Name Your Poison

This is a guest post by Beth Lee Lundberg, MBA, AFC, Financial Coach, mom to two, and founder of The Yankee Saver. Visit Beth at her website to learn more about her financial coaching services. You can follow Beth on Twitter.

Relationships are funny. Sometimes, something as simple as a name can jump start them forward, or doom them to failure. 

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Take my friend Bean for example. I first met Bean when I was four. We grew up in the same New England neighborhood, a half hour north of Boston. Bean lived two colonials and one cape away from my parent’s house, and could always make me laugh. She has a heart of gold, and today is still one of the staple relationships in my life. In the unlikely event that I were to meet someone else named Bean, I’m sure I would consider them a friend right away, based on all the good things I associate with the name. 

But names work the other way as well. I have another friend, a really sweet person, who will not, no matter what, associate with anyone named Daryl. Why? She had a bad experience with a Daryl once, and that was it. Now, don’t even mention a Daryl to her, she won’t hear anything past the first name. 

When you think about it, we all bring our past experiences into our new relationships, and use them to protect ourselves from bad things, and move closer to good things.  We go with what we know, even if all we know is a name. It might seem kind of nuts, but its how we work.

This is particularly true when it comes to our relationship with money. Money has a lot of emotion around it, and sometimes just the sound of “money” words can conjure up all kinds of bad feelings. Take the word “budget”, for example. For lots of people, this word is one big, huge, Daryl. I know, I used to feel this way too. “Stick to your budget” may as well have been, “Take a sip of strychnine” or “Bite this poison apple.” My reaction would be the same. I just could not relate to the word in a good way.

The thing is, this negative association creates a major problem. Without a budget, we will fail at managing our money. But we can’t fail! We need to manage our money well! We need it to support ourselves now and when we are too old to work. We need it to protect ourselves and the people we love!  We just can’t afford to have the Daryl reaction to our finances. 

So, what do we do?

We change the name! That’s right, no more calling the key to our financial success a “budget”.  Let’s make it real, something we can relate to, and something we will welcome into our lives.  Let’s give that sucker the name it needs to get the job done.

This worked really well for me and my family. So, without further ado, let me introduce you to the strong and mighty protector of my own personal economy: Welcome THOR! Thor is a giant Viking Warrior who is leading his people across rough terrains and enemy waters. Thor will bring us safely into the land of financial freedom, for he is strong, and has won many battles (like the one over at DSW last week…). We follow him because he is good, he is right, he is a powerful hero. He is also wicked scary, so we tend to do what he says.

Sound nuts? Might be, but it works. Here’s a recent example:

“Mom, can I get a new lacrosse stick?” asks my 12-year-old son, who knows he does not need another lacrosse stick.

“Hmmm,” I say. “Let me check with Thor.”

The energy in the room changes, the Viking Warrior is being summoned.

“OK,” says the brave sixth-grader.

I look down at the spreadsheet on my laptop as my son waits silently.

I scroll to Thor’s line marked “Kid’s Activities”, see $17 left for the pay period and then translate my findings:

“Thor says ‘NOOOOO, ARRRGH!’ ”

“Fine,” says the boy. He walks away. End of conversation.

Nobody messes with Thor!

For you, maybe Thor is actually Dr. Spock or Flloyd, The Mayor, Frank Sinatra or Diana Prince (remember Wonder Woman at her day job?). It doesn’t matter what name you give it, as long as that name satisfies the emotional connection you need to have with your budget in order for it to be a working part of your life and get you where you need to be with your money.

So go ahead, name your poison! What name will it be?

Question: Do you have a question for Beth? Use the comments below where  she’ll respond. 

Put a Teenager In Charge of the Family Vacation Budget? Seriously?

Dear Mary: I wanted to tell you the secret of sticking to a budget on our family vacation–something we’ve had a hard time achieving in the past. This year, we let our teenage daughter plan the vacation. Seems too simple. 

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We told her the amount we had to spend beyond the cost of overnight accommodations. We told her she could spend the money any way she wanted. We could eat out every night or cook dinner in our kitchenette. She could spend it all on the Boardwalk.

My spendthrift daughter became Ms. Frugality. She wanted to parasail. So she had us eat every single meal in the room and spent less than twenty dollars at the Boardwalk. We parasailed and had the best time ever. We came home with cash in our pockets. Best of all, we are enjoying the priceless accomplishment of teaching our child the value of money. Madeline

Dear Madeline: Wow, way to go! What a great idea and I am so proud of your sweet daughter for accepting the challenge of such a big task.  I’m going to predict that this event  will stay with her for a lifetime and will begin to shape her money life. Never again will she think you have unlimited sources of money. She’s experienced how making good choices with a limited amount of money can result in positive outcomes.

You gave your daughter the opportunity to make her own independent financial decisions, and she scored. Please give her my heartfelt congratulations and a big frugal high five!

The Truth About Extended Warranties

Recently I stopped into Toys R Us to get a little something for Eli. Yes I am one of those grandmothers. We found the cutest ever toy Shaving Kit, just perfect for bath time. The price was under $10. At check out, and without missing a beat, the sales clerk inquired if I would like to add an extended warranty for just $4.79. Seriously. I laughed. She winced. I apologized but really, I couldn’t help it.

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An extended warranty sounds like a good thing and that’s because it’s designed that way. While I cannot say that every extended warranty would be a rip off, that’s the way I want you to start thinking of them. Every time you are offered and extended warranty, think: RipOff! Then if you have doubts, make that warranty prove to you otherwise.

Six Silly Gadgets That Make Life Easier

I am nothing if not a gadget lover. Ingenious items that make my life easier are great, but when I find something that’s cool and has the potential to save money? Well, that’s cause for some kind of tiny celebration. Here are my current fun finds.

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814k5YuHz9L._SL1500_Sugru. I don’t know where this stuff has been hiding (maybe I’m the one who’s been missing?), but my recent discovery has me giddy with joy. It’s called Sugru, or perhaps a better name would be Miracle in a Package. Think: silly putty without the silly part. Sugru is self-setting rubber for fixing, modifying and making stuff. You apply it, shape it and watch it transform into a durable, waterproof rubber with amazing properties. It comes in a bevy of colors, which makes it a crafter’s dream come true. I have so many DIY projects crying out for Sugru, I just don’t know where to start.  

When It Doesn’t Pay to be Cheap

There is a predictable progression many of us go through as we make a decision to stop living beyond our means. We get cheap. In fact, some even call us cheapskates—a label that personally I enjoy because it proves that I’m not the person I used to be—a credit-card junkie and a totally whacked out spendthrift. 

Some rights reserved by erix!

Some rights reserved by erix!

It didn’t take long for me to adopt a mindset that if cheap was good, then cheaper must be even better. As noble as that thought might see–and it pains me to admit it–that is not always true. Sometimes the cheapest option ends up costing the most. It’s a wise person who can see the big picture not just the cash outlay on the front end.

Case in point: Our house was in desperate need of paint. Spending thousands of dollars to have it painted made me queasy. So when one of the bids came in much lower than the others, I jumped on it. I figured paint is paint. We’d get the house painted and still have money in the bank. 

Time to Grill Some Grub!

Of all the joys of summer, nothing beats a great cookout. While meat, poultry and fish are the expected grilled fare, you can really stretch your dollars when you cut down on the meat and fill out the menu with fabulous grilled bread (yep, put it right on the barbecue grill), grilled vegetables–even homemade ice cream (but not on the grill, please, because it would fall through the cracks!).

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Grilled Italian Foccacia

  • 1 pkg. (16 oz.) Pillsbury Hot roll mix
  • 1 envelope dry Italian dressing mix
  • 1-1/4 cups hot water
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1-1/2 cups Parmesan cheese (shredded or grated)
  • 2 plum tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
  1. Mix roll mix, yeast packet and salad dressing mix. Add hot water and 2 tablespoons of the oil. Stir until soft dough forms and dough pulls away from side of bowl.
  2. Place dough on lightly floured surface; knead 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Shape dough into 2 10-inch rounds. Cover with plastic wrap or towel. Let rise in warm place 15 minutes.
  3. Place dough rounds on greased grill over medium-low coals. Grill four minutes; turn. Brush with remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Top with cheese, tomatoes and basil. Grill an additional 4 minutes or until bottom crust is golden brown.

When the Ship is Sinking, Get Everyone in the Lifeboat

Dear Mary: My wife and I made a terrible mistake and bought a house that I don’t think we can afford. We dumped all of our money from the sale of our last home into it and now we have run out of money. It is not even close to being done. My wife is a stay-at-home mother of 3 and I work full time. I bring home about $5,500 per month with a house payment of $2,230. We have a $442 car payment and credit card minimum payments of about $250. My wife has student loans of around $26,000 with payments of $293 per month.

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We have moved my oldest son to six different homes in 8 years but he has remained in the same school. My wife says we cannot sell this house under any circumstance because of fear of damaging him.

Also, she is embarrassed and does not want anyone to know that we got in over our heads. She has always dreamed of having a big beautiful home and I want to give this to her because she deserves it. I need help. I have never been so scared. On one hand, I feel this is unsustainable and on the other, I am scared of losing my family if I tell them we can’t afford to live here. Jerry

Readers Weigh in on Bananas, Buttons and Brown Sugar

Not long ago, the produce manager at my supermarket noticed me putting a bunch of bananas in my cart and offered this bit of handy information: When you get home from the store separate the bananas from the bunch and they won’t ripen as fast. 

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Good to know! But will that make them last 7 to 10 days? I doubt it, which is why I’m glad I heard from reader Barb. Read on …

BANANA LONGEVITY. If you will not be able to use those bananas with a day or two, put them into the refrigerator. They will turn black and ugly on the outside, but inside–even after seven to ten days–they will be fresh, firm and delicious. Barb

BROWN SUGAR SUBSTITUTE. To make your own (and much better) brown sugar, mix  1 cup white granulated sugar with 1 to 2 tablespoons molasses, depending on if you want light or dark brown sugar. Mix thoroughly with a fork. This is so much better than commercial brown sugar, you’ll be tempted to make a permanent switch and never again have to deal with hard brown sugar. Melanie

WASHCLOTH ICEPACK. When I need an icepack for my face, I take a face cloth, wet it, fold it lengthwise into thirds and place it in a small plastic bag. Then I place it in the freezer. In just a short time, my freezer pack is ready and on my face. The small size of the facecloth is just right for your face, and when it is no longer needed, you have your facecloth back.  Pat