A few months ago, I launched a Personal Finance Book Club. You can join me – shoot me an email to jump in on the next book selection.
I closed membership at 25 hoping to keep a small engaged group.
Turns out the group was quite small, and not everyone that signed up engaged or participated – but that’s totally okay because those of you who did engage were amazing and awesome – and there is now room for more of you to join if you didn’t get in the first time around.
We will read one personal finance book per quarter. We will vote on the book selection.
You will receive a newsletter, there is a private Facebook group for ongoing discussion and encouragement, and we will meet via Zoom to discuss. That discussion will later be turned into a podcast.
Let’s talk about planning for a big trip, shall we?
Say a big, dream trip. A trip of a life time. We have a big trip coming up that I can’t wait to share with you all, but for now – let’s talk planning.
The first stage is the day dreaming. Where you figure out your Why, what makes your heart beat faster, what fulfills and calls to you. This could be one of your Top 5, or it could be something that you came up with while writing out your plan for the year, or plan for the season.
Determine if you are driving or flying.
If you are driving – are you taking your own car or a rental car?
If you are flying – what dates are you going? What airline are you flying? Are you playing the credit card game? *
*Proceed with extreme caution.
I do usually apply for the airline card. I book that plane ticket and the travel expenses with that card. I then pay off the balance in full immediately afterward with the savings account that I have set aside for the trip. I use the card while we travel – and then I pay the card off in full when we return home. If there are any bonus points I can use from that airline – I try to use them for a seat upgrade. I don’t like to hold onto my points because I don’t travel often enough to know that I’ll use them before they expire. This is not a travel credit card hacking site. Good for you if you do this and love it, it’s not for me at this point. I also don’t want to sway anyone down that road because I don’t know enough about it, and I’m generally against credit cards. A few people use them responsibility, but they wreak havoc for so many people that I just don’t think they are worth the risk.
I use Google flights to pick the cheapest date range to fly and then I book the rest of my plans – hotel, car rental, etc.
Next, I obsessively stalk the area online, scoping out all of the things I want to do when we get there, where to eat, and any specifics I may need for that area.
Check your passports early. It can take 6-8 weeks if you need to get a passport so do this early on. Did you know that passports can be limited within six months of their expiration date? A family member of mine recently had a trip planned to Sicily. When they tried to board their flight, they were informed that they could not let them gain entry to the country because their passports would expire in four months. They were only planning to be there for a couple of weeks, so they had no idea that this would be an issue. Thanks to their travel nightmare retelling, we checked the official rules. So check your passport and the country that you are traveling to rules and when in doubt – renew before your trip.
Photos can be taken at any Walgreen’s. I like to freshen my hair and makeup first. You keep these photos for 10 years! My husband and I like to do this together and then go out for a drink or a nice dinner to toast to our upcoming travels.
There are very specific requirements. No exaggerated smiling. No showing your teeth. Keep you ears in view – tuck your hair behind them if need be. And they need to be a specific size and zoomed in so that your head is a specific size.
Fill out your passport form slowly and methodically. Have another person check it over to make sure you didn’t miss anything. Then I like to check it again at the post office before I send them off.
The passport can make or break your life time trip so this is a big step.
Now comes all the fun stuff – pinning and itinerary planning.
Set up a Pinterest board and pin all of the best tips, restaurants, blogs, and ideas.
In the final weeks before you depart, make notes on your travel documents for what days you’ll do what and where to eat on those days, etc. You can always ditch these well-thought out plans for spontaneity that day, but, I’ve learned that having a plan and some narrowed down suggestions make for a better trip. There is nothing spontaneous about scouring trip advisor for reviews while at your dream destination.
Make copies of the credit cards you will be carrying and your passports, along with all of your travel documents. If you have access to a scanner, you can scan them to .pdf files, password protect them, and save them to a jump drive, and store them in a draft email so you can access them from your phone.
Leave a copy of your itinerary at home so your loved ones have access to it if need be.
Not to be morbid, but my husband and I will often write a general plan for our estate, have it notarized (my office manager is a notary) and leave it at home. Just a quick instruction as to who we wish to raise our children and how we’d like to leave our possessions behind. Totally not necessary if you have an up to date will and estate plan, but worth the time if you don’t.
If you need any currencies – plan ahead for that. If you have an account at Wells Fargo, you can get foreign currency there – but you may need to call ahead. They only have so much on hand in the registers. The afternoon I was there they only had about 200 Euro and a one hundred pounds…. mostly in larger denominations – no coins.
Your turn! Gimme all of your best travel planning tips & tricks.
It’s when you allocate the most important priorities and values in your life and put the money in those categories first.
When you put the bulk of your money where you want it to go before you begin spending on anything else, it’s reverse of how society spends – impulse first.
Sad Truth: Money is finite. Time is finite. There is not enough for everything you want to do, so if you don’t put your most important ones first, you won’t get to them.
I think the best way to determine your priorities is to sit in a few moments of quiet and really think about what is the most important to you. Day dream a little bit, and then think ahead to what you want to be remembered for and what memories you want to have to look back on.
Jot them all down, and then group them into categories.
Review with your spouse if you are married, or your partner if you have one. Being on the same page with your values is key to being able to live out your intentions. You may need to compromise on some of these, but now is the time to determine the compromise.
Having a plan laid out helps when impulse comes around and one of you – or both – of you are ready to jump on something. When that happens, you can agree to a cooling off period of a few days and a review of your priorities to see if it is in line with your values.
The base of the pyramid is what you determine sets the tone for all else in your life. In other words, if these key things are in place, all else is right with the world. You may want other things, but you don’t need them, and having them in place makes it possible to do all other things.
The peak of the pyramid is the top of the mountain, if you have made it here, you are feeling on top of the world. Being here means that you have not only achieved your financial goals, but that you have reached deep and came out victorious. You have accomplished great things personally and professionally to be able to afford yourself these luxuries. You are proud of these things, you deserve a little reward for all of your effort, and you have no reason to feel guilty for enjoying the fruits of your labor.
The middle of the pyramid is somewhere in between these two spectrum. Work your way up the ladder.
I love this quiz for determining what YOUR financial priorities are. List all the things that are most important to you when it comes to how to spend your income. The options will be automatically generated against one another until your priorities are prioritized for you based on your responses. I did this several years back and it was a real eye-opener, plus it helped me to focus with intensity on one or two things, accomplish those goals first, and then get to the other less important items.
Once you have these details hammered out, it may be helpful for you to prioritize your budget categories in the budget to match.
The Art of Love & Money YNAB Hierarchy Categories
Fill in the Budget with the Bottom section of the pyramid coming first. Do nothing else with your money for the month before this money is allocated.
Work your way up the pyramid, going down the list.
When money comes in all of the most important categories get filled first, then work your way down. I’m not saying that you won’t enjoy anything frivolous in the meantime, just that if you put the most important items first, and splurge with what is left you will make your goals a reality over time and you will have built a stable financial life for the future.
I did this, and it was an important exercise, in what comes first, but as a full disclaimer, I like my old budget category layout better. However, I still feel this exercise forces you to choose how you spend your money in what order comes first in your priorities, and if the budget is tight and you can’t get to all of it, I think this could be a helpful layout. Print it out and keep it with your pyramid worksheet as a visual reminder.
The purpose of this financial journey is to do what works for YOU. I did this, it didn’t feel like a good work flow for my monthly budget, so I took the insights I gained and went back to my old categories.
Let me know how it feels to you! I’d love to hear from you.
ACTIONABLE STEP: Download the free Financial_Hierarchy blank copy to guide yourself through your financial priorities, sit down with your spouse and determine now how the money will be spent as it comes in the door. Use this worksheet to talk to your kids about wants versus needs. Set up your budgeting categories based on your hierarchy of financial needs – just be sure to save a copy of your working budget so that you can go back to it later if you prefer. Take the financial priorities quiz!
I’m still offering online Zoom sessions with anyone who wants to go over their budget categories so hit me up for that if you are interested. What’s my angle? I want to know what works well for other people. I already know what works for ME, but I am always interested in guiding you on a path that works and learning new tidbits along the way.
Take the time, build it right, do it slowly, don’t take the short cuts.
“One of the best pieces of advice I got was that ‘hardwood grows slowly.’ Things that last take time. Hardwood will live 100 years, but it takes a long time for that to mature, whereas a softwood grows within weeks.”
Fall has come, and we are beginning to feel it in the air. I love the early fall – brisk mornings with heated, sunny, Indian summer afternoons.
I usually hate to see summer go, but I do have a pretty exciting trip around the corner this fall, so I haven’t been at all melancholy about fall this year. I’m writing this blog post as quickly as my fingers can fly because there is a cool sunrise coming up and I can’t wait to get our there to walk Coco before work.
Some of you can’t wait for the weather to cool down to fall. For me, Fall means Winter is approaching, and Winter is not my favorite. But the longer I live, having been born and raised in the Midwest, the more I realize that I appreciate the Winter, if only for the Season’s change, the promise of Spring to come.
The seasons slip by unnecessarily fast, and if we don’t take the time to set aside some intention for fall fun, the days will be gone before we have even noticed that they have arrived.
Especially if you have little ones, please take the time to explore all the bounty the season has to offer. Collect leaves, go for a Fall drive down a pretty road with no destination in mind, carve a pumpkin, sip hot spiced cider, catch a football game, dip an apple in caramel, go through a corn maze.
My Fall List:
Go on a Trip of a Lifetime (already planned & in motion – details coming soon)
Walk at a State Park with Coco that I have never been to before
Throw a Surprise Party
Paint Sugar Skulls on Pumpkins with Mario for a date night
Host annual Chili Supper on Halloween Night (Trick or Treat)
Take a trip to Minnesota. Go to a spot we’ve never been.
Eat a caramel apple at Lagomarcino’s
Paint an Abstract Painting
Pose for a Sketch for Mario
Purchase a Tree in Grandma Rodriguez’s memory
Complete our Landscaping border
Clean out our Garage so we can park in there this winter. Then Grill out.
Catch an outdoor Football Game / Soccer Game
Pick a new book and go to bed by 7 with my book for a whole week (daylight savings week most likely)
Make BBQ sauce with Louisiana Hot Sauce
Build a new website for the blog
Record a Podcast Series
A new book for the Personal Finance Book Club
The beauty of fall surrounds us with Nature’s own pallet. A crispness fills the air and a deep inhale brings bonfire smoke and the aroma of Barbecue. The bright afternoon sunshine warms us with a hard day’s work on our backs. We go to bed exhausted,spent but with a smile on our faces from the productive tasks accomplished. The leaves rustle on the ground, the cool air allows us the comforts of oversized sweater and cozy boots. The earlier darkness allows us to snuggle up with our loved ones, slow down, and catch up on our reading and our rest.
ACTIONABLE STEP: Create a fall fun list. This should be fun and include a mix of big, medium, and small size items to help you enjoy the beauty of the season, featuring our favorite highlights of the season. You can throw some accomplishments in there too, for good measure.
This week we will take the time to review our expenditures. So far we have set up budget categories and reviewed our software options, took note of our bills paid monthly and we planned for irregular expenses. I’m not going to tell you that the last step is to review your expenditures – because the budget is an ongoing process that is never really done. But the more you do it, the more automatic it will become, and the less you will need to stress on it over time.
The first couple of months that you write out your budget, you will mostly just be tracking your expenses. You don’t know how much you are spending in each category until you track it, and you may be shocked by how much you are spending in some categories, and other categories are going to be more fixed – like your rent or mortgage.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t enjoy tracking the budget so that I can penny pinch every ounce of enjoyment out of my life – and that’s not what I want for you either. My goal is to make sure that the amounts that I spend match what I have outlined as my priority for my life.
My husband and I have determined that our number one priority is security. Financial security that will ultimately lead to financial freedom comes before all else in our ‘want’ list. First and foremost, this was food, utilities, and basic shelter, clothing, and transportation. This also includes saving for retirement, paying our insurance premiums – home owners’ auto insurance, health insurance, life insurance and disability insurance. This includes our rainy day fund and our emergency fund, our cushion in our checking account, as well as paying our monthly bills on time.
Our next priority is our kids. Kids come first before all of our own wants and desires. This included their daily needs, their safety and security, their clothing, their extracurricular activities, and future needs – such as planning ahead for their orthodontic care, educational needs all the way down to their next birthdays. Anything that was centered around our kids came immediately after the safety and security of our family unit as a whole. We brought them into this world, they didn’t ask to be here – we were wholly and totally responsible for giving them all that they need to survive and then thrive.
When it comes to kids, there is an endless array of what you can provide for them. I’m not talking about all of their wants – but I am talking all of their needs and then all of the things that we determined that we want to be able to provide for them. For us, we wanted to offer them each orthodontic care if they wanted/needed it, a 50/50 match on their first vehicle up to $2,000, whatever extracurricular activities that they chose to pursue limited to one or two at a time, and the educational opportunities of their choosing, and the opportunity to travel in school – from the Washington D.C. trip in eight grade, the field trips to the nearest big city, the group trip for their clubs in high school, and study abroad in college. We decided early on that we value these things over anything materialistic that we could by for ourselves, and so a large sliver of our income was cordoned off to be available for these purposes.
After the safety and security of our family’s well being, and the care and providing of our kids came everything else – lifestyle. Dinners out. Vacations. Cars.
Your car, shelter, clothing, etc is at the most basic level in the bottom segments of the pyramid. When you work your way up to the top portions, you can splurge on more expensive items – after you have fulfilled all the values that are most important to you, security, long term savings, education, and self development. When you have more left over after those important items are covered, you can splurge on upgrades.
In America, we tend to keep up with the Jones’.
“We buy shit we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t even like.” — George Carlin”
I’m not at all suggesting that you don’t have nice things, I’m just proposing that you fill in your budget based on your own personal values. So, sit down and really determine what should come first and foremost to you. Please don’t complain you don’t have money for health insurance while you are driving an SUV bigger than my house.
Trickle down to the smallest things. The smallest things are the easiest to cut from your budget. The trick is to then immediately apply the savings to the most important thing. If you are working on paying down debt, when you cut a $9 Netflix account because you use Hulu most of the time – put that $9 in the debt snowball immediately. If you are working on building an emergency savings account, put that $9 to your automatic savings draft.
I’m not suggesting that you should penny pinch, I’m only asking you to review the expenditures. Do you care about this thing that you are spending money on? If yes, do you care about it more than these other things that aren’t getting funding? If no, reallocate your budget to reflect your own personal aspirations.
But for today, we are balancing the money that we make right now with the way that we spend the money right now. Get in alignment with that and then you can set about increasing your income so that you can fund more of that pyramid.
So, back to the small wins.
Review Your Monthly Bills. Take the time to make sure that you are getting the best service for the best price. Then set that bill to Auto-pay.
Review subscriptions. Keep the ones that bring you the most joy, cancel the rest. Do this annually.
Set up auto shipment for your favorite essentials. I have my coffee set up on auto ship, as well as our dog food. You can also set up your favorite essentials to ship to your house – toothpaste, paper products, cleaning products. Free shipping and buying in larger quantities at the best available price. No fuss, no stress, no extra impulses at Target. I have a wire shelf rack in our basement that I keep all of the paper products and cleaning supply overflows. I love the convenience of bringing up more dish soap or a box of Kleenex instead of running out to the store.
If you are still short on money in the budget, cut a small percentage from each category – say 5% from your out-to-eat budget, and your clothing budget, and your miscellaneous budget.
Your goal is to do a Zero-based budget. All the money that comes in month by month gets allocated for how YOU chose to allocate your spending based on your priorities, your values. Until the amount that you Earn minus the amount budgeted to specific categories is equal to zero.
Amount Earned – Amount Allocated = 0
If what is left over is paltry and doesn’t meet your expectations for the good life – we’ll be looking to increase income soon. In the meantime, get the finances you do have under control.
Every month is different, and will include some tweaking and adjustment, this is because your life is fluid, and so too should be your money. I think Ramit Sethi has a point when he says budgets don’t work. I don’t think that the point of making money is to determine how little of it you should be able to spend. I don’t think most of us stick to budget tracking for long. It’s why I am a big fan of reverse budgeting, and discovering your why and YNAB software.
It may be time to downsize if you are still helplessly short. Think about cutting your living expenses, selling your vehicle, selling extra technology cluttering up your home office and nightstands.
I don’t know, it’s not up to ME what you do with YOUR money. The whole point is – it’s up to you!
How do you want to spend your money? And are you spending it that way right now, or do you need to reallocate?
ACTIONABLE STEP: Determine your values. Create a pyramid. Review your budget categories and be sure that they are in alignment with your values. Find ways to tweak the budget categories to help you reach your goals.
I’d been on Easy Street for years, and the lack of my growth was showing, slowing me down in my day to day, leaving me feeling lethargic and blah.
Take a look around you, are you challenging yourself at all?
If not, pick a challenge that is near and dear to your heart and get after it.
I hope to see you out there in the world, surprising yourself with how well you have accomplished these challenges.
In the past 6 months, I have recorded 3 podcasts, written over 50 blog posts, and launched a book club. I have meet like-minded women who are quickly becoming my friends and acquaintances. I have surprised myself with my capacity to learn new skills, and to come up with ideas that I had never even thought of before. I still don’t know where all of this will be taking me, but even if I stop today, I will look back on these accomplishments and be glad that I did them, and be proud of what I created.
If you are lucky enough to be attending Forefront in Chicago this weekend, know this:
I am jealous.
I hope to be there one day.
I will make a plan to be there one day.
Totally a Big Dream list item…I applied for a volunteer position, but didn’t make the cut. I’m sure the competition was steep, and I totally respect that. I did use the Briefcase Technique in my interview pitch, outlining some cool things to explore in Chicago, because planning fun excursions is my super power – so please enjoy these handouts, whether you are lucky enough to be there this weekend, or save them for the next time you go to The Windy City.
Even though the Briefcase Technique didn’t seal the deal for me this time, it has in the past – and even when it doesn’t land you the gig – it does stretch you to new heights and give you a practice run testing out your skill sets, so give it a go.
Last week we looked at the bills we pay monthly – both auto-pay and manually. I hope you are feeling good and accomplished now that you have all that done. The week before that, we set up our budget categories and looked into budgeting software options. If you are just joining me – Welcome! …and be sure to go back and check out those posts as well.
This week – we will plan for irregular expenses. Make a list of all the unexpected or irregular expenses you could run into throughout the year.
Turns out Christmas is December 25th every, single year.
Estimate how much you spend on Christmas gifts. Divide that by 12 and put that much aside every month for Christmas.
Same goes for all other irregular, but inevitable expenses. Here are some examples:
Home Owner’s Insurance (if not in escrow)
Property Tax (if not in escrow)
Car Repairs/ Maintenance
All the smaller Holidays – Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Halloween.
Back to School
Birthday Accounts – List all of the people in your life that you buy gifts for, or that you would like to eventually buy a gift for. Assign each person a gift amount. Add them all up and divide by 12. Put that amount aside monthly and you will have the money ready when it is time. Fill out the Monthly Birthday Calendar and you will not only have the money, but you will be prepared, too!
The easiest way I have found to handle these irregular expenses is in YNAB budgeting software.
You can also use an envelope system or plain old yellow pad and pencil, but it will be more hands-on work. The benefit of the envelope system is the money is hands-off, not readily available in the checking account when you are fighting the urge to overspend. When you find the perfect red heels that you have been searching for, even though you have no particular place to wear them to, you would have to physically go home and take the money out of your sister’s birthday envelope, and that just makes you feel like a jerk. 😉
I used to keep the irregular expenses in my ING savings buckets, but that made for a lot of little buckets and transfers back and forth, which I didn’t mind because it did help me to stay within budget and goals, but using the YNAB budget categories is so much simpler and is more systematic, which gives me time in my day to handle all of the other financial matters and other areas of my life, or to just read a book or take a painting class, or binge watch Netflix. My choice.
Now, don’t go getting overwhelmed by all of this. Fill out the worksheet even if money is tight and you can’t fit it into the budget right now. Especially if money is tight.
You don’t have to pay for it all now, you just have to list it.
You will want to be caught up to date and current on all bills before you start funding these categories. It’s a bit of an advanced function of the budget, but it is important for their to be space. That way, when there is a windfall in your budget you don’t know what to do with – You’ll know where it should go.
I mean, I’d rather blow my windfall in the moment, but in the face of car repairs and property taxes due and by the way, kiddo’s birthday is next month, I’ll be glad I allocated based on my priorities instead.
This is key to getting out of the paycheck to paycheck cycle. And if you get paid bi-weekly? That is the perfect opportunity to bank the bonus third paycheck of the month twice per year. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
ACTIONABLE STEP: List all of the irregular expenses that need to be accounted for throughout the year. Apply a dollar amount to each category and work the irregular expenses into your budget.
Want to meet up for a coffee chat via Zoom and talk about irregular expenses? Shoot me an email at email@example.com & let’s do it!