Day 26 of the January Money Diet – Give Your Finances a Tune-Up

Grow your finances | Happy Simple Living blog

This final week of the January Money Diet is the perfect time to review some important details related to our finances. These are some suggestions:

Lock Everything Down

Literally and figuratively, do all you can to protect yourself from theft and fraud. Do you have super-duper tough, unique passwords for each and every one of your financial accounts? A password program can help you choose and store complex passwords; I use the free version of LastPass.

In the physical realm, if you keep important documents in a file cabinet, is it locked? Do you have copies of your important papers and financial account numbers scanned and securely stored?

Review Your Credit Report

Check your credit report and make sure there are no errors. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the nationwide credit reporting companies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months. You can order one at annualcreditreport.com.

Set Up an Automatic Savings Plan

If you do nothing else this year, try to set an automatic savings plan. This is the easiest, most painless way to grow wealth and I promise you’ll be glad you did it. If you can start now and gradually increase the amount as your income increases, you’ll be amazed at how much you can save.

If you missed yesterday’s post, it makes a case for setting up an “inconvenient” savings account; you can read it here.

Rebalance the Investment Mix in Your Retirement Accounts

Most financial experts suggest checking your targets at the beginning of every year, and rebalancing your investments when your balances veer more than five percentage points from the targets.

Consider Hiring a Financial Advisor

Do you feel confident in your own abilities to manage your money, or could you benefit from professional advice? I recommend working with a fee-only advisor who doesn’t get compensated for investing your money. You can find one through the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors.

If you have an advisor, do you feel confident that this person is carefully monitoring your investments and has your best interests at heart? If not, it’s time to have a conversation about your goals and expectations. Or perhaps it’s time to make a change and find just the right person to help you achieve your objectives.

Make Sure You’re Adequately Insured

When our roof was damaged in a hail storm, I discovered my policy covered the actual value of the roof, not the replacement value. The result was that I had to pay nearly $4000 out of pocket toward the roof.

Review your policies with your insurance agent and make sure that you understand exactly what is covered and what isn’t. You don’t want to pay for coverage you don’t need, but you also don’t want to be under-insured.

Another lesson I learned the hard way:  if you have a 16-year-old driver hitting the roads this year, purchase an auto insurance policy with the lowest deductible amount you can get. Higher deductibles make sense for more mature drivers with a history of safety. Trust me on this.

Review Your End-of-Life Plans

Have you created a will? If not, put this on your 2016 ‘To Do’ list.

If so, review your will and make sure it still reflects your wishes. Have you designated the right people to be executor of your will and to hold power of attorney, in case you become incapacitated? Also, review the beneficiaries of your retirement plans and life insurance policies to make sure this information is up-to-date.

How About You?

Are there things on this list you can tackle this week? If you have other financial tasks to add to this list, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the Comments section of this page.

The January Money Diet will officially end on Sunday, and I can’t believe how quickly the month has passed. Are you ready to end the diet, or do you plan to continue following some of the ideas we’ve tried this month?

Hugs and happy Tuesday,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

January Money Diet Day 25 – Open an Inconvenient Savings Account

Inconvenient savings account | January Money Diet

Maitland Bank South Australia

I don’t know about you, but there are two scenarios that seem to spell “CREDIT CALAMITY” for me:

1. Unexpected Expenses

The one certainty, for each of us, is that unplanned things will happen that cost money. We want to do extraordinary things with our money and live debt free, but to support those goals we each need an emergency savings account. Otherwise we’ll be scrambling, and risk losing the momentum we’ve worked so hard to build.

How much do you need to set aside? That will vary depending on your situation. Dave Ramsey recommends first establishing a $100 emergency account, and then building it to $1000. My health insurance annual deductible is $1750, so I need to account for that, too. Suze Orman recommends setting aside six months of income so that you can withstand a job loss, and that makes sense, too.

Some years ago on the night before a “landmark” birthday, our sewer line broke and I had to pay $7,475 that very week to have a new line installed from our house to the street. My friends, I didn’t happen to have a spare $7,475 sitting around. If I had, I assure you that I would have spent the money celebrating my birthday in France on a first class wine- and croissant-sampling tour.

Instead, I ended up paying for part of the new sewer line with a credit card, and part with a bank line of credit. It took me four years to pay it off.

If you think that’s a crappy way to get in debt, I happen to agree with you.

2. Unplanned Travel Opportunity

Copenhagen | Happy Simple Living blog

Copenhagen – photo by John Anes

When my daughter was accepted in a foreign exchange program in Denmark, I couldn’t resist going for a visit. We took a side trip to visit friends in Spain, since we were in the same general vicinity. (Spain and Denmark are close, if your geography knowledge is like mine).

The trip was wonderful and I don’t regret it, but what I do regret is that I didn’t have a funded vacation account. With no money set aside I charged that trip to my Visa, even though I hadn’t finished paying off the **sparkling new** sewer line yet. That eventually led me to have $12,000 debt spread over four accounts — and too many sleepless nights to count.

The Savings Solution

For me, the way out of my mess was this:  I opened three savings separate accounts at my credit union.

Account #1 – Emergency account

Account #2 – Vacation account

Account #3 – Freedom account – where I stash a set amount of money each month for large annual expenses like insurance, taxes and HOA fees.

Why It Works for Me

This credit union is not connected to my regular bank, and I don’t have a checking account there. I declined the free debit card they offered me. When I want to withdraw money, I have to drive over there and talk with a human to get it.

This is an important key for me! While my regular bank offers a savings account connected to my checking account, it’s too convenient to transfer the funds electronically and therefore the money never really accumulates. Having an inconvenient savings account makes it tougher to get the money out, and I need that.

Some may argue that savings accounts pay pitifully small interest rates, and while this is true it doesn’t matter much if you’re just saving a few thousand dollars for short-term use. As your balance grows, you can transfer the money away to another inconvenient place that pays a higher interest rate.

Safe and Sound

The credit union’s interest rates are a little better than the bank’s, but the real appeal for me is that the account is FDIC-insured and the principal is not affected by the economy or market fluctuations.

The credit union doesn’t charge monthly fees, and the nice folks there will happily open as many savings accounts as I like with a $25 minimum balance.

Both of my children have learned about saving money with their credit union accounts, and the credit union gave my daughter her first car loan when she was 16.

For simple, short-term savings, I’m a big fan of the credit union.

Make It Automatic

When I worked for the publishing company, I arranged to have a set amount withdrawn from each paycheck and sent directly to a savings account. If your company offers this benefit, I highly recommend it as a painless way to build real wealth. If it seems impossible, start with a small amount. You’ll love seeing that balance grow, and with time you’ll be able to increase the amount.

I started having just $25 withdrawn from each bimonthly paycheck, which added up to $600 a year. I eventually eased that up to $50 a paycheck after my next raise, and then $100, until eventually I was having $200 a check sent to my savings account — which added up to a nice $4800 a year. The funny thing is, I really didn’t miss the money — as long as it didn’t have a chance to pass through my fingers.

Now that I’m self-employed, I budget for savings each month and pay the amount just like a bill. It takes a little more self discipline, so having an inconvenient place to stash the savings really helps.

Challenge #5 – Open an Inconvenient Savings Account

During the January Money Diet we’re tackling 5 challenges to strengthen our relationship with money. In case you missed them, the other four challenges are:

Challenge #1 – Give 31 things away.

Challenge #2 – Figure your net worth.

Challenge #3 Do something to earn an extra $25 or more this month.

Challenge #4 – Reduce monthly expenses

Your challenge between now and February 1, if you choose to accept it, is to take the money you earned during Challenge #3 and open a savings account in a place where you can’t easily transfer the money back to your main account. If you don’t currently have an emergency account, you may wish to earmark the fund for unplanned expenses. If you do have a funded emergency account, you may wish to set up an account for another purpose.

If you’re interested in joining a credit union, you can learn more and find one at MyCreditUnion.gov.

Once you’ve accomplished this task, leave a comment on this page so we can cheer for you! If you already have an inconvenient savings account, or another system for managing unplanned expenses, we’d all LOVE to hear your strategies and thoughts.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Day 23 and 10 Free Ways to Nurture Your Health

Relax and practice good health | Happy Simple Living blog

All the money in the world won’t buy good health.

For any of us who have ever experienced an injury, pain, or sickness, we know how it feels to wake up unwell and think we’d give anything — anything — for a normal, healthy, pain-free day.

Many of us are juggling a million things right now, and taking care of ourselves can fall to the bottom of the list. But really, self-care deserves to be one of our very top priorities. The good news is that most of the ways we can nurture our health are absolutely free.

A money diet month is the perfect time to explore new healthy habits like these:

10 Ways to Care for Your One-and-Only Precious Body

1. Get a good night’s sleep. Here are my 7 natural ways to enjoy better slumber.

2. Exercise each day. I try to alternate each day between upper body, lower body and cardio. Some days are better than others, but I keep trying. In the morning while I’m waiting for the coffee to heat, I do stretches. We try to walk the dog and ride bikes daily during warm weather, and as often as possible in the winter. I use small hand weights to build muscle strength.

3. Eat nutrient-rich foods, for a strong immune system and healthy bones. The fewer processed foods, preservatives and chemicals we consume, the better our bodies will feel. We owe it to ourselves to eat as many good foods as possible.

4. Drink water. Staying hydrated helps us look and feel better, and reduces headaches and fatigue. Why don’t we all drink a few more glasses of water today? I think I’ll go pour one right now.

5. Floss your teeth. Dental problems are no fun, and flossing is an easy, inexpensive way to care for our teeth and gums. This simple act has been shown to reduce inflammation in the body, which might even reduce rates of cancer and other diseases. Let’s floss our teeth today — I challenge you!

6. Have some down time, every day. Practice the art of dolce far niente, which is Italian for “sweet doing nothing.” Meditate. Take a warm bath. Pray. Read. Think. Listen to music. Watch the grass grow.

7. Limit time interacting with digital devices. We all can feel it in our brains when we’ve been online too much, don’t you agree? Push away from the computer. Power off the TV. Unplug from social media for a while. Engage with the real world.

8. Stimulate your brain. Practice your favorite hobby. Write a poem. Do a crossword puzzle. Learn something new.

9. Go outside. Take a walk. Get fresh air. Enjoy whatever today’s weather brings. Notice the world around you.

10. Seek balance. Have you ever gotten sick at the worst possible time? For several years I woke up sick every Christmas morning, because I’d been trying to do too much. Our bodies will complain, and sometimes even shut down, when things are out of whack. A more balanced life will ultimately give us the energy to do the things we really want to.

Let’s agree to honor our health, and make caring for ourselves a higher priority.

How About You?

What can you do this weekend to better care for yourself? Do you have things to add to my list above? We’d all love to hear your thoughts and strategies for living a healthier life on the Comments section of this page.

You’ll hear from me again on Monday with a new challenge. For those of you dealing with snow and other crazy weather, stay safe and warm!

Hugs and enjoy the weekend,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Photo: Tiare Scott

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Day 22 of the January Money Diet – Write 5 Things

Blue Jay

The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu wrote:

“Be content with what you have;

rejoice in the way things are.

When you realize there is nothing lacking

the whole world belongs to you.”

 

Practicing Gratitude

How much richer my life is when I find contentment in the sweet, simple moments of daily life.

Too easily, I can slip into being critical and focusing on things that aren’t happening according to my expectations. What I’ve learned is that if I instead try to see my life through the eyes of a grateful heart, I’m more accepting and content.

Gratitude and abundance also seem to be linked in a mysterious way. Perhaps it has to do with money’s origin as an expression of gratitude for goods and services. When I am grateful, I not only appreciate the blessings around me but it seems that more goodness comes my way.

When I lapse into negative thinking, the opposite is also true. When I was about eight years old, I remember sitting in a sea of crumpled wrapping paper and asking “Is that all there is?” after opening presents on Christmas morning. My parents’ incredulous reaction made quite an impression on me, and I learned first-hand that ingratitude never inspires blessings.

Making a List

Gratitude journal at Happy Simple Living blogA few years ago, I started writing in a gratitude journal and writing five things each morning for which I was grateful. The practice encouraged me to look back on the past 24 hours and recall all the good aspects of the day, and I also discovered I was more aware of special moments and simple blessings as they occurred. I soon filled the little book, and began another. Now I keep the journal by the chair where I sit each morning to drink my coffee, pray and meditate, and I write it in often.

How about you?

If you’d like to try practicing gratitude, I invite you to write 5 things in the Comments section of this page for which you’re grateful today. I always love hearing your thoughts and ideas.

 

Poet Kahil Gibran wrote:

“Wake at dawn with winged heart and

give thanks for another day of loving.”

 

It’s a beautiful Friday, and I am grateful for each one of YOU.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Day 21 of the January Money Diet – Check Out Your Library

Nashville Public Library

Nashville Public Library, Grand Reading Room

Dear Friends,

Yesterday we experienced a glitch with the e-mail server. If you subscribe to Happy Simple Living and didn’t receive an e-mail yesterday, you can access the post here:  Day 20 – A Foolproof Way to Cut Spending. I apologize for any inconvenience.

Today’s challenge is to plan a visit to your local library. As you may know, libraries have evolved into places that do so much more than lend books. We live just a few blocks from a wonderful public library, and even though we visit every week I keep finding new offerings. Your neighborhood library can be a rich source of entertainment and education…and best of all, everything is free.

Just the basic process of checking out a book has evolved. If I’m interested in a book, I don’t even need to change out of my pajamas. I simply visit my library’s website and search the book title. Often, I can check out and instantly download an eBook. Otherwise, I can reserve a hard copy of the book and my library e-mails me when the book is ready to be picked up.  I also borrow movies, CDs and current magazines from my library.

From High Tech to Home Tech

A couple months ago, my son and I had the opportunity to experience the dizzying wonder of Google Glass firsthand, when a librarian had a pair of the smart eyeglasses for patrons to try. Currently, the library has a 3-D printer set up so that people can try making their own three-dimensional plastic objects. Our library also loans other high-tech gizmos like Nooks and Go-Pro cameras.

When my computer died a few years ago, I went to the library and used one of their free computers until mine was fixed. When my daughter was shopping for a used car, she borrowed Consumer Reports magazine and researched the most reliable makes and models. Our library offers a delightful kids’ library and a summer reading program that my son loves, free talks on a variety of subjects, meeting and study rooms, and regular art exhibits.

Last year our library partnered with our local power company to loan out portable power meters. We were able to borrow a meter to plug into home appliances and learn how much energy we’re using. You may want to check with your utility company or library to see if a similar lending program is in place.

Free Seeds to Grow Food

Some libraries even “lend” seeds to grow fruits and vegetables! Patrons borrow a packet of seeds, and at harvest time gather the seeds from the most robust produce and return those seeds so the library can lend them out to others.

The Basalt Library here in Colorado is doing such a program, and users report much success with the seeds they’re planting because they’ve already proved hardy in the mountain town’s short growing season. Some libraries are even lending gardening spades and shovels; the Oakland Public Library has 3500 tools for loan.

How About You?

Your challenge is to explore your public library and see what’s new. You could also visit your library district’s website and check out the online offerings. Be sure to let us know if discover something new and surprising at your library!

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

 

 

 

 

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Day 20 of the January Money Diet – A Foolproof Way to Cut Spending

Eliminate food waste | January Money Diet

“Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” – John 6:12b

Many of us can significantly reduce our monthly expenses without sacrificing one thing. The key is to eliminate wasting resources. When we stop wasting, we enjoy the same quality of life but we have more to share.

This was a hard list for me to write, but these are some of the things I’ve wasted:

Food – I’ve cooked too much, purchased too much, and forgotten about food. I’ve stored food improperly so it spoiled before we ate it. I feel so terrible when I waste food.

Time – I’ve wasted time on social media, watching mindless TV, and doing unproductive things like worrying or gossiping.

Money – I’ve wasted money on impulse buys, and purchasing things to impress others. I’ve bought things I didn’t really need.

Resources – I’ve left the lights on in an empty room, and let the water run needlessly. I’ve been careless and left the automatic sprinklers on during a rain storm. I’ve discarded things that someone else could have used.

Practical Strategies for Reducing Waste

According to a recent article in the Washington Post, American families throw out between 14 and 25 percent of the food and beverages they buy, costing the average family between $1,365 and $2,275 each year.

On the positive side, using only what we need can be a wonderful way to stretch our money, honor the earth’s resources, and have more to share with those in need.

For inspiration, you might enjoy reading about a family who’s figured out how to cut waste at  Zero Waste Home.

What if 2016 was the year we all stopped wasting even one morsel? Let’s do this! Here are some strategies:

Waste Less Food

* Cook the right amount for your family. If you regularly throw away uneaten portions, recalculate your favorite recipes. Better to eat every bite and occasionally give a family member an apple if he’s still hungry after a meal, than constantly discard leftovers.

* Take leftovers to work the following day for lunch, and save money on meals out.

* Reinvent your leftovers in another meal (casserole, stir fry, soup) within a day or two.

* Freeze leftover meat, veggies, juices, milk, etc. for soups and stews. Do this within a day or two of cooking to preserve quality.

* Save and freeze the cooking water from vegetables, and use it as a flavor-enhancing base for soups and sauces. Spaghetti sauce freezes well, too.

* Be aware of small waste. Do you routinely throw away a third cup of coffee from the pot every day? Measure out exactly how much you need and experiment until you find the exact amount that eliminates waste.

* Save the carcass from a roast chicken or turkey and use it to make a batch of homemade stock.

* American restaurants are notorious for serving too-large portions. Don’t be shy about asking for a doggie bag at a restaurant. Or consider sharing a meal to eliminate food waste.

* If they’re too far gone, compost fruits and vegetables that are past their prime.

Conserve Resources

* Turn off the water while you’re brushing your teeth.

*Repair drippy faucets and leaky toilets.

*Only run full loads in the dishwasher and washing machine.

*Check out these 100 water saving ideas.

*Try these energy saving ideas from Day 8.

Eliza’s One and Only Time Management Tip

As a self-employed writer, making the most of my time is a daily challenge. Some days I feel so tired at the end of the day, and yet I feel like I accomplished so little. I think many of us feel that way on a regular basis. Perhaps we need to cut ourselves some slack, and get back to basics.

Here’s my simple tip, which I read a long time ago and try to practice every weekday. At the beginning of the day, write down your top three priorities — the three most important things you would feel really good accomplishing today. Then start with the one task on the list that makes you feel the most resistance.

If you get off track browsing Pinterest for donut recipes or watching funny dog videos (speaking for myself), just re-focus on those three things. Repeat tomorrow.

How About You?

Is yours a zero-waste home, or is this an area you want to work on? Do you have ideas to add to this list? If you’ve adopted any conservation strategies, will you share them with us in the Comments section of this page?

Here’s to wasting less and sharing more in 2016.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.