Self-care isn’t just a buzzword

The term self-care gets tossed around a lot. Sometimes the term is misused. True self-care adds something back to our lives. It doesn’t take from us. As a marathoner, running for me most days is self-care but not always.

It’s no secret I’ve been anything but consistent with my training. Instead, for the first time ever, I’ve been letting my body dictate my miles. I gotta say it’s been refreshing. 

Last Sunday, my 33rd birthday, I woke up craving distance. I’m a cold weather runner and autumn is my prime season. I didn’t decide what I’d run that day. Instead, I let my body do the deciding. Friends, let’s just say I could have ran forever. I just felt that good!

About 5 ½ miles from our house I decided on a half marathon. Honestly, that’s my sweet spot and will forever be my favorite distance. I threw in an extra .23 just so my watch could end at 13.33. That’s as close as I’m getting to running my age this year! 

This weekend, however, was a bit different. I had no desire to run at all! Instead, opting for a weekend of rest and relaxation. Yesterday on Instagram, I’d mentioned having such a delightful brunch with girlfriends, that I didn’t have time to snap a picture. In fact, in the two hours we chatted, none of us looked at our phones.

I cannot think of a better illustration of self-care. I walked away from that brunch date feeling recharged. This weekend, I knew time with friends was exactly what I needed. These days, I’m mindful and listen to my body but it wasn’t always that way. In years past, I would have beaten myself up for not running. Now with practice I know when to give myself a break. 

My focus on financial freedom means I’m also applying this idea of self-care to my finances too. Financial self-care if you will. The goals I’ve set enable me to focus my attention on what matters most to me.

As I’ve talked with people in the Debt Free Community about our accomplishments, I’ve noted a consistent theme.  It is this concept of self-awareness and it is a key component in increasing one’s own financial wellness. Self-awareness has helped me develop a healthy curiosity about why I spend what I spend. I apply the same intentionality to my finances as I do my health and wellbeing.

Pictured above are six actions, any one of which you can get started with today. The mindful magic, however, is in their combination.

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a purposeful September

Every month starts the same. I outline our September budget objectives and any goals I’d like to accomplish. The next 3 months are some of my favorite. With my anniversary at the start, my birthday, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and pumpkin everything, what’s not to love! September’s budget is finalized and my first paycheck was a few more dollars than anticipated. Before taxes, 14% went to my retirement which amounted to $432. Uncle Sam also took his take. After all was said and done I was left with $2,157. This is roughly $300 per check more than I was previously bringing in. 

Even though it’s our anniversary and my birthday, celebrating isn’t happening. Instead, we’re going to do a couple of nice meals at home. We’ve both agreed, with no debt, our next trip is going to be a doozy! I’m perfectly fine to wait until then to celebrate and so is P. Something tells me that celebration will be that much sweeter! 

I feel compelled to say, being this intense about debt payoff didn’t come easily. It was something that took me years to arrive at. It wasn’t until a rather large list of unfortunate events came together that I knew I’d had enough. If you’re not as intense as us, that is 💯 ok! Every step forward is progress. 

In terms of goals, I’ll be honest, the only thing on my mind for the next 3 months is bound to be this car loan. We’re so close now and I cannot contain my excitement! Looking back at the BMW’s amortization schedule, considering only what was applied to the principal balance, how depressing is that first year?!? As you can see from the graph, had I continued to only make the minimum payment, I’d be nowhere fast. What’s more demoralizing than that is a whopping 1/4 of that $766 car payment went to interest! 

In June though, we decided to flip the script on BMW financial. Tossing any and ALL money at this car loan. That’s when something magical happened. That 1/4 that was previously going to interest started to shrink. Now it’s more like 1/8. The more money we toss, the lower it gets. We’re fighting back and we’re winning — finally! 

We’re now projected to be BMW debt free in November 2020. That’s FOUR years earlier than BMW anticipated. I know Dave Ramsey is fond of saying, “the paid off home mortgage has taken the place of the BMW as the status symbol of choice.” That may be true, but to Dave I say this — I am planning on having my cake and eating it too! 

As we get closer to consumer debt freedom, I’m prioritizing learning more about investing. The bulk of this year, my attention has been focused solely on debt repayment. That’s almost over though! It’s time I start increasing my investment IQ in preparation for 2021. That’ll be the year I open my first Roth. So excited! 

What goals are you pursuing this month and how’s your September budget coming along? 🤔

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budgeting folklore

Debunking myths and folk tales ✨

1. A budget is too prohibitive. Not if it is realistic and focuses on your priorities. When we first started in January our budget was rather ‘fluffy.’ My first budget I filled in all my categories and whatever was left went to debt. Things we thought we couldn’t live without quickly took a back seat as we made more and more progress towards debt freedom. All a budget does is help you prioritize your spending to reflect what you want both in the moment and in the future. 

2. We make plenty of money. We don’t need a budget. If 2019 is any indication this couldn’t be further from the truth. Without a formalized plan we spent 96% of our income. On what, we couldn’t tell you. No matter the amount of money you make you need a budget of some type. 

3. Our budget needs to be perfect. As self identified perfectionists this one was hard for us. A lesson learned because despite an imperfect budget we’ve still managed to take a sledge hammer to our debt. Give yourself some grace when you try to figure it all out. Make it a little fluffier than you think it should be. Don’t go in with a super strict budget to start out, because you’ll just get discouraged. For the first three months focus on paying attention to what you’re spending money on. You can grow from there. 

4. My spouse will never get on board, so why bother? As the budget buster in this relationship sometimes Pavlov would come at me from all the wrong angles. He’d focus so much on the details and not enough on the big picture. Focus less on the budget and more on the short-term and long-term goals. It shifts the conversation from negative to positive by focusing on what you want to achieve versus what you haven’t. If you can convince the other one a budget will help them more quickly achieve their goals I bet they’re more likely to get on board.

5. Our budget and cash flow habits aren’t related. When I first started budgeting Pavlov was quite resistant to using that as a metric for judging how much money we had at any one time. He created extra work for himself by having to manage our checking account, cash flow and things like that in addition to managing the budget.  But what he quickly discovered is that if you are managing where every dollar is going, the checking account is fine and you don’t have to play this game of “is there enough in the account to cover this or that transaction?”

Thoughts 💭 ⬇️

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you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge

For the last 5 years, I’ve worked with kids that had major impulse control issues. They just couldn’t keep their behaviors in check. What I quickly noticed, is that for many, anger was associated with something “they weren’t supposed to feel.” 

It never ceased to amaze me the look they’d give me when I told them it was okay to be angry. What they learned after working with me long enough is that the emotion anger wasn’t their problem. It was their inability to recognize the anger early on and deal with it productively. Hence my phrase, “All feelings are okay. All behaviors are not.”

I’ll keep coming back to the self-awareness piece because you cannot change what you don’t acknowledge. To simplify it further awareness leads to control. My kids quickly realized that naming what they were feeling was actually a large part of what helped them not become overwhelmed and reactive. 

Many of us, including myself, have been guilty of checking out from our emotions far too often. This is especially true for the strong and uncomfortable kind like anger and sadness. Much like my kids, we’ve been taught to bottle them up and push them aside. The problem is, they’re still there and by not dealing with them early on we run the risk of coping with them in some not so productive ways. Case in point, emotional spending. 

I challenge you to try and become more aware of all of your emotions. As a result, I think you’ll find you’ll be better able to manage your stress, understand and self-reflect on your own behavior. And most importantly, productively control how you think and act. 

Instead of heading for Target after a bad day, that left you feeling mad, you’ll acknowledge that emotion for what it is. It’s a feeling. A feeling that much like every other comes and goes. And if you’re still feeling compelled to act on it, my hope is you’ll now reach for the running shoes instead of the credit card.

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Growing pains

P and I had multiple conversations over the past couple of years in relation to my growth. I’d come to him and say things like “I feel stuck.” Though, at the time, I couldn’t readily identify why I felt this way. Hindsight is truly 20/20. Looking back, it’s become clear to me I felt stuck because I refused to change. To switch anything up. To learn anything new. 

At the time, I thought comfort would make me happy and fulfilled. It didn’t. It just made me comfortable. And sadly, no one including myself grows that way. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this year has been a transformational one for me. I’ve spent a lot of time with myself and my thoughts. I worked hard to try to identify why I was feeling what I was feeling. I wanted to create a plan and put into motion the kind of life I imagined for myself. I wanted a life of fulfillment and happiness. Not a life I’d settled for. 

In talking with a friend yesterday, I said to her, “for the past couple of years I’ve just been on autopilot.” Friends, that’s no way to live life! When we’re comfortable, we’re not learning and when we’re not learning, we’re not growing. And when I’m not growing, I’ve discovered I’m miserable. 

In the span of 6 months I’ve switched up lots. In doing so, I feel such indescribable happiness in my skin. I could only hope these changes will make me a better wife, friend, educator and person. 

Personal growth is personal. Always keep that in mind. Personal growth is literally our life’s journey. Though, if you’re feeling “stuck” and just need a starting point here’s what growth means to me. The graphic above illustrates what I did to change myself, my finances, and well … my life all for the better.

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goodbye, august! Hello September.

Goodness, I’m glad to see August go. This month reminded me of a filer episode in a favorite television show. You know the kind. It’s that episode that follows a string of really good episodes. Leaving you thinking, well that sucked. That was August for P and I, lol.

Still yet, we managed to slowly chip away at the auto loan. If the stars align, I imagine the next 3 months will hopefully be very good to us. I’m back to getting a normal paycheck and we already know P’s working Labor Day. Holiday pay for him is real and we’re looking forward to that extra money. 

With any luck, this flipping auto loan is on its way out of our life for good. I was talking to P last night and I said it finally feels real. I’ll be honest friends; my spending habits were terrible. The virus had me walled up inside and there wasn’t much opportunity to spend money. The true test of how committed I was to debt repayment didn’t come until this month but man I rose to the challenge. 

Our income is large, that much I’ll happily acknowledge. It’s made things substantially easier no doubt. Though, I’d urge you to consider this – that big income also afforded us the ability to create a massive financial sink hole. A 50k car and its subsequent monthly payment is no joke. At $766 a month it is almost as much as our mortgage. 

The success we’ve experienced thus far isn’t accidental. It’s the result of me unlearning the bad habits that put us here in the first place. It required a shift away from what I want right now to what I want in the future. Despite our six figure income, it wasn’t until I started taking responsibility for how I spent our money that we actually had any.

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My Investment Axiom

Investing. For the purposes of the Journal, we will consider “investing” to be the act of “doing something” with our leftover money. We have money leftover (after spending on wants and needs) because we have properly constructed and maintained our monthly budgets and we are spending less than we earn. We quite literally have more money than we know what to do with (in a manner of speaking), and now we will determine what we should, in fact, “do with it.” And by “We,” I mean Penny and I, and all of our fellow travelers on this journey to financial freedom.
Investing will look a little different for all of us. Readers will absorb the Journal with varying levels of knowledge and experience, and because of the sheer size and scope of what is commonly considered “investing,” we will strive to keep our experiences as relevant to as wide an audience as possible. What we all have in common when investing is that we are all human, and investing is a great experiment in effectively managing human behavior.

In 2007, I contributed my first few dollars to an employee-sponsored 401k plan. I logged on to the T.Rowe Price website, created an account, and made my first investment election. I gave my employer the permission to send 1% (that was all I could “afford” at the time, as I had not yet heard of a budget) of my pre-tax wages to my retirement account and invest it in a mutual fund that would strive to create the largest account balance possible on or around my projected retirement year. By the end of 2007, I had accumulated a little less than $1,000. Like most investors across the world, by the end of 2008 I had lost nearly half of my account balance in the market decline of the global financial crisis. But I wasn’t worried, because earlier that year, I had started reading…

I read nearly everything I could find about investing. I literally began with “Investing for Dummies,” and proceeded to the time-tested volumes of Benjamin Graham. I read the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder letter (still do, every year) authored by Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger. I read about portfolio construction and asset classes. I learned to fundamentally value companies, using quarterly earnings reports and explored technical analysis, using all of those fancy-looking charts. I read the Wall Street Journal daily, and Barron’s magazine on the weekends.

Now before you are sure I’m either about to sell you my services as an investment advisor (I’m not) or convince you that I am the most boring person on the planet (maybe, but if you’re still reading I can’t be that bad), you should understand that I only draw attention to all of the above in order to make a point. With the wealth of knowledge provided from each of these sources (and many others), much of it completely contradictory and utterly confusing, I slowly learned perhaps the most important personal axiom to guide me the rest of my investing life. It goes something like this…

There is not a “correct” way to invest. It varies by participant. What is correct for one participant may be the worst thing possible for another participant. Some people will do extravagantly well and others will fail entirely, some more than once. Most will achieve something well within the boundaries of these two extremes.
If I have hired someone to manage my investments and I have vetted them thoroughly and trust them, I should do as they say. If I have not done this, I should take everything they say with a healthy dose of skepticism. Question it, and question it again. Then go ask someone else, and question them too. If someone is completely certain about what is going to happen to my investments in the near future, I should stop listening to them immediately, whether I have hired them or not. In fact, if I hired them, I should fire them promptly.
Rarely are things as good as they seem, and almost never are they as bad as they seem. I do not know what is going to happen to “the markets” and neither does anyone else. Others may be far more experienced than me, and many have far more money. Neither of these things concern me because I know my investing goals better than anyone else knows them, and I am committed to continuing to learn as much as I can about growing my wealth and creating a better future for myself. The more I know, the better my decisions.

This stream of consciousness was formed early in my investing life (thanks to all that reading) and it has helped me to control my behavior when it mattered the most. This is precisely why I was not particularly worried about my account balance being effectively cut in half in 2008. My new-found knowledge prevented panic, and it has served me well in the intervening years.

This does not mean I never make mistakes, or that I am on my way to outsmarting everyone else. Far from it. I have put a great deal of knowledge into context through my experiences over the past 13 years, but there are many experiences in the future for which I have very little context. I can only attempt to keep learning. I will share what I learn as the journal continues to expand.


Managing our financial stress, as we found out, has real benefits for our health. We’ve both experienced a major boost to our self-esteem. And I’ve noticed my G.I. symptoms all but disappear. 

We’ve provided you with the steps we’ve taken to improve our financial health. Our ‘financial wellness foundation’ we’ve dubbed it. I encourage you to develop your own. 

Though I think we can all agree on one thing. It all starts with the budget. 

① It’s not an understatement when I say zero-based budgeting has been 95% of our success. Without a plan in place for where our money is coming and going it’s hard to get traction with other financial goals. Our advice is to find a budget method and stick with it. 

② Sticking to our debt payoff plan. It’s evolved over time as should yours but the mission has remained the same. Pay off debt as intensely as we can. For so long so much of our hard earned income was tied up in minimum payments. Not anymore! 

③ Short & long-term goals are key. This debt payoff stuff is hard. Short-term goals aren’t enough to keep you motivated sometimes. That’s why we recommend both. Think ahead to what it will both look and feel like when you’ve achieved your version of financial independence. That’s what keeps me going when things get tough. I have this vision of being the secret Santa paying the toys on layaway off in full. That’s the kind of big stuff I’m dreaming for. 

④ Sinking funds! Oh, how I love sinking funds. In truth, I’m starting to wonder if we have too many, lol. Any big expense we plan for months out. It’s helped to keep us on track with our goals. 

⑤ Investing is something I’ve done since starting my internship back in 2014. The one good money move I made early on. Investing 14% of my income. P has also made regular contributions to his 401k.

⑥ Lastly, our emergency fund. It’s small at just $1,000 dollars but it’s enough to give us the peace of mind we need. 

What does financial wellness look like to you? We’d love to know!

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Convenience Can Be Complicated

This is the first post in what I will call the Financial Security Awareness program. In these updates, I will endeavor to provide the reader with a succinct snapshot of a particular financial behavior or action that can lead to some problems if not handled well. These “been-there-done-that” style updates will strive to include as much relevant detail as you need to determine if this issue is something that you specifically need to be concerned with, depending on where you are at in your search for financial freedom. The summary of such issues will be softly highlighted in red to set them apart, and the nitty-gritty details will appear below. These will cover different areas of financial behavior that I have encountered, including budgeting, managing cash, investing, and other topics. My intent is for others to learn from my mistakes, and use the information to speed up or streamline their path to financial freedom.

Think before you sync…

Be careful when choosing to automatically import or sync transactions into your financial management app of choice. There are a few pitfalls.

For the past few weeks, I have been reviewing some of the best financial management software available. These apps can make your financial life a great deal easier, but be careful when choosing to utilize the one feature that nearly all of them have. The ability to automatically sync all of the transactions from your checking and saving accounts into these apps can be very beneficial, but I have noted a few problems.

Many of the syncing features can be quite expensive, depending on the app. A cursory glance through the App Store would indicate that the average price per year is $25-50. Certainly the app developers have money invested in working with one of the main connections that all banks use to allow external access to accounts securely, and perhaps these fees merely reflect the cost of that connection. What I began to ask myself was, “Is this service worth the cost to me, specifically?” This question led me to examine the bad behaviors that I developed while waiting for an automated system to show me my transactions.

I quickly lost track of how much money had actually been spent. Some of this was explicitly due to lack of a proper budget, but I often went several days without having an awareness of my actual checking account balance because I was waiting around for the transactions to be imported from my bank.
I often had the problem of slow transaction recording on my bank website as well. I know that many banks have become much better at quickly displaying recent transactions for the user and I hope that this progress continues. Still, if you want to use a third party app to manage your entire financial life, it can be frustrating to wait on the transactions to appear in the app before being able to categorize and budget them accordingly.

If you rely on automatic transaction syncing you may also run in to problems with your monthly budgets. This is because you may have actually spent money on something on the last couple of days of one month, but that transaction was not actually recorded by your bank and imported into your app until the first or second day of the following month. Some apps will allow you to manually change the date of the transaction back to the prior month, thus keeping your budget categories accurate. Other programs do not allow this, and thus it becomes nearly impossible to maintain calendar month budgets with any accuracy. Determining the level of the customization that you, the user, has over the data that is in the program becomes paramount when choosing to sync transactions from an external source.

The most accurate and dependable method that Penny and I have found to manage transactions in cash accounts is to enter them manually, as the money is being spent. For this reason, I included what I thought about the ease of transaction entry for each of the apps I have reviewed. We do currently utilize the transaction syncing feature within the EveryDollar app, but we use it as a redundant backup, mainly to ensure that nothing is missed. That is, we record the transactions as we spend the money. Later, as the synced transactions begin to show up, we shuffle through them quickly to make sure we recognize them all, and then delete the ones we have already entered manually (which should be all of them, but occasionally one slips through).
Along these lines, MoneyWiz has a feature that automatically matches synced transactions with ones you have entered manually. My experience with this feature was mostly positive. It generally did a pretty good job of figuring out which transactions I had already entered and sending the duplicate synced transactions away, so as not to mess up account balances or budgets.

Transaction syncing can be a very useful feature of any financial management app, but like all tools, it must be used the right way and at the right time. We feel more in control of our money, and more aware of account balances and budget details if we enter the transactions manually and use the sync feature as a backup.

Forecast your checking account balance with an app

Financial Management Tools: MoneyWiz

If you are anything like us, early on in your journey, you are likely to have quite a few bills to keep up with. Credit cards, a car loan, a mortgage maybe. We all have utility bills and other monthly subscriptions to track. In 2013, desperate for a solution to the problem of managing a seemingly-endless stream of bills, I came across MoneyWiz in the App Store. For the next five or six years, this piece of software became my lifeline when I was sure I was going to drown in bills.

The star of the MoneyWiz show is the financial forecast calendar. I’ve seen a few other pieces of software that attempt something similar, but none are as well done and comprehensive (and easy to use) as the the implementation that the developers of MoneyWiz have achieved.

The financial forecast feature is the highlight of the MoneyWiz app

The app allows you to enter all of your planned incomes and expenses for the month. You can choose custom repeat intervals (say, every two weeks on Friday for a paycheck, or maybe a utility bill that is only paid once per quarter) for each of your transactions. Once you have all of the information entered, the financial forecast calendar screen allows you to tap on any future day for as far into the future as you have accurate information, and the app will do all the math, adding incomes and subtracting planned expenses, to arrive at the exact account balance on the selected day.

I used it like this:

  • Ensure that the beginning account balance is correct
  • Enter all paychecks
  • Enter all known expenses and frequencies (utilities, subscriptions, bills, and how often each occurs)
  • Use the financial forecast calendar to select the day before my next scheduled pay day
  • The financial forecast appears with a checking account balance on the selected day, factoring in all of the income and expense transactions that I’ve provided
  • By selecting the day before my next pay day, I can now see how much “unspoken-for” money is available in my checking account because MoneyWiz knows how much I have in my account right now, how much money is going to be deposited into my account (if any), and how much money is scheduled to be debited from my account
  • The remaining balance is money available for anything I had not planned and entered as a scheduled transaction (usually variable or unscheduled expenses like gas for the car or groceries)

This utility is invaluable when you have many bills and you are living from one pay day to the next. That described us for most of the last six years, and that is why MoneyWiz was my lifeline.

MoneyWiz has other talents too. It is entirely possible that it can be an all-encompassing financial management app, depending on your specific needs. It does offer the ability to monitor various types of accounts, including checking, savings, credit cards, and even investment accounts. There is an optional purchase of automatic transaction syncing from your bank. In my experience, this service worked well, with one exception back in 2015 when most of my imported data was lost. The developers were responsive and apologetic and it never happened again.

If you choose to enter transactions manually, the app does a nice job of streamlining the process. You can customize the entry dialog box to prioritize only the necessary information for your needs.

Transaction entry is easy, and the app can be customized with categories and tags for easy organization

The app also has some impressive report-generating capabilities. If you have entered your transactions and budgets correctly, there are no shortage of report types to help you analyze your progress and determine where improvements can be made.

Analyze all of your financial data with the Reports section

Penny and I have favored EveryDollar to maintain our monthly budget, and as such, I have not spent a great deal of time working with the budgeting features of MoneyWiz. They appear to be relatively simple to set up, and once established, the reports section would provide some helpful analysis on various budget categories.

The app is available on a wide variety of platforms, including the entire Apple ecosystem, Android, and Windows.

The Apple Watch app makes transaction entry quick, no need to use your phone

If you are at a point in your debt free journey when you may be managing a few too many bills, MoneyWiz is definitely worth a look. The financial forecast calendar alone is enough to give you the peace of mind that you are not overspending the available funds in your accounts. The app is robust enough to help you keep up with your current obligations, and it can grow with you and your financial situation as you work to aggressively budget and pay down debt.