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Getting Organized – Finance Style

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When I was married, I managed the books for both of our businesses, did all his payroll, paid all the bills both business and personal, filed all our taxes and was obsessive about keeping my Quickbooks and Quicken files in balance.  I knew where every dime was, when every bill was due, everything.  It was a daily task for me, and by daily, I mean daily.  Fast forward six years almost seven years…

I’ve not maintained a Quicken/Quickbooks file at all.  Yes, on a couple of occasions, I would get it set up, do all the set up to synch my accounts and then promptly and completely forget about it or just plain ignore it.  I have lived by the seat of my pants since then.  Borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, forgetting that I paid Paul and then having to borrow from Jane…and so forth.  I’ve been the queen of knowing exactly how long payments took to come out of my account and then rolling the dice on whether a pay check would come in before then, or using my card and banking on it not hitting the bank until a few days later to buy just that much more time.  It got so bad that I have refused to use paper checks at all, since I couldn’t predict when they would get cashed and frankly, wasn’t really monitoring my accounts that closely.  It was bad, super bad.

I would guesstimate that in my worst years I spent several hundred dollars are year on overdraft fees.  I knew it was wrong, I knew it was dumb, but between the marriage fail, the housing debacle (this is not the recent one, but the two rental homes I have written about previously,) being the sole provider for then two children, well I was a mess.

Now, in the last maybe, year and a half, I have started to get myself in order.  Keeping lists of bills and due dates, monitoring my bank accounts more closely and trying my best to avoid that stupid bank fees.  But I’ve still not returned to my obsessive nature that was we marriage fail.  And now it’s time…

Okay, not necessarily for the obsessive, daily financial craziness, but for a more organized, traditional book-keeping methodology.  So as of this month, I have updated my version (previous 2012) of Quicken Home & Business, begun the set up with my existing budget and categories, etc.  And I am determined to get back into at least a weekly habit of checks and balances as far as budget, planning and business review.

These last seven years have been a long, hard road.  I would like to say that I never signed up to be a single parent, but the fact of the matter is that I would have become a foster parent whether I got married/had biological kids or not.  So I can’t say I didn’t sign up for that part.  I certainly didn’t sign up for it the way it happened.  It wasn’t my plan.  But you know what, I/we are in a really good place right now.  There is a light, not just a light, but a BRIGHT light at the end of this tunnel and we are plugging away for full steam ahead despite setbacks and hardships this past year.

So for your Quicken users, specifically those who may be entrepreneurs/business owners, got any suggestions or tips and tricks to share with me?


Christmas Time is Here

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Disclaimer: This post does contain a couple of affiliate links.  I wanted to share these ideas with you and decided there was no harm if I let you know up front that they were affiliate links.

Having a frugal Christmas is not hard for me.  Okay, I take that back because of course I want to see the look of complete and utter joy and shock on my kiddos faces when they open presents.  But let’s face it…One, we really don’t NEED a single thing; Two, there are so many other things I NEED to do with my money right now (ie debt;) Three, we don’t have ANY free space.

Therefore, my temptation to “shop til you drop” is extremely limited and my desires for my kids Christmas gifts are pretty limited as well.  Over the last few years, I have really steered clear of “stuff” and focused instead on making sure that each child got one thing from each of these categories:

  • Something to wear – this is one that kids would normally frown at, at least in my mind, but since my twins buy their own clothes, they love when mom kicks in and helps them out.  We are not a name brand kind of family but this gift is either something they really need or something they really want, so sometimes socks and underwear and sometimes a new pair of tennis shoes.
  • Something that makes them happy – my kids submit lists to me every year and over the years they know that mom is not going to be trendy toys or anything she would consider “junk.”  (I stopped buying video games, system two years ago so they don’t put those on their list at all.) I encourage them to put things on their list that they will really enjoy having and calling their own.  So to give you an example of this years lists, here are a couple of things that they listed: Loot Crate subscription, a $50 bill, a bottle of grape juice all to myself, art supplies and the best one in my book “a baby duck that I can imprint on.”  Go figure!
  • Something they need – let’s face it, we can always find things our kids need, and in our case, with homeschooling there are always things that are needs that can be made a bit special by making them a gift.  Most years they twins get a box full of personal hygiene stuff.  At first it was because they lost it so often and now it’s because I know they would rather spend their money on other things, so if they are responsible and keep up with the stuff, it frees up their personal money for other things throughout the year.  Sometimes it’s art supplies, gift card to a specific place for an upcoming event, etc.
  • An experience – my kids have never been “toy” players.  Anything they got, when the novelty wore off 5 minutes later, the toy was literally just a waste, so we stopped toys probably 4-5 years ago.  Instead they get experiences…camp money (summer camp,) classes or something associated with that (sewing machine and patterns,) girls day out (hand written gift certificate for lunch out, window shopping and pedicures.)  Whatever it is, this is typically their favorite gift.  And I’ve found, especially with summer camps that if you register at this time of year, you typically get a “double discount.”  My dad is paying the deposit for each child to attend a week of summer camp this year as a Christmas gift for them so not only do I get the double discount, but I don’t have to pay the registration fee which is applied to their tuition and gives me months to pay for camp (line item Kids Activities.)

Because we are so limited in space this year which has really affected our crafting and science space I was struggling to find that “wow” gift for the little ones, and then after hearing from my oldest that he would like the Loot Crate subscription (second year he’s asked for that) I began thinking there might be something like this for the littles.  Here’s what I came up with:

  • Tinker subscriptions – they describe it as a “Laboratory for Hands-on experiments delivered every month.”  How cool is that!  This is our first year trying it, but since Little Gymnast LOVES science I though this was the perfect way to surprise him and it’s the gift that keeps on giving since he will get one every month.  (We started with a three month subscription to try it out.)
  • Doodle subscriptions – they describe it as “Ready, Set, Make – fresh new DIY projects to make stuff that you’ll love.”  What a perfect gift for the budding DIY’er or artist.  Princess is getting a 3 month subscription to this which I hope will complement her current obsession with nail art and marker drawings.

This year I will round out the gifts with a magazine subscription for each child, cheap and educational – woohoo and probably a gift card to some entertainment…movie theatre or trampoline playground.  Great for winter entertainment when we just need a break from the apartment.

In the meantime, we have put up a six foot plastic crafting table in our living room and Santa’s Workshop is in full affect.  They have purchased supplies with their own money and are sculpting and painting, screwing together and hiding as they make their gifts for each other and our extended family.  Little Gymnast even bought a gingerbread house kit and has finally mastered putting them together…well, until he ran out of frosting from licking it off his fingers.

It truly is a wonderful time of the year!  Do you have any frugal gift ideas to share or a way you kept your family Christmas reasonable?