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12/18/2009

The Good, the Bad, and the Budget...

As Project Money draws to a close and we all spend the next few weeks gathering our thoughts and working our individual budgets, so too does this year draw to an end. That leaves us with many thoughts about the wonderful things we have learned and accomplished this last 7 months, where we are going and a gentle reminder of where we have been. Mistakes we have made that allowed us to be Project Money candidates and things we have learned to accept and see as accomplishments.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture; depending on your income level you will spend between $143,790 - $289,380 per child from birth to 18. This doesn't include college! It does include an amount for child care but not an amount if one parent stays home full-time, like in our house. We were grossly under prepared for this cost...though we wouldn't trade it for the world and obviously the financial prospect didn't freak us out too much with Cree as we added Chay and Coen to our family. However, better preparation would have allowed a much smoother transition that we wouldn't still be paying for today almost 8 years after the birth of our first child. Being on a budget way back then would have allowed us to put significant amounts of money away to use as a buffer during slim months, instead of credit cards.

Credit cards are a different story. Some say ignorance is bliss. That however, is only until you wake up and realize your reality of keeping the blinders on. This is how we operated for many, many years. And by we, we really mean Kari as she is the free-spirit of the family. We can say we are pretty happy to hear that these companies can no longer sit on College campuses and give away free stuff if kids sign up for cards. Being 18 and having no idea what the ramifications of having several cards meant, Kari simply saw them as a way to get the things. Oh and they said something about building credit..."that's good I can build credit"...LOTS of it. By not fully understanding and taking the time to learn and ask questions we entered into a big world of credit cards and car loans and spent every month barely treading water. We did this for years; and, it is exhausting especially once you want to redirect your attention to parenting. 

All we can say is budget! Some people hate that word...feel restricted by it...Kari sure did so we renamed it “the spending plan”. So if you need to rename things to get started then do it. Just start! Interestingly though halfway through Project Money Kari had the epiphany that she thought of everything as what she was going to "spend on" and never used the words "save for". So today we use a budget. A budget that in all its restrictive glory is amazingly freeing. Knowing every month where our money is going, how much we have and how much we are keeping through saving and investing. Most importantly though is the budget has allowed us to look forward to 2010 and start to save so we can cash flow a roof project and a trip to TX to watch my brother graduate. 2010 will still bring some visits with our Coach Don, because he ROCKS! And staying accountable to someone who knows our story is important to us.

So in the end this whole blog boils down to if we could go back in time...talk to our... "younger selves" we would try to get through our young thick heads. "Save. If you save now, get on a budget, take off the blinders and look at what is going on, learn about finances, you will be leaps and bounds ahead. Life won't always be smooth. There will be bumps and huge snow ruts to throw you off course but the knowledge and budget will be your friend and your future!" I don't know if we would  have listened but I would like to think we would have at least had our eyes opened a bit more. So if you have kids, talk to them about their finances, about the importance of a budget so they can spend, save, and give with confidence and with an attitude of gratitude!

If you haven't done it yet make a budget. One you can live with and try it...stick to it and experience the freedom of knowing.

Good luck to all our Project Money friends and to everyone who has played along and followed our stories.

This week and from now on we are celebrating our budget.

12/02/2009

Random Thoughts

Who cares if the 18 pack of razors are $2.00 each at Costco and the 4 pack are $3.10 each at Target if you don't have $36.00 to spend...spend the $12.00 at Target so your husband is not running around with weird looking stubble on his face and head. By the way, not all razors are created equal. If you buy the 4 pack of disposables for $3.00 that, in all theory, is the same as the other triple blade you buy, it's just a theory. When your husband shaves his head...you have to have a nice razor...it can be scary when it's not.

It is ok to do nice things for yourself even when you have what feels like a mountain to climb before you are out of debt. Make it small. $5 a month for a movie subscription to watch all our favorite documentaries you can't get any other way is a wonderful way to celebrate the good things in life...thanks Don for pointing this out at our last meeting!  We realized we were punishing ourselves by not subscribing to this service because we were telling ourselves "we don't deserve it".  What we don't deserve is to live with the guilt of the past. We are moving forward.

Craigslist has some awesome buys...like new-in-the-box toys at 25% the cost of retail or an entire living room set that you don't mind your friends seeing for under $100. There is good and bad on Craigslist; but the good can be really good!

Customers Rock!!!! Kari has met some amazing people through her job and most of them are a blast to chat with! Thanks to all those awesome customers who are debunking the recession and still making the drive to Heiney's for good food! Thanks!!!
Warm Novembers may not be good for the gas company's bottom line but it is GREAT for ours. Yay to lower utility bills this month!

Giving Thanks. A HUGE thanks that goes beyond words to our coach Don and to everyone that has put their time and energy into Project Money.

And Sharing...we are looking forward to taking some of our money this year and giving it away.  It is funny now that we know where our money is going and what it is doing. We realized that we have enough even when it feels too tight some months and some unexpected thing seems to blow our budget. We have money to put into a budget and for all the people who are struggling this year because of a loss of income or reduction in income. We feel there is nothing more important to do with our money than to share it.

This week we are celebrating an attitude of gratitude.

11/19/2009

How's It Going

So we have a lot of followers...many family and friends who keep up with our Project Money trip. Some wonder if we feel like it has made a difference or are we just focused on the end prize. The questions that people ask and reading Cassie and Willies "We want to be the biggest losers" blog have really got us thinking about how it is going for us. When the check-ins aren't required and there is no carrot dangling will we keep this up...will we REALLY maintain all the lessons we have learned and will it all have been worth it even if we don't get the "big" payoff? The answer is a resounding yes. We were already starting this process when Project Money presented itself to us. We were at our local branch on Junction Road...which we have to give a shout out to all the awesome and super nice folks that work over there. Keep up the great work!

We went to the credit union to put a chunk of our tax refund in a Money Market...you know...a rainy day account. We had already sent our credit cards through the shredder and quickly realized that without our emergency plastic we were going to have some issues if we had something big come up without money in the bank to fall back on. While in there we were talking about our new found wisdom when someone mentioned the Project Money sign-up. We took home the paperwork and looked it over. This was tough. We are very particular about having our children on display. We don't put their pictures up on forums of any kind so to have them be plastered all over Madison and the surrounding area was a big sticking point for us. Realizing that we won't be able to protect them from all bad things...because in this world there are people. We decided to go for it, if we win we have the money to put on a new roof with our new found motto of "no new debt". So the thought of that new roof propelled us forward. We got an interview! How great we were one step closer. 

In the interview they asked why we thought our situation was unique...and our answer..."we don't consider ourselves unique, so many people are in our situation". That in reality we are a good example of so many people's situations that we felt there would be a lot of people who could relate. It is so true many of our friends and family can relate and we are the face of their new relationship with money. That is a great feeling. There was one more question from the interview that sticks with us. It was...what makes us think we can make these changes...or something to that effect. Kari's response to this surprised both of us and really was heart felt and the truth. She said "I am so sick and tired of feeling broke and never getting ahead...I am mad that we are in this place with our money and frustrated that it seems to be so easy to get here". Blogging this doesn't do justice to the feelings that are quite vivid in real life. It is a real anger...you know the kind that gets the pitch of your voice higher and more intense, the kind of anger that turns parts of your body red, the kind of anger that makes you want to talk through your teeth...as if, if you actually open them you may start spewing forth profanities.   

It is this that drives us to not just "play" the competition but to commit to memory the things we are learning. The process that is going to not only get us free from the debt that burdens our marriage and lives but to get ahead to retire the way we want and to help our children attend college. It isn't always easy to make the obvious choice, we get tired and happy and stressed and emotional over things. We wonder why it has to be so hard and why this isn't natural. In the end it's like Cassie said "it doesn’t happen overnight and we’ll really have to work hard to get where we want to be." So kudo's to all our fellow Project Money-er's and especially those working at home with out the check-ins and the "prize" at the end. Keep going -- the real prize is the less stress and a plentiful future!

This week we are celebrating our friends and family that are supporting us in PM....Thank You!!!

11/03/2009

Let's Take A Trip...

So a trip down memory lane reminds us of the first year we were married and standing in the mall on the 21st of December trying to buy gifts for his family, including parents, 4 siblings and 2 nephews for Darek and 2 sets of parents and 5 siblings and 3 nieces for Kari. We were trying to buy with the little bit of cash we had scrounged up and the little bit of credit we had left on our card. It was our first year of marriage and Kari was the only one with a full time job as Darek was a taking yet another year of college trying to find himself. It was an awful feeling just trying to get things for the sake of everyone having something to open and running around with the crowds and crowds of people. It left us feeling tired, empty and disheartened for the upcoming holiday events. It was a pivotal moment in our marriage and our lives. We made a pact then that any holiday shopping would be done with cash and that we would no longer be purchasing for the sake of purchasing and that gifts would come because we had seen something or made something that we felt really reflected the other persons personality. We told everyone that year that being together was more than enough of a gift for us and that in the future we would only be buying for the nieces and nephews. There were some people upset with our choice but we didn't care. We would rather have nothing than several gifts that won’t get used.

We like to get nice things for our parents during the holidays as it is our way to pay them back for all the wonderful things they have done for us over the past year and of course all the free babysitting they do for us. We plan for it and make sure there is money stashed for that. Speaking of parents....they have trouble stopping when it comes to buying for our children. This makes the holidays inexpensive for us when it comes to buying for our children. We just don't! The onslaught of toys that envelop our house is more than enough for them to not even realize mom and dad didn't have their name on a package. 

Instead of more of the same we save up to take a family trip in March. In the past we have gone to Minneapolis for a trip to the Lego store, water parks and this year Chicago is slotted for a fun time of the newish Lego Theme Park and possibly a trip to Medieval Times. This year though we won't be charging the hotel cost so there is a little extra that will need to get saved and if that trip gets expensive well put it off for next year and do something a little less expensive this time around. This is the best gift we can give them -- family fun. We are pretty sure they will cherish the memories of the trips much longer than any toy we could have purchased.

As this is getting typed Cree is looking over our shoulder and is enjoying his reading of this blog...so we will sum this up simply with that Saint Nicholas (aka Santa) knows that we have quite a crowd at our house over the holidays and wants the boys to have some time to enjoy the gift and stocking from him on their own so he stops by our house on the 6th of December....St Nicks Day. This is such a wonderful tradition and gives us time to just do our own little family thing with a small gift and a few stocking joys to get the holiday off to a simple but wonderful start.

We are celebrating that we were doing something right by paying for our holidays in cash for many years already.

10/21/2009

Ah-Ha Moment...

The last few weeks have been overwhelming. We host Christmas at our house every year. Both sides of the family come to our house Christmas Eve through Christmas Day dinner. It is an extravaganza of food, drinks, gifts and fun. We always have a great time and since we have the young children it is easier for the rest of our family to come to our house rather than us hauling them and their stuff around. This time of the year brings on the added stress of planning on where those people will be sleeping. Since we have family all over the U.S. with some of my siblings in Texas and Darek's in D.C. and Florida we never know until October who will all be making the trip back to WI. This year we will be blessed with four additional family members (2 couples), which of course will be fun...but where will they sleep? That means rooms that are in the midst of new trim and paint and door fixes need to get done ASAP and that curtain on the 1/2 bath downstairs...maybe should be a real door. Our kitchen is still too small for all the cooks and with no dishwasher it will be another year at the kitchen sink cleaning up after 3 meals for 14 people. 

Just for good measure we have decided to move our storage space and clean up the garage...after all why make things too easy. The biggest issue with this planning and prepping process is that Darek has been cutting back hours at work to get more done at home...that...makes for a smaller paycheck. Pretty sure we used the word "puny" to describe it to our coach Don. So now is the time to pull up the boot straps...and find the silver lining...the ah-ha moment.

Several things have created that ah-ha moment for us this time. First Darek needs to make sure he keeps his hours up or we can barley keep above water...sort of. Second the house projects will get done and if someone has to sleep in a half painted room...well so be it at least they have a bed. Last but not least...the sort of (from above)...we realized that even though the last paycheck was smaller than we were used to we did get everything paid. The bank account dipped into the teens for balance left but there is a savings account...a real live savings account...this is HUGE people! If we needed to…we could use it. What a moment for us! We realized that we were no longer just holding the account open with the $5 minimum. We had money in our savings and if an emergency showed up and the checking was too emaciated to handle it we could cover it with our savings. That ah-ha moment is priceless, with that there is a feeling of freedom and peace that feeds our soul.

This week we are celebrating our family and all their complexities.

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