I was born in the 1950’s, live in a 122-year-old house in Virginia, I am retired, have an alcoholic brother living in my downstairs bedroom, and spend a great deal of my time writing. I have lived through the Kennedy assassination, civil rights, Neil Armstrong on the moon, and 9/11/2001. I have seen the Vietnam war, the war in Middle East, the war on drugs, Star Wars, and the war between men and woman. I have written hundreds of short stories and essays and a handful of novels. Only one novel was (self) published and one poem published in a collection.
I crochet, cook, have a veggie garden, an herb garden, a chicken coop full of chickens and I’m not afraid to try new things. I am not sustainable because I live in a city with a city-sized yard. Even with all of that, my favorite tool is my keyboard.
The journey seemed endless as the miles on the highway ticked by slowly. Too slowly. My iPod blurted all too familiar tunes, Pandora acted squirrley, singing aloud and off key bored me. Another mile. And another.
Google Maps finally announced my exit from the Interstate and I knew the hotel was only a few feet away. “Your destination is on the right.” Sweeter words were never uttered.
I parked my car and slowly walked to the lobby, hoping the kinks would work their way out of my knees in a moment. Too long in one position in the seat took its toll on my body in more ways than I cared to recount.
Check in seemed endless and no I don’t need two keys. The room is just up the stairs and no, we don’t have an elevator, sounded in my ear. Eight hours on the road and now, I have to lug a suitcase up a flight of stairs. I sighed and steeled myself for the task.
Trunk open and suitcase on the ground beside me. I grabbed the laptop bag, my small toiletries case, my purse and my wits. Ready. I silently blessed the woman who invented a suitcase with the handle and wheels. It had to be a woman because the solution is incredibly practical. Like pantyhose. Like hair dryers.
“Let me get the door for you.” Southern twang from the right. I turned and looked into the bluest eyes I had ever seen. He wore inevitable cowboy boots, jeans that molded themselves to his skin, a t-shirt that announced his love of ZZ Top and a perfect smile. Teeth straight and white as a movie star’s. Brown hair long enough to show the curls at the end. And six foot four. Perfect in every way.
“Why didn’t I meet you twenty years ago? Or thirty?” I wonder.
He pulled the door to the lobby open and allowed me to enter. The door closed and he grabbed my suitcase handle. “Let me get that for you. Where to, Ma’am?” Don’t you just love Southern hospitality?
“That’s just at the top of the stairs.” He pushed the handle into the suitcase and picked it up, not bothering with the wheels. Up the steps, two at a time and I doggedly followed, trying to keep the agony of sore knees from showing on my face.
He put the suitcase in front of the door, and raised the handle up so I could pull the case into the room. “Room 204, as ordered.” His smile brightened the entire floor. He turned and stepped toward the stairs, again.
“Thank you, very much,” I managed to say before he descended.
“No problem. Anytime, Ma’am.”
And he vanished down the stairs returning to the errand my arrival interrupted. Random act of kindness? Likely I reminded him of his mother. Or his grandmother. Whatever the case, I will remember that bright smile and those blue eyes for a very long time.
Do you really need a budget? Isn’t that just a boring list of numbers that means you never get to spend money on what you want?
A budget is really just a way to take control of your finances. It does not necessarily mean you can’t ever spend your money on what you want; it just means you spend your money smarter. In fact, if you are always denying yourself and never buying anything you want for fear you can’t afford it, a budget could be liberating. Dealing with real numbers tends to be a lot less stressful than dealing with vague impressions of your income and expenses.
So how do you know if you need a family budget? Here are some tips to help you know if you need to form a budget.
1. Your credit cards are never paid off.
If you are paying only the minimum balance on your credit card, and/or using one credit card to pay off another, then it’s time to work out a budget to get out of that hole.
2. Money “burns a hole” in your pocket.
Do you feel like you have money for a moment or two, then it’s gone? This could mean you have too many expenses, or that you are too quick to spend on wants rather than needs.
3. You don’t put any money into your savings, or you are random about how much and when you put money in.
Having a savings plan is an important aspect of financial management. If you don’t have any regimented plan for putting money into savings – say the first 10% of your net income always going to savings, or all bonuses from your workplace going straight to savings – then your savings will tend to languish as you keep spending on things you want.
4. You don’t have a savings account at all.
If you don’t have any savings or emergency fund, it may be a sign that you need a budget. A good family budget can help you make savings a priority.
5. You’re always saying, “I can’t afford it.”
Do friends ask you to go out to lunch, or to an event, and you say you “can’t afford it” all the time? This may be true, or it may not be; forming a budget will help you know what you really can and can’t afford.
6. You never seem to have enough.
Money can be deceptive – what seems like “plenty” can suddenly be not enough. Forming a budget can help you get a grip on what you really have; you may be pleasantly surprised that you do actually have enough, or that it’s feasible for you to make some strategic cuts so that you will have enough.
Having a family budget means, for some people, whipping out the calculator at every purchase, or viewing the budget on their mobile device in the grocery store. For others, a family budget is just a formality and they never really glance at it. Between these extremes are those who sort of use their family budget with moments of obsessive adherence, or those who try but give up altogether because they go crazy trying to keep track of all the details.
Where’s the balance? How can you maintain a healthy outlook without obsessing or ignoring your family budget?
Here are some tips on how you can cultivate a healthy outlook regarding your family budget.
For those who tend to err on the obsessive side, it is a good idea to remember to be flexible with your budget. Of course, flexibility does not mean ignoring your parameters. But it does mean you can take a little from one area and cut back in another when necessary.
Get Your Family On Board
Nothing can make you frustrated with a budget like lack of family participation. Family members might just rack up expenses without giving the budget a second thought, leaving you to tear your hair out trying to balance it and cover the expenses. If the whole family is included and on board with the budget, it can improve everyone’s outlook.
You Don’t Have to Keep Track of Every Penny
Some people avoid a budget because they don’t want the stress of keeping track of every cent spent. They’re right – that is stressful. But it’s not the only way. Look into budgeting in a general way, or simply work out a list of expenses, income, and how much you have in the bank right now.
Don’t be afraid to get creative with your budget, and customize it for your family’s needs. Your outlook is likely to be a lot healthier if your budget is suited for your income, expenses, and personality. Your family dynamic should be taken into consideration when you form your budget.
Forgive Yourself and Family Members
Everyone makes mistakes and breaks the budget now and then. Beating yourself up over a budget mess-up is not conducive to a healthy outlook, and neither is nagging and punishing family members. If it’s a chronic “mistake,” it may need to be addressed in a civil family meeting. But to keep a healthy outlook, let the minor offenses go.
Know When It’s a Real Emergency
What constitutes an “emergency” can differ between family members. Dipping into the emergency fund for non-emergency expenses can deplete the money pretty fast. Make sure everyone knows what a real financial emergency looks like for your family.
You’ve probably heard that getting everyone involved is important to the success of your family budget. But you may be wondering if that’s really necessary, or how to even do it. Here are some ideas and tips for getting everyone on board with your family budget.
Sometimes parents try to hide their financial situation from their kids and/or each other. While this may seem like “sparing” the ones you love, in actuality it can cause undue stress on the one family member who does know how bad things are, or how things work financially.
It’s true that you don’t want to overburden your kids with responsibilities that aren’t theirs, but including them in a frank discussion of your financial situation can go a long way toward easing your burden and garnering their willing participation.
The Family Meeting
Call a family meeting to discuss finances. If you’ve never done a family meeting before, this is a good place to start. It may not be everyone’s favorite topic, but it’s an important one. Ultimately, your kids and spouse will be glad you included them in the discussion. Another tip on the meeting – try to call it at a time when it doesn’t cut into other plans. This should help reduce resentment.
It Affects Everyone
Explain how your family finances affect everyone in the household. Be clear and specific, citing fees, tuition, allowances, groceries, etc. and how they all cost money. There’s no need to beat everyone over the head with this information, so to speak; but it gets family members to think a bit about where the money comes from. It’s easy to take things for granted.
If the budget involves cutting back, it’s probably a good idea to cut back in areas that affect the whole family rather than just one member. Otherwise, that one person may resent what seems to be preferential treatment of the others, and you’ve lost your whole-family approach to the budget.
Set Goals Together
As you work to formulate your budget, work on common goals. What would your youngest child like to see as part of the budget? She might say toys. Your oldest child might point to electronic devices as something to include; your spouse may say a nice vacation. Consider everyone’s wishes and come up with some realistic, common goals. Not everything is doable, of course; but finding creative ways to get everyone’s needs met is what family life is all about.
Everyday, the same nothingness happened on the long commute home. Two hours in my car, stuck in traffic, boredom abounds. Inch by inch, I forge ahead, trying to make the twenty-three mile journey to my haven of solitude. Twenty- three miles in two hours. Progress stops.
Horns, motors, exhaust fumes. My car starts to overheat in the summer sun, so I turn off the AC and open the windows. Nothing moves. Angry faces stare at me out of their car windows as if the gridlock is my fault. Sweat tickles my face.
I have a CD of my favorite songs playing quietly so as not to disturb the neighbors in their equally dismal commute. But, that song starts playing and I reach over to turn up the volume just a little. And a little more. At the chorus, I sing along with Barry Manilow. “At the Copa. Copacabana. The hottest spot north of Havana…”
Next to my car, the man in the red Ford F150 smiles and his head bobs in rhythm. His window is open to the elements, too. Blond hair matted with sweat and gray tank stuck to his chest, he starts singing. Hot wind brings in the smell of cigarette smoke and rum.
“At the Copa. Copacabana. Music and passion were always the fashion at the Copa. She fell in love.” Barry, Red Truck Man and me sing in complete harmony.
We three sing Lola’s story into life: “His name is Rico. He wore a diamond. He was escorted to his chair, he saw Lola dancing there. And when she finished. He called her over. But, Rico went a bit too far. Tony sailed across the bar. And then the punches flew and chairs were smashed in two. There was blood and a single gunshot, but just who shot who? At the Copa…”
The musical bridge played and Red Truck Man and I cha-chaed in our cars. Red gave me a spin and pulled me in close. Our bodies move in perfect synchronicity. No longer stuck in gridlock, Red and me flew to the Copa to dance the hot Florida night away. One, two, cha cha cha.
Barry, Red and me start singing right on cue. “Her name is Lola…” all the way to the end of the song when we sing, “Don’t fall in love.” It’s too late Barry and Red. I already fell in love with both of you.
The traffic starts to move forward and Red releases me from our dance.
For the duration of a song, my wish for the world worked. Everyone knows the words to the song. Everyone knows the steps to the dance. The guy always gets the girl and everyone lives happily ever after. Just like a Fifties’ musical. Just the way I really want to the world to be.
Some may question the necessity of an emergency fund. After all, is it really necessary? How do you go about it? Does it need to be a huge amount? Here are some ideas and suggestions that should help answer these questions.
Is an Emergency Fund Necessary?
Generally speaking, yes, an emergency fund is necessary. What form it takes can vary, but it is a good idea to have an emergency fund. Such a fund can help you avoid high-interest debt, and it helps reduce stress. After all, life is full of changes – many of them sudden and not good – and having that “cushion” can help you feel ready and calm.
How Do You Go about Creating an Emergency Fund?
First, determine your expenses. Look at three to six months’ worth of living costs and count on saving that much in a fund. This can help you keep your standard of living for a time if you lose your job, or it can cover a large expense such as vehicle repair.
Then determine how long it will take you to save that much and how much you have to take out of your paycheck each month to reach that goal.
Once you’ve determined how much you need to save and how long it will take to save it, it’s a good idea to change your mentality to put payments into the emergency fund before you pay for anything else. If you can do it by automatic deduction, go for it – see if you can have a portion of your paycheck taken out and put into a savings account. Otherwise, make it a habit to put money in your savings first and foremost, and then take care of your other expenses after.
What If You Have Low Income?
Even if you have low income, you can set aside something each month. Try saving a percentage of your income, such as 5 or 10 percent. It may take you longer, but it will accumulate.
Does It Have to Be Huge?
In short, no. An emergency fund does not have to be massive – but it certainly should cover unexpected expenses. To determine the size of your fund, consider what sorts of emergencies you’d want covered by the fund. Remember that buying insurance may be a more cost-effective way to guard against emergencies, too – evaluate the scope, likelihood, and potential cost of possible emergencies and this should give you a clearer picture of how large your fund needs to be.
Santana is an advance scout ship. You know, one of those manned spacecrafts that follow up on the leads found by the unmanned probes that our home-world sent all over the galaxy in a desperate attempt to find another place for humanity to live. My husband is the pilot and I am the planetary specialist.
We verified that the planet we scouted will support humanity. A beautiful blue marble with huge oceans, fresh water lakes and rivers, more kinds of flora and fauna than on our home-world, five major landmasses, blue skies, white clouds, green everywhere and astonishingly beautiful. Five years we stayed in orbit, inspecting the planet, classifying, cataloging, analyzing. No doubt could remain. Finally, we classified the new planet “Viable.”
Then, we returned to the planet of our origin and engaged our stealth approach. We had been away a very long time and had no idea what we would find.
Santana announced, “Based on the positions of the stars from our current vantage point, we have been away from here for 10,876 years, 4 months, 12 days, 9 hours, and 14 seconds…mark.”
“Almost 11 thousands years,” I say, quietly.
Santana replied, “Your estimate is imprecise.”
“I don’t need precision, Santana. I have you.” I could almost hear her chuckle if a spacecraft is capable of humor.
“I’m not picking up anything that should be here,” Adam said. His brow creased with worry.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“No approach beacons.” His voice trembled. “Eleven thousand years is a long time…”
“I concur with Adam,” Santana said.
I floated quickly to my station and engaged my sensor array. Nothing remained. Not even a microbe. No sign that any living thing ever existed on the surface. “What happened?” I asked them both, not expecting an answer. I got one, anyway.
“If I may speculate,” Santana said. “We were sent to find another place for humanity to settle because the Earth was dying as a planet. Apparently, the end came more quickly than science anticipated. When a planet dies, it can no longer even the most primitive life forms.”
I looked at the surface in real time. A disgusting yellow sand covered the familiar land masses. The polar ice caps vanished and the atmosphere consisted of mostly sulfur dioxide. Even the water looked bilious instead of blue. And the surface temperature hovered around 100 degrees Celsius. “Is this really Earth? Is this really our solar system?” I knew the answer, but my brain refused to accept the facts.
“The coordinates are correct,” Santana replied.
“We have to be sure,” I said and I started my sweep. To fully analyze a planet required several weeks, but I had to know. If even one person lived…
For the next few days, a strange quiet fell over the ship. Adam and Santana rarely engaged in conversation with me or with each other. Adam and I went through the motions of life. Eating, sleeping, analyzing. Each day morphed into a sameness. Weeks spun away. Finally, we all agreed. Earth was very dead indeed.
We carefully searched the entire solar system and found no trace of a beacon, a probe, a scrap of metal, a message in a bottle. Nothing of humanity remained in the vicinity. No reason remained for us to stay a moment longer. Adam entered the coordinates to take us out of the system.
I left my own message in a bottle, so to speak, when I launched a probe into Earth’s orbit. If someone else returned to our former home, I may save them the trouble of investigation because I included a copy of our data and our personal stories. A very sad ending to our mission.
We found a fold quickly enough and returned to that planet in the suburbs of our galaxy.
As we prepared to disembark for the surface, Adam asked me, “What should we call our planet?”
“We can’t officially name it until we grow crops on it,” I said.
“So, Evie, have you found a place for us to land?” Adam asked.
“Yes. A beautiful fertile spot between the two rivers just there.” I pointed to the location on the holographic globe.
“Okay. I’ll take the first shuttle down and you can bring the second one down when you get everything shut down up here.” He kissed my cheek lightly. “See you in a few minutes.” He palmed on the force shield. The shuttle dropped away from view an instant later.
“Santana,” I said. “How long will it take for your power supply to exhaust itself?”
“Seven thousand years from the day I was initiated.”
“Once Adam and I die, no one will know you. Likely, no one will be able to get back up here to you after we cannibalize the shuttles for living quarters.”
“I will monitor the progress of humanity as it grows. Also, the shuttles will have transmitters and your offspring can learn to use it. I am a machine, Evie. I cannot get bored.”
“You are so much more than a machine, Santana.”
“I will remain in contact with you. I can shut down all systems on this ship except what is essential for my survival.”
“Scout Craft Santana, it has been a privilege serving with you,” I said, formally.
“Evangeline Eden, I am honored.” The ship replied.
I walked toward the shuttle, eager to join Adam on the surface, but strangely reluctant to leave the true brain behind. Santana was as real for me as Adam was. I considered her a friend, a mentor, an adviser. “Santana, will your CPU fit onto the shuttle?”
“Yes. It is only 133 kg. It will easily fit. You will even have room for several access points.” I could swear she sounded excited.
“You’re coming down there with us. Send a message to Adam and tell him my arrival will be delayed until I get you loaded onto the shuttle. I am not entering paradise without you, my friend.”
And she did just so. In a few short years, Santana became the ruler of Eden, our planet, the she shortened her name to Satan.
Your family budget does not necessarily have to fit a template – even if you do use a template, you can customize it. A budget that really fits your style and family dynamic tends to be a lot easier to stick with, and can even be fun! Here are some tips for making a creative, customized family budget.
It’s Your Budget
Get your whole family to participate in creating the budget to make it really yours. Create common goals and brainstorm for fun and creative budgeting ideas.
The great American cookout is a great way to have an “outing” while saving money. If you grill seasonal garden vegetables, it’s an even bigger money saver. Get creative – you can grill inexpensive, “ordinary” foods and make them seem like a treat. For example, mix up some flat bread dough and cook it on the grill. You can even do pizza on the grill!
Go “Shopping” for What You Don’t Need
This can be fun as a family. When you’re out running errands or at the mall, make a point of pointing out all the useless things you see that you don’t need. Some people can have a lot of fun with this – they find the craziest looking clothes, for instance, and laugh about how much they don’t need them and how much they’re saving. It’s fun, but it also teaches your family some important lessons about needs versus wants.
Creative Savings – a New Take on the “Swear Jar”
Have you heard of a “swear jar”? Some families who are trying to improve their language will institute a swear jar. Any family member who swears has to put a quarter into the jar. Get creative with your family – is there something your family would like to improve on that could use a “swear jar”? Here are some ideas:
Every time your child talks back he or she has to put a quarter in the jar.
Playing video games, watching television, and other entertainment media “costs” 50 cents for every half an hour.
Family members must pay a quarter each time they don’t put away their shoes, toys, or whatever item always seems to be left on the floor each day.
Complaining about dinner will cost family members 50 cents each.
Another method is simply never to spend change. When you pay cash for something, always use paper money – if the total is $5.26, give the clerk $6. Then put this change into the jar. You’ll be amazed at how this can accumulate over the year, especially if you use cash often.
Make use of all those online tutorials to fix minor problems around the house. Try typing your problem into your search engine and look for tutorials. It’s amazing how much information is on the internet, even for solving obscure problems.
Stay tuned for a series of articles on BUDGETING over the next few days.
Have you been talking about a family budget, but aren’t sure where to start? Sometimes it’s good to start with the basics, such as the basic outline for a budget and the categories you want to include. Here are some tips to help you formulate a simple family budget. This can be used for an individual budget, too.
The first place to start in the outline of your budget is with your income. There will be some estimating here, no doubt; but make sure it’s estimation, not dreaming, say experts. The income area of your budget is not the place to write down ideals. Simply take a look at your net income over the last three months and estimate an average monthly income. Or you might have income that changes very little month-to-month; it should therefore be pretty easy to figure out your monthly income.
Your next category should be expenses. It’s good to include enough detail that you have a grasp on things, but splitting your expenses into dozens of little categories will probably only frustrate you. Try to make your categories fairy general – “entertainment,” for example, is a more general category than “computer games, movies, cable, and DVDs” listed as separate categories. There will probably be more estimation here than in the income category.
As you break down your expenses into understandable categories and numbers, remember that charitable giving or any giving away of money should be also listed as an expenditure.
Estimation gives way to “real” numbers when you write down your actual expenses during the month. This is the last section of your budget plan. Keep a running tally of your expenses for several months, and then look at where you are.
Some Basic Principles
In budgeting, there are some principles that are considered basic. Here are some of them.
* Distinguish between wants and needs. This can be a hard one, but it’s vital for a budget to function properly. Beware of convincing yourself that a want is a need when it isn’t – you may just be trying to find an excuse to buy the item. Real needs are things like clothes, food, and shelter; but designer clothes, gourmet food, and a palatial dwelling are more like wants!
* Expenses should not exceed income. You may find yourself surprised the first time you do a budget and discover that you actually don’t make enough money to cover your expenses. If you discover this, you need to look carefully at your income section and see where you can increase it, and look just as carefully at the expenses and see where you can make cuts.