Our Financial Story (Money Series #3)

our financial story//naturallyjmharris.com
photo by neONBRAND
It’s been 5 months since we started this Dave Ramsey plan and completely overhauled our household finances and perspective on money. Five short months hardly seems like any time at all to have accomplished what we have.
I’m telling you this because we’ve experienced a supernatural ease that we’ve never experienced before when it comes to money management. And for that I take 0% credit. To God be the glory.
I don’t know how everything on that list came to be. Of course I know the mechanics, but still, the amount of items amaze me. 
We’ve always had an irregular income. We once both saved for our house and paid off our truck in a matter of months. Once our furnace broke just as the nights turned into winter–the Lord in his mercy covered our shortcomings.  We paid our friend’s way for a trip, we were handed money and gave it right back away because we wern’t in need.  One summer had to tell a friend we didn’t have enough in our checking account to cover a coffee run. We’ve overdrafted our account because we didn’t know how to save when paychecks were plenty for the weeks when they were sparse.  We bought a fixer upper with a large potential for equity when we sell.
We’ve been really good at being on the same page regarding long term goals, but really poor at agreeing on how to achieve them. Our financial backgrounds couldn’t be different–Solomon says, “you grew up privileged and entitled; I grew up dirt poor. Your parents bought you a $10,000 car when you turned 18, I worked for a summer and bought myself a $200 one.”  Needless to say, we were raised with night and day different approaches to work and learning to mesh those hasn’t always been seamless.
I never want to write about money with pride. Sometimes times are just plain hard. Despite our best efforts for control, there are seasons of scarcity and there are seasons of plenty. I believe that it is the will of the Lord that a man enjoys the fruit of his labor (Ecc 5:18-20). I hold to that promise. It is what keeps me going when I’m tired of throwing my entire paycheck towards the debt I created.
I believe in financial freedom as being something greater than paying off debt and wealth building. I believe that when efforts are put into household management deep things come unraveled and I don’t want you to give up when they do. I’m telling you this because I believe that no matter how messy your finances may be or how great your shortcomings there is hope. 
I have seen it, in just five short months.  Five short months in which we could’ve done nothing but kept living the way we were, but instead we’ve:
  • -built our emergency fund savings account to $1000
  • -started a sinking funds savings system and have faithfully contributed to it weekly; bought a couple items with our sinking funds
  • -started to pay off debt highest interest rate first, got about $1300 into paying off a credit card before becoming convinced instead of the snowball method
  • -paid off an IRS debt- not our smallest but first because IRS
  • -learned how to be on the same page when it comes to finances, both big picture and practically
  • -stuck to an every dollar budget and mastered how to manage it with our irregular income
  • -(I) learned how to spend our fun money with no guilt
  • -(I) experienced a lot of joy from finding freedom from anxiety about $$$.
Look at this list as a little preview of specific posts to come and subjects to be delved into. I’m not telling you this because I’m proud of our accomplishments (although I am), but because we both at one point had a lot of ignorance regarding money management.  Now that we’ve started to overcome that ignorance, we want to share what we’ve learned – what works, what doesn’t work, what may be behind the money decisions we make and simply what it’s like for a married couple to handle finances together.  Read part one and part two of the series.
Comment below if there’s a specific topic you’d like to see covered!

Surviving on an Irregular Income (Money Series #2)

Dave Ramsey says that it takes at least 3 months of trying to really get your budgeting system down. We’ve tried many systems in the past, but we’ve hit about the three month mark of budgeting the Dave Ramsey way – to be specific, every dollar budgeting or so called zero based budgeting (read a little about the concept on Dave Ramsey’s website here).  And let me tell you, it’s working.

It’s so much simpler than anything we’ve tried in the past. I will say that the three month prediction is accurate, and I’m glad we made the commitment to stick with it. We’ve been making adjustments as we’ve come to terms with exactly what our expenses are on a weekly basis. We had a head start as we’ve always kept a list of fixed expenses and their due dates, but I’ve been nailing down the numbers for our other household expenses like pet food or Target runs for household items.

In the past, I’ve let myself get easily discouraged when attempting to budget because we have an irregular income.  It seems like every resource is geared to those who’s budget is fixed and can so easily draw up savings goals predictions or debt payoff predictions. Our income has always fluctuated from week to week and month to month- my husband is currently self-employed and a sub contractor; he used to work in sales and had a 100% commission based income. Irregular incomes scare a lot of people, but they truly don’t need to! They take a a little more tweaking and planning, but I believe budgeting can become as easily as it is for someone with a normal paycheck.  If you have an irregular income, here are a few things that keep us sane.

How to Budget with an Irregular Income

  1. We keep a solid list of when our bills are due every month and how much we anticipate them to be rather than just waiting for the bill in the mail. When our paycheck is more than we need, I look ahead to the following week’s expenses and save accordingly.
  2. We pay bills in order of priority. You can actually find a worksheet for this in the back of The Complete Guide to Money, but the basic idea is that when you get paid, you take that check and divide it among the most important bills FIRST. So, for example, I always make sure the mortgage will be covered before we make our debt snowball payment.
  3. Going along with that idea- the “four walls” (food, clothing, transportation, housing) have to be priority. On a leaner week that may mean we forgo spending money on entertainment until we can ensure the amount of the next paycheck.
  4. On weeks you get paid more, save the rest! Your budget has to even out as your paychecks fluctuate. This means you have to break the “feast or famine” lifestyle as we called it- living in scarcity when money is less and feasting and spending when paychecks are bigger. You need to be putting aside enough money for the scarcer times, and if your work is even relatively consistent, this shouldn’t be a problem.
  5. Budget weekly (or whenever you get paid), not just monthly. For someone with an irregular income you should have an idea of your minimum monthly income- if there were no bonuses, no extra commissions, and a day or two you might not work due to unforeseen circumstances. You need to estimate your monthly income based on that minimum. Then as you get paid weekly you can make an every dollar budget for the WEEK, which is what I will address in my next post.***
  6. Use “sinking funds” for planned expenses like an inevitable home repair or vehicle registration renewal. This allows you to reserve a small amount every week and hardly notice it rather than having to pay the expense all at once with whatever is in your checking account (or find yourself using credit).
  7. Get your emergency fund in place. Whether you have an irregular or regular income, RUN to do this.

I used to work at an office where we had a particular client who had a sales based commission that functioned very similarly to my husband’s at the time. This client would routinely draw run up a balance on his account because when he would have slow weeks without many sales, he couldn’t pay his $40 copay. He would let the balance get high, paying several dollars here and there, until he finally got his fat paycheck and would pay off the entire thing at once- at that point up to a couple hundred dollars. It is so easy to live like that with an irregular income, but you have to learn to break the pattern! You can all too easily find yourself in the position without enough grocery money because you spent every dollar of your last paycheck only to have a slow following week. I’m emphasizing this because that is how we lived until we got sick and tired of it. You can break that cycle.

Having an irregular income is not an excuse for not meeting your financial goals or sticking to a budget. You have to learn to make it work for you, and when you do, you will cut out so much needless worry!

 

***I want to continue to write about what we’ve learned about finances, so I’m creating a little Money series. This is part 2 in the series- find part one here.

Let’s Talk About Money

Let’s talk about money, shall we?

In January, Solomon and I read the Complete Guide to Money by Dave Ramsey. Despite having similar goals, we struggled to be on the same page when it came to practically managing our money. I am hyper analytic in my approach – what Dave Ramsey calls the true “nerd” of the relationship. I have always had a system, even when my system has failed us. My system was great and untouchable and never made a lot of sense to my partner.

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I allowed my insecurity about money and my need to be in control dictate how our money was managed. I paid the bills. I cried at unexpected purchases. I didn’t ask for help when I needed it. When Solomon realized the emotional toll handling the finances was taking on me, he asked to take it over. I handed him my big system and when he didn’t follow it to the letter I doubted his wisdom and took back control again, and in his discouragement he let me.

And then I read chapter two of the Complete Guide to Money where Dave says that every marriage has a Nerd and a Free Spirit in regards to money and that it is okay to allow each individual to have their strength. Following his suggestions:

  1. I draft the budget.
  2. I present the budget simply in a timely manner. Solomon listens.
  3. Solomon (free spirit) changes something about budget & makes it ours.

These three principles carry so much weight. We have always had similar goals about how we use our money, but it is no longer a struggle to feel united.  I can play to my strength, but the burden of money management is not resting on my shoulders. Solomon understands how the budget is drafted and I respect and allow the items on it to be as much his choice as they are mine. His free spirit keeps my nerd balanced.

My system is no longer just mine – and I am so much better for it.
I have so much more to say on this subject, but I will leave that there for today. Do you have a similar dynamic in your relationship? Let me know your thoughts and I’ll address them as I explore how this shift impacts us both practically and emotionally in posts to follow.

You are the Wife your Husband Needs

You are the wife your husband needs.

That phrase popped into my head the other day and hasn’t left. You’ve probably heard it said this way- you are the mother your child(ren) needs. But what about when it comes to just being a wife, to living and loving and serving another person daily?

You are the wife your husband needs.

There was a time in my (recent) life in which I was working less for a purposeful reason and I somehow got it into my head that I had to become a perfect housewife to make up for the difference, that I had to clean everything spotlessly and make perfectly healthy paleo lemon poppy muffins and pack my husband’s lunch and have dinner on the table exactly when he got home and whatever else I thought up. Just typing that is anxiety-inducing. Thank God my husband pulled my aside and told me that he wasn’t putting that on me.

I read recently a passage in a ‘Stone for a Pillow’ by Madeleine L’ Engle that I think illustrates this well. She says, 

I learned that if I tried to be good, that is, if I tried to be the perfect wife, mother, daughter, granddaughter, all I did was become exhausted and ill and humorless and help nobody. If I spent the morning at the typewriter; if, in the late afternoon before I cooked dinner, I went off with the dogs for a walk, the entire household was happier, and there was more laughter and song. I learned that if I was what I had considered selfish, that is, if I took reasonable care of my own needs, we had a smoothly running household.

We as women need to be set free from the notion that in order to be a godly wife, we have to attain domestic perfection. While I am obviously someone who takes my role in the home very seriously, we have to accept our own unique skill set and fall in love with the very characteristics that our husbands adore in us.

You are the wife that your husband needs.

I encourage you, that if you resonate with even a bit of this, to make a mental or physical list of those characteristics about you that are uniquely yours and exactly what your husband needs. Here’s a couple of mine to get you started. If you can’t think of any, I encourage you to ask your husband.  It might lead to an intimate conversation that builds your self esteem, who knows!

  • I am highly intuitive. I know how to read him often before he even tells me that something is wrong. Additionally, I have a high capacity for empathy.
  • I have many goals that complement his (career, lifestyle) and unique skills to make our dreams happen (ex. creativity, ability to follow through, financial sense).

I am the wife my husband needs.

photo source: jeffrey stroup

How We Lived Well on (Mostly) One Income

I wanted to share today something I’ve been reflecting on a lot lately- how we managed on mostly one income for over a year. Many of you know of my health struggles and how it came to the point where we decided that it would be best for the both of us if I quit my job in order to focus on healing.  This lifestyle shift lasted a little longer than we initially predicted, and I want to share the basic principles of how we made it work.
 
I recognize that not everyone can (or desires to) live on one income, however, I believe that more people can probably make it happen than they recognize. It certainly may require a lifestyle shift, but for us the benefit of me not working during that time easily outweighed the sacrifices made.
 
How We Lived Well on One Income | naturallyjmharris.com
 
So, here’s some basic ways we made one income work.
 
We previously paid off my husband’s truck. This was a huge goal we met by funneling his commission money towards it. This freed us up a car payment, which made the monthly expenses list so much easier. I should also say that his truck was 13 years old but dependable, so we weren’t paying much toward repairs, either.
 
-We previously bought a house with a manageable monthly payment.  In fact, our house payment is lower than our 2 bedroom duplex rent! We bought a house with the goal of not being “house poor” and unable to do anything because all of our money would be going into the house.  We also bought it knowing that if one of us lost our job, the other could easily still make the payment.
 
We cut out the extras. Cable, high cell phone bills, going out to eat often, excess shopping, etc. etc. We really pared down to the essentials.  A friend wants to get together? Great. Make a desert and invite them over instead of going out. We need new clothes? Great. See what can be bought by thrifting before buying retail. Missing that morning latte? Great. Learn to whip up an even better concoction with that immersion blender you never use. It’s not about giving up as much as is it about adapting.
 
When something broke or ran out, we didn’t replace it. During this time, my computer crashed and our tv broke. We have yet to replace them (we do just fine with my husband’s old laptop and our ipad for Netflix). We cut out so many household expenses – instead of napkins, we use cloth. Instead of paper towels and cleaning wipes, we use rags. Basic principle – when something ran out, we improvised instead of re buying it.
 
We budgeted like crazy. Now, this is an area we could both still grow in, so I don’t want you to think we have a perfect system in place. But we organized and reorganized our expenses. We had a list of every monthly expense, when it was due, and every debt & when we could expect to pay it off. We started paying for essentials in cash. We didn’t use credit cards. 
 
We prayed through the tough times. I know what it’s like to do all the above and still watch your bank account drop so low you don’t know how you’ll pay the electric bill due in 2 days or buy groceries. Start praying. Start repeating His promises to yourself and declaring them (“I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread,” “look at the birds of the air…”).  You have $20, or even $5? Great. That’s enough for groceries for a couple meals or gas to get you where you need to be. Start thinking day by day versus month by month. 

Have you ever lived on one income or a limited income? What worked for you? Please share your strategies below!
 
[This is part one in a two part series. Check back next week for part 2 -lessons learned from living on one income.]

Bless the Changes

I had a reader ask me recently where the blog updates were. It’s been a while, has it not? I reflexively want to extend my apologizes, but on the other side of that same coin, I don’t feel remorse for taking a necessary break. It wasn’t anticipated or planned, but somewhere along the way it started happening and it felt justified. It’s not because life was “busy,” because life is always busy, and you should never buy that excuse from a writer.  I just needed a little head space to process some huge changes and events in my life. That said, please trust that I love this little online space and I have no intention of going away for good. (btw, You can subscribe on the right over there so you don’t miss any of my posts).

I’m always processing and taking down notes. It’s a switch I cannot shut off. It is how I am wired. If left to long without “dumping” said thoughts onto a page I will start to go crazy. I will become an irritable, emotional hypo manic mess.  Just ask my husband who has learned when it is appropriate to ask me if I’ve been writing and if that is all that is the matter with me. Sigh, such a glamorous way of existence! 

bless the changes | naturallyjmharris.com

Anywaysssssss.  We’ve both been experiencing some big changes. After a long process of deliberation, Solomon made the decision to leave the company he was with for 5 years for another contractor opportunity. It wasn’t an easy choice for either of us because we love his boss and the company in general to death and it served us so well. It had nothing to do with any issue. It was just time. He experienced many mixed emotions about this decision, not excluding sadness. Shortly after he accepted a new job we came across a Craigslist ad for the job I have now accepted. I wasn’t looking, though I knew the season I’ve been in for over a year would come to an end at some point. I’ve been wrestling with similar emotions.

What started as such a rough time for me has blossomed into a season of deep growth and refreshment. I’ve never learned so much about myself in such a concentrated amount of time. For months I didn’t work at all due to my health, and then I sort of self-employed myself with odds and ends – tutoring, consistent babysitting. I think a lot of people assume I haven’t worked at all in 2 years which is simply not the case, ha. The real story is that while I have worked, it hasn’t been my main focus. Which was entirely appropriate due to a whole host of reasons, but that season is now closing. I worked hard at home. I hung clothes on a clothes line and made all kinds of meals from scratch. I decorated and purged belongings we no longer needed. I planted flowers and took tons of hikes with our dog. I caught up with friends and learned to invest in interests I didn’t know I had.  I went to doctors appointments and got testing done and problems corrected.  I learned a healthy work- home life balance that will serve me so well in the future. 

bless the changes | naturallyjmharris.com

In short, I’m not the same person who quit her office job 2 years ago. I’m healthier in more ways than one.  It would be easy to keep doing what I’m doing now because it works so well for us.  Similarly, it would have been easy for Solomon to stay at the same job. But if he had he would have had less opportunities and less room for growth. I’m realizing that you have to allow life to unfold in the way it must. You have to keep moving where it moves. Even when it is hard and frustrating and emotional at first – that doesn’t mean it’s not right. 

So, I’ll go to my new job in a couple hours, and I’ll put my heart into it. I’ll work hard to prove myself at an opportunity I never saw coming and didn’t know really existed. I’ll bless the Lord for it and bless the changes. And I’ll promise to keep reflecting. Because we know nothing good comes from a bottled up Michaela 😉

[tweetthis]You have to allow life to unfold in the way it must. You have to keep moving where it moves…bless the changes.[/tweetthis]

Our Home Ownership Journey (part two)

This is part two. Read part one here.

I think that sometimes when you are going through a difficult situation, it can be easy to downplay your emotions or write them off as unfounded.  After all, if at the end of this season we were able to purchase our own home, why should it matter what we went through to get there? But that’s just not the way that it works. Every time that emotions surfaced, I had a choice. I could call them illegitimate and attempt to bury them, or I could deal with them and accept them for what they were. The latter is more difficult. It takes time, self-acceptance, and energy. But if I had never done that, my personal growth would be stunted.  I would have missed out on the opportunity to recognize the depth of the blessing and joy that the Lord provided in the midst of the process, and we might not have grown as close together as a couple as we did.  

photo by mari feitosa

We moved in in November 2015, just in time to share our first Christmas in the house together. We were asked often if the house felt like home. For the first few months the answer was honestly not yet. By that time in our 2 years of married life, we had moved 4 times. The process was wearisome and it didn’t just feel real that we’d actually be able to settle and call our house home for years to come. A friend told us that it would feel like home in time – after we had shared memories in the home, meals cooked, people over. Hearing that was relieving. The feeling couldn’t be forced.

photo by mari feitosa

Lately, though, my feelings have shifted. We’ve started to live in the house and develop rhythms that make it ours. We’ve shared meals with friends, watched the sunset outside the kitchen window, arranged and rearranged rooms and begun cleaning up the wooded yard. I don’t long for what we used to have, but instead am grateful for the goodness that this process birthed.  We are looking ahead to the roots we will put down in this home, but recognizing still that permanence doesn’t come from our earthly dwelling.

photos by the so-talented Mari Feitosa- check out more of her work on her website here or her facebook page here!