Personal Mid Year Financial Check In

blog picture

Are you wondering where the first 7 months of the year went? I know I am. June and July truly went by in the blink of an eye because wasn’t it just Memorial Day? Now, somehow kids are headed back to school.  It feels like we should go ahead and pull out the Christmas decorations because Christmas is right around the corner at this point. 

Anywho, I couldn’t let another month go by without an update to my blog and what better way to do that than to provide a personal financial update. So here’s what has been happening with my finances:

Savings

Saving is on track with 4 different ways that I’m saving.  I like to separate my money and even “hide” it from myself.

1st – We have our emergency savings account which is funded with several months of our living expenses. We will continue to add to this regularly until we reach 9 months of living expenses.

2nd – We are doing the Sweet Money Challenge which started the first week of January. The goal is to have $1,275.00 saved by the first week of December. On track. 

3rd– Every year I personally save $80 biweekly in my credit union’s Christmas Club Account. This is will be fully funded at $2,080.00 by the first week of November.  On track.

4th – Lastly, I consider my Dependent Care Flexible Saving Account as another savings. In this account, I defer $5,000 a year. The $5,000 is contributed pre-tax biweekly ($192.31) via my paycheck and I file for reimbursement as needed. I like to forget about this money, however, I always use some of this money as a student loan payment at the end of the year.

Sugar and Money Tip: Hide some money from yourself.

Investments: 

Currently, my investments are pretty basic – LOL. I laugh at typing “basic” since that’s the new IT word that a lot of people throw around on social media. Anywho, they are basic because I have a 401k plan via my employer where I invest in 4 different Vanguard Index Funds.  My contribution is 5% and my employer matches dollar for dollar up to 4%. With stocks, I also have some company stock that I previously bought and holding. Otherwise, I’m not actively buying more stock because our stock price is currently pretty high, so I don’t feel it’s advantageous for me to buy more stock at this time. Also, my next move with the stock market will be to diversify and buy stocks outside of my employer and definitely not buy at such a high dollar amount. 

Sugar and Money Tip: Don’t leave money on the table at your employer. Participate in your employer’s retirement plan up to the amount to get the employer match. If you have questions on how to get started in your employer’s retirement plan, call or go by your Human Resources department today.

Credit: 

This year, I decided to track my credit score to see how it would change over the year. My plan was to check it once a month but that hasn’t happened. I’ve documented my score 3 out of the 7 months that have passed. Going forward, I will add a calendar reminder to my phone or write it in my planner so I can remember to check it monthly on a specific date. Since, I am not in the market to make any major purchases, I haven’t been stressing over my credit score but I do want to keep a good credit score. We plan to purchase a new home within 2 years so credit will be a factor in securing a mortgage with a low interest rate. In February, I looked at my score and it was 754. I checked again in July and it was 770 so I was pretty happy with that increase of 16 points. I also pulled all of my credit reports which I hadn’t done in a long time, because if I did apply for any new credit – it has been approved: examples being rental furniture for a short term apartment lease and also approval to lease an apartment when we moved last. When, I pulled my credit reports, I did see a negative mark from when I made a late car payment in August 2012. I am sure that the payment was late so it wasn’t anything for me to dispute but the good news is that, it will be dropping off in September (because it’ll be 7 years) so my score should tick upward a little more. My goal is to increase my score to 800.  So I will be tracking it to see how long it takes to reach 800 by continuing to pay my bills on time, keeping credit utilization low and there are no plans to apply for any new credit anytime soon. Only 30 points away from reaching 800!

Sugar and Money Tips:

Need a good book on understanding and improving your credit score: Click here. Book recommendation: Your Score: An Insider’s Secrets to Understanding, Controlling, and Protecting Your Credit Score” by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

You can access your credit reports from all 3 agencies (Equifax, Experian and Transunion) once a year for free from www.annualcreditreport.com

The Fair Credit Reporting Act, or FCRA states that most negative items must be removed from your credit report seven years from the first date of delinquency. However, there are some exceptions to the seven-year rule and that includes:

  • Chapter 7 bankruptcy filings (10 years).
  • Judgments (seven years or until the state statute of limitations expires, whichever is longer).
  • Money owed to or guaranteed by the government (unpaid taxes or student loans stay on your report indefinitely or until seven years from the date paid). Source: www.bankrate.com

Unexpected expenses: Car repair

Recently, I’ve had expected car expenses but also unexpected car expenses. Both attributed to my car’s air conditioning. My car is a 2010 Nissan Altima and I swear I have had the worst luck with car air conditioning systems  (even before this car) and I won’t harp on it but this year alone, I have spent $1,300.00 in repairing my car’s air conditioning. I live in South Carolina and it can get pretty hot so it’s really tough to go without air conditioning. At the end of Summer 2018 – my a/c went out and I was told that it was my condenser that needed replacing and it would cost me over $600 to repair. At that time, I politely declined the repair, since it was the end of the summer and decided to save the money up to repair at the beginning of Summer 2019 (May). When Summer 2019 arrived – I took my car to be repaired and I tried another mechanic that I heard great things about and he concluded that I didn’t need to replace my condenser but the a/c line had a hole in it. Therefore, he replaced the a/c line and refilled the coolant and that bill came to approximately $450 – no big deal because I had prepared for it. However, in July- the air stopped working again, actually right after we returned from vacation and I took it back to the same mechanic. He inspected it and I was given the news that the compressor had went out at this time. He explained that since I had a new line and more pressure was now being placed on the compressor, that is why it probably failed. So, my most important question was, “How much to repair it?” and he replied $850.00! Trust me, I was definitely hoping for a lower quote than what he gave me and even tried to get a lower price but he was firm with $850.00. In the end, we went forward with repairing it at the cost of $850.00. I really hope that this is the last air conditioning work that I have to put into my car while I own it. I have replaced the compressor twice, condenser once and it has a brand new a/c line – all of this work started in 2015.

Sweet Friends, Please send me good car air conditioning vibes.

Tip: Keep an ongoing car repair savings account or sinking fund especially when your car is older.

Debt Payoff

January, I declared a pretty large goal for debt payoff. I declared and posted on Instagram that I would pay off $20,000 of student loan debt this year. If I actually pay off $20,000 in 2019, that would leave me with only $20,000 left to pay in 2020. Thinking ahead, I want to be debt free by 12/31/2020. Debt free except for our mortgage. That would have me at age 39 and Debt Free! That feels so good to write, to read and to say out loud – so that is my goal. It bears repeating, “I plan to be debt free by December 31, 2020 of all debt except our home mortgage”

So let’s get to the numbers – So far this year, I have paid off an additional $3,591.00 off my student loans. Honestly, that number should be bigger. I recognize that I have been enjoying too much of the sweet life over here. That looks like increased spending in the area of personal care, short weekend trips, conferences, local events, and we took a much-needed vacation. However, I don’t regret any of these decisions, but I recognize that for me to achieve my goal of paying off $20,000 by December 31, 2019 then going forward, some of the spending and trips will have to be minimized and even eliminated. Therefore, No will be said more to some activities and events, so I can say Yes to having $20,000 of debt paid off 2019. Plain and Simple.

Sugar and Money Tip: Achieving goals, especially big goals will require sacrifice. Say “No” to anything that takes away from your goals.

Book recommendation on paying off debt, click here. Book recommendation: “The Total Money Makeover” by Dave Ramsey.

Debt Payoff Plan- To reach the goal of paying of an additional $16,409.00 – it will take some serious budgeting, cutting back and also making additional money. The monies used will come from: Regular paychecks, 48 Week Money Savings Challenge, Christmas Club Savings, reimbursement from Dependent Care FSA, canceling subscriptions, reduced preschool tuition, selling household items we don’t need and lastly, my potential yearly bonus from work. Overall,  I believe it is totally possible for me to reach the goal of paying off $20,000 in student loan debt this year because I have all the numbers written down of what amounts will come from where and I will share those later especially once I see it all working out as planned. Worst case, if I don’t pay off $20,000 this year, maybe I will reach $15,000 or $18,000 – still progress. 

The Catch

But there’s a catch! Isn’t there always a catch? I am stopping with additional payments to my student loans for a couple of months. Therefore instead of paying additional on my student loans, I will save that money instead. It looks like this,  If I planned to pay an additional $500 on student loan debt, I will deposit that $500 into my savings account instead. Then once, I get an answer on something very important in the works, then I will use the money saved to make a hopefully large student loan payment. However, in the interim – we are choosing to bulk up savings. We are working on something important and until it happens – we are choosing to save more than paying additional on debt. After all, we can’t call the student loan company and ask for a refund from our payments. Therefore, we feel more comfortable with a nice savings cushion at this time.

So, that’s all that has been going on with me and my finances. Overall, I feel good about the progress I’ve made this year. I am very excited to see how these last 4 ½ months shape up.

How have you done with your finances so far this year? How does your savings, investments, credit score and just overall financial goals look? Let me know in the comments…

signature

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Awesome Alternative to Pricey Birthday Parties for Kids

balloons

So when did birthday parties get so expensive? I’m okay with paying $100 or even $150 for a birthday party but when the quotes are more like $300, then that turns into a No, real fast. To frame this, our daughter is 3 so $300 for a party is a bit much, in our opinion. While planning our daughter’s party we re-discovered an awesome alternative to pricey kid’s birthday parties.

The going rate in my area is $300 to host a children’s birthday party at a local event place. With our daughter, Lauren turning 3 we almost hosted a party at Chuck E Cheese. Key word being almost! I also looked into a gymnastics’ studio and a trampoline place. All 3 of their party packages are in the range of $200 – $300 for a 2 hour party. Then add on extra’s like invitations and goodie bags, and you are definitely in over $300!

The thought ran through my mind that all the little kids in her class are having birthday parties so she should have a party too. Ultimately, we decided to forgo the big hosted party at an event center and instead have the party at this great location which was free, OUR HOUSE! You know that dwelling that we pay a monthly mortgage payment on, that can comfortably fit our family, yes that place.

This isn’t the first time, we held a party there or even her birthday party there. Her 2nd’s birthday party was at home. However, I will admit that for her first birthday, we did have it at an event space and it did cost a pretty penny – admittedly near $500 when you factor in space rental, invites, food for close to 50 people, decor, goodie bags, and custom birthday cake. (However, I am am thankful for growth and not going that route again anytime soon) Also, we don’t regret spending the money because there is just something special about the 1st birthday so it was a big celebration and we enjoyed it.

However, For Lauren’s 3rd birthday, I was reminded of how most of my birthday parties went when I grew up – they were held at our house with immediate family and close cousins invited. Those parties was filled with hotdogs, neapolitan ice cream, cake, and lots of memories captured on my mom’s 35mm camera. Those were great times and we had a good time in that same house and same kitchen year after year.

lolo bday

Lauren’s 3rd Birthday Party Picture

This year we decided to do the same for our little one by cooking at home for our immediate family, enjoying cake, ice cream and unwrapping her presents together. Lauren enjoyed it and so did everyone else and it definitely didn’t cost $300. In total we spent a little over $100 for food and cake for 8 adults and 1 kid. To add to her birthday celebration, I also took her and one of her friends to jump for one hour on the trampolines at a local indoor trampoline park for $18 total. Then we took advantage of Build-A- Bear’s promotion of a child paying their age for the birthday bear during their birthday month. For Lauren that was $3 but she picked out an $18 Frozen dress for her bear (trust me, I tried to get a cheaper outfit but she loves Frozen, LOVES!) so that brought our total to around $22. All in all for us to have a little party at home and 2 birthday related activities for her, we spent around $140. Definitely a win in my checkbook.

I also asked 2 other personal finance mom’s on their opinion on children’s birthday parties and ways to save.

First, I spoke to A’Shira Nelson, better known as Savvy Girl Money. She has one child, a daughter named Skylar Nelson who is 5 years old. She turns 6 this summer.

Savvy Girl Money

A’Shira from Savvy Girl Money and Her Mini Me

A’Shira’s top financial goal currently is paying off her student loan debt which will be done in March of this year. Afterwards, her only debt remaining will be her car loan and mortgage.

So let’s dive into her thoughts around children’s birthday parties and the associated costs.

A’Shira’s Thoughts on Birthday Parties

A’Shira: Honestly, in the past, I was always HORRIBLE at saving money on my daughter’s parties. This year I’m going to take the challenge of spending under $300. In the past my husband and I spent $600 on average for her parties. One way I’m going to save is by having her parties at home. I have a big backyard with a swing set. I’m not going to hire entertainment, I’m going to have the kids play outdoor games. For food, I’m going to bbq and make treats at home. 

SugarandMoney: Sounds like you are taking the route that I took this year and trust me, your daughter will love it and your pockets will thank you! Another bonus of having parties at home, you don’t have to transport anything to a location, everything is at your house.

You can find A’Shira at the following locations because she has a YouTube channel and is also very active on Instagram.

Website: www.savvygirlmoney.com

Find Savvy Girl Money on Instagram: @SavvyGirlMoney

Then, I spoke to Shatoria Smith of Coincountinmama.com she is the mother of one son, Brayden, who is 1.

Coin Countin Mama picture

Shatoria from Coin Countin Mama

Shatoria’s eyes are on becoming debt free which she is working on achieving within the next 5 years.

So let’s dive into her thoughts around children’s birthday parties and the associated costs.

Shatoria’s Thoughts on Birthday Parties

Shatoria: In 2018, my son turned 1. I was strapped for cash but I wanted to throw a nice celebratory party for us (let’s face it – my son had no idea he was turning 1 – LOL). 

We spent a ton of money on the baby shower the year prior, so I decided to scale back and have his party at our home. The theme of his party was Baby Shark, so I decided to incorporate bubbles and other beachy/summer supplies.  His birthday is the week before the 4th of July, I was able to purchase beach buckets shovels, bubbles and other summer themed items at 75% from Michaels. I took advantage of using my in-store coupons so I saved an additional 30%! I purchased 30 cupcakes (as opposed to a sheet cake from Publix). I spent $24.99 and we received a smash cake for free! For the adults, we purchased 4 large Pizzas from Costco and asked them to cut the slices in half. We provided water, lemonade as beverages. In the end we spent no more than $100.00 on EVERYTHING! 

SugarandMoney: Wow, less than $100 is awesome and definitely a great idea to have the party at home. Both are a win-win in my book.

A little about Shatoria:

I’m a millennial mama with six-figure student loan debt (eeeeeeekkkkkkk!!!!). Although I have not paid off my all of my debt, I’m actively working towards it! After having my son in 2017 and being sick and tired of being broke, I decided that I am ready to become debt-free.

You can find Shatoria at: www.coincountinmama.com

Sharoria is also active on Instagram at: @Coincountinmama

Recap:

  1. Brainstorm out all of the ways that you can celebrate your child’s birthday and how much each will cost. This will show that there are ways to have a party that cost a little or that cost a lot.
  2. Decide that you aren’t paying an outrageous price for a birthday party just because everyone else is having a birthday party.
  3. Realize that you don’t have to pay $300 – $600 for a birthday party at various event centers. Especially if you have large financial goals like paying off debt, saving for a home, saving a fully funded emergency fund, etc – really consider your priorities before opting into these expensive birthday parties especially if you have small children that will not remember the party.
  4. Remember that your home is the perfect place to host an intimate but fun birthday party. Your child will just enjoy being surrounded by family and friends (if you choose) while opening presents and of course eating cake and ice cream.
  5. Take advantage of birthday specials like Build A Bear has to still give your child a great experience but at a discount.
  6. Consider taking your child and a close friend(s) to an event space to enjoy for an hour or two. This is much cheaper than paying for a big birthday party for 10 kids (and parents) when they’ll have just as much fun with their close friend(s).
  7. If you don’t feel like your home will be suitable, consider a local park and have an outdoor party there. 
  8. Don’t hesitate to use coupons for the things you’ll spend on at places like Michaels, Party City etc.
  9. Also, consider having the party at an off time that may offer a cheaper price if you decide to do it at an event center. For example a Sunday or a weekday could be cheaper than the high demand Saturday option.
  10. Ultimately, a birthday party is a celebration and it should come without the regret of overspending.  Don’t fall into the trap of “Keeping up with the Joneses” with an expensive party unless you can truly afford it.

There are many options to have an affordable birthday party, it may just take some creativity  but in the end, you will save money and your child will still have an awesome birthday party.

I would love to hear from you!

Let me know, what creative ways you can think of to celebrate a child’s birthday without breaking the bank? What’s the average price that you spend on your child’s birthday party?

 

PS: Check out this post that give 5 Awesome Financial Gifts for Kids: Click Here.

And of course my favorite post about giving yourself permission with your personal finances: Click Here.

signature

5 Awesome Financial Gifts for Kids

piggy bank

Between birthdays and holidays, it seems like there is always an occasion to buy a gift for a kid in your life. Planning ahead is the key to avoid giving gift cards or a toy that they will discard. Nothing against gift cards or toys if that is what the recipient wants but most cases, you could probably give a more intentional or thoughtful gift. Here are 5 awesome personal finance related gifts for kids.

Goalsetter

Goalsetter is a savings platform (FDIC Insured) where your kid can learn to save for things that matter to them. Or you can give a Goalcard – instead of a giftcard – to another lucky kid on a birthday or holiday and help them start saving toward something they care about.

Goalsetter gives the options to either “Start Saving” or to “Give a Gift”. You can sign up to start saving towards a goal for your child. Goals that jump out to me are: extracurricular activities, a bike, a computer, summer camp fees, high school graduation trip, college savings or college tuition/fees but a goal can be any goal you and your kid want to save for.

Once you finish setting up your kid’s account, you will get a personalized link to share with friends and family so they can give your child a GoalCard – real money to support real dreams.

If you choose “Give a Gift”, you can gift another kid a personalized GoalCard (even if they don’t have a Goalsetter account yet),  to help them achieve one of their goals. Goalsetter is a great option over buying a plastic toy that will likely be tossed away in a month or two.  Click here and here to learn more about Goalsetter.

Amina’s Bracelets: A kidpreneur story

What better gift to give than a book to inspire your child to become a kidprenuer. A kidprenuer is a kid that owns their own business. This book shows how Amina wanted a tablet but her parents wouldn’t buy it for her. Instead her parents empowered her to earn her own money to reach her goal. I think we can all agree that showing your child or any child that they have the ability to make their own money and have their own business is powerful. Consider giving this book as a gift to the special kid in your life. Consider purchasing “Amina’s Bracelets: A Kidpreneur Story” and learn more about the financial literacy company that created “Amina’s Bracelets: A Kidpreneur Story” here.

Moonjar Classic Moneybox: Save, Spend, Share

This twist on the classic piggybank grabbed my attention immediately. We all know that there are more steps to managing money than just earning it and spending it. Beyond earning and spending, you should also give. This moneybox separates the three areas: Save, Spend and Share/Give. If you are anything like me, you learned about money later in life and wish you learned it earlier. The Moonjar Classic Moneybox is a great gift to give to show a child how to divide money into those three areas. This gift will help the special child in your life learn about money.

Cash or Play Money

I think we can all agree that cash is still king. Eventhough it seems that we are moving away from using cash as often, cash is still being used and kids need to know how to count and handle cash and coins. If the child is too young to handle real cash then you can give them play money for them to get used to recognizing money and counting.

Communication

The gift of communication is priceless and can be combined with any of the gifts above. I urge parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or any financially empowered person to have a conversation with the children in their life to talk about money. Money is still such a taboo topic but if you know have learned something about money that would help someone else, especially a young person in your life then have that talk. On the flip side, if you have older kids or adult children but need to talk to them about the family finances like retirement, insurance, etc. then have that talk. Any day is a good day to talk about money.

Have you ever given a financial gift to a child? What financial gift do you wish you received as a child?

signature