Over the Top Birthday Parties

Warning: Getting on my SoapBox.

The following rant was prompted by an article on kid’s birthday parties that I recently read.

Kid’s birthday parties should cost under $50, actually they should cost under $25 but I’m feeling generous.

What is it with parents taking kids to places like; build-a-badger, laser tag, bowling alleys, gun clubs, fashion shows etc…Did they have such deprived childhood’s that they have to live through their kid’s? Are they guilty about something? Wusses who can’t say no?

These are the same people you hear complain about never having enough money as they are heading to the mall in their leased cars to shop. Well, duh. Waah, waah waah, someone call the waahmbulance.

Party-bags?! Really? We just fed and entertained your sugared-up brats (sorry about all the sugar) for 3 hours and now we have to give out a party-bag! What’s that you say? You gave my kid a gift? Well no kidding Sherlock, it’s his birthday. But you know what? We don’t really need any gifts; we have enough junk in our house already. But if you want a party-bag for your kid filled with dollar store crapolla, then fine, enjoy. I hope that in the middle of the night you step on some small plastic pieces while walking around barefoot.

So tell me what’s the deal with inviting tons of kids? I hear of parents inviting their kid’s entire school class so no one’s feelings get hurt. Hey kid, you were not invited because my kid thinks you are a booger-eating-goober. Get over it, that’s life. Thank God my kids are homeschooled. My kids get a party from ages 5 thru 10. And that’s it. And they get to invite one friend for each year old they are.

Social media like; Facebook, Instagram and Vine just make matters worse. People post all their self-indulgent pictures and videos of events like birthday parties. They are just showing you a small slice of life. The good life, through a rose colored internet. They want you to think that everything is all peaches and cream. When underneath the peaches are rotting and cream is curdling. Guess what? You might be fooling others and even yourself for a while, but you ain’t fooling us.

Gift registries for kid’s birthdays, really? I’m speechless.

Some of the more outrageous themes in the article: ice sculptures, snow machine parties (for backyard sledding), karaoke bar, live animals, spa parties (yes at a spa). In that light hauling a bunch of kids to the bowling alley or Chucky E. Cheese is kinda quaint, still stupid, but quaint.

Be careful. You give your little girl a 5th birthday party that costs $500 and you are gonna have a helluva bill when the princess gets married. And you sure aren’t doing your future son-in-law any favors.

Family Budgeting 101 – Part 2

It is tough enough juggling (akin to cat-juggling) and paying for a large family without the added stress of having a financial mess that rivals the current mess that is The Kardashian’s. When dealing with the extra challenges of raising a large family (all worth it of course), do you really want to be in financial distress? I didn’t think so. That’s why Budgeting is so important.

No a budget isn’t a magic wand that makes everything alright. But it will help give you some financial peace of mind. And a task that can reduce stress,  is a thing worth doing.

I’ve seen budgets with anywhere from 3 (needs, savings, wants) up to 70 categories, yes 70. My current budget spreadsheet has 22 categories and next to each category is a column labeled “budgeted” and one label “actual”. There is a 3rd column labeled “remaining” that tells me how much is left in each category or how much I have gone over. Plus the columns are totaled at the bottom for the big picture view. I also have a table to track my income. And then there are columns and rows where I list every purchase made each month as they happen.

It may seem like a lot of work. But once you have the initial setup done it’s not hard to use at all. You do have to enter everything you spend money on but I enjoy doing it. And it gives you a great handle on your finances. At the end of each month you know exactly how you did, good or bad. You are either in the red, black or even.

If this seems overwhelming then maybe a simple 3-category budget might be better at first. You first list all your needs and how much they will cost you each month. Mortgage, food, utilities, charity, insurance etc…and no, going to Five Guys for a burger and fries is not a need (although it is pretty close). Second, you write down the amount you want to use for savings and paying down debt. Then whatever money is leftover goes in the “wants or blow” category. Just remember once you have spent everything in the “wants” category, you are done for the month. So plan well. This is an easy way to get started on budgeting until you feel that you are able to switchover to a more detailed budget. Some people do just fine on the simple budget but I find that I do better on the more detailed one.

Just because you have money left in a category doesn’t mean you can spend it. Well you can, but should you? Let’s say it is the last day of the month and you have $20 left in your food category. Should you rush out and buy a box of Ritz crackers, a can of Cheese Whiz and a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20? Or should you add that $20 to your retirement account or apply it to a credit card balance? Do they even sell Mad Dog 20/20 anymore?

Below is a snapshot of the spreadsheet I use.

Family Budgeting 101 – Part 1

Where does one start? Lots of people seem to hate budgeting or at best tolerate it like one tolerates a visit from the in laws. Personally I enjoy managing our finances, budgeting and working with spreadsheets.

For beginners or those in trouble or those whose finances just need an overhaul, you have to start somewhere. You can’t do everything at once. You’ll be overwhelmed and do a poor job of it, or quit altogether. So if you are swimming in debt and can’t get a handle on your finances, don’t fret. Budgeting is not technically difficult and can be mastered quickly if one has the desire.

In part 1 today, and part 2 (coming later), I’ll show what has worked for our family.

Tracking your spending

Track your spending for a month or two before attempting to make a budget. This will tell you where all your money is going each month. I bet you don’t know, I sure didn’t. Do this even before you attempt to make a budget. Having a month or two of detailed spending will make budgeting a lot easier to do. If you are impatient, and don’t want to track spending for that long, try and do it for at least 2 weeks.

You may also be able to do this in reverse and go through the last few months checking and credit card statements. If not, start recording everywhere that your money goes. From your double-whipped-caramel-skinny-latte at FiveBucks to your mortgage payment, track it all. Make some basic categories and first list all the fixed expenses that you know you have each month: mortgage/rent, food, utilities, phone etc. Then add in everything else you spend money on that month, write it all down or use something like excel or an online tool like Mint. I personally prefer using an excel spreadsheet for expense tracking and budgeting. I use the one called “Personal Budgeting Spreadsheet”. We will have an article out in a few weeks listing many free budgeting tools, including the ones we use.

You might think you know where your money is going, but I think this will be an eye-opening exercise for some.  You might find that you spent $150 last month on toys for Mr. buttons, your cat or $300 on running shoes. I’ve done that before (spent lots on running shoes…not a cat). Running shoes are a necessity, right?

After you have an idea of where the money is going, start thinking about ways to cut your spending so you can increase your savings rate and/or pay down debt.

Also think about just how frugal you want to be. Maybe you are doing alright and just want to cut the fat a bit so you can boost your retirement savings. Or maybe you are living paycheck to paycheck and drowning in debt.  There is no right answer to how much you have to slash from your spending. Some people, like my wife and me, are very frugal and refuse to go into debt for pretty much anything at all. We did finance our house but have since paid it off. We prefer a nice home cooked meal to swinging into the drive-thru at McDonald’s or Pizza Hut. Besides being very expensive to eat meals out with a large family, the food at most fast-food joints and chain restaurants is nutritional garbage. So let’s see, $75-$150 for low-grade dog food at a place like Burger King or Applebee’s, or $20 bucks for a nice meal at home? Tough choice. And yes we do feed our family dinner for $20. And no that is not Ramen noodles and PBJ. We spend an average of $46 dollars per day on food, but that’s a subject of a future post.

So as you read how we go about organizing our finances and what we spend our money on, just remember that this is how we have chosen to live. It’s certainly not the only way but it is the best way for us. We enjoy seeing how much we can save and we look forward to actually being able to retire and have some $$$ because it’s not like we can count on Social Security to provide for all our needs.

Personally I’d much rather save my money than by junk-food and more stuff for the house.

How much can you save after slashing your spending to a more reasonable level? Well here is a teaser from a future article, we save over 30% of my income each month. And no I don’t have a high paying job, just a regular old job. Above minimum wage obviously but not some high flying salary. And lower than most of my friends who have fewer kids and are struggling to make it financially. It’s about choices. Sure we all have bad financial luck at times…car breaks downs, kid needs braces, hours get cut at work…stuff happens. That’s why you have to plan and be prepared. We live in a very high expense area so it can be tough at times to save a third of my income but it is worth it to us. My bride, who works much harder than I, sadly does not get paid monetarily.

After tracking your spending for a while you’ll be ready to make a budget and get your financial goals on track. Wait! You do have Financial Goals don’t you? If not, start thinking about them. Maybe you want to pay off your student loans or your credit cards. Maybe you want to expand your garden gnome collection or your vintage Barry Manilow 8-track tape collection. Maybe you are getting older and have neglected your retirement planning. Maybe you are retired and just need to fine tune your finances so you don’t run out of money in your dotage and have to live off of Alpo.

If you find that your finances are completely hosed, you may want to try a “spending fast” for a certain period of time. Think Lent, but instead of meatless Fridays, you don’t spend any money on non-essentials for a month. We do one at least 1 month out of each year (another future article). I’ll be the first to admit that they are difficult. I thought it would be a breeze for us since we don’t shop a lot. I was wrong. I sure do miss the UPS driver and the lovely Amazon packages he used to bring me regularly.

Give budgeting a try for awhile. It might not be fun or easy, but I think you will find it worth the time and effort. Once you see the results, it can be addicting.

Thanks for reading and we look forward to your comments.

Be Stronger than Achilles

 

What is your financial Achilles Heel? Where is your weak spot?

What is the one (or two or ten) thing that is putting a major hurt on your budget?

Look through your spending, or in your driveway maybe, and figure out what is it that you keep spending money on that is dragging down your financial stability.

It could be one big thing; car, truck, boat, vacation home etc…

Or maybe it’s a bunch of smaller expenditures that add up over time; golfing every weekend, expensive hair salon visits, eating out, excessive actives for the kids or maybe a combination of things.

What is mine you ask?

Those cars are one of the benefits of working from home. I do not need a newer reliable commuter car. These cars combined cost me less than a used Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic. Plus they are fun to work on with the kids. We spent one summer redoing the interior of the white one. The kids got to learn some new skills and some new words.

At least that’s how I’m justifying their purchase.

Remember, everyone has a weakness. Achilles, Superman…even Batman.

Track it Baby

Track it. Keep it fun.

When I started running again and de-fatting myself, I keep track of my progress. In addition to weighing myself, I recorded all my workouts on an online training log. If need be I could tell you my workouts for April 9th, 2007 for example (I ran 5.5 miles, biked 18 miles and swam 1800 yards. I knew that secretly you wanted to know).

Do the same with your finances when you start getting your financial butt in gear. Make a spreadsheet with all your financial info on it. List all your assets (house value, savings accounts, checking accounts, stocks, 401k etc…) and all your debts (credit card balances, car loans, home loans, student loans etc…). Then subtract the debts from your assets, this will give you your net-worth. Which very well may be negative at first.

Like looking down at the scale when first starting a weight-loss program, it can be painful at first. But the progress, and there will be progress if you stick with it, will be fun to watch…serious fun.

I update my spreadsheet once a month to get the big picture of my finances, if you are just starting out you might want to do it more often for the motivation factor.

Post your progress where you can see it. Bathroom mirror is a great place.

Another plus to having all the financial data on one spreadsheet, it will help your spouse if something happens to you. If during one of my morning runs some cell-phone-talking makeup-applying carpool-mom pancakes me with her mini-van while driving her overweight lazy kids a quarter mile to school (this is a fairly likely scenario) all our financial data is on one spreadsheet on my laptop…password protected of course. And another copy of it is stored in a bank safe deposit box.

Change your future now. Don’t be a typical American consumer.

Don’t Be Normal

“Normal” in America is:

  • Buying a new car every 5 years and having a car payment the rest of your days.
  • Or even worse, leasing a car. Do the math.
  • Buying more house than you can afford and re-mortgaging it over and over.
  • Having more credit cards, that you don’t payoff, than sense.
  • $853.6 billion in credit card debt. Average credit card debt: $15,263
  • $994.0 billion in student loans. Average student loan debt: $31,646.
  • Saving nothing or minimal amount for retirement and counting on the government (who handles money like a drunken sailor) to provide for you.
  • #1 reason for divorce is money issues/fights
  • Getting all your financial information from the mainstream press.
  • Having more month than money…spending more each month than you make
  • Paying loads and high management fees on your mutual funds.
  • Not contributing enough to your 401k to get the company match.
  • Not maxing out your IRA, or contributing to it at all.
  • Buying new when used will do, buying used when borrowing will do, borrowing when doing without will do.
  • Not thinking outside the box.
  •  Enabling your spouse, family, friends in their money mistakes instead of showing tough love.
  • Taking out student loans for a college degree of questionable value, when other options are out there.
  • Living paycheck to paycheck.
  • Never making extra principal payments on your mortgage.
  • Buying whole life insurance not term.
  • Not having a budget.
  • Borrowing from your 401k for “emergencies”.
  • Consolidating credit card debt and NOT cutting up the cards

Pros and Cons of Being Debt Free

Being debt free is great for your finances and it’s also a great feeling. This may be even more important for larger families who have less wiggle-room in their finances. Not having to worry about debt and having an emergency fund set up goes a long way to giving you financial peace of mind. When life happens (car breaks down, medical emergency, appliance dies) it’s less stressful to deal with when you have the funds to cover it and don’t have to borrow to handle it.

On a personal level, this is our debt situation:

  • Credit card, car loan, and all other debt (except Mortgage) – Debt Free since 1988.
  • Mortgage – Debt Free since 2012

Pros:

  • You will sleep much better at night.
  • Your marriage will improve; the #1 reason given for divorce in the U.S. is money arguments.
  • You can take advantage of good deals or investments that arise. Chicken breasts on sale for $1.69lb? You’ve got the funds to buy a few hundred pounds if you want.
  •  More freedom to move or change jobs if you want/need to.
  • Graduating with no student loans will enable you to start saving sooner and investing in your future.
  •  You are not paying interest to The Man on stuff that you probably can’t even remember purchasing.
  •  You will be able to establish an emergency fund and start saving for retirement, vacation, new home or car etc…
  • You will be able to help others more easily, Donate to your church, favorite charity etc.

Cons:

  • Since you will be sleeping better you won’t be able to watch all those late-night infomercials.  How will you know which new product will be the next Pillow-Pet or Snuggy?
  • With no money problems, you will have to find something else to fight with your spouse about…maybe he/she squeezes the toothpaste tube in the middle.
  • You will no longer get to keep eating non-sale $5.99lb chicken.
  • You won’t have an excuse to keep living in that house you are upside-down in and keep working in that sucky job you hate.
  • Since you didn’t borrow for college, you won’t get to pay back $50,000 in loans over the next 20 years.
  • You won’t get to pay 18% to Visa and MasterCard for those carbon-fiber golf clubs that are gathering dust in your garage, sitting next to a financed sports car.
  • You will have to find your excitement elsewhere since you will be missing out on the excitement of living paycheck to paycheck and being on the financial edge.
  • You will have to say yes when someone knocks on your door collecting for the Association to End Cat Juggling

 

Is it Time for Drastic Measures?

Not enough income to bust up the debt and get ahead?

Do something radical. Get crazy and creative. Bump up the income and/or slash the expenses.

Sell stuff. Gather up all the unused things in your house and start selling them. Besides getting some needed extra cash, you’ll de-clutter the house a bit and learn some detachment.

Create an eBay and PayPal account, if you don’t already have one, and start listing things. There are plenty of articles online on how to do this. We did this last Fall and sold over $2,000 worth of things. Find things that are easy to ship.

List things that are hard to ship on Craigslist. Just be careful. Don’t sell to some psycho-killer and end up as the subject of some crappy movie on the Lifetime network.

Have a garage sale, get other families involved and make it a large sale to attract more buyers.

Get a side gig: cut-grass, delivery pizza, wait tables at night, leverage your existing skills (handyman, computer repair).

Get rid of other money sucks:

Too much house? Move and downsize. Besides a lower payment, the taxes, insurance, maintenance and utilities will be less. Or just rent for awhile if rental rates are good in your area.

Car payments draining your funds? Sell the car(s), payoff the loans and buy some reliable older ones. New cars can be a huge waste of resources. After 5 years, the average new car as lost 63% of its value. Your $30,000 car is now worth $11,100. Be the person who buys the 5-year-old car and keeps it for another 15 years. Buy an air freshener if you want that “new car smell”. They make them in that scent.

Spending a bunch of money each month on pets? Get rid of them. No I’m not talking about dumping Fido in the country. A cat maybe, but never a dog. Find a good home for them. Better they go and that the kids are fed.

Get rid of the expensive gadgets. A free pay-as-you-go flip phone will make a call just like that Smart Phone.

There is nothing wrong with going a little crazy every now and then to avoid going insane. You are not your khakis.

Teaching Kids About Money

Topics to discuss with kids:

  • Saving vs spending. You have a limited amount of money. You can’t spend all of it. You need to save some of it, at least 10%.
  • Delayed gratification. “You can’t always get what you want” Jagger/Richards. They need to learn patience and how to save up for something they want to purchase.
  • Savings – get them a piggy-bank or an old jar to save money in. Open a savings account and teach them about interest.
  • We don’t do allowances, they get fed. But consider allowances, and use them as a way to teach them to work for money and what to do with the money they make.
  • Teach them to give of their money and time. Have your kids give away some of their own money.
  • Be careful using credit cards around them. They will think that whipping out a card is all you have to do to buy things.
  • Teach them about credit cards. Make sure they know not to use them unless they have the money to pay them off in full each month. That they will have to pay interest (a lot of interest) if they carry a balance.
  • Teach them that it’s better to use cash or debit cards for purchases.
  • Teach them how to shop (take them to the grocery store). I know shopping with kids can be more painful than watching a Miley Cyrus video, but take them with and teach them how to comparison shop and how to stick to a list of items that you need. This will also teach them some math skills. Have them hand the money to the cashier, not a credit card, and make sure they get the correct change.
  • Teach them how to balance a checkbook.
  • Teach them how to make a budget. And why one is important.
  • Teach them to protect their financial and personal, data. Be careful who has your SSN and account info. Be careful shopping online.
  • Teach them about legalized thievery. Taxes.
  • Explain how loans work: mortgages, cars, student loans.