One cannot responsibly preach a message of slowing down, rest and sabbaticals…living the life you’ve always dreamed of…without addressing the hard reality of finances. A more reasonable balance between work and play sounds romantic and enviable until the bills pile up and the car breaks down. Still there is a path one can proactively walk that will lead to having means to fund your dreams on some level, whatever those dreams may be.
What is the End Goal?
A speaker at our church told a story that had a huge impact on me and has become increasingly clear as our family-raising life stage ended and empty nest stage has begun.
Here is the abbreviated version:
A businessman meets laid-back fisherman on a beach and encourages him to take the initiative to build a fishing boat empire (explaining the multiple steps to success). When the fisherman questions what the final objective of all that effort is, he is promised that he will attain the life that he is currently enjoying. (Read full version of story here)
We see this play out in our communities as couples work for homes that are bigger and better, filling them with lots of stuff only to “downsize” later in life to a home that requires getting rid of all their accumulated possessions.
We Can’t Have Everything
I’m not against building businesses or buying big homes and collecting some quality material goods…I’ve just learned that life is about choices. When we choose one thing, we are NOT choosing something else.
There’s a lie that makes us think it’s possible to have it all. That’s completely false. Some people’s choices are more limited than others but we all have some measure of decision to make.
Mortgage Free or Waterfront Home?
My husband and I have made choices in home ownership, spending and saving that will allow us to own our home mortgage-free in a few years. We are so excited!
We have a choice as to which dream to fund. We can be content with our home and neighbourhood and enjoy the time and financial freedom that comes with being mortgage-free…or..instead we can sell our home and take the full amount as a down-payment on a waterfront property and have to work another 20+ years to enjoy the financial space we are currently in.
We decided that unless some windfall of money comes our way, we’re going to stick with dream A. That’s a choice. We want both at the same time but we have to choose one unless circumstances change.
Debt is Enemy #1
I can’t stress this enough. If I could wave a magic wand and go back 28 years, I would jump in front of the Sears credit card signup table and tell my college-student self to put down the pen. Instead, I saw the obtaining of a credit card as a rite of passage to adulthood. It had a $500 limit but I soon realized how quickly $500 is spent and how heavy a $500 debt feels.
I managed to pay it off but when my husband & I married, we consistently used loans, buy now, pay later and credit cards to fund our lifestyle. We were both working and living what we felt was a necessity-based lifestyle and yet, we were consistently spending more than we made and getting deeper into debt every month.
We didn’t have control over debt. Fortunately, through a series of events, we were introduced to a debt reduction/financial freedom program that taught us how to get out of debt, save for the future and spend responsibly.
That program saved us from eventual bankruptcy, a divorce and a lifetime of money failure. I’m forever grateful for the discipline of money management even though I chafe at it even now.
During the early years of that program, we couldn’t use a credit card at all. Now we have a few for various purposes but you know what? We know our limits. We pay the credit cards off monthly and only borrow occasionally to do a project or buy a large-ticket item and then focus on paying that one item off. We approach debt cautiously and soberly because neither of us wants to go back to where we were.
Emergency or Luxury?
There are times where debt is necessary, but our society has gotten that skewed out of control. For most of us it’s not about medical bills or keeping our families off the street…its about upgrading to the latest phone or having a night out at a fancy restaurant. I like those things as much as anyone else. It’s just once you taste the amazing sensation of being debt-free, you can’t give that up so easily for things that don’t really matter.
Contemplating Good Choices
Just today my husband and I were separately going about our respective chores after accounting for this month and setting our budget for the next. Since I haven’t been making an income for the past 7 months, there wasn’t a whole lot to spread around and we were verbally reflecting on that.
Sometimes we can focus only on what we need to improve and not give credit for what we are rocking at. I’m going to list some of the ways we manage our money that may or may not be typical but definitely allow us to focus on what is important:
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Monthly Budget Meeting
Thanks to Dave Ramsey’s book, The Total Money Makeover, we have developed the habit of sitting down together to write up a new budget every month. It’s based on our regular monthly income only. Any extra income is allotted to savings or special purchases but we do not count on it for our basic living costs.
If you are serious about funding your dreams, you will need to start here also. It can be scary to face your financial realities but not facing it is worse.
Use a Money Tracker
We use a money accounting program. For us it’s YNAB (You Need A Budget). Fortunately we purchased the program before it became a monthly subscription but it is an excellent money management system which is very effective. It’s a bit complicated to learn at first but it ties together your bank accounts and your budget so that you know exactly where you are in each category at all times. There is a corresponding YNAB Facebook group as well that is very fun and supportive.
You don’t have to use YNAB but you need to track somehow. Find something that works for you and then use it.
Revisit Budget Weekly
We sit down to update YNAB (You Need A Budget) once a week, go through receipts, download transactions, update the budget. We could keep it up on our phones as we do transactions but neither of us have mastered that level of discipline.
It’s important to note that we used to pay cash right out of an envelope system but we are now adept enough to work with debit ONLY because of this commitment to weekly updating and discussion. You may need to start with a cash tracking system that you update per transaction.
We follow up on overcharges, unpaid rewards, warranties, store returns, rebates, and subscription renewals to keep our bank account hemorrhaging to a minimum. Don’t kid yourself, those lost dollars add up over your lifetime.
Work the System
We use points and rewards programs strategically. Note that if you are in debt, don’t play this game. When you are the master of your money, you can have a little fun. If a rewards program tempts you to buy what you otherwise would not, don’t do it.
Choose programs that coincide with your regular or preferred purchasing habits.
Our favourite is Costco Capital One MasterCard rewards along with Costco’s executive membership rewards. We pay a nominal amount for our annual membership but the rewards we get back twice a year not only cover that membership but can be refunded to us in CASH at the register.
Most other rewards come in the form of points that have limited use.
Since we don’t carry a balance or pay interest of any kind, we make money on purchases we would make anyways.
Resell Your Used Items
When we are finished with our possessions, we try to sell anything that has value on Facebook marketplace, Kijiji (equivalent to Craig’s List in US) or e-Bay.
We typically look up what we paid and what it is currently selling for and listing at 40% less but expecting 50% less in the end after negotiations. (Example: A Fitbit that we paid $99 for but is now selling for $89 would be listed at $55 and we would accept $45.)
This habit minimizes our loss and often helps fund new purchases. We take great care of our stuff so our buyers are very happy with what they get for their money.
Time Your Purchases
We try to time purchases with major sales events where pricing is lower than usual. It’s not uncommon to delay purchases to Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Small Business Tuesday-related promos.
Create Homemade Fast Food
We minimize eating out by prepping and packaging our meals at home. Dinner leftovers are divided into single serving containers and stacked in the fridge and freezer for easy, convenient lunch grabs. Fruit and other snacks are portioned and packaged in easy to grab containers. Salads are arranged with homemade dressing in a jar in such a way as to keep it fresh until shaken and eaten on the go.
All these measures create our own “fast food” which cut down on unplanned, hunger-driven drive-thru and restaurant visits. This happens to be great for health too!
Premium Home Celebrations
Instead of expensive restaurant visits to celebrate special occasions, we sometimes opt to buy premium groceries and prepare a meal at home. Even a more expensive cut of meat and a few gourmet ingredients add up to far less than a typical restaurant meal and tip.
Entertain Friends At Home
Similar to above, we aim to entertain our friends in our home instead of treating them to dinner out. We can put out a very nice meal for far less than picking up a restaurant tab.
Make Your Own Home Brew
We brew our own specialty drinks at home and take them with us. We own a Keurig and have some K-cups for convenience and company but on a daily basis we use refillable my-cup filters to brew our own signature blends.
I favour a particular decaff espresso blend with only one tsp of regular caffeinated espresso grinds added. Not only do I get exactly the amount of caffeine I can handle and the taste I love but it costs significantly less than a cafe visit.
I still buy beverages at a cafe when I meet friends but that is way less often than my twice a day habit.
Shawn has his own preferences but we both use the same brewing machine method.
Fix, Don't Pitch
Repair broken everything instead of replacing if at all possible.
I realize that we are blessed as my husband can fix just about anything. He buys obscure parts from Amazon and our local parts stores and revives most of our stuff. When something breaks…everything from my costume jewelry, our son’s RC or mowing equipment, our appliances, vehicles or anything else…it goes on Shawn’s list and he revives it.
Not everyone has this gift but most everyone has the capacity to do a little internet searching and give repairs a go before calling it quits (don’t tinker with stuff still under warranty). You can learn how do do almost any repair by watching a YouTube video.
Just give it a go before tossing and buying new.
A lot of people think that minimalism means you can’t own much of anything but fail to realize that there is no one set standard for the minimalistic lifestyle.
Some minimalists keep their wardrobe items under a certain number and keep a kitchen on par with what could be found in a holiday rental kitchenette. Others, just moderate their lifestyles to avoid purchasing excess…whatever excess means to them.
Even though I like retail therapy as much as the next girl, I embrace minimalism as much as I can. Most minimalists share that they exchange quantity with quality. Instead of a bunch of cheap, fad items, they may opt for a single more expensive, quality, classic item.
It’s about mindset really. Instead of purchasing on a whim with a buy-as-much-as-possible attitude, think about why you want to buy something, how it will be used, where you will need to store it, etc and try to bring as little home as possible.
I even say no to free stuff all the time because in my mind, the stress of clutter is far, far too expensive.
Embrace Marie Kondo’s Method
This ties into minimalism. When purging your clutter, Marie’s book suggests you hold every item you have in your hands and ask yourself if it sparks joy. If it does, keep it. If it doesn’t, let it go.
Why not do that before purchasing? Set aside a product’s newness and the marketing hype in the moment. Will this item add value to your life long-term or will it become a burden adding to the clutter of your life.
A few honest moments of contemplation before hitting the cash register can enable you to leave a purchase behind with no regrets.
Clean and Maintain
A big part of wanting to purchase things is that we want the “newness” and “freshness” that makes items look better than what we currently have. I’m a big fan of that vibe too.
What I have learned is that most of the time, that look can be attained by cleaning and maintaining what I already own.
We realized this when we would prepare something to sell. After a bit of elbow grease, Shawn and I would look at an item we were selling and wonder why we didn’t invest the time in cleaning it up for ourselves while we had owned it.
One example of this is my purses. I love the look of the store purses sitting upright on the display shelves all perky and bright.
I discovered that I could take the deflated, neglected purses on my closet floor, shake them out, wipe them off and stuff them with tissue or bubble wrap and achieve the same result!
Now all my purses sit on display on a closet shelf just waiting to be chosen to go with an outfit. I have purses that have been around for years and am only occasionally tempted to buy a new one…but only if I’m willing to part with an old one in exchange.
Shoes? Before buying new ones, I give the ones I have a little TLC. I’ve wiped them clean, brushed suade, used matching colour nail polish on heel nicks, crazy glued design pieces back on and replaced heel tips and runner laces.
Any extra mileage a pair of shoes can give is great. The exception to this is if your shoes are actually causing you bodily harm and not supporting you properly. Footware designed for physical activity should be quality and replaced as needed.
Count the Cost
Think long term expense.
That amazing printer deal that the store is practically giving away? What do the print cartridges cost? That cool coffee brewer that is on sale? How much do the coffee pods cost and how many will you consume? That vehicle that will make you look like a cool cat? What is the gas mileage? That free, latest model phone? What is the monthly contract going to cost you? The dream pool or jacuzzi you desire? How much will it add to your monthly energy costs?
Maybe paying a little more up front will save you more later. Take the time to consider all your options. If you do the numbers and you decide to go ahead knowing exactly what you are signing up for, then at least you made an educated choice.
Become Marketing Savvy
The marketing of a product or service is a very calculated skill. There are very specific, proven methods that if implemented properly, will compel people to buy out of emotion.
I’m not here to demonize marketing but my husband & I have gotten adept at recognizing the allure of skillful marketers and learned how to get out of their gravitational pull long enough to make rational, logical choices instead.
For me it’s as easy as recognizing the emotional connection is building and talking about it with my ever-pragmatic husband.
It’s important to have someone in your life who knows what you really want and can talk you out of making a detour you will regret.
Some signs that marketing is sucking you in?
Promises that a product will solve all your problems.
Extra bonus items if you buy immediately instead of waiting. Limited time to buy or it will be gone.
Prices are going to be raised if you don’t get it this time around. Everyone else is doing it (FOMO).
You cannot succeed without this purchase.
If you hear this kind of language and feel yourself responding to it, pull back and evaluate what is going on. It doesn’t mean you are being cheated…it just means you are making decisions emotionally, not logically and you need to take heed.
There are many other practical tips we do to maximize our budget and fund our dreams. These are just a few.
So remember to think carefully about the life you truly want to live and put aside the things that would prevent you from reaching your goals.
Your budget will thank you.
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