12 Tips to Begin Making Better Financial Decisions

Some of you may have seen on Facebook earlier where I mentioned about some modifications we are making to our spending and saving habits between now and the end of next year:

Barry and I made some agreements last night to solidify our new 16-month plan which will take us into 2015 debt free with a nice little nest egg saved unrelated to his already-impressive existing 401K and a significant number of points added to our credit scores. Our reward for sticking to the plan from 9/1/2013 to 12/31/2014 will be that each of us will ring in the New Year in 2015 with a brand new vehicle and start looking for a larger house with more land I’m pretty excited about the potential outcome, but I have to admit that spending virtually NO unnecessary money (aside from our allotted bi-monthly “entertainment” budget) for 16 months is going to be not so fun… we have ten days to get new habits established before the purse strings get tightened and the party begins! ‪#‎ThirtySomething‬ ‪#‎FinancialChallenge‬ ‪#‎DoingItGrownUpStyle‬

Being that we started our family SO young (I was just 17 when I had our oldest daughter and we married the following year), we did a really good job of completely destroying our credit before we even started college. We were well into our 20s and had all five of our children before we even got to a point where we were able to start being more financially responsible. Up until that time, we basically just had to do what we had to do in order to make sure that our family was taken care of, which meant necessarily making poor financial decisions in favor of what was better for our immediate financial situation rather than our long-term financial goals.

After Barry started working offshore over three years ago, we began making better choices and being more conscious of the irresponsible habits we’d developed. Since we finally had some stability that wasn’t going to change, we had more of a choice in how we spent our money… some of those choices have been good; some not so good. But overall we’ve made some enormous strides in securing our financial well-being and improved both of our credit scores drastically by paying all of our bills and notes on time as well as continuing to pay down debt we’ve accumulated. Above all, we strive to make sure we keep all of our open accounts current. But even that is not enough to get us where we want to be on a larger scale.

We are making a lot of small changes that will add up to a TON of savings over the next 16 months. We’ve realized that we do a lot of “incidental” spending without even noticing most of the time. Briyana wants to go to the mall so we throw her some money and let her go for a few hours. Tre wants some new shirts so we hop on Hollister’s website and place an order. The kids are bored so we go to the movies and spend $100+ on tickets and concessions. We get in late from football practice so we order pizza. We stop by the store for snacks and rack up $15-20 on junk for seven people several times a week. It’s ridiculous how much money can just escape your wallet without you even seeing where it all goes…

We are now operating under the premise that if we mind our pennies, our dollars will mind themselves. As such, I wanted to share with you all the changes we agreed on in order to help us make financial decisions that will positively impact our family’s future.

    1. We’re limiting our fun money. Since my husband works every other month and each hitch’s income covers an 8-week period of time, we are setting a specific amount every other month that we are “allowed” as a family to spend for entertainment and other unnecessary wants … once that budget has been exhausted, we have no more leeway until the next bi-monthly period begins. 1/3 of the budget will be available during the month he’s gone and the other 2/3 will be reserved for the month that he’s home. One thing we started last month is instead of taking the kids to purchase books, we signed up for a library card (finally) and have been taking the kids to check out books which saves a LOT of money since our kids are quite the little readers.
    2. We will absolutely only do large-scale shopping once per year (at the end of the summer when the kids are starting back to school) and ONLY after carefully doing clothing inventory to determine needs vs. wants for all the members of our household. Aside from that, we will purchase clothes and shoes on an as-needed basis according to growth, usability, and weather.
    3. When we go to the movies we will NOT do concessions unless we have AMC rewards accumulated to pay for them. We will eat prior to going so that the only expense we have is TICKETS. Once we have racked up enough AMC rewards from purchasing tickets to cover some snackage, we will treat ourselves to FREE concessions on the next movie trip.
    4. We will ad match, price check and meal plan. I used to be VERY good about budgeting for our food, but that was when we had less available money. Now, I easily spend anywhere between $225-350 on groceries every week depending on what I end up throwing in the buggy and often end up throwing out unused meat, vegetables, fruit, bread, etc that hasn’t been used because it spoiled or expired before I had a chance to use it. I’m going to commit to being much more mindful of planning our meals and monitoring the ingredients that we have on-hand so that I’m not blindly going through the store filling the cart with things we won’t need during the week. Not only that, but I will not purchase ANYTHING that is not on the list when I walk in the store unless it is something I honestly forgot to add and something that we absolutely cannot live without for the next 7 days. That, my friends, is going to take some MAJOR discipline (but I also have a trick you’ll read about in #11)!
    5. We are going to have a monthly meeting in order to examine how we’re doing and how well we’re sticking to the plan. We will discuss certain expenditures, especially the small yet frequent ones, and put those costs into perspective. How would the next 20 years be affected if we cut out thing 1 and thing 2? If thing 1 is $1.50 and is usually purchased twice a week and thing 2 is $0.80 and is purchased 4 days a week, even without inflation, cutting out those two items alone will add nearly $6,500 to our savings, plus interest. That’s a pretty nice sized incentive to forgo the little extras since that could possibly be two very well planned and budgeted family vacations (or a couple of cruises for Barry and I after the kids are a little older)! A little perspective for you, the reader: That figure could be even larger if you are someone who gets a soda with lunch 5 days a week… if the soda is $1 (without considering tax), you’d save $5,200 over the course of a 20-year career and if it’s $2 (or if you drink more than one soda or other type of drink per day during your workweek), that number would be over $10,000 — that’s a lot of money added to your nest egg!
    6. We will bulk buy! For certain snacks and things that we simply do not wish to do without, we will purchase those things in bulk and save over what we would pay for the single item in a convenience store… For instance, Barry loves Powerade. As part of our agreement, he will no longer be allowed to purchase one Powerade. He is required to go to the grocery store and buy a case of them which will save him up to 40%. Same thing for the little brownies the kids love. They are a treat for them, but they are $0.50 – $0.75 depending on whether they get the ones with the mini M&Ms or the ones with the nuts. Now, granted I don’t let them have sweets all that much anymore but when we do, I will go to the grocery store and buy the box of them for less than $3 and get 12 which saves over 50%! Sometimes it’s not just about saving, but more about not spending. Other times, it isn’t at all about not spending but more about spending SMART.
    7. We will acknowledge that pocket change IS money. From this point forward, we’re taking notes from my granddaddy’s book. Every evening when he would come home, he’d take the change out of his pockets and put all of his silver coins in a dish on his dresser which would go back in his pocket the following morning, but all of his pennies would go into a large empty 5-gallon water jug and once the jug was full, he’d cash them in. On average, you’ll find about $280-330 in there depending on how the pennies get randomly stacked in the jug. Not a bad little addition to the bank considering most people totally ignore their pennies. Barry is, right now, finishing up the final tally of our pennies. There are 505 of them going into the jug today to get us started :)
    8. We will prepare for retirement early! We are taking full advantage of his company’s 6% match maximum for the RetireSMART 401k retirement account they have set up for their employees and as such, 12% of his income (6% contributed by his company and 6% withheld from his paycheck) goes directly toward retirement. He’s got a pretty impressive chunk in there already, but we’re thinking about increasing his contribution to 9% but we’ll see what we end up deciding…
    9. We will be more organized. There is nothing that can create an environment for disaster like lacking organization and being lax in record keeping. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve underestimated spending / overestimated money and ended up transferring too much to savings too quickly then wound up with overdraft fees because there wasn’t enough left in checking to cover everything. Most banks charge significantly less for overdrafts when you have a savings account attached to your checking account for the funds to be pulled from, but even so, a fee is a fee and when it’s all YOUR money, there is no excuse for making a mistake that allows an institution to charge you for using your own money to cover your transactions. We will be careful to ensure accuracy in our records and estimations so that we aren’t incurring ridiculous fees.
    10. We will cut out what we don’t use — and start using what we can’t cut out! I have to admit that even though we’re paying for two gym memberships, I rarely EVER go when Barry isn’t home. It’s a total waste of money so even though I’m a personal trainer and already do boot camp four days a week, I’m going to make more of an honest effort to get to the gym at least 2-3 days for strength training every week as well. Barry can’t help that he’s only home half the time, but I really have no excuse to be throwing that money away. On the flip side, I am bad about having the “premium” version of just about everything. I subscribe to things I never think about again but they debit me every month, faithfully. lol I realized recently that we have TWO active NetFlix accounts and we pay $10 a month to Xbox which I don’t even know what for… We also pay $35.98 each month for credit monitoring services that we don’t necessarily need either. Those are just a few examples!
      I’m going to go through our financial statements from both banks as well as my PayPal account over the next 11 days and make a list of all the premium packages I can cancel before September begins so that we’re cutting out some of those recurring drafts. Likewise, I’m going to comb through statements from service providers like our cable and cell phone companies and see what we can trim from those — we have digital phone service through Charter that we’re paying $39 per month for and we haven’t had a phone hooked up here in nearly a year. We have features on our cellular account that we’ve never even used. Things like that are idiotic. I should have terminated these types of services and addons long ago, but just never really thought about it since they’re a part of a larger bill (or bill bundle).
    11. Cash, cash, cash. We have no credit cards — for quite a while, we’ve operated on an almost strictly cash basis meaning that if funds aren’t available for something, it doesn’t happen. We’ve made a few exceptions — but we will not be making ANY exceptions over the next 16 months. Nothing will be purchased on credit of any kind. It’s cash and carry, period. To go a step further, we will be doing away with the debit card swiping and check writing, too. For instance, if I take a specific amount of CASH to the grocery store and do not take my bank card with me at all, there is no room for temptation to add things to my cart that aren’t on the list because I literally will not be able to pay for them when I get to the register. As someone who will go in with a list worth $200 and come out having spent $340, this will be a big plus for me in saving money. To go along with this, we will also be working toward paying off the little notes that we have currently, which will boost our credit scores even more and support our cash-only commitment!
    12. We’ll cut out the extras. Barry and I enjoy going out to eat while he’s home, but our $20-25 meal easily turns into double that amount when we add a couple of appetizers (yes, a couple — we don’t eat the same foods), dessert and drinks to the order. We will still enjoy one another’s company over the occasional lunch or dinner out (choosing to opt for a nice lunch or dinner at home more often, however) but we will do so while either doing NO appetizer or just a simple chips and salsa with water to drink. The tip is non-negotiable. It will always be about a quarter of the ticket total so there’s no cutting going on there ;) We want to be smart and savvy financially, not bad tippers LOL

So, that’s our plan! It’s going to be difficult in the beginning, but that’s the main reason we’re starting September 1 rather than January 1 — I figure the first four months will give us enough practice to develop the habit so that we’ll have a strong jump on 2014. What habits have you changed to try to make a more solid financial standing for your family in the years to come? I’d love to hear any tips you have that we may not have thought of! :) Hopefully our list helps to inspire some of you to make some positive modifications to your habits and set yourself up for more stability in the future.


  1. Sarah VM says

    Great post! It gave me a lot of ideas on how we can save more money around our house. I also started using envelopes to set aside money for big purchases. :)

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