Saturday, March 30, 2013

Toddler Fever

I think I have developed the foster care version of baby fever.  I've been referring to it as "toddler fever", and by toddler I generally mean any small child, including babies I suppose.

You see, when all you know and all you have planned is to get pregnant and give birth to a child someday, of course actual baby fever is the ailment from which you suffer.  The obvious and only product of that plan is indeed a baby, an infant, a newborn.   So when you see glowing pregnant women or sweet babies, it causes a baby fever attack.  I've been there.

But when the plan is not to create a new child but instead open your home to some that are already a part of this world and are in need, there is no guarantee whatsoever of what age child will come into your life.  In fact, I'm sure there's a greater chance that it will not be a newborn or infant.   Baby fever can't easily thrive in that scenario and if it does, the host of said fever may be headed for shortsighted disappointment, aka not a baby.

But I've got a fever alright.

It's not baby fever.  Not at all.  It's not brought on by sight of sweet babies or cute pregnant women.

It's brought on by the small girl who dutifully walks next to her mom around our neighborhood, headed who knows where, her little legs moving in double time compared to the adult stride she is keeping up with.

It was brought on by a sweet little girl who needed someone to hold her hand on the way out of the church sanctuary and take her to the potty.  Oh her sweet little hand in mine brought it on.

It was brought on by an adorable little girl at Bush's Chicken who ran back to her table hollering "Yaaaay! Yaaaaay! Yaaay!" when her sister got a trinket out of the quarter machine.

It's brought on by the 4 or 5 year old who just can't seem to navigate his scooter on the cracked sidewalk in front of our house and is often seen flopped in our yard, scooter flopped on the other side of the offending crack.

These sweet little children stir my heart and make me wonder about the little children that will come into our home. I look forward to meeting them and taking care of them, showing them love.  Until then, I'll just keep burning up with toddler fever.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Operation Debt Smackdown aka How We Paid Off $20,000 Of Debt Last Year

Ok so maybe I shouldn't have endeavored to tackle a big blog series on money during tax season craziness. Sorry for the lack of posts after dangling enticing teasers about them in front of you.

So this post is about debt.  Getting out of it, specifically.  I mentioned in this post that getting out of debt is about 30% planning and 70% attitude.  We're about to talk about the attitude part of it, because it is major.  Trent and I paid off $20,543.08 of debt in 2012 and it was only partly due to my intense financial spreadsheet file.  A lot of it boils down to how you attack it.  So here are some things to consider when preparing for your own Operation Debt Smackdown.  Yes, that is actually what I call our debt reduction plan.

Decide you want to get out of debt your debt is your enemy and it better get ready for a smackdown.
If you are just content chugging along making minimum payments on student loans, vehicle loans, credit cards, etc, it is going to take foooreeeevvveeerrrr to truly wipe out your debt.   You have to make a conscious decision to pay attention to it, and go over and above the minimum payments.  You have to decide that your debt is crampin' your style and you want it GONE.

Stop getting into more debt.
This is hopefully a big DUH statement.  You are going to make zero progress in your debt smackdown if you keep getting into more debt.   Duh.  So stop.  If you think you can't stop, that you can't afford life without using the credit card or taking out a loan for your next car, then maybe you need to evaluate what is going on that credit card and maybe you don't need a new car.  Basically, if adding onto your debt is a normal way of life, you may need to tone down your lifestyle...just sayin'.

Find extra money.
Ok, I don't mean just go poking around in your coats that you put away when winter ended and hope there's a $20 in the pocket.  I mean evaluate your budget, see where you can cut back and see how you can bring your regular spending well within or below your income level.  If you are hardcore serious about getting rid of debt, maybe it's time to be hardcore serious about cutting cable or shopping consignment or just not shopping at all.

Treat extra money as extra smackdown power.
Once you find that extra money, do not just treat it as extra spending money.  So tempting.  It can be extra spending money after you get out of debt.  For now though, you need to treat it as extra smackdown power.  If you cut $40 off the cable bill as part of your Operation Smackdown, that is $40 extra each month that must go towards debt payment of some sort.   I have a line item in our budget for "Car Extra", for example, and the money we come up with as extra debt payment is treated as if it were a non-negotiable bill.

Keep track of your progress.
You will feel SO much better about cutting cable or nixing that shopping or not blindly spending that extra money if you track how much effect it has.  In my next money post, I'll show you the nitty gritty of creating a debt reduction plan (more spreadsheets...) and give some guidance for how we track original balances, current balances and how much we paid off each month.  It is a major boost to see those balances dropping and that "paid off" amount increasing!

Focus on one item at a time and KILL IT!
If you decide your first victim is your car loan, yes keep making minimum payments on everything else, but you focus in on that car loan, throw your extra money at that car loan, and chop that balance down.   This gives you momentum.  You can see the progress quickly on that one item and once you get it paid off and killed dead, it feels gooooood.   Then you know what?  All that normal money and extra money that you were paying to your car loan can be paid towards your next victim, in addition to the minimum payment you were making.  Your cash flow snowballs and soon you'll be making giant payments and knocking debt OUT.

Do you think I'm crazy bonkers now?   I'd like to say it's just because of tax season, but it's true, I'm cookoo for debt smackdown.  I love plunking our extra debt payments into our budget.  My overtime money is being thrown at Trent's car loan right now.  There are abundant high fives and much celebration in our household when something gets paid off.  The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter and it feels goood.

Just so you don't think I'm the only crazy one, I'll leave you with a quote from Dave Ramsey, the money man himself: 

"Get all Braveheart on your debt.  Go crazy, paint yourself blue and charge into the chaos with fierceness."

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Things I Found When Sorting Through Wedding Stuff From Five Years Ago

As I mentioned in this post, we have been moving forward on decluttering (even more than we did in January for the youth garage sale), organizing and rearranging rooms to get ready for foster kids.  Sunday night I was in my craft room/soon to be craft + guest room, cleaning out the closet in there.  I ended up sorting through a whole bunch of stuff leftover from our wedding.  I had a good time going down memory lane.  But I also tossed a lot of stuff, like all the RSVP cards, which I had kept for some reason, and most of the actual wedding cards, after picking out the ones from special people and with special messages written.   I found a few things that made me smile and a few that cracked me up. 

In the middle of the stack of RSVP cards, I found one from Steph.  She was my maid of honor, so of course I knew she was coming.  She didn't have to RSVP.  And yet she did...  

Maybe it's because I was in a blur around wedding time, or maybe it's because it is now almost FIVE years later, but I have ZERO recollection of ever seeing this card.  So you can imagine my amusement when I came upon it.   This is one I will keep forever.  It also explains why we had so much food leftover at the reception...Steph RSVPed for 66 people that didn't show up!

But on a more serious note...

I flipped back through our guest book.  One thing I loved about our guest book is that it had a space for people to write little messages to us instead of only signing their name.  As I flipped through, one message stood out to me.

Joy and adventure.   What wonderfully fitting things to wish for me and Trent.  And how marvelously that sentiment has come true.   We have so much fun together and most of the time when nobody else is around, we are entirely ridiculous.  I could never count the number of times we have found ourselves unable to breathe from laughing so hard.  And we really do view life as an adventure.  From youth ministry to foster care, from closet floods to living two months without a microwave, life is an adventure and we are a team ready for whatever comes our way.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Staring At Bedrooms

I have a new hobby apparently.  Over the last few weeks I have spent a considerable amount of time just standing in each of the three bedrooms in the front of our house...staring at them.  As I have been poking around the house, doing chores, reading, etc, I have randomly paused, gone to one room or another, opened the door, peered in for a few minutes, then closed it back and gone about my business.

Yes, I have been sober.  No, I have not been sleep walking.  

I'm picturing kid furniture in them.  I'm picturing paint colors.  I'm picturing room arrangement.  I'm picturing toys.  I am picturing the possible sweet little ones that may sleep there, play there, struggle there and be loved there.  

I am preparing and planning, as I am very, very apt to do.  And it is fun.   I've already got a comprehensive plan for the "spare room" which will become craft/guest room and it looks so sophisticated and even DIY blog worthy in my head.  I've got plans for the kids' rooms that may include chalkboard paint and attempting to paint a mural...  The verdict is still out on that.   But plans are a-brewing.  For now they are mostly in my head, but soon they will be coming to life.  We have found new homes for the two guest room dressers we no longer need.  I did a number on my craft room already to declutter, organize and make room for the guest bed.  Next step: paint!  Who wants to come help?

So anyway, if you come over to my house and you see me randomly wander away and open a door and stand still for a moment, then come back to real life, just smile and nod.  I probably had a new idea for which corner a rocking chair would fit best or a paint color that could be gender neutral or a way to make these rooms a sanctuary of safety and happiness.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Our New Foster Care Plan Of Action


We've got a new plan of action for our foster care endeavor since our first attempt fell apart and we pushed an imaginary pause button on the whole thing.

Some people told us we should NOT work directly with DFPS and we MUST have an agency.
Some other people told us we should NOT work with an agency and we MUST work directly with DFPS.

We heard good and bad stories about working only with DFPS.
We heard good and bad stories about working through an agency.

We kind of wondered what the big hullaballoo was for because all kids brought into foster care start with DFPS and have DFPS social workers as players in their case the whole time.   DFPS vs. Agency does not imply two separate systems.  The agency recruits, trains and supports foster parents with their own social workers, alongside the DFPS social workers.  Meanwhile DFPS also recruits, trains and supports foster parents.  Agencies have no role in CPS calls, pulling children from dangerous home and finding initial foster placements.  DFPS, or more specifically CPS, does all that and then calls on either their own system's foster parents or an agency to find a placement.

We ended up pretty muddled and decided we just needed to make our own decision.  So we did.

What's the plan? 

After some praying, thinking, discussing, talking to a very nice social worker named Lori and generally sitting on all this, we have decided to work directly with the Department Of Family Protective Services.  We don't really have a concrete list of reasons why, but this is what we have landed on and we feel very comfortable with it.

We are going to attend an info/intro meeting at the local DFPS office on April 8th.  Yes, that is before tax season ends, and is indeed in the thick of things right before the deadline, but it is just one evening so I'll make up work hours elsewhere and it'll be ok.   This meeting will fill us in on how the process works specifically with DFPS, what paperwork is needed, timeline, people involved, training etc.   This will get the ball rolling again.  Then there is an initial application and interview, over 35 hours of training and the home study.  All of this would begin after tax season and take a few months.

So here we go!  We're tired of being on pause and are ready to move forward again with this. We're ready. We're excited.  We're confident that we are supposed to be doing this.  We're still in great need of your prayers.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Budget Basics Part 2 - How To Maintain A Budget

Welcome back.  I'm assuming since you are reading this post, I didn't entirely scare you away with my intense How To Create A Budget post.  I'm still recovering from that one myself.  Now we are moving on to Part 2 of Budget Basics and talking about how to maintain the beautiful budget that you have made:


Step 1:  Forecast
One of the glorious things about this budget template is that it allows you to forecast cash flow for as far into the future as you wish to see.  The example above tracks this pretend budget all the way through June and provides an at-a-glance summary of where money needs to go, how short one budget period may be, carryovers needed, how much extra you have available for savings or debt reduction, etc.

The first step in maintaining this budget is to actually fill it out.  Forecast things at least a couple months out so you have a good grasp of the big picture here.  This will help you no longer live paycheck to paycheck or play the dreaded Twelve Dollars Till Tuesday game because you can see that everything has a place and will work.  If the numbers are really not shaking out and there doesn't seem to be enough income to cover your expenses, then you need to consider cutting back and reducing your expenses to make it work.

Please remember, a forecast is an estimate.  Don't stress about getting it down to the exact dollar, because honestly, none of us have any idea what specific expenses will need to be covered in the budget period beginning June 11.  But we can at least come up with a good estimate, based on previous trends.

Step 2: Fill In Actual
The next step is to fill in the actual income and expense amounts as you get to each budget period, if they are different from your forecast.  Remember from my last post my suggestion about using color coding to mark expenses that are truly estimates?  I use blue.   A cell that is blue means it is an estimated amount for things that are not the same amount each month, like utilities.

As soon as you get the actual electric bill or water bill, plunk that actual amount into the appropriate spot and remove the color coding.  That is your signal that this is now an actual amount due and no longer a guess.  

A few days before each budget period begins (a few days before payday), take a few minutes to evaluate the upcoming period.   Make sure everything is entered correctly, input any differences that you know about, like extra gas needed for an unexpected trip or a big ticket item that you suddenly find yourself needing.  Tweak your net and carryovers as needed to get to your final planned actual budget for that pay period.

Step 3: Send Every Dollar Where It Needs To Go Right Away
The rest is simple.  You have given every dollar a name, you have planned where every single dollar of the paycheck is supposed to go.  So send them there.  Immediately.

Now let me throw in here that I realize there are folks out there who prefer to hold onto their money in their bank account and pay their bills on the last possible day they can because they have an interest earning checking account or something of the sort.   I understand that strategy but let me just say that if you are intent on taking control of your money and controlling spending, you need to send every single dollar to its designated category as soon as possible.   It is much easier to avoid spending money on eating out that was supposed to go to gas if you have already filled up your tank with gas and taken care of that category altogether.

So, what does this look like?  Here is what I try to do with our own personal budget.  Our budget periods begin every other Tuesday.  Ideally (it doesn't always go down this way), on every  payday Tuesday we:

a) fill up our cars with gas,
b) donate online,
c) transfer via online banking to our savings account,
d) get groceries so we have food at home and don't eat out as much,
e) set up bills to pay that do not auto-draft from our account,
f) pull out cash from the bank for eating out money and coffee money so that when it is gone, it's gone and
g) transfer carryover money to our Holding Account if needed for the next period.  

Basically we send every dollar where it belongs either on payday Tuesday or shortly thereafter.  What's left in our Operating Account then?  Only the money from the Net cushion I leave each period and the Blow Money which is present in case of unforeseen expenses or messing up and simply blowing the budget.  All the other dollars are either spent or sitting in our Bills Account, set up to pay and waiting to be pulled out.

Like I said above, if the money is already GONE and has all gone to the right place, it's quite impossible to spend too much on one category.   It is a great feeling to know that bills are set to pay, gas tanks are full, fridge is full and I don't have to worry about cash flow.

Step 4: Color Coding
Here is where my budget keeping gets a wee bit OCD.  You can use this color coding technique if you want to.  Or you can just look at me and shake your head at my nerdiness.

When I am in the trenches of the current budget period, I have a color coding system that helps me track which expenses are not touched yet, which are set up to pay and which have physically come out of our account and are done with.

No color = not set up to pay yet
Yellow = action has been taken to set it up to pay or there is enough money to cover the auto-draft but the dollars have not actually come out of our bank account yet
Green = this chunk of dollars have physically come out of our bank account, meaning the transfer to Savings or Holding has been made, the cash has been pulled out for eating out, the bill has been set to pay and has been withdrawn.

In this example, once we filled up on gas, we'd turn the gas amount green.  Same for when we make a grocery trip.  Once the health insurance payment actually comes out of our account on the day it is auto-drafted, that can be turned from yellow to green.   I know this sounds tedious, but if you are serious about controlling your money, you will find yourself becoming serious about details.

Step 5: Removing Old Budget Period Columns
When a budget period has passed, there's not much need for the numbers in that column anymore.  If you want, you can just delete it altogether and move on to the next one.  I tend to at least leave 2 or 3 past periods visible to see the full picture of expense trends, a few weeks backwards and a few months forward.  So I just gray it out:

And then, because I'm a nostalgic person I suppose, I still don't delete them.  I have a separate tab in our budget spreadsheet called "Historical" and I simple cut old columns out of the actual Budget tab and paste them into the Historical tab in chronological order.   I know, OCD, nerd, shake your head.  This allows us to see where we've come from, what our expenses were a year ago, how we've gotten a handle on some things or let others get out of control.  It gets the old stuff out of the way but doesn't totally trash it.

So there you have it!  Part 1 and 2 of Budget Basics.  I hope this has been insightful and helpful. Or at least just a glimpse into the fact that I am obsessed with our budget spreadsheet...  Either way, if you've got comments or questions, need clarification or have a suggestion for how some part of this could be done better, leave your comment below.

Happy budgeting!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Budget Basics Part 1 - How To Create A Budget & A Free Budget Template

Warning: this post is gonna be loooong and contain a loooot of words, but I think/hope it will helpful to some of y'all out there so hang in there.  I decided to break up the budget post into two posts for the sake of your time and sanity, so this one will cover how to create a budget and the next one will cover how to maintain and actually use a budget.

If you are just tuning in to this money series,
Click here for an overview of what this series is about and what it will contain.
Click here to read why it's so important for every dollar of income to have a name before it is even earned.
Click here for a break down of what bank accounts Trent and I have and how we use them effectively.
Click here to learn why a monthly budget is a terrible idea for a lot of people and what I recommend instead.

Ok, now back to business.  It's time to build a budget.  For this, you'll need the list of names you gave to all your dollars you spend, which we talked about and created within this post.  That is going to become the backbone of your budget.  So either go find that list or go back to that post and create your list.

Now, let the budgeting begin.

I have created a completely fictitious budget template for this post.  It doesn't have many expenses in it for the sake of being able to see the whole thing in a screenshot and also not overwhelming you on first glance, but it will still get all the main points across.  Click here to access a free template of the fake budget we will be looking at!!   Yay, free stuff.  Please copy that template to your own Excel or Google Docs file, then have at it and make it your own.  Or if you want to start from scratch, you can just look at it for guidance.  The final product of this fake budget looks like this:

Isn't it pretty?  Now let's break it down.


Part 1: Budget Periods
This part is easy.  All you have to do is designate your budget period (as discussed in this post), then look at a calendar to designate the correct dates for each chunk of time across the top of your budget spreadsheet.  We track ours based on two week pay periods that begin every other Tuesday with my payday, so I just stuck with those dates for this pretend budget template.  Make sure to leave two columns at the left of your spreadsheets before you start inputting the dates. We'll need those later.

In all of the discussion from now on, please remember we are talking about pay periods here, not months.  (Unless you are paid monthly and budgeting based on that.)  So when I talk about deciding how much to put in savings or give to charity, for example, think pay periods, not months.

Part 2: Income
This next part isn't hard either.  Since we are breaking this into budget periods based on pay days and based on cash flow timing of income, you just need to input what your income is for each budget period.  If this budget is for one person, it's a no brainer and you just need to plunk your net paycheck amount into the income box.  If for a couple, just add both paychecks together.  If you wanted to, you could separate out each paycheck onto separate lines and name them accordingly.

If you get a raise, bonus, overtime pay or (heaven forbid) a pay cut, you can just adjust the individual cells as needed.  Note that I put net take home pay in this part.  I have 401K, taxes, benefits, etc that come out of my check before I even see the money, so I let that take care of itself and start our budget with the actual amount that hits our bank account.  Or, if you are like Trent and have no benefits, same thing.  You only have taxes coming out of your paycheck and you still just need to put the net amount of income in your budget.

Part 3: Giving & Saving
There is an element of discretion and decision making to this part, so it's not quite as straight forward.  I do believe in the importance of giving to worthy causes and maintaining savings, but I am not here to tell you how much to give or save.  That is up to you.  Once you have decided that, you are back to easy steps.  Just plunk those number into your spreadsheet.

Notice that I've got these two items at the top of the budget, right under income and at the beginning of what will be the expense and cash outflow section.  I believe putting them at the forefront signifies their importance, gets them a little more attention as you are actually setting up money to pay out and makes them a little less negotiable or ditchable when money gets tight.  Or maybe that's just me.  

Part 4: Recurring Monthly Expenses
If you followed along during the Every Dollar Has A Name post, you've already got your list made of your typical expense categories and amounts to go with them.  This section here is for the recurring monthly expenses, aka BILLS.   Mortgage payment or rent, utilities, phone, cable, student loan payments, car payment.  For this section, order these bills according to the day of the month they are due. In the left-most column of your budget, enter those days (1st, 14th, etc).  To the right of that, just put the name of the bill that corresponds with that due date.  Name them whatever you want, technical or nickname-ish, just make sure you know what it refers to.   Include every monthly bill, even if it is small (like Netflix below).

Now for the amounts.  You need to input the amount due in the budget period when it falls due.  For example, below it shows "House Payment" is due on the 1st of the month.  I would not input it in the 1st budget period shown below because there is no 1st of the month in that period.  It will go in the next period.  Don't automatically input it in every other period.  Though that tends to be what ends up happening, you'll end up with some months that have three paychecks and you may go two pay periods before hitting the 1st of the month again.  See April below.

Ok, now just stare at this example for a bit so you understand everything I just said...

Notice I put a line item in there called "Car Extra" and it doesn't have a day of the month next to it.  If you are trying to knock down some debt, you'll need to pay more than minimum payments.  Add lines as needed under the debt item you are tackling.  There really isn't a due date for extra debt payments, you just pay them whenever you can.  We'll talk about this a bit more later in Part 7.

Here's a tip for bills that are not the same amount each month, like utilities.  I go ahead and enter an estimate of the bill in the cell where it goes and I turn it blue.  A blue cell means "That is only an estimate, for the sake of forecasting and planning the big picture of this budget".  When I get the actual electric bill or water bill, I change that cell to the actual amount due, hope it was close to my estimate and then remove the blue coloring in the cell.  That then signals that it is now an actual amount due.  

Yes, it's an estimate but do your best to be realistic.  Above, you can see that the electric bill increased as the budget headed into hotter months when more air conditioning would be needed.

Still hanging with me?  I told you this would be long. Feel free to take a break and come back if you want, but make sure you come back!

Part 5: Ongoing Life Expenses
Alrighty, this part is less cut and dry and may require some massaging over time to get into a groove and plan that works for you and matches what you actually tend to spend and need for these categories.  This next section is for regular ongoing life expenses like gas, groceries, eating out, coffee, etc.  Yes, I included coffee. This may seem like a stupid thing to include on here, but if it's something you regularly spend money on, it needs to go on here.  We have a line item in our budget for coffee.   For you it may be Dr. Pepper or hair dye.  Nobody has to see your budget, so if you have a guilty pleasure item that you are ok with spending money on, put it in the budget.

These amounts need to be present in every single budget period.  Remember we are working with pay periods here and are now talking about ongoing life expenses, not just monthly bills.  To get this really nailed down, track how much you spend on these things for a couple pay periods to see what your budget should reasonably show in order to cover the needed expense.  Then you can generally populate each budget period with the same amount.  Sometimes you'll have flukey budget periods where something will be higher or lower.  That's ok, plan for it and put it in the budget.  An example is one period where you know you are headed on a long drive to visit parents.  Up your gas spending for that period and throw a note into the cell so you know why it's different.

I include a line in our budget called "Blow Money".  This is literally just cushion in case we blow the budget or something comes up that we didn't account for.

The reason Coffee and Eating Out are highlighted green above is because those are two items that could be treated as cash items.  If you really need to reign in your spending on an item, go to the bank on pay day and pull out cash for that category and only allow yourself to spend cash on it, not debit or credit card.  Handing over a $20 and seeing the hole it leaves in your wallet will make you realize how much you are spending and you can easily see how much you have left.  When it's gone, it's gone.

Part 6: Big Ticket Items
This is sort of a catch-all line item for things that pop up sometimes and, if not planned for, could totally blow the budget for that period.  Examples: medicine for pets (expensive!), oil changes (if your car is like mine and they are pricey), vehicle registrations, small vacations or special outings.

If you can see enough into the future to plan for these things (you know when your car registration runs out or when the pack of flea meds runs out), just put the approximate amount for that item in the appropriate budget period where it will need to be paid for.  Done. Accounted for.  Taken care of.

Part 7: Net & Carryover
The bottom part of the budget simply shows what you've got leftover at the end of the budget period or how much you are negative, indicating you might need to tweak some expenses.  It also allows for a carryover of money from one income heavy budget period to an expense heavy one.  These totals are also helpful for determining how much money you can pay to extra debt payments.  I just use a subtotal called "Total Expenses", then use a formula to take Income - Total Expenses and get to a Net number.  Then subtract a carryover to the following period, if any, to get to your true Net.

Here is what the two March columns on the left would look like if a) I had not yet entered the $510 payment to "Car Extra" and b) I had not yet entered the carryover of $400 to the second period:

Houston, we have a problem.  A) We've got tons leftover in the first March pay period that should somehow be allocated, either more to Savings, more to debt, etc.  B) The second March pay period is $351 in the hole.  That ain't gonna be so fun when we get to the second period and find we don't have near enough money to cover expenses.  So borrow some.  First, figure out what is needed to cover the deficit in the second period.  (I try to leave a "net" cushion of about $50 here.)

There is a formula in the "C/O From Last" cell at the top of the budget that automatically pulls in any "C/O To Next" from the previous period and counts it as "income" available for use.  So we have fixed the deficit in the second period. Yay! I recommend having some sort of Holding Account as described in this post, where you can temporarily stash this carryover so you know for sure it won't get used up in the first period.  Then transfer it to your bill paying account (also described in that post) at the beginning of the second period.

Now, we still have the $567 net leftover in the first period.  Figure out what cushion you want remaining at the end here and enter the rest to extra debt, to savings, or somewhere useful.  Don't just say "yay, I have extra money this time" and spend it away on who knows what.  Give every dollar a name.  In this example, I came up with $510 that could go to the "Car Extra" line, so that is where I put it.   Now, we're back to a reasonable amount of "net" leftover and everything is good in the neighborhood. 

That's it! We're done! Did anyone actually make it this far is this beast of a blog post?  If you did, I applaud you immensely and thank you for your interest.   I hope this was enlightening, helpful and not too mind numbing. 

Questions? Comments? Need more explanation on some part of this?  Comment below and I'm more than happy to respond.  Now let's all go rest our brains.  I'll be back soon with Part 2 to talk about how to maintain and actually use this nice budget spreadsheet.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Truth About Tax Season aka I'M FINE!!

Hey blog friends.  It's been a while.  I sowwy.  Tax season + church meetings + youth stuff + a whirlwind trip to San Antonio + sleep have kept me busy the last couple weeks, but I think things have calmed down for the time being and I'm planning to get lots of writing done this weekend, including the promised Budget Basics post.

For now though, I'd like to address something that I believe is a common concern or misconception among my friends and general life people this time of year.  It has come to my attention repeatedly that y'all all think I'm dying because of tax season.  False.  In an effort to set things straight, I have attempted to debunk some of the tax season myths I have heard from y'all and offer the truth.

Myth: Asking me a quick tax question is going to make me hate you because I do taxes all day and don't want to talk about them any more than I have to.
Truth:  It's fine.  I don't mind.  I won't/can't prepare your return unless you are a) a family member or b) a money paying client of my firm, but I can try to help with your quick tax questions.  Tax law is my second language and I'm a total nerd for it.

Myth: I am unavailable for regular life activities from February 1 through April 15th.
Truth: Not only do I still have time for most regular life activities, I prefer to have them.  I still hang out with friends.  I still go to Jazzercise.  I still go to youth group activities.

Myth: I come home from work and curl up on the floor in the fetal position with thoughts of tracking down some Valium.
Truth: I don't really know what Valium does, so no, I'm not craving it, and generally I come home in normal spirits, though a bit brain dead.

Myth: I am required to arrive at work at 6:30 am.
Truth: I CHOOSE to arrive at work at 6:30 am.   As long as we are there 8:00-5:00, my firm allows us to work our 15 overtime hours per week whenever they fit best.  So I choose to be an early bird.  No, this is not that bad.  It just takes discipline, routine bed times, setting an alarm clock and generally being an adult who takes responsibility to make this work.

Myth: I work late into the night and work all weekend too.
Truth: I get off work at 6:00 pm and generally don't work weekends until the end of the season when things get crazy bonkers.  Because I come in so early, I squeeze my 55 hours a week into the weekdays and leave weekends free.  6:00 is not a terrible time to get off work.  Now, days surrounding the March 15th corporate deadline and of course the last couple weeks leading up to the April 15th deadline can end up a little bonkers with LOTS of hours worked, but that is short lived and very doable.

Myth: I have to train and deal with annoying, clueless interns.
Truth: I get to train and deal with capable, smart interns who are a benefit to our firm. I am more than happy to help with our internship program and teach these accounting students some real world skills in their chosen career.

Myth: Tax season months are just a mundane chunk of work, work, work with no human interaction in the office and no fun whatsoever.
Truth: My employer is great.  So are my coworkers.   We are fed dinners the last week of the season.  Some mystery person has been leaving cutesy treats on everyone's desks to be discovered Monday mornings.  Pranks are played.  Happy hours are had. Packs of people walk over to Starbucks periodically.  I've even been part of an 8:30 pm dance party in the office hallway.

Myth: I work all these extra hours for no extra compensation.
Truth: My firm pays time and a half for overtime hours until you make Manager.  I bank during tax season. Not all firms pay overtime and I'm fully aware of that and majorly grateful that mine does.

All that said, here are a few things that you do have right about tax season:

I am busy.
I get tired.
I may turn down some offers to hang out or do stuff, probably because I haven't really seen my husband in a few days.
Our house gets a little out of control.
I look forward to it being over.

But overall, I'm not dying, I'm not depressed, I'm not unhappy.  This is my 6th tax season so it ain't my first rodeo.  I appreciate your concern and understanding, but I'm really just fine.