Monday, September 19, 2016

Self-Care; Unmarried & Single Americans Week

Yes, it's that time of year again! And this article has some fascinating facts and figures that make me believe every year, more and more will be celebrating.

To kick this off, I want to start by addressing those who may not be single by choice, or wouldn't call themselves happily single.

For whatever reason, you're single at this moment, and this is your life right now so embrace it. Here are some ideas on how to take care of you.

Take time to do what you love. I'd be hard-pressed to find anyone, even among the happiest couples I know, that don't have certain activities or hobbies that don't interest their partner/spouse/whatever you want to call them. Whether it's binge-watching a certain TV show, hiking, the opera, even dancing around your living room... you can enjoy freely, and without that feeling that the other is just tolerating it. If these activities take place outside of your home, consider doing them solo. Personally, I love belting while making dinner, picking a show to binge-watch on weekends, and I have a few shows coming up where I've just bought one ticket.

Take care of your money. I sleep so much better knowing that I have a plan in place that's working for me. Of course, I'm far away from most of my financial goals, but I'm moving in the right direction. I know how it feels to not have a plan, too. It's incredibly empowering to know I'm taking care of my money.

Re-think your home.  To be clear, I don't mean spending lots of money on this, but take another look at where furniture, pictures and knick-knacks live. Sometimes, there may be only one or two lay-outs that make sense in the space, but a re-configuring of treasured items may help you appreciate them anew...or you may prefer empty space there instead now. Coming home should feel inviting, and if it doesn't, consider what changes could be made that would make it so.

Define (or re-define) your goals. Plan your future as if you'll always be single. You may or may not be, but again, this is your life right now. Are there classes you've been meaning to take to advance your career? Is there another career path that you want to research? If you're closer to retirement, have you thought about what that would look like? Figure out the small steps you can start taking today to live the future you want tomorrow. Writing the book and the upcoming workshop both came from thinking about this.

Connect/re-connect with your friends. Be forewarned: if you've dropped friends for a relationship, some may not be anxious to re-connect without at least calling you out on this. If that's the case, honor their feelings. I still don't see as many of my friends as often as I'd like, but I enjoy it whenever I do. Especially if it's some quality one-on-one time together over lunch or dinner. I actually prefer that over seeing shows or movies with friends - where talking to each other is the main activity. There's one friend in particular I have a standing lunch appointment once a month. It's always something I look forward to, it's always a good conversation, and I just always feel good after spending time with her.

Biologically, we are each whole all by ourselves.

I definitely went through a period soon after my divorce where being alone completely terrified me, so I do get it. But once I accepted my single status, I was able to start thinking about me and my life and what I could do to make it better. We have so little control over so much of the world, and many of us are responsible for the care of others, but often feel like no one is taking care of us...and that's because as adults, we are responsible for our own care. Whether single or coupled, take that responsibility seriously. I'm pretty sure you'll find yourself well worth the effort!

Monday, September 12, 2016

9 Year Blogiversary - Announcement!

I'm holding a workshop in October on single parent budgeting. This will be in Burbank (L.A. area) on October 5 and I hope you can join me! I loved writing the eBook, but I really want to help people IRL, too!

My 9-year Blogiversary seemed a fitting time to announce this to any readers I have left :)
You can RSVP by emailing me (admccaffery at gmail). In case you can't read the attached, if you want to earn a gold star, please track your spending for about a week before the workshop and bring that with you.

Hope to see you there!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Homework-Free Election Night

I went to my daughter's Back to School Night and lobbied the Principal, Vice Principal and all of her teachers to consider giving no homework on Election Night (with the possible exception of a US History/Government teacher assigning the homework of watching Election Night results). I was pleased that everyone seemed on board with the idea and surprised that the most enthusiastic response came from the AP Chemistry teacher, since his class is the most intense.

While it should apply for the mid-term elections too, I think we'll meet less resistance this year in particular since we'll have a new President no matter what. I think it's also appealing to the teachers, since they probably want to watch, too.

Since most probably haven't had their Back to School Night yet, I encourage parents to take advantage of that opportunity to ask the teachers and administrators to consider no homework on Election Night. I will also be following up with an email in a few weeks.

Of course, this isn't just to give adults the night off. I will be requiring my daughter to watch with me. In addition to discussing the electoral college, here in California, we'll be discussing propositions, and keeping an eye on the results for the House and Senate. My daughter has also been watching The West Wing with me, so she's particularly interested in U.S. government and politics. That (and Hamilton, of course) have already given us many opportunities to discuss issues, so I think she's actually looking forward to it, too!

I hope you'll join us in educating our families about the political process and ensuring that our children look forward to the civic responsibilities of voting in the future. I believe that no homework on Election Night is a small step in raising (or at least, not decreasing) voter turn-out for elections to come.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Balancing Wants v Needs - or not

I heard an interesting concept on the HerMoney podcast: that wants may be needs after all. Author Sarah Newcomb makes the argument that what we normally refer to as "wants" are really meeting fundamental needs.

Thinking about this through my own budget lens, my Theatre Tix category comes to mind. Do I need to see Hamilton? I would joke that yes, yes I do, but of course, that's an exaggeration. But thinking about it, planning for it, imagining it when I listen to the cast fulfills my needs for participation, leisure, creation, identity and freedom.

So maybe, when looking at the categories where you tend to overindulge, ask yourself, "what need(s) does this satisfy? Are there other ways I can create that satisfaction?" And bonus: coming up with new ways to minimize these expenses will also satisfy your fundamental need for creativity!

Some people, for instance, won't listen to cast recordings until after they've seen a show. I prefer to spend $10-20 on a cast recording before I shell out hundreds for tickets to see if it's something that interests me. I tend to meet friends for lunch instead of dinner to save both time and money. Lunches are cheaper than dinners or even drinks sometimes, and it doesn't interfere with my schedule for picking up Riley after work.  I don't subscribe to music services because I have enough in my iTunes and Amazon Prime libraries to keep the music varied without another monthly bill. (Plus, I still listen to Hamilton more than half the time, anyway!)

If this sounds daunting, remember two things:

1) We adapt all the time. Technologically alone, we all try new things on a regular basis. Instead of thinking of this as a sacrifice, think of it as an adaptation.

2) This is an opportunity to get more of what you want: you get your needs met, plus you get to save money for other needs/wants.

And hey, when you come up with solutions and plop down the $$ for that "want", you can honestly say to yourself, "I need this!"

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Financial Literacy Month 2016: Budgeting Beyond Diapers & Day-Care

I was surprised when I heard a financial expert on a podcast say that she thought her costs would go down once her child was in school. Kids do not get cheaper as they age. The costs just become less fixed.

I admit, I felt the same sense of relief when I stopped paying for daycare, but reality set in fairly soon. School supplies, after-school activities, outgrown clothes and shoes, school fundraisers, teachers' presents, birthday presents, summer camp, book fairs and so on.

Granted, there are things you can do to keep these costs from skyrocketing (buying used clothes, saying "no" to fundraisers, having your child make presents), but not spending any money is next to impossible.

The easiest way to transition from the fixed day care costs to these lumpy, don't-know-when-they'll-hit costs is to budget the money you were budgeting for day care to a "kids' expenses" category. I lumped them altogether like that so that once a year, I can look at how much I'm really spending on these things and adjust as necessary. Let me tell you, that number didn't go down until one of my kids had a job!

If your budget is still struggling to keep up, it may be time to look for cheaper alternatives.

My daughter's love of art and dance really flourished at the local Boys and Girls Club. She received many opportunities there that would have cost a lot more at private dance or art studios, and had a lot of fun. Once she was ready to move on to a private dance studio, she volunteered to decrease the monthly tuition. It never hurts to ask if you or your child can volunteer in exchange for a discount. I believe that my daughter got more out of her private dance studio experience because of the hours she spent helping there. She loved working with the younger kids and received advice and inspiration from all the teachers, not just her own.

Often, she would ask if we had a certain something for an art project. Often, we didn't. Sylvia never let that stop her, and would come up with creative solutions that garnered her more pride than merely buying something. 

Once you think your kids are old enough, you can involve them in the conversation and their answers may be the best! If your child really really wants to be on the team, they may be more than willing to contribute half their allowance or set up a lemonade stand for the uniform and association fees. And if they don't, then why are you stressing about it? Toss the application and move on with your life!

Even when they're younger, you can start talking about choices. When you're at the grocery store, and your child is asking for this, that and that and that, tell them they can choose one. Or give them a dollar amount (no more than $5, probably) that they can use on a treat. (This also helps with their boredom and impatience at the store!)

The choices are not always that easy, of course, but the more your kids practice making choices, they'll be more prepared to tackle the difficult ones.

I always wanted to give my kids more than I could afford, but they usually exceeded expectations when I couldn't.

Still, there will be those times when $$ just has to be spent. If you never count on costs going down, you'll be better prepared for those times.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Financial Literacy Month 2016: Balancing a Realistic Budget

Sure, there are plenty of blog posts, articles and books out there that may convince you that you don't need a budget, or that budgets are constricting, or maybe you've tried "anti-budgeting." I can only say that my financial life has improved drastically once I started working with a realistic budget.

So we have to talk about how and when a budget isn't realistic, and therefore, doesn't work.

An unrealistic budget believes that the numbers are set in stone, and if you overspend, you fail.

A realistic budget allows you to change the numbers.

An unrealistic budget assumes that the same amount of money will come in and go out every month.

A realistic budget knows that there's no such thing as a normal month.

An unrealistic budget believes that you can eat Ramen every day, and if you really scrimp and save, life will be wonderful.

A realistic budget has room for fun money most of the time, but if something goes wrong, the sacrifice to that fun money is temporary.

Even before YNAB, I changed my budgeting ways using the method I learned in The Debt-Free Spending Plan. Both are based on the zero-based budgeting concept and both (finally!) gave me a realistic budget.

Sylvia felt the effects the other day when I was getting the car serviced, and the total came close to $400 (we split the costs). Or rather, she felt no effect, because she knew she had double her share in her Auto Maintenance category.

Before you throw in the towel completely on the idea of budgeting, try a realistic (preferably zero-based) budget. It just might change your financial life!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Financial Literacy Month 2016: Why I Rent

The delightful Paula Pant wrote the end-all, be-all post on why renting may be financially prudent, which I can't recommend highly enough, but the overall message bears repeating as often as possible.

Of course, I can only speak about why renting is best for me, but those reasons may resonate.

About a year and a half ago, I got the dreaded notice from our landlord that my rent was increasing by $100 a month. Granted, my rent had not increased at all for years, but $100 is substantial so I started weighing my options.

First, I considered buying. It didn't take too long to discover that there was nothing in my price range in good ol' Los Angeles. But I'm still glad that I went through the process to know that for sure.

I filled out an application with my credit union, and was approved for more than I thought I could reasonably afford. It still wasn't a lot by L.A. standards, but there were a few possibilities for condos (no houses). Very few.

One by one, each of those possibilities stopped looking feasible. They were either in neighborhoods where I didn't want to live or required work or were in developments that were questionable.

It actually wasn't that much of a disappointment to discover that buying wasn't going to happen. The more I thought about it, I knew that I couldn't handle it financially or emotionally.

It would have stretched my budget so dang thin, I'm not even sure we would have been able to keep Netflix! Even though I'm still not at Warren's recommended 50%, this would have put our living expenses at well over 70% of my income.

Living that close to the financial edge would not have been good for my state of mind. Not sure how much sleep I would have lost, worrying about my job stability, trying to find extra income, never having lunch with a friend, dreading holidays and birthdays...I've been there, done that. I don't want to go back.

Things might possibly have been different if we lived somewhere else, but I don't want to live somewhere else. My job is here, my friends and family are here, our lives are here.

We did end up moving, finding a place we like even better for the rent I was paying prior to the increase. I had the funds to handle the moving costs, and even buying a washer and dryer.

Just the other day, Sylvia was telling me that she's glad we moved and she likes our current place so much better than the last. So do I.

Americans are far too wonderfully varied to have just one American dream. Some things to consider before buying into the home-ownership aspect:

  1. Down payment +: Don't just have the amount required for your loan. You will also need more set aside for closing fees, moving expenses, and the unexpected repairs/necessities you don't discover until the keys are yours. 
  2. Plus...: Do you plan on buying new furniture for the new place? Do you need appliances? Will you still have enough in your emergency savings if your car needs new brakes the same week you move? Will you still have at least a few months' worth of income if you get unexpectedly laid off the next week? 
  3. Stability: If you're married, what if your spouse gets offered a new job with ten times the income the following month? If you're divorced and the other parent is still a part of your child/ren's lives, what if your ex moves across country? Are you prepared to stay in the house for at least five years?
  4. Peace of Mind: I know, everyone wants to dream about the possibility of saying "all mine" when it comes to home ownership. But how will you feel if the roof is leaking? If your mailperson slips on your front walk? When your debt is six figures? When the property taxes are all yours? 
The farther we get from the financial crisis, the more people start to use the phrase "throwing money away on rent."

I don't think of it like that at all. Every month, I pay for the privilege of the roof over my family. Just like someone with a mortgage does. I also get to call the landlord if my HVAC stops working. I get to explore the possibilities again if I don't like my rent increase. 

Of course, this is not to say that no one should own a home, but like most things in life, it is not for everyone. And it's certainly not for me.