Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Budgeting Update: Finally Following the Rules

I don't buy a lot of books, but I have never regretted the $6 I spent on The Debt-Free Spending Plan. Every time I start to feel stressed out about my plans, I read it again. And realize that even though I think I'm not guilty of the "shut down" that Nagler often refers to in the book, I did shut down on some parts. So almost every time I read it, there is still more for me to learn and implement. And here's the Full Disclosure about that link being associated with my Amazon affiliate account, which may generate a small income for me...that may be enough to buy another $6 book in two or three years!

While she stresses the importance of ensuring that Savings, Fun and Entertainment are part of the budget, I realized that I only had two of the three. I now remember that I combined Fun and Entertainment into one.

As I continue to pay down the balance on my remaining credit card, I've been going back and forth (in my typical can't make a decision fashion) on how or if to re-jigger the budget as my minimum balance decreases. At the same time, my daughters are getting older and Sylvia is old enough to get a driver's license, but I'm in no way financially prepared for that!

I do feel pretty strongly that since driving is a privilege, not a right, she should be contributing towards these costs, so she's been pounding the pavement looking for a job. At the same time, I don't expect her to cover all the costs.

So, after weeks and about a half dozen ideas on what to do, I re-read the book and that helped me make some decisions.

Because I've been stressing so much about the car situation, I've created a Car Repair line item in addition to the Car line item, which is mainly budgeted to cover gas and parking, but I had also been using it for maintenance. Nagler does state in her book that if your car is not under warranty, then she suggests $80 monthly for Car Repair. Originally, I had thought about adding that when my credit card minimum reaches a certain threshold, but using some Suze Orman advice to address what fears me most, I decided that I would feel better if I did it now. It might not help me next week, when I suspect my car will next be due for maintenance, but getting into the habit now is better than waiting even one more week.

I had also toyed with the idea of adding more categories, because I think I generalize too much and then justify some expenditures, and then regret them, or at least question myself about them. But again, instead of waiting until the minimums go down, I was able to split some categories in half so that these "sub-categories" (so to speak) would get some attention sooner rather than later.

For instance, I was really excited about starting a Theatre Tickets fund (i.e., our kind of Entertainment). I had originally thought that I could use the Fun category for that, but we kept finding other fun activities to do. At the rate I'm going ($5 a week), I still won't have enough in there to cover the cost of Newsies tickets when it comes to town, but I will be that much closer, and we can still have some non-theatre Fun in the meantime.

Vacation isn't as important to us. I am perfectly happy to take some staycations for R&R, and the girls travel more often than I do with my parents. But I do think fondly of places I'd like to go again; San Francisco, New Orleans, New York, to name a few, and places I still haven't been to that I would like to visit one day (Hawaii, Australia). But since it's not as important to me as the car and theatre, then I will wait until my credit card minimum meets a certain threshold before I start putting $5/week into that line item.

I have not had a Clothing line item. I figured I could take from other places for that, but again, that's not really planning. Clothes aren't really important to any of us, but are necessary, so that line item is only getting $4 a week and we'll continue to buy on an as-needed basis as we do now. That $4 is coming from the Presents line item, which can now be decreased a bit since I've completed 80% of my Xmas shopping.

I've previously bought miscellaneous household items using funds from either Groceries or Miscellaneous (things in the non-food grocery aisles). I decided there are enough of these type of needs that Household deserves its own line item, and will grow it at $5 a week (which I got from the Miscellaneous category).

My duties as a non-profit Board member sometimes include expenditures that I can't budget so when my credit card minimum balance goes down, I will start a Donations category at $5/week.

As my credit card balance decreases, I will also add New Car and Short Term Savings line items to my budget. I am hoping that the Short Term Savings will keep me from dipping into my long-term savings account as often. As Nagler says, it's important to have these multiple accounts to pull from when the unexpected happens, and so that's what I'm trying to build now that I kinda sorta have my daily budget under control.

*Note: Nagler states that we should open separate Savings accounts for many of these line items (Car Repair, Short Term Savings, etc.), but I find that it's just as easy to track in the Magic Little Notebook - and saves me from worrying about transferring if/when I want to access them. Of course, they might be too easy to access, but I am hoping that having that many more line items means that I will be more interested in building those than depleting them. Then again, I may change my mind again after I read the book another 2 or 3 times!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Balancing Conflict

Clearly, I'm not participating in NaMoBloPo, or any other like-minded acronym, but I have been subscribing to The Daily Post (I know, it doesn't show), which suggested conflict as inspiration (two weeks ago - yeah, I'm behind).

Last week, I took a class on Communication with Style, but didn't really have a chance to digest the info (even though our facilitator suggested we journal immediately, he then proceeded to TALK during the entire time allotment, so I couldn't focus).

I wanted to take the class to focus on conflict. The class was based on The Social Styles Handbook (Full Disclosure: Connected to my Affiliate link which could generate a small income for me if anyone in addition to my mom ever clicked it), which breaks down communication styles into four quadrants: Analyticals, Drivers, Expressives, and Amiables. Not surprisingly, I am an Expresive with an Analytical rising.

Strengths of an Expressive: passionate, creative; weaknesses: lack focus, lacks attention to detail. Thankfully, my Analytical rising generally balances that out with almost opposite strengths, which include detail-oriented and rational. The one weakness which carries through both styles affects decision-making. An Expressive may be too quick to make the wrong decision, while an Analytical will want to know absolutely everything (usually impossible) before reaching a conclusion.*

I can definitely say that making a decision remains a weak point for me in all aspects of life.

I pick my outfits based on which pants are "next" in line from where they hang in my closet. I take that same sort of approach for picking CDs in the car (all home-made shuffles for variety) and recipes. My linear approach frees me from actually deciding since it's been decided for me.

And now that I think about it in terms of conflict, minimizes inner conflict.

In the class, we broke into groups of our dominant style characteristics. We were surprised to realize that all of us Expressives hated conflict and tried to avoid it as much as possible. We agreed that, none of us being in our twenties anymore, we had all learned the hard way what we can be like when we're too upset and had learned instead to just shut down completely.

Of course, complete avoidance doesn't necessarily work, either. As with everything, we - make that I - have to find a balance.

I am learning to take some time to let myself shut down, vent to friends about what's bugging me and let myself go through the worst of the emotions before I attempt to address the issue. Many times, however, the issue has diminished so that I don't really have to deal with it anymore, but then it usually goes and rears its ugly head again and I am back in the same position.

So what I need to work on is to put on my big girl pants already and deal with some of these issues. The two hour class was nowhere near enough time, but in reading through the supplemental materials, I think I might be able to get somewhere if I can focus on these three steps:

1. Determine their dominant communication style.
2. Then, get to the heart of the issue: the why, the how, the what.
3. Flex my style to accommodate theirs. Or, if I can't determine what their style is, then limit my communication to address the why, the how, and the what.

*So that you're not left with only half the quadrant, Drivers tend to be great at getting things done, even if their communication style might come across as rude or abrupt. Amiables like to get along with everyone and help hold a team together, but may not feel comfortable adding their own opinions or insight without some coaxing.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Budget Update: Holiday Shopping

I've just discovered that my favorite personal finance book has a blog! This entry covers holiday spending; my approach was slightly different, but I'm in roughly the same place.

We have 4 family birthdays in October, 1 in November, a friend's birthday in December (she's pretty much the only friend to whom I give an actual present), and then of course the holiday gift-giving. So I started thinking about the holidays a few months ago.

Where I did things a little differently is I first estimated how much I was willing to spend on each person, and made that total number my budget. Then I started putting any extra money from 5-week month paychecks (and anywhere else) into the Presents line item, and started shopping.

As author Nagler suggests, sometimes I went slightly over but other times, slightly under so it has worked out well (so far). I have crossed off nearly everyone on my list and still have money in the Presents line item.

The only place I went over was in planning celebrations for the girls' birthdays so I did use some from savings to cover that, but since Presents is now a permanent line item in my budget, I am improving my chances that I won't have to do so next year. 

My sister reminded me about ExpenseRegister, which I'd stopped using a long time ago. Then I realized that it was the easiest way to meet my next goal of tracking. I was trying to do it by keeping a log book, but I was forgetting to do so on a regular basis, or wouldn't have it with me when I wanted to do it. Since ExpenseRegister can be accessed from anywhere (and it does not keep any personal account information), I can easily add expenditures and run reports to see how I'm doing.

This doesn't mean I don't still obsess and worry and fret about money and what will happen if my next car service costs $1,000. I still have a long, long way to go. But I'm not so much worrying about the holidays this year, which is totally a first for me!  

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

One Year Later

I joked to one of my best friends/colleagues that the relationships I have with those at work are the longest relationships I've been in! And also the most fulfilling. And may also explain why I don't feel lonely or empty as a single person.

A friend that has been temping as a secretary (she is divorced and child-free) mentioned that she thought one of the reasons she was enjoying the assistant role so much is because it allows her to take care of someone.

While any need or desire I may have to nurture is totally fulfilled as a single parent, my work life allows me the opportunities to fulfill other interpersonal aspects. I get to carry on adult conversations, I am intellectually challenged, and I am also in long-term relationships with each of my colleagues, clients, and even opposing parties.

Our friendships, our relationships with our colleagues, are often underestimated. But these are the people with whom we spend the majority of our hours, the majority of each week, and throughout the majority of my work life, I create close bonds with those I encounter through my job.

This past weekend was the anniversary of the death of one of those colleagues, who was so much more than a colleague. She changed my life, my daughters' lives, and a dear, dear friend.

I thought I'd be more melancholy about starting another year without her with us. But through this year, I have realized that I learned so much from her, and that her lessons are ingrained in me.

Every so often, I ask myself, what would Bonnie say? And I think I know the answers, and that reminds me how lucky I was to have her in my life! 

In the last few weeks of her life, I attempted to help raise money for her care. We planned a lunch to go see her and give her the donations. I wrote a letter to Bonnie and her husband to thank them for all that they've done for us. When the day came, however, she was unconscious and never was alert enough to read it. I tried to tell her, and I know she knew I was there. But I still wish I'd thought to give her the letter sooner.

When my 10-year work anniversary came around, I wrote thank you emails to those colleagues who also are so much more to me than that word implies. The really good friends had to tease me about being so sappy, but I do feel better knowing that I've said it.

Even though I knew she was dying, I thought I had more time. Sometimes, we don't even get that chance.

The holidays are coming. Thanksgiving is most likely spent with family, but there may be an occasion at work to celebrate with your colleagues. If you're lucky enough to have a true friend (or more) at work, it's a really great time to let them know.