The Target Red Card: A First Step

TargetBTSFor the last five years we have been working to pay off an astronomical amount of debt. Much of that debt came from living on a credit card for the better part of two years after I left my job. (Yes, I know how stupid that is, please don’t leave comments with financial gurus I should read. I’ve already read them.)

Needless to say we had closed all of our credit card accounts and I had gotten very adept and averting my eyes and quickly shaking my head no when anyone asked if I wanted to save whatever percent today by signing up for a store card. This was particularly hard at Target, where I seem to shop more often than I bathe sometimes. (Kidding…maybe.) Oh, how I wanted loyalty coupons and a 5% discount every time. But, no. No credit cards for this girl.

One of the behaviors of financially successful people who I’ve read about on the sites of those very same financial gurus you are dying to tell me about is that of people using their credit cards for them. I mean, there is something to be said for getting 20% off or loyalty or points to pay for trips and clothes. I just never figured I’d be that kind of person.

Then I listened extra-close one day at the checkout counter and heard the lovely Target lady (no, not Kristen Wiig) say the magic words, “Target DEBIT card.” Wait, what?

Yep, I could be one of those people and not even have to sign up for a credit card. I signed up on the spot and have since used that bad boy to save myself 5% multiple times. Not to mention the awesome coupon pack I got this year at back-to-school time which saved me some addition cash.

I’m starting to figure out what I should have known years ago-how to make my money work for me. One small step feels like this little red card. I’m all for loyalty programs that give back to the buyer, especially when they’re at the store I see more than my shower. (Kidding…kind of.)

 

** Full dicslosure-this is NOT a sponsored post, (Oh, how I wish Target was on my team.) but I was invited to a Target back to school event where the kids and I got a sneak preview of all their fun BTS clothes and accessories (like the cool stilleto tape dispenser in the picture). That said, they didn’t ask me to write about anything. I just really did this freakin’ Red Card so much I wanted to share-especially if you’re skeptical. I’m here to tell you, from what I can see, no strings, just savings.

Budgeting Tips from The Trenches

notebookLast week I wrote a post about our financial situation. There weren’t a whole lot of public comments either here or on Facebook, but the feedback I received privately was overwhelming. I got emails and direct messages. People came up to me in person to talk about the post. Some were congratulatory, others thanked me for my honesty. Some offered their expertise to us as we go forward and some even said they were inspired to make changes themselves. Clearly, admitting where we were and how we got here struck a chord with people.

Knowing all this, of course I feel compelled to share more. Being honest is hard. Being honest is scary. But if I know that my writing about our story can help other people either stay away from our mistakes or get themselves out of similar ones, then I will write all that I can. Nothing would make me feel like this whole mess was worth it more than knowing my bone-headed decisions actually lead to some eventual good.

Now, I’m no expert, but I have spent the last five years destroying some debt and learning how to keep from racking it up again. I can give you all I know and it seems the best place to start is at the beginning. I’ll spare you the details of the spiral that got us so far in the hole, but I will tell you there was nothing huge until the end. We built up credit card debt through small, barely noticeable purchases like diapers and new towels. Quite simply, we lived beyond our means, not lavish vacations and fancy cars beyond, but just enough beyond that it eventually caught up with us and we weren’t able to quit until we were way behind.

One our our biggest mistakes was that we failed to realistically budget. Oh, we sat and “budgeted” often, but we never were fully honest about our spending, mostly because we weren’t conscious enough of it to know exactly where our money was going. So, when it was time for our move, we factored in things like moving trucks, first and last month’s rent, but we forgot the paint we’d need to touch up our house or the hundreds of dollars in packing materials we’d need to move two states away. As you can imagine, when we first faced our debt, we were a bit mystified at how it got so bad so fast.

When we got there and we quickly went from people with 800 credit scores to people who were suddenly dodging creditor calls and robbing Peter to pay Paul’s bills, we had to get real with what the heck we were doing.

We wrote down everything, from train passes to the lollipops at the grocery checkout, for one month. I nagged The Husband to tell me every detail of his day when he was at work. Luckily, his response was to quickly just quit doing anything but work from 7-7, so he wasn’t too hard to track. However, we did find that when it came to “work expenses” he spared no expense. If he had to buy it, eat it, clean it or read it for work, he did, without thought or question to the budget. As for me, anything having to do with kids passed my radar without notice. I would pause before every purchase for myself or my home. As a reformed compulsive home-decorator this was a huge step. But for some reason, when it came to buying anything for my kids, I’d throw it in carts without a second thought. I swear I bought them food at every single stop along the way during a day. Ridiculous, and without that money diary, probably would have, completely unconsciously, gone on forever.

Now that we were armed with our realistic spending profile, we could create a real budget and then stick to it. We saw where we could cut and we made those cuts. We got creative with how we spent. Most importantly, we tuned in to our lives in a way we never had before. Paying attention to the way you spend, much like paying attention to the way you eat, forces you to really know how you’re living your life and that was our first step to living a rich life.

Do you know your money story? Are you aware of where every penny goes or do you find yourself marveling at the bank statement and credit card bills every month? Take the Money Diary challenge and start writing down your monthly spending. Then share with us what you learn and what you may change.

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

Planning for Retirement- With a Storybook?

Today’s is not the traditional M.a.D Monday post but surely it is tangential to Making a Difference. Today’s post is about money, specifically what you can do with it now to avoid running out of it later.

Never fear, I’m not here to give advice as I’m in no way qualified to do so. After all, I’m just learning how to live with having  money in my life. For those who are new here, let me give you a quick background.

The Husband and I started this marriage years ago with a fair amount of personal debt, mostly student loans and a credit card or two that had manageable, albeit unpaid, balances. We both had decent jobs and thought we had a basic understanding of living within our means.

We were wrong.

Fast forward about ten years, 3 houses (one underwater) and 3 kids later and we found ourselves living in a new state with one less income and a mountain of debt so high that we could not even see the peak from where we stood. More of the nitty-gritty of our story can be found here and here.

It’s taken us five years, five long and tedious years but we are nearly at the summit. If everything continues as planned, we will be almost completely debt-free by October. We will have payed down an exorbitant amount with just a few smaller things to manage until next March and then we will be 100% debt-free minus a home we will then own.

Before The Husband was laid off, we had set our goals for 2013 to be future-driven. We’ve been in the muck and mire of debt-repayment for so long, we admittedly haven’t thought enough about our future. Since that attitude is largely what got us into this mess to begin with, we knew we had to change it quickly. So we thought this year we’d seek financial counseling of some sort and eventually investment assistance.

Then January came and our income was halted, so we quickly fell back into survival mode. I stopped thinking about retirement and college savings and started thinking about our next grocery trip.  In wonderful karmic magic, a friend asked me to review his new book,The 7 Deadly Retirement Sins and I agreed.

Quite honestly, I must have been desperate. Doing straight book reviews is always a stressful situation for me because as a writer I hate being critical of other people’s work. Don’t get me wrong, I’m HYPER critical of books, but I usually don’t share bad thoughts because I know the work that goes into them and nothing is so bad it would compel me to trash it or the writer online. I tend to shy away from straight reviews because what if they stink? I can’t handle that.  Add to that the fact that this author is someone I know well and you can only imagine the fear I had cracking that cover. With this book,  I was compelled by the concept, a fiction story about a young journalist who finds her own financial  way through a series of interviews with retirees who would do things differently if given the chance.

Now, I’ve read a ton of money books written by all different types of authors. The one thing they have in common, no matter how excellent the information or how well they’re written, is that it takes everything I have to keep reading them and  not either fall asleep or throw them across the room. Money has never been easy for me. I’m excellent at managing other people’s, but my own has always been a struggle, so reading about how to do it better is not something I do with enthusiasm.

Imagine my surprise when not only was the The 7 Deadly Retirement Sinswell written, but was compelling enough to keep me from putting it down. And what a huge relief that I didn’t have to work out some creative way of writing about a book that was only ok, or worse, totally stunk. (Or, come up with some conversation to avoid writing about it!)

The The 7 Deadly Retirement Sinsis a story about Sam, a writer who interviews multiple retirees about theirs stories. At it’s core, the book is a collection of stories, which is always fun. In each story, the main character (and probably the reader) learns a new lesson about how to plan for retirement. Some lessons are obvious (save more) and others were not, at least to me. (Did you know there were different types of Investment Planners and they all have different fee schedules and motivations?)

Now, clearly, I have a lot to learn, so this news may not be new to some, but I’m betting there are some of you out there who could stand to learn a bit more about how to plan better for your future. I can confidently say that if you read The 7 Deadly Retirement Sins, you will learn much of what you need to move toward a better future. The best is that you can do it without reading yourself right to sleep!

 

The 7 Deadly Retirement Sins is a book by Certified Financial Planner (and awesome dad) Ryan Zacharczyk. I received a copy of the book for review and yes, Ryan is our friend, but trust me when I say I would not be recommending it if I didn’t really get something out of it. So, here I am-recommending it to all of you to buy today and thankful I don’t have to have the awkward, “Oh, I just haven’t gotten to it” conversation with Ryan at a later date! 

Money Monday: Learn Vest

I was contacted a while back by an editor at Huffington Post to write a piece on money for an upcoming special they’re doing for HuffPo women. She heard me speak in a session at BlogHer last year and liked the way I spoke about living authentically and being honest about your financial state.

I am honored. Truthfully, I am beyond honored. To me The Huffington Post is like the ultimate destination as a blogger. It’s respected as a news source and it only “employs” (I use quotes because I’m not sure anyone there is paid to write.) top quality writers. I’ve never investigated how to write for HuffPo because I was never confident enough to try.

So to be asked to write had me floating on air for days.

I came crashing down when I realized I felt like a fraud. See, the thing is I haven’t been walking the talk lately. Never fear, I haven’t gotten myself back into any kind of sorry situation, but I had started to slip into the dirty old habit of not paying attention.

This was always the risk with me. I work like a superstar in crisis mode, always have. But when things get a bit easier and the reins loosen, I have been known to run wild.

I wasn’t exactly running wild this time, but I was perhaps living beyond my means. The truth is I say perhaps because I don’t know if I was because I wasn’t really paying attention. And that, unconscious living, is my single biggest money sin. If I’m  not diligent about every penny in and every penny out, then I lose track and allow a few more treats and tricks then normal and before I know it, I’m bouncing checks and forgetting bills.

Luckily, I caught myself before anything bad happened. Luckily my biggest sin was probably take-out tacos on my birthday, (my slip-ups have certainly shrunk in these last few years) and now I’m back on track.

One little tool I’ve discovered in my mad hunt to tighten the reins is a site called LearnVest. From what I can tell so far, it’s a bit like Mint in that you can set a budget and link it to all your accounts so that you can track your spending and debt. The difference seems to be, and I hate to say this out loud but it’s true, is that it’s more engaging. I know, money should be serious but if I’m being honest, I need my money management to be a little fun or else I just won’t do it.

LearnVest was started by a woman and in addition to the straight forward money management stuff, there is a community aspect to the site with classes, tutorials and paid services that include support from a certified financial planner. So not only is it one stop shopping as far as everything you’d need for saving, spending and tracking, but it also has more reasons for me to visit the site and stay involved. With other sites like it, I’ve been known to input all my data and then slowly start to ignore the emails alerting me to things because they stopped making sense as I never updated the site enough. I’m not saying Mint isn’t a great site. It is. It’s just that so far I don’t work well with it. I’m hoping Learn Vest will be different.

This isn’t in any way a sponsored post. LearnVest people have no idea who I am and neither do the folks at Mint. This is just me, trying to be authentic and let you in on the ways I do it. I’ll keep you posted on how successful I am using LearnVest. Here’s hoping for growing wealth!

And one last thing: I know some of you are sick of these, but this one is absolute perfection. I’m pretty sure at some point I’ve said every, single one of these things.