Ten Tips to Stay Focused on Your Financial Goals

Staying focused on financial goals can be a constant struggle. Use these tips to stay headed in the right direction.

As the year rolls on, many people have lost their excitement in achieving their financial goals. Everything from a broken appliance, car repair, or an unexpected expense can dampen the spirit of even the most dedicated people. 

But why should “unexpected events” like that slow you down?  Guess what, they can’t if you are prepared and have a plan.

But how is it possible to plan for expenses like those? Easy, have a sinking fund.

Car expenses are inevitable, hence they really aren’t “unexpected.” If you own a home, something will always go awry, so those tabs aren’t unexpected expenses either.  The point is, there really is no excuse to be unprepared in the event of an “emergency.” Follow these ten tips to stay focused on your financial goals and to be prepared for the “unexpected.” Just click on each hyperlink to be sent to an article to help get you started (or keep you rolling) in the right direction.

  1. Have a plan, set SMART financial goals. The saying goes, “If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.” Don’t start out on the wrong foot, set smart savings goals if you want to achieve them.
  2. Start saving today.  In order to get the full benefits of compound interest, the sooner you start, the more you’ll save.
  3. Find ways to cut costs. As single parents, choosing the right daycare, cutting your cable bill, and saving on groceries can be like getting a second job! This is one of the easiest ways to keep money in your pocket. What cost can you slash?
  4. Decide to be debt free. Rid yourself of the burden of credit card debt and find a plan to help chart the course. Click here for one that worked for me.
  5. Use sinking funds to be ready for those “unexpected expenses.” This article talks about vacations and car insurance, but you can create accounts for anything you need to save up for.
  6. Be nice to yourself and allocate money for self-care.  While it is important to save with intensity, you must enjoy life now. That’s why its important to maintain the right balance with your money.
  7. Stay encouraged by reading about personal finance and saving. These 5 books will change your life.
  8. Have a plan for the unthinkable. Two emergency funds may be best if you want the security of a six month emergency fund for job loss, plus money set aside for those pesky “unexpected emergencies.” I feel better with two in place, although one is a start.
  9. Avoid making money mistakes. Choose a home you can afford and consider purchasing a mature home. Also, don’t try to keep up with the Joneses. Stay focused on your money goals. Avoid these other traps.
  10. Just have fun. We only have one chance to live life. Try not to stress over things and enjoy the life you’ve been given.  Hindsight is 20/20. Instead of dwelling on what you didn’t do or what has happened in the past, get excited about the wonderful opportunities that are sure to come – especially when you’re financially free and building wealth.

What tips will you try first? Pick two or three then share in the comments. Also, join our Facebook group to be linked to a community of single parent savers like yourself.

Happy saving, live well!

Learn the Secret to Financial Freedom – Have Two Emergency Funds

Why one emergency fund is not enough. 

Stay with me here, it gets complicated.  You read the title correctly. I have two emergency funds and think you should too. While it kinda defeats the purpose of having an “Emergency Fund,” let me explain why I decided to have two so that hopefully you can decide what works best for you.

The purpose of an emergency fund is to pay for, well, emergencies. Lost wages. Broken car. Unexpected home repair. Medical expenses. However, since I purchased a home that is rather old and I firmly believe in Murphy’s Law, my anxiety has led me down a different path of preparedness.

Having saved up a 6- month emergency fund, paid off all debt, and feeling financially comfortable, it seems that every time I turnaround, something new pops-up. Clogged toilet, slow moving drains, car repairs, window cracks, clothes that are too small, everything! While my emergency fund is in place to cover those expenses,  I view it a bit differently. I want my primary emergency fund to be used solely in case I lose my job or have some extended leave due to a medical emergency – the primary reason why we save 3-6 months of expenses.

All of those other “emergencies” should be taken care of either through increased cash flow or extra savings beyond my 6-month stash, so that the primary emergency fund remains untouched. In essence, I’ll treat my 6 months of savings as if it doesn’t exist and anything above that serves as my secondary emergency fund – for anything that happens – because we all know that life happens.

Why do I feel this way? Its simple. If I saved up 6 months of expenses but tapped it for every common “emergency,” then I’d never truly have an emergency fund. I’d constantly have to replenish it. If, after I saved my primary fund then started saving into a secondary fund, then I’d always have my 6-month fund available, should a true tragedy happen like a job loss. This is what allows me to sleep like a baby at night. 

If you follow Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps, then I would not delay contributing to my retirement account after saving the primary emergency fund, rather, I’d figure out a way to divert some money into the secondary one, like a step 3B. For me, since I know that I am not saving for my kids’ college, I’d replace step 5 with a secondary emergency fund.  That’s it!

Its up to you what advice you take and what ultimately helps you rest easy at night, but this is a suggestion that’s worth a try if you want to be sure that you’re always prepared should the unexpected and truly unexpected happens.

What’s your view? Would having two emergency funds make you feel more secure about your finances? Post your thoughts in the comments below. Happy Saving! Live Well!

Don’t Be a Slave to Credit Card Debt

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When I think of debt and credit card payments, I cringe.  Having filed bankruptcy nearly 10 years ago, the lingering impacts of watching every cent of every pay check get sent out to creditors was heart wrenching. I never want to return to that place again, and if you are approaching that space, you can get out now!

People often get concerned about credit scores and building credit. College students are lion’s prey when it comes to the debt trap as banks send representatives to campuses offering free gifts in exchange for their signature and a shiny “buy now, pay later credit card.” The cycle begins.  That first taste of perceived freedom can have devastating impact that won’t be erased very easily.

But what about those all important questions that make people flock to big banks for the big bucks?

“How do I build credit?”

“What about buying a house? A car?”

“How will I prove to banks that I’m worthy?”

Think about it. How will you prove to banks that you can borrow their money and pay them back? They want to know that you will pay them what you owe, plus the interest the loan will accrue. That’s how they make their money and that’s how they trap people.

So what’s a person to do? You run away as fast as you can. Avoid debt at all costs! If you learn to live without it, then you won’t miss it.  So what if you don’t get a cash back reward? Who cares if you miss out on airline miles? It doesn’t matter if you get a rebate on groceries if you use that money up by making interest payments.  There are many ways to live a happy life without credit. But how you ask?

  1. Buy your first car with cash. A beater as they call it. The idea is to have something to drive around in that will allow you to save up to pay cash for a nicer car later. Spend no more than $5000 on that vehicle.
  2. Keep detailed records of your rental history. You’ll need that information when its time to buy a house. There are some banks that can conduct manual underwriting when its time to take on a mortgage. That’s the only debt that is acceptable to accomplish your goals.
  3. While you’re renting, save up at least 20% for a down payment on a house. Who knows, you may eventually save enough to pay cash, depending on where you live and how much a modest house costs.

That’s it! What else do you really need credit for? Clothes? Pay cash. Vacations? Nope, pay cash. Rentals cars? They take debit cards nowadays. So there you have it! Don’t be a slave to credit card debt.

Gain financial freedom by avoiding the pitfalls of borrowing now and paying later.  Take it from me. You are not missing out on anything!

Post your debt-free success story below. We’d love to hear how you have freed yourself from the chains of debt.

Happy Saving! Live well!

Why Dave Ramsey’s Plan Is Great for Single Parents

financial freedom sign

About a year ago, in Fall 2017, I was speaking to a friend about one of my favorite topics, personal finance. I was giving her a list of my most highly recommended books and was thinking about my favorite authors – Suze Orman, Jean Chatzsky, David Bach, Thomas Stanley, etc., When she asked about Dave Ramsey I said, “Oh, I’ve heard of him, but he’s too radical for me.” She replied, “Really? What’s so radical about him?”

I had to pause for a minute. I thought to myself, “Hmmm, what is radical about him?” I remember hearing about his philosophy and dismissing it many years ago, but then I said, maybe its time to revisit him. So I did. And it has changed my life forever.

After reading his The Total Money Makeover, I engulfed myself with everything Dave. From reading his subsequent books and listening to his podcasts, I realized that he wasn’t so radical at all. At that moment,  I went all in, adhering to his baby steps and following the plan religiously. Now I must say, it wasn’t easy, and still isn’t, there are many pitfalls that come your way as you try to set your future on a new, exciting path, but my will to overcome far exceeded the temporary desires of emotional spending – and as single parents, we know how emotions can take over.

With that, I set out on a journey that helped me pay off my credit card debt and my car loan – over $10K total – in about one year, while living on a teacher’s salary and raising 2 kids on my own.

I’m still on Dave’s plans, step 3B (I have some home remodeling to do) and 4, but I am dedicated to financial freedom.  So in essence, I went from being in debt and making payments to debt free, having an emergency fund, saving for retirement, and moving forward with my life; a win-win for me and my kids.  Vacations happen yearly, savings is monthly, and I am on track to “Retire Inspired,” in the words of Chris Hogan.

You may be asking what made me think Dave was radical. The answer is that I didn’t like pausing saving for retirement while I eliminated my debt, but hey, it has all worked out.  I feel empowered and free with no lingering debt. Besides, having a fat 401K but owing $15,000 is not exactly a goal for me.  I’d rather have the 401K, $15K in savings, and no debt as a testament to my hard work and dedication.  So there it is! His plan is applicable to single parents as well.  It worked for me, see if it does the same for you. To learn more about Dave Ramsey and his baby steps, visit www.DaveRamsey.com.

Have you started Dave’s Baby Steps? If so, what step are you on? Post how its working out for you in the comments below.

How to Start Saving When You’re a Single Parent

saving infographic

What’s the hardest part of saving for you? Starting or sticking to it? Post your comments below.

Why Single Parents Must Set SMART Financial Goals Today!

goals

I want to run a 5K in less than 40 minutes by training and improving my eating habits within the next 4 months. That is a very specific goal that is also SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time constrained. You’ll need a goal like that to get on the path to financial freedom.

If you read the previous post, “Start Saving Now, No Really, Like Right Now”, then hopefully you’ve put paying yourself first on auto-pilot. Now that that’s taken care of, it’s time to get specific about your goals.

Do you want to be a millionaire? Multi-millionaire? Debt free? Financially stable? Earning passive income? All of those are a possibility when a clear goal is set and a concrete plan is made to achieve them.

As a single parent, emergencies arise and unexpected expenses are inevitable. However, when goals are in place then put on auto-pilot, achieving them becomes more of an expectation than a dream.

So, what is your goal? Why is it important to you to achieve that goal? Set goals that are meaningful to you based on your values. Avoid keeping up with the Jones’ or trying to meet societal expectations. Its OK to be ambitious and want to have amassed $250K in assets in the next 10 years (everyone likes the million dollar mark, but we’re working with baby steps here.) Or maybe taking a week-long vacation to Hawaii is what you desire the most in the next 3 years.  Just remember, set your goals using the SMART goal format, and you’re on your way. (Click here for more on setting SMART goals.)

Now that you are educated on goal setting, it’s time to take action steps.

  1. Brainstorm what financial goal is most important to you right now.
  2. Put that goal in SMART goal format.
  3. Determine how much you will need to save or reduce your spending by, in order to achieve that goal.
  4. Adjust your finances to achieve that goal.
  5. If the goal requires saving more, create a separate savings account at your new bank/credit union (see previous post) and put it on auto-pilot.
  6. Check your goal progress every month to make sure you are on track to achieving it. (You could track it through an app like Mint.)

Voila! All done. Now you’re saving/paying yourself first and setting financial goals. You are well on your way to financial freedom and independence.

What’s your next big financial goal? Post a SMART goal you’ve set in the comments below.

Happy Saving! Live well!

Skip the Bills, Pay Yourself First!

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It is unimaginable that Americans log over 40 hours a week or 8+ hours a day,  just to see all that money bleed out of their checking accounts to pay bills. What a travesty!

Why endure 12 years of mandatory school, 4 or more years of college, spend thousands of dollars in student loan debt, countless hours applying for jobs, countless more interviewing, and then the rest of your life working, just to send it all away at the end of each month? Doesn’t make much sense, huh?

People always ask how single parents can take care of all their responsibilities and have money left over to enjoy. I say, you just have to.

It is no secret that I educate myself based on the advice of our nation’s financial gurus (see resources page). “Pay yourself first” is the mantra I live by because of it. When I pay myself first, I am saving for my future, my fun, and my sanity, aka my retirement, vacations, and myself. You must too!

Some of you are screaming “how” and “there’s no money left to save,” but let me tell you, I said the same thing, until I made saving a priority.

Ever been in a situation when you didn’t know how you were going to make something happen, but you knew you had to? As a single parent, or a person in general, I know you have. That blind faith made you take a leap and in the end, it probably worked out. So now, I am telling you that you must take that leap for yourself.

You must start to save, and you must do it now.

Save for retirement. Save for vacations. Save for “me time.” Just save money from every paycheck and watch your stash grow. Unless you embarked on your career to let others reap the benefits of your talent and energy, saving for yourself is like paying yourself for your gifts and abilities. You deserve it!

Enough with the preaching, following are quick, easy, action steps you can take now:

  1. Identify ways to save $10 from your next bi-monthly check or $20 from your monthly pay.
  2. Open an online bank account from places like Quorum Credit Union and Ally bank, or open a savings account at a local credit union, separate from where you do your primary banking. Just make sure you are not paying any monthly fees. Credit unions are the best choice.
  3. Start a direct deposit from your primary account to your new savings account. Make it so that the money is deposited from each check, automatically.
  4. Download an app like Mint to keep track of your spending each month. This will help you identify areas where you can save money in the future.

That’s it! The goal of this post is to get you to start saving and identifying ways to save more. By having the money move automatically, you’ll never miss what you don’t see.

Placing the money in an online bank or a separate institution from your primary one makes you less likely to withdraw the money for anything other than emergencies.

There it is. Start saving now, like right now, and you’ll be on your way to a nice stash of cash for a rainy day.

Do you fear paying yourself first? If so, why? If not, why not? Post your comments below.

Happy Saving! Live Well!