Financial Peace

Financial Goals for 2017

gameplan_chalkboard_0.jpeg

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.

15622697_10154480995677798_3298568641295391179_n.jpg

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

Initial Thoughts on Dave Ramsey’s “Financial Peace University”

Our life these days is more about counting quarters than bond dividends, but we have hope for the future.

Our life these days is more about counting quarters than bond dividends, but we have hope for the future.

Earlier this year, my husband and I started a class at our church based on Dave Ramsey’s popular curriculum called “Financial Peace University.” I wanted to document some of our initial reactions, and encourage others to take advantage of the new year as the perfect time to get your finances in order.

Why we signed up.

When first discussing the class, a lot of the introductory materials discussed credit card debt, mortgages, and saving for kids’ college – things that didn’t apply at all to us! So, I thought, why bother? But sitting through the first class, we liked Dave Ramsey’s logical, no-excuses approach to finances. Plus, we have some big financial dreams for our future, and so we both decided it couldn’t hurt (except the $99.00 it cost for the materials – an investment for us, to be sure) to make sure we were on the right track and armed with tools to help us achieve our goals.

Our goals.

This year, as I’ve discussed before, we have a lot of changes coming to our family, mostly revolving around my finally finishing school and starting my career (YAY four months till graduation!). That means paying for the Bar exam and application, taking three months off from work to study for the exam, trying to find a new place to live, saving up for a house, and starting our long-term goals of each of us being small-business owners. These may sound like tall orders, especially with tens of thousands in student debt weighing us down, but the beginning of a new year is the PERFECT time to start working towards those new goals.

Why?  Because of Uncle Sam, of course! We haven’t even filed our 2014 tax returns yet, but we already have to start thinking a year ahead. Combine the new ObamaCare issues with my husband now being an independent contractor and you have a potential for a tax nightmare! But the key is staying organized and staying focused: two things that we thought fit perfectly with Dave Ramsey’s class.

What we have learned about ourselves.

We are about half-way through the course, and we’ve already learned so much about ourselves in this class. The first big thing we learned is that we are very young to be doing all this finance-y, technical stuff – but that is GOOD! So many people said to us, “Oh, it’s so great you are doing this now, when you are young. If only I had done that.” We’ve heard about a million versions of this, and mostly it is said by people who ended up in a crisis before they learned how to handle their money. We have not – thankfully! – been in a financial crisis. But it can happen to anyone, at any time, and we are very glad we are taking the time make a plan to deal with whatever crisis is around the corner.

The second thing we’ve learned about ourselves is that we are freaks. Dave Ramsey quotes lots of statistics in the course – from the average household income, to the average credit card debt, to the average car payment – and none of it matches even closely to our life. Our income is below-average, our credit card debt is zero and we have no car payments or mortgage. On the other hand, we have tons of student debt (all from me). Not fitting into the mold of his target audience is a little frustrating, but it also makes us feel good that we are both less than 25 and already are ahead in so many ways. We are also really grateful that both of us grew up with parents that taught us the cores of finances: everything from giving, saving, spending, to buying used cars.

What we won’t do for financial peace.

The biggest thing we’ve learned, though is what we won’t do to be debt-free. Dave Ramsey’s approaches are pretty extreme, and are really intended to help people break bad habits and prevent them from getting sucked into a debt-glorifying culture. Let’s face it: this entire economy is built on debt, expects you to have debt, and does not encourage financial responsibility.

And these are principles we are totally on board with, especially since we believe that as stewards of God’s gifts, we have a responsibility and obligation – as trustees of a trust – to faithfully care for and grow these gifts. However, we also have an obligation to do with those gifts, not just store them up and watch them grow. We believe God has made specific calls on our lives, calls that can be expensive. We have passions that we believe must be fulfilled, and we have to care for ourselves and our bodies in the mean time.

For example, so many debt-free stories speak fondly of the days of “PB&J sandwiches and Ramen noodles,” in other words, eating the cheapest garbage you can in order to pay off your mortgage early. I’m really happy for people that can do that, and I’m inspired by their hard work. But we can’t, and shouldn’t, eat peanut butter and jelly and Ramen noodles every day. Our nutrition is something we take pretty seriously; we don’t go all-organic, but we do watch our sodium, empty carbs, and processed foods. Because we feel it is so important to spend a little extra on groceries, we can’t put that money towards paying off debt, but that is something we feel is very important and we won’t sacrifice it just to say we are debt-free.

In a more extreme example, we were discussing last week whether we should delay looking for a house so that we can pay off my student loans first. For us, buying a house is not just a choice between a house now or a house later, but a question of my husband’s dream job and our dream of a family sooner rather than later. In the end, we’ve reached a middle-ground on the question of “when,” but it posed a great philosophical issue for us: what should we sacrifice to be debt-free? Every family has to decide for themselves, as thoughtful trustees, what is over that line.

One thing is for sure, this class has gotten us thinking and talking and even making changes in our lives that we may not otherwise have. And for that, I’m grateful that we signed up.

-debarbibee

Have you taken Dave Ramsey’s class? When and why? What did you learn about yourself through the course?