My Financial Roadmap and Making Course Corrections

One of the hazards of blogging is that you can't always be right. When you're wrong, you get to be wrong in front of a lot of people. Which can be embarrassing — but also a great learning experience.

In April, I wrote about my “frugal” decision to let my broken shower languish, and the critical comments came in fast and furious. People were concerned that it was unsafe, that it was irresponsible, and that I was just being lazy.

It's not unsafe, I promise you. The water temperature is warm enough to ward off Legionnaire's Disease without being hot enough to scald the kids. Likewise, arguments about it detracting from the value of the house don't hold much water. There are plenty of things that detract from the value of the house, from the cracking old linoleum on my kitchen floor to the age of the wiring in my upstairs rooms. No one would argue that I should do every possible home repair or improvement immediately.

The shower is a nuisance, though, and I see now that failing to fix it is more lazy than frugal. The most compelling critique I got from readers here was that letting something like this slide might turn into a bad habit. Slowly, small projects like this can accumulate and detract from the quality of life in my home — not the resale value of the house, but the joy my family and I get from living here. That's worth paying attention to. The kids, and all of us, really do deserve a decent shower every morning.

Solving the problem
I'm not really worried that we'll become slackers who slowly let the house fall apart around our ears. We do a lot of household projects.

The same week I posted about the shower being busted, we replaced our decrepit garden fence and planted tomatoes. On the other hand, deciding to let the shower go indefinitely turns out not to be an awesome choice. The “quality of life” argument has persuaded me to fix the shower ASAP. Which turns out to be easier said than done, since fixing this kind of shower problem is like performing major surgery.

My husband is on it though. He's taken the shower apart, figured out the parts he needs, and put it back together. Now he's waiting on a special part to come in so he can finish the job. I'm confident we'll be showering like civilized people with hot and cold water any day now.

Reassessing priorities
In the meantime, I've been reassessing my priorities. I've been writing a lot about frugality recently, in part because I've been spending more money than usual. I'm trying to explore anew how awesome frugality really is. Readers have called me out on my excesses when I've written about yoga classes and visits to the climbing gym.

Maybe it's time for me to reassess my financial values, to come back to my own frugal center. To do so, I'm turning to my financial roadmap.

Since 2007, I've operated my financial life off the same 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper. On it are three sections, ranging from the bare essentials to dreams we'd like to achieve. I've mentioned this sheet before; now I'm going to share its contents with you. This feels a little like getting naked in front of all my readers, so please be gentle in your critique.

Here's my roadmap:

My Financial RoadmapLaying A Foundation

  • Living sustainably – being able to comfortably pay for housing, food, health care and transportation
  • Getting out of debt – paying off credit cards and loans, no new debts
  • Building savings – creating an emergency fund, contributing regularly to retirement savings
  • Maintaining good financial hygiene – keeping up good credit, having appropriate insurance policies, etc.

Quality of Life

  • Owning a home we love
  • Having happy stable careers
  • A great education for our kids
  • Time with friends and community

Beyond the Basics

  • Travel – visiting family in Argentina, Arizona and elsewhere
  • Giving to charity
  • Living with a small environmental footprint
  • Entertainment – dinners out, cultural events, concerts
  • Fostering spiritual growth

 

This isn't meant as a template for how you should manage your own finances; everyone's objectives will be different. You want to organize them in the way that works best for you.

Also, this roadmap isn't meant to represent hard and fast rules for my money. What this piece of paper has given me for the past four years is a set of guidelines that help me decide where to put my resources. It helps me organize my priorities so that each time I spend money, I can answer the question, “Is this in line with my values?” I've used these general guidelines as the basis for organizing my much more detailed monthly spending plan.

Making course corrections
Looking at it now, it's clear that it's time to update the roadmap.

For one thing, there's no mention of physical fitness, which has become really important to me over the past year. I've learned creative ways to stay fit without spending money, like running in my neighborhood and using yoga DVDs or podcasts at home. But I've also learned that I'm more committed and successful with my fitness goals when I am willing to put some financial resources into them. Paying for yoga or rock climbing shouldn't feel like a splurge: There should be some cash devoted to fitness in our budget. Clearly, maintaining my health deserves a place in my financial goals.

In general, there's not enough attention devoted to maintenance in my list. Home maintenance and car maintenance deserve their own section as foundational items along with covering our basic expenses and saving for the future.

Along with a place in my financial guidelines, I'm thinking of setting aside a dedicated “maintenance account” in my savings. That way, when something small like our shower breaks, I'll have money set aside to fix it. An emergency fund could cover these expenses of course, but they're not really emergencies. I don't know what is going to break, but between my century-old house, my car and my computer, I'm confident I'll be paying for some repairs during the year.

So, fitness and maintenance are clear additions to my financial guidelines. But what else should I add to my master plan? Am I missing other fundamental pieces of personal finance? Also, do you have written guidelines for your spending? What do you do to make sure you're staying on course?

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LifeAndMyFinances
LifeAndMyFinances
9 years ago

I’m sorry that readers jumped all over you for being “irresponsible”, Sierra. While I agree that household issues should be fixed, I don’t see that your showerhead incident needed attention immediately. There are always things that will go wrong with a house. The main question you should ask yourself is, “How much money can I save by repairing this myself, and how much am I worth per hour?” Sure, you could save money by tackling the project yourself, but how much money could you have made during that time by doing something more productive? For instance, if you own and… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
9 years ago

I think most people have to be pretty disciplined to actually use the extra time to earn the profit. Tradespeople earn a good living here in Canada, and with the taxes on the parts and labour and the taxes that come off our income, I’m not sure most frugal people could turn a profit from the situation.

Crystal
Crystal
9 years ago

I’m sorry the readers jumped all over you-how irritating is THAT?!? B/C I bet each and every one who was quick to critisize would not have the courage to detail their spending habits the way you do, or if they did we would see TONS of things we could critisize as well.
I love it when broke people give $ advice; single people give mariage advice; and childless people know EXACTLY what we should do to raise our kids right…always funny

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
9 years ago
Reply to  Crystal

Sometimes people who are in different situations can still offer a fresh perspective. Not everyone is blessed with a spouse and children, but that doesn’t mean their opinion is worthless.

I must admit I have the same reaction though when married friends try to give me dating advice. (Really? You met your husband in high school, go away!) But I realized I was taking the easy way out by dismissing them instead of listening to something I didn’t want to hear. Sometimes the advice was bogus, but sometimes there were good ideas I might otherwise have overlooked.

BD
BD
9 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

Agreeing with Elizabeth!

To put it in other words: It doesn’t take being a master chef to realize that someone burned your dinner (and to know exactly how NOT do that in the future).

tmg
tmg
9 years ago

Stick with the climbing. You will love it as it is cardio and strength training in one workout. And the people you will meet are passionate about outdoor activities. I’ve been doing it or 20 plus years an can not quit even though I have tried many times. It’s community sport with tons or passion,enjoy!

Mike Holman
Mike Holman
9 years ago

Owning a home we love

I don’t get the idea of “loving” your house. I’ve seen this so many times where people talk about how much they love their house. It’s a friggin’ building!

If it disappeared tomorrow, you could move to another one and be just as happy.

Good post!

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
9 years ago
Reply to  Mike Holman

I agree! I think “having a home you love” is a good end goal, but I’ve seen too many people go into debt to have it all right away. It took my parents’ generation years to work up to their standard of living, but people in my generation think they should have the nice furniture, granite countertops, walk-in closets, etc. right now.

Sometimes I find it hard to see my peers with such nice housing, but I then I remember I have to do what’s best for me and be grateful for what i do have.

MaloMonster
MaloMonster
9 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

My husband will thank you for that reminder! He constantly has to keep reminding me that our home in our 20s will not look like my parents’ house did in their 50s!

We’re slowly (slowly!) building up to the home which makes me happy, but right now it’s room by room in an apartment. One day it will be a house!

I do get jealous of my peers when I see their beautiful homes, but my chosen career path doesn’t facilitate having a home in my 20s. C’est la vie!

Monica
Monica
9 years ago
Reply to  MaloMonster

Amen to that!

It is hard to remind yourself (myself) that what we can afford now is not the same thing that our parents can afford after working for 30+ years.

Just have to keep in mind that sound finances now will pay off big time in the long run!

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
9 years ago
Reply to  MaloMonster

I have to keep reminding my parents too 😉 I often find myself saying “when you were my age, you were saving like crazy too”.

They aren’t rich, but when I see the security and lifestyle they have now, it’s certainly good motivation.

Monica
Monica
9 years ago
Reply to  MaloMonster

Good to know my parents aren’t the only ones with selective amnesia … 🙂

Eileen
Eileen
9 years ago
Reply to  Mike Holman

Funny you should mention that Mike….I recently told my husband that “I love this house”. That’s not to say my happiness depends on it, but I do enjoy living here and I was acknowledging that living in it brings me peace/reduces my stress. Prior to this house (we’ve lived here since ’97) we owned 2 other homes, but would often find ourselves driving around to other neighborhoods and looking at open houses. Since the day we moved into this house, it’s never crossed our minds to look at anything else. When I used to commute (I now work from home)… Read more »

Amber
Amber
9 years ago
Reply to  Eileen

Eileen I completely agree. When I am inside it, my home feels like a hug. Maybe it is like love, and you are lucky if you find it.

Mike Holman
Mike Holman
9 years ago
Reply to  Eileen

@Eileen – I’m glad you love your house! 🙂

Maybe when people talk about loving their house, they are not referring just to the building itself, but rather the idea of having their own place, fixed up the way they like it and in a nice area?

Eileen
Eileen
9 years ago
Reply to  Mike Holman

Yes Mike, it’s just about the comfort and relaxation I get from being here. It’s the surrounding area (wooded with wildlife occasionally) and the way the home fits our lifestyle (1 floor, using the entire house but not being cramped). Other homes lacked something I suppose, or we wouldn’t have found ourselves looking other places.

The Other Brian
The Other Brian
9 years ago
Reply to  Mike Holman

She doesn’t say she wants a house she loves; she says she wants a home she loves.

Until you know the difference, you will not understand.

RC
RC
9 years ago

Part of loving my house is accepting its many good qualities and forgiving the imperfections that are there. I also love the size of my mortgage payment – having a smaller house means a smaller payment, lower taxes, etc. So every time I think I wish this was different about my house or ooh, that house is nicer than ours, I remember how much financial freedom living well within our means give us and how precious it is to live life with things I love like travel and the peace of mind of financial breathing room. A home that is… Read more »

Laurel
Laurel
9 years ago
Reply to  Mike Holman

I have to disagree with you. Having a home you love does not necessarily mean “having a home with all the expensive fixings that the Joneses have.” The reasons I have loved my homes (whether apartment, dorm, or now our first house) were not because I had expensive furniture or artwork or granite countertops, hardwood floors. I think putting a little time and effort into making a home you love are things like putting your personal touch on it (not necessarily expensive, but putting up a coat of paint, finding a new spot for an old pillow, organizing your bathroom).… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
9 years ago
Reply to  Laurel

Here, here!

I rearranged my living room/dining room area into a more functional space and it has made a world of difference. While I did buy a $30 mirror (my walls are pretty bare), the overall effect didn’t cost me anything otherwise.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
9 years ago

Sierra, I really liked this post and the message of finding balance. I was looking back at my finances for 2011 so far and wondering if I saved a little too much! There are things I’d like to do — like taking a yoga class or taking a college course for professional development.

I think it’s good to stop and review your spending priorities every once and a while — and put it in writing!

Erin
Erin
9 years ago

I struggle with this sort of thing all of the time. My 85 y/o house needs a lot of updates, repairs, etc., but I would rather save my money for something that makes me blissfully happy: travel. I do have two separate savings accounts for home repairs and travel, but I find myself stashing more into my travel fund. I need to update my electrical system, but doing so won’t bring me any life satisfaction like travel does. I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to sell the house, but I’m not sure that I could in this market!

Megan
Megan
9 years ago

Sierra, I have a lot of repairs that “need” to be done around my house, too, and as my house won’t fall to the ground because I don’t have a new fridge or whatever (fingers crossed), I think I’m ok. (And you are, too!)

I like the idea of a maintenance budget – we have one in our budget for home improvement. It could be something small, like getting new lightbulbs, or it could be for something major, like a new water heater – but it’s there!

Andrea
Andrea
9 years ago

The only thing I would say about repairs is to take care of things that can cause larger problems- like leaks or bugs(or mice). I have friends who have let stuff like this go and things get seriously worse. Home improvement is a lot different than home maintanence- I think. As to DIY- it depends. My husband tried to repair a toilet- the materials were not cheap- he made a mess/broke the seat, too! and we had to call a plumber anyway. Now he pretty much agrees to call a repairman- realizing that there are some things we just can’t… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago
Reply to  Andrea

We’ve been pretty successful with home repairs *except* plumbing. DH has even fixed the circuit board on the clothes washer and replaced the engine on the dishwasher. But getting the shower not to leak always ends up worse than before trying, so we call the plumber.

Bridgette
Bridgette
9 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

Ha! You mean the motor? I am pretty sure it doesn’t have an engine 🙂 or maybe that’s what I am missing for power in my dishwasher.

Rosa Rugosa
Rosa Rugosa
9 years ago
Reply to  Andrea

Could you please tell me more about the mice thing? We have some issues we’ve been trying to ignore for too long . . .

Maggie
Maggie
9 years ago

I like the ideas presented. And in thinking about my own, do you have ideas of what the item “A great Education for the kids” includes? Music lessons, extra curricular activities such as sports, scouts, etc? And here is an interesting one (because I am facing it). I think my maintenance category might include upkeep on some critical computing components. While Hubby and I have work laptops we bring home and the older son had a laptop as part of his tuition, the younger son needs access to a device to write papers/power point presentations and access internet data for… Read more »

No Debt MBA
No Debt MBA
9 years ago

Accountability is the reason I started my blog – PF blog readers are not shy about letting you have it when they think you’ve screwed up and they can pose really valuable questions about why you’re doing things. I’m glad you can sort the wheat from the chaff in the feedback and pull something valuable from it. I hope to do the same.

steve
steve
9 years ago

To look at the “what is happy” from a different perspective, you might look to Bhutan where they are measuring the “Gross Domestic Happiness” instead of the “Gross Domestic Product” as a measure of success.

http://www.grossnationalhappiness.com/GNHSurvey/gnhquestionnaire.pdf is the questionnaire.

Results can be found at
http://www.grossnationalhappiness.com/gnhIndex/resultGNHIndex.aspx

or generally http://www.grossnationalhappiness.com

The Other Brian
The Other Brian
9 years ago
Reply to  steve

290 questions and they still don’t tell you the “right” answer.

I think that sums up the path to happiness quite well….

LauraElle
LauraElle
9 years ago

Sierra- I like the idea of a home maintenance fund. I think it should be in the Laying the Foundation section.

Have you thought about a car repair/car purchase fund? We save the equivalent of a car payment every month, about $200. When it’s time to buy a car, in 5-8 years, we have cash. We started out with reliable beaters that were easy and inexpensive to fix (My husband kept them running longer than they had a right to.) and now drive newer model yet modest cars.

Ann W
Ann W
9 years ago
Reply to  LauraElle

This is the best idea I have heard all year. You are to be commended. We have saved tens of thousands of dollars over the years by not buying super expensive cars. Once we were a two Taurus family in the midst of all sorts of foreign car families. People lose a lot of money on ego. Ann

Jaime B
Jaime B
9 years ago
Reply to  LauraElle

My parents do the same thing! Mostly anyway. They don’t buy beaters, but they do keep putting a car payment in savings whenever the old loan is paid off and they drive their cars for a long time. Over the last 28 years, they eventually got to a point where they just pay cash for their new cars – no loan needed. 🙂 I would, except I bought a fixer-upper and all my car payment savings go to the house. Now that my car is 5 years old now, I’m feeling that I need to bite the bullet and start… Read more »

Rosa Rugosa
Rosa Rugosa
9 years ago
Reply to  Jaime B

My car is 16 years old and going
strong, you may still have plenty of time!

Katie
Katie
9 years ago
Reply to  Jaime B

My car is also 5 years old, and I can’t believe how quickly those 5 years flew by. But I have started to feel a sense of urgency in saving for my next car. I’m hoping to be dedicated in my savings so that I have the amount I need saved ahead of time.

Tanya
Tanya
9 years ago

I agree with you about devoting some finances to things like exercise classes, etc. I have a stack of fitness DVDs I rarely use because I am unmotivated to do them by myself. For me, I am much more successful if I go to a Zumba class, etc., that I have paid for and that I can do with a group. Knowing what works and doing it is smart, not a waste of money.

akajb
akajb
9 years ago

“There should be some cash devoted to fitness in our budget.” I relate really well to this point. I’m a grad student (so technically poor) but I’ve always been really good at saving and managing money. I’m just not a spender (or a shopper). However, I still find it somewhat scary when I realize that each year I spend well over $1000 on fitness – climbing pass, gym pass, curling (yes, Canadian), new running shoes, etc. On the plus side, from climbing alone, I am now able to do 3+ chin-ups in a row – and I love the time… Read more »

Amber
Amber
9 years ago
Reply to  akajb

Definitely. Even a sport like running which seems like it is free requires good sneakers ($80+) and the motivation of signing up for race every now and then ($25 – $150). For me anyway, I have figured out this needs to be part of the budget.

Ann W
Ann W
9 years ago
Reply to  akajb

I don’t think your expenditures for fitness are scary, they are commendable. This category is probably a large part of your social life. If you are super healthy you can study longer and work harder. Cable costs are probably at least $600 a year. Drinkers probably spend $1500 a year on alcohol. You can’t delay living while you are getting an education, and being a well rounded person helps everything in your life. AnnW

Megan
Megan
9 years ago

The things I see missing from yours (some are already pointed out) that I have in mine are: Housing – for maintenance, repairs, and upgrades (ie, the sink faucet broke and we took it from this instead of living without one) – also includes insurance deductible Cars – for auto expenses >$100 – this also includes our insurance deductible set safely aside and money for repairs, a new car, etc – having a dedicated fund makes it easier Misc – this covers presents, new computer, special dinner out (ie anniversary) and other things that come up that aren’t “emergencies” or… Read more »

Debbie M
Debbie M
9 years ago
Reply to  Megan

I keep adding more maintenance funds to my savings categories. I now have: * car – gas and other upkeep, taxes and insurance, repairs * house – I’ve heard one should save 1 – 2% of the value of your house each year; I’m saving about 1.5% * health – I just added this one a couple of years ago. I can’t count on always being able to pay for my doctor visits and medicine out of my every day money; I hope to get quite old and can’t count on staying so lucky. So I’ve started putting a little… Read more »

Tracy
Tracy
9 years ago

Sierra, great post. You have inspired me to sit down with my other half and write up a priority sheet as well. We create our monthly budget together, but there are things that come up unexpectedly that we do not always have a category for. Making sure they are within our priority list with just a glance would be beneficial. I think we would have to update the priority list every 6 months or at least annually as our interests and priorities evolve. Thank you for not letting those that critique prevent you from sharing as we can all learn… Read more »

Justin
Justin
9 years ago

I personally think families with good saving habits should have a separate “house maintenance” fund from an emergency fund. House maintenance is always going to be there. Carpets get worn out. The roof gets old and needs replacing. Water heaters, dishwashers, and laundry machines break, etc. You may as well have a regular fund you’re paying into for this, to make sure you ahve the money to cover it. Meanwhile, your emergency fund can help cover these expenses if necessary, but is more allocated to if you lose your job, the car breaks down, last minute medical bills, etc. You’d… Read more »

skeptic
skeptic
9 years ago
Reply to  Justin

+1

Alyssa
Alyssa
9 years ago

Very brave of you to post your roadmap, but I like it! I think I’ll draft one for myself today. As far as the critics go, it’s easy to be a critic on the internet. Yes, it was lazy to let the shower go that long. However, everyone does something silly like that. There’s no need for people to be Internet Tough Guys about it. I’ve been intently reading about PF for the past year, and the one bit that speaks to me the most is that we all have our own priorities and values, and that we should spend… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago
Reply to  Alyssa

I think some folks were perceiving a disconnect between priorities and values for the same writer across different columns. You said this in one column, but now you’re spending money on that instead.

So it makes sense to sit down and think explicitly about those priorities and values (and if they’ve changed over time) and whether or not spending matches those lists. It’s one of the exercises David Bach recommends in his “Smart X Finish Rich” series. http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2011/04/18/how-do-your-values-guide-your-financial-goals/

And, while I’m at it, do financial bloggers have to be perfect? http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2010/10/17/is-it-ok-for-personal-finance-bloggers-to-be-balanced/

Justin
Justin
9 years ago

Good introspective article, bloggers should always be able to cast a critical eye in their own direction as well as the world around them.

krantcents
krantcents
9 years ago

I make savings a priority and live on what is left. For physical fitness, I ride a bicycle and use a treadmill. In addition, I lift weights. This works for me!

fetu
fetu
9 years ago
Reply to  krantcents

I agree. I guess I do not have it as a big priority but I do not think I could go over $5 a week to exercise. As it is, I pay $15 for an annual pass for the local college pool and I go swimming at least once a week. I also do a lot of bike riding and walking. The same goes for diets…..some people spend huge amounts of money on them but still do not lose weight. For most it is a waste of money.

Amanda
Amanda
9 years ago

I have a set amount to spend weekly. I don’t microcategorize- if I can afford it out if that $ (for me often eating out, Sierra rockclimbing?) then I’ll do it. I’m not going to take away savings to change fun things to higher on my priority list. I think it allows me to be rewarded if I’m good at the grocery store, etc. 😉

Ann W
Ann W
9 years ago

I like this whole idea. It is important to set out goals and dreams. One of the hard things about living an adult life is budgeting for the things that are not fun. Don’t forget your AAA dues, they are worth every penny and save lots of money buying other things. You should budget for maintenance, both short term and long term. It’s hard to not spend money so you can save to replace a roof or paint the house, but things like that are needed. Keeping up to date with homeowners and life insurance is important also. Some categories… Read more »

Jerry
Jerry
9 years ago

It sounds like you are doing the right things. You have all the sound values in place. I particularly like living sustainably and having the right insurance policies just in case. But, sometimes events lead us to re-evaluate and maybe that’s a good thing.

Tara
Tara
9 years ago

I am putting all my savings into two pots, retirement and other. The idea of discrete accounts for different purposes sounds interesting though – it may help me budget in the future, such as planning for vacations and such.

imelda
imelda
9 years ago

Um, I acknowledge the irony of saying this, but I think you’re giving way too much credence to your readers’ opinions.

Who cares what we think about your showerhead? You were perfectly happy before when it was broken. You’ll be perfectly happy once it’s fixed. What’s the difference?

And now you’re asking us to critique the most basic goals you’ve established for your life? Dude, *why*? We don’t have the same values as you do. Everyone is different. Why change your life by what random strangers say?

chenoameg
chenoameg
9 years ago

I think the repair category falls into a general category of anticipated expenses.

What do you think you will spend money on in the next year? What about the next five years? You may not know what repairs are coming, but you know there will be repairs.

Milehimamad
Milehimamad
9 years ago

It can be so hard to put yourself out there- especially because YOUR values aren’t necessarily MY values, so it’s easy to criticize. I came up against the same thing when I blogged about our budget quandary once- everyone said cancel the martial arts lessons (which we didn’t, because they were very important and served many functions.) You asked what was missing- I think “continuing education/self improvement” is missing. Even as adults it’s important to grow and learn, expanding our horizons. It might be a hobby, or a course for personal/professional development, or even a class at the craft or… Read more »

Debbie M
Debbie M
9 years ago

I don’t exactly prioritize like you do. But I have noticed that I have to pay attention to eight categories to be happy. Whenever I’m not feeling happy, it’s usually pretty easy to figure out which category is lacking and put some more time and effort into that. My categories are: * intellectual – learning things, reading interesting books, watching interesting movies, etc. * social – having fun with my friends * physical – nutrition, exercise, maintenance (annual check-ups, etc.) and fixing problems (medicine, etc.). (I’ve further broken exercise in to four categories–whenever I’m deciding what to do, I’ll pick… Read more »

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