Thursday, December 31, 2015

Changing my Mindset

My First Mindset Change. It wasn't a New Year's resolution, but in early 2013, I vowed to not incur any new credit card debt. It took a few months, but by the summer, I knew I could keep it up and didn't look back.

My Second Mindset Change. I can't pinpoint this one exactly, except maybe to say when I started using YNAB. Obsessing over the budget screen helped me to look at my spending differently. Suddenly, making my lunches felt like a better plan. Then, giving up cable. I focused on decreasing my monthly have-to bills so I could spend more money on things I really enjoy, like going to see live theatre.

My Third Mindset Change. I loved when I got off the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle and started living on last month's income, but I still couldn't see the value of a large chunk of money in the bank...except it was nice to think about ways to spend it.

This year, my mindset change has been to appreciate the concept of letting money sit, something that we discuss on the YNAB Forums frequently. I don't know exactly when it changed, but I did realize that suddenly, even though I have more in my Emergency Savings than I've ever had before, I'm more focused on making that account grow than I am on thinking of ways to spend it. I have mini-goals planned that I'm working towards, but I also plan to just keep letting it grow indefinitely.

This mindset change has also affected my retirement planning. I decided to increase my 401k contribution and then was so excited to discover that it had a way for me to automatically increase it annually! I was a little frustrated with myself that this didn't occur to me before, but I'm trying to accept that as long as I'm moving in the right direction now, I just have to keep doing what I can do now.

But the point of this post is not to boast or brag. None of this has come easily for me, yet I am discovering that the longer I keep at this, the better I'm getting at it. Certain lifestyle changes which seemed unthinkable in years past have become a part of everyday life. And most importantly, certain ways of thinking about money have also changed, slowly but surely.

And that, I think, is the key. Start slow. Pick one thing. Here are some ideas.

If credit card/consumer debt is consuming you, do not incur new debt. period. Just that.  Of course, pay what you can, but don't try and pay it all off in one month or something crazy like that. Just get used to life without incurring consumer debt.

If you're drowning in monthly bills, pick one area per month to focus on. Maybe in January, you try to find a better rate for your cell phone bill. In February, you try to get a lower auto insurance rate. In March, you focus on eating out. And so on.

If you need to save more money, try Afford Anything's one percent challenge. If that's too intense, just up your automatic savings by $5 per pay period. Then, try $10 per pay period.

Again, don't try to do them all at once. Just pick one. After it becomes easy, then move on to something else. 

Seriously, if I can change my mindset, anyone can.

Wishing you a prosperous New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Guest Post at Logix

I was honored to be asked to write a guest post for Logix: A Financial Fresh Start.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Xmas 2015 post

Long-time readers may recall that I generally prefer odd years over even. This year was no different.


Sylvia graduated high school, turned 18 and is taking on more and more adult responsibilities. She’s working, she’s auditioning and keeping me entertained. She got a tattoo, but it’s a Sondheim quote so it’s kind of okay. She dyed her hair. Again. She’s a redhead as of this writing.

Riley is still thriving at school (sophomore year), and she’s back in LAPD’s Cadet program, hoping for a promotion soon.  She still wants me to let her shave her head, but like Sylvia’s tattoo, she’ll have to wait until she’s 18. She’s not as into social media and selfies as her sister, so the pic of the two of them will have to do. 

And in case you somehow missed it :), I published an eBook on Amazon: Balancing the Single Mom Budget, and got to make two podcast appearances to talk about back-to-school budgeting and holiday budgeting. Our family was also featured in a real book, How We Live Now by Bella DePaulo.

Family outings included Newsies at the Pantages and the annual Sound of Music Sing-along at the Hollywood Bowl. Sylvia and I had a couple of date nights, including Idina Menzel at the Hollywood Bowl, and Riley and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me. I also got to see If/Then at the Pantages with 4 members of the original Broadway cast (Idina Menzel, Anthony Rapp, LaChanze and James Snyder), which was so incredibly special and made me laugh, cry, and Idina's 11:00 number gave me chills.

I know I should probably be sentimental about the girls growing up, but every year, I enjoy their company more. My only complaints are that Sylvia is not obsessed with Hamilton like me and Riley, and Riley won’t watch Gremlins (which I really think she would love…and it’s not because she doesn’t like scary things, because she totally does). Otherwise, I’m pretty okay with who they are.  They’re not perfect (like, at all!), but they are closer than I ever got. So mostly, they just make me smile.

I hope there are plenty of smiles for you in the holiday season and year to come.

Happy Holidays,
April (and Sylvia & Riley)

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Balancing Fear

Like every other family with school-aged kids here, we were affected by the closure of LA schools yesterday.

I'd already dropped my daughter off. Since we don't have cable anymore, I actually enjoy my news-free mornings and Riley and I listen to music on the way to school so we had no prior knowledge of the threat (the breaking news emails didn't come until later).

About 5 minutes away from work, Riley called to let me know that "1S1S"* had called in a bomb threat and school was canceled. She'd arranged for a ride home already and said, "guess I'll have to take my math final tomorrow." I commented that it may have been a student trying to avoid finals, but I heard from many that it was deemed a "credible" threat. (Later news states that the threat was a hoax after all.)

Most posts I've read about this are talking about the fear. Riley had no fear. Instead, she was occupied with planning what she'd do today in lieu of school. While she did believe that the threat was credible, she also seemed confident that the police and others would handle it.

Of course, I feel a sense of melancholy that she's accepted terrorist threats as part of life, but I also think she has the right attitude about it: she's not letting fear prevail. She acted responsibly by getting a ride home so she was away from the threat, but then went on about her life.

We can't change this particular aspect of the world we live in. But we can also keep living every day we're alive with abundance and gratitude. And making peace where we can.

*Yes, I do know that's not how it's spelled, but trying to avoid a certain kind of traffic here.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Consider CoAbode

I've previous mentioned CoAbode here, and told Bella DePaulo about it for her book, How We Live Now. CoAbode helps single mothers find shared housing with other single mothers and their children, which can really help both financially and emotionally.

Now, CoAbode needs our help. They need to revamp their website, hire staff to expand their services, all while keeping it free for single mothers using their services. To be clear, I'm not gaining anything by posting about this. I just think they're a great service and want to help their efforts.

Go to their indiegogo page to contribute to CoAbode's campaign.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Never Blow Your Budget Again

I was talking to someone recently about budgeting programs, and why I'm a huge fan of YNAB, but not so much Mint or some of the others.

The problem with Mint (et al) is that it only tells you when you screw up. It makes you feel bad about going over-budget. You find yourself on the defensive, talking back to the spreadsheet or screen shot or whatever, exclaiming, "but I didn't know ___ was going to happen!" From having to attend a funeral to saying yes to a spontaneous get-together with a friend in town unexpectedly to simply not knowing you were going to have to buy your kid new shoes this month, there are many ways where your best-laid plans can go awry. Instead of red numbers or emails telling you, "you screwed up!" (okay, maybe not so harshly, but that's how it can feel), I like YNAB's Rule 3 philosophy to roll with the punches.

And you don't have to use the software to implement the strategy. Just change your numbers.

I know! Who knew it could be so easy? But that's really all you have to do. Sure, you might freak out for a moment, going, I don't have enough money to cover this! My experience, however, has shown me that there is always a way.

Earlier in my journey, when I still didn't quite have a handle on my non-monthly expenses, it was Sylvia's dance recital fees. I remember stressing in the car on the way home, thinking that the only way I could cover this was to add debt to the credit card. But when I got home and looked at my budget screen, I saw that I could instead pay less towards my outstanding debt and still not incur new debt. (I still could pay the minimum plus, just not as much as I wanted.)

Every month, I put $25 in my Mayhem category (for stuff I forgot, unexpected, etc.). In the beginning, I was using that much more often, but now, I've got close to $200. If you leave excess unbudgeted, you will be more inclined to buy yourself something fun (or at least, I would). By having a category for it, it's there for you when you need it.

Your budget should not feel like a straight-jacket. Most budgeting software does. If you don't want to pay for YNAB, use pen and paper or a spreadsheet so that you can feel in control of your budget and change as necessary. (Of course, much more detail available in my eBook :)

Change your budget as necessary so that instead of feeling like a failure, you feel empowered.