Month: December 2016

Financial Goals for 2017

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Like any game plan, financial goals will have to adjusted in response to bumps along the way. It is better to start with a plan that just needs changes, than to be struck with a crisis and have no clue at all where to start!

With 2017 just days away, how are you getting yourself or your family off with the right financial game plan? These are a few of our financial goals for the next year. I hope they help inspire you to make small changes with big impact!

1. Update our budget.

I am a zero-based budget girl, which means that when incomes change and expenses change, so does our budget. A couple of years ago I updated our budget every month – but it became impossible to keep up with! Now, I’m making a general plan for the year, and I can update it when significant things happen. If we make a little extra or lose income, we adjust our expenses to get back to zero! (Okay, in our case I think we have ten dollars at the end, but that’s “wiggle room.”)

Bonus! You can look at my own zero-based budget template by following this link: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1E4MWBflO6FqEigl6c0QbH7i7VNEJA8ejtZLWELlj0XA/edit?usp=sharing

Once you view the budget, copy and paste it to edit and make it your own!

2. Save at least $15,000.00 for a down payment on a house.

We really, really, really want a house. We like to set ambitious goals, so we have to work at them, you know? But first, we had to build up our emergency savings.  This year, we established our emergency savings, and are on our way – thanks to an automatic savings plan and our increased budget – to making this home-ownership goal a reality. It will be a sacrifice, but we can do it!

If a house seems like a far-off dream to you, start with the basics from my post “3 Steps to Being Good With Money.”

3. Make regular contributions to our HSA.

We have had an HSA for the past couple of years, and I basically use it as a tax-deduction “funnel” for health care expenses. We don’t go to the doctor regularly enough to keep money sitting in there. I would rather keep our savings in a place I can use for any needs that arise – health care, fixing our existing cars, new car, etc. What I do is when I have a health care expense, I deposit enough money in the HSA to cover that expense, use it to pay the bill or reimburse myself for paying the bill, and voila it is paid and I get the tax deduction. This year, I carved out the tiniest piece I could in our budget and will make twenty-five dollar monthly deposits into our HSA. I know it’s comically small, but I figured that over time, we will eventually have an emergency health care expense, and I will feel really good knowing he have at least a couple of hundred dollars stashed away to help pay the bill. Also, I learned that money in an HSA doesn’t go away – even if you change health insurance plans! You can still use it, you just can’t make additional deposits to the HSA.

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I married younger, but look at how cute he is? Age is just a number, after all….

4. Establish an IRA for my husband, and make regular contributions.

I began my IRA through my employer when I started my job last year. I was, coincidentally, twenty-five years old. Since then, I have made regular contributions, and my employer has matched them. My balance is only a couple of thousand dollars at the moment, but it will make a big difference down the road. My husband turned twenty-five this year, and has no such plan through his job. He also anticipates being self-employed some day, so retirement is his responsibility alone. Accordingly, in January of 2017, we will establish his IRA and make regular contributions – roughly what I am contributing. To start us off on a positive foot, we will cash in a small federal savings bond I happen to have and use the proceeds as a foundation. By the end of his first year, he and I will be on roughly the same track and on our way to a financially stable future.

5. Stick to our budget.

What good is a budget if you don’t stick to it? After some tough conversations, we believe we have pin-pointed our problem with sticking strictly with the budget: extras! Extra needs or extra incomes don’t fit in the budget and we never know what to do with them. For example, what if we have used up our eating out budget for the month, and a friend we really want to spend time with asks to go out to eat? Or what if one of us gets a bonus, and one of us wants to use it to catch up on the budget we’re breaking, while the other one wants to use it to buy things which are really needed? See what I mean? Extras. To solve – at least hopefully – this issue, we have included a “slush fund” in our budget. This small, cash-only cushion will be used for the extras that inevitably arise. We have also agreed to treat bonuses like bonuses, which will happen when we truly stick to our budget. *fingers crossed*

6. Pay off two more student loans.

This year, I paid off one student loan and I’m half-way through another! I’ve thrown bonuses, tax refunds, and cash found on the street at these loans and can’t wait to slaughter them. I anticipate that our tax refund will pay off the one I am attacking now, so that leaves eight months to hit another one. By the end of the year, if we accomplish this goal, we will reduce our monthly payments by almost fifty dollars and save hundreds in interest! Motivation!!

What are your financial goals for 2017? What is in your family playbook for the next six months or year?

-D. E. Barbi Bee

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The Reason for the Season

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It’s not about what you get, it’s about what you give.

We say that to kids all the time, don’t we? I know I heard it many times over the years, when circling ideal spoils from Toys R Us catalogs and American Girl magazines.

I assumed, of course, that it meant not to focus on what I wanted, but on the gifts I would buy for my brothers and sisters. So I would go out to the Christmas fair at school or the dollar store and buy erasers and mini screwdriver kits and chocolate bars, to distract myself from the fact that I would get way better stuff on December 25.

As I grew a little older, I learned that not everyone has so much joy at this time of year. There are many who have explained how depressed they get in December, thanks often to both cold weather and a family that they wish was very different. Sometimes they are missing someone they lost, or sometimes they take note that they never even got the family they had always longed for. It is, surely, a season of shadows for many.

But this year, I am learning even more about not just giving, but gratitude.

In my job, I often see people in very low points in their lives. Occasionally my clients are in a great and exciting point in life, other times they made a big mistake they have to try to clean up; but other times, they are simply doing the best they can and still can’t catch a break.

Just yesterday, I attended a foreclosure mediation with a couple who worked hard and lived within their means their entire lives. But a family crisis left them jobless, and – perhaps soon – now homeless. Later in the evening I visited the home of a woman who was wheelchair-bound and was being sued for the loan balance owed on a car that had long been repossessed. As she told us her story in her freezing cold, dank, cheerless home, I became overwhelmed.

Her story cannot be shared here, but when I went back to my warm, seasonally-decorated home, where my husband was cooking us dinner to enjoy together, I was filled with the sense that I was a very small person in the face of the needs of this world.

I could  not shake the idea that I had to do something – I took this job to help people, after all. Both my boss and I will do something to help these neighbors, but even that will not repair all their on-going physical and emotional needs.

To compare, my issues at this moment are being frustrated by the clutter of my closet, my lack of a washing machine, and my procrastination in signing up for health insurance. My needs are so small, that when my husband was blessed with a gracious bonus this week, we actually have no idea what to do with it!

[See what I mean? Big issues, right?]

So this year, take the idiom we repeat so often to children to heart. And don’t use it as a distraction for thinking about what you want, truly practice a heart of gratitude. Give what you can. Give all day and whenever you see a need – give to charities and the food bank and the fuel bank and the homeless shelter and anyone who has a need you can see. (I can’t tell you how much less stressful it is grocery shopping to someone in need – it’s a pleasure, not a chore, I promise!)

My grandmother always used to love saying that Jesus is the reason for the season. And He is – Christmas, despite its many secular garments, is at its heart a celebration of the birth of our God on this planet. It was and is a gift, and calls for our giving to others in the small – but meaningful – ways that we can, without any expectation of something in return.

-D. E. Barbi Bee