Robin & Mike's Blog

01/02/2013

Hopes for the Future As one journey ends, another begins.

Thanks to the team at Project Money – Summit Credit Union, Amy, Tanya, Jeff, Carleen and the crew at WMTV, the other coaches and the Project Money Families, we are ready to begin the next phase of our financial life.

We have done a great job of saving and reducing our debt over the past six months. Now our challenge will be to set new goals and sustain and maintain our growth. Our short-terms goals are to pay for Anna’s club volleyball, and over the next 9-12 months pay off our unsecured loan, and refinance our mortgage.

We would also like to put a new roof on the house. Once we have the unsecured loan paid, we will take the money that had been going to that loan and roll it into the car payments – I am hoping to have the two car payments paid in 3 years. The money that we save from the refinance will go towards savings for the girl’s college fund. The money that had been going to savings will go to the roof fund.

I know this all looks good on paper and that other expenses may creep in but one thing I have learned is that the act of writing it down holds us more accountable to making it happen. Other short-term goals include a mission trip for Emily and I to Haiti and a family vacation. We are finally planning to get rid of the Dish – so that extra money could go to trip fund.

Long-term goals – Once we have enough to sustain us for 6 months in savings, I would like to start investing some funds for retirement and to start researching our options for long term care insurance if needed. Mike and I would also like to build a home on the land (5 acres) that we are still paying for near Barneveld once the girls are done with school. I am so excited about our future now that we have seen that we can be successful through planning, cutting expenses, thoughtful purchasing, budgeting and goal setting. We are ready to take the next step. Cheers to all – Happy New Year!

12/29/2012

What We Have Learned From Project Money

It is hard to believe that we are coming to the end of our 6-month journey with Project Money.  What a great experience it has been for our family and those who have followed us on FaceBook, our Summit Blog and Video Blog.  I am hopeful that others have learned from our experience.

I have been thinking about what Project Money has meant to us and how much we have learned.  Jeff our financial coach and friend has given us great advice and tools to help us set and reach our goals. 

  • We learned how to track our expenses and put them into a spreadsheet. 
  • We learned how to think about ways to save. 
  • Consolidated our credit cards into one loan at a lower interest rate than we were paying on the cards. So the credit cards are paid off, and we have done a great job of not using them.
  • We found homeowners and car insurance at a less expensive rate. 
  • We paid off a short-term loan.
  • We took a vacation and paid cash. 
  • I learned about how to save with coupons by cutting them out and from couponmom.com.
  • We then took those expenses that we had tracked for 3 months and created a realistic budget (with Jeff’s help).  We also set goals for savings and debt reduction. 

Most importantly, Mike and I have learned how to better communicate with each other about our finances.  In the past, we would sort of ignore things until it became a big issue.  We would often ask ourselves – “Where did all of our money go?” Now we know. We talk about our goals and where the money will come from to put toward them. That has been a refreshing change.

Being part of Project Money has also helped our girls think more about money and how and where they spend their hard earned dollars.  Anna who is 13 years old was talking about college this week and working on saving so she could pay for food and clothing during her college years and get her student loans paid off.  That is not typical 13-year-old thinking!  Maybe some of this is sinking in. 

Emily has done a great job of putting her money in savings.  They both have learned to shop for a bargain and can be found searching second hand stores for a great deal.

New and improved habits, a better opportunistic way of looking at things and a relatively healthy savings account are all a big part of our success.

Next week, for our last blog, we’ll look at how to move forward, incorporating all we’ve learned into a longer- term picture.

12/17/2012

No Words

Regardless of which side of the gun control/regulation issue you fall on, we all agree that the events in CT are horrific beyond description. It should serve to do one thing and one thing beyond all others; make us tell our loved ones how much we care on a daily basis, every day, without fail.

We live in an uncertain world. In fact, that is the only certainty about it. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, anything can happen at any time, and does. This time of year, it’s easy to be stressed about job, shopping, where the money’s coming from for shopping, worrying about credit card debt and when the piper needs to be paid in January, never enough time etc. I challenge us all, including myself, to change that.

Imagine how much better we could feel if we took a deep breath and paused.  Sit down, let your pulse rate subside to a manageable level and just think for a second.  The holidays aren’t supposed to be about stress, they’re supposed to be about the opposite. 

The greatest wealth any of us possess, is our health and our family. To take a moment and inventory how rich we actually are, is priceless.  If we could ever realistically realize that it’s not the material things that matter but the time spent together, the marking of milestones, tradition.  This our life. Now. Today. We need to make it count. We all need to stop waiting for the next phase to begin at the expense of this moment. This moment will never come again.

When we started Project Money, my major goal, (one I repeated ad nauseum), was to achieve a comfort factor.  I wanted to get to a place where life could be lived without triaging bills on a monthly basis.  I wanted to feel the ever present weight of making ends meet, that I have felt my entire life, lift once and for all and disappear. If I can sit here today and tell you all that we have been successful in that endeavor, anyone can do the same.  Please believe me when I say that a lifetime of bad habits and marginal managing of assets can be unlearned. With the proper guidance, it is remarkably simple.

This Holiday season, I will slow down, I will slow down, I will slow down, write that on the blackboard 50 times, Michael.  With a more austere expenditure for the materialistic, I will have no worry for the January credit card bill. With the changes we’ve made in our approach to finances thanks to Jeff, we have a substantial savings account, a $0 balance on the cards and lower interest loans that we can feel lessening.

12/10/2012

Low Cost Gift Ideas

This past summer I posted a request to my friends to send me ideas of things to do in and around Madison that were free or very low in cost.  I received many wonderful responses.  As you know, I have been thinking about Christmas and trying to come up with fun low cost gift ideas.  Well, I would like to share some things provided from my Project Money Facebook Friends you may want to try:

  • Make a gift card, or a coupon book with one or more of these ideas:
  • Trip to Olbrich Gardens, Children Museum (every 3rd Sunday), the Zoo, Historical Museum, the Library, Veterans Museum, Chazen Art Gallery, MmoCA, Allen Centennial Gardens, Tour the Capital (try the fossil treasure hunt), Farmer’s Market
  • Go for walk, fishing, a run, sledding, ice skating, bike ride, snow shoeing, tennis, play catch, swimming
  • Music: Concerts on the Square, Dane Dances, The Memorial Union, Willy Street Fair, any Madison Festival
  • Watch/see the Fireworks, Holiday Lights, Water Ski Show, the Stars
  • At home – manicure, pedicure, spa day, movie night.

To make your gift even more special attach it to some homemade cookies, bread, party snacks.

The great thing about all these ideas besides the no to low cost is that they involve doing something with someone else which is what I enjoy most.

Hope you have fun using some of these or coming up with your own creative ideas – just have fun

Happy Holidays -

 

12/03/2012

Budget for Christmas

Christmas 2012 will be a wonderful holiday for us.  We have had so many great things happen this year from Mike joining Piano Fondue to being chosen to participate in Project Money.

However, there will be something different this year.  Something out of the ordinary for the Massey’s this Christmas.  What could it be? As a result of Project Money, we have set a budget and we plan to stick with it.

How did we decide on how much to spend?  We took a look at what we spent last year (a bit over the top) and decided to cut it in half.  We also reviewed our expenses for the month to make sure it was realistic.  We discussed our plan with the girls and they were on board.  Mike and I have asked the girls to do some research before they put their list together.  We want them to find out how much things cost and then prioritize their list based on what is most important and will still fit within the budget.  We also asked them how they would feel if they received something that was gently used instead of new, like Kinect games – great way to get more for less.  Is there anything we could make?  Put some of their budgeted money toward an activity or a trip?  These are all things we really want them to think about vs. just getting more “stuff.”  Emily has already mentioned she would like to put some of her allotted amount toward a mission trip to Haiti. 

Mike and I have agreed on a smaller budget for the two of us.  Honestly, I just like spending time together.

I have to say I am so proud of the girls and their appreciation of what we are trying to do as a family in saving and paying down debt.  Over the past 6 months on our Project Money journey, they have been watching us, participating themselves and hopefully learning some life lessons about prioritizing what is important to them and the importance of financial responsibility.  I look forward to seeing them grow and prosper.

Happy Holidays

11/26/2012

…More gratitude from the rest of the fam, next week….

ANNA:

I am very thankful for my family and friends. Learning about the true meaning of thanksgiving through eighth grade history really puts everything into perspective. I mean all we went through just so we can have food on the table to not being under British control. This Thanksgiving I am thankful for a lot of things and the fact that we do have a roof over our heads and are able to go shopping for clothes. I find that I take many of these things for granted but Thanksgiving and project money have made me realize you should be thankful for what you have.

EMILY:

It is often hard for many of us to think of things that we are grateful for. My list seems to reach infinite proportions. Which is something to be grateful for in itself. At the top of the list would have to be all the people that I have crossed paths with in my life. Unexpected, lost and renewed friendships have had a large part in shaping who I am. I have been extremely lucky to know each and every one of the people who have become a part of my life. No matter how low or high I may feel many people are constantly by my side to guide me to be the best that I can be. That is all that I wish for in this life, to be supported, to be trusted and to be loved. I am grateful in that I have accomplished this task and that I am proud of the type of person that I have become.

ROBIN:

I try to think of something that I am grateful for daily but Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, invites me to reflect on the past year and all of the blessings that I have received.  This year I am grateful for the time I spent with my mom especially the moments of laughter we shared.  I am so thankful for my husband and children and our growth as family and as individuals. I cherish the memories we continue to create with family and friends. I am thankful for the knowledge I have gained from Project Money and the financial path they have helped us to establish.  I am thankful for my health, my job, my home, and my life. This Thanksgiving was very special as I was able to spend time with friend of ours who received a heart and lung transplant a year ago, her perseverance and spirit really embody the meaning of gratefulness and appreciation of life.  I am grateful for her presence in my life for many reasons not the least of which is a reminder of how to live a good life. 

Happy Thanksgiving –

11/20/2012

Musings

It struck me this week, that it occurs to all of us on occasion how not to waste money, or  more accurately, how not to throw money away like you’re driving down the interstate at 74 mph and scattering it out the window. One way would be to remember you’ve rented movies.

Redbox.

It’s an economical way to watch a movie, if you’re going to leave the facility, drive home, watch it and have it back the next day. It’s not miserly if you get caught up in life’s everyday distractions, think someone else is gonna take it back and realize 4 days later two movies are still sitting on the counter accruing that small expense every minute. My debit card will reflect that oversight…painfully.

My intention was to write this Thanksgiving week about gratitude. I will say that this will be part one. Next week, we’ll all contribute to the cause.

Gratitude.

A word that is common to us all, but one to which we perhaps don’t pay enough attention.  In this immediate gratification society we’ve been assimilated into, one of sound bites and social networking, of the material and immaterial, seldom do we stop and look around and count our blessings for what we have, not what we aspire to have.

As I’ve grown older, I catch glimpses of what people have historically said was the wisdom that comes with it. I’m happy to say that one of those tidbits is the ability to appreciate and cherish the now, and where I am today. 

As a young man, I had visions of rock stardom and all of the excesses and exaggerations that went with it. It was a different time and I was a different man. As we’ve explored in previous blogs, my addiction would likely have killed me if I had achieved that brass ring which I nearly grasped. This allows me to see more clearly now. It allows me to see the beautiful, intelligent, talented daughters of mine that wouldn’t even exist. It allows me the opportunity to realize that I am the luckiest man in the world to have a wife that is so completely supportive of me in all my endeavors, and I of her.  One of the most prescient sayings I’ve seen in the long line of facebook wisdoms is: “Your grass would be greener if you watered it”.  So simple. So true.

I won’t get even more sentimental on you but Lord knows I could. Let me just say that when we entered Project Money, my biggest goal, my highest aspiration and hope was “to be comfortable financially.” If I could achieve that and add it to the enormous blessings already bestowed upon me, I would feel as though I had succeeded. Succeeded beyond anything I could have imagined in those halcyon days of youth.

As it turns out, thanks to summit and Jeff, we’ve done well and are on a track that should take us into the future with a clear vision of where to go. I know we’ve said that many times before but it bears saying again. One thing I’m going to try to do is to help my friends and family with some of the knowledge we’ve gained and get them to feel that weight lift off the shoulders. That comfort factor, to me, is worth more than all of the limousines, Lear jets and champagne money can buy.

More gratitude from the rest of the fam, next week.

11/12/2012

Among Friends

I am very lucky. I have a wonderful group of friends some of whom I have known since kindergarten. We are a tightly knit group of six who are spread out from Germany to California to Wisconsin. Five of them were roommates during college. We have seen each other through joy and sorrow and we always find a way to stay in touch.

This past weekend I was with 2 of the crew and we had an honest discussion about money. They of course know about my Project Money Journey. We are all in various places in our lives. My friend Kristina is divorced with a child in college – she recently sold her house and is living with her mom. Mary Lou has not been married but has a long time boyfriend who lives in Canada and she owns a house in Brookfield. Mary Lou is the friend to go to for financial advice. She is hoping to retire at age 58 and has done a lot of planning to be ready to do so. So it was fun to talk about money now that we actually have some saved. Kristina finds herself with some money with the sale of her house.

So we sat down and discussed where we are and where we need to go.

Mary Lou’s “Steps to Freedom”

1. Pay off the credit cards to get rid of high interest debt. Then do not use them.

2. Set up a budget and stick to it.

3. Save 6-9 months worth of monthly salary to have as an emergency fund.

4. Continue to pay down debt – highest interest rates first.

5. Review Retirement and investments – Investigate Roth IRA and Traditional IRA.

6. Look at investing in mutual funds. Look for no-load investment funds, with maintenance or expense ratios < 1-1.25%. Think about capital gains and dividends.

It was great to hear from someone that has actually done all of these things and is meeting her goals. It was also a re-affirmation of what our coach Jeff has been teaching us. The main lesson is to set your goals, stay focused and keep on working toward financial freedom.

The next goal for our group of six is to take a short vacation together next summer to celebrate our 50th birthdays – that is a goal I can get excited about.

10/29/2012

End of October

This has been a difficult month for my family with the loss of my mother. A loss or big transition in one’s life often leads to reflection.  This month I have done a lot of thinking about where I am in my life with my family and friends, my career and my finances. The one thought that keeps coming back to me is how grateful I am for everyone and everything I have in my life.  It seems like such an easy task to be grateful everyday but we get caught up in our busy hectic lives and we forget to pause and take a breath and just be thankful for a moment.

The journey we are on with Project Money has actually made me slow down and think about where we have been, where we are and where we are going with our financial life.  This month we made our savings goal – at least the first step. 

We will be meeting with Jeff our coach this week to decide how to proceed.  I think we are ready to really try to pay down more of our debt in thoughtful way that will in the long term benefit how much we can continue to save.  This contest has become so much more than just a contest.  It has provided us with a sustainable plan for the rest of our lives.  I still feel afraid once in a while that we may get caught off guard but that fear is diminishing as we continue to gain confidence in our ability to have control over our finances. 

We have still have work to do – that will never change, but now we have the tools, the knowledge and the courage to keep going and growing.  My wish and hope is that we can all take a moment everyday to stop and reflect on the good things, no matter how small, we have in our lives.

10/22/2012

Stretching

I don’t consider myself a hotshot record producer.

Oh I know my way around EQ’s and reverbs and arranging but through the years if I’ve recorded a song for real, I’ve had others far more knowledgeable turn the knobs for me.

Emily’s band had the opportunity to record a few songs at Madison Media Institute free of charge. They use artists in their studio to teach their students how to use the Pro Tools recording program. When the session was done, our band walked away with raw tracks on a USB stick to use as they saw fit but they weren’t in a form that was listenable. They had to be mixed and made into a cohesive whole.

Rather than spend money to have this done at another studio, I said I would give it a shot, on one song, because that is literally all I have time for at this point in my life.

I’m a lucky man. My work is my passion. I’ve been involved in the music business all of my adult life, mostly as a full time vocation which has sustained me. I’ve had the advantage to grow with digital recording programs as they evolved and now I find myself almost 20 years later with state of the art technology in my home. I have done television and radio ads for broadcast, scored video and produced countless demo songs, but never really produced a band. So this was an opportunity to stretch and see how much I’ve learned and save money at the same time.

Of course a motivating factor is working with my older daughter on a project in which she is invested and very excited about, a true gift.

 At first, I felt like I might have been in over my head but as I spent more time getting a handle on things, it started to gel into a sound that we were all happy with. It’s hard to say how much we’ve saved by taking it on. Someone who does this routinely would probably have done it more expediently but after adding a few more background vocal tracks, doubling the lead vocal, rhythm guitar, xylophone, a guitar solo and eq-ing, compressing, and playing with levels again and again and again, I figure I’ve got about 15 hours involved for a three minute song. Even at half that time and depending on the studio where rates range from $50-$150 per hour, we’ve saved between $350 - $1050!

It may seem like a frivolous expense but a good recording and promotion are the building blocks of a successful musical endeavor, dare I say, as important as the music itself. In this age of social media and iTunes and other sites like it, a good song, recorded well, will represent you to a potential gold mine of listeners.

In conclusion, I believe we’re going to be confident enough to release “Monday Morning” as a single on iTunes. The next step is to play it on a number of different sound systems and see if it holds up and make the necessary changes if it doesn’t but all in all, we’ve succeeded in creating a top notch product for literally no cash outlay.

And we’ve succeeded in making this Dad, very, very proud of his daughter and her enterprising and talented young friends. I’ve seen a lot in my time in this crazy business and their enthusiasm and creativity is energizing. It makes me realize and remember why I took this path to begin with.

Have a great week.

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