Tag Archives: budget

Dealing With Debt

When I held debt, debt actually held me. It held me pretty tight actually. Each month I had my living expenses and right next to that was my debt repayment. Perhaps it should have been called debt burden. That’s how it felt like to me.

As I mentioned before in My Biggest Budgeting Mistake, I was in my early twenties when I hit my credit card a little too hard. I was fortunate enough to be young, free and single, and so it was a matter of six months or so of watching what I spent and not using that bit of plastic until I had got myself back to a zero balance.

But today I know my ability to pay off any debt has changed. I have children and they are not cheap. Getting out of debt now is so much harder than it was then. Child with euro money. Business concept.How much it costs to have a baby?Budget cuts are harder to find; it’s not a case of a few less nights out, especially as like many parents we don’t get that many nights out anyway.  In simple terms, £100 per month spent on credit card interest (or other debt interest) is £100 that I would not be able to spend on securing our families’ future.

I would rather that £100 be used by me than given to a bank. Of course I’m not saying banks are bad. Without banks we wouldn’t have got a mortgage to buy the home in which we live. But I’m not keen on giving banks interest payments for anything but a mortgage. Dead money spent on interest payments harms my long term financial security

In Why Compound Interest Is Sexy  I talked about the positive benefits of rolling over interest on the interest on the interest. That is, we get extra money on your interest, and then we get even more extra money on the interest each year. The same also works in reverse. If I had a credit card debt that I couldn’t pay off each month, the interest on the debt compounds each month, and I keep paying interest on the debt each month over and over again until it is finally paid off.  A credit card with the name Go Broke Quick showing money flushing down the toiletBefore I know it, I could be paying anywhere between 18% to 25% on whatever I owe. No wonder financial institutions allow easy access to credit cards, and keep sending me letters in the post wanting to extend my credit limit and offer 0% balance transfers… and I thought it was just me they liked!

But the banks aren’t to blame because I know what’s happening. I know that using a credit card or taking a loan isn’t a good idea. So the obvious answer is for me to not have debt, and to get rid of any I do have to take back control of my financial life and financial future.

There are two ways to approach paying off debts according to the experts. The first is logical. The second, psychological. The logical approach is to pay the minimum balance required on all debts and then put extra money on the debts that charges the most interest. The psychological photo of tooth wheel mechanism with imprinted arrows and EMOTION, LOGIC concept wordsapproach is to pay off smallest debt first  (while still paying off the minimum amounts on all the others). The idea is that we get a quicker feeling of success by seeing a debt disappear quite quickly. Personally I prefer the psychological approach as I like to see tangible progress and feel like I’m moving forward.

I genuinely believe that paying off all debt, except for mortgage debt,  is the first thing I need to do to secure my and, more importantly, my daughter’s financial future. There are other family benefits too. The money I would have spent on interest payments can be spent the things that the whole family enjoys.

Next week, in part five of this mini-series, I share some ideas on how to save for the medium term to enable the longer plans become a reality.

I would love to hear your views on debt – I’m sure I’m not the only one that’s been there.  Please do this on our Facebook page.  Journey Skills is a resource hub  where we love to start conversations and learn from each other.

More From The Planning Ahead Series
Three Months Living Expenses
Emergency Fund
Budgeting Mistakes

Emergency Fund

Having an emergency fund for those unexpected disasters that happen to us all is wise, but for those of us who have children with additional needs it’s essential.  We are often storm aheadonly one unforeseen opportunity away from something good to happen or one unexpected event away from something not so good to happen.  Both might need immediate cash.  Hence the importance of an emergency fund.

By unforeseen opportunity I mean something positive.  A couple of years ago we received an email offering our daughter a chance to go on an adventure week during the summer holidays.  Places were limited, strictly first come first served to be paid immediately.  We booked and paid quickly because it meant she could be with her friends for a week of the holidays rather than be alone, which unfortunately often happens to our children because they don’t have the same levels of confidence and ability to meet friends independently without us being with them.

On the other hand, we have known times when we’ve had to pay for professionals or extra therapy sessions.  Sometimes at times when we were already stretched.  Without a reserve fund this would have put a strain on our budget and might have even meant she didn’t get tighten budget pig with belt aroundthe support she needed.  But because we had an emergency fund in place for such events, we were able to do what needed to be done and weren’t worried about where the money would come from.

Back in the old days, as I discussed in My Biggest Budgeting Mistake, I would have used a credit card as a substitute for an emergency fund.  But this isn’t how credit cards should be used, as an emergency loan for when I haven’t planned for the unexpected.  It’s a cheat’s way out of a problem, and for that convenience I get charged very high interest rates.

But these days I have an emergency fund ready.  I figured about a thousand pounds was enough to start with.  I made ‘Emergency Fund’ an item on our budget, and saved as much as I could each month to get there quickly.  I also keep it in a separate account so there’s no temptation to spend it.

Once I got to a thousand pounds, and I was in the habit of saving for this fund, I set about my next target: saving for three months living expenses so if anything goes wrong I have everything covered until and I have time to figure out how to deal with the situation.  More of that next week in this Planning Ahead series; but I can’t describe the relief it feels to have at least some money in the bank to cover emergencies.

None of us want our children to miss out because of a temporary cash flow problem, and planning is the way to avoid that.  I want to know that with the expense of summer holidays I can also cope with that unexpected windfall of joy if the chance of a summer camp comes along for my daughter.  Or if the iPad is dropped,  or the dog has a higher vet bill than his life expectancy. Whatever it is, I want to be ready.

More From The Planning Ahead Series
Budgeting Mistakes

My Biggest Budgeting Mistake

Was thinking I’d arrived.  There I was in my early twenties, just moved to London with a well-paid job in IT.  That was the 80s.  We all (my friends at least) spent on stuff – cameras, burning moneygadgets and whatever we wanted.  But the credit card bill soon caught up with me.

I was months paying that baby off!  I hadn’t arrived.  I was a financial fool being paid too much.  And like any other financial fool I thought so long as I could pay the minimum payment on the card each month, I was ok.  But even back then London costs were high, rent and travel and going out.  I eventually did come to a point when I realised I had to control my spending.

I hadn’t really thought much about the word budget, except occasionally when the UK government announced a new taxes on fun in the budget.  And I don’t think my  parents were any different to other parents: they paid the bills and didn’t share the details with us kids.  But I realise now they must have had some form of budget.

Gradually I finally dug my way out of my credit card debt.  But I’m not sure I learnt many lessons.  For years I have had what they refer to as to much month at the end of my money. Luckily I have managed to not go back into any real debt; of course I’ve had car loan (now paid off) and I do have a mortgage but I have avoided major credit card debt. But I never got any real control over my money until we decided to track our spending.

We had started to worry about the future for our daughter, what would she do? Where would she live? The usual stuff. So finances become a bit of a focus. On top of that we wereroad to nowhere utterly sick and tired of getting nowhere.  Budgets, tracking spending, always seemed to me like making life boring.  If you have to count money so hard you can’t be having any fun.  But by then we were realising that because of a lack of money we weren’t exactly having a lot of fun or living the life we wanted either.

We spent the first month just making a note on a spreadsheet of everything we spent.  Nothing else.  Not trying to control our spending.  Diligently logging everything, and then being appalled at the end of the month when we could see how much was being spent on things we did not actually need.

We did this for a second month.  By the end of it we could see patterns emerging.  Wasted money here, there and everywhere – definition of waste: not getting any enjoyment out of the spend or it not being part of the essentials like food, electricity or mortgage.

The third month we set up a budget.  We divided our income for all the things we needed to pay for that month.  Mortgage came first.  Then the bills.  Food .  A guess at what we would spend going out.  And a mindful attempt to not squander money on things that didn’t add to our lives.

We didn’t stick to it perfectly.  Our guestimates still needed refining.  But what we did get was a sense that we were in control of our money.  As the months passed, the budget got better and better, and we felt even more in control.  We have now got to that stage where, having taken control of our budget, we can actually put money into savings quite easily.

So what I’m really saying is that my biggest budgeting mistake was not having a budget.  A budget gave me back control over my own destiny, and I know that’s a big word!  But when I’m not in control of my money, like many others I worry.  My mind drifts.  When my mind is all over the place I am not in control of my own destiny. (Maybe this says too much about me being a control freak!)  But I know I’m happier when I’m not worried.

And even now, as I feel we have our budget under control, we still track our spending.  Technology helps. We use an app called Wally to track spending.  We log food shopping, petrol, going out, everything. Then transfer it to a spreadsheet to get our monthly totals.

I don’t think there’s any right or wrong way of doing a budget.  And it’s not as hard as it sounds.  All it takes is to log everything we spend, and then make rows on a spreadsheet for each thing we spend on – rent/mortgage, electricity, gas, water, travel, food, and going out.

Over the next six weeks in this Planning Ahead series I will share more about what we do and how it has helped us.  More importantly how it is helping us plan for the future for our daughter. But for now, if anyone wants to give me feedback on what you think about budgets, I love to hear.  Even if it’s just to prove to myself I’m the weird one.

Post your thoughts on our Facebook page and use #budgets before your comment so we can all follow the conversation.

No Debt Holidays

dreaming about summer holidayIt’s coming up to the summer holidays for us here in the UK and so holiday planning is in full swing. I’ve been listening to the Dave Ramsey Show podcast  recently, and his golden rule about borrowing.  He believes, ‘Cash is king, and being debt free has taken the place of a BMW as the status symbol of choice.’  And I know what he’d say about borrowing for holidays.

Those of you in North America might already know of Dave Ramsey.  He has a syndicated talk back radio show in which he dispenses money advice.  If you live in other parts of the world look for the ‘Dave Ramsey Show’ on iTunes or Stitcher. More often than not he berates his callers, My personal favourite  ‘Are you sure you want to do that?  That’s like inviting Murphy and his three cousins Broke, Desperate and Stupid to come live in your spare bedroom.’

I must admit in years gone by I’ve often invited Broke, Desperate and Stupid to live in my spare room.  I did the wrong thing of drawing money out of our house mortgage to fund a Cracking piggy bankfamily trip to Australia – my justification? the girls needed to see their mother’s homeland.  But not anymore.  Although I’d already started to come around to Dave’s way of thinking, even before I heard him he just helped confirm my on idiocy.

The problem I had, which maybe some of you can identify with is, wanting the holiday my income couldn’t afford. To quote Dave again I need to remember to ‘Act your wage.’   Off course I told myself it is for the greater good, that the family needs a break. That my daughter with additional needs deserves a fun holiday (which she does). But actually what she really deserves and needs more is a secure financial future.

My solution, not based on rational thought, was to take money from the mortgage or put it all on a credit card.  But it’s at times like these I should have done the maths. I should have taken out the fact sheet they gave us when we signed up for the mortgage; that we skipped Throwing Away Money into a binover because we just wanted to buy the house.  That small print that tells me  something like for every pound, dollar or euro your borrow, you will be paying back to the bank 2.4 times this.  That would have reminded me that the 3,000 holiday was really going to cost me 7,000+ when I had fully paid it back.

I should have remembered that credit cards aren’t the answer either.  Their annual interest rate is often close to 25%, which again adds extra charges to any holiday costs especially if I don’t manage to get it  paid off in full very quickly.

The answer is, and thankfully I am ready to accept it now , to save gradually throughout the year.  Budget.  Do what my parents’ did.  Put a set amount into a savings account depending on where we are planning to go so that when the time comes to book the holiday the money is there.

To be honest I have always believed in avoiding debt for anything other than to buy a home. But over time I started to ignored my inner voice telling me debt equals interest payments. I completely forgot that  interest payments are money I am not able to use towards helping my family and especially safeguarding the future of my daughter with additional needs.

In the long run, I know that to give my daughter the best I can means looking after myself ladder to the sky and successfinancially.  Before I help others I have to help myself. As Dave tells me very week ‘Live like no else today, so you can live like no else tomorrow’.

I’m not suggesting for one moment that you or I cancel holidays already booked but I am suggesting that we should all think before we put holidays on debt.  I need to think more before I act, to build long term financial security, so all the dreams I have for my daughter, with additional needs, to live an independent life are affordable dreams.

A SMART House Deposit

One of the ways I can secure the financial future of my daughter with additional needs is to make sure those around her are also secure.  That means us, obviously.  But also her sister.  We all love our children equally, and so that means helping them all equally.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean buying them a house!  No.  Let’s not go too

For me it means giving my eldest the confidence to know she can make her own way in this world.  Helping her have pride in her independence.  And one of the ways I can do that is to help her leave the nest.

Like Andy in this week’s podcast, Long Term Goals Built On Small Steps, I’m not sure I want her to leave at 21.  She might be ready; that doesn’t mean to say I am.  Maybe the thing stopping her will be the huge, huge deposit needed to buy or even move out to rent.  One way or another leaving home is expensive.

So I want her to set a goal to make it happen.  To move out to rent also needs financial planning, otherwise lack of it may mean she might move back within a month. (Maybe then my reticence for her to not leave by 21 would have changed, and I might have change the locks too.)  Thus, I’m encouraging her to think along the SMART line.

SMART goals have been around for years.  But as with all goals the key to a SMART goal is following the desire to reach a certain point or thing.  SMART is an acronym, and for the task of saving for a house deposit may look something like this:

The S in SMART stands for specific.  That means a specific goal.  Saving for a house deposit is not specific.  Saving 20,000 is.  20,000 is quantifiable and measurable; therefore, it can be a part of a SMART goal.  We have a number or thing that we can achieve, whereas save for deposit is a bit like a piece of string – how long did you say?

Perhaps more specific would be: save 20,000 for a 2 bed apartment on the south side of the city in 3 years.  This not only tells us how much we want to save, but also gives us an indication of the type of property we want, where we want it located, and when we want it.

Our specific goal above is measurable because there is a specific number or thing we need to get to.  Being measurable is the really good thing about a SMART goal.  Measurable means it can be broken down into little chunks and ticked off as we do each chunk.

In our specific goal of 20,000 we could have a wall chart with 40 boxes of 500 climbing up to our target (40 x 500 = 20,000).  As we save 500 we could take out our pen, mar another box, then we can see clearly how far we’ve come and how much more we have to do.

Achievable is the first in my opinion of the more difficult to define parts inside a SMART goal.  Achievable is to help us decide whether something is realistically possible.  For example, my daughter could have a specific goal of owning a Penthouse apartment in central London.  She could work out the deposit needed was 1 million, and have 3 years to save this.  But the fact of the matter is she couldn’t save this.  It’s beyond me, let alone her.

However, a small apartment somewhere not quite in the centre of London is possible.  She could set a specific goal for how much deposit she would need, and break it down in chunks.  It would be something she could theoretically do.

Realistic is the other hard to define part to check my SMART goal.  Above we’ve established that our goal is theoretically achievable, but we still need to ask is it realistic?  For example, my daughter may have a more modest goal of saving 20,000 in 3 years, but when we think that she wants to learn to drive and get a car in this time also, her goal doesn’t sound so realistic.  Either she has to decide to save less and buy a cheaper apartment or save the same amount but over a longer time.

In effect the Achievable and Realistic are the checkers for the SMART goal.  They tell us whether our specific goal is a pipe dream or not.

Time is quite simply the time frame.  We’ve said in our specific goal that we want to save this money in three years, so we look on the calendar and write down the actual date in three years.  Then we have a specific time we are going to achieve our goal.

In summary, SMART goals are great because they are specific in the goal we want, measurable in chunks, and time-bound.  They also have checkers of whether they are theoretically achievable and realistically possible in our life.

Getting my daughter to leave home early isn’t the point here.  The point is to equip her with some financial skills that will help her to set targets so that she may get the things she wants in life.  Money and financial literacy is not taught well in schools, and so I feel it’s my responsibility to point her in the right direction where I can (and hope she listens).

Maybe the first time she uses a SMART goal will be to enable her to leave home.  To move into rental accommodation these days usually needs around 10 weeks worth of rent.  4-6 weeks deposit, plus the first month in advance.  Then there’s usually agency credit referencing fees on top of that.

In setting out this example of a SMART goal around my eldest daughter I don’t mean to discount my youngest one day buying her own place.  Maybe she will also use a SMART goal for this.  We all hope that our children with additional needs will learn the rules around money, and not be vulnerable to crooks and scams.  I would prefer her to have the security of owning in her own name.  Indeed, that’s always  my ambition for her.  I want both my children to be free of me.