); use the educational sources that I have on hand, try not to buy anything (well, not much at least) - read the books we have, play the games we have, etc.

10.  Organize and then properly use the host of loyalty rewards cards that I have.

11.  A 2014 goal was to go through every nook and cranny of my property and purge and clean.  Although I failed to get every bit of my property (did not get to the garage and shed) overall I did a good job of meeting this goal.  I am setting the same goal for 2015.  As there is the possibility that we could have to put the house on the market and that we could be compelled to move it is important that I achieve this goal.  Last year I donated virtually everything that I purged.  This year I will donate some items but I also vow to have three yard sales or utilize craigslist or facebook garage sales to earn some money on the items I am choosing to part with.  The funds earned through these sales will be applied to home/debt.

12.  I will seek to make a lot of changes to our grocery budget, one of the most malleable categories in any budget.  I will not list each anticipated change in this entry.  Expect soon an entry devoted to this subject matter.

Much like I did in 2014 with my "Last Weeks Frugal Accomplishments," I will keep you apprised of my progress, my successes and struggles.
Wish me well!!!

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