Five Tools for Financial Peace | Overstuffed Overstuffed

Friday, February 28, 2014

Five Tools for Financial Peace

Since PEACE is the word I have chosen to focus on in my life this year, I have naturally been thinking about how to actually achieve peace in my life. It seems that some things are more anxiety-inducing for me, and therefore much more difficult to feel peaceful about.

I came upon Zig Ziglar's Wheel of Life while browsing the internet a few weeks ago, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. In order to achieve balance in life (and in my case, to achieve peace), one needs to make sure each of these 7 areas is getting balanced attention. I am finding that my anxieties are always rooted in the areas that are out of balance somehow. In the case of career, it's because that area is getting too much focus. And in the case of family, it's because that area isn't getting enough of my time.

So, I'd like to focus on ways to find balance and peace in each of these areas.

Since my word for 2013 was ABUNDANCE, and part of my goal last year was to figure out how to be a more wise steward of the money we are so blessed to have, I figured I'd start with financial peace. I definitely learned a lot, but like many things in life, if you don't keep working at it, it's super easy to fall behind. And that is exactly what started to happen around Christmas time and we are just now--at the end of February--starting to get things back into better control again.

Following are five ways that we are beginning to find financial peace. I say "beginning," because I don't think I can have total peace in this area until we are completely out of debt and have a substantial savings. But I do feel peace about the path we are currently on, and that's a very good thing.

If you're living paycheck to paycheck and barely keeping afloat with finances, even though you're working hard, here are five essential tools to help you get ahead financially and finally find the financial peace you are looking for. #overstuffedlife

1. Budget

You knew this would be first, didn't you? Before you click away in disgust, may I tell you that I used to be completely against budgeting? I hated it, and mostly I didn't do it. Every time I actually tried it I failed spectacularly because stuff would always come up. I could never keep my spending under the limits in every single category, and it just made me feel like a failure.

Enter YNAB (You Need a Budget). I have several friends who swear by it, so I downloaded the free trial one day in desperation. I was so sick of living paycheck to paycheck, working my guts out, and barely keeping our heads above water in the finance department as we struggled to pay our every day bills, plus credit card and student loan debt.

YNAB is not just a budgeting software--it teaches you real skills along the way. The company offers a ton of free financial webinars and sends you emails full of wonderful tips to help you find financial peace. I was completely hooked after my 30-day free trial. In that 30 days we were able to really start to get a handle on things, and within another couple of months I had a new washer and dryer that we paid for with cash. In the 18 months we have used YNAB we have managed to pay off over 10,000 dollars in credit card debt and an end to it all is actually in sight. That has never happened before. We have built up our savings, are more aware of our expenses, and are just in a much better place financially overall.

As far as the budgeting goes? YNAB's philosophy is simple. You will go over every month. But the system accounts for that and helps you stay on track even if you have unexpected expenses. Because who doesn't have unexpected expenses?

The other thing that makes YNAB work for us is the fact that I don't have to sit at my computer every day to enter my expenditures. There is an app that syncs with my desktop so I can enter in my grocery bill while I am walking out of the store.  The Maestro and I both have the app, and it has been life-changing. The hardest part was training ourselves to enter expenses as soon as they happen--which we are still working on a bit.

If you are interested in trying YNAB, you can download a free trial, but when you're ready to pay for it HERE is a coupon code for $6.00 off. (You only have to pay for it once, there is no monthly maintenance fee.) It is worth every penny.

2. Schedule Time

When I said earlier that we started to get off track with our finances this past December, it wasn't because we weren't budgeting. It was because we weren't taking the time to sit down and monitor the finances. Our bank account is like a toddler: if we do not constantly check in, it will start to get into some major mischief! And we never fail to find a big mess on our hands when we have been too busy to keep on top of it.

At first I thought I needed to do this on a daily basis, but I can't really keep that up. Instead, I have made it a part of my Saturday morning routine to "balance the checkbook," make sure I haven't missed anything, look in on the budget, and make any adjustments necessary. And adjustments are necessary. Sometimes we start to go over on groceries in the middle of the month so I have to fiddle around with the numbers and move them around so I have enough money for groceries. This might mean we don't get to eat out as much that month, or that I took the money from a little-used budget item. My overall budget doesn't usually change, but there is much wiggle-room to be had between individual categories. By checking in on a weekly basis, I can make sure I don't go over the overall budget--or that, if I do, I don't do it by much.

3. Schedule Bills

I used to pay my bills a little willy-nilly. Sometimes I'd pay them right away, other times I'd wait because there wasn't quite enough money in the account, and still other times I'd forget and have to pay a late fee. I tried various systems over the years, but when it came down to it, I was all over the place.

Luckily for me, in this day and age of internet technology, I can just schedule everything at the first of the month and be done with it. I sit down on the first day of every month and do the following:
  • Schedule bills that are the same every month. This includes things like the mortgage and the internet. (Some of these types of bills come out of my account automatically, but the rest of them I pay using my bank's bill pay feature.)
  • Schedule bills that are different every month if I have already received the bill. Things like heat and electricity fall into this category. If I haven't yet received the bill, I schedule it as soon as it comes, otherwise I will forget. Usually it's only the water bill that I never seem to have in time.
  • Schedule credit card payments for the month. We are using the snowball system for getting out of debt, so most of our cards are getting a little bit over the minimum payment while one card is getting a much larger payment. We have already paid off two cards since we started up with YNAB. Unfortunately, we haven't been so smart with credit in the past...but we're getting there.
  • Update the credit card accounts in YNAB. This is mostly just finding the interest charges for the month online and updating them in YNAB so I have an accurate view of how much we owe. I'm always a little depressed after this activity because our debt total goes up a little bit.

4. Plan Ahead

This includes making sure your budget is going to work for you each month. If we are going to be traveling to the orthodontist two hours away that month, I know I need to budget for more gas money. If we are planning a family vacation, we try to budget and save for that months ahead of time, which means we also need to know how much it's going to cost ahead of time. We also budget and save for Christmas all year long instead of trying to figure out where that money is going to come from after Thanksgiving. 

Bills that are only paid once a year, such as car registration or insurance, are also saved and budgeted for monthly.

5. Cut Spending

This has become easier for me. Watching my debt number go down has become addicting, and I am much less likely to go blow a bunch of money on things I don't need. The Maestro and I both have a small amount of fun money, and there are budget categories for other things I might feel the need to go crazy with--like clothing. Sticking to the budget feels much better than having a whole closet full of new clothes, but it's nice to know I don't have to feel guilty if I buy a new shirt every now and then.

Today is the last day of our "No Spend February." I got the idea from the blog Living Well, Spending Less. We realized we had gotten a little out of control so we decided the best way to get back on track was to take on a month of no spending. We made sure the kids knew about it and understood that they would not be getting unneeded things unless they used their own money for them.

For us, "No Spend February" meant not spending money on things that weren't an absolute necessity. Of course we spent money. We paid our bills. We bought groceries, but we tried very hard not to buy extra treats at the grocery store or things that we didn't absolutely need, so our grocery bill was much smaller than usual this month. (Our cupboards at the end of the month are also a little emptier than usual, too, but it's good to start using what we have.) We didn't go out to eat once, (oops--I forgot about Valentine's Day--we budgeted that in, but our eating out was still considerably less) which is a MAJOR feat for us. The only thing out of the ordinary that I can think of was buying a pair of volleyball shorts for Bria since she joined the team. She couldn't wait until March for them, and besides, I think they fit the definition of "necessity."

I'll be able to tell better tomorrow when I sit down and pay bills and update the budget, but from what I can already see, we are in a much better place now than we were at the end of January. Plus, it felt really good. I think we might do these no spend months periodically--not only to keep us on track financially, but to help us keep our lives more balanced all around.

Bonus tip: Knowledge is Power

Knowing how much extra that fancy dinner or new outfit is going to cost you when you put it on the credit card instead of paying cash is often enough to deter you from spending outside your means. I love the extra tools that are found on have become some of my favorite tools to keep my spending in line. Their Financial Personality Quiz is a great way to start understanding yourself and your own financial habits and taking steps to be better.

Payoff also offers consolidation loans to help those who are really in trouble with consumer debt--and the peace that can come from just having one monthly payment instead of multiple payments is immeasurable.

What tools do you use to help you have financial peace?

Other posts about my quest for peace in 2014:

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  1. I love reading posts like this--I always end up getting some good ideas. I liked the "no spend February". We need to try that one of these months. And thanks for the reminder to check in on the budget--we often forget to do that, but it's so much more helpful if we do it on a weekly basis. It must feel SO GOOD for you to have paid down so much debt in the last 18 months--you go girl!! Good job!!!

  2. Hi, I know someone else who balances their checkbook on Sunday AM. I mostly agree with making sure that you watch it. I think that's my #1. Strong work - -you guys are doing great! :)

  3. My goal this year is to save more. I downloaded YNAB as well, but have not found to be that useful to myself. Mostly, I made a spreadsheet on excel and that helped me keep track of my finances better. But most of all, I'm trying to just cut spending. My life does not need the clutter that spending ends up providing me, and my body also doesn't need all those lattes and sweets. So really, it's a win-win situation to just leave the credit card at home and triple think everything before you buy.