My 31 Day Financial Challenge- Day 31: Keeping it Up

Since it took me longer than 31 days to finish this challenge, I am going to use this step as a wrap up. Already I can see the results of the goals I have worked toward.  I liquidated a poorly managed state run retirement account and put the money directly towards paying down debt. Not something I recommend for everyone, but it was definitely the right plan for us. I’ve not been pursuing my writing as seriously as I would like, but I have begun sending queries to publishers again, which is something I avoided in the past for fear of rejection. I still find myself very discouraged with our slow financial progress toward paying down debt, but I’m trying to see each small step as a victory, even if only a little one.

This process has taught me a lot about what I want in my life and how that doesn’t always match my actions. Thanks to recommendations on The Simple Dollar, I have started reading Your Money or Your Life and The Total Money Makeover. I’m beginning to see the mountains in the distance through small breaks in the fog. Yes, we have a lot to overcome and some days it seems like the odds are stacked against us. For every dime I save our expenses increase a dollar, but I’m trying to keep moving forward and looking toward the larger goals ahead; putting one foot in front of the other but keeping my eyes on the horizon not the foggy road in front of me.

 

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My 31 Day Financial Challenge- Day 30: Live What You Love

http://www.thesimpledollar.com/2007/01/30/31-days-to-fix-your-finances-day-30-live-what-you-love/

In this step Trent recommends creating reminders of your goals and values in light of your expenses as well as reevaluating various areas of your life to help support your goals. I really appreciated several of his points.

Reevaluating social situations: I have had to learn that not having any money doesn’t mean we don’t have a social life. We’ve been getting better at inviting friends to our home for a simple meal and a board game or movie. Since we are blessed to have family members nearby who will baby-sit for free, we have been able to accept invitations to others’ homes without having to pay a babysitter.

Engage in inexpensive activities that match your life goals: I’ve continued to be active in my writer’s group and my husband has also joined. This has been a great opportunity for us to explore our creative sides and also spend time together on something not involving our daughter.

Use the 10 second rule: My father taught me an expanded version of this known as the two week rule. He would think and pray for two weeks about a purchase, especially an expensive one. This is especially hard when the item seems to be “such a good deal.” I have not always adhered to this as much as I would like. My dad’s perspective is that in most cases there will always been another sale, another deal, another opportunity. Waiting two weeks gives you the perspective to decide if the purchase is a wise financial move and if it will really add value to your life.

Live what you love: I have not always done this. I want to spend more time of my days doing the things that really matter to me and working towards my primary goals.

 

My 31 Day Financial Challenge- Day 29: Paying Cash

I guess this has always been an obvious step for me. Not to say that we have never financed anything, but we never finance anything that has interest attached. For example, several years ago we bought furniture. We did have the money in cash, but at the time interest rates in our savings account were fairly favorable. So we opted to finance the furniture for 12 months at 0% and pay make self-imposed payments every month, assuring that it would be paid off before the time was up. We did something similar when buying supplies for a home remodeling project. This is not something I recommend for everyone. It worked for us because we didn’t want to tie up such a large portion of our savings when it could be earning interest. Now currently, there is no real benefit to opting for 0% financing instead of paying cash because interest rates are so low. Unless the purchase is unusually large, I’m not going to miss the 1.5% I’m earning on my money in the mean time.

This gets dangerous if you finance more than you actually have in cash. If you were to suddenly lose your income, you would be sorry you now have to make those payments from your almost nonexistent monthly cash flow instead of dipping into your savings account.

But as Trent pointed out, whenever possible, paying cash saves you so much money in the long run vs. paying interest.

 

A Christmas Memorial

I haven’t posted in a while due to being caught up in the craziness of the holiday season. Even as I write this I have a pie in the oven and one more present to finish and wrap, with just an hour or so until Christmas Day. However, I wanted to take this moment to remember someone special, my great-grandmother, Althea Cesarini.

Nanny, as I called her, passed away this past Wednesday morning at the age of 103. She has been a fixture on my mother’s side of the family. I only have a handful of memories of her at Christmas in particular, including trying eggnog at her house when I was three or four. I was unusually blessed to have my great-grandmother in my life into adulthood. My daughter is named Althea, after Nanny. Nanny was the oldest of eight siblings. She outlived two husbands, all of her siblings, both of her sons and one grandson. Until two years ago she still lived on her own, in the same apartment building she had lived in since her children were young. She had bought the building many years ago and then the building had been deeded over to her sons and then passed to her daughters-in-law, but she still served as landlord, picking her own tenants and charging outrageously low rent rates. When she turned 100 she was featured in a book about Boston and received letters from the President George W. Bush and the mayor of Boston.

When someone has been around as long as Nanny you start to forget about mortality. I think we were starting to believe that she might vie for the title of Oldest Woman in the World. While her body had begun to fail in the last two years when she entered a nursing home, her mind was still clear and she remembered details from years past and still recalled recent family happenings. She was a frugal saver her whole life, yet took great joy in giving generously to her family. My mother remembers yearly trips into Boston for special restaurant lunches and my own childhood is filled with memories of riding the Swan Boats in Boston Public Garden. Christmas and birthdays did not pass without Nanny sending money or presents. This was not something we took for granted, but rather a wonderful testament to her giving spirit. The last time I saw her was August of 2009 when we took our 3 month old daughter to meet her. I will be forever grateful that we did and forever grateful for her. She has always been a symbol to me of the long lived spirit of the women in my family:  hard working, tenacious and generous. Those are the things I will remember her for.

When I wish I could give cloth

I follow a number of cloth diaper blogs including the Cotton Babies blog. Cotton Babies was one of the first cloth diaper retailers I worked with when I was assembling my stash and is still one of my favorites, especially thanks to their free standard shipping. Around Thanksgiving, they featured a blog post highlighting their own alternative to the Kimberly Clark “Every Little Bottom Campaign”, called “Trim a Tree, Trim a Budget, Give Cloth Diapers.” I thought this was a fantastic idea. Customers can use their site to donate cloth diapers to low income families. These diapers will last much longer than a pack of disposables donated to a diaper bank. It left me wishing I could give cloth diapers more often.

My local MOPS chapter at New Covenant Christian Community Church is collecting donations for our local crisis pregnancy centers, CareNet of the Lehigh Valley. I keep staring at the pack of disposable diapers I bought to donate and thinking about how long those diapers will last; a few days at best. Or could I could have invested in an Econobum Trial pack and given a single mom at least partial freedom from the prison of continually buying disposable diapers. But as of now CareNet doesn’t accept cloth diapers as donations. Most of the moms they help probably haven’t been taught how to use them anyway.

When I peruse a baby shower registry for yet another young mom at my church I find myself wishing I could buy her cloth diapers instead just another pack of onesies or a cute little outfit that will be outgrown in a month. I feel the pull of cloth even more when I see friends returning to work because they can’t afford to stay home and that equals boxes of disposables, and hundreds of dollars spent on bottles and formula. How can I show them the financial freedom that cloth could give them without offending them? I honestly believe that I have friends who will never quite look at me the same way again because I breastfeed, cloth diaper and make my own baby food. Yes, I love to do these things, but I mostly do them because they are near financial necessities. Because I cloth diaper I can stay at home with my daughter.

The best I can do is offer to explain the ins and outs of cloth diapering to interested friends and hope that they will pass the knowledge on. But when I can, I want to commit to give cloth more often. Giving cloth means giving independence, self-reliance and sustainability; things that last longer than a pack of disposable diapers.

 

My 31 Day Financial Challenge- Day 28: Preparing for the Inevitable

The inevitable is not a topic I like very much. Mostly because I know we aren’t that prepared for it. We have enough life insurance to replace my husband’s income in case of his untimely death, at least for a while, and enough insurance for me to replace all the tasks I complete with hired help like childcare. We also have a small insurance policy for our daughter through my husband’s job that would off-set some of the funeral benefits if, God forbid, anything ever happened to her. The other more important thing that we not yet have is a will. We have been discussing this since I got pregnant with our daughter, but we never get around to dealing with the paperwork; partly because we are very unsure of what decision to make and because I have trouble pinning my husband down about it. Trent recommends hiring a lawyer, but this can be expensive. I’ve heard very good things about Legalzoom.com but our financial planner also recommends that we work with a lawyer. But either option is going to cost money, money that will have to come out of our ever dwindling savings.

That being said, I understand the great necessity of this. We have a young child, she needs an appointed guardian. Our will (and possibly a trust as well) needs to be filed in such a way to protect her financial future from unnecessary taxes and court fees if anything should happen to us so that the money can be used to provide for her. My original goal was to get our wills filed before the end of the year. Now I’m probably shooting for January. I probably would have continued to ignore it entirely if not for my desire to finish this Financial Challenge.

Hurray for fairer cloth diaper reporting

About a month ago CBS Eye on Parenting did a report comparing disposable diapers and cloth diapers. Unfortunately the coverage was woefully one-sided and inaccurate on the cloth diaper side. After a strong response from the cloth diapering community, reporter Natali Morris agreed to a one month cloth diaper trial.

Post challenge, Morris brought FuzziBunz founder Tereson Dupuy on the program to show many of the modern cloth diapering options available. While it was obviously still a short segment and hardly makes up for years of negativity about cloth diapers pedaled by the main stream media, it was one of the only times I can remember cloth diapers being featured in a mainstream fashion with a positive spin. Morris calls herself a total convert and now loves using FuzziBunz.

Now if only we could get chain stores like Babiesrus and Buy Buy Baby to carry cloth diapers we might be able to start making cloth diapers a contender for so many families.