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In money, and in life, there are a lot of things that work and a lot of things that do not work. There are also always a lot of people who are chomping at the bit to tell you exactly how to succeed in somewhere between 1 and 15 easy steps. My favorite examples are the fitness “trainers” who tell you that you just have to do one thing for 43 seconds per day and you end up with wash board abs in 9.42 days. Or, no matter what your issue is, drinking a cup of apple cider vinegar every day will most likely solve it (unless your issue of that you have an addiction to apple cider vinegar – that’s more of a two cups of apple cider vinegar per day problem).

With money, there are some non-negotiables for success: spend less than you make, save regularly, use credit sparingly, plan ahead, drink apple cider vinegar, and buy my 3 Simple Steps to Owning a Real Estate Empire DVD for three easy payments of $49.99 (to be clear, this is a joke – I would never sell it for that cheap…). There are probably some others as well. In terms of the actual nuts and bolts of concrete actions that help households succeed, there is as much variety as there are differences in personality, background, location, income, etc. One of my pet peeves is the many one size fits all prescriptions for success that abound in the book stores and the internet.

As a household, it’s important to define priorities, values and goals, as well as to identify the types of things that facilitate success and the things that seem to just add unneeded stress and headaches. Gretchen and I currently have a very loose budget, by most financial planner standards. We’ve been living on my steady income for long enough that we know what fits and what doesn’t fit in our spending capacity. We also have numerous safeguards that we are in the habit of using (I have mentioned many of these in previous blog posts), such as talking to each other before any unplanned purchase and direct-depositing a portion of my check into a bank account at a different bank that serves as savings for us. We also know some things that don’t work well for us:

  • Strict budgeting: For us, we find that practices such as the ones I mentioned above serve us well in keeping us on track. We have built in monthly savings through direct deposit and our main goal is to make sure that we are covering all of our expenses out of our checking account. We have done more strict budgeting for periods of time, but have found that it quickly causes us to obsess about our money (completely defeating our goal of thinking less about money). For anyone who is looking to make changes in the way that they manage their money, I absolutely recommend strict budgeting. Gretchen and I have been living frugally for 10 years now and are pretty accustomed to how that plays out for us.
  • Allowance: I am a fan of a budget including an allowance for Mama and Papa. This adds some fun and a greater sense of freedom to managing money. For us, however, having an allowance actually does not serve to limit our spending, but to increase it. Gretchen and I just don’t buy many extras. If we were to budget monthly allowances, we would actually spend more. We’re not spending Nazis either, however. We do each periodically purchase want items when we have talked about it and determined that it will fit in our cash flow. Again, I still think allowances are a great idea – they just don’t work for us.
  • Couponing: If you are a master jedi couponer, you are awesome. We, however, are not awesome. I wouldn’t know where to start and Gretchen has other things that take priority for her. We just don’t have the energy to tackle this area. Again, if you do, you are awesome.

Here are a couple of other things that work or have worked well for us at some point:

  • Spending Diet: Gretchen and I read Dave Ramsey’ Financial Peace 7 or 8 years ago and decided that it was important to build an emergency savings fund. As Dave recommends, we kick started this savings goal with an extreme financial diet of around 6 months and tried to pile as much into savings as we could. We were making very little money at the time (some things never change), but were still able to get a great start during that time. We did not go out to eat. We were intentional about eating very inexpensive foods (plenty o’ rice and beans). We found that we actually enjoyed this period and that the challenge added some variety to life. The increased rate of savings accumulation served as a great motivator.
  • Good quality purchases: Usually somewhere in between the dollar store clearance rack and the use the same product that Tom Cruise uses is a great product that is much closer to the cheap item in price and much closer to the primo item in quality. That’s the sweet spot that we try to stay in on our bigger purchases. There is an appeal to owning the best of the best and some benefit. To us, the cost is rarely worth the added benefit. This may not be true for you.
  • Willingness to downsize: Downsizing in any form is the American nightmare and many people break into a cold sweat even at the uttering of the word. (caution: certain symptoms have been associated with downsizing: vomiting, uncontrollable sobbing, bigger bank accounts, blank dumbfounded stares, appreciation for the simple things, reverting to ancestral mother tongues for up to four hours – call your doctor if symptoms persist past four hours). Gretchen and I have successfully downsized from 2 incomes to 1 income, 2 cars to 1 car, and are in the process of downsizing from 1 junk room to no junk rooms (lots of purging going on right now). People have survived the horrors of downsizing. We have found a freedom in it.

A good friend of ours shared a strategy that she is using when she takes her kids shopping with her. They have made a rule that when they shop, they will absolutely only buy what is on the list that they have made beforehand. If the kids see something that they want while shopping (which is similar to saying if the ’96 Saturn SL 1 could use a couple of repairs), they have learned that they will have to go home, write it down and talk with mom and dad about whether it can be on the list for the next time. They have had a lot of success with this and I think it is something we will try when Isa gets to that stage.

Never be ashamed of the uniqueness of your situation and the types of things that work and do not work for you as you work at managing money. Don’t feel bad if what some expert says sounds less appealing to you than a stint in the joint. You may not have the same goals. You almost definitely have a different personality. Use creativity in finding the things that click with you and cause you to remain motivated in your journey to financial success. It is great to gather a lot of ideas. Once you have done this, pare it down to a few that you will try and implement. Give them a chance to work. Remember though, if any one of them causes the main focus of your thoughts to be constantly obsessing about money, throw it out and look for something that is a better fit. You don’t have to impress Benny Moneybags, who made a fortune selling his five steps to being a millionaire (to save you the trouble, I will condense those steps to sell a program about 5 steps that you haven’t tried to a bunch of suckers and soon you’ll have a million dollars).

What works for your family? What doesn’t?

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This post was linked to Monday Mania at Healthy Home Economist, The Homestead Barn Hop at The Prairie Homestead, Mentoring Mamas at Simply Living For Him, Better Mom Mondays at The Better Mom, Seasonal Celebrations at The Natural Mother’s Network, Women Living Well Wednesdays at Women Living Well, Frugal Days Sustainable Ways at Frugally Sustainable,  Your Green Resource at Sorta Crunchy, Simple Lives Thursday at GNOWFGLINS, Frugal Fridays at Life As Mom

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