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12 Steps to Staying on Budget and Living Your Best Life

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As we close out January, many have been looking at how to get a healthier grasp around their budgets.  How to budget and what should be included are really considered as the credit card bills from December’s Christmas spending come in.

Those with kids are trying to figure out a way to better teach kids what it means to have a budget and that can be quite a difficult conversation.  For basic starters, check out this blog on 6 Steps to Taking the Fear out of Finances.  For those who want to dive a bit more, we are going to look today at the 10 steps my family uses to make and stay on budget while living our best life.

My husband and I both grew up in families where money was tight.  We did not get the newest and greatest things as they came out.  We ate meals at home and brown-bagged it to school.  In college, having to pay for it entirely on my own, I was no stranger to Ramen noodles.  During this time, I learned the value of food closets because I often needed them to eat so I could pay my school bill.  I worked six jobs and went to school full time.  I graduated with my bachelor’s degree entirely debt-free and my graduate school loans were paid off two years early.  Other than our house, we are entirely debt-free.

Though we are not financial gurus, we do know a thing or two about how to budget and have fun.  Here are some of our takeaways:

1. Make a budget: This seems basic, but you would be surprised how many do not actually do this.  There are three easy steps to doing this:

  • Look at the past: The best way is to take the bank account statement for the last month (three months is best) and really look at each transaction.  How much do you pay in bills?  Do these fluctuate (like utilities) or are all flat rates?  How much do you spend on gas? Food? Phone? Subscriptions? Entertainment? Once this is done, you get a good idea of not only where you are spending your money, but where your values are.
  •  Look at your income: How much do you bring in a month? Is this more or less than what you spend? 
  • Start with bills: Whatever subscriptions and plans you pay for and don’t use – close the accounts.  Next, always start with bills.  Ensure the income pays those first.  Next, have a line item for food, entertainment, giving, savings, and emergencies.  Allot your money as needed.
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2. Make a Wish List:  In an instance “click here” to check out with the one-click world, it is easy to spend more money than you think faster than you think. Instead, make a wish list (especially for those big-ticket items).  Take the time to research the best options.  If not an emergency (which you have been saving in the budget), take a month or three and see if you really need it or it was just a momentary want.  If the latter, you just saved money.

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3. Eat out less: I love food.  I say that all the time.  But eating out is not only costly to my waistline it is costly to my bottom line.  Eating out with friends and family for special occasions is fine (budget for this).  But, in general, we try to eat out less than once a week.  We eat better, feel better, and our bottom line stays in the black. This is also great for keeping up those new year’s resolutions and ensuring they work for you.

4. Buy second hand: Growing up second had got a bad rap.  Clothes bought second-hand would label you as poor or ugly.  In reality, that Nike hoodie your friend’s parent spent $60.00 on, my parent got looking brand new for $500.  So many places now make it easy to buy gently loved secondhand clothes, tools, games, décor, and so much!  Brand names even now have a “gently loved” section you can usually get a great deal on when you need to.  Check out Craigslist, Poshmark, and Marketplace to get started.  We once got a $5,000.00 elliptical machine (used times by the owner) for $500.00. 

5. Use what you have: Instead of going to the store when you need an item for a recipe, plan your meals ahead.  Don’t have the time?  See what you have in your pantry/fridge that can be used as a substitute.  So often there are quick fixes already in our home that make great meals.  Eat leftovers.  Re-purpose old toys, clothes, and furniture.  We turn our thinned towels into towels used when we work on the car or clean the garage.  We reuse fabric.  There are so many options.

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6. Look for Deals: Coupons are great! I am not an extreme couponer, but I know some people who are.  I know a family who has not spent more than $5.00 on groceries for a family of four in three years.  Coupons are great a way to stay on budget.  Many museums, zoos, and aquariums provide discounts to certain groups and even free days to enjoy and see if you want to come back.  Some will even discount the price of admission depending on how many hours are left in their business day. We use these free and discount days often.  We have seen some great culture this way.

7. Wait:  Seeing a movie in theatres is great fun! But it can also be greatly expensive.  Add in the price of admission, a drink, snacks, and popcorn and you for a family of four you are looking at close to a car payment!  For these types of activities, wait till they come to streaming or DVD.  Then you can view them at home in your comfort and have spent a fraction on the snacks while still enjoying family time.

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8. Plan for Emergencies: Life happens.  Cars break.  Kids see doctors.  Cavities happen.  Without saving, these costs can be costly and harmful to the bottom line.  Instead of dealing with the emergency plan for one. One line item of the budget should be about 10% of your budget solely to be set aside for emergencies.  Then when they hit, you are prepared and way less stressed with the results.

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9. Fill your time with other activities: For those who use shopping and eating out as a way to socialize, I understand how hard this can be.  But it is not impossible.  Instead of shopping or eating when stressed or hanging out, fill the time with another activity.  Work on your new year’s resolution.  Read a book.  Do some art.  Get outside and walk around.  See God’s beautiful handiwork in nature.  Play a board game.  Make up a new game. Talk with your friends and family.  There are so many options that do not involve money and best of all, they grow your friendships more.

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10. DIY: As a military spouse who has been through deployments/TDYs, it is Neuton’s Law that when a spouse leaves, everything breaks. The last deployment I kept a list of everything that broke and had to be replaced from our washer to the shower rack. We have learned to fix things ourselves. There are so many classes and tutorials out there, it is so easy to not only do the fixing for less (sometimes with items you already have). Repairs to the car and house can often be done at a fraction of the cost when you do it yourself. ***NOTE: Do not attempt anything a license professional will need to do unless you are a licensed professional.

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11. Give: When you give, you get.  We take 10% of our budget and use it to give. Great places to give where your money is multiplied are non-profits and churches.  There is so much need in the world, giving just 10% won’t make a huge impact. But if all of us did that, oh what a difference that would make! 

12. Save: We talked about emergencies, but savings should go beyond that.  Want to go to college? Scale Mount Everest?  Travel the world?  10% of your savings should be set aside for these wonderful dreams!  Then when the time comes you have the funds without stress.  You are not taking from your bottom line and, if you have put this in a savings account, you made money on it from interest.  The longer it sits the more money you make.

Staying on a budget doesn’t have to be scary or hard.   When we get back to the basics, things fall into place.  These simple changes will help you stay on budget, strengthen your relationships, and de-stress your life.  Now go out and enjoy your best life!

9 Steps to Preventing and Stopping the Meltdowns and Tantrums

When people meet my son, they are often taken aback to learn he has a special need.  We are often complimented on how well behaved he is and how polite.  But, life was not always that way.

When our son was younger, could not speak at age five, and could not communicate to us anything without grunts, hitting, and kicking, we often felt like Annie Sullivan with Helen Keller. 

Helen Keller’s first experience with Anne Sullivan (an ABA therapist if ever I saw one)

One Christmas, when he was younger, I remember walking into a store and my son pulling the most epic of tantrums because he could not get the toy he wanted.  This was literally five minutes into walking into the store.

He threw himself on the floor, kicking, thrashing about, and screaming like a banshee.  Words did not help. 

The stares started.  The condescending looks.  My husband and I were faced with a choice: give in and get him what he wanted so badly or stand our ground.

I am stubborn…we stood our ground.

My son did not expect what I did next.  My husband continued with the shopping trip while I hauled our son (kicking and screaming) back to the car. I then put him in his seat, shut the door, and stood outside in the safety and relative peace and quiet.

My son spent the next 15 minutes kicking, screaming, and hitting everything he could reach, in the safety of the car and seat.  I was there ready to open the door at any moment should he become unsafe, or once he calmed down.  The windows were rolled down a bit (all safety precautions were met).

Once he calmed down (and stopped seeing red), my husband and I were able to talk to him about his behavior and how that was unacceptable.

This was our turning point. This was when I began to dig into every parenting book for strong-willed children I could get my hands on, every podcast, Ted Talk, everything I could find out about our son’s needs, how his brain worked, and how we could help him overcome the challenges he was born with.

Here are the top 9 things we learned about how to prevent and stop meltdowns, tantrums, and mayhem.

1.       Start Small: If your child is anything like mine, then you probably want to tackle everything at once.  Potty training.  Tantrums. Cleaning. Manners.  Unfortunately, we do not learn that way. Pick one to three things you want to focus on.  We chose behavior in a store and classroom and transitions from preferred to non-preferred activities.  

2.       Prep: So often I hear of parents who cave in the market check out line when their child starts a tantrum.  Or parents tell me of how exhausted they are from calls from the school and parent-teacher conferences.  I get it.  We could time the first call from the school to the exact day in the school year (Monday week three).  We once had three parent-teacher conferences in the first week and a half of school.  What we learned, prep.  Prep the child with what is expected of them and what they will earn if they accomplish it. Prep the teachers what is expected of both child and teacher.  Teachers have to be on board.  We had a system where I texted the teacher daily what our son was earning and the expectations.  This was helpful for consistency throughout the day.

3.       Be Consistent: I am a big proponent of this and will say it again.  Consistency is key.  If your child thinks he plays a parent against the other, if she thinks she can get away with something at school and not at home, if a child sees a weakness in defenses anywhere – they will exploit it! Be consistent and work as a team.

4.       Incentivize: I get the most push-back on this.  “I don’t want to bribe my child.”  “I don’t want my child thinking they get a treat just for making choices expected of them.”  “I don’t want to bribe my child.” I get that.  First, an incentive is not a bribe.  A bribe is reactionary – an in the moment choice: “If you stop throwing a fit, then I will get you the candy you are hollering about.”  This teaches the child that enough public humiliation for you as the parent gets them what they want.  An incentive is a contract.  A contract between parent and child of what is expected on both sides.  If you keep your hands in your pocket in the store/if you use please and thank you/if you finish your homework without asking, then you get a balloon/piece of candy/star on your chart.  This is actually a great way to start teaching finances and economy as this is a practice we adults use daily.  Work an hour and I will pay you $10.00, don’t complete the work well, and you are fired. Instead of hourly work, they are doing task work – like an independent contractor.

5.       Diet: Food affects behavior.  Food was not something we originally tracked. I am so glad we did.  By tracking his food, in combination with behavior, we learned that within 24 hours (to the minute) of having dairy, our son would have very negative behavior.  We learned that when he ate a lot of processed food, high sugar foods, his focus decreased and his attitude was negative. We later learned this was because he was having stomach issues (he couldn’t tell us his stomach hurt).  A great cookbook that helped us get started on a healthier diet for him is The Brain Food Cook Book, written by a mom of a special need’s kiddo.  I have to say, some of our favorite recipes are in this book, and the tips on how to do this without breaking the bank and how the brain works is incredible.  Our son’s neurologist concurred and said it was because of his diet and his oxidated stress regime, our son did not need medication for his migraines and other neurological issues.

6.       Medication: If you can avoid it, I personally recommend avoiding medication.  In our experience, when Kennedy Krieger doctors told us they don’t know enough about the need and effect of medication long-term on children, we were very hesitant.  However, the school system we were in at the time, told us without medication they would not teach our child.  The daycare echoed this.  (NOTE: This is not legal, and we should have fought it, but didn’t know at the time we could).  The medication prescribed was only approved in adults with heart conditions.  The bi-product was helping with behavior in children, but no long-term studies had been done.  We later learned (three years on the mediation), that there were studies showing his medication could lead to cancer long term.  They did help.  If that is what you think is best for your child, do what is best for your child. 

7.       Oxidated Stress: This an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body, which can lead to cell and tissue damage.  This occurs naturally.  There are some peer-reviewed studies showing this affects everything from thyroids (almost 5,000), cancers (nearly 90,000), ADHD (nearly 2,000), and Autism (nearly 3,000). How do you combat this naturally occurring process? Fruits and vegetables are a start.  We also switched to “clean” cleaning products (chemical free), decreased screen time, and increased time outside. We incorporated Protandim into our life.  After a month on this vitamin, our son’s monthly to quarterly ER visits for stomach migraines decreased to none in the past three years, our son’s focus and attention increased (he is 11 reading at a ninth-grade level and taking a college music course), and he has been completely off medication for three years (taken off under the care of his physician).  We get ours from Life Vantage (patented formula).

8.       Track: It is important to only start one behavioral change at a time.  Introducing too many variables at once will not let you know which ones do anything.  We started with diet, then added medication, then dealt with oxidated stress – which eventually got him completely off medication.  Track measurable things – how often the school calls, grades, attention while reading, how long it takes to complete a task. Below are some great resources we used, and use, to help us. I recommend making them editable and laminating them. This reduces waste and allows you modify based on age and behavior. Dry erase markers work great on these.

9.       Celebrate and Recycle: Celebrate the win! Talk with your child about how proud you are of their progress. Celebrate the hard work it took them to accomplish that goal. Then, start the process over on a new behavior or more advanced behavior.  Humans should never stop learning and growing.  This is especially important for children.  When one thing is mastered, move on to the next level or new behavior. 

For more ideas on how to help avoid meltdowns and mayhem, take a look at my Facebook page.