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Plan Well, Retire Well

Saving and investing your money

The Year of Suck


I was talking with a coworker the other day about her family's financial goals and plan for the coming year. "We have decided not to use our credit cards-we want to pay them off." Great plan I said but as she looked glum, I asked what was wrong. She replied that she and her husband were calling this "The Year of Suck".

I thought this was an unusually negative way of thinking and so I explored the issue further. She told me that they didn't live extravagantly but didn't realize how much they used credit cards for everyday expenses . So in order to not use their cards and pay them down, life would really suck-hence "The Year of Suck".

I really felt for her. Raising kids under normal circumstances is really expensive; add in additional expenses if there is a serious illness, serious sporting activities, daycare, educational enrichment activities and the cost begins to resemble the national debt.

Changing one's financial spending habits really sucks at first- sort of like pulling a band aid off your arm but then gets a little easier as you manage and begin paying off the debts. It can even start to feel good. But if you keep up with the attitude that "this is going to suck" then it will. As time goes on and others around you use their credit cards to go and have the fun you used to have, it will suck again.

So here is my suggestion. When you first embark on this terrific journey-and it is a terrific thing to do- call it the year of suck with friends and family, laugh about it and let them know that you have committed yourself to a goal of financial wellness. THEN drop the negativity. Look at it in positive terms. As you pay off the credit cards, celebrate the amount of money you aren't paying in interest, money that you get to keep. Make a game out of finding fun things to do that cost little or are free. If you love to shop, then change the places that you shop to consignment stores where the clothes turn over quickly so there is always something new and at a much cheaper price than brand new at retail. This is especially true for kids' clothes where they grow out of them so quickly. Arrange clothing swaps with your friends. There are so many ways to make being financially savvy fun.

It's all about attitude. I don't even teach budgeting any more-it's spending plans. You should focus on the fun of planning on how to spend your money and not on the restrictiveness of budgeting.

I told my coworker that they should build in treats for themselves. Say at three months, or after the first card is paid off and again at six months, etc. It really is ok to spend money and have some fun, just make sure you plan for it. And if you reward yourself for reaching these terrific goals then you are more likely to continue making and reaching bigger and better goals.

Help my coworker with ideas to reach her goals and make it suck less. We'd love to see your comments.

And so ends the Year of Suck.... Long live financial stability.



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COMMENTS



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It should be called 'The Year of Wealth.'
by Ellen Corcoran on Saturday 2/22/2014

The year of suck should be renamed "money in my pocket...not the banks". Many years ago my husband and I paid off all our credit card debt and never ran a balance again after that. I looked at it as an 18% + raise once the debt is paid off. We plan our purchases and spending as if we only have ONE salary to live on. We spent years living in housing less posh than our friends and replace our cars every 10+ years but over the years we have saved enough to travel extensively and retire early. We planned for the long term rather than living for today and it really paid off. They need to have a plan (pay off higher interest cards first). It might be a tough year but the rest of your life will be easier.
by Mary Jo Kuffner on Monday 2/24/2014

Tips to save: 1. Your biggest savings could come from your biggest expenses: home and car. Once you buy a house or car, however, it can be expensive to change to a different house or car. 2. Check your home, auto and life insurance and compare online to see if better policies are available for lower premiums. Be smart if changing your insurance. For example, increase your auto deductible on comprehensive and collision; do not cut liability protection. 3. Cut the cable or satellite dish, watch free TV at hulu.com, and check out free DVDs from your local library. Get your books and magazines at the library, too. 4. If you eat out frequently, make a pact with your spouse to cook at home more; agree to eat out once a week or less. This includes fast food! Turn the weekly restaurant meal into a special family event. 5. Write an agreement with your spouse to spell out how much your family will spend on all gifts this year: Christmas, birthdays, office parties ...everything. Talk with family about exchanging smaller gifts, or inexpensive mementos, rather than lavish gifts. Ask your kids to make special gifts by hand, rather than buying gifts this year. 6. Make sure to keep up on auto and home maintenance, but learn to do the simple things yourself if you don't already, like changing a filter. 7. Set up automatic monthly transfers to move money from checking to savings. Set up automatic monthly investments to fund your IRA and your spouses IRA. Set up college savings accounts for your kids and use automatic investment programs there, too. Live on the remaining money, after you "pay yourself first" each month. At least once a year sit down with your spouse, go over your savings plan and automatic investment programs, and figure out where to increase them. 8. For investments use low-cost, no-fee index funds for the bulk of your portfolio. Avoid investments with high fees and commissions. This will not reduce your monthly expenses (you will still invest the same amounts each month), but it will allow you to build a much larger nest egg more cheaply than if you use higher cost, commission-based investments. In effect you will save yourself the money each month that you would otherwise have to throw at higher cost investments in order to build the substantial nest egg that low-cost index funds will provide.
by John Willcockson on Thursday 2/27/2014

Thanks for the suggestions John. My co-worker has already done most of these things which is making continued cutting challenging. It is more of an attitude adjustment from "suck" to joyfully debt free.
by Pam Atkinson on Friday 2/28/2014

Great job Mary Jo! Many people can learn from the example you have lived. It's all a matter of personal values and attitude that can change the year of suck to a year of wealth.
by Pam Atkinson on Friday 2/28/2014

Thanks Ellen-this was the major point of discussion between my co-worker and myself. It will only truly "suck" if you believe it will. Making a game of it or adding in rewards will make this a joyous way to live...happily ever after!
by Pam Atkinson on Friday 2/28/2014