Monday, January 24, 2011

Let's Talk Finances

Gotta clean up our act,
financially speaking.
No, don't turn away! Yes, finances. This talk makes everyone have a different reaction, and those reactions are generally none too pleasant. It may make you angry, for God only knows what reason (okay, maybe we know why), or sad and push you into an unhealthy bit of avoidance. Others just cringe and do what you initially wanted to -- click the "x" in the corner of your screen or turn away, depending on where you are at the moment. Frustration, fear, depression, an impending sense of doom...none of these are fuzzy, happy feelings. Why is that?

I'm like everyone else. I go through a myriad of emotions when it concerns finance, AND I admit to you that I make lots of mistakes. Kinda not tiny ones. And, I'd like to get on top of them a heck of a lot better than I do now. We'd like to have more of an emergency savings plan in place, and deal with way less debt than we currently are. I'm personally not swimming in it -- just floating, perhaps -- but between Dave and I, given the "simpler life" we'd both like to live, the debt ain't helpin'.

Our biggest expenses aren't huge, but they can suck. (I won't use numbers a) to keep some things private and b) because me bitching about a bill that's $300 may make someone else in a very different economic area think "whuh?! Sign me up for THAT!") The "biggest" group is made of the mortgage, our car payments (they're both relatively new, and I find it to be one of the biggest regrets/albatrosses I'm dealing with), credit card debt (yep -- although neither of us uses them anymore, for ANYTHING), some school loans (not s'much mine), and things like our heat and electric.

Stupid things that we find that we need in order to...y'know...survive and exist are our cell phones (we don't have a land line), food, and cable/Internet. While considering whether or not we can live without cable, I decided to call Time Warner Cable (who are the spawn of satan, as far as I'm concerned, along with National Grid, our heat and electric monopoly) to see about getting our package down to the 60-something channel one.

I was nervously told that they have a deal for my current package which would make the 60-something package cost MORE. I felt like I was selling my soul to the devil, but I agreed to keep it. A year before getting married, I called them to say that I was going to cut it because, honestly, I needed to be able to PAY for the wedding, and they gave me a deal. After a year, they took the deal away -- a mere month before upping the price locally, making my bill jump not once but twice. I have since felt that I still don't NEED the hundreds of cable channels (although I do occasionally love my Cooking Channel and Planet Green -- Beekman Boys!), thinking that not too long ago did I live without them. We may have better luck having Dave call with a manly voice -- which sounds sexist and strange, but I tell you, my stepfather is the king at getting prices down this way.

If all else fails, we're considering paying a one-time fee for PlayOn (after trying it for 14 days, free) to watch TV through the Wii. I knew there was a reason I bought that thing. ;-)

There are other random costs, like eating out, things like Netflix, doctor bills (LOTS lately), and a ton more that I can't even think about right now. But, I'm trying to make 2011 the year of difference (finished our collages! More on those later...), so by focusing on the positive and the possible unforeseen wonderfulness of life changes, rather than thinking about how scary they may be, it seems better than just saying "we're going to change, period."

So, I first ask myself what we love and feel that we need, then figure out how to make it happen. Isn't this the best way to deal with life? Here's what I'm thinking:

Priority #1: Keeping the food as natural as we can. This is something that we've already started to try, as far as money's concerned, but I've finally come up with a way to keep "eating out" out of the equation. I don't think that it's completely viable to cut out restaurant meals completely. However, if we can remember the last time that we ate out and where it was...well, it's not time to go. For example, I can remember that the last meal we had out was at 99 Steakhouse in New Hartford (and if you want to get technical, we've had Subway more recently). So, even though I may be exhausted after rehearsal tonight and Dave will still be rundown and cruddy feeling, this doesn't mean that we have to turn to a restaurant to eat. I've bulked us up on homemade soup (and in the freezer, so there's no excuse a month from now) and we always have go-to pasta or panini sandwiches if we need to.
Priority #2: While groceries are still something that we splurge on, and gladly do so, we HAVE to find a way to keep grocery costs down more. I find myself wishing that we had more fruits and veggies on hand ALL the time, since it's what most of our diet should consist of. So, very shortly (like, this week), I will start planning our garden for the upcoming thaw. It's also a way to get my mind around the fact that winter isn't forever, that -20 degree weather (yes, that's a negative) will go away. Cannot WAIT! I'll consider our needs and amounts of items that we'll want to use, and determine what items will e best canned for when the snow starts to fall again. Thoughtful gardening!
Priority #3: Paying off debt to help increase savings and get rid of car payments. So, we're ecstatic that some of Dave's big bills will be disappearing a little later this year, freeing him to...well, put more money towards different debt. He's doing SUCH a great job of plugging away,  I've really gotta take his lead and do the same. My credit card bill (it's just one and not a huge monthly bill but, ICK, interest) needs to go bye-bye so that the card can be used for emergencies only. I'd like to focus on getting rid of the SUV payment by putting more towards the
Priority #4: Keep doing what works. This seems simple enough. I've got to take a step back and praise ourselves for what we've done correctly. If you're down on yourself for all that you've done wrong and just obsess on that, thinking about finances really IS a negative experience. Except with food (and sometimes when it does come to food), we try to buy things on sale -- pretty much everything. So, we'll keep doing that! On top of that, we try to think about what we need and save up for it rather than just splurging when we feel like it. We've got some jars that we're using to save cash for certain "future things" we particularly want -- and they even look kinda cute. It's the little things.
Priority #5: Stop doing what doesn't. What doesn't work? Lying to yourself, or spouse. Not writing down your spending. (This month, we're writing down EVERYTHING we buy to analyze our ACTUAL budgets.) Buying because you think you deserve it. Ohhhh, it just keeps going. So, this year, we're going to try to communicate more about our finances, rather than wait until one of us needs help balancing. We're also going to focus more on what we already have -- and we have a lot -- rather than spending needlessly. When we do spend, I'm visiting Goodwill more and only purchase something when I know it's the best price I can get. This way, there's also LOTS of thought involved, and less guilt later on.
Priority #6: Prioritize what to spend money on. I'm quite sure Dave and I have different ideas on what to spend our money on. I am into home decor, after all. ;-) But, what we do agree on is the fact that our house and future gets the extra ka-ching. So, while it may look like we're spending a lot once in awhile, it's on home repair and upping the value -- and making it a more pleasant place to live. Of course, we'll be getting quotes when using others' services and always aiming for the lowest bidder...when not tackling the project on our own.

So, are you using the new year as an excuse to get on top of any financials? It may be scary or suck, but we're hoping to make it a regular, easier conversation. Good luck! Ka-ching!!


  1. Maybe it's just because things get much more complicated when you get married, but I really don't find myself getting too worked up about finances much. I know what has to be paid and around what time of the month. So, I plan ahead for it. But, I still allow myself the wiggle room to get something else if the opportunity presents itself and I feel I can swing it. (Darn those special Kohl's sales!)

    I am working to whittle down my Visa bill as a long-term project and making pretty decent progress on it. Of course, with the new house, there are plenty of things to get, too. (Just starting to update the kitchen and appliances, for example). But, I'll do what I can and just go from there.

    I've just found that doing what I can and allowing for pop-up things (movie I really wanted to see, maybe appetizers out with some friends, book that looks really interesting, etc.) helps keep me on track for the other stuff, more so than if I just didn't allow myself that freedom. I think I'd be more miserable, actually LOL.

    As a thought, if you really want more veggies on hand, stock up during the frozen food sales. The frozen veggies are actually just as good as fresh (because they are usually harvested and then flash-frozen right away, so they retain much of their original nutrients, as opposed to canned). And, obviously, they can be kept for awhile, too.

  2. is a great tracker of spending!
    Bill & I go without cable & use bunny ears for the basic stations. For my Real Housewives fix & other cable shows we use hulu or
    I'm not a TV fan though so I could see how this could be a non-negotiable for some.
    I called TWC myself today in hopes of lowering our cell phone bill but unfortunately we're already on their cheapest plan, it just feels like wayy too much to be paying just to have a phone as we don't have a landline either, but, I guess that's adulthood for ya! :)
    We assess our budget and goals monthly, I think financial awareness is the number 1 inhibitor of unecessary spending so the fact that you guys obviously are on top of you cashflow in & cashflow out will help you meet your goals immensely!

  3. Thanks for your comments! Bob, I've gotta tell ya -- even before getting married, a long-term relationship makes budgeting and finances a completely different animal! Glad to hear your tips. We do stock up on the organic frozen veggies when they're on sale -- as I said, I do keep an eye out for the sales, especially when it comes to organics. I personally prefer frozen to canned, but I'd like to get into pickling this summer (more for me than Dave -- I looooove pickles and other sour stuff).