Since I’m feeling all nostalgic today, here’s a screenshot of the very first New Year’s financial goals list we wrote out in 2014.
Look how small the goals we set were. One of them was for a 5 year old debt of $100. Another was a $155 payment to replenish a savings account of my moms that my name was on and I had been over drafting from for my debit account. But the truth is, we couldn’t move on in our journey to financial freedom until we hit these goals.
And I have to say, finding that $100, that $155, that $170 in our already tight budget was HARD. Really hard. But now we’re able to save up for thousands of dollars of anticipated expenses and pay for things in cash BECAUSE we got these little hangers on out of the way first. Dave Ramsey calls this the snowball effect; sure we weren’t making payments on these debts, but paying off small loans first gives you a boost of confidence and motivates you into continuing on.
Every year for the past few we’ve sat together on New Year’s Eve and come up with a few goals for the upcoming year. Whelp. I can’t find last year’s list. Surprise lol. But this is one of the reasons I decided to start this online journal, so I could document and track our progress, and not lose it.
Don’t Take on Any New Debts
This one is pretty much a given that we add every year. I think its important to write out though, just for a reminder. Especially since we live in a house thats been in renovation mode.
Recommit to Mint
We used to be really dedicated to tracking and categorizing every penny we spent in a month and then comparing it to what we’d budgeted for on Mint.com. Towards the middle of this year though, it kind of got left by the wayside. It’s pretty time consuming, and with Jeff in a new, more important job, he just didn’t have the time to dedicate to it. But I do. So I’ll be taking over the Mint and the day-to-day of the budget tracking.
Pay Off the Van
Without checking the loan, I think we have about $8,000 left to pay off on the minivan. How nice it would be to not have a car payment, and to have that extra $200/month back in our pocket to use for something else. This is our #1 debt repayment priority for the year.
Currently I have $11,769.78 left in student loans to pay off. This year I aim to reduce that number under $10,000. This is a pretty conservative goal as I’m pretty sure that my regular payments would accomplish it.
Remodel the Bathroom
Now that the new boiler is going in within a couple of weeks, the chimney that vents it can come down giving us room to make the bathroom (a tiny bit) bigger. After the van is payed off, we can put the money saved on payments towards saving up for the bathroom. Currently we only have a stand up shower and the kids take baths in a big plastic storage bin I have to fill up then dump out and clean. Its a big pain in the butt. Its the only room we haven’t done any kind of work in. Its drafty, its ugly and the plastic tiles are falling off the walls. I can spend all day cleaning it and it still looks like yuck. This also takes time however, and a big part of if this goal can be accomplished is if Jeff gets time off of work to do it. So we’ll see.
So this is the game plan as of right now. If some miracle occurs and we accomplish our goals sooner or some how fall into extra money I’ll update them as we go. I also plan on writing about exactly HOW we’ll be working towards them all year. After writing out what we accomplished last year, I can’t wait to see what 2017 brings!
General consensus is that 2016 was a pretty crap-tastic year. I’m not so sure, there were some really rotten things that went down (like the whole election thing), but we got Ben out of it so we were distracted.
Now that it’s New Year’s Eve, its time to reflect back on our year and set new goals for 2017.
Let’s see what we’ve accomplished:
The minute we bought the house we knew we were going to have to redo the kitchen. Everything worked and it was totally functioning and everything, but it was just so ugly. Especially the floor. We lived with it for 3 1/2 years.
Since Jeff knew he was going to have a ton of time off when I was out on maternity leave after Ben was born (thanks to a diligent man that never takes a sick day), we decided to do it then. People said we were crazy, taking on a big project like this with a brand new baby and two small children, but this was our one window of opportunity to do it and I’m so glad we did! Look how it turned out!
We spent $2,000 we had saved in cash and Jeff did everything himself. He cut painted and refaced the cabinets, repainted the walls, laid a new vinyl floor over the old subfloor (which was in really good condition surprisingly). The new countertop is actually dyed concrete that I love, and my favorite feature is the new pass through! Now I can see the kids playing in the living room while I’m cleaning up in the kitchen or making dinner.
We had this huge, HUGE, hundreds of years old pine in our front yard. It was so wide we couldn’t reach our arms around it when we all held hands, and it have obviously been carelessly cut back from the power lines over years and years, because it looked like a 60 foot bonsai tree. Jeff said we would have to cut it one day before it fell on the house, but I felt sentimental about having something so old in our yard.
Well that was before the day we brought Ben home from the hospital in the middle of an ice storm and it had dropped half of its huge ancient branches onto our front lawn, five minutes after my mom’s boyfriend came in from shoveling the walk way.
I wanted it gone that day. All I could think was how if I was home, and the kids wanted to go play in the snow, I would have let them. Would I have thought to look and see if the branches were over burdened with snow and ice and about to fall? They could have been killed. Two other children in Massachusetts died in that same storm from branches falling them.
Talk about mom guilt.
So we got a tree company out to give us a quote, saved up the $3,000 they said it would take to cut it down and haul it away (along with another pine off to the side of the house that was leaning over the kid’s bedrooms) and in September when had everything saved up (7 months later) we called them back and the crew came.
That was really something to watch. There were five guys, a crane, all kinds of saws and grinding things, the whole neighborhood came out to watch. They even worked all through the afternoon when it started to rain. We were so grateful we left out a big tub of gatorades and protein bars and thanked them 1000 times.
Now I can rest easier at night, knowing its not up there swaying in every breeze, ready to fall on our house or our neighbors’.
AND that we did it with cash and aren’t paying it off for the next 5 years!
Van Mommin’ It
The very first thing we did in January this year (since Ben was coming a month later and three car seaters wouldn’t fit in the compact sedan I’d been driving since college) was buy a mini van. I had $2,000 from the year before in an account I had been contributing to monthly for this very purpose and we traded in Jeff’s car that was new and more valuable than my old one. We ended up still needing a loan, but it turned out to be a little bit less than the one we already had on Jeffs car. So still debt, but slightly less than we already had for a very necessary thing.
By now we SHOULD have a new boiler installed. However, I didn’t think to consider that winter is the busiest time for heat men in the northeast lol. We finally made contact with someone that is coming out after the first of the year and we have all the money saved up to replace it. He’ll be adding a hot water heater and replacing the boiler, including moving it to the side of the basement so that we can vent it out the side of the house and demolish the old brick chimney going up through the middle of the kitchen and bathroom, giving us more room upstairs whenever we get to the bathroom. He said this is what he has in his own house and it’ll save us in oil.
Plussss Jeffs grandparents recently bought a new pellet stove and are giving us their old one! For free!! This will heat up the basement and since the house isn’t yet insulated, the heat from that will warm up the floors in the kitchen and bathroom downstairs. Not to mention Jeff won’t freeze his fingers off working downstairs in his shop area.
I have to say, all of the other stuff we did financially was great, but my favorite thing is that I get to stay home with the kids now (mostly). This is what we’ve been working towards with all of this financial stuff. Jeff got a new job that was a steep pay increase over his last one that he was at for over 8 years. I still do go to work on a per diem basis about 4 days per month.
Now we can feel more relaxed about expanding our family; we both want a big busy family. I used to spend so much time worrying about coordinating my schedule to babysitters, the money we spent on daycare, who was going to do the doctors appointments, the preschool drop off and be there for the bus, who was going to be there when they got sick. Now I’m so happy to know that I’m here to do it all and be their mom.
Christmas can be a budget buster for sure. In our materialistic society, its easy to think that you have to totally blow your budget treating everyone around you to everything their hearts desire. But that’s so not the case.
You know who makes you feel that way? Advertisers and people who make money selling things you don’t need. Especially the ones that advertise on kid’s channels and make your kids think that if they don’t have the new extra special XYZ, they’ll never have fun ever again, and no one will want to play with them.
Love those guys.
Social media does it’s fair share in blowing gift giving out of proportion too. It seems like every day I log on to Facebook or whatever, I see pictures of trees overflowing with gifts that dwarf the tree and spill put onto the floor, followed by comments about “how happy their lucky kids must be!”
What parent doesn’t want their kids to feel happy and loved on Christmas?
Spoiler Alert: Kids don’t need mountains of junk to experience a magical Christmas. And you don’t have to participate in the yearly Social Media Mom-Off.
The picture above is our living room last year after we put out all the Santa gifts. The gifts include both Sam and Abby, some for Ben who was’t born yet, me and Jeff, and our gifts to my mom, her boyfriend Mike (Rick), my sister, brother and both of their significant others. There’s nothing stuffed behind the tree or out of the shot. Some people would think its a paltry few.
Our kids were overjoyed.
They each got their one gift they’re allowed to ask for from Santa, plus two from mom and dad and a stocking full of mostly candy. And thats plenty. We stuck to our budget for that year (same as this year, $500 total) and put other efforts into the magic of Christmas. We read stories, made crafts, baked cookies, listened to music, went to see lights. Each of these are more memorable than any toy that will be broken and forgotten by Easter. And honestly? Sitting here thinking about it, I don’t recall a gift I got at Christmas. Or one that I wanted and did’t get. I do remember decorating the tree, making apple pies, driving around to see lights, listening to the same Bing Crosby record I still play.
So our family tips for staying on budget for Christmas start with:
The Mindset. Remind yourself, Christmas is not presents, and presents are not going to make or break a Christmas. Think of all of the things you remember about Christmas as a child. Is it the lights? Visiting family? The Music? Religious services? It will take some imagination for some of us, but you can make these special memories with your family.
Make a Budget and Stick to it. Every year on New Years Eve when we do our budget for the year we decide how much per month we want to put away in anticipation for birthday and Christmas gifts. When it comes to gift buying time, see how much money you have set aside and realistically how much you can spend. No credit cards. No special financing. Do this with cash if you have to. When the cash is gone its gone.
Luckily, though this might be the most expensive day of the year, Christmas comes on the same day every year. This means we can plan for it. Start as early as possible for minimum impact on your life.
Think Simple. Growing up, my mom always felt obligated to give a gift to all of her five sisters and her three in-laws, even though we were living paycheck to paycheck. One of her favorite, simple, cheap gifts that people loved getting were her breads. She would go to the dollar store, get a bunch of those little ceramic, Christmas decorated bread pans for $1, then make cranberry breads, cinnamon bread or my grandmother’s zucchini bread, wrap them in cellophane and colorful ribbon. Viola. Instant Christmas gift. $2.
This is still a great idea for kids teachers, bus drivers, extended family etc.
Pare Down the List. You don’t have to acknowledge every human being in your life on Christmas. If your budget is super tight, start paring off the list. Most people will understand and most likely even forget if they’re excluded. Immediate family, your own children, spouses are all important. Friends, neighbors, every aunt uncle and cousin, every teacher or aide and coworker can all get cut.
Then remember to give yourself some grace. Remember why you tightened your belt and keep the bigger picture in mind.
And lastly, this is what I’m working on for this year. I call it “transcend.” Rise above all of the negative people grumbling about gifts and “bah humbugging” and complaining about gifts they didn’t get, parties they didn’t get to go to, family drama, arguments. Transcend. Recently someone wrote a bitchy comment on something I had posted on Facebook and almost instantly my mom texted me saying “can you believe what a B she is?”
Usually I would have gotten all grouchy, and then unleashed a slew of choice descriptions for this person and let it interrupt at least a portion of my day. Instead, my response was “Whatever, I transcend her negativity.” And that was it.
People can’t trample on your happiness and the joy of your season unless you let them.