SAYING NO

By Jennifer L. Williams, Contributor, USDR.

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While the President and Congress dither about in faux negotiations over our national budget, I have decided to make out a household budget to see where the money goes. I've never really operated from a budget. I know – horrors! I have not been paying attention to Dave Ramsey! In light of upcoming loss of income due to Obamacare (lost wages due to lower course loads), I decided that a household budget was absolutely necessary now. Not only did I write up a budget, I intend to follow it. Writing one up is one thing; adhering to it is another.

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I downloaded a family budget template from Vertex 42 – there are several versions of budget templates so take a look. I downloaded two templates – one for the yearly budget at a glance and one for bi-weekly expenses. When plunked down all of the numbers into the yearly budget at glance, including my projected income, through March, I found out that I had plenty of money. I have more than enough for curling club fees and several bonspiels this winter. There is a nice residual at the end of the year that can be dropped into emergency savings and my IRA. Granted, these are budget projections based on “if nothing drastic happens”, but still, it does make me smile to know that the financial picture looks better than I thought.

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This is all well and good but it requires discipline to make it work. This does mean saying no. I have a nice dollar amount for eating out but this includes all snacks. Not only do I have to say no when we reach that threshold for the month, I also need to think more carefully about what I buy all the time. When I buy groceries, for the most part, I shop with cash and stick to a list. This is a difficult concept for my daughter. She will hold something up with sad eyes and I will say no. “It’s not on the list, honey”, I say. “Next time, I will put it on the list if you ask”. For those of you, who believe saying no to your kids is tantamount to being a terrible parent, think again. This teaches your children how to order their own spending priorities. My daughter earns money from doing chores. She tallies up the chores should each week and I pay according to her information on the list. She is on the honor system to tally up only what she has done AND done well, not just for the sake of earning money. At the end of every week, I had her cash. She must save something every week but she can choose how much. At the end of the month, we will put it on her savings account at the bank.

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I am an avid knitter and have a yarn stash that is quite extensive. Although I might find a great deal on yarn, I have to ask myself “when will I use it?” So I have to say no right now and be content with the gorgeous yarns in the stash. So I look for free patterns on Ravelry and other yarn company websites. I have bought patterns in the past for very specific projects and started them almost right away. But I do try to use as many free patterns as possible. So I will be stash busting all winter, using the yarn I have to make gifts and personal items. It’s a matter of working with what you have and being content.

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There are many apps available to organize shopping trips. My favorite one, so afar, is “Shopping List”. While I haven’t quite gotten into the swing of using the scanner, I do manually input prices for items I frequently buy. They are saved and I can use them over and over for my regular shopping list. The items will tally as I shop and I can see how close I am to my budget for that trip. I have also used “Out Of Milk” since I can load up the items already in my pantry but I have not used it for shopping yet. I like having the list on my phone since it cannot be forgotten at home.  Retail Me Not and Group On can help with discounts on items but only if you need them. It’s not a matter of buying something for the sake of a sale, but buying it when you need it. I purchased four tickets for a local theme park through Group On for $6 each, normally $22 each. My daughter is having two friends for a sleepover and we will take advantage of the discount for a nice outing. I have enjoyed listening to my friends who live by extreme couponing. I love the concept but there are many items that have coupons that I simply cannot (due to food allergies) or do not (such as most processed foods) eat. However, I do use coupons for pet and paper items.

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One of the best ways to make your budget work is bartering. It is not a lost art but it is one that needs to be used more frequently. Although not every service can be bartered, trading off services and commodities with others is one to make the money stretch more. I love garage sales and second hand stores but again, this takes discipline. Go in with cash only, leaving the wallet behind. Have a list of wants (and a couple of needs) and make an outing. These no-cost and low-cost ways to help the budget may not be perfect but if you are a savvy shopper, or learn to become one, you can find great bargains. You can also take a look around your house and perhaps sell off a few items that aren’t used much or at all. Even simply cleaning out the clutter can be cathartic. Sometimes, we get into financial trouble when we believe we must have it all.

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We have also disconnected cable. This was one of the best budget decisions made. It is expensive and there is just so much crap on television. This also reduces the “I wants” from my daughter. Without the direct marketing associated with “children’s” programming (not that she was allowed to watch much TV anyway), life is much simpler. We read more and talk more without the TV blaring. I do have Netflix for movies and shows. She gets one show a day during the week, after homework and chores, and one movie on the weekends. We go for walks, take the boat out, go to museums, go camping, and spend our time and money (yes, it’s in the budget) on more quality entertainment.

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So while our elected leaders may not be able to get their budgeting act together, you can. In uncertain times, this can be one less thing that you have to worry about, especially if you facing a reduction in income and no immediate way to increase your income through additional work. It is not easy to follow a budget. It does take discipline. Having a solid budget and following it will ensure some security in these insecure times. You see where your money goes, get a handling on spending and saving, and make better financial decisions. You must say no and find creative ways to say yes. It’s not impossible. Give it a try.

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Jennifer Williams is adjunct faculty in History at the American Public University System. She belongs to the Bowling Green (Ohio) Curling Club as an antidote against cold Ohio winters.  Jennifer also volunteers at a local cooking school and is passionate about all things food. Her hobbies include travel, photography, knitting, and gardening. She lives and works in Juneau, Alaska during the summer. You can follow her travels through photography at www.iconicblondephotography.com and on Facebook at Iconic Blonde Photography.

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All opinions expressed on USDR are those of the author and not necessarily those of US Daily Review.