As many of you know, I bought my first condo just over a year ago. Going from renter to buyer, I learned a lot about insurance. When it is time for you to renew or evaluate your next policy, you should know the basics of what is covered and what is not.
Today we have the pleasure of an interview with Marie at Family Money Values, a site with an eerily appropriate name. Be sure to stop by and read about how personal finances impact a family and how, even if you have kids, you can still focus on your family's wealth.
1) How did you get started in personal finance blogging? What was your inspiration?
I had (and have) a message I felt was important – money brings it's own problems. I didn't feel that message was being conveyed anywhere and that a certain segment of our population would need to hear and be interested in hearing all about it.
2) What changed in your financial life as your family grew that was a surprise? If you can instill one financial value in your children in the future, what would it be?
What changed and was a surprise: Kids raised in the same household, by the same parents learned very different financial lessons.
One financial value: Money is just a tool – the work you do to earn it is the real reward – providing you with honor, respect and the self-satisfaction of making a contribution to society.
3) You discuss the possible downsides of wealth for families. What is the biggest downside and the best way to negate that problem?
I think the biggest downside differs depending on where you are in life and what you want out of life. In general though, I believe that being unprepared for the effects of wealth affects most people at some point in their wealth cycle. I'm hoping that FamilyMoneyValues can help educate and inform folks that they do need to prepare, as well as, on how to get prepared.
4) What is the biggest personal finance lesson you learned the hard way?
Bailing someone out of their financial mistakes by throwing money at them is not the way to solve the problem. If you really want to help, you somehow have to effect behavior changes. Sometimes that means letting the someone fail miserably.
5) Outside of blogging, what has been the biggest change you made to your financial life that made a difference? (i.e. making more money, frugal changes, budgeting, investing)
In our case, the biggest change happened when I chose a new career and worked hard to succeed in it. It immediately helped our bottom line. It provided bonuses, stock options and other opportunities for added income and it provided our children with a great example of a lucrative career path (which they both chose on their own to pursue).
Remembering games in elementary school, when the ball went out of bounds, my friends and I would yell, “Do over!” and get another shot. That is fine for the playground but obviously doesn't cross over into financial choices. Thinking back over my financial life, there are a number of instances where I wish I could call for a “do over!”
If I had my life to do over, I would have finished college before having kids. I would have started saving and investing earlier, taking advantage of the awesomeness that is compounding interest. I would have bought a house before the bubble. But the number one financial choice I wish I could do over: I would have started budgeting sooner!
For too many years, I spent money like water, letting it flow in and out of my life but not making any real choices about how I used it. I cringe to think of how much money I wasted in my 20's due to irresponsible overspending and overdraft fees. I can't do over those years, and that money (which could be compounding as we speak!) is gone forever. It's never too late to change habits and stop the damage, though.
It took a drastic pay cut and brush with food stamps to get my butt in gear and start really managing my money. I had to budget out of necessity. What a revelation! Making a budget meant becoming aware of my spending, which wasn't in line with my income, and made me reevaluate what I considered needs. I started using cash envelopes. I made an envelope for each budget category so I couldn't overspend. I couldn't overdraw our account. Financial responsibility became a habit. In a little over a year, I was able to turn our situation around, even with a low income. I saved a quarter of our income, dropped the food stamps, and returned to college to finish my degree. I will graduate debt free.
Without becoming aware of my poor money habits and making deliberate choices about how I would manage our money, I would still be wishing for the do over. I can be glad that I'm making good choices now, and try not to kick myself over the choices I didn't make sooner.
Image by Gamma Man.
I have something to admit. I hate grocery shopping. I hate it more than almost anything. However, it is something that you have to do from time to time. Last night I was hungry, so after a seven week hiatus I made the trek to the grocery store. It got me thinking…
Benefits of Groceries
Going to the grocery store can save you money. While the $175 hit last night seemed like a lot of money, it will provide me at least two weeks of lunches to take to work ($7 on average x 10 = $70), about two weeks of breakfasts ($5 on average x 14 = $70), and about 14 dinners ($10 on average x 14 = $140). So, while $175 seems like a lot, it is less than $280. That is over $100 in savings.
Also, I keep Kosher. Many products I buy cost more than ones other people buy. Also, I am lazy. Wacky Mac is delicious and pre-prepared, but I could probably make something from cheaper ingredients that would cost less and taste better if I were not lazy.
I can control every single ingredient when I cook for myself. Other than the occasional Asian influenced dish, I will use less salt and sugar than a restaurant. I only buy lean meats and never buy real butter.
I also only buy for a healthy menu. I may head to a Mexican restaurant with the best of intentions, but cheese enchiladas taste a lot better than a salad. At home, I don’t buy the cheese so I force myself to eat better.
The Lazy Factor
I woke up on Sunday after a late night of partying and really wanted a bowl of cereal. I had no cereal as I had not been grocery shopping. Then I wanted toast, but I was out of bread. Then I wanted to make a breakfast burrito, but was short on salsa and tortillas.
I ended up being hungry for an hour until the sandwich delivery shop opened. I would have rather cooked for myself (cheaper and healthier), but my lack of resources forced me to do more work to order the food, get dressed, and meet the delivery guy at the door. A bowl of cereal would have been instant and only involved a five second walk to the kitchen.
Benefits of Restaurants
I am a decent cook, but I don’t have an industrial kitchen or professional experience. A professional put together the menus at my favorite restaurants. They tested the dishes many times before the perfected the recipe. I know what I like so when I go to a restaurant it is going to be good and consistent every time.
I only buy healthy foods with a relatively long shelf life. As a single guy living alone, buying fresh vegetables or bulk foods does not make sense. So, rather than deal with the limited options of single guy cooking, I can pick anything I want if I go out.
Some days I want sushi, others I want Mexican, others I am in the mood for a sandwich, sometimes I am in an Italian mood. I never cook falafel and I don’t make humus from scratch. I do not have the ingredients for moo shoo or the patience to make a good soup from scratch. At a restaurant, I can get those options plus a whole lot more.
Doing the Dishes
The Best Combination
When you want to eat at a restaurant, go do it as long as you can afford it. If you have four kids going out to eat costs a heck of a lot more than when I go to the local Japanese bowl restaurant with a friend and split the bill. As long as you are within your means, you should enjoy your money.
On the other hand, eating out all the time is fiscally irresponsible and can lead to poor dietary habits in the long run. Make sure you have at least a few healthy, easy to make options at home at all times.
Test it out and find the right balance for your needs. I watch my grocery and restaurant budgets every month and make adjustments accordingly. It sucks to cook all the time, but it also sucks to not have food on hand when you are hungry.
So, learn from my laziness. Go to the grocery store more than every seven weeks. But don’t feel bad treating yourself to something good every once in a while too.
How do you find the right balance between cooking at home and going out to eat? What is your motivation and strategy? Please share in the comments.
Image by bradleygee.
Update: Adaptu has closed, but there are other, great and new services to try. Be sure to check out my up-to-date list of free money management tools and my new favorite Personal Capital.
In the past, I have written a heck of a lot about Mint.com. It has long been my favorite personal finance tool. Over time, however, while features have expanded customer service has declined. This encouraged me to try out other services.
First, I compared Mint and Thrive. Thrive is owned by the company behind Lending Tree and has excellent customer service and a unique look on budgeting. Rather than focusing on dollars spent, it focuses on the number of events. For example, “you can go to a restaurant two more times this month.” Thrive is cool, but I still gave Mint a one up due to the interface.
Next, I compared Mint and Pageonce. In this round, Mint was a clear winner. Pageonce had one major benefit. Pageonce allows you to track your hotel and mileage rewards cards and bills. Mint does not. However, the interface was not as refined and I found the alert system to be a bit buggy.
And now, I present to you:
Interface and Navigation
Overall, Mint still has the best aggregator interface around. It is simple, sleek, and easy to navigate. Having only one navigation bar at the top and a few layers of options makes Mint a quick, simple site to use.
That said, Adaptu has a much more robust interface. You can look at the data lot of different ways and sort and funnel accounts with many different views and groupings. Sometimes, however, it is not very intuitive to find your way around through multiple layers of menus. The dashboard has a lot of great information if you don’t need as many pretty charts.
Mint has a lot of history and supports a lot of accounts. However, accounts break a lot. Just because your account is in the list does not mean it is going to work today. I have had accounts break for months with little response from customer service.
Adaptu does not have as many financial accounts, but it has almost everything else you can imagine. Like PageOnce, I can load in my frequent flyer accounts, hotel rewards points, retail rewards points, utility billing accounts, and more that I probably have not thought of yet. And, so far, they all work.
The instant budget from Mint gives you an extremely easy tool to use right away. It builds your budget based on average spending and you can edit and tweak it as you like. This is a massive benefit. Beyond budgeting, however, Mint offers little help. Its investments tracking is full of bugs (it can’t handle stock splits) and does not show all of my investment accounts accurately.
Adaptu also gives budget analysis, but it is much more labor intensive to setup. Unlike Mint’s auto budget, you have to decide your own budget and put it in manually.
For the graphs that give a spending breakdown, Mint’s interface is much more intuitive and pretty, but both give the same ultimate results.
Mint.com can’t handle a stock split. That is a common occurrence, and it shows that Mint did not go to the level of development needed for investment tracking. Overall, the interface is fairly simple and gives you a performance history for each security and a portfolio comparison to the market. However, if it can’t track a stock value correctly (like a split) and can’t handle some of my mutual funds, it is not an accurate view.
Their heart is in the right place, but they didn’t get the job finished.
Adaptu hit a home run on their investment tracking options. Adaptu worked hard to build a more detailed interface with a total investment view and a breakdown by portfolio.
Mint.com has a blog. Adaptu has a full community discussion forum. You can discuss by topic and get ideas for methods to improve your finances. This is taking a page from the book of the now defunct Wesabe, but it is welcome back for those looking to connect with other like minded people.
I have used Mint.com for a long time and have no plans to leave it behind, but I now have two aggregators in my bookmark list. I use Mint for my overall quick view, but I have Adaptu for more in depth looks into my investment and my travel reward tracking.
If I were going to pick one to start with today, I would lean toward Adaptu, but I love the clean and sleek interface that Mint gives me. Like Thrive, Adaptu gives Mint a real run for its money. But unlike Thrive, which acts as a financial advisor for people who need more help deciding how to go forward, Adaptu gives you a more detailed look at your situation with more data and lets you make your own decision on how to act.
This post was written by Jason, the proprietor of Live Real, Now, a blog focused on spending–and saving–in the real world. It was written for a blog swap run by the Yakezie personal finance blog network to answer the question “What motivates you to be financially responsible?” You can read my post over at his blog: Living The High Life.
This may not be the most original motivation, but I am financially motivated by my family. Before I had kids, I didn't care much about money or stuff. My goal was to sell everything I owned and backpack Europe. Yeah, it's a bit cliché, but that's the way it is. I was also considering trying to live out of saddlebags while touring the country 1000 cc's at a time.
Now, I've got so many other considerations. Four, to be exact. A wife and three kids certainly change your perspective. If it doesn't, you've got flaws I can't help you with.
When my family started, it was a huge wake-up call. Suddenly, I had responsibilities (cue scary music). Overnight, I had things to care about that didn't involve a party, or instant gratification, or, well, me. Merlin the Stork floated down, waved a wand and Poof! I was a grown-up. This may not sound like much of a shock, but my wife and I had baby #1 when we were 20. Adulthood was still pretty new to us, and suddenly we're parents?
As a grown-up, with three precious little monsters dependent on me for absolutely everything, I had to start worrying about their security. This was more than just keeping them physically safe. I've had to manage their emotional health, their physical needs, and their entertainment. They rely on me (and my wife!) for everything. How could I live with myself if I couldn't put food on the table and a roof over their heads? Winter boots? Clothes without holes? Visits to the doctor? Have you ever noticed how much kids cost, even without considering the Japanese fad games and Barbie dreamhouses? Having a kid is like cutting a hole in your wallet and holding it over a blender nestled comfortably in a roaring fire fueled by napalm.
Then, after I've got them clothed, fed, sheltered, and entertained, I have to teach them how to be real people. I'm of the opinion that children in their natural state are little more than wild animals. Generally cuter, but that's about it. It's a parent's job to train that ravenous little beast into an acceptable, successful person. Part of that consists of teaching the little brats how to start paying for their own clothes, food, shelter, and entertainment, and how to manage that without becoming a drain on society. Productivity and success can be defined a thousand different ways, but none of them include letting other people pay your way or borrowing money you have no intention or means of repaying. Ultimately, being an adult–being a successful part of society–involves recognizing your responsibilities and living up to them.
Caring for, providing for, and teaching my children the things I know provides me with an irreplaceable opportunity to watch them grow and learn, while giving me a chance to steer that growth. It is, without a doubt, the best, most satisfying, and most difficult thing I have ever done. The pleasure I get from raising my kids reinforces my desire to become the best person I can be.
Really, I just want to be the guy my kids think I am.