Hit the Ground Running: Living within your means

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My friend Lauren from Talk of the Trains is here today to talk about finances! Lauren and I met through Wesley Foundation in college and have kept in touch, mostly through Facebook and our blogs!

I’m happy she’s sharing her knowledge about finances today. This is a tough area for me, because Bobby and I both are majorly into instant gratification, and we have a sad amount of debt (mostly student loans and car loans, besides our mortgage).

Hopefully we’ll be able to put some of Lauren’s pointers into practice in our household because I can see the wisdom in what she has to see. Hope it helps you, too!

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A recent picture of Lauren and her cutie pie, AM, who will be turning 1 soon!

Where do I even start??

A persons finances is a tough {and potentially touchy} subject. Money is not something that I claim to know much about however if there is one thing about it that I am certain about, it’s that I don’t have enough.

Can I get an AMEN??

Since I don’t have enough Benjamin’s and since due to the drought my money tree is not blooming, my next thought is how can I stretch what I do have to make it work.

Let me give you some background on me. While I sure as heck am not rich, I also don’t have any debt other than my mortgage. I know many of you are probably rolling your eyes and kicking your computer now thinking that since I don’t have any debt I am one to talk.

Well, I am one to talk. Just cause we are debt free {minus or mortgage} right now doesn’t mean that we have always been – or that we will always be. Ideally, we will always be, but stuff happens and life is full of unknowns. Our goal is to do the best we can with the known factors to prepare for the days that the unknown hits.

I was fortunate that my parents paid for my college and I graduated loan free. That was huge in and of its self especially since my first out of college job paid me a whopping $714 every two weeks. So I basically took home $1428 a month and once you subtracted my $650 rent, $213 car payment and $150 tithe that left me $415 for groceries and bills.

Money was tight.

Mom and Dad had to help me with my cell phone and car insurance and I babysat on the side and coached soccer to make extra dough. Some how, some way, at the end of each month, I always had just enough. I wasn’t getting ahead, but I wasn’t getting behind. I was living paycheck to paycheck, but I was paying everything in cash and I was staying out of debt. That was an effort in and of its self.

I didn’t buy new clothes and I was always out of style. I didn’t get my haircut and mani’s and pedi’s were way out of the question. I didn’t spend money on movies or other types of entertainment yet my life was full. For holidays and birthdays I asked for cash and this became my “fun money” where I splurged on myself. I figured with my tax return in April, my birthday in May and Christmas 6 months later, it would give me a few times a year to pamper myself and I always looked forward to getting mula then.

Looking back, I am so thankful that I had very little money for my first job. It taught me the importance of finances and it taught me to budget and the ever important lesson of how I could learn to live with out. It opened my eyes to what was important in life and though I was deemed uncool for my lack of style and scraggly hair, I was proud of myself for not feeling compelled to “keep up with the Joneses.”

Now, please don’t read this as I never WANTED. I ALWAYS want stuff I cant afford and cant have. Just ask my husband. So my efforts to financially discipline myself started and I still up hold those to this day…how I wish I could discipline myself in the area of working out and eating like I can with money.

My husband graduated from college with a student loan. For the first year or of his job, he put almost his entire paycheck with the exception of living expenses towards this loan. Within a year {and before a lot of debt started to accrue} he had it paid off.

That brings me to today. I have a one year old. We have gone from two full time salaries to my husband’s full time salary and my part-time salary. We have a nanny that we pay more for two days a week than we would pay for a week at a daycare. We have a mortgage, two cars, insurance, cell phone, food and diaper bills to pay. My husband just got back from Wyoming on a back packing trip, I spent the week at the beach and shopping in Atlanta and these days we find ourselves able to do all that we want to do with more margin than we ever have had before.

We don’t make a lot of money. We are probably in the middle class to lower middle class crunch. How do we do it then? I think the reason is because we are good planners. We set budgets and we stick to them. We don’t spend frivolously and we don’t care if others have what we can’t afford. We live within our means and we are content with where we are currently.

Though I do long for the day that I can afford a big house with a front porch that overlooks our land with our dogs and children out running around. Hopefully, with hard work and good planning, that day will one day come.

While others are boasting of their stuff that they still owe money on, we are proud of the fact that we wanted something, put it on the wish list, budgeted for it, saved for it, cut out a few other items to put extra cash towards it and then after the much anticipated wait, we got our said purchase.

Briefly, and a quick insight to those of you who may be curious how we have this set up, we basically have multiple accounts. Honestly, they don’t have much money in them individually but what they help us do is allocate and budget wiser. For instance, we have a main account, a travel account, a fun account a house account and a car account. Each month a certain amount of money goes into these accounts.

Our mortgage and all of our monthly bills {gas, groceries, cell phones, etc} go out of our main account. Our car account and house account we pay an amount of money into – albeit a small amount, for us it’s the principle of it. This also gives us a little cushion so if our A/C goes out {like it did today} we just call the A/C man and write him a check from the house account. We don’t have to dip into our normal monthly budget or eat ramen noodles for the week to get the air running again. For the car account, it helps us have a cushion for if we need to get a car worked on, new tires or have a down payment on a car. Also, we are used to these amounts coming out of our pay so that if we had to have a car payment, we wouldn’t have to be scrounging for extra monthly money. The money that we in essence are currently paying to ourselves we would look to find a car where we could keep our payments under that amount. Does that make sense? All of the other accounts are merely for budgeting purposes.

Lets use for example the Travel account and lets say that it has $500 in it and that we put $50 in it per month. When we plan a trip, we look at the travel account and we see how much we have {and estimate how much we will have before we go on the said trip}. That determines if we are financially able to do it. If by the time the trip rolls around we don’t have enough money, we don’t go – or we find a less expensive place to go.

This sounds complicated but really its quite simple. We form good habits of saving money and we never pull from other accounts. Everyone says “oh well why not just keep it all in one place and remember how much money goes where?”

I guess that is where I have no discipline. If I see extra money is there, I will spend it. Then I will justify it. If you can look at a lump sum and see that there is money there, want an item and the not get it, then more power to you but for us, keeping them separate is the key to not overspending and to being able to afford all that we want to do!!

Anyway, finances is such a challenging topic and different strokes for different folks. We wouldn’t be debt free if it weren’t for our parents help and guidance and a lot that we have learned has been from Dave Ramsey’s basic financial principles.

I hope this {not so brief} blog post helps and encourages some of you out there! If you have debt or if you are not yet where you want to be, don’t stress. None of us are and it’s a constant daily, growing process. Set small goals and work to achieve them. Before you know it you will be better off than you were yesterday – and that’s something to be proud of!

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I’ll admit to being a little jealous of Lauren’s and CT3’s (that’s what she calls her hubby on her blog) debt-free status, but they have put in the hard work it took to earn that. Looks like it’s time for me and Bobby to get cracking!

Other posts in the series:
Loving Yourself by Ashley
Beating the post-partum bulge by Kelly
Hit the Ground Running in September

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3 responses to “Hit the Ground Running: Living within your means

  1. I’m jealous, too! We have three separate accounts – checking, savings, and money market. A portion of D’s check is sent automatically to savings every month, because before that we were hardly saving anything. My whole check goes to checking. If there’s ever any bonus, we put it in the money market (and I transfer money from savings to money market whenever it accumulates enough, because once it’s in money market, it’s UNTOUCHABLE.) We pay all the bills out of checking and try to never dip into either savings or money market. Last year, we broke down and spent some money hiring other people to do some repairs on our house, but, thanks to our tax refund, we didn’t have to pull from either savings account. I was pretty proud of that!

    Still, we are guilty of WAY too much impulse spending. We’ve been considering moving, so I’ve been examining our finances more closely, and it’s apparent we are wasting a LOT of money. I like Lauren’s plan for the travel account, especially, because that’s one area I tend to overspend.

  2. It’s hard for me to get on the right track again. When I was single, I was incredibly frugal, and was well on the way to paying off my student loan. Now that I’m married? Doh. At least we’re BOTH penny pinchers, but I suppose our fight is over how much we keep in the savings account, and how much we pay off debt. But I love your perspective, and hope we follow it most days!

  3. Pingback: Hit the Ground Running: Get Your Craft On |

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