Articles

Of Money & Financial Matters

I guess maybe I should have made getting blog posts done a priority for the new year, eh? I’ve had a few very busy weeks, weekends, and some new routines I’m trying to establish, so blogging time still hasn’t found a permanent home in the new regime just yet. It’ll get there, eventually.

Obviously, since my finances are front and center in my mind this year, I’ve been trying to be a lot more disciplined in that regard. This particular pay cycle isn’t quite as fluid as I’d have liked, but that’s because I had to order new glasses, and my glasses are expensive (because I’m pretty much blind without them). Even more so this year, because I’m going back to “progressives” (or bi-focals, as they were called when I wore them in high school). People complain about them all the time, but honestly, I can’t wait to get them. I’m at the point where I can’t read close up things with my glasses on, but it has to be right in front of my face to read with my glasses off, so that perfect reading range is just out of my grasp either way you look at it.

Progressives will be a godsend, and I ordered them last Tuesday, so maybe one more week before they’re here. Can’t. Wait. I do have vision insurance now, which makes my glasses far more affordable. Very helpful.

Like so many other things, I like to do my budgeting late at night when it’s quiet and I can properly focus. The only problem with that is, my credit union (or rather the processing company behind the scenes) shuts down their web site every night from right around midnight until 2am. Anyone who works in technology knows that there’s no reason for a nightly shut-down, and plenty of banks are up and online round the clock, so this annoys me far more than it probably should. But it’s the way it is, and I need to remind myself to download a copy of my transactions before 11:30pm or so, so I can do that budgeting thing at my leisure.

Last year, I signed up for YNAB (You Need a Budget) software. It’s online budgeting software that basically is suppose to help you learn to “age” your money (ie, not spend it as fast, and create a cushion in your account). One of the main tenants of the system is to only budget with money you already have, and to budget every single dollar down to zero.

It didn’t work for me in the long run, because I can’t force myself to hold off on spending money right when I get it unless I know it’s already earmarked for something (before I get it). I was always trying to play catch-up with the budgeting and overspending when I really probably wouldn’t have if I’d just budgeted ahead and known that I needed to be more circumspect with my spending. That way when payday comes around, all those upcoming transactions are at the forefront of my brain and in my mind, the money is already spoken for. Or, as in the case of the coming paycheck, that I have money earmarked for a toaster oven, so I can hit the “checkout” button and get that ordered as soon as the money hits my account without worrying about trying to figure out which bill gets shorted to pay for that later.

I tried out a few other budgeting software packages, and the one I like best so far is called “Simple Home Budget“. It’s a desktop application, not a web app, which I actually prefer. You can set up recurring transactions, both income and expenses, and then you can easily see what you will have for the month, and what you need for bills. You can set recurring transactions to either “clear” automatically or manually – I set mine to manual, and there are categories for pretty much anything you want to track (and it’s easy to set up new categories too). It is indeed simple-looking, but there are some pretty complex details that make budgeting easier (like color coding, and you can import bank statements to balance, too).

I’m in the trial period now, but unlike most online software, it’s not a subscription to license this desktop app. YNAB is $89 every year, where Simple Home Budget is a one-time fee of $30. No brainer, cost-wise. And I like it better, too, so I’ll be buying a license and canceling YNAB at the end of the month. YNAB refunds the unused months if you cancel early, so the money from that will just about pay for the SHB license. Very nice.

Now I just need to make sure I have a copy of my bank statement downloaded before my normal Friday night budgeting time, and I’ll be set for this week.

Maybe I’ll actually get a budget set up for the BSB/book stuff this year too! Sure would be easier than tracking it all down in February so I can do our taxes… *ahem*

One thing at a time, right?

So It Begins Again: Resolutions 2019

Happy New Year! Or I’m cautiously optimistic that it will be, anyway.

Today, I’m doing a little knitting, a little library house-keeping (boxing comics and cataloging books) and maybe playing a little Pokemon here and there as well. I have some Christmas gifts to put away yet, and I’m making a pork roast for dinner. Should be a relatively quiet, relaxing day, which is my preference over spending the first day of the year with a bunch of family and chaos.

But before I get to any of that, or even sleep to start it all off, I finished my resolution and goal list. For the uninitiated, my resolutions are priority goals – the ones that get the most attention and focus during the year. The other goals are just that…things to work on when I get to them, or when they’re needed to make the resolutions happen.

Like last year, I decided to focus on three main resolutions this year, with a larger list of goals to work on when I have the time/inclination. And since my “money matters” got more than a little out of hand last year, I’m making them my top priorities in 2019. It’s important.

Here are the goals I upgraded to “resolution” status this year:

1) Pay off one major and 2 minor lines of credit
2) Institute a one-paycheck waiting period for all unnecessary, un-budgeted purchases
3) Publish two books

The first one is pretty specific, and even more so in the extended goals list – right down to how much I need to budget/pay each month in order to achieve that goal and keep everything else paid up as well. It’s not going to be fun, and it’s going to require some serious willpower, but it’s necessary and important. If I keep that resolution, it’ll be a serious chunk of debt paid off by the end of the year.

The second one is obviously an attempt to rein in my impulse-spending. I get paid on the 7th and 22nd of each month, so waiting until the purchase is budgeted for in the next paycheck isn’t asking too much. Will I miss out on some sales? Maybe. Will I miss out on some things entirely? More than likely. Is that okay? Absolutely.

Nothing in this category will be something necessary – if I wear a hole in my shoes and need a new pair, fine. If I want a new pair of boots because they’re on sale and I’m bored with my old (perfectly serviceable) pair, that purchase needs to wait, even if I have to budget full-price for it at a later date. Need and want are too completely different things, and by the end of the year, I hope to have retrained the emotional part of my brain to respect the difference and act accordingly, rather than giving in to the impulse to order/buy it right that very minute. I used to be far more practical when it came to purchasing “things” and I need to get back to that mindset again. For my bank account’s sake, among other things.

As for the third…well, it’s time to fish or cut bait, so to speak. I gave myself a lot of leeway when our Lucy-dog was sick, and again when we had to put her down, and again when we adopted the Murph. I’ve gone far too long without releasing anything book-wise, and it’s because I lost my writing confidence somewhere in all that “leeway”. So my third resolution is really more of an ultimatum to myself. Either get something done enough and publish the damn thing, or consign the business side of writing to the trash bin and quit pretending you’re actually trying to make something of it.

I’m not cut out for full-time writing (not until I retire, anyways), and I know that. Mostly because I don’t care to live without a steady paycheck if at all possible. But writing isn’t just something I do, either. No matter how good or bad I am at it, I can’t really stop, because writing stories is very much a part of how I process the world. So the question isn’t whether I should stop writing or not, but whether I should stop bothering to publish what I write. And that is what will be answered at the end of this year, depending on how I do with my third resolution.

So…a pretty hefty “big three” this year, but I feel very strongly that all of these will make my life better in the long run, even if I have to take a hit (or several) in the short term.

Other things on my list include incredibly mundane tasks like brushing my teeth and emptying the basement garbages as well as somewhat more interesting projects like starting a genealogy database for our family histories and continuing to catalog my collections. No matter what I get done (or don’t get done), it should be an interesting year with at least some forward progress by the end.

Here’s to a good year with a lot of determination and willpower. And maybe a few fun surprises along they way, too.

Budgeting Sucks (but Works)

Happy tax-month! Here in the US, April is tax time, and like a good little citizen, I did our taxes this weekend. Our income goes up (nominally) every year, and so does our tax bill. Thank goodness we have our mortgage interest and property taxes to deduct, or it would be even more painful.

In any case, it was slightly less painful this year as far as actually getting it done goes, because I managed to keep better track of my business (publishing) finances last year. And I could have written a lot more expenses off, but I didn’t, in order to claim a (very small) profit so the government won’t be tempted to downgrade BSB to a hobby (which would mean being unable to write off expenses for it ever again). Going along with everything I’ve been discussing for the past few weeks, this just underscores the fact that my business has been just sort of floating along while my head was all screwy, and now that I’m back to a much better “normal”, I really need to up my game and start promoting my books (not to mention publishing new stuff) so I can bump that income up, and at least break even with the business expenses (I’m not right now, obviously).

Stuff to work on. Better mental clarity seems to have helped with both motivation and self-control, so I’m feeling pretty good about being able to work on building BSB this year. And writing/publishing more books.

After I finished the taxes (Turbo Tax is awesome, BTW), I forced myself to go look at the budget I’ve been largely ignoring all week because I was very aware that I’d overspent. The interesting thing is, since I’ve started budgeting, I’ve noticed that even when I overspend, I still have money to cover it, and it’s just a matter of moving things around from one category to another. I have more flexibility, and I’m also less likely to overspend *too much* – I’m far more conscious of where and how I’m spending, so my indiscretions are less damaging. That was an unexpected side effect of budgeting (though it does make sense), but a very helpful one.

I still don’t *like* budgeting. It feels confining and while every budgeting guru out there will tell you that it’s “really not that much work”, for me, taking the time to sit and actually allocate my dollars and then taking more time to actually check in with the budget and reconcile my accounts *is* definitely a lot of work. Mainly because I have about a million other things I’d rather be doing than that. But as restrictive as it feels, it’s actually giving me a lot more freedom to be flexible and allocate dollars to things that I want to make priorities, like debt paydown and investing. Yes, I know. Today was not a good day on Wall Street, but that’s why I’m a long-term investor (and our penny marijuana stocks did just fine during this crash, thankyouverymuch).

Days like this make me think “flea market – yay! Let’s pick up some cheap stocks!” Then of course I sound like my mother when she says she bought a shirt off the clearance rack that she might wear one time because it was “only $2, and you can’t pass up a sale like that”. *sigh*

But I digress.

We were talking about budgeting, and how it sucks, but it works, and like most other humans on the planet, when I learn (or take up) a new trick, I tend to apply the philosophy to *everything* for awhile (until it gets boring). So, given that budgeting has helped with my finances so much, I’ve started “food budgeting” (read: menu planning) too.

I’ve tried just about everything when it comes to menu planning, and nothing ever works, because inevitably, I get to those days where I don’t feel like eating whatever I planned, and then I go “rogue” with the menu, and then the rest of the week is shot and there’s no point in planning the next week since I’ll just do the same thing…

Yes, I know.

I’ve tried pen and paper, calendars, digital planners, online menu planners with recipe books, and none of it ever “sticks” well enough. I think it’s mostly because I love grocery shopping (I know, who doesn’t, right?), and I love food, and I hate buying off a list made from a menu because I’d much rather keep a well-stocked pantry/fridge/freezer and be able to make whatever I happen to feel like having that night.

Only what tends to happen is I’m tired, or rushed (lunches especially), and I spend more time making the decision than actually cooking/eating. Therein lies the rub – I want my decision-making time back…or at least limited to the weekends.

In any case, budgeting money gave me the idea to try “budgeting” with my food. Which is backwards from most menu planning advice. Instead of deciding what to make and then buying the ingredients, I decided to just shop like I normally do, and then “budget” the food I got out over the week (or two weeks, or whatever). The main goal being, of course, to *use* all that lovely fresh produce I got before it goes bad, and also to use up what I have before buying so much new.

I’m only on the first week, and the second day, but so far, I’m feeling pretty good about it. I bought a menu magnet/board to put on the fridge, and made a menu for this week (lunches and dinners) after I shopped, keeping the fresh produce and stuff that’s been in the freezer longer than others in mind. We’ll see if I can keep it up, but last night, I actually remembered to get meat out of the freezer for dinner tonight – a meal we wouldn’t be having if I had to defrost meat right before, and also one we wouldn’t be having on a random, unplanned night, because it takes more time than normal (but I get off early on Tuesday nights, and earlier still tonight due to a dentist appt).

So, budgeting money, budgeting food…who knows what I’ll decide to budget next? I just hope that some of it sticks past the point where I’d normally be bored. That’s the true test of whether or not it’s a good system.

Are you a budget-er? What are some things you budget with besides money? Inquiring minds…