Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cash is a 4-letter word

Ahh the midst of all things financial, I have a suggestion that has been immensely helpful for us. Now this was something I had been meaning to do and started doing before any of the stuff was in the media and this actually is not really related to the economic times we find ourselves in. It certainly helps in times like these but I think it is a universal principle and don't know why it took me so long to get with the program.

The program? Cash. That's right - no debit, no credit card...just cold hard cash! You want to know where all your money is going in a week? You want to be able to stick to a budget? Use cash. Now my friend Julie told me several (okay, many many) times to watch this show Til Debt Do Us Part. Well, thank-you Julie! (for my American friends, it is a Canadian show but still very applicable - it actually is kinda nice to see them working with Canadian money on TV - don't see that very often). Anyhoo, I have watched the show quite a bit now and it really helped us make that move to cash. I had wanted to do it for a while but this show helped me figure out what to do with it. So now in our cupboard, we have 4 jars - Food & Eating Out, Transportation, Entertainment, and Everything Else. Each week our budget is divided up into the jars (which I was able to figure out from her interactive worksheet) and I know exactly where I'm at. So now when I go to Costco and I know I only have $80 left for groceries for the week, I don't even go down certain aisles.

The other thing this has got me doing again is meal planning. What a lifesaver! I sit down at the beginning of the week and figure out what I am going to make for suppers for the week. That way when I go to the grocery store with cash in my pocket, I know exactly what to spend it on. Sounds time consuming, you say? Not at all! I used to spend so much time fretting about what I was going to make and then having to make extra runs to the grocery store to pick up a can of coconut milk or whatever else...Now, I make my list, do my shopping in one trip and I'm good to go for the week. Plus the meal planning probably only takes me about 10 minutes. I would call that a time saver!

Now the whole purpose behind this was so that we could live exclusively on Troy's income, which we have come much closer to doing now. My income goes towards things like debt repayment and the extras (clothes, car maintenance, gifts, etc). I know that ideally, Gail (the host of the show) has a jar for clothes but we don't buy clothes every week. If you do, then make sure you have a jar and a budget for it.

Lastly, we have also started an emergency fund. Every month, an automatic transfer happens into a separate account so when those bigger things happen, we are not scrambling or pulling out the plastic to deal with it.

This is still a process and we are far from perfect but I can't tell you what a stress-reliever it has been. We now know exactly where the money is going and there is so much more thought that goes into purchases. That was a big eye-opener for me - how thought-less my shopping had become. When you have a specific plan, you think twice before throwing that patio set in your cart because it's such a good deal and it probably won't be there next week!

I highly recommend trying this. I bet you won't go back. It's time to put the thinking back into our spending and our saving.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Wear the Old Coat and Buy the New Book

I love that quote - it's by Austin Phelps (of course, I tend to buy the new coat and the new book....)

Sorry for my absence. I was quite ill at the beginning of the week, when I meant to post and then have been catching up on things.

Anyhoo, today I wanted to share about my bookshelf. I have found such joy in reading over the last few years. In school, I read because I had to but only rarely actually enjoyed the books picked for me. After I had children, I felt I didn't have time. I now know that it is vitally important for me to make time to read. It is one of the ways I grow as a person. Fiction and non-fiction alike have shaped me into the person I am. So I wanted to share some of my favorites! I have been in and out of book clubs over the last several years and always feel like I am missing something when I am not a part of one. I don't know if it's a time-of-life thing but it seems to be a hard thing to get people to commit to for any length of time. Still, I am thankful for the times I have been in them as they have introduced me to some of my favorite books that I might not have discovered otherwise.

She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb
This was the first book club book I read (it was my pick). Wow - what a great book. I remember being about 30 or 40 pages from the end thinking to myself that there was no way he could end the book that would satisfy me. There was a big fork in the story and I didn't like any of the possible directions. But what a wonderful surprise!

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingfisher

This was such a riveting story and taught me so much about how we react to circumstances in our lives. I can't say enough good things about this book. Highly recommend it.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseinni

I also loved The Kite Runner (if you saw the movie, you missed out. You've got to read the book) but what I loved about this book in particular was his ability to make you feel how real the characters are. At one point while reading, I set the book down and looked at Troy and said "Did you ever wish a character in a book was real just so you could beat the shit out of him?" Incredibly powerful writing!

Pay It Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Again, you might remember they made a movie out of this - try to forget that. I have never been so disappointed in a book-interpretation of a movie... This is an incredibly moving story and there is so much more depth to the characters. It will inspire you!

The Success Principles by Jack Canfield

I have already read this book twice and will read it many more times. It is just such a practical book on how to get what you want. I am very much about figuring out what you want and then putting a plan in place to get it! If you are new to non-fiction, this is a great place to start. The chapters are short and each day gives you a new principle. It is from this book that I learned the term "inverse paranoid" which I now consider myself: I believe that everyone out there is here to help me!

Excuse Me, Your Life Is Waiting by Lynn Grabhorn
This was my first "law of attraction" book and I admit, I put off reading it for a long time because there are parts of it that just don't line up with my beliefs. I have learned something though and that is that there are many things I can learn without compromising my beliefs. For example, much of the law of attraction literature says to "put it out to the universe". Well, for me, when I read that, it means to me to pray. When I read it in that context, it makes a whole lot more sense!

Dare to Dream, Work To Win by Tom Barrett
This is written specifically from a network marketing standpoint and is by far the best book I have read on the subject. If you are in network marketing, this is a must read! He puts forth a very simple plan for success: plan your work; work your plan. Did I mention this is a must read??

Well, I could go on all day. But I would love to hear from you what have been some of the most influential books for you. What books have stayed with you and influenced the person you've become. What books were just so good that you stayed up until 4 in the morning even though you had to get up the next morning but you just couldn't put it down? Which authors have been able to draw you into their worlds so much that you could feel the wind in your hair and smell the dew on the grass? Which books have caused you to go through an entire box of tissue in one sitting?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Golden Global Idiocy

First off, I admit - I do like awards shows. Specifically, I like to watch the Golden Globes and the Oscars. I even have an annual Oscar party. I didn't get a chance to watch all of the Golden Globes last night. In fact, I saw very little of the actual show but I saw the pre-show in its entirety. Hence my need to rant.

So first of all, I find it interesting to see who all qualifies to attend this gala event. Case in point, Billy Ray Cyrus. He has done nothing. He is riding his daughter's coat tails - literally (did you see the shot of him standing on the train of her dress?) And apparently he gets the good car while she only gets the hand-me-down Porche. Wow - life's hard when you're 16. Here's the thing with Miley. She is not a talent. She is a product. And how sad is that? We have turned people into products! And there's a contest to see who'll be first in line.

My other big eye-roll of the evening came when Ryan Seacrest was trying to get an interview with Brangelina. They of course did not give him the time of day and he was left standing there looking very foolish indeed. Now on one hand, I can see where they are coming from. I personally wouldn't want to spend any time talking with Ryan Seacrest either. However, it all came across as such a pride-full arrogant scene.

I guess my point is (and I do have one) that we have to be careful who we look up to. Why do we idolize these people? Granted there are some exceptionally talented people out there. But there are also people like that in our own neighborhood. I am constantly amazed at the creative genius I see all around me - genius that is coupled with humility and humanity. I don't know...I was just so turned off by the attitudes of these people to whom we give such attention. We know what Suri eats for breakfast but we are still learning the names of all the kids on our child's soccer team.

Okay, okay...I could go on for days but I won't. I do like to get caught up in all the glamor and splendor from time to time. I just try to make sure that I don't take up too much real estate in my brain with trivial star tracking. I've already given them too much of my energy and time just with this post.

So again, I do have a point: Be the role model your children are looking for. Doesn't matter if you can sing a note. Just be human, approachable, real. And if poor Ryan Seacrest comes knocking, make sure to give him the interview.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Yes indeed - it is that time of year again. Did you make any resolutions? Still sticking to them? It is the 6th afterall! I have kind of gotten away from making resolutions the past few years. Instead I focus on setting goals. To me, these are different things.They share common threads but I find often resolutions are made because it is the thing to do. There isn't a real plan behind them.

Goals, however, must have a plan. There is a cliche that states that goals are dreams with a deadline. I've learned a lot about goal-setting over the last several years and am in the process of formulating this year's goals. What do I want to accomplish? What will this year look like? At the end of this year, how will I measure success? What does that mean for me? I say for me because success is a very individual thing measured differently by different people. That is the first step in setting goals - figuring out your own definition of success. Do not base this on what you think it should be or what you think others expect of you. It has to be based on your true self and what will bring you that sense of accomplishment.

So, here is one of the things I've learned about setting goals. It's a simple acronym but it makes a lot of sense. Goals should be SMART:

So look at the difference:
I want to lose weight - not a goal, just a statement of desire.
How about this: I will lose 10 pounds by July 1st by exercising 3 times a week and cutting out snacking after 8PM.
See the difference? Which person do you think will reach her goal?
Notice also the difference in language: the first one said "I want" while the second one said "I will". There is a difference between desire and decision. Let me say that again: There is a difference between desire and decision. Language is very important. I was sent a video this morning and the opening of it said "If we spoke to our friends the way we speak to ourselves, how many friends would we have?" Wow - think about that! You need to value and love and cherish yourself!

So when you are setting your goals for the year (or whatever time period you are setting them for), remember that. Are your goals such that you are showing yourself value? Where do you put yourself on your totem pole? Are you even on the totem pole or is it too full of looking after everyone else? Last year one of my goals was to find balance. I don't think I'm there yet but I have come a long way. I will continue to work on this. One of the things I started doing was scheduling "me time". At first it feels selfish. There I am sitting at Starbucks with a good book and a latte while there is laundry, cleaning and phone calls to make. But it's like I've said so many times before: on an airplane, you put on your own oxygen mask first before you try to help anyone else. My oxygen mask just happens to drip espresso. Sometimes it's a hot bath in the middle of the day, sometimes it's going for a walk or to the library. Whatever recharges your batteries, make sure you take some time to do it. I started with an hour a month and have worked up from there.

So as you think about the coming year and all of it's possibilities, make sure that the goals you make and the way you measure success are in line with what truly gives you joy and fills your cup.

Here's to a year of possibilities! Go out and grab it!