5 Free Tools to Help You Get Your Finances Straight

Girl in boots

I have a renewed interest in my finances.

That sounds really terrible and I know that I should always have an interest in my finances, but honestly, I don’t. Like with most things in my life, my desire to sit at my desk and crunch numbers ebbs and flows. Sometimes I can be extremely enthusiastic about the possibility of knowing where every red cent is going and on other days, I’m like, “yeah whatever.” It’s difficult for me to get and maintain that level of consistency needed to get (and keep) my finances straight. And I’m talking straight.

Knowing:

What’s coming out?

What’s going in?

What are the best investments?

Did I make a sound financial decision?

Umm, when is the electric bill due again?

I need systems and tools to see my money clearly and know what’s going on with it at all times.

A case for systems and tools

I should start this part by saying that I love, love, love systems. I am a sucker for routine, no matter how much I try to deny it. The INTJ in me just loves a good systematic approach! That, on the other hand, may not  be your thing. You may be a fly by the seat of your pants kinda gal and that’s okay. But let me at least try to turn you out…when it comes to systems.

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Managing Debt & Living Life

This is a sponsored post by Denny’s. All opinions (and debts) are mine.

Managing Debt

I’m pretty sure that I have more debt than the average 27 year-old millennial. Between mothering a kid with a chronic medical condition (hospital debt!!) and my shiny degree from the ritzy, private college, I owe people a lot. A whole lot. I’m not talking about, “OMG, how am I going to pay off this $5000 student loan that I just had to get to cover my last semester in college?” lot, but an “OMG, my insurance didn’t cover my C-section, my kid spent 12 days in the hospital when I’d just changed jobs and didn’t have insurance yet” kind of a lot. Sometimes it can be overwhelming to think of how much debt I’ve accumulated in my short 27 years. I’m trying to buy a house for goodness sake! That’s even more debt, even more people to owe. Ugh, what’s a girl to do?

Living with lots of debt

To be fair, I’ve had the internal tug of war between throwing everything I have towards the debt versus just living with it–on a near daily basis. It’s hard to willingly “blow money” on fun things when you have so much debt hanging over your head, day in and day out. In the end, though, I’ve always sided with living with the debt, doing what I can to manage it, but not stopping my life because of it. I just feel like life is too short to always be living for tomorrow. Yep, debt elimination is important and something that everyone should strive for. But am I going to miss out on any part of my life because of it? Not a chance.

I know this sounds like something a cocky millennial would say and that’s probably because I’m knee deep in millennialism right now. At 27, I see things a bit differently than, say, a 37 year-old might. I’m in the thick of it, with a family, and I’m doing the very best I can to manage my debt, but still live my life.

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How We Saved Money in February

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February is a short month–only 28 days this year.  Our bills didn’t seem to get the memo though.  It’s apparent that they don’t care if the month has 31 or 3 days; they are still going to make an appearance and demand to be paid.  Since this year, we’re focusing on saving and building wealth, we’ve become more cognizant of not only when our bills come and when they’re due, but also how much we’re paying.  For the longest, we’ve been just getting the bills, opening them up, and paying them–most of the time, late.  This month, however, we decided to take another approach.  With yet another change in my employment, it was apparent that if we were to ever make a change, now was the time.  I’m happy to report that, so far, we’ve had two major successes.

Saving success #1

About a year and a half ago, we decided to ditch our month to month phones and sign a contract with a cell phone provider.  We got iPhones and for the most part, we’ve been satisfied with our purchase.  When we first signed the contract, our bill was around $140 something plus tax.  At least I think it was.  Over the months, however, the bill has just crept up.  In November, I received a text from our provider stating that we could upgrade our data plan free of charge with no contract extension or change in our service plan.  Of course I said yes. What followed was a response text from our provider saying, “Thank you for upgrading, which will add $10 to your monthly charges.”  Whaaa???  So y’all some liars, huh?  Of course, I attempted to contact customer service, but didn’t have time to stay on hold for my “estimated wait time.”  I passed the task along to Hubz.  And to make a long story short, we got comfortable with paying an extra $10.  Too lazy or too busy to call in to dispute the charges, we eventually realized that we were actually using most of the new amount of data anyway.

In December, there was yet another increase in our bill.  We paid it, but made a mental note to call and check on the bill.  Yeah, let’s just say that that mental note was somehow erased.  In January, I finally looked at the bill and was shocked to see that our bill had crept up to a little over $200 a month.  Neither Hubz or I knew exactly how or why and we had to admit that that was a shame.

So earlier this month, Hubz called our provider (after my many nagging motivational sessions) and found out what was going on.  Not only had the the data plan been increased once more, but a 33% discount that came along with my job, had been removed!  Well, after much discussion, Hubz was able to get our bill down to about $130 something including taxes.  So, yeah, about $70 saved there.

Saving success #2

Every month, I pay the electricity bill late.  I honestly have no idea when it’s due, but pay it when I get the final notice in the mail.  In all transparency, I wasn’t even sure where they were sending the bill statement until I did some digging and found out that it was being sent to an old email address.  An email address that I can no longer get into and that I really don’t care about.  Yeah, the bills are in there.

So anyway, I noticed that I was paying more and more, even taking into account the late fees.  Now, I know that energy fluctuates–depending on its use, the weather, etc.  Living in Nebraska, I’ve dealt with it for years.  But our bills were getting ridiculous! Like close to $300 ridiculous!  A few weeks ago, I was chatting with my mother and she let it slip that she didn’t have to pay her electricity bill for about 6 months due to a credit.  Say what, now?  6 months?  She said that a few years ago, she signed up for the level payment plan with the electric company and just paid the estimated amount every month.  Turns out, she overpaid and had a pretty significant credit on her account.  Ergo, no payments for 6 months.

I was sold.  I called our electric company immediately, signed up for the level payment plan, and now we’ll be paying $158 a month, every month. That’s much better than what we’ve been paying.

So, that’s what we’ve saved so far this month and we still have a few days left in the month.

How have you saved money this month?

 

 

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Figuring Out How to Save for Vacation + Our Savings Jar

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how-to-save-for-vacation-main

We’re speaking it into existence ’round here.  In 6 months, my family and I will board a plane to New York City.  We’ve decided that, by hook or by crook, that will be our family vacation for the year.  We want to go all out because even though we travel a lot, it’s normally right around our neck of the woods.  We’ve been to many, many Midwest attractions, and while we’ve had fun, it’s time to break out a little bit.  So we’re going to New York. Now the only question is, “how to save for vacation?”

Since I was a little girl, I’ve loved New York.  It’s so far removed from my upbringing in Mississippi and my life now in Omaha.  It’s intriguing, it’s fast, and it’s everything I dreamed I’d have when I was a teenager.  I’ve been wanting to go forever and I’m so glad that I’ll finally get to experience the city, its culture, and just everything…and that my family will be right there by my side.

:::throws confetti and twirls:::

So since we’ve made this decision, we’ve got to come up with the money for it–which means yet another savings plan.  We’re already saving for a house, continuously contributing to our emergency fund, saving for incidentals, and now this.  My husband is not a happy man right now with all this money leaking from everywhere, but if it’s worth having it’s worth working for, right?

How to save for vacation (or how we’re saving for New York)

The short answer is: in many ways.

  1. We’re cutting cost by paying our bills on time
  2. Switching providers as necessary, and opting out of some services.
  3. Increasing our incomes (I’ll talk about this more in a future post.).
  4. Bringing more money into the house outside of our regular jobs–this goes along with increasing our incomes, but I’m categorizing it differently because it’s essentially side hustlin’ and separate from our regular jobs.
  5. Getting the whole family involved with saving for the trip.

At the end of the day, we’ll all empty our pockets of any loose dollars or quarters and add them to our “New York” jar.  At the end of the month, I’ll take what we’ve saved, put it in our vacation savings account, and then we’ll start the process over again for the next month.

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So, that’s the plan.  Originally, we were going to use the $5 savings plan, but because Jam rarely (if ever) has $5, she wouldn’t have been able to participate as fully.  And since this is about learning, earning, and goal-setting for Jam, as much as it is about going on a vacation, we opted to use a method that would work best for all of us, including her.

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Eek!!! I’m super excited now!

What are your tips for saving for a vacation?

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