In my last post, I mentioned Scholastic book orders as a place where you could trim your budget. It reminded me about a friend who once told me she felt it was important not to limit spending on books, because they were so important to a child’s well being and education.
As an avid reader, and author myself, I completely agree that instilling a love for learning and reading is critical to good parenting. But is our book spending on a tight budget? You betcha!
There are so many ways I could expose my children to incredible learning experiences if our bank account was bottomless. However, I choose to work within the confines of the reality of our income, and that means finding budget friendly alternatives.
My book buying budget is $5 a month. That means when the Scholastic flyer comes home in a backpack, it’s tossed into the recycling bin immediately. We have fun playing in the giant teacup in Chapters Indigo, but have never even browsed the shelves (I’m not certain my kids see past the plasma cars to realize Chapters even sells books).
There are many books I loved and cherished as a child (my favourite is The Giving Tree), and plenty of books today that I value for their message and beautiful illustrations. These days I’m loving You Are Sooooo Beautiful and Buckets – they have exceptional messages about feelings and self-esteem and are expressed beautifully.
However, owning one particular book will not change your child’s life. Even if you buy a certain book, if your child doesn’t connect with it, the message is lost. They might like reading it, but if you’re not modeling the same behavior, and tying it back to everyday life, the specific usefulness of that sharing, caring, or bullying book won’t matter.
I buy books for my kids at charity book sales, where childrens’ books are often two for $1. I buy them at Value Village or Salvation Army, where they’re $1 each or less. I stock up at garage sales, where I’ve never paid more than $0.25 for a book. I’ve found books about respecting your parents, accepting friends of other skin colours, and anti-bullying. I’ve definitely found a few dogs too (in one classic Mary Meyers book, the mother asks while shopping, “Do you want a spanking?” simply because the child is asking too many questions).
If there’s a book I think my child will love, I’ll either save up for it, or check it out from the library (our library lets us request that they bring a book in if they don’t already carry it). I just don’t feel the need to have a bookshelf at home overflowing with books touted as the solution to any emotional problems my child might have. I figure that money is better socked away in an RESP to someday pay for the books they really need – their college or university textbooks.
Or, I guess, therapy.
Any idea how much you spent eating out last year? How much did you pay in interest on debt? What about your spending on cosmetics, kids clothing, or books?
Should you know these numbers? Probably, but not necessarily.
If your household income covers all of your expenses, without any debt other than a mortgage, and you maximize your RRSP, RESP and TFSA contribution room, then you don’t necessarily need to track your spending.
Carry a balance on your credit card? Have a line of credit? Pay the minimum on your 30-year mortgage? Not contributing enough, if at all, to the savings vehicles mentioned above? Then you need to track what you spend. It’s that simple.
On Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s fantastic show, Til Debt Do Us Part, every family in debt crisis has something in common – they underestimate their expenses, big time. Gail spends a lot of time on this, because it’s really the root of each family’s debt problem.
Are you sure you can’t find an extra $200 a month for an RESP? Maybe you’re spending $200 more than necessary on groceries every month. Reclaim that $200 monthly with careful attention to your grocery spending combined with meal planning and savvy sale shopping.
Indiscriminate spending on kids stuff is a huge problem for many families. Our generation didn’t receive “stuff” and expensive experiences as freely as we lavish it on our children. In one month, today’s average seven-year-old might enjoy a Wiggles concert (plus parking, food, and souvenirs), a few stops at McDonalds, a cute new dress or hoodie, the Scholastic book order, a new Nintendo DS game, and an afternoon at the theatre for the new Pixar movie. Poof! $300 or more gone in the blink of an eye. And don’t forget swimming lessons, ballet, hockey, tutoring, and more.
I am painfully aware of how much money we bring into our household, and how much goes out. No sticking my head in the sand permitted. But I HATE tracking our spending. It's boring, tedious work. Over the past 11 years, I’ve tried various methods for tracking our spending to be aware of where our money is going, from the super complicated to the ridiculously easy.
I’ve used Simple Accounting, Quickbooks, a simple notebook, specialized programs, and an iPhone app. All of them will work for awhile, but inevitably I fall off the wagon in updating them, inputting income and expenses, sorting out what expenses went on this credit card or that debit card, or this ING account.
Again and again I’ve gone back to the old standby – a simple Excel spreadsheet.
At the top, I record each source of income in the first column, and in the second column, the amount of predicted income. At the bottom of this info is a total income for the month. Further down, in each row of the first column are the spending categories – mortgage payments, debt repayment, interest, insurance (house, life, auto), health, groceries, kids activity, clothing, miscellaneous household, you get the picture. In the second column, I estimate what we’ll spend on each category for the month.
The projected spending is totaled, and compared to the income amount to see if we plan on going into debt that month, or having extra to invest in savings or debt repayment. As the month progresses, we record what we’ve spent in the third, fourth, fifth and beyond columns. Over to the right, a column subtracts each purchase to give us a running total of how much money we have allocated to that category for the rest of the month. Spent more on entertainment that we had allocated? I'm digging deep in the freezer that month, because the grocery budget will have to take the hit.
We have our budget set up in one document with a separate worksheet for every month of the year, and can adjust monthly for seasonal expenses such as sports registration, vacations, and Christmas gifts.
I’m always curious to know how other people track their spending. Or if they don't, why not?
I admit it. I love money. I love making it, talking about it, investing it, and yes, spending it. I think spending money is actually my favourite thing to do, next to writing about it. And write about it I do. I write financial guides. My first was a financial guide for college and university students called Sink or Swim: Get Your Degree Without Drowning in Debt. It took me seven years to write the next one, as three children and a business absorbed my attention. Money Smart Mom: Financially Fit Parenting hit the shelves in 2010.
When promoting my first book in a tour, I was often described as a financial expert, and I would quickly correct my interviewer. I’m not a financial expert. Financial experts have MBAs, wear suits, and their business cards list long strings of letters after their name. They occupy the upper echelons of the financial world. That just isn’t me. What I am is a voracious researcher on everything to do with money. From the Smith Manoeuvre to rebate forms, I’m obsessed with it all. I have strong opinions on money matters, and I back it up with research. I think of myself as a financial godmother, wand alight to give my readers the tools they need to get ahead financially.
Like most people interested in the way money ebbs and flows through our hands and lives, I definitely have frugal tendencies. Wikipedia describes frugality as the practice of acquiring goods and services in a restrained manner, and resourcefully using already owned economic goods and services, to achieve a longer term goal. I think this description is apt, however; it doesn’t take into account the slightly negative connotation of the word frugal. It’s been lumped in with a bad crowd. Our grandmothers were frugal, thrifty, and cheap. Our grandfathers were tightwads, penny-pinchers and misers.
I prefer the term money smart because it sounds savvy, not slanderous. Like something you want to be. And best of all, it has no defined boundaries. It’s a big picture thinking descriptor. Spent $300 on a romantic dinner out with your husband? You’re not necessarily a spendthrift. If that was your only restaurant meal in the past six months, you paid in cash, and you savoured every last delectable bite, it was a money smart move.
Being money smart means a few things. It means you’re perpetually educating yourself about financial issues. You’re aware of what you’re spending your money on, and how much you’re spending. You have a plan, and you’re constantly evaluating how best to meet your goals.
If you’re interested in being money smart, I want to help you get there. In this blog I’ll be investigating the nitty gritty issues that affect your bank balance, such as comparison shopping, coupon cutting, vehicle ownership, energy efficient appliances, and more. I’ll help you identify your bad money management habits and give you strategies to overcome them once and for all. And I’ll examine the big issues too – how to set up an RESP, understanding TFSAs, figuring out how much you’ll actually get from CPP and more.
I want to have a conversation with you about money. I’ll look at issues I think you want to know more about, and you can make suggestions too. What I’m not going to do is preach at you. I’m not going to make promises of financial freedom that require complete adherence to arbitrary rules I lay out for you.
Once you get money smart, it’s nearly impossible to forget what you’ve learned. Once you no longer dread opening your credit card statement, or don’t hold your breath wondering if your debit card will be declined for insufficient funds, you won’t want to go back to that way of life.
Join me. We’ve got a lot to talk about!