Natalie “Nat” Craven is a financial blogger, mom, and wife. She loves budgeting, eating cheesecake, and exploring Utah with her handsome husband and four active kids.
Nat studied Family Finance at Utah State University. She earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Accounting from Weber State University where she was awarded a scholarship to research taxation. She became a Certified Public Account (CPA). Nat is no longer intimidated by the tax code—even though it is a complicated foreign language. After working in public accounting for a couple of years, she left the industry to raise money-smart children, but kept up her license and education by doing online coursework.
She volunteered and worked for Cornerstone Financial Education, becoming a Certified Personal Financial Counselor (CPFC). There she helped teach personal finance classes and started a financial fitness blog.
Through the years, she found her passion for budgeting as she realized that no one needs a CPA license or a Master’s degree in finance to manage their money well. Budgeting is a super simple principle to understand, but is challenging to apply. Her blog posts focus on the how we can “USE” our budget to reach our goals. Almost everyone has made a budget, but using it is powerful. Follow Nat on Twitter at @cravennat.
Tomorrow is officially the first day of summer! A few years ago, our family decided to explore Utah. Even though Ty and I have lived here for almost 4 decades, there are so many places that we had hadn’t visited. Just last week we went to Bountiful Lake and the Jordan River OHV Recreation Area, which were both new to us. My husband gets a lot of ideas for these adventures online. Utah's Adventure Family is a great resource for finding activities. Here are some factors to consider while making your summer plans:
We participated in Free Fishing Day and had so much fun that we’ll probably make it a yearly tradition. However, “free fishing” day cost us about $100 in order to gear up: tackle box, poles, bait etc. What gear are you going to need? Include that in your budget. Plan ahead. You might be able to borrow the equipment to try out something new. Afterwards, my father-in-law told us that he had five fishing poles just sitting around that we could have used. My neighbor said that a few years ago when he stopped fishing that he gave away $500 worth of fishing equipment. So, borrowing equipment could be a great way to try an activity out.
Summer activities can increase your food and fuel cost. These costs can add up. Are you going to have enough money in your transportation budget, or do you need to plan to spend more for these activities? One time we went to a free entrance day at Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake. Even though the entrance was free, there was the cost of food and travel. What are you going to eat? Are you going to bring a picnic or buy food at your destination? How much will that cost?
On another outing, we went to Wasatch Mountain State Park and packed a picnic, but left our cooler bag sitting in the kitchen. So, if you pack a lunch, don’t leave it on your kitchen floor! If food and fuel costs are substantial, I budget it as part of a vacation or recreation. If these costs are minimal, I pay for them out of my groceries and transportation budget categories. What do you do?
Triathlons, Marathons, and Ragnar races are popular summer activities in Utah. Most of them cost a fee, but you can watch the races and cheer on the runners for free. We have gone to the finish line of the Ogden Marathon and the Top of Utah Marathon to cheer on friends and family. This was a really inspiring activity. It’s a fun atmosphere with music and crowds. Our city always holds a 5K as one of the activities for Cherry Days celebration. I signed the kids up for Clearfield’s kids triathlon. Plan for these fees. They can cost hundreds of dollars, but if that’s what you want, budget them in.
Some events are free or cheap in the wintertime and others are free or cheap in the summertime. For example, the free day we attended at the Hogle Zoo was held during the winter. My daughter’s 2nd Birthday fell on a free day, so we took Grandma and enjoyed the day at the zoo. The weather was perfect, and it was a great time.
Other places offer summer deals for the family like bowling and summer movies. We have done both of these and had a great time. Some days are too hot, rainy, or windy for outdoor activities. These are great options for those days.
I don’t like to go to crowded places. We’ve done several RAMP Summer Saturdays. It’s a great way to try out some of these activities. Nature Center was not busy because it was an outdoor activity. If it’s an outside activity, the crowds are not as big of an issue as it is for an inside activity, but large crowds do create longer wait times, and it is never fun to wait for a long time.
There are so many free events in Utah that I can’t list them all, but here are a few!
• This Is The Place — We haven’t done this one yet, but it sounds neat.
• Free Entrance Days to Utah National Parks — We love the National Parks in Utah!
• 4th Grade Free Pass — As part of the Every Kid in the Park initiative, families with 4th graders are offered a free Annual Pass to the National Parks. This is awesome! We didn’t know about this and had already purchased a National Parks Annual Pass when my oldest entered 4th grade, but this fall my son will be a 4th Grader, and we are planning on signing up for this pass! These passes are available on September 1st. Seniors can buy a LIFETIME SENIOR PASS for $20. I tell this great deal to everyone I meet who is in 62+.
• Science in the Parks & Arts in the Park — Weber State University teams up with many community organizations to provide these two activities. I found out about these last year, and I wish I would have found out about them sooner. My kids made music, and explored science activities. Each week these are held at a different park, so we also got to try out new parks. It is a great program.
• Water Play Dates — Some of the best summer activities are simple ones like running in the sprinklers and going on picnics to the park. For younger kids, splash pads are great. We met friends for a picnic at the Harrisville City Splash Pad.
• Movies in the Park — North Ogden holds free summer movies in Barker Park. They post them on North Ogden Recreation Facebook Page. My oldest kids went with Ty to see Harry Potter last week. Check with your cities. Many are listed on Coupons for Utah website. We have several neighbors who set up movies in their backyard. One of them bought an inexpensive screen and projector. The other one uses a sheet to project the movie. This is such a fun activity for the neighborhood.
• Reading Programs — We’ve been library shopping since our city library is under construction for at least a year. I’m so impressed with the free activities offered by the library. They have a reading program for kids, another one of teens, and a reading challenge for adults. There is story time for English Speakers and Spanish Speakers. We need a little quiet time every day, and kids need to keep learning in the summer. Utah's Adventure Family suggests several summer reading programs. Even some school libraries have summer activities.
• RAMP Summer Saturdays — We’ve tried the BSA Ropes course through this program. It was cool!
• Utah State Parks — They are celebrating their 60th Anniversary and has done some great events for free. We went to a winter festival at Wasatch State Park. They provided snowshoeing, snow biking, and cross-country skiing for free. Plus, they fed us lunch. We went to the winter festival at Bear Lake State Park and watched a polar bear plunge. There was a raffle, and my husband won a free snowmobile rental. That was great! Recently we went to the opening of the OHV park and watched the motorcyclists ride and do jumps. You can find out about these on the Events Calendar. Check back often for updates. It seems like a month at a time is posted. There is an event the end of this month at Goblin Valley State Park. If you haven’t been there, I highly recommend it! This is one of our favorite state park campgrounds. It’s clean and nice and is tucked in the middle of the rock formations.
• Hikes — Utah is a goldmine for hiking trails. I won’t even try to name them all here, but Jump Off Canyon, Waterfall Canyon, Adams Canyon and Lake Blanche are a few of my favorites. You will never run out of hiking trails in Utah!
• August 25: National Park Service Birthday
• September 30: National Public Lands Day
• November 11-12: Veterans Day Weekend
If you are camping, reserve your site early! Tourists come from all over the world to see our National Parks.
I offset some of the free activities with some that cost. I’ve spent most of our summer activities budget (some was to pay for activities later in the summer though).
There are so many camps offered in the summer time. There seems to be one for almost every activity.
I heard about the Ogden School District Summer Programs for the first time this year. The cost is very reasonable. My kids are doing a theater camp, which is incredible. There are camps for every interest. I just heard about a Patriotic Camp. Many cities and schools offer camp and summer programs, so you can check with your local areas. My kids have done a sport’s camp through our city. Boy scout & girl’s camps are also a lot of fun for teenagers. What have been some of your family’s favorite summer camps?
Junior Ranger Programs are free and available at many state & national parks. It’s a great program for families to learn about nature. Some of these can even be done at home! It does cost to enter the state parks. We bought a year pass, and we sure got our money’s worth.
Several friends have recommended I ride the trails at Snowbasin. That sounds like a lot of fun.
What are some of your favorite summer activities? Which activities do you plan to try for the first time this year?
When was the last time that you felt like quitting? It was a couple of weeks ago for me. I was writing my post for the week, which talked about de-cluttering our finances. The post was turning into a guilt-inducing post, which I did not want, but I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t coming together. I had worked on it, and I woke up early in the morning unable to sleep and worked on it. I started to wonder if these posts had helped anyone. I felt like quitting. As these negative thoughts bombarded me, I started remembering the reasons why I am so passionate about helping others learn to manage their personal finances. The reason has to do with grief, pain, and peace.
A couple of years before my Dad died, he went through financial stress. My parents owned many assets, but all of their wealth was tied into the real estate market. Dad worked as a realtor and a landlord. He also ran a construction crew, and he owned his home. During the recession of 2006, home prices plummeted, building of new homes decreased, and lending practices tightened. As his income decreased, he borrowed against some of the properties.
After Dad died in 2009, I prepared the accounting reports for the rental units and realized that there wasn’t enough cash coming in to pay the expenses of all of the rentals. One morning I woke up at 4 am to work on his business accounting. As I realized how much pain he experienced during the last few years of his life due to financial stress, my chest hurt! It was one of the most painful times of my life! I remembered these lines from Emily Dickinson's book, The Complete Poems, which I had memorized in my youth: “If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain. If I can ease one life the aching or cool one pain…. I shall not live in vain.”
At that point, I decided to direct my pain outwards by serving others. If I could help one family, even if it was my own family, then it was worth my effort.
I contacted my family finance professor from college and thanked her for encouraging me to live what she taught. I will never forget when Professor Lown told our class that if we earned an “A” grade in her class, but we didn’t live what she taught us, that the “A grade” wouldn’t mean a thing. I started volunteering at a financial counseling nonprofit agency. When I could no longer work in the office, I wrote a blog for them. I taught a class in my church about financial principles and then wrote a book about those principles. I was later asked to write for Wasatch Peaks Credit Union, which I felt grateful to be able to do.
Although the pain surrounding my father’s death has subsided a lot, grief does resurface. Sometimes grief is almost predictable: holidays, my dad’s birthday, Father’s Day, and family events. Other times grief hits me unexpectedly, like snow hits in May.
That’s what happened the night before I finished the post about decluttering finances. I had a bad dream and woke up in the middle of the night crying for my daddy. I was missing him. No wonder the post would not come together! Finally, I ran out of time and had to pause work on my post so I could wake up my kids and help them get ready for school.
My husband Ty came home from the gym that morning and said, “I wasn’t feeling it. I couldn’t get into a rhythm while I was swimming. My arms felt dead tired.” Then my son threw tantrums after he woke up. He and I got into the car 3 minutes before school started. Several kids were already in the car, and the emergency lights were flashing. I turned the key, and nothing happened. My five-year-old was innocently sitting in her pajamas. The neighbor’s cat pooped in our sandbox. Then, the internet stopped working on my Chromebook, losing half of my work. It was my version of a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. After a good cry, I got back to work.
Even though I felt like quitting, I remembered the quote, “We are not our feelings.” It came from Steven Covey’s book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He taught that no matter what happens to us, we can choose how we respond to it. I teach this saying to my kids, but that day I applied it to my situation. The sun was shining! Friends and family came to help me work on the car and take the kids to school. I finished the post late, but it wasn’t a big deal. The credit union staff treated me graciously.
I’ve been thinking about what I learned from my dad’s passing. With Father’s Day coming this week, I want to share some financial lessons I learned from my Dad’s death. I hope that they can help you and your family.
While planning my dad’s funeral, I searched through mom’s piano books for the right song to play. When I flipped to Bridge Over Troubled waters I knew that it was the song Dad wanted. I wasn’t very familiar with it at the time, and the music was too difficult for me to learn to play in that short period of time. Obstacles kept coming. Our family friend told me that he was just getting his voice back from laryngitis and didn’t think he could sing because he could barely speak. He also did not know the song, and we only had a couple of days to prepare. I almost gave up, but we found a way to perform it: my sister played the left hand while I played the right hand, and our friend was able to sing.
Here are a few of Simon & Garfunkel’s lyrics that I felt were like messages from my dad to my mom. Even though it isn’t the typical song I’ve heard at funerals, my dad wasn’t the typical person.
“When tears are in your eyes
I will dry them all
I'm on your side
When times get rough
And friends just can't be found
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down….
When darkness comes
And pain is all around
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Sail on, silvergirl
Sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way
See how they shine
If you need a friend
I'm sailing right behind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind.”
Because my dad had life insurance, my mom didn’t have to worry about finances at the time of his death. Our lives stopped. There was so much grief, sorrow, and adjustment to having him gone from our lives. Mom had to get used to daily life without him and had to do many of the tasks that he used to do. His life insurance policy provided the “bridge” to help us get through this troubled time. What a relief that my mom was able to pay any bills. Even the mortuary bill was paid directly from the life insurance so that we didn’t have to pay money upfront. That period of time was rough enough without the financial stress!
When I refer to life insurance, this includes being self-insured. If you have enough assets, you can get to the point where you can self-insure if you choose, but I still consider that life insurance. Life insurance enables your family to continue on paying for their financial expenses after you and the income you provide are gone.
Last Saturday, we saw a lot of dads teaching their kids how to fish as part of Free Fishing Day. Picture this: A man was walking with his fishing pole in his left hand and his daughter’s hand in his right hand. It reminded me of fishing and camping trips with my dad. He taught me to ride a horse. He taught me to love being outside in the mountains. Dad also taught me to help others.
Dad taught me to pay off debt. He paid off cars as fast as he could, and he refinanced his home into a fifteen-year mortgage. But in 2006, when his income decreased, he overleveraged, and this taught me that financial storms will come to everyone. I learned that we can lower our risk by decreasing our debt and saving for emergencies. Because of what my parents went through, I have spent the last 8 years working on paying off our debt and “saving for a rainy day.”
When we had a income crisis two years ago, we were prepared and we worked through it together. We had a lot of peace during that turbulent time. We experienced peace knowing that we both had marketable degrees with experience. We had peace knowing we could pay for six months of expenses. Emotionally, this was one of the hardest times of our marriage, but it strengthened our marriage. I was Ty’s cheerleader to help him recover his lost confidence. Within a few months, he realized that his employer did him a favor by releasing him. He felt very fortunate. Our story could have ended in bankruptcy, foreclosure, or divorce. I’m thankful that we were spared all of those.
The housing market is really good where I live right now. Homes are selling within a few hours in some cases. I considered selling our home this year, but I realized that to upgrade our home, we would increase our debt, which will increase our risk. We didn’t feel comfortable doing that.
I feel thankful for the lessons grief has taught me. They are gifts that have helped me so much. I’m thankful for my dad. He is my hero! I’m celebrating his life and celebrating dads! What’s one thing you have learned from your dad?
We recently had our piano tuned, and our tuner shared part of his life story with me. He told me that he is “retired” from his job that he worked for over 40 years. He doesn’t “have to work” because he needs to earn money, but he enjoys tuning pianos, so he works part-time. Through his story, I picked out several keys for staying motivated to invest — no pun intended.
Our piano tuner told me that he worked because he wanted to work. He loves music, enjoys working on pianos, and he likes to visit with people. He still has plenty of time to spend with his family and on other hobbies. This works well for him.
In contrast, I know retirees who like to travel. Others like to watch their grandchildren. Some like to garden. Not everyone would enjoy working as a piano tuner. We all have our own interests.
I had a college professor who wanted to volunteer at a local library by reading to children when he retired because he really enjoyed reading to his children. Another acquaintance got more involved in government and became a state senator when he retired from full-time employment. The options are endless!
I’ve been thinking about what my family wants to do in retirement. Whenever I try to do what someone else is doing, I lose motivation. I have to do what’s right for me and for my family. What does YOUR custom retirement plan look like?
He and his wife worked 40 years in their careers and saved for retirement. I’m not even 40 years old yet, so it impressed me that they had prepared for this stage of their life for longer than I had been alive. Even though I know how important it is to save for retirement throughout our working career, meeting someone who did it makes me feel like I can do it too.
I have had other friends and family members who have also retired, and their examples have helped motivate me to invest for retirement. They have me given me hope that my personalized retirement plan is possible — especially when we were unemployed and had to stop retirement savings. Their examples motivated me to start again when we were able.
Having mentors who are in retirement is very helpful because they have already done it and can guide us. Both sets of our parents are in retirement and we see what costs they face and how they differ from costs in our stage of life. Preparing for retirement throughout life gives you freedom to do what you would like to do.
Our piano tuner can make the piano sound amazing when he plays it and tune it. He is a pianist, and his love for the piano shows. He has a good sense of humor and makes piano jokes. I can tell that he completely enjoys piano tuning and interacting with his customers.
His story was a great example of working during retirement. He does something that he enjoys. He makes a good amount per hour, but it really didn’t seem like “work” to him. He is his own boss. He schedules as many jobs a week as he would like to work, and he schedules those jobs around his life. Seeing him enjoying retirement so much motivated me to work towards it.
I have another acquaintance who “retired” from his job of 30 years to serve a volunteer mission for his church with his wife. He had always wanted to do this and was still young, so after he finished that, he worked for a friend doing something else. He has freedom to work how he would like to work. Both are enjoying their work.
Statistics show that so many people are not saving enough to retire the way they want to retire, but it's really so simple. Meeting people like our piano tuner help me to realize this. Why aren't most people saving then? Well, it’s so easy for me to get caught up in the immediate expenses and put off saving for retirement.
Hearing his story helped spark my imagination to think about what job would be good for me at that stage of life. What did you learn from this piano tuner’s story? Who do you know who is retired? How has his or her story influenced you?
Although I write about personal finance, no financial topic is independent. So, I am really writing about life, death, and everything in between through a financial perspective. Memorial Day includes all of these. My husband and I have birthdays near Memorial Day, and we celebrate our lives. We also celebrate the lives of those ones who have died. My grandpa passed away on May 31st ten years ago. We visit his grave and my dad’s grave and remember them. I’ve been told that life is short and passes quickly, but the last few years I’ve actually experienced that: my babies aren’t babies anymore, my grandmas are some of the last ones living in their families, our parents retired, and kids I babysat have their own children. Now, I realize that life goes quickly.
What does the Memorial Day holiday include for you?
Our entire married life, we have had a tradition to go to Bear Lake over Memorial Day weekend. This is how we celebrate our birthdays. My husband doesn’t ask for much for his birthday, but he does ask to go to Bear Lake every year. We have made so many memories on these trips. We look forward to this trip every year. This year, we really need a vacation at the end of the school year.
How do you celebrate life on Memorial Day?
When I was a child, we spent Memorial Day with my Grandma and Grandpa. I remember sleeping over at their house. Then we would take flowers to the gravesites of our deceased family members. It was a simple and meaningful holiday tradition.
Many stores have sales on Memorial Day weekends. I’ve already received a dozen emails notifying me of sales this week. Holidays can be popular for yard sales (when the weather is good). I’ve noticed that the Memorial and Labor Day Sales often extend several days past the actual holiday. If you are planning to purchase anyway, you many want to include this into your holiday budget.
For example, a couple of our kids need new mattresses soon. Also, we are looking for a propane fire-pit. I’m hoping that we find a good deal around this holiday. Sometimes I can find sales by shopping around holidays. Last year, there was a baby shower held in December for my sister-in-law. I was able to shop the Black Friday Sales to find a gift for my nephew. Items from his baby registry were on sale, and free shipping was offered, so I was able to get her a lot more with the money I wanted to spend than I would have been able to buy shopping regular prices. I want to do this more often.
If you have the storage space, you can buy clearance items for next year’s holiday. I personally don’t have the storage space to do this, but my mom does and I have benefited from her purchases. Last year she found some Easter decorations on sale at the end of the season. She saved them, gave them to me, and I appreciated them. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t decorate for any season, but the kids really enjoy having decorations. They think it’s fun.
Since life gives us plenty of unexpected expenses (like a new starter for our car this week), I try to plan the expected ones.
Holidays, including the summer holiday, can break our plan if we don’t include them. What are your traditions for Memorial Day? How much does each of these activities cost? Answering those questions will help you enjoy your holiday and summer- especially if you are new to budgeting. These events have "broken my budget" because I didn't prepare for their cost.
I hope that you have a fun relaxing hoiday that comes from following your holiday plan.
I’m still cleaning walls. This job seems to be neverending, but one good result is that I've lost all desire to upgrade to a larger home. (I don't want any more walls to clean.) Last week I had to move the couches in the front room so that I could get to the walls. Underneath the couches was a big mess. I thought it would take me a few minutes to clean the front room, but it took several hours! My kids had shoved items under and behind the couches instead of throwing and putting the stuff away. I hadn’t realized that area was even getting cluttered because the clutter hid beneath the couch. I found broken junk, dirt, books, socks, shoes, and a lot of pens. Now I know why I can’t ever find a pen!
Like the couch, financial clutter is often unseen. It can be an overwhelming mess that we don’t want to uncover. I’ve observed so much pain result from cluttered finances. I hope the next few suggestions are helpful if you are feeling overwhelmed with finances.
To be honest, I felt like throwing away everything that was underneath the couches. I almost did but if I had, I would have caused other problems. It’s hard to know where to start when you’re in a mess. Financially, we can also feel like giving up. It’s not a fun feeling. When I help a family make a budget, the first thing we do is to sort through the bills and the income. We examine one financial item at a time and figure out how much is due, when it is due, and how it will be paid. This is such a simple idea, but I’ve seen people change from feeling overwhelmed to feeling hopeful. It’s not hard to sort through bills, but it is time-consuming so the next suggestion can be helpful.
I have had several exercising friends over the years. It helps so much to have them exercise with me. It is helpful when they know about weight equipment and nutrition. But, even when they don’t, it helps to have someone to exercise with me. Finances can be the same way. Sometimes it just helps to have someone alongside you. It could be a spouse, friend, parent, or sibling. It really just needs to be someone who cares about you. If they have financial background, it can be helpful, especially if they are working on financial goals. We can all find someone who doesn’t mind helping us because it helps them too. It helps them to be motivated. It helps them to serve. So, it’s good for everyone. My cleaning buddy was my five year old. When she stayed with me, it was helpful. When she left, it was much harder.
That was not the first time I cleaned under the couch. In fact, my husband had cleaned behind it recently. We were both amazed at how quickly it became cluttered. Unless our family changes the habits that caused the clutter, the problem can recur. Clutter can easily come back. Financially, I have seen this happen. Oftentimes, we are making big changes, so it’s going to take more than one time. Just like exercising, each day we need to find motivation to do it. We also need to do this with our finances.
No matter how cluttered your finances may seem, you can work through it and remove the clutter. It’s such a peaceful feeling that is worth the effort.
A couple of weeks ago the weather was very rainy, and we stayed inside a lot. I started noticing how filthy the walls in my house were. They had layers of dirt, dust, handprints, marker, pen, crayon, boogers, and mold. I hadn’t noticed them gradually get so dirty. Have you had an experience like that? I decided to wash the walls and the windows of our house. As I’ve scrubbed boogers and crayon off the walls this past week, I have had a lot of time to think. As I felt the sun’s warmth coming through the windows, my thinking drifted to summer.
I’ve had a few summer plans fall through already. We were planning to host a foreign exchange student, but we were not picked. We signed Jackie (11) up for a camp, which ended up being full. I like to have plans. My friends tease me about it. I’ve had plenty of summers where the spending plan failed. I’ve come to the conclusion that budgeting for summer is different than budgeting for the rest of the year. Trying to budget for summer in the same way that I budget for the rest of the year doesn’t work.
Although we don’t have school lunch or school expenses, there are other expenses that can make school expenses seem cheap. My kids brought home fliers for a dozen different summer camps. There is a camp for almost everything. We also have summer vacations, pool passes, drive-in movies, memberships, and holiday parties available to spend our money. With the warm weather, we may want to buy gear for our outdoor hobbies. It’s also a time to work on outside projects. Ty’s trip to Lowe’s last week caused a budgeting challenge this month.
They just are! Has this been true for your family? I have accepted this, but this year I am going to embrace the unpredictability. I’m going to plan on it! I’m not going to fight it. That doesn’t mean that our budgets have to fail, but it does mean that I need to budget differently.
What unexpected events have you experienced in past summers? We have family visit during the summer. I didn’t expect to spend much money because I wasn’t on vacation, but we did activities with them. This year, I need to plan on spending money on those activities. One of my friends told me that she had family come for several months and the activities started to cost too much, so they had to say no to some of the activities, which is okay too. Just like the rest of the year, we have to say no to some of the summer opportunities.
I briefly mentioned the trip to Lowe’s. My husband is finishing the garden fence and backyard patio. The supplies cost $320. That amount of money could really break a rigid budget, and honestly, I started to wig out. Before I approached my husband about the expense, I took some deep breaths. The deep breathing made me realize that I needed to allow more flexibility. I wasn’t able to predict this expense, but that is okay. It opened up a conversation with my husband. We discussed what budget category it would come from since we didn’t have that much money in our repairs fund. Should we use our emergency fund? It wasn’t an emergency. Were there other categories with money that we could move to the repairs fund? We had saved to replace an engine in our 1975 Volkswagen thing, which has been sitting in our garage for years. We discussed using that money for the outside repairs, but Ty is planning on getting it running.. Thankfully, we were a month ahead (using last month’s income to pay this month’s expense). We decided to use that money. It wasn’t the ideal, but budgeting isn’t a perfect process, and if I try to make it perfect, it will fail. Embrace imperfect budgeting. Budgets will work if we embrace it.
Summer expenses aren’t the only thing that can fluctuate. Income can too. Summer may give more time to earn extra income. My darling nieces and their family bought a shave ice shack last year and sold shaved ice. My cousin photographs families. My neighbor teaches classes online. Another neighbor lifeguards in the summer. My cousin-in-law prints logos on shirts. These friends inspire me to use the flexibility of summer to create income.
Summer is right around the corner. What are your plans to make sure your budget doesn’t go on summer vacation?
My youngest daughter is at a magical age. She thinks that the automatic doors, faucets, and hand dryers are all magical, and she often dresses up as a princess. She just boughta Belle outfit and new shoes for her Cinderella dress. One day last week after I helped her into the car, she called me “magic.” She’s never been to Disneyland, but for her, childhood is magical, and I realized that moms are pretty magical to their kids. Moms can make tears disappear, make meals appear, and create laughter. They seem to magically appear when we need their help. Since I’ve been a mom, I’ve often admired moms who both raised 7 children! I agree with Chloe that our moms are magical and I want to honor and celebrate all women who nurture and serve. To every woman, thank you for your service to your family and your community.
I just learned that the first Mother’s Day in the U.S. was celebrated in 1908, which is before you or I were alive! Anna Jarvis wanted to honor her mother Ann. Ann had unified other women to help wounded soldiers during the American Civil War. Before she died, her mother Ann said, “I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mother’s day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it.” I love Anna's purpose for celebrating mothers.
As I’ve grown, I realized that not everyone likes Mother’s Day. Some women feel guilt, grief, sadness, and other negative emotions on this holiday. But it can also be a happy day filled with good memories! I’ve been thinking about what to give our mom’s to help them feel honored. I needed to write this post because I haven't decided what to do for our moms. How can we honor and appreciate them? No matter what your budget is, you can honor your mom.
A few years ago my mother-in-law said she would be mad at us if we bought her something. She told us she didn’t need or want anything. I didn’t know what to do. I appreciated her and wanted to do something for her to show how much we appreciate her, but didn’t know how since I couldn’t buy the traditional flowers or chocolates.
Service. Since moms serve their families and their communities, service is a great way to celebrate Mother’s Day. My husband and kids clean my car every Mother’s Day. I love this gift. This year, my sister-in-law suggested we make dinner for my mom and give her the day off from cooking because our mom regularly hosts dinners and cooks for everyone. What service have you done for moms or what services have been done for you? Some of these are small and simple but can mean a lot. Hugs, kisses, coloring pictures are great. This isn’t just for kids but for adults and can be done year round!
Peace. The best gift my kids could give me is peace to ride in the car without hitting, kicking, teasing, or bugging one another. Tommy was a peacemaker today. He calmly got in the car to go to school. He didn’t fight. When my youngest started throwing a tantrum so she could listen to her music, he calmly asked if they could please listen to kid’s music. I told him how much I appreciated him doing that.
Homemade cards. These are some of my favorite gifts from my young children, but even our moms love handmade cards. In fact, that’s usually the only thing that Ty’s mom requests.
Remember her and follow her example! She doesn’t need a Facebook account for you to follow your mom’s life. Especially if your mom isn’t living, she left a legacy and you can remember her.
Appreciate her. Gifts such as jewelry, flowers, chocolates could mean a lot to your mom. I don’t think any mom would want their child to go into debt or stress about how to pay for their gifts, but if you have a large budget and can afford it, enjoy giving these gifts! Even though Ty’s mom doesn’t want us to buy her gifts, we did buy her some flowers to plant in her yard. She really enjoys that.
Be happy. Moms want us to be confident, happy, courageous, and kind. They see our gifts and our personalities.
Forgive. Until I became a mom I didn’t realize all that my mom did for me and how challenging motherhood can be. I was too hard on her. We can forgive not just our moms but others on behalf of your mom: the guy who backs his car into yours, the child who throws tantrums. the friend who let me down. I’m sure my mom had to forgive my behavior so many times. Forgiving others helps us become like our moms.
Time. My friends often comment about how fast time is going and how we wish it wouldn’t. Spending time with your mom might be the most precious gift that you can give her. Yesterday we spent the Sunday afternoon playing games with Ty’s mom and dad.
Whatever you do, make Mother's Day as magical as possible by honoring her! Please share it with us!
Growing up, my family loved watching sports together. My younger brother wrote down all of the players' names and kept track of their stats as the games were played. I hadn't seen a Jazz game for a decade until Ty's boss gave us tickets earlier this year. We sat on the fourth row and were so completely entertained that my kids didn't fight or complain at all! It's exciting for our Utah Jazz to advance in the playoffs and play the Golden State Warriors! But, the most important statistics to us individually don't have much to do with the NBA playoffs.
Have you seen the classic game of Family Feud? Why do the family teams care what the “survey said.” Because, if the families guess the responses that were the most common answers, they can win the prize money. In a personal finance class I just taught, we took a financial quiz. I read a lot of financial surveys to prepare for this class. Three of the statistics from these surveys impacted me the most. More importantly than finding out what the surveys said, is to find out what you think about these statistics!
Could you cover an unexpected expense that cost $1,000? We’ve had a whole lot of rainy days here in Northern Utah the past couple of weeks. We don’t know when, but we know that it will rain. I don’t mind being wet, but I don’t like feeling cold, which always follows my getting wet. We have regular financial storms too. We don’t know when they will hit, but we know that they will hit. An emergency fund protects my family from getting rained on and being left in the cold financially. There are different opinions on how much an emergency fund should be. Because of the emergencies my family has experienced, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with an $1,000 emergency fund, but it’s a great place to start. Do you agree with having an emergency fund? If you were surveyed about having an emergency fund, what would you say? Has an emergency fund ever helped you work through changes in your life? Does an emergency fund matter to you?
I am a fan of having an emergency fund for many reasons, but I’ll share the most recent experience with our emergency fund. My husband Ty changed jobs 6 months ago, and we had a two month waiting period to enroll in the new employer’s health insurance plan. Ty’s employer generously offered to reimburse us for the cost of the COBRA health insurance coverage for the two month waiting period. However, we had to pay for the insurance first before it could be reimbursed. Our emergency fund allowed us to pay for that insurance coverage. When we were reimbursed, we deposited the money back into the emergency fund so that it will be there the next time that we need it. The emergency fund relieved and prevented a lot of stress for us. I recommend an emergency fund to you because it has helped my family adjust to life's changes.
Again, it doesn’t matter whether this survey is accurate, it matters what is true for you. Do you have a retirement savings account? Are you saving regularly for retirement? Just like the rain is sure to come in springtime in Utah, retirement is going to happen as we age. If you don’t have retirement savings, or if you haven't saved as much as you wished you had, it’s not too late to make a plan and work towards retirement.
Am I saving for retirement? Yes! Have I saved enough for retirement? No, but we are making progress. With so many financial emergencies and financial pressures, I understand how retirement can slip into the background of your finances. My husband and I try to keep them in the forefront and make retirement a priority for our family, but to be honest, sometimes we have to cut back our retirement savings. Our retirement contributions increased when our income increased and decreased when our income decreased. Although I’m not retired, I have mentors and friends who are retired. They advise me to save for retirement throughout my working life, and I trust them. I believe in saving for retirement!
Do you talk about money with your friends and family? If you have children, do you give them opportunities to save, share, and spend money? Do they understand that a $20 bill is worth much more than a $1 bill? My kids may think that I talk with them too much about money. I talk about it all the time because we use money all of the time.
My 5 year old daughter and I ran a lot of errands this past week. I told her we were going shopping and encouraged her to bring her Hello Kitty purse and five dollars. On the way to the store, she told me that she wanted a ball. I let her spend her money as she wanted. At the first store, she bought some cotton candy. The price rang up higher than the price listed. It turns out that the cotton candy was in the wrong spot on the shelf. I asked her if she still wanted it. She bought the overpriced cotton candy, and she was excited that she still had money left. At the next store, she saw the bulk bins of salt water taffy in the middle of the isle and bought that. She used her last few quarters to ride the Clifford ride at the front of the store. Although it was hard for me to watch her spend money on candy, I let her experience spending her own money.
I think she learned a lot that day. By going on the Clifford ride, she learned what a quarter looks like. (The machine only took quarters.) Even though I didn’t agree with her spending choices, I felt proud of her for learning what a quarter was and being able to spend money on her own. At the last store, she saw a tiara that she wanted badly, and I explained that she had enough money at the beginning of the day to buy the tiara, but she didn’t any left. She replied, "But I didn’t know they would have this.” We talked about figuring out what she wanted and then not getting distracted by other items.
Surveys are just one tool to find out how our personal finances are going. Are the statistics from these surveys true for you?
As you cheer for your favorite NBA team, I hope you think about the most important financial statistics for your life.
Last week I went to the Nature Center with my son for his class field trip. In our first activity, we walked along a path while using a field guide to identify birds. Because the birds were fake and wooden, we could clearly see them, and we could take our time to identify them.
Later on, the first grade students were given a pair of binoculars with these instructions: “Keep the binoculars hung around your neck. Don’t walk while looking through the binoculars. Look at the object first, then try to find that object in your binoculars.” My son Tommy broke most of those rules as we walked again looking for birds. The birds we tried to spot this time weren’t wooden birds, they fluttered wildly and moved constantly. Because Tommy was focused on his binoculars, instead of seeing all of the birds, he saw his binoculars.
Having binoculars, and knowing how to use them could help us find our goal of seeing and identifying birds. When youth save for your first big goal, it can be like trying to see and identify those wild birds.
Over the past few decades, I’ve learned a lot about saving. It’s NOT easy, but you can achieve challenging goals, and I’m cheering you on! I hope these tips will help you achieve challenging goals:
On our field trip, the guide helped us to set a goal to see and identify birds. Just like there are so many things in nature, there are so many things in life.
What is important to you? You can achieve any goal, but you can’t achieve every goal. Write it down! ”I want to save for a _____ (car, senior trip to Europe, mountain bike, etc.).” Then, I suggest you hang it up where you’ll see it. When we were saving for a car, everyone who came to my house saw our car savings chart on our whiteboard.
You will also need to decide why you want to reach that goal. Is it because that goal will give you more freedom? Will it help you achieve other goals? What other reasons do you have?
I learned this with the first graders. If they focused on too many things, they missed the birds. The guide first had them focus on the birds. Then, the guide had them focus on finding turtles.
Focusing on one goal will help that goal appear closer and bigger, which will help you achieve it. It will also help tune out the distractions. You can limit all other spending as much as possible in order to concentrate on the goal that has the highest priority. Use any unexpected income towards your goal. Most adults I talk to think it’s impossible to save for expensive items, especially cars. I’ve done it though, and I know it’s not impossible. I saved for a car as an adult, but now I realize I could have saved for it as a youth if I had defined that goal and focused on it.
When we started saving for a car I wanted an SUV, but as we worked towards the goal, we realized that a van would be better for our family at that time. It wasn’t a brand new car - far from it, but it was had low mileage and was a practical vehicle for my family. When the first graders had to focus on the bird that they wanted to see, they realized that as the bird moved, they had to move. Our goal may need to move and change as life does.
My son was so excited about his binoculars that it distracted him from focusing on his goal. There isn’t a magical app, spreadsheet, or savings tool that will achieve your goal for you. Binoculars can help us to focus if we use them to zoom in on one object.
In finances, we can use tools to help us focus. Adults in your life can really help you to focus in on that goal. Our family printed a picture of the car we wanted and had a chart showing how close we were to the goal. Although the amount I spent on the car changed, and the type of car changed, the goal didn’t change.
Depending on your personality, use the tool that will help you. If you love details, use a spreadsheet. If you don’t love details, use a picture chart. Youth are so good with technology, that using an app would work great for them. As long as it helps you focus and track your progress, it will be best for you.
Focusing on one thing is a challenge for me, but I’m learning to do it because it’s essential!
Last week I gave ideas for youth to earn money. Once teens learn how to earn money, they need to learn how to spend it. When I was a teenager I earned money, saved money, and avoided debt, but I wish that I would have understood how to spend money an intentional and focused way. I hope this post helps at least one teen avoid my mistake.
Twenty years ago, we didn’t have social media, but I often got distracted by items “on sale." I really loved the feeling of getting a good deal. One time, we were an outlet store that had jeans on sale for $5. There was no dressing room to try the pants on, but I bought 4 pair because they were cheap. The pants did not look good. I didn’t like how they fit, so I didn’t wear them. It wasn’t a good deal. I would have been better off to buy one $20 pair of pants which fit me and which I loved. I needed a plan to help me stay focused on what I wanted.
There are 3 keys to budgeting:
Budgeting is really simple to understand. You decide where to spend your money rather than letting your friends, social media, or advertising decide. Through budgeting, teens decide where their money will go and then they make it go there.
Youth use plans every day: recipes, school schedules, and game plans. For example, every teenagers has an education plan. Their counselors and their parents help them to make this plan and evaluate it regularly. Then, they take classes based on the plan. They consider the different classes and decide which classes that they will take: some are required and some are optional. It would be very chaotic if they just showed up to school and decided what class they would attend that day based on what was going on.
“Oh, there is a field trip in the choir class: I think I’ll join them.”
“There’s a party in Spanish. I’ll make that one of my classes.”
But, this is what often happens with our money and our eating habits. What if parents, leaders, and teachers sat down with the youth and helped them decide to spend money in the same way they help them decide which classes to take? There would be some required classes. We also have required expenses called needs: gas for the car, supplies, clothes, etc. There are some elective classes, and there are elective “variable expenses" (vacation, entertainment, and eating out).
Let’s say you have a plan for your vacation. What if the weather is bad, or what if you get sick? What if you hear about a neat activity that you hadn’t planned on? You can adjust the plan. You don’t abandon the plan. There are unknowns. What if an opportunity comes up which you weren’t expecting?
A couple of weeks ago, my niece invited my daughter Jackie to come up to Alaska with their grandparents. Jackie hadn’t budgeted for that, and she didn’t have much time - only three weeks. She had been saving her money and once she heard about Alaska, she focused on that trip. I heard her tell someone that she didn’t want to spend her money because she was saving it for Alaska.
Sometimes unexpected opportunities come up that you want to do. That isn’t the same as buying anything that’s a good deal or letting others talk you into it. If we hadn’t had the money, it would have been fine to say that we couldn’t afford it and that we will travel to Alaska when we can afford it. But, our family had a vacation fund. We decided we had enough in there to pay for half of her ticket. It took most of her savings to pay for the other half of the ticket.
Not everything is predictable. You can predict a lot of things, but without flexibility, budgets will fail. Back to the school schedule analogy, if a class isn’t working, it can be evaluated and changed. The schedule isn’t permanent but it is set.
Although budgeting does have flexibility, it is important to still follow the budget. Teenage drivers learn pretty quickly that they can only drive until the car runs out of gas. At that point, they have to refill. So, they have to watch the fuel gauge or they get stranded.
Budgeting also requires a gauge in order to follow our budget. Money is finite, so it’s important to know how much is left. It can be a very simple system. Teens start out with few expenses compared to adults, so it is relatively simple.
One example of a gauge is the envelope system. They have an envelope for entertainment, and they can see how much is in there and plan their entertainment. If they have a phone, there are a lot of apps that allow teens to do electronic envelopes. Without a gauge, budgeting doesn’t work, and we run out of fuel/money.
Life isn’t about money - money is a tool for life. Parents, grandparents, and other leaders of youth, we can teach them that they can budget their money to help them to live their life and be their best selves. They can stick to their financial plan, schedule, and budget. They can say "no" to expenses that aren’t right for them.