new year

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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4 New Year’s Resolutions You Can Actually Do

The New Year is a great time to incorporate healthier habits into your life, but what’s the point of a monumental change if it is only going to to discourage you from actually doing it?

These are four New Year’s Resolutions that you – yes YOU – can actually accomplish. And the payoff for some of these can be huge! Happy New Year all: let’s make 2016 the best ever! No more excuses – I know you can do this.

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1. Eat vegetables for breakfast.

According to the CDC, less than 9% of Americans actually have enough vegetables in their regular diet. Although we tend to think about eating healthy in terms of cutting out things like fats and carbs, we also need to focus on putting in the right foods – and vegetables are the best way to get essential vitamins and minerals, while most also tend to be low in calories.

After watching a few of my favorite bloggers do the Whole 30 challenge this past year I realized that one place we could -but usually don’t – eat veggies is breakfast! This year, try to incorporate veggies into your breakfast at least once a week – and then maybe more!

2. Save up for Christmas.

I know Christmas is just barely behind us, but it will be here again in just a year! Even though we always know it’s coming, most of us don’t think about saving money all year to buy presents for people we love.

This year, Massimo and I saved up all our cashback rewards from our credit cards, and all our Amazon credit from selling back law school books to use for Christmas presents. Although it didn’t cover all the gifts we bought, it took A LOT of the stress out of shopping. This year, I hope to do the same thing, and put aside a little each month so we can freely buy gifts next holiday season.

3. Use a personal budget app.

The beginning of the year is the PERFECT time to make better financial choices. Massimo and I made some big changes last January, and I’m so glad we did! Keeping track of our household income and expenses helped in a million ways – everything from taxes to buying health insurance to putting more in savings!

But if treating your household finances more like a business scares you, don’t bite off more than you can chew: start with a personal budget app to track and limit your regular spending. We use Goodbudget, which has a website and app. The app syncs across our phones, too – so when Massimo spends money on gas, groceries, or aluminum foil, it shows up in my app, and I know exactly how much we have left! How it works is that you set up virtual “envelopes,” with labeled categories, which you fill regularly or whenever you want. And don’t worry if you have no idea how much to put in – you can (and will) adjust them all the time. The point is just to start!

4. Speaking of money, what if you gave away more of it?

Nonprofits consider the holiday season as their most important – because many of them get up to half of their annual contributions between October and New Years! I’m not complaining that we give so much away during the season of joy and hope, but what if those charities could rely on your contributions all year long? How much more could they do?

What can you do? Think of giving away as a regular household expense – after all, it is better to give than to receive, right? Every week, every month, every quarter – give something away! And try to make it a regular thing, so you stay in the habit and so that the nonprofits can rely on your contribution.

What are your New Year’s Resolutions? Is it big or small? How did you do with last year’?

-debarbibee

A New Year

This is the Devenney clan at the end of 2014 - always growing.

This is the Devenney clan at the end of 2014 – always growing.

2014 was a bridge year. It was the first year in a long time that I didn’t move. The last couple of years have all brought something new: graduating college, starting law school, starting a relationship, then getting married. And the next few years will bring new things: finishing school, moving, then starting my career. But 2014 was here, just sandwiched in-between years of surprises and changes, bridging them together and giving me space to move forward and breathe.

Although there were no big things for me this year, this year was no slouch. I started two new jobs, got closer than ever to completing my education, fell more in love with my husband, committed to eating healthier and even went through a spout of exercising.  We traveled to New York City, Virginia, and Ohio. We got through two seasons of unemployment, and began to really, tangibly dream about our future. We also said good-bye to my beloved Great-Grandmother.

2014 also brought lots of exciting changes to our family. We welcomed a new sister-in-law, Mayra, to our family. We also saw two cousins get married to beautiful women. My brother, William, was around for the longest stretch of time in years. We are preparing to welcome a new little cousin to the Bos clan. My cousin, Ben, and his wife welcomed their first girl. My sister, Rebekah, got a new job and started a new chapter of her life in Queens, New York. Lots of others got new jobs, and new homes, and new girlfriends or boyfriends or just friends. It was a growing year for our family, for sure.

2014 will also be marked in my mind, though, as a year of suffering. Although we, through God’s mercy, have been spared suffering ourselves, Massimo and I have watched a number of family members suffer this year. Watching someone you love so deeply go through such pain is hardly being spared suffering yourself; it feels so real. Some suffering was through outside circumstances – things no one could have seen coming or changed even if they had. With these family members, we pray for protection and peace, and thank the Lord that He sustains us every day.

With others, the suffering has not even been exposed yet, but we see what is lurking behind the closet door where they hide their bad choices. I have been searching for a word this year for when someone you love, hope the best for, and know can do better does something that can and will hurt them. You want them to – and know they can – have the best life, but they chose darkness, and self-hurt, and separation. Disappointment? Anger? Confusion, for sure. I haven’t found a word, but it is the word for the kind of pain that comes from loving so much. For these family members, we pray constantly, that they will recognize their power of free will, that their hearts will be softened to the hope of the Lord, and they will realize the light that comes with believing.

In 2014 we hoped. We have been given the right to dream with the Lord, and we will exercise that right again in 2015. The light is stronger than the darkness, love is deeper than hate, and we will hold onto these truths until they are all that remain. We will cling to these truths especially this year, as I finally exit the stress and security of education. After 20 years of classrooms and books, I will finally say good-bye, reap the rewards and pay the price for my years of schooling. We will be moving, Massimo will start his second guitar, I will take the biggest exam of my life, and start a new career – and these are just the things that are changing between the two of us! 2015 will likely be one of the biggest years of my life, and I am experiencing all the ranges of scared and excited you can imagine.

But no matter what, I will hold fast to the hope of God’s sovereignty, the only sure thing we have. We will celebrate, and pray, and work harder than ever before. 2015 – let’s go.

How would you characterize your 2014? What do you look forward to in 2015?

-debarbibee