Nat Craven

Nat Craven

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.

I stayed up late Saturday night writing this post, and I heard the fireworks that were going off around the neighborhood. Those sounds reminded me about the 24th of July holiday, and I thought about our holiday memories. We often go to the rodeo and the parade in Ogden. This is the first time that my husband will have this holiday off work. Because it is a holiday that celebrates the pioneers settling Utah, and it isn’t celebrated in other states, my husband usually had to work. His past employer’s customers were out of state, but his current employer has given them the holiday off work.

So, I usually celebrate the 24th without my husband. One year, my kids and I planned to celebrate it by watching my brother run the Deseret News Marathon and then watch the 24th of July parade in Salt Lake. It was about an hour drive from my home. Ten minutes into our ride on the I-15, the rear passenger tire on my van blew out. A kind Utah Highway Patrolman came by and changed my tire for me. That tire blowout completely changed our plans that holiday. Instead of making it to the race’s finish line, we went to Discount Tire to purchase a new tire and then out to brunch. As I watched my kids eat their kids meals, I thought about how much our plans had changed for that day. Plans guide and direct us but sometimes circumstances are out of our control.

Don’t give up when plans change

Budgeting is making financial plans. We set out to do certain things with our money, but a lot of unseen circumstances change our plans. Budgeting is a constant struggle for me, which is why I blog about it. Blogging keeps me accountable to keep budgeting — even when the plan completely changes. Financial flat tires include getting sick, losing a job, illness, etc. This summer we’ve had a lot of changes to our financial plans. One of my sons has struggled to learn to read and do math, and I felt tutoring would be helpful. Our starter went out on our car. We thought the problem was fixed, but on Thursday night, the car wouldn’t start for my husband, and he called me to come and rescue them. Although we can't predict these things, we can adjust our plans to work with them. My family has relied on our emergency fund to help us get through these changes in plans. We haven’t given up on the budget, but we also have not stressed about the financial detours.

Learn from the detours and change

We can learn from these detours and change so that we are better prepared for the future. As the patrolman was changing the van's tire, I was thinking about how I could have prepared better. I could learn more about car maintenance, check the fuel pressure more often, pay closer attention to how the car drives and check my tires when I suspect a flat — especially when I'm in a hurry. Recently my Toyota Sequoia showed a warning light, which I didn’t recognize. I googled it and found out that it was a tire pressure warning. That surprised me because I had just had the tires rotated. It was inconvenient for me to have the tire pressure checked because I was taking a group of youth to Salt Lake that day, but I had learned from the experience a few years prior. I am grateful to that warning light. I went to Big O Tires, and it only took a few minutes for my tires to be checked. The technician said that the tires’ pressure was all over the place. I asked him questions to learn about why that happens. He explained that the change in weather could have done that. He was so kind, helpful, and fast. I was very grateful that I had taken a few minutes to do that so that we could have a safe ride.

Keep practicing and following the plan

When circumstances are out of control, we don't have to throw away the plan, but we will have to make adjustments and allowances for emergencies and other unforeseen events. The more we budget, the better we get at it, and the more we learn. As we celebrate the journey that the pioneers made, we can keep on our journey. They had so many obstacles and changes to their plans. They had sickness, deaths in their families, broken wagons and handcarts. There are many similarities between their journeys and our journeys. We can keep going like they did. We can keep stepping forward in our financial journeys.

How do you celebrate the pioneers on the 24th of July? What have you learned from them?

There are a couple of less known national days coming up this week: Parent’s Day and Tall Girl Appreciation Day. I’ve decided to celebrate both, but I’ll just discuss Parent’s Day here. Parent’s Day is celebrated on the fourth Sunday of July and was officially made a national day during President Clinton’s presidency. From what I’ve read, Parent’s Day was meant to be a combination of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. I’m sure thankful for all those who parent my husband and me: our moms and dads, and also all the mentors who have parented me. I’m thankful to experience parenting four great kids.

Some of the best opportunities for me to teach my children come through everyday experiences.

Parenting Lessons Learned at the Grocery Store

Fidget spinners are the newest toy around our home. After my oldest son bought one, all of the other kids wanted to have one. Even after they had one, they wanted another one each time we saw them for sale. I didn’t want them to buy fidget spinners because my kids get distracted from what they are doing when they play with fidget spinners, but I let my two youngest children bring their money and buy one. This is one of the many purchases my kids have made, which I don’t agree with, but that’s okay. I want them to get to learn from the shopping experience, and they can only do that if they are allowed to spend some money in a way that they want to spend it.

I admit that I don’t always take my kids shopping. It can be an exhausting, embarrassing, and a time consuming task. It always takes longer, and I always spend more money that I otherwise would, but children can learn so many lessons through everyday shopping. Here are a few:

Math Skills

As long as we have a patient cashier, we get a chance to learn math skills. The cashier at Smith's Marketplace was great. He told my children how much they owed for their fidget spinners. Each spinner cost $6.50. Then, I helped my son and my daughter count $7. I asked them if $7 was more than $6.50. I explained that the cashier owed them some change. It made me realize how many math skills are involved in purchasing, which is why I try to allow them to do this quite regularly, even though it can be an exhausting experience.

Responsibility and Economic Skills

Kids are exposed to so many economic concepts by earning and spending money. Even though my kids bought fidget spinners, they saw plenty of other things that they wanted to buy. I explained that since they chose to buy fidget spinners with their money, they didn’t have any money left to buy the other things.

On another shopping trip, my daughter spent her money on treats. I asked her if she was sure, and she said, “Yes.” But at the last store, she got upset because she didn’t have enough money left to purchase a tiara that she saw. I explained that she didn't have enough money because she had already spent it on other things. She responded, “But I didn’t know that there was going to be a tiara, and I really want it.” I taught her about “opportunity cost” by saying, “If you spend your money on candy, you don’t have money for tiaras." (By the way, junk food is another example of an item that is difficult for me to allow them to buy. Kids already eat so much of it, but I want them to get to make choices, so I allow them to buy junk food with their money instead of mine.)

Patience and Delayed Gratification

My five-year-old daughter often wants me to pay for items that she wants, so she begs me to transfer money from her bank account. I refuse, and I tell her that she needs to get her money and spend it. She always forgets about the item that she wanted to buy because she didn’t even want it until she saw it.

Kids aren’t the only ones who learn patience. Tantrums usually follow this reply, so as the mom, I get a dose of patience too.

Self-Reliance

As my children paid for their fidget spinners, they gained confidence. They proudly paid for their own toy and told the cashier about it. It’s exciting to watch them learn this skill. Sometimes they hesitate and look to me, and I encourage them to do it. Although it took more time that it would have taken for me to buy everything, the experience of watching them grow was worth it.

I am thankful for my parents. My dad gave me opportunities to work. He had a variety of jobs, and one of them was to fix up houses and sell them. I remember helping him clean up those houses.

My mom often took me shopping and allowed me to learn. My mom is a bargain shopping queen, and she can find amazing deals. One day while shopping at an outlet, we found some jeans for sale for five dollars! The only problem was that we couldn’t try them on, but I couldn’t pass up a good deal. When I got home, none of them fit quite right. By shopping with her, I learned to find these deals, and I also learned that it’s only a deal if it’s something I really like.

I’m thankful to grandparents who gave me the chance to learn self-reliance through using money. My grandparents have always been super frugal. They lived through World War I and learned not to waste anything, but they gave us generous birthday and Christmas gifts. I teased them at the time that the only unfrugal ways that they spent their money was to give it to us grandkids, but now I realize that spending is an important skill to teach our children. Through it, we learn so many life lessons.

What lessons did your parents teach while you were shopping?

On June 25th, my mom sent a us a text asking if we knew what was was in 6 months? I figure it out. Mom is on top of Christmas shopping and planning. She gets her shopping done early every year. I always admire that she doesn’t stress about the holiday, but I often feel overwhelmed and don’t think I can do it. I’ve had Christmas ready early just once, so like almost every post I write, this topic is one that I am struggling through. With the weather hitting triple digits last week, and with crazy busy summer schedules, I know that Christmas is not on a lot of minds right now. I thought about changing this post, but there are some great reasons to start thinking about and planning for Christmas:

  • You can get better deals! Over the weekend I made a cheesecake and was reminded that when I plan ahead I can get a better deal. (I didn’t plan ahead, but if I had, I could have bought the cream cheese on sale or in bulk.) That purchase wasn’t a big one, but Christmas purchases can be. My mom shops sales throughout the year and can get the best possible price on the gift that she is buying. Black Friday prices can be the best prices of the year. This past year a lot of my friends gave their families annual passes to Lagoon for Christmas, and the best deal for those passes was on Black Friday.
  • Shopping early relieves a lot of stress during Christmastime. While I was stressing last year about finishing my shopping, my mom was relaxing. She avoided the lines at the post office by sending packages early to my siblings who live in other states. I wanted to relax but time was running out. I remember feeling uncomfortable chest pain caused by the stress. Pain can motivate me to change though!
  • You can have a more meaningful Christmas! Instead of fighting crowds and traveling in the cold weather, you can be home making traditions with your family. What are your favorite family traditions? We love decorating the tree. Another way to make Christmas meaningful is to make homemade gifts. I’m not crafty, but I am creative, and sometimes I think of the best gifts at the last minute when I have run out of time to do them. Also, my young kids love to make things, but kids need time to make their creations. So, I’m going to encourage them to start thinking about what they want to make for their Christmas gifts this year.
  • You can drink hot chocolate and play games with your family over Christmas break instead of shopping. Window shopping can be fun, but aimlessly walking up and down aisles isn’t any fun for me. In other words, you’ll have peace around Christmas time, which is what Christmas is about for me.
  • Selection is better! I’ll admit, there are some items that are only sold during Christmastime. Last week I was shopping for some makeup for my kids upcoming play, and the cashier told me that the only time they sell kids makeup kits is during Christmas. But, there are a lot of gifts that have a better selection throughout the year. For example, bikes go on sale in the spring. One year we decided to give our family camping gear for Christmas. We didn’t find good deals or good selection because we shopped in the fall. Please learn from our mistake, and if you want to buy a spring or summer item, shop during spring or summer.

Are you convinced to shop early? Please share why you are or aren’t convinced.

I’m determined to have my Christmas shopping done early by doing three things:

Set a goal!

Since there are so many stresses, getting ready for Christmas early had to become a priority for my family. My goal is to be done by Black Friday. Since I don’t like crowds, and I didn’t need what was usually on sale during Black Friday, it was a disappointment, but now that so many Black Friday sales are available online, I’m totally onboard with shopping on Black Friday for a few things. One good thing about stores putting Christmas items for sale after Halloween is that Christmas shopping can be done early.

Budget what you need to buy and how much will it cost.

I know this financial exercise can be painful, but it is so important because it’s the key to relieving stress during the holiday season. Plus, it gets easier each year you do it. We started doing a detail budget for Christmas in 2015. It’s a spreadsheet, so I just copied and pasted the information for 2016 and 2017. Christmas shopping is pretty similar from year to year. I usually buy for most of the same people. There are minor changes, but once you’ve done it, you can tweak the next year and it is a lot easier that the first year. Your presents will be more meaningful. Here’s a personal example. My mom’s side of the family always had their Christmas party on Christmas Eve. I remember one year as a teenager that I used my gift of money that I received from that party to buy my brother’s Christmas present. I remember I got him a CD holder at one of the few stores that were still open. I’m sure I didn’t get a great deal, and I didn’t get a really meaningful gift. When I run out of time, I buy gifts like that ... just to buy a gift, and I don’t like doing that.

Budgets help me do what’s best for our family. I mentioned that a lot of my friends bought Lagoon passes, and they are loving them, but Lagoon passes were not the right choice for my family. My husband and I don’t love amusement parks. We have only gone to Lagoon once together since we’ve been married (almost 14 years). Although we had a good time, we would much rather be at a national park than an amusement park. When I buy passes like this, I want to get my money’s worth, so if I had bought a Lagoon pass, we would be going more that we would otherwise go just to get our money’s worth, and I don’t want to do that. So, we bought a pass to an aquarium instead. I’m able to feel happy for my friends because Ty and I intentionally chose what was the best option for our family’s personality and ages of our kids. I enjoy my friend’s pictures and stories without feeling envious or left out.

Budgeting helps me figure out how much money we will need. Finding money for Christmas is the hardest part for me about shopping early. There are so many other financial pressures that make it a challenge to save the money early for Christmas, which is why I chose to publish this post during extremely hot weather. (It helps me to be accountable.) I don’t have an solution wrapped up for you that will magically make money appear. We all have to figure it out, but by thinking about it, we get so much closer to finding an answer to this dilemma than we will by burying our heads in the sand. Besides, the sand is way too hot for that!

One idea is to use extra income that you receive to pay for Christmas. This is what we try to do, although I also considered working part-time. What other ideas do you have? I would love to hear what you are able to figure out because it will probably help out someone else. Another idea is to use a Christmas Club account to automatically save for Christmas.

Shop while I’m running other errands or shopping for other items online.

Finding extra time to be shop can be hard! So, by starting early, I can shop a little at a time and multi-shop. Since my Christmas list is in the back of my mind, when I see one of those items for a good price, I can buy it. If you know what you are looking for, you can look while you’re shopping for other things. We are going to give our kids carry-on luggage, so when i was shopping for groceries at Costco, I walked by the luggage and started pricing it.

Although these are simple suggestions, they can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Here’s our plan for Christmas:

1. Goal: Be done by Black Friday!

We want to give an experience — a trip to visit my sister’s family who lives in Alaska. My family is planning a family reunion there next summer. Everything will be that theme. Luggage and tickets.

When others share what they are doing, it helps me come up with ideas. So, I hope this helps!

2. Budget

Christmas 2017   Amount
Family Luggage 600
Ty   50
Nat   50
Jackie basketball warm up suit, book 50
Wes book, 50
Tommy   50
Chloe book, swim toys 50
Parents   100
Murray draw   25
Service Angel tree? 50
Neighbors use grocery budget 0
Teachers Make lotions 50
Stocking Stuffers use grocery budget 0
Christmas cards/ letters, stamps Smilebox Christmas slideshow 50
Decorations Tree Permit 25
Grandmas   50
Miscellaneous   100
travel use gas budget 0
Total   1350

 

Do you have suggestions to improve my budget?

We put Christmas music on the other day and my kids asked to put it on again. (I haven’t yet though!) I don’t mean to mislead you into thinking I’m not on top of everything. I’m not. I do plenty of last minute things, but I’m trying to start thinking about Christmas along with everything else.

A couple of months ago, I was thinking about how similar eating and spending are. Although I planned my spending, I wasn’t planning what I ate, and I realized that was silly because I already knew how. So, I decided to apply budget my eating. Before doing this, I thought that I was healthy. I started trying out different apps to track my eating. As I tracked, I realized that I didn’t eat as healthy as I thought that I did. A lot of little things, like mayo and snacks, added up. Last week I put on some jean shorts, which I hadn’t worn for a year. A year ago these were very comfortable, but this year they fit very tight! One of my friends called these my “gauge jeans.” As soon as I put them on, I knew I had gotten bigger over the last year.

The same principles of physical health apply to financial health. We have to have a gauge that lets us know when we are keeping within our budget. We can think we are doing fine but unless we are really tracking it and gauging it, we won’t know until we incur overdraft fees, denied debit cards, or other negative consequences.

Can you imagine driving your car without a fuel gauge and trusting your general feelings that you are fine since you filled up the tank recently? That may work for a while, but eventually you would probably run out of gas. I like to keep the gas tank in my car half full, but the other day I looked down and it was almost to the E! If I hadn’t had my gauge, I probably would have thought that there was plenty of gas, but we had driven more than usual, and we hadn’t filled up the tank.

When Ty and I first started budgeting, we didn’t gauge our spending, and every month we overspent. I only reviewed our spending at the end of the month. After a few months of doing this, I realized that we needed to have a spending gauge — like our car’s fuel gauge. I needed to know how much I had left in my groceries and repairs budget. Although I could still overspend, I would be aware that I was overspending. Our car still run out of gas even with a fuel gauge, but the gauge makes you aware of what will happen. On holidays and vacations, I know I’m going to spend more than usual because I have tracked it, so I have to allow myself more calories and more money during those times. Tomorrow, being the Fourth of July, will be one of those times. I can allow more and still use my gauge.

Noom Coach, which is the app I’ve been using for tracking my eating, works well for me personally because I can relate to it. It even calls my eating plan a “budget” and it has a gauge built in gauge. The other day it told me, “1576 calories left in budget.” I’m not a nutrition expert, but I do know enough to know that nutrition is more complicated that just calories. I'm just simplifying the analogy in order to illustrate my point. Tracking and gauging my spending and my eating make me so much more mindful than when I don’t track and gauge them. If I consistently overeat, my pants are going to get tighter and tighter until they don’t fit anymore. If I consistently overspend, my debt will increase and money will become tight.

It’s easy to say, “I’m frugal.” It’s a general statement and anyone can say they are frugal because they can easily compare themselves to others who spend a lot more that they do, but as you track and gauge your spending you may find you are overspending. A lot of small purchases can really add up.

I struggle with self-discipline, so a gauge helps me realize what’s going on. Gauging can’t force me to stop spending or stop eating, but it lets me know what I am spending and helps me to be more mindful of what I’m doing. If I’m wise, I won’t go past the “empty” mark on our gauge, because doing so will make me run out of money and be forced to call for help or refuel (earn more).

There is no magical app that can force you to be financially fit, but apps can be so useful. I love to try out new financial apps! What’s your favorite app for managing your finances? If I haven’t tried it, I will.

Did you know that Wasatch Peaks Provides access to the Peaks Money Manager app? I’ve been trying it out. Here are a few things that it helps me do.

  • Keep track of all my accounts. I can put all your financial accounts into this so that I have a picture of your financial situation. Simplifying your finances helps to understand them.
  • Track net worth. Tracking networth motivates me. When I don’t feel I’m making progress, I can look at my net worth and realize that I have paid down debt and increased my net worth.
  • Set goals. Again, it’s nice that everything can be in one spot.
  • Budget. The Money Manager program tracks my spending. I can then use that information to set up your monthly budget.
  • Alerts. Peaks Money Manager sends alerts when you are running out of money in a category. This is a spending gauge. This is especially helpful if you pay for almost everything electronically.

Do you gauge your spending? If so, how?

Summertime is vacation time! Someone seems to be on vacation at any given point in the summer. I love vacations! Some vacations consist of camping trips. Others are more exotic vacations. Where do you want to go on vacation? I often wonder how others pay for big trips — especially unexpected trips. Have you also wondered this? I would love to hear what you do. Here are a few ideas that my family does:

1. Retained Earnings

This is a fancy accounting term for savings. I like to have a plan for everything in life, but it’s just not possible. So, I plan and prepare as much as possible and then I try to have some flexible savings. Sometimes we don’t know exactly what vacation opportunities will come up, so having some retained earnings allows us to take advantage of these opportunities. It is also fine to turn down a vacation that we can’t afford, but I would rather find a way to be able to afford it and enjoy it. My daughter had the chance to visit family in Alaska with only a few weeks notice. She had savings, and we had some money budgeted for general vacations, which is how we paid for her to go. That worked out well, but now our family has a chance to go to Alaska in a year. This is a much bigger and more expensive trip because there are six of us going this idea won’t work for us.

2. Save Monthly

We have a budget category called vacation, and we put some money into it each month. Since most of our trips have been inexpensive, this has worked well for us. We try go to a family cabin once a month. For those trips, we use some money from our grocery budget to pay for food, and we use money from our transportation budget to pay for travel. So, we don’t have to dip into our vacation money for those trips. If you like to travel, but don’t have a specific destination in mind, regularly putting money into a savings account might be the solution for you. That way, when friends or family invite you to go on vacation, you’ll be ready. Wasatch Peaks Credit Union has resources to help us do this. The Christmas Club Savings Account is one tool that can help you save for your dream vacation by providing a separate account for you to automatically save each month.

3. Irregular Income

We all have received unexpected income. This could be in the form of a gift, inheritance, commission, or bonus. We don’t have control over the timing of this income, but when it comes, unexpected money can be used for vacationing. When our family receives a gift, there are usually many expenses which compete for that income, so we have to prioritize and pay for the top priority. Sometimes tax returns can also be unexpected money. My goal is to not have a tax return because it ties up our money, but last year our income was lower than I expected and we overpaid taxes, so we received a return. I budgeted it for vacation, which is also going to be our Christmas present (see #4). I don’t like to have more tax withheld than necessary, but it is a forced savings account.

4. Give a Vacation as a Gift

We don’t need or have room for anymore stuff around our home, so we are going to start giving our kids trips for Christmas and birthday gifts. (Most of our trips are local and don’t require flying.) We do hope to fly more in the future. We are giving our family a trip to Alaska next year so we can attend a family reunion there. Even though we don’t leave for a year, we will need to pay for airfare ahead of time. This is a challenge for our family. My husband and I have been discussing how we will pay for this since we need more than the amount that we usually spend on Christmas. Do we borrow from savings that we have set aside for emergencies and a car? Vacations are not usually an emergency, but it is a challenge to pay for a vacation before you actually go on the vacation. I’ll let you know how it turns out in a future post.

My parents gave our family a trip to Hawaii for Christmas when my step-dad retired. It was an amazing trip, and we wouldn’t have been able to go without it. We really appreciate their generosity and hope to be able to do this in the future for our children and grandchildren.

5. Pay Down Debt

Although this suggestion won’t immediately allow us to travel more, eventually it will. As debt is paid down, the freed up money becomes available for trips! We have been working on paying down debt so that we free up the money used for debt payments. I don’t recommend borrowing money for trips because that does the opposite: it ties up money.

6. Earn More Money

While our kids are young, we decided to stay close to home and explore Utah, but as they get older, we would like to go farther, and these trips cost more. I’m considering go back to work to pay for some of the trips which we would like to take in the future. We dream of going to Spain, South Africa, Norway, and other international destinations. These are going to cost a lot and we don’t have room in our current budget to pay for these, so one option we are considering is for me to go back to work.

Which one of these ideas have you used to pay for vacations? What are some other ways that you have paid for vacations?

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 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:

Costs for equipment

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.

Cost of travel and food

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?

Entrance Fees

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.

Seasons

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.

Is it indoor or outdoor? Will it be crowded?

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.

Free events in Utah

There are so many free events in Utah that I can’t list them all, but here are a few!

• This Is The Place on Huntsman Day — 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 have 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!

Mark your calendar for these entrance fee–free dates in 2017:

• 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).

Camps

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?

Utah State Parks

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.

Bike Rides

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.

Life insurance IS a necessity!

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.

Over-leveraging increases risk of financial failures

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.

First Key: Personalize Retirement

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?

Second Key: Prepare for Decades

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.

Third Key: Enjoy Your Work

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?

Memorial Day Vacations

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?

Memorial Day Traditions

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.

Memorial Day Sales

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.

Celebrating

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.

Sort out the mess

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.

Get a budgeting mentor

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.

Commit to your finances

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.

About Nat Craven

  • 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.

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