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12/29/2014

It’s a whole new ballgame

Last year at this time we were drying out the Christmas day water leak that ran from the 2nd floor bathroom to the basement.  Dave’s chemo was killing his kidneys and giving him lots of side effects.  Money was leaking out of our checking account as fast as we put it in.  We were stressed about paying for new expenses and exhausted by the feeling that our boat was sinking.

 As Project Money ends and 2015 starts, we are feeling like a family with new boat and a new direction.  Creating a budget has given our family a new map to achieve our dreams.   Working with Summit we’ve built our savings in sub accounts to match our budget goals — it’s like Summit handed us brand new paddles.  We have 5 strong paddlers.  In family meetings we discuss our dreams and plan together— we’re all rowing in the same direction (see our youtube video of a family meeting here).  

We’ve really cut our spending the past year.  It has allowed us to save ahead for next year’s private school tuition bill.  We are on track to pay our 2015-2016 school tuition as a single lump sum of about $35 K in June 2015.  Usually we would pay 1/3 in June, 1/3 in December, and the other 1/3 in monthly $1000 installments.  It’s almost unbelievable that we are this far ahead for next year.  

We made good use of our existing resources by:

  • having a garage sale; 
  • emptying our flex savings account and pouring the money into our auto loan;
  • applying for annual wellness reimbursements through our health insurance;
  • applying for transportation reimbursements for private school;
  • using old gift cards for some small and local purchases; and
  • redeeming reward points on a credit card for amazon gift cards.

We cut our media spending — subscription services for news and music.  We cut our food spending by setting a weekly budget, meal planning, and packing lunches.  We stopped buying serving size drinks (chocolate milk, frappuccino, soda).  The benefits of these changes go way beyond money — we are less stressed and healthier.  Dave is 20# lighter.  His cancer has been very stable off chemo for the past 6 months.  And his kidneys are doing great.  

We are feeling relieved.  In November we received a bill from the IRS for $18,000 in back taxes.  YIKES.  Fortunately, it appeared to be an error — the IRS had lost some key documents.  We sent the required documents and just this week received our best Christmas present:  a notice from the IRS that we owed $0.  Having a reliable tax preparer and organized tax records were crucial to resolving this claim in our favor.  We’re so relieved to have this behind us — it was too stressful to blog about while the matter was unresolved.

We’ve made a lot of progress, and talking out loud about finances has had many unexpected benefits.  In particular, our kids have gone through a big transformation.  They went from hauling sacks of money to county fairs to setting aside part of their monthly allowance for savings.  We’ve all learned to think about spending in terms of needs versus wants.

We can’t believe that it’s over.  It’s gone so fast.

Takeaway for the Week

What is more important than we realized:  

Dave’s version:  Accountability is the key.  Making a budget allows you to measure your money, but it doesn’t actually change behavior.  We had our awesome coach, Sherry, to help us be accountable to our goals.  Don’t have a coach?  Write your goals down and talk to a good friend or a financial advisor at Summit.  Goals are all the more meaningful when someone is cheering for you, and you are keeping track of your progress.  

Louise’s version:  Dave’s cancer diagnosis really wiped out our dreams.  I didn’t realize how much that had affected us until we started Project Money.  It’s hard to dream if you are living with a chronic illness or other chronic stressor, but it is really empowering.  Setting dreams as a family gave us the motivation to make some tough choices about our lifestyle.  Sherry had to push us to translate our rough dreams into specific monthly savings goals for our college savings, paying off our auto loan, and building our emergency savings.  We needed that push.  Now that we have goals, we can track our progress.  We can always change our goals in the future.  

What is easier than we thought:  Reducing spending.  Once you have a budget, the little expenses take on new meaning.   Every little change, like packing a lunch instead of going to a restaurant, will get you closer to your dreams.

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A big shout out to our coach Sherry Johnson, Tania Widish, Amy Crowe and everyone else at Summit for giving us this opportunity and helping us throughout Project Money. We have learned so much and have been transformed by the process. THANK YOU.

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