Needs based spending

This is the first real paycheck in our new budget style of sending a ton of money to the card. I sent a ton of money to it a few weeks ago, but since then we’ve had a vacation that was hedonistic to say the least. I’m starting my spending fast with this check as well. I will be spending on needs only from here until eternity it feels like, but it’s only a year. I fully expect that Hubby will want to go out to eat at some point or go to the movies, and we’ll do that, but I won’t be the one to suggest it. We do have some play money left over after bills are paid and necessities are taken care of, but I’m going to try not to spend any of it.

 

I focus a lot on meal planning because that’s the last area besides books that I really spend a lot on. Books are out unless I trade them in for credit. No new books, even from the thrift store. That’s going to hurt but needs must. Food is going to be from the list and once a week. I’m going to start taking inventory of the pantry and freezer each week to see what we’re running low on and be a devotee of the sale ads. I’m all caught up on laundry, so now is a good time to recommit to hanging it again. I have a nice, sturdy garment rack that does an admirable job of holding an entire load. I have plenty of hangars, too. No excuses. I will use up my reserves of store bought cleaners (laundry and dish soaps), and then start making them again. This time I’ll make them in large quantities so that the ingredients don’t all get rock hard and unusable again.

 

I spent a lot of time and money shopping in the past. Even lately I’ve been shopping more than I had in the last year or so. I’m going to have to stop cold turkey. I have made out a list of needs vs. wants based on the reverse budgeting that I did with the Debt-Free Living book. All those little bitty $4 to $11 purchases on Amazon really added up. I have deleted the Amazon app from my tablet. No more shopping to pass the time.

 

I can’t believe I got back into that habit! Just goes to show what happens when you lose focus. It was sneaky, too. We had more money available because I was paying minimums to the debt. I started buying things with coupons which is always bad for me. I will buy things just because I have a coupon for them, or I buy ready-made things rather than take the time to make them myself for way less money (like the soaps). I collected coupons and bought a ton of something even though it wasn’t actually on sale. “But I have a coupon!”. I stopped meal planning and paying attention to what we ate. I started shopping for whatever I wanted rather than what we actually needed. Soon enough I was back to my old spendthrift ways. That wouldn’t be so bad if we didn’t have debt, but we do. Paying the minimums was never going to get us out of debt. It’s never a good idea.

 

For now, we are sending a hefty portion of our paychecks to paying off the credit card, and I’m going to learn to be vigilant even after we’re debt free. For now, we are going to pay off $11,887.51 in debt and save $10,050 before we move. That’s the goal and I will accomplish it. We need to give a carpet allowance with the house because the carpets weren’t great when we got the place and they’ve been through 11 years, several animals, and two kids. Carpet allowance ahoy!

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Myra

We got a new kitten a week ago.

 

Myra

Her name is Myra, she’s two months old, and she weighs in at 2.5 pounds (1 kg or so). The shoes in the background are Younger Boy’s size 3’s. The black blob in the foreground is the back of a lap desk. So far she’s doing well. She’s gotten accustomed to the house and Dasher, the king of the house (our 15 pound cat who is the loviest boy in the world), seems to be getting used to her as well. Kayla, the dog, isn’t fazed by her at all. And, we’re dog-sitting my in-law’s girl as well. Four animals in the house and I love it. Who knew I was such an animal person. Cats especially. Hubby gave his grudging consent after we came back from vacation. He thinks she’s cute, he just won’t admit it. The kids didn’t know about it until I brought her home. (I didn’t want them arguing over which animal to get and that sort of thing so I went by myself and fell in love with that little face)

 

I know, I was talking about saving money as soon as we got back from the trip, and the next day I went out and got a kitten. More vet bills and food (although I bought the giant bag so she should be good until she grows out of it). In my defense, I’ve wanted another cat for a really long time; she was not an impulse adoption. We got her from a shelter and they were even having a sale on kittens! She cost all of $25. Of course the vet bill to get her checked out and started on her vaccinations was WAY more than that, but that’s OK. She’s worth it. She’s not much for petting, but she sure likes to snuggle!

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Book review: Debt-Free Living

tl;dr: This post is crazy long. Sorry! The book is good and it’s going on my keeper shelf.

 

I just finished reading The Spender’s Guide to Debt-Free Living, by Anna Newell Jones. It’s about her journey with, and how to do, a year-long spending fast. She’s one of those miraculous people I was talking about, who paid off over $18,000 in debt in a year on a $33,000 a year salary. I just don’t even know how she did it even though she kind of takes you through it and I’ve read enough books by enough people who’ve done the same thing to know most of the tricks. It’s so impressive every time I read it. Not nearly as impressive when someone who makes $100,000 a year pays off $50,000 in debt. It’s a lot but you feel like they should be able to do it.

 

The book was good. She takes you step by step through several situations and how to start your fast. She reminds you to keep going over your needs vs. wants list and adjusting it; it’s not a static thing. She gives encouragement on how to take it a step further and generate new income by taking up a side hustle or selling the things that you no longer want. She is very cool in that she realizes that some things are needs that you wouldn’t traditionally expect. Gym memberships that you actually use and get a lot out of, for her it was also photography equipment and shows. But she points out that there are ways to save on those things as well. Just be careful and don’t put things on your needs list just because they make things easier or you like them. She goes through needs vs. wants quite well. She also advises you to tell everyone you can that you’re doing a spending fast. It will keep you accountable.

 

She advises a “reverse budget” which I like better than the spending tracking that other books suggest. I’ve always kind of agreed with her that you’ll change the way you spend if you all of the sudden start writing everything down. She advises getting out the last three months’ bank statements and credit card statements and using those to figure out where your money goes. I started this exercise and quit after the first two weeks of the first month. I discovered that in two weeks I’d spent $80 on Amazon, we’d spent $80 at 7-11 on grocery-type things (mostly tobacco for Hubby and things like milk when we’re too lazy to go the extra half mile to the store), and $80 on pizza. In two weeks! That was enough to show me where we needed to cut back. I glanced through the next two months and it was pretty much more of the same. Ridiculous. We do all of our purchasing on the debit card – neither one of us keeps actual cash on us anymore really – so it was easy to see where the money went. I went through the rest of the month looking specifically at grocery and bills and discovered that I’d spent $700 on groceries. What the heck?! That was before I started meal planning and shopping from a list more often. I’m afraid to look at this month’s grocery spending because I stocked up on meat. I’m betting it will rival that month’s by the time we’re done.

 

Anyway, She advises a strange way of doing your money. She doesn’t like to budget, so she says that you zero out your bank account every time. The first month send minimums to everything. After that, everything that’s left over at the end of the month goes to the first debt you’re paying off (she advises highest interest rate first or, if you have one that’s been really hanging over your conscience, pay that one first – like a loan from your parents or something) on the last day of the month (or pay period. She gets paid once a month so that’s how it works for her). That puts your balance at zero when you get paid. Pay all of your bills, including minimums to all of your debts, and figure out how much you need for everything else (using the averages you got from reverse budgeting over three months). Now try to do better. See where you can cut expenses and save money. When you have money left at the end of the period, send it to the first debt that you’re paying off.

 

This sounds good, but I tend to spend to the last dollar. Maybe I need to try it her way. I kind of am planning on it actually. I have given us a certain (lower than usual) amount per paycheck and I’m going to try to spend even less than that. But let’s be honest, any less that I spend will go toward fun stuff. And that’s OK with me. I have already cut our prospective spending by $800 a month. That’s a huge amount. We don’t need to cut any more than that. With Hubby’s retirement contributions going to the debt for the next year as well, we’re going to get it paid off just as quickly as I’d like.

 

In the meantime, I am going to have to go on a year-long spending fast. This book was nice in its motivational force. Hubby doesn’t want to do it, so I won’t make him. I’m budgeting in money for him, but I do the majority of the shopping for the family. I need to rein it in. I tend to spend freely at the grocery store because, after all, you need to eat, right? I still do it sometimes, though not as often. I’m getting better at meal planning and shopping sales. When I forget or just don’t meal plan for the week, it’s really obvious. We flounder (so to speak) trying to find things to eat, and that’s when we order pizza or just let the kids eat chicken strips all week. Bad Mommy! But, with proper planning and once-a-week shopping, we’ll spend less and get everything we need for meals for the week. Once again, I’m starting a book moratorium, too. I have plenty but I’ve been buying them more and more lately. That’s part of where that $80 at Amazon went.

 

 

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Debt confession

I grew up a spender. When we wanted something, we got it if it was reasonable. I kept doing that even though I didn’t have the kind of money that my parents did after 30 years of working. I am fighting against a lifetime of spendthriftery. If nothing else, this should be good for me by forcing me to learn how to say no to myself. To pause before I spend. I have struggled with this tendency to spend without thinking for a few years now. Before that I didn’t see it as a problem. I just figured debt was something everyone had all the time and that it was totally normal and acceptable. Then our debt reached around $15,000 on the credit card and two car payments and I started worrying a lot. I started reading about how to pay it down since I didn’t seem to be able to figure it out on my own. That’s where all this started about three years ago, I think. Now we’re almost back to square one. The difference this time is that I’m optimistic. I know it’s possible to pay this all off and be debt free. I just need to learn from my mistakes this time and not fall right back into my old spending habits as soon as we’re out from under this.

 

Hear me out… Hubby makes a lot of money. He was in the Navy for 20 years as a nuclear mechanic. He has been working another five years as an instructor of radiological control for the military as a civilian. He makes enough money that there really is no reason for us to be in debt except that we tend to go overboard on things. When it was time to redo the roof, we decided that, since it needed to be done anyway at some point, we’d redo the siding and windows as well, even though we couldn’t afford it all at once. Credit! Little things here and there that we don’t actually have the money for right now, credit! We were actually out of debt totally for about three months at one point. But, we went overboard on the house and got back into debt. Once there, it was easy to say, “Oh, this little thing won’t matter!” It adds up over time and we found ourselves in debt big time again. I am not one of those miraculous people who is getting out of deep debt on a $30,000 a year salary. I have all the respect in the world for them and they impress the heck out of me. It is from them that I am learning and taking inspiration. But, we are working with quite a bit more money. I almost feel bad admitting it, like it’s somehow something to be ashamed of in the frugal community. But, I want to get out of debt just as much as anyone else does. It weighs on me just like it does everyone else.

 

Here’s the thing, we have $11,887.51 in credit card debt, and another $34,095.97 in the auto loan. The car will be paid off in five and a half years making regular payments. The credit card we’re working on. I know I’ve never talked about actual numbers here before but I figured it was time to get serious. We are lucky in that we have enough money to be able to pay this all back relatively quickly. It’ll take a few years to get the car loan gone, but we’ll be able to pay off the credit card in seven months (six with overtime from Hubby). My goal is to send $1,675 a month to the card. That’s using Hubby’s retirement money, and scraping every other cent I reasonably can from our budget. That leaves us with about $250 in actual play money (for two weeks) after the groceries, gas, bridge tolls, and the like are taken care of. That may seem like a lot, but it’s less than half of what we’re used to. I have cut our regular budget by $400 a pay period to afford to send that much to the credit card. That’s a huge cut. While I’m not on an official spending fast yet, I’m going to have to get there pretty quickly to make this work right.

 

So, that’s our situation and where we sit. We’re going to be living off of what, for us is, very little for the next year to be able to pay off the credit card then save money for the move. The good thing is that it’s possible to get this done. Once we get this year taken care of and we’re in the new house, we’ll start working on the car loan, starting a savings account, and paying off the house itself. That alone will take at least 18 years, but it’d sure be nice to not have a house payment. We don’t really see any reason to move from the next house ever. We’ll be in it at least for the next 10 years, until the kids are out of high school. We won’t have it paid off in that time, but we’ll have a good start on it.

 

It’s still really strange to me to be thinking this far out with our money. I never used to think past the next paycheck. But having goals makes it easier to do what we need to do now. Now if I can just get the impulse spending under control, we’ll be in a much better position.

 

 

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Hello again!

Hello there! I’m back online. I wasn’t just away from tech for a week, we went on our summer vacation! It was a blast. We went to Great Wolf Lodge, a resort with a whole waterpark inside! There are about eight water slides, a huge water spewing fort to climb around on, a lazy river, a wave pool, a pool with four basketball hoops and about a dozen balls floating around, and that’s all indoors. There is also a bowling alley for kids, an arcade, a kids and an adults spa, a ropes course, mini-golf, four different quests for the kids to go on (spanning four floors of the hotel but not near the rooms so the kids don’t disturb guests with their questing), and several places to get food. We went for 6 days and only left the property to buy more books to read on our downtime. It was amazing and it’s our go-to vacation for the next several years I think. We went to the water park twice a day at the insistence of Younger Boy, and we got discount passes that gave us a whole bunch of the side stuff for reduced prices (like 30% off). It was a $2500 trip for a week, but we had a blast and it was totally worth it. We had $2000 saved for it so we put most of it on the credit card, but we had to dip into that savings to pay for the balance of the trip, and we’ve decided to leave $1000 of it in savings for a bumper fund (it worked out really well for us last time). So, we’ve sent $500 to the credit card, but we’ll still be able to pay off the card, it’ll just take an extra month (or some extra overtime by Hubby).

 

 

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Frugal again

We’re headed back into frugal mode. Hanging laundry and turning up the thermostat, short showers and careful shopping. I mentioned yesterday that I spent more than I would have if we’d had just a little in the savings account. I also had to buy dog and cat food and cat litter, stock up on meat a little, and restock some staples of our pantry. It all ran out at once. On the plus side, I’ll only have to buy salad stuff and fruit next week. We’ll be over our budget for the pay period, but we’ll be under next pay period because of all that I bought this time. It’ll all work out by the end of the month.

 

We’ve gone from a fairly liberal amount of money to strict austerity. I’m giving us the minimum I think we can get by on and the rest is going to the credit card. I know I said this last time, but I’m quite hopeful that we won’t go back into debt this time. Or, if we do, it will be small and easily paid off. After all, we are planning a move. We’ll have a bit saved before we start looking, but who knows how much of that we’ll need for closing and the actual move. We may need to use a little credit for that, but we should be able to pay that off quickly. After that, it’s savings for the next couple of years to build up the emergency fund. It’s strange to have a plan for our money for the next several years. I like it, but it’s strange coming from someone who, only a couple of years ago, didn’t really think past the next paycheck. Now I’ve got hte next four or five years planned out.

 

One of the first things I did was look for thrifty books with my book credit. I got some credit from the Apple e-books settlement, and it cracks me up how expensive books on thrift can be. I tend to go for used or free books, but you get what you pay for sometimes. Those free books are really hit or miss. And you can’t use credit for used books. So, it was paying regular prices for a couple of books and looking for free books that I haven’t already read. But, it will get me back in the groove, and I am always on the lookout for new ideas. Who knows, maybe someone will have something new to say.

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Poverty mindset?

Hubby and I were talking the other day. We are short on money until Friday when we get paid. We have money in savings, but it’s earmarked for our vacation over the summer. We have dipped into it a few times, but I’ve always repaid it. This time we were trying not to do that. But we decided that we wanted to go out to dinner anyway. We were going to use the last of our money, almost a week before getting paid, to go out to eat. We still need groceries, but we decided that those would come out of savings. We marveled that we do this all the time. When we run short of money, we sometimes just say F it and go spend money out of our savings account. We shouldn’t do it, but we almost decide that, well, we don’t have any money anyway, we know we’re going to have to dip into savings, so why not play a little?

 

Is this the poverty mindset? Is it really just a matter of saying, well, I don’t have much money anyway, so I might as well use what I have or what I can get on credit to have a few nice things? Why should I deny myself when trying to scrimp isn’t going to make any difference in my situation? There comes a point when debt feels crippling and there doesn’t seem any way out of it. Do you just sort of say, F it! I’m not getting out of debt anyway, and what’s a few more dollars, or even a couple hundred when I’m this far under? Maybe not. I just don’t know, but I feel like that could be part of it. I know that that’s how Hubby and I tend to get when we get short of money. Don’t get me wrong, we have been known to be very frugal and make that little bit of money stretch to the next paycheck, but just as often we get spendthrifty with it.

 

This is kind of akin to me planning and plotting how I’m going to spend my paychecks once the kids are out of Montessori. The prospect of a little money makes me a little crazy. Is it the same way for those in poverty? You get a little money finally and you just want to spend it. Whether or not you know you should save it or use it to pay bills, you just want to go out and finally have a little fun. Eventually you save it or use it wisely but, at first, the first want, is to use it for a little fun.

 

Poverty is a terrible thing, but it’s not the death of all wants. It is not the death of wanting to have fun and have some nice things. Nor should it be. But for many, poverty is a life sentence. And that sucks. I don’t know what the answer is, but I know that everyone deserves dignity, respect, and compassion. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know anything about poverty. I have been fortunate in life. I had some ramen days, but nothing lasting. I am writing from a place of pure speculation. But it does seem to me that wanting the best for your kids and wanting to have at least a few nice things in your life is a pretty safe bet for most people. My definition of nice things and someone else’s might not be the same, though. And my priorities aren’t anyone else’s either, they are mine. Someone who has lived in poverty probably has different priorities from me. That’s cool. All I’m doing is speculating about the differences in how those with very little money, or those with crushing debt might feel about money. Please don’t skewer me for my ignorance, but I’m totally open to learning more if I’m totally off base.

 

This was just a passing conversation, but it stuck with me a little, especially in light of the fact that I knew I was going to go grocery shopping before we got paid and it would come out of savings. I actually bought more than I might have if we’d still had just a limited amount of money in the regular account. Huh.

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Classic Rock and Doing Bills, oh, and CARNITAS!!!

Listening to classic rock and just finished paying bills. I love that I can pay bills in advance. I have already looked at how much we are getting this check and can schedule payments on the computer. Too cool.

 

This check we are going to be a little more careful. Since we have started paying off the credit card, we have been tight and we didn’t do well last pay period. We did things that we needed to do, but some that we absolutely didn’t. That’s OK. We shall do better. We can totally manage this tight period. I just need to step up my meal planning game and keep to a once a week shopping trip. And keep Hubby to that as well. If we’re not paying attention, we tend to run out for just one or two things that end up costing $30 in the end. Those add up if we do them often enough. I have been hit and miss with the meal planning. I did well for a couple of weeks and then didn’t do it last week and boy, did it show. Our meals went to crud and we not only ordered pizza, but went out to eat as well. That was unnecessary. Now I need to buy meat again though. We actually used all the meat I had stockpiled! So, I’ll buy meat for the week and see what’s on sale to stock up on.

 

I told you we had discovered chicken leg quarters, didn’t I? I know, I’m late to the party, but they’re amazingly affordable and Hubby likes dark meat better, and Older Boy likes chicken legs best. They can be as cheap as 39 cents a pound. That’s quite a bit cheaper than boneless, skinless breasts (which is what we used to get)! Even at their best price they are $1.99 a pound. Since chicken leg quarters come in 10 pound bags, that’s the difference between $3.90 or $19.90 for the same amount of breasts. I know, but what about health?! Well, as part of a healthy diet, a little dark meat chicken won’t derail your efforts at health. Just don’t eat it every day. Variety is what you’re supposed to get anyway, right?

 

I made carnitas for Hubby a couple of days ago. It’s basically pulled pork taco meat. IT’s super flavorful and delicious and easy, it’s just time consuming. For most of my life it was celebration food. When I graduated college, I made carnitas for the whole family (parents, in-laws, and a grandmother) and we indulged. For birthdays, or any special occasion, or none at all, we’d make this meat.

 

CARNITAS

Pork shoulder roast (bone-in or not) (2-4 lbs – for 2 pounds use smaller amount of seasonings, for larger, use larger amount)

1-2 Tablespoons of ground cumin, ground coriander, and oregano

2 medium onions

2 medium carrots

 

Place in pot and barely cover with water. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 2 1/2 hours or until fork tender. Remove from pot, place in baking dish and place in 350 degree oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until browned. Shred.

 

You use it as a taco filling. For best results (or at least the way we’ve always done it) fill warmed corn tortilla with meat, queso fresco (a crumbly, salty cheese), salsa, guacamole, iceberg lettuce, and refried beans.

 

This has been our celebration food my entire life. I hadn’t made it since I went vegetarian, so about two years. I got a small roast and made it for the boys. Turns out the kids don’t care for the meat, but Hubby has been eating it for a few days now and loving it. Like I said, it’s time consuming because you have to sit around and wait for it and it takes 3 1/2 hours to finish, so you have to plan ahead, but it’s totally worth the wait. If you have a spare day when you’re not planning on doing much, or plan to be around the house, try it. It reheats in the microwave quite well.

 

Anyway… now that the advertisement for carnita meat is done, I hope you all have a good rest of the day!

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Expensive week

So, we weren’t as thrifty this paycheck as we should have been. We’re quite low on money at the mo. However, it went to good causes. I bought a work wardrobe (mostly cargo pants and polo shirts, but enough to last me a while at work once I start), and some summer clothes for the boys. Turns out Older Boy doesn’t like shorts anymore, so I bought him a couple more pairs of blue jeans instead. Younger Boy loves shorts, so it was shorts and sleeveless shirts for him. His favorite summer uniform. Their clothes were on super sale, so that was nice, and I got the best prices I could for mine. You’d be surprised how difficult it is to find cotton cargo pants for plus-sized women. I know, it’s oddly specific, but that’s what I needed. Polyester absorbs radiation better, and will tend to set off the detectors (at least I’m pretty sure that’s what Hubby told me; I knew they couldn’t have polyester in them – shirts or pants – at least).

 

The other big expense was haircuts for the kids and me. Older Boy got his long hair cut off. He’d had it shoulder length for two years. He wanted to donate it to Locks of Love, who make wigs for cancer patients who have lost their hair, but it wasn’t long enough. It needs to be at least 12 inches. Younger Boy was in dire need of one also, as was I. We went to a new place and I am quite pleased with how the cuts turned out. We are shorn for summer.

 

Next week I’ll be away from electronics. I’m going on a tech fast for the week. I have gotten addicted to checking email and facebook and the like, and it’s time to unplug for a while. I know, all of that tech hasn’t included writing here much, but I’ve been so busy on other apps and things that I haven’t put the tablet down long enough to write much of anything! Too much.

 

 

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Well, I have had some serious thinking going on the last several days. Thankfully, my darling husband was there to provide some much needed grounding and support. I am severely amped up about this job that I may start sometime this year. (It’s looking like late July, early August at this point before I get the formal offer of employment) This is the first shot at a career I’ve had since I was in the Navy 20 years ago. I’m super excited and anxious to get started.

 

But here’s the thing… I’ve also been feeling supremely greedy. You see, I’ve been on a binge of planning money things – retirement amounts at various years of service, what I’m going to with my paychecks once the kids are out of private school, how long it will take to pay off the car, how much more house we can get with my paycheck added in, that sort of thing. I have set myself a goal job and pay amount before I retire. It’s ambitious but doable. In the midst of all of this I have been feeling guilty because I saw all of this plotting and planning and wanting to spend as a betrayal of my green and thrifty leanings these last several years. I do want the nice house in a good school system and nice neighborhood. I have the minivan that was my dream car. I am getting all of these things that seem the epitome of rampant materialism.

 

Here’s the thing though, Dearest Husband pointed out that I’ve been the stay at home steward of a single income for the past 10 years. I have wanted to be frugal and keep us able to do as much as possible within that one income. I have done a good job overall. But, now there is the prospect of me earning my own money for the first time in years, and I’m excited about it. I have had a few jobs here and there for a few months at a time, but nothing lasting because it always made more sense for me to stay home rather than earn just a little bit and miss so much time with the family, or have to pay for daycare that would eat up my entire check. Now, I have the prospect of a good job – a career – in front of me, and I want all of the things that can get us.

 

I felt like I had abandoned the idea of enough when I started wanting a nicer house in a nicer neighborhood, and when I put us in debt for the van. And, maybe I have, but it’s really not wrong to want these things. I want a nice house, but it doesn’t need to be bigger. I still want to pay it off early and live without debt. Even a green and thrifty girl is allowed to dream of nice things. I may not need to be as thrifty as I was once we move and the kids are out of private school, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to abandon my deal seeking life, nor am I going to start shopping for no good reason like I used to.

 

I got so caught up in dreaming about all of the wonderful things my income could give us that I started feeling like Scrooge MacDuck, wanting to roll around in my money (that I haven’t even made yet). It was truly causing me a lot of anxiety and grief. Hubby pointed out that it was perfectly natural for me to be excited about making some money, and to dream about how it could make our lives better. I may have gotten a bit carried away, but that was fine as well. I am not dreaming about yachts and going into debt to buy stupid stuff, I am dreaming about being able to have an emergency fund and a good retirement. These are not the dreams of an excessively greedy person. Thanks, Honey.

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