Tag Archives: finances

on my nightstand…

This week’s books-in-progress (click on the book covers to connect to the titles on amazon):

Highly recommended for those of us who are struggling to keep writing academic articles amidst our other busy-nesses.

Enjoying this historical-fiction book immensely. It’s got a bit of everything that I love: ocean explorers, early America, science, feminism, and engaging characters. Nothing like that other book that Gilbert is so famous for writing.

And speaking of Elizabeth Gilbert, here she is again on my nightstand. I haven’t yet started this one, but I aim to later this week.

I’m skimming this one as part of my resolution to worry less about money. I’d prefer to enjoy money rather than fret about it obsessively.

2012 Retrospective #2 (simplicity)

Post #2 in my 2012 reflections…

Simplicity is one of my core values, one reinforced by my Quaker beliefs.  The best way that I’ve incorporated simplicity into my life in 2012 has been in the home where I live.  It’s uncluttered and open, and thus it’s easy-to-care-for.  It rarely looks messy just because there isn’t much stuff to pile up.  In general, my fridge and cupboards and closets are sparsely-filled.

When I moved, I got rid of stuff.  As I packed, before any item went into a box I asked myself whether it was useful and whether I loved it.  If it wasn’t either of those two things, it moved on.  Broken stuff was discarded.  Anything that I hadn’t used in more than a year went to the goodwill. Also, if something had a bad memory attached to it, it didn’t make the cut.  That last element is an important one–I realized that bad memories can clutter my home just as much as piles of physical objects.

One lesson that I’ve learned from my recent travels, is that there’s very little stuff that you actually need on a daily basis.  So I’ve incorporated that lesson into the ways that I’ve organized my surroundings.  Also, I learned from some of the hotels that I encountered in my travels that sparseness makes feel more comfortable than a space full of many things. (note: I took this to an extreme during christmas when I realized that I couldn’t stomach piles of gaudily-wrapped packages under the tree.  Instead, I used the soft white packing paper that we’d recycled from our move to wrap our gifts)..

Another way that I “keep it simple” is to arrange all of my financial documents to be delivered online (no more paper!), to shop online, and to keep my google calendar updated.  When I bring in the mail each evening I sort it immediately and try to deal with each piece of paper then, instead of letting them linger somewhere in a pile.  That, and I try to keep stuff in the same spot all of the time so it’s not hard to find when I need it (no more searching for shoes and keys and phones).

Most importantly, and this is related to my first retrospective post about finances, is that I resist the pull to accumulate more things.  When I’m tempted to buy something new, I first consider how I might meet that need in some other way besides accumulating more stuff.  Maybe I can netflix or ILL that movie or book (or buy it on kindle).  Maybe I can use a slightly different-shaped pan instead of buying a new one with a specific purpose, or maybe I can downscale my giftgiving to a small thoughtful thing rather than many unnecessary things.  Or maybe I can wear some sparkly earrings with that favorite older dress to a special event instead of buying a new one.

Overall I’ve learned that a quieter simpler life feels better than one filled with busy-ness and things.  Sure I am still often crazy-busy (lining up one to-do after another each evening until I’m exhausted just thinking about it all).  But…I still feel as though this year has taught me much about what’s really important.  And what that is is something that rarely has a shelf-life or a price-tag.  Instead, it’s time spent on the porch swing with a book, or giggling with the kids over a meal, or singing too loud while on a road trip, or a ramble on the beach on a windy day as I am squinting into the horizon.

This sweet hedgehog bell hangs in the doorway to our home.

Retrospective Post #1: Finances

2012 Retrospective #1 (finances)

I’m planning to do a series of reflective posts about last year.  It was a big year for me, primarily because it was my first full year being divorced.  What that meant for me was that it was my first full year on my own, where I was financially and physically responsible for myself and my kids.

That’s a lot to grapple with.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of being on my own was managing my own finances.  First, I set up a rough budget and tried to live with that, being careful of my spending.  I was fortunate to find a very affordable home for our family, which made living within my means easier than I’d feared it would be.  There were many financial unknowns on the horizon for our family and I also had to pay full tuition for my last few quarters of my PhD program, so I had to be quite careful with my spending.  I found that the (free!) mint.com software helped me to keep tabs on all of my accounts, debts, and assets quite easily.

The next step was that I anticipated how much I would owe the government and adjusted my tax withholding accordingly (and was so close in my gu-esstimation that I owed less than $200).  I then filed my taxes on my own (with a wee bit of help from TurboTax), which was a bit complicated because of divorce-related entanglements, but I managed to figure it out and also, several months later, I managed to convince the IRS not to audit me when they questioned my status as Head-of-Household(!).

My employer offers free retirement consultations, so I set up an appointment to ensure that I was taking full advantage of my employer’s matching contributions, and also to discuss how much additional money I should be putting away each month.  While I could definitely be doing better in my long-term savings, I saw a significant increase in my retirement account this past year (it more than quadrupled), so I feel satisfied with my efforts in that arena.

Overall, while there were some facets of my finances that still warrant improvement, I’m calling 2012 a success.  I sat down and crunched some numbers a few days ago and realized that I began the year with a negative net worth, and am ending it in the black–and all of this while supporting my kiddos well (and even paying for my son’s first semester at a private college).  Whew.

I know, all too well, what it’s like to not have paycheck-enough to stretch to the end of the month.  I know, too, how careful I still have to be with my finances so I can keep my bills paid and not feel stressed by those expensive emergencies that crop up now and then.  Also, I recognize just how precarious my own financial stability is in today’s economy.  But…even as I realize that, it’s a good feeling to mark 2012 as being the year that I established a strong foundation for my future financial security (and for that of my children, too).

Photo of my daughter, when she was about 3 or 4 years old.