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Three Secrets of Successful Budgeting

I wish I could come up with a better word than “budget” for managing money. While I’ve made peace with the word, for me it still conjures up synonyms like whip, drudgery and cruel master. Personally, I prefer the more elegant term Spending Plan, but for now, because budget is so universally understood, let’s just go with it, all preconceived notions aside.

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While there are many ways to budget, none are perfect. A budget is a tool you develop to fit your lifestyle. There is no single, guaranteed budget method, form or spreadsheet.

No budget is fail proof. Even a template or financial software that fits your temperament and lifestyle is not guaranteed to change your life in the same way a power tool sitting on the garage shelf is not going to put together that new wall unit for you, while you kick back and watch TV. You have to do the work.

Budgets are extraordinarily useful, a lot like training wheels. They can help you get going and give you confidence as you learn to balance. There may come a time that you’ll become an expert “cyclist” and outgrow your need for the training wheels. Or you may want to leave them on for confidence and security should you hit a bump in the road. 

Secrets of My Inflight Survival Plan

You may know that I travel a lot. What you probably don’t know (and how would you since I’ve only told about three people, ever) is that I have a flight routine, which I adhere to strictly. Honestly, unless you knew this ahead of time, you would not be able to detect this at all, even if you were my traveling companion.

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After watching the news with airline personnel talking about inflight safety and how to respond if there is an emergency in flight, I decided that my personal routine might not be so weird after all.

NATURAL FIBERS ONLY. I wear only clothing made from cotton, linen or wool when I fly. Statistics bear out the fact that most people who die in a plane crash don’t die from the crash itself but from the related fire and smoke. Because I assume I will be exposed to both before I get to my destination, fiber content is important. Man-made fibers like polyester, rayon and nylon don’t burn. They melt. And they melt at a fairly low temperature on the scale of melting things. I do not want my clothes melting into my skin. Cotton, linen and wool do not catch fire quickly, which will buy me time.

LONG PANTS, LONG SLEEVES. Exposed skin is going to be a problem in a fiery situation. Mere seconds could mean the difference between getting out of there or succumbing to the conditions. If my skin is burning my chances are reduced. I wear long cotton pants, long sleeved shirt, top or jacket and shoes with cotton socks. It’s my armor. Always. And if my jacket has a hood, all the better. 

How High the Catalogs

 LADIES! If you live in the Philadelphia/Baltimore areas, let’s meet up at Sandy Cove Ministries on the Chesapeake Bay, Oct 13-14 for “Girls Night Out and a Day Off!” Click HERE for  details including cost and overnight accommodation options. I would love to meet you (your daughters, mothers and friends, too) at this faith-based event, where I will be speaking at all four sessions. Check it out. I hope to see you there! 

Something is different this year. First, it seems like the holiday season is starting earlier than usual, which is just fine with me.

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I love Thanksgiving and Christmas so much, I like stretching the season a bit.  But an avalanche of mail order catalogs? Most of them arriving in late August? Not so much.

I’m kinda’ surprised that this year, more than recent years past, far more catalogs are arriving in the mail.

Here’s what I find puzzling: Given the popularity of online shopping, why are companies spending so much money on paper catalogs? These things in full-color are not cheap to produce. But I’m sure marketing geniuses have been paid plenty to figure out that we respond well to hard copy catalogs. And that scares me a little. My best intentions to not order my brains out can easily fall by the wayside once I flip open to see what’s inside.

It’s Only Too Late to Save for Retirement if You Don’t Start Now!

Does the dreaded question, “How much money will I need in retirement” tie your stomach in knots? Millions of your peers are in the same boat having saved precious little, if anything at all, to supplement their Social Security benefits during retirement.

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Waiting until age 50 or 60 to start saving for retirement is not ideal. It’s late but not too late. Anything you do now can improve your future.

DIVE IN. You don’t have the luxury to gently ease into retirement savings waters. Forget about the mistakes you’ve made in the past and dive in. Focus your full attention on the years ahead that you have to save.

KEEP WORKING. Every situation is unique but generally as long as you are healthy, you need to keep working. You may be tempted to hang it up on the first day you can draw Social Security benefits, but do you really want to join the 10 million American retires who are currently struggling to live on Social Security alone? Enough said.

Think Sacrifice, Not Deprivation

I have a dark financial past. I didn’t set out to ruin my life. In fact, I truly believed I was improving things for myself and my family. I used all the credit I could get my hands on to create a lifestyle we so richly deserved.

When everything began to spin out of control, I tried to stop using credit cards to spend money we didn’t have. I tried to fit into a budget. But all of that spelled just one thing for me: Deprivation.

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I felt like I was being punished the same way that a prisoner is deprived of freedom and personal choice. I tried to reform but my feelings were much stronger than my desire to change. A battle raged inside me and my overwhelming feelings won all too often.

Survival Debt

For years I’ve been telling my readers there are two kinds of debt: safe debt and toxic debt.

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Safe debt is secured debt―it has collateral connected to it. Your home mortgage is a safe debt. You had to qualify for it, so at least one person somewhere looked at your financial situation determined that you can afford it.

If things change and you can’t or you change your mind and want out of the debt, there’s a way out. You can sell the collateral or just hand it over to the lender and call it even. Safe debt gives you a way out. You have the equivalent of a safety net so you don’t ruin your life.

Toxic debt, on the other hand, is stupid debt you get on your signature alone without qualifying, without anyone caring about whether or not you can afford it.

Toxic, poisonous debt comes from allowing credit purchases to revolve on a credit-card account, opting to pay only the minimum monthly payment. It’s the terrible reality of spending sprees and frivolous decisions.

Compulsive Chopper

I just did something I have not done in years. I took the weekend—plus the holiday—off. It was wonderful. Had friends over. Moved our backyard barbecue inside as it was terrifyingly hot and windy.

And I made salsa. From scratch.

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I used my absolutely favorite kitchen gadget, the Vidalia Chop Wizard to chop the stuff that needed chopping (tomatoes, onions, bell pepper, jalapeno, garlic, cilantro). This thing is amazing.

It chopped the tomatoes fast and uniformly—without launching seeds and pulp across the room or turning the whole thing into a squished mess.

Then the onions, peppers, jalapeno, cilantro, garlic all mixed together with lime juice, salt and pepper—done in about 5 minutes start to finish. Yum!

I love my Chop Wizard. I look for things to chop just because it’s so much fun. I’m a chopping fool! And the results are always so amazing. I even took Chop Wizard to the office a while back and held a demonstration for my tolerant staff.

The Cost of Dipping Into a Retirement Account

More people are taking loans from their retirement accounts (401(k), 403(b) or what have you) than ever, simply because they can. Here’s the problem: Seeing one’s retirement account as a savings account or worse, a personal ATM machine. That’s so ridiculous I cannot even tell you. Sure it’s your money, but it’s not your money now. It’s for later. It is out of your reach, so you need to get it out of your mind.

Borrowing from the nest egg, from retirement savings

The beauty of an IRS-approved retirement account is that you get to save pre-tax dollars. It’s no secret that what you see in your paycheck is not the full amount you earned.

In fact, the amount in your paycheck is shrinking and many of our elected officials are trying to shrink that even farther by increasing taxes. You know what I mean if you live in California one of the most heavily taxed state with a governor who is threatening to once again increase sales tax, personal income tax, and taxes on small businesses. (Did I mention my husband and I left California for this very reason?) But I digress ….

A retirement account allows you to save your money before it gets taxed. If you take your money home, you have to earn about $1.00 to see $.75 in your paycheck. But if you put it that dollar into a retirement account instead, you get to deposit the entire $1.00. You get to invest the $.25 that belongs to the government. It’s not a gift; you will have to pay that $.25 to the government eventually. But for now you get to keep all the growth you will achieve by investing the government’s money! Get it? And it’s all locked up so it is safe from YOU. That’s the beauty of a retirement account.