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March: Money Management

In January I focused on a cleanse.  In February I focused on yoga.  In March I have focused on money management.

Over the years, I have made vast improvements in money management.  In my early 20s, I fell into the new student credit card trap.  I received – and signed up for – multiple credit card offers, but had no guidance on financial matters.  As a result my credit was bad for years (seven, to be exact).

Later in life, my accounting and management skills have become much better – thanks in large part to financial education and my husband’s savvy.

We have one credit card that we pay off each month.  We haven’t bought a house because it would be beyond our means right now.  But… we have student debt.  Lots of it.  As much as a house is worth.

So this month, we’ve focused on making smart money decisions.  We’ve cut down on spending little bits of money here and there.  But more importantly, we’ve set a plan for paying off our student loan debt and we started a savings account.

I took on a second contract this month, which means I’m working longer hours but that much closer to paying off our debt.  And we’ve decided to stay in the area for at least a couple of years, so that we can pay off debt and start saving.

It’s the beginning….

What Helps You Manage Your Money Wisely?

I’d love to know what books, systems, and other resources you use!


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31 comments to March: Money Management

  • Clare

    It is not very nice how credit companies target young people. I just use excel, save my receipts and try to update it regularly when I have some chance of remembering what I bought – receipts combined with bank statements, and regular count of cash in purse I can usually get most expenditure down (small amount always out). I’m not from US so don’t know if student loans are low interest if so be sure to pay off higher interest cards first.

    Slow and steady – boring as it is. Good luck.

    • Thanks, Clare! It is tough to go slow and steady. Fortunately I will be able to pay off larger chunks here and there as I work an extra contract here and there.

      And I agree completely about targeting young people. I had no idea what I was getting into. In retrospect, of course, it’s easy to think how silly I was. But naivete goes along with being young I guess!

  • I’m convinced that there is a fundamental inborn tendency towards spending or saving. That’s not to say you can’t change it, but if you are a spender you will have to work harder to save. I think the thing that helped where my money went the best was when for several months, DH and I wrote down where every single penny was spent. It was really enlightening to look at the numbers and categorize them. We also came up with a rough budget before looking at the details and then compared budget to actual spending and it helped us to see where we needed to work. It was amazing how much little bits spent on things we didn’t really care about added up.

    • owlfan – interesting thinking. I’d say I fall in the natural tendency to spend while my husband falls in the natural tendency to save. :) I believe it also has a lot to do with how we were raised.

      Keeping track of how it all adds up is a great idea. I go through phases of really diligently tracking, and then letting go. Back to diligence!!

  • It wasn’t until our late 30′s that we were able to buy a house, and that was because a relative passed away and left enough for a down payment. Not at all planned, but our first mortgage payment was due on her birthday.

    What motivated me to start really saving and to finally sign-up for a 401K plan was a 2-year (and still in the process of) cleaning out and purging of stuff. One day I had several large handled bags to take to donations and I did a quick mental tally of how much I had spent on items I was giving away and that idea of “it’s JUST $3.00, $4.00…” hit me pretty hard. Like you, it was the “spending little bits of money here and there.” Impulsive and convenience buys are not worth my not having a savings or retirement plan.

    Looking at your side bar, under the “Buy Sustainably Challenge,” I see a phrase I now ask myself on a regular basis: Do I really need it?

    • Shona, thanks for the reminder to look in my sidebar! I will put that up higher on the page so I remember it as well. :) Hmmm… maybe we should all recommit to that idea…!

      I have had similar notions when cleaning out my closet recently. I’ve lost quite a bit of weight – from the cleanse and exercising. As a result, I’ve gone through 2 recent closet purges. It really does all add up.

  • Andrea

    I make a bill calendar in excel on the first of every month. I pay all my bills online so around the 1st-5th I’ll schedule all my payments for the month, record them in excel and then I know exactly how much money we have left for the month. It really helps keep us on budget. I’m also dying to try out cooking once a month and freezing everything. We are currently saving for a stand alone freezer :)

  • Jen

    I quit carrying cash in my twenties, so that I have no habit of just stopping for coffee or lunch, or other untraceable frittering of cash. The habit is so ingrained now that I can carry cash, which makes shopping at farmers markets or other local buying easier. I use a checkbook program that allows me to categorize all money spent out of my checking account. This makes it clear how much of our money goes towards the inflexible bills – mortgage, insurance, taxes – and how much goes toward either bills we can work to reduce (grocery, energy) or those items we just want but don’t need. We have used this information to reduce our spending and energy use, and also to guide us in deciding how much we need to work for pay. The less we spend, the less we need to earn, leaving us free to grow food, make things instead of buying, and otherwise take care of ourselves instead of paying someone else to do it for us. It helps that I hate shopping, so I really need something before I bother to buy it, and reducing electric, heat, and grocery bills has become kind of a puzzle to work on over the years.

  • Nic-

    I’m still paying off debt accrued years ago from a combination of overspending and having a job that just didn’t pay the bills, so now, even though I make enough to both pay off the debt and save something, I’m hyper conscious of what I spend.

    Before I buy anything that’s a ‘want’ item, I put the cost into perspective. If it’s $4.50, round that up to $5.00, which is 1/4 of the $20 needed to buy that new CD I want, which do I want more? Then, of course, that $20 CD is 1/5 of the $100 I could use on something else, and so on.
    I’m also a huge sucker for impulse buying. Ironically, the best way for me to combat these is to spend more time in the store – I go through the entire store and pick things out, but always conscious of how much I can spend. Then, when I’m done, I look at what I have and ask myself what I can put back. Lately, i’ve been putting back more items than buying, which feels really good when I total up how much I’ve saved myself.
    I also don’t use shopping baskets unless I have to (for large items, like TP in bulk) — if I know I only need one or two things and I can carry them, then I do — it keeps me from buying too much because I can only carry so much.

    • Nic, I also spend a lot of time in the store. Sometimes it feels a little crazy, but it does make a difference. I love the idea that you stop at the end and ask yourself what you can put back. What a great idea!

  • I’ve always been pretty frugal to avoid getting into consumer debt but over the last few months I’ve started to get more future focused regarding savings.

    I keep a track of everything I spend now – everything – which makes it a lot easier to see where my money has gone, and encourages me to think more before spending because I know I have to account for it in my notebook & in my monthly summary on my blog. I divide it into categories so I know how much I’ve spent on, for example, crafts or gardening supplies, but also so I know what was “essential” and what was more frivolous spending. I also have a “save as much as you spend” policy for those more frivolous items.

    I also have occasionally no spend periods as a detox from the habit of spending – and also to break habits, I’m currently on a clothes ration for the year — no more than 12 items of clothing in the whole of 2011. So far I’ve not bought any clothes but I think I’ll crack soon! Breaking ingrained bad habits is so important.

    As for resources, I love Get Rich Slowly.

  • Years ago, I discovered that saving energy, going natural, and reusing saved me lots and lots of money. It is a practice from the old school, but it still resonates today. Growing my own vegetables saves me lots of money, and I have fresh, nutritious, and delicious vegetables that I grew myself. Turning the heat down or air up saves tons of money, not to mention the energy savings. Using a vinegar solution to clean my windows, countertops, and to kill weeds saves lots that would otherwise be spent on cleaners and weedkillers–and it is all natural.

  • Abbey

    We created an excel spreadsheet to track how much we spend in each category (food, personal care, car, etc.) We have also now switched to mostly cash only. I get cash put into envelopes at the bank once a week- one for my husband one for me. I write on it how what it is to be used for and how much is budgeted for that (i.e. $35 for gas, $100 groceries.) It makes you stick to the budget- if there’s not enough cash, you don’t buy it. We try to not have any debt and save up for bigger purchases or unexpected expenses like car repair. If we want something and it’s not budgeted, we don’t buy it. Hard but it works. We also don’t have a house yet and really want children but we wanted to make sure we had no debt and plenty of savings first. Now we hope to be buying property and starting a family in the next year.

  • I second the envelope method! Unfortunatly my budgeting has fallen completely by the wayside, I need to go back to this-it really did work!

  • Jen

    I’m a year out of college, I have very little debt thanks to my mom working at a university, which means I went for practically free. However, my husband, my brother and I are getting our first apartment. None of us have a credit card, because we were taught they were trouble and we’ve seen that it’s true. Ways we are saving money: not buying paper products (except toilet paper), eating healthier food and smaller portions, getting movies from the library, walking or taking public trans to work and stores, spending more time on hobbies that don’t require wracking up the electric bill, growing our own herbs (have you seen how high fresh basil can cost???), and other little tricks. Lots of DIY and so forth. I know not everyone is able to do these things, but I always look up projects to see if I could do it myself. If I can’t then no big deal.

  • I’m pretty bad about this. I go in waves. Sometimes, I’m alllll good at money management. I buy nothing new. I make everything from scratch. I’ve noticed that it tends to coincide with schedules. When I’m less busy, I spend less because I don’t opt for conveniences that I need when I’m more busy.

    Not buying new saves a ton, of course. I honestly think children never need new clothes. Or almost never. And people rarely need new furniture.

    When I really fall off the wagon, though, I pull out Your Money or Your Life.

    • Green Bean, First: I had no idea you were blogging at Green Bean Dreams again! Silly me! Adding to sidebar now. :)

      I also go in waves, and it has a lot to do with how busy I am. When you have time, it’s much easier to make 3 meals a day and in general expend personal energy rather than buy convenience.

      I have been thinking about the irony of this lately – as I work more to save more…. Fortunately we’re still gaining ground!

      Looking up “Your Money Or Your Life” now.

  • Helen

    I also have my ups and downs. Discipline that can’t be sustained day in and day out isn’t all that much good, in this or many other areas of life. The one tool that’s worked best for me is the online implementation of the envelope system, Mvelopes. (That’s the info page for Mvelopes on a personal finance site I like.)

  • Angie

    I use It does all that an excel tracking sheet can do for you and more w/out you ever having to enter your transactions. I was cautious of the site at first, but it is very secure and I’ve had no problems. It automatically updates by syncing w/ your online banking accts and then produces awesome graphs to show how you’re spending your money (or paying down debt, building savings, etc etc). Making budgets and seeing how you’re well you’re staying on track is a snap and it even has a goal function. My goal is to pay off my credit card debt and it feels so good to see the bars shrinking on that graph. I must sound like a spokesperson but this is really the one tool that helped me get things straightened out. Suze Orman telling it to me straight is helpful too. :)

  • Lisa

    My husband & I both listened to and read books by Dave Ramsey before we ever met. It was great to meet someone who was on the same page in regards to financial matters. We both came into our marriage with some debt, me with a car loan and him with a car loan, student loans, and credit card debt. After only a year and a half of marriage, we have paid off both cars and the student loans. The credit card debt will be annihilated by July of this year and we couldn’t be happier! We are on a budget using an Excel spreadsheet that I update daily. That way we can keep an eye on what categories we need to cut back on if we get out of control. Good luck with your endeavors and keep up the great website!!

  • My preserve & I both listened to and scan books by Dave Ramsey before we e’er met. It was majuscule to fill someone who was on the assonant industrialist in regards to business matters. We both came into our rite with whatever debt, me with a car loan and him with a car loan, alumna loans, and ascribe correspondence debt. After exclusive a gathering and a half of wedding, we change remunerative off both cars and the alumnus loans.

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