4 steps to finding financial improvement

The two worst years of my financial life were 2007 to 2009. Before 2007, our income was low, but our expenses were low, too. We didn't save much, but we didn't spend more than we earned, either.

Then we saw our dream house. And we bought it while we still owned our first house. For two years, we had two mortgages. Suddenly, even though our income was slowly increasing, our expenses had skyrocketed. We cut our expenses as much as we could, but you can only cut them so much when you bought a fixer-upper with squirrel holes in the siding, leaking toilets that threatened to fall through the rotten bathroom floors, and desperately needing a new roof. (I guess we have low standards for our dream house!) As if that weren't painful enough, I was also trying to finish grad school. It was an ugly time, and I was desperate.

Along with our finances, my desperation also manifested itself physically: I gained about 25 pounds, and developed heartburn and other GI difficulties, along with some self-diagnosed depression. I was so tired all the time.

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More about...Debt

Save money by cutting food waste

I barely brushed the surface of combating food waste in a recent article, but the comments added so much to the article that I thought I could stop at just one. And then I found some more statistics.

In the U.S.:

  • We waste 40 percent of edible food
  • It costs $750 million just to dispose of the food we waste
  • And when you consider the extra costs of packaging, transporting, and storing wasted food, the overall cost of wasting food goes up to $165 billion.

But there's more -- 33 percent of purchased meat is wasted, followed by 25 percent of seafood. Even 15 percent of purchased fruit is wasted. That's not good, especially when you consider that meat is so expensive, not to mention all food. Continue reading...

More about...Food, Frugality

The first step to teaching our kids about money

By the time you read this, my husband and I should be in the middle of hanging out on a different continent for eight weeks -- with our kids. Allow me to digress for a few sentences before I get to the point of this article.

We started the adoption process two years ago. In October, 2012, we were matched with our children, and the weeks and months since then have been filled with waiting, paperwork updates, and more waiting. Finally, in mid-April (I am writing this 11 days before we're scheduled to leave), we will meet our kids for the first time. I don't know how other new parents feel, but it's surreal to me. We're so excited (and scared)! Okay, back to the article…

What we want for our kids Continue reading...

More about...Education

How (and why) to create a financial plan

A few weeks ago, I celebrated another birthday. For whatever reason, birthdays always make me think about how many more birthdays I have to celebrate. And eventually, I think about how my husband would handle the finances in the event of my death.

Happy birthday, huh?

Although I am unlikely to die anytime soon, you never know. When thinking about my earthly exit, I am bothered most by the practical things that would affect my family. In the middle of grief and loss, I don't want my husband to be struggling to know which bills are on autopay, how much we contribute to our IRAs each month, or what the passwords are to important accounts. So, in my opinion, the most loving thing I could do is make sure he can keep our family's financial life together. It's time to create a Financial Plan.

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More about...Planning

Investing in your investing education: A resource list

Investing isn't new to me. I opened my first CD in high school back in the good old days of 5 percent interest, and I started contributing to my 401(k) as soon as I was eligible (at age 21). I did everything right according to the articles I read. I:

  • Contributed enough to get the maximum employer match
  • Saved/invested around 10 percent of my income
  • Opened up an IRA

Before I break my arm patting myself on the back, let me tell you that I made a huge error. I stopped too soon in my investing education. Instead of continuing to learn, I rested on my investing laurels -- and who knows how much money I've lost out on because I forgot that no one cares more about my money than I do.

And my huge error led me to make many mistakes. For instance, I didn't realize until (embarrassingly) recently that different funds in your 401(k) have different fees. Selecting funds with low fees can make a huge difference in returns. Or "buy and hold" is not the same as "buy and forget about it." And then there's the issue of investing and taxes.

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More about...Investing, Books

Taking the semi-retirement plunge without drowning in debt

After spending months working 60 or 70 hours per week, realizing that life is all too short, and preparing for our kids to come home, it's time for a new financial paradigm of my own: I'm semi-retiring.

I had always been perplexed by those who, say, retired early to travel to exotic locations. I like working and don't really like traveling, so my dreams involved some sort of fulfilling employment until I couldn't work anymore. I'm the life of the party, I know.

But then two or three years ago, I read about a guy who took a year off from full-time employment and I thought, what if?

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More about...Retirement, Planning

Food fight: Waging a war against food waste

Back in December, I decided to eat more fruits and vegetables. No matter what, I was going to eat more of them. And that's saying something, especially since I've created a few excuses to avoid eating healthy food.

Even though my main excuse wasn't the expense, it's still an obstacle to healthy eating. At least, that's a common excuse I hear when eating better food comes up in conversation. And I wanted to know if it was possible to eat more fruits and vegetables without spending more at the supermarket.

Determined this would not be a New Year's resolution, given my dismal failure rate, I loaded up my grocery cart with produce a couple of days after Christmas. "You're buying just produce?" said the friendly checkout clerk.

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More about...Food, Frugality

How to Save and Invest Money

When we decided that we were going to start investing more in 2013, I didn't know where we would find the money in our budget. My personality embraces risk… as long as all our other savings goals are met and our bills are paid. So, because I wanted to have fun investing (and not lose sleep at night), I knew I could not cut our retirement contributions or our savings deposits. What I hoped was that I would find "invisible" money in our budget; money that we spent mindlessly that would now have an investing job.

Our spending record

I have recorded our spending for brief periods of time, especially when money was very tight, but I had never done it for a year. I knew it was a good thing to do, but it's a pain. In 2012, however, I created a spreadsheet and faithfully entered every dollar that we made or were given. I tallied every purchase made by check, debit or credit card and most of the ones made with cash.

I'll spare you most of the gory details, but we weren't as smart with our money as we thought we were. Granted, there were things out of our control: Our septic system needed to be replaced, and we had some unexpected medical bills. Most things, though, were in our control, including the ridiculous $36.75 I spent at the vending machine. Even though that's not a lot of money, it's more than I thought I spent on Wild Cherry Pepsi. Continue reading...

More about...Budgeting, Investing

Should you be a generalist or a specialist?

Way back in 2009, I read a blog post on whether you should be a generalist or a specialist.

Sure, the post's focus was on freelance commercial writing, but every now and then, I would think about its premise: Can you earn more as a generalist or a specialist in a certain career field? Do generalist careers or specialist careers earn more overall? Is it easier for a generalist to be hired? Or does a specialist always rise to the top of the resumé pile?

Note: I'm defining a specialist as someone with a degree that narrows down the job possibilities. For instance, two people with business degrees may have two very different jobs in any number of sectors. Conversely, two nurses will have more similar jobs in the health care field.<

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More about...Career

Should you buy a fixer-upper?

Fixer-upper (noun). A home you purchase at a reasonable price, but one that requires an unreasonable amount of money in repairs and renovations.

Okay, so I made up that definition, and it's not always true. Buying fixer-uppers can get you more house than you would normally be able to afford at a reasonable price. They can be pleasantly inexpensive. But they can also be money pits, masquerading behind a façade of charming woodwork and arched doorways.

As tempting as the purchase price is for houses that need a little TLC, you must assess whether a fixer-upper is right for you. To do that, you need an appraisal. And I'm not just talking about the house. Continue reading...

More about...Home & Garden