How to Live on a Budget and Love It

For many years I wouldn’t have anything to do with a budget because I couldn’t stand the idea of anyone—or anything—telling me how to spend my money. And where did that get me? Into one big financial mess.

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Every month, when I ran out of money, I would turn to MasterCard and Visa for a bailout. Really bad idea.

What I learned from going through that experience and finding my way back to solvency is that, as much as we may loathe it, a budget is the ticket to financial happiness―not the straitjacket I feared it would be. I’ve come to prefer to call this a “spending plan” rather than a  budget, but honestly, the terms are interchangeable. It’s just a way to pre-spend your income on paper first.

A good spending plan gives every dollar a specific job to do. Once you have it just the way you want it, the plan becomes a handy road map for keeping your finances on track.

So, take a deep breath and let’s walk through the basics of creating a simple budget, or spending plan.

Step 1: Write down your total take-home monthly income. This is the easy part. Jot down what you earn. Because many expenses are billed monthly, it makes good sense to use monthly income to create your budget.

Step 2: Write down your fixed expenses. Start with fixed bills like rent, mortgage, car payment, credit-card debt and insurance, then factor in other monthly costs that are always the same. These are your essential fixed expenses.

Step 3: List your variable expenses. You know you’ll have these bills, but the amounts vary. Examples are your phone, utilities, food, household expenses, gasoline, medication, public transportation, shoes and clothing. You can assign an estimated amount to each based on past experience, rounding to the closest $10.

Step 4: List reasonable amounts for nonessential expenses. This includes entertainment, eating out, hobbies and other ways you spend money on a regular basis.

Step 5: Find the extras. Go to your checkbook register, credit card statements, Quicken reports or what have you, to see what expenses you’ve left out. You’ll likely see items for car maintenance and repair, gifts, vacations, Christmas and holidays. For items that do not recur monthly, determine the annual cost, then divide by 12 to see how much you should set aside each month to anticipate that irregular expense.

Step 6: Figure out your totals. Add up your expenses, then subtract that amount from your income. Ideally, you’ll come out in the black, with at least a little money left over. But if your expenses exceed your income, you’ll see a negative sum. Don’t panic—this is just the start of an ongoing process.

Step 7: See where you can cut. If you came up short, go back to your monthly expenses and see what you can get rid of. Look first to your nonessential expenses. Which items can you remove altogether for a while (eating out seems like a fine target; perhaps hobby expenses, for a season)? Keep going through the list, making adjustments until your total expenses are less than your income.

Step 8: Follow your spending plan as closely as possible. Track your spending every day. Take notes and research ways you’ll be able to do even better next month. At month’s end, add up your actual spending and compare it with what you planned. Use this information to create the next month’s Spending Plan.

Even if you find yourself in a particularly tight financial position right now, take heart. As you pay off debts and find more ways to cut expenses, you’ll begin to sense a significant loosening of financial pressure. Soon you’ll be ready to add new categories to your spending plan for things like saving for a new car, home improvements or going back to college.

The sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll be on your way to reaching financial freedom.

Best Toys for Kids Ages 3 to 7

I saw the most amazing thing recently. A little girl I’m guessing to be about 2-years-old, reached for her daddy’s iPhone, turned it on, input the password then sat back to watch something that required no effort on her part. It was seriously cute for about 20 seconds, until I realized that wasn’t the first time she’d done that.

I watched that little child go from being actively engaged with her parents and her surroundings to being a totally passive observer. Which brings me to the subject of toys.

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The best toys–and the ones we should be vigorously introducing to children from a very young age–are toys that promote creativity and stimulate mental development, while at the same time are fun to play with.

Selective Focus Makes Life Good

I kinda’ let the cat out of the bag the other day, when I told you that the hubs and I sold our big house and are now living in a tiny apartment.

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But don’t cry for me. We are having the time of our lives.

Living in this tiny space is mostly tolerable because I know it is temporary. I know the exact day, date and time we’re moving out. I’m learning that I can handle just about anything challenging as long as I know it won’t last forever.

I’ve also learned the value and joy of choosing to focus on things that are positive for which I am grateful.

Kitchen. What’s not to enjoy about a kitchen (I use the term loosely) in which I can make dinner, rinse the dishes, load them into the dishwasher, put something into the fridge and move clothes from washer to dryer—without having to take more than two steps. That’s tiny. Amazing, too.

Mary’s Big Remodel – Part 17

They say that a picture is worth 1,000 words. That’s good because I don’t have the words to describe just how happy and grateful I am for this amazing transformation. Even more amazing, we’re under budget with only trim around the window and inserts in the drawers left to purchase.

I didn’t know a person could be as grateful for a sink as I am for this:

And this ….

Just in case you forgot what this 40-year old kitchen looked like last July, here’s a reminder ….

Our work is not done … we still have to clear and clean the patio where we’ve been staging, storing and building stuff and then finish and furnish the family room or, as I like to call it, the rest of  my new Great Room :)

Mary’s Big Remodel … Part 16

Well … what a week. It started with this truck showing up bright and early on Monday. Somewhere in there is a countertop with my name on it  …

Sure enough … and here she comes …

It took a couple of hours of precise and amazing work by these skilled craftsmen to make all those pieces of granite look like this:

All of the appliances are now in place, hooked up and working. And I have a sink …

Harold promised me a new kitchen by Thanksgiving, and I have no doubt now that it’s going to happen. Only a few things like the backsplash and range hood to go. I’m already washing anything that isn’t nailed down in the new dishwasher (it’s so quiet I keep checking to see if it’s stopped working) and cooking on this new range …

I have no idea why the colors seem change from one pic to the next and why it’s so difficult to see that this is a U-shaped kitchen with a counter height bar, and there is plenty of room inside that U for two people to cook and  do kitchen stuff at the same time.  Must be my awesome photographic skills. Yep, that’s gotta’ be it. I’m so good with things like color calibration and compositing and depth of field and aperature. Stuff like that. Yeah. Sure that’s it.

Next week … the Grand Finale!

Mary’s Big Remodel – Part 15

Well … another week, and a lot more progress. As you may recall when the new floor was installed, all of the baseboards had to come off, including the custom woodwork Harold did in our entryway. The plans was that the installers would remove those pieces of base, and we’d reinstall them later. Apparently not all of the installation crew was aware of this plan. Every last inch was thrown out, never to be seen again.

This week, Harold milled all new baseboards and trim. It’s all installed now as well as new baseboards in the family room.

Mary’s Big Remodel – Part 14

I am jamming to get this update posted while it is still technically the weekend. Somewhere in the world is it still Sunday, I’m just sure of it.

Last week you’ll remember I told you I’d been assured we’re over the messy part. Now, I will admit that “messy” can mean different things to different people, but to me, messy is not over. But we’re making progress, to wit:

Ms. Lovely Dishwasher is now in place and ready to be hooked up. And no I have not removed that protective film which may be the reason it looks a little off color. Underneath it really is stainless, and the handle has not been attached.

The range is in the room now, ready to slide in as soon as the counter is installed.

This is where the refrigerator will go …

Tomorrow Claudio the Electrician will be here to power up the appliances, install pendant lights over the peninsula and install the new ceiling lights. Glory be.

Here’s a shot of the range hood being “dry fitted” just to make sure everything lines up right. It does. And no … it is not white! It too is totally covered with protective wrap, but its is white instead of clear.

Yesterday we went to the biggest stone yard you can even imagine to meet out two granite slabs. This was new for me. I had no idea how this was done, but that’s part of the process. The sample we saw at IKEA was only a sample. Since granite is a natural product there can be variations.

Here they are, two slabs from the same stone, each with its own official serial number. The pattern/color is called “Sunset Gold.” I don’t see gold, but I don’t always see things the way others do :)

And a close up …

The counters will be officially measured this coming Wed., then installed on Nov. 11.

We still need to pick out the backsplash tile that will go in the usual place that backsplash goes, as well as the entire wall behind the range hood. I found some that I really like, but I’m not sure. It’s at Overstock.com of all places (I know, who buys tiles sight unseen online?) It’s shiny glass tile in a color called “Smoke.” I’m not sure we should be associating smoke with a new kitchen, but it is quite pretty.  Check it out HERE and tell me what you think.

I’m thinking about a big Grand Kitchen Re-Opening celebration once this is all done. I believe the menu will be all Swedish.

Get it?