Friday Finances – The End

Well that was a quick jump from the “middle” to the end…

Action Plan Progress:

  • DONE – 66/66 days of tracking our daily spending
  • DONE – 3/3 TED Talks about personal finance watched
  • DONE – Created a Pinterest inspiration board
  • DONE – 2/2 books read on personal finance
  • DONE – Determined best investment tool to save money (Vanguard)
  • DONE – Analyzed online budgeting tools (we plan on using a spending plan)
  • 5/10 weekly posts on Fridays about my progress

Grade: B

Incentive: We have a meeting scheduled with a financial planner next week. Even though The Little Book of Common Sense Investing has convinced me we don’t need a financial planner for investing we still have some tax related questions that I am excited to get answered!

Lessons Learned: I missed a lot of posts, but I was still able to meet the other items on my action plan. You’ve got to focus on the wins. This habit has given us the wonderful opportunity of getting feedback from friends and family about the tools they use to keep their family budget. We’ve had some fantastic conversations about what works and what doesn’t.

Clayton and I are going to keep up with the tracking until we are settled after our move. Once we get into a new routine we’ll set up our new spending plan.

Our sabbatical year will be here before you know it. If you have any inspiring memes/pictures/charts that keep you motivated to make good financial decisions please share them in the comments!

Book Breakdowns: A Twofer

The title of Bogle’s book struck me as I was reviewing The Essential Warren Buffet Reading List. Judging this book by its cover worked out really well!

The Little Book of Common Sense Investing opens with Buffet’s “Gotrocks Family” parable which sets the tone for the entire book. Investing carries inherent risk, but the average investor exacerbates the problem by trying to beat the market. Bogle asserts that index funds let the market work for you.

The facts, figures, and math are easy to follow and lend credibility to the argument rather than bogging it down. I especially like the “Don’t Take My Word For It” sections that show how other top financial minds are interpreting the data and investing.

I’ve always been intimidated by the stock market, and even though I have investments I haven’t felt comfortable with my portfolio decisions. I am not sure if this is my confirmation bias, but I love that this book made me feel comfortable with a set it and forget it strategy.

It’s a fantastic book that will make you feel empowered to start investing. I would highly recommend it to anyone!

Judging this book by it’s cover did not work out so well…

This book reads like a blog, because Brooke is a blogger. Each chapter is a day in the month and has a series of challenges at the end. I read it straight through even though it is intended to be read one day/chapter at a time. Each section isn’t applicable to everyone so you can certainly skip around and focus on the parts that will help you the most.

It is nice to have a lot of helpful advice all in one book with logical categorization. If nothing else I was turned on to Amazon’s Subscribe & Save so that’s a plus. The fact that she gives advice in areas that she admits to not being an expert in (like recommending homeopathy in the name of saving money) made me to give this book a lower grade.

It’s good for anyone just starting their financial journey. However, a lot of the information can be found on her Creative Savings blog.

If you’re still interested after my lukewarm review, the first person to request it in the comments will get my copy of 31 Days to Radically Reduce Your Expenses: Less Stress. More Savings.!

Friday Finances – The Middle(ish)

One way to improve your financial outlook is to find a new job that offers a higher salary. That has been my primary focus, and I started my new job this week. Things have finally started to settle down, but I am woefully behind on my weekly posts. The good news is even though I haven’t been posting we have been sticking to the plan, so lets look at the stats.

Action Plan Progress:

  • DONE – 3/3 TED Talks about personal finance watched
  • DONE – Created a Pinterest inspiration board
  • 51/66 days of tracking our daily spending
  • 1/2 books read on personal finance
  • 3/10 weekly posts on Fridays about my progress
  • Analyze online budgeting tools
  • Determine best investment tools to save money with

Grade: C

Lessons Learned: Not great, but we have stuck with the daily habit and that is the ultimate goal. It has been enlightening to see where we are spending all of our money. After the first month Clayton thought it was important to add a Travel category to our tracking sheet.

We have yet to analyze our spending, but at the end of the 66 days we will have two months of data to review. From there we will decide between a monthly budget or a spending plan.

Do you have any experience with a spending plan? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

TED Talks on Finances

I find most TED Talks inspiring, and after perusing their catalog I found these gems.

“Student debt is profitable”

How college loans exploit students for profit – Sajay Samuel

Last month I was in a training class and my table mate was encouraging me to go back to school to get an MBA. After watching this video I totally agree that higher education is a consumer product and status symbol.

Student loans from our undergrad degrees have been the largest portion of our debt over the last seven years. If this is our new reality, we need to become better consumers. Clayton and I have tried to help our nieces and nephews make smart choices about higher education so they don’t end up in the same position we have been in. This talk is a little disheartening, but knowing is half the battle!

“You are connected to … this future self. Your decisions today will determine its well being.” 

The battle between your present and future self – Daniel Goldstein

This talk has a fun twist in that Goldstein is trying to use simulations to overcome our present bias by simulating your future self and your future income. It’s not the best talk of the group, but he does a great job of showing how we can better motivate ourselves to save without relying on commitment devices.

“Why did you take my apple?!”

Saving for tomorrow, tomorrow – Shlomo Benartzi

It is encouraging to hear that we are already following a lot of the steps Benartzi laid out in this talk. My mom made sure I knew how important retirement saving was by constantly reminding me that her 401K was going to fund her Cocoon retirement plan. Clayton and I have been increasing our retirement savings every year and will continue to do so until we reach our 14% savings goal.

I would highly recommend any of these videos if you’re looking for a little financial motivation.

If you have a favorite finance video please share it in the comments!

Friday Finances – The Start

3 years ago Clayton and I formulated a 10 year plan. Our ultimate goal is to save enough money to take a year sabbatical and travel the world.

The first phase of our plan was to pay off all of our unsecured debt. It seemed easier to manage our finances when we had clear goals of what debt we wanted to pay off, when. I’d like to validate our current budget to maximize our savings.

Habit: Track spending every day for 66 days

Start Date: Wednesday, 03/01/2017

Projected End Date: Saturday, 05/06/2017

Action Plan:

  • Read 2 books on personal finance
  • Watch 3 TED Talks about personal finance
  • Analyze online budgeting tools
  • Determine best investment tools to save money with
  • Create a Pinterest inspiration board
  • Post weekly on Fridays about my progress

Incentive: Meet with a financial planner. I know it doesn’t sound fun, but it really excites me!

Lofty Goal: Being healthy (financial health is a type of health!)

After we have built this habit we will know where we are spending our money. We have a budget but have never validated that we are adhering to our spending limits. I want to make sure we are saving as much as we can to reach our goal!

What tools do you use to stay on budget? Please share your tips and tricks in the comments!

Planned Preoccupation Check In

Happy New Year!

The new year is always a time for reflection, so let’s have a check in. I started this blog in the summer of 2015 and have cultivated 6 new habits and achieved 2 specific goals.

Writing

I have not been as strict about daily writing as I was with my initial habit. There was a point where the weekly posts were starting to cause me some anxiety so I took a few breaks over the course of the year. I want my energy focused on the habits themselves, not on this blog which should support the habits.

Meditation

Even though I don’t sit and meditate intentionally everyday this habit has helped me to manage my stress more effectively. I often focus on my breathing and clear my mind before I go into a meeting, or respond to a contentious email.

I have also completed 2 Headspace packs since I started this habit, and have the Motivation pack teed up as we dive into 2017!

Smoothies

I’ve got a freezer full of smoothie packs. It’s difficult to start the morning with a frozen drink when it is below freezing outside, but it’s still our quickest breakfast option. I also learned that if I freeze my ingredients on a baking sheet before I put them in the freezer bags they don’t turn into a big hunk of ice and are much easier to blend. So I’ve got that going for me.

8WW Meals

I have not kept up with this habit very well at all. I am often reminded of the Sharma quote, “knowing what to do and not doing it is the same as not knowing what to do.” Here’s to better food choices in 2017!

Spanish

This was the only habit I failed at during the initial 66 days, but it is the one I have kept up with the best since then. My mom started using Duolingo to learn Italian, and it is fun to check in with each other on our progress. I also have so many friends who try to engage my new found Spanish skills that I feel compelled to keep going!

Random Acts of Kindness

A great thing that came from this habit was learning about the generosity of my friends and family. Once I started talking more about philanthropy more people started sharing their good deeds with me. It has been a wonderful learning experience.

The structure this blog provides also helped me to organize our move to Red Wing and to get my Project Management Professional certification. Action planning focused my efforts and I was able to achieve my goals.

The support, suggestions, and encouragement you have provided in the comments have been invaluable! I am excited to continue on this journey of personal development, and know that 2017 will bring great things.

Here is a sneak peak of my next habit…

guessagain

Care to hazard a guess?!

Good Will Wednesday – The End

I’ve made it through another 66 days. Here are the stats from my random acts of kindness habit.

Action Plan Progress:

  • DONE – Volunteered at the RW Food Shelf
  • DONE – 3 online volunteer opportunities found
  • DONE – 1/1 documentary watched on philanthropy
  • DONE – 3/3 TED Talks watched on philanthropy
  • DONE – 67/66 days of random acts of kindness
  • DONE – Read 2 books philanthropy
  • DONE – Volunteered at the pumpkin carving display set up by a Red Wing artist
  • DONE – Tracked my random acts of kindness on Twitter
  • DONE – Completed the Headspace Gratitude pack
  • Unable to find a volunteer opportunity with the Project Management Institute
  • Posted 7/10 weekly progress updates

Grade: B

Incentive: Clayton and I will attend the Warm Up in the Wild event at the MN Zoo.

Lessons Learned: My first philanthropy habit was a lot of fun. I found the random acts of kindness I performed for Clayton to be particularly enjoyable. It showed me that I should be sure to keep those closest to me in mind when I set out to change the world.

One change that needs to be made is planning my posts up front. Vacations and illness impacted my progress updates. It is hard to find motivation to write some days but if I outline my posts up front it would be easier to keep up.

I fully intend on keeping up with my random acts of kindness, but I don’t feel like this habit warrants a 6 month check in.

I’m wrapping up at the perfect time and I look forward to spreading the joy over the holiday season. Best wishes to you and your families!

Book Breakdown: More or Less

It isn’t easy to find quality books on generosity. A lot of the lists that I perused were overly religious, hokey, or geared towards children. When I read the synopsis for More or Less it seemed in line with what I am trying to accomplish.

This book is the practical application of generosity. It is told through a series of anecdotes about what has worked for Shinabarger and his family and friends. The “Enough Talk” sections help the reader to stop thinking about being generous and start being generous. There were a number of times that I put down the book, and did SOMETHING. It was fantastic!

Through the course of reading this book I made a clothing donation, meditated, and sent my gift cards to Gift Card Giver. It is amazing what can be accomplished in a short amount of time when you confront your excess.

With as much focus as there is on practical application, I was expecting more from the “Your Enough Experiment” section. It could have been more straight forward, but does seem to align with my habit building, so that’s a plus.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for inspiration during the giving season. It is also a great read for anyone else with a minimalist bent.

What books inspire your generosity? Please share your recommendations in the comments.

 

Good Will Wednesday – The Middle

The weeks have flown by since I started this habit! As always lets start with the stats.

Action Plan Progress:

  • DONE – Volunteered at the RW Food Shelf
  • DONE – 3 online volunteer opportunities found
  • DONE – 1/1 documentary watched on philanthropy
  • DONE – 3/3 TED Talks watched on philanthropy
  • 32/66 days of random acts of kindness
  • 0/2 books read on philanthropy
  • Find volunteer opportunities in the RW art community
  • Find a volunteer opportunity with the Project Management Institute
  • Complete the Headspace Gratitude pack
  • Tracking my random acts of kindness on Twitter
  • 5/10 weekly posts on my progress

Grade: A

Lessons Learned: I realized I was over complicating this habit. My friend reminded me that smiling at strangers is an act of kindness. Not everything needs to be a real production.

I look forward to spreading the joy. Please share your favorite random act of kindness in the comments!

TED Talks on Generosity

On Generosity is a curated TED playlist. These 7 talks provide 1.5 hours of content, and explore different aspects of philanthropy.

“…stop thinking about which product to buy for yourself and try giving some of it to other people

How to buy happiness – Michael Norton

In most of the world there is a positive correlation between donations and happiness. Norton demonstrates that even trivial donations improve our happiness levels.  In life, leisure, and the professional arena prosocial behavior provides positive returns.

He highlights the Donors Choose site as a place to focus your giving, and I am excited to donate in the future.

“…set a higher bar for how we help individual families improve their lives.”

Should you donate differently – Joy Sun

I found Sun’s talk particularly interesting because she confronts some long held assumptions about aide head on. Not all people in poverty are in that situation because of their poor choices and they don’t always need third party intervention to improve their lives. She discusses the idea of unconditional cash transfers as a model for delivering aid.

Sun sites studies that show across the board cash transfers are used to improve the the lives of people in the lowest levels of poverty. Give Directly allows you to provide cash transfers efficiently and free of corruption.

“Philanthropy is the market for love.”

The way we think about charity is dead wrong – Dan Pallotta

This is my favorite talk because it made me see the non-profit sector in new light. Why should we have a different play book for the profit sector when we can all agree that non-profit causes should also enjoy the benefits of scale.

Pallotta focuses on the limitations we put on compensation, marketing, risk tolerance, time, and funding in the non-profit sector. We are asking the wrong questions when it comes to the success of a non-profit and are conflating morality and frugality. The goal should be solving problems, not keeping overhead low.

I hope you will give these video a view, and please share your thoughts in the comments.