Why Simple Isn’t Always Better

September, my birthday month, is always a time of analysis and reflection. It is the time I celebrate my own personal new year. One year older and, I hope, wiser. It is the time when I resolve to be a bit better, kinder, stronger, or smarter than the year prior.

This year my goal is to focus on ways to simplify my life.

This is not as easy as it may sound. Not for me. I am someone who has big ambitions. I want perfect health, a fulfilling career, and exciting personal projects to keep me busy. That is no small order. In fact, as I write down my heart’s desires, I realize how demanding I can be of myself.

I’m not going to apologize. Those desires arise from a strong self-belief. As such, I cannot be too disappointed in my inability to chill the fuck out. But that doesn’t mean that I have to stop finding all the ways to achieve my dreams. In contemplating my goals for the year, I have come to a realization. Simple is not always better.

I was studying my family’s finances and realized that simple comes with a premium cost. How, you ask. Restaurants and dining out. You see, one way my family “simplifies” our home life is by eating out. It saves us preparation, clean up, and grocery shopping time.

The downside? We spent significantly on restaurants.

In addition to simplifying this year, another goal I have is to increase our family’s savings and investments. I want to take more steps to ensure that my husband and I will have comfortable retirements. And, I want to take a few special vacations with our son before he graduates high school (and it will happen in the blink of an eye.)

Of course, to save more money, I have to make more money. At least that’s what people, myself included, say. Not so.

After reviewing my family’s spending habits, I realized that we could save money if we eat out less. In other words, we don’t have to make more money, we need to redirect the money we already have.

I don’t think it will be simple like snapping your fingers. First, I know that to be successful I have to have agreement and buy in from my family. Then, I need a solid plan. I need to always have food options in the house. Finally, I need to have some money budgeted so that we can dine out occasionally.

So here’s the plan.

 

Family Buy In

I will disclose to my husband and son the amount we spend on dining out every month. I will explain and discuss how much we could save by eating at home more. I will share with them the goals I have for how to redirect those monies. Together, we will set a monthly budget for dining out. Next, we will work on standard menu ideas and discuss the foods they want to be picked up from the grocery store.

I am going to encourage my husband to help me get our son involved in this process.He is about to turn sixteen. He needs to understand how his purchasing choices will impact his disposable income. As a sophomore, we only have three more years to help him build adult skills. Grocery shopping, menu planning, and money management are all skills he will need as an adult.

Create a Plan

Once my husband, son, and I decide on dinner ideas and standing grocery list items we will create a plan for success. We will designate a grocery shopping night. Previously, I have used and liked Dillon’s online shopping and grocery pickup services. I will use those to simplify the food acquisition process.

I do enjoy cooking and I do it well. I know that I can create great meals for my family. Cleaning, well, that’s a different story. I will politely say that it is not my favorite. Luckily, my family has a standing policy that requires the people who did not cook to do the cleaning. Still, I will make sure that our dinner plans include quick cleanup menus to reduce the annoyance of this step.

One area that I see posing problems is in lunch ideas for my husband and I. Throughout the week, we go out to eat lunch. But, that is where the bulk of the spending occurs. To really see my plans for redirecting our finances to be successful, we must substantially decrease our lunches at restaurants. Figuring out lunch food options will be a key to our success. Finally, it is not a bad idea to have a few frozen meal options. We have plenty of surprise nights where we stay too late at the office. The best things to do for those days is to pop a frozen pizza in the oven and enjoy a sitcom.

Dining out budget

Last, but equally important, I need to figure out how to stay true to our “dining out budget.” It is entirely too easy to put a meal on a credit card and forget that you spent money.

I am thinking about using Dave Ramsey’s envelope method. If you are not familiar with this, I will explain. Simply put, your budgeted amount is converted to cash and placed in an envelope. Money is then taken from the envelope during for the planned activity. When the envelope is empty, you are no longer permitted to participate in that activity. You cannot use credit cards, you cannot go to the bank and get more money. It gives you a powerful visual indicator of that… an empty envelope. I like the idea of using this method because I want my son to understand and learn this lessons. Resources are finite. And, we must make good choices with the resources we have.

I will keep you posted about how this worked. Now, it’s your turn. Do you prefer to pay a premium for simple? Why or why not?

 

 

Fearless Finances for Freelance Artists

This essay took some time to complete. It took time because I am uncertain that the words, Fearless and Finance should go together. For me, they never have. As I have shared before, I grew up with limited financial circumstances. Worse, I grew up completely ignorant about money matters. And honey, money knowledge does matter.
But, a colleague recently shared a secret that revealed something to me… she has anxiety about finances too. This empowered me to think about ways I can help her quell her anxieties. Guess what? In writing this for her, it helped me reduce some of my anxieties too.
Anxiety is a double-edged sword. If it causes you to freeze in fear, that is unhealthy. But, if your anxiety spurs you into action then it can be a good thing. Her statement inspired me to write about what I do to reduce my financial anxiety. I focus this on tips that will help reduce anxiety while preparing your taxes.
Make a plan
I know this sounds like a Captain Obvious statement. But to reduce your anxiety, you need to make a plan. And to make a plan, you need to understand how you make and spend money. But, most people do not think about this until it is too late in the game.
Schedule time with your accountant or financial planning professional to ask questions. Do this before she begins to prepare your taxes.  To prepare for your appointment, review the tips provided by IRS. The information at this site will help you gain a basic understanding. Then go into your appointment armed with questions specific to your business. While there, ask for checklists that will help simplify your gathering process. If your financial professional does not have any, create your own from notes you take. Later, sell the templates to your accountant; remind her you requested some. Suggest that it will help her future clients.
Your plans will vary depending on your work. Create a 1099 checklist if you receive payments from more than one organization. Update your checklist throughout the year. You may forget one depending on your level of busy-ness. In January, start checking for all 1099s. Check them off as they come in. Have contact information to communicate with employers who have not sent you forms by February.
Spend the majority of your planning efforts on deductible expenses. Deductible expenses are those expenses which you incurred to be able to do the work that you are doing. A phone line and internet, if necessary for business, are deductible expenses. Provide all your monthly statements to your accountant to include in your taxes. Deductible expenses can also include seminars, books, and memberships to organizations. For the IRS’s list of deductible expenses, click this LINK.
Gather your tools
Now you have a plan to gather documents and information. Next, consider the method by which you will track this information. Putting it all in a shoe box and leaving it until the end does you nothing but harm. Thus, it is important to process the information with the right tools. Otherwise, you are back to anxiety-town.
You can do this in a way that works for you. Keep all paper copies or upload everything to the cloud. The choice is yours as only you know how you work best. But, if you need ideas, I do have specific recommendations based on the tools that work for me. If they are unlikely to work for you, don’t do them.
Digital
Of course, the first thought is that doing everything online will be easiest. I cannot be certain. I mix things up and use some old school methods. But, there are a few things that I cannot imagine without technology.
An example? Mileage. Logging and distinguishing miles driven for business vs. personal is tedious. I hated doing mileage before I discovered an online solution. When I learned of automatic mileage trackers, I threw my handwritten logs away. I use MileIQ. Others exist. Now, every month I work through all the trips that the program has logged. I choose which are business and which are personal. Then, I email myself an expense report that I can turn over to my accountant at the end of the year. It takes five to ten minutes. Easy.
I also rely on online business management software. In the past, I have used Quickbooks. I appreciate that it is the industry standard. And, I like that my accountants know how to use it better than I do. Many new programs have emerged so find the one that works best for you.
Analog
Even though I receive a monthly credit card, I still track many work related expenses by receipt. But, I no longer keep all the receipts in a pile that needs to be processed at year’s end. I use a modified version of Dave Ramsey’s “envelope” method. I buy 8.5 x 11 white or manila envelopes. Then, I track each receipt on the outside of the envelope. I write on the envelope itself, you can choose to staple a lined sheet. Write the envelope title on the outside. Title examples include things like medical expenses, materials, travel expenses, etc.
You will want to write information about each receipt. You need four pieces of information from each receipt: purchase date, place of purchase, purchase price, and purchase purpose.
When tax time comes, take the envelopes to your accountant. All needed is on the outside while supporting evidence is located within. I provide the envelopes and electronic business management software to my accountant. This ensures that we do not miss anything.
Make consistent efforts
Okay if at this point, you are thinking that my suggestions above are time consuming, you may be right. If on the last day of the year you read the articles I linked. Then you go meet up with your accountant. Then, you download apps, buy envelopes, go through each receipt one at a time, it will take a long time. And, it will drive you LOCA.
In my life, I have learned that it is not the big sweeping actions that help us improve. Rather, it is the small, consistent steps we take that end up making the big changes in our lives. So, to reduce the anxiety surrounding finances, consider the small steps you can make.
Once you have pulled all your tools together, it should take no more than 30 minutes to an hour once per month. So, start soon and take time each month to process the paperwork you have.
Review & Repeat
Once you have a system in place that works for you, it is important to review your needs once or twice per year. The reason is that as time passes, your freelance work can change. You may have new expenses that you want to include. Those changes can impact your financial approach.
These annual meetings will also spur important conversations. As your business grows, you have increased opportunities. Ask your accountant to discuss tax planning with retirement accounts and health insurance. These meetings will also help you grow your business management knowledge.
You can do it. If you take time to create a plan, make consistent efforts, and conduct consistent reviews of your business, you will begin to face finances fearlessly and without anxiety.
What steps do you take to face your finances fearlessly?

Re-evaluating Your Relationship with Money

I have to admit something… I am frugal; a penny pincher. I will call businesses to inquire about discounts. I give myself time to contemplate purchases before I follow through. In sum, I am careful about spending money. I have more to confess, I’m proud to be frugal. It was not always this way.
 
I grew up knowing that money was important and that my family did not have a lot of it. It’s not as though we were impoverished. No. Both of my parents worked full time in a meat packing plant. They worked their asses off. They made sure that we had all the essentials- shelter, food, clothing. They made sure we even a few niceties. We had annual family vacations. We had four bedrooms for five children to share. But, I knew we were not rolling in it either. I was wise enough to ask for as little as possible.
 
And I grew up knowing something else, that I would make enough money to get whatever I wanted. I thought having an all-American Girl’s life was all about that. You see, I grew up with something else too. I grew up with American teenage girl messaging. To me, being an All-American girl was about having a perfect closet setup like Cher in Clueless. It was finding love and being able to tell bitches to go to hell like Vivian in Pretty Woman. It was ruling a nation with an extensive wardrobe for your jewels like Mia in Princess Diaries. And I endeavored to live my life similarly.
 
As soon as I could, I obtained employment so that I did not have to rely on what my parents could afford to give me. When I finished high school, I attended a junior college full time and worked full time. I lived with my parents. My life was pretty damn good.
 
I did not have rent or groceries as an expense because my parents still took care of all that. I provided only for myself. When I transferred to a four year college six hours away from home, I was finally on my own. I learned the true cost of living- rent, groceries, everything. My disposable income to live the all-American girl life I wanted shrank. What did not shrink was my want for the pretty things.
 
Unfortunately, I did not have the knowledge to understand money management. My parents never discussed money, finances, or budget management with me. None of it. I knew nothing about credit cards. I knew nothing about checking accounts. My parents, first-generation immigrants, did not have either. I know that they did have savings accounts. I knew that on Thursdays were pay days. They would go into “town” to buy money orders for bills they paid via USPS (pre paying online.) They paid for all local bills by driving to each business. I never saw financial problems in our home- cut utlities or repossessed vehicles. Oh no! My parents were responsible.
 
The problem is, they did not share this knowledge with me. So there I was, wanting to live an “all-American Girl’s Life” as seen on TV. Once I got to college, I got the key to the city and it was madeof plastic. Credit Cards. The first week on campus there were credit card companies encouraging co-eds to sign up. I did. Credit cards. Credit cards took me to a whole new level. They elevated my taste for expensive things. Of course, back then I was lucky if I had a thousand dollar limit. My finances did not get completely out of control. But, I still had no knowledge about how and why to fix my finances.
 
The time finally came that I completed my schooling and entered the workforce. Once my career got started, I bought the beautiful things I associated with my new career girl status. I bought anything that caught my eye. I felt empowered by designer name tags and emboldened by the sound of a cash register ringing me out. Shopping became a mood lifter. Lousy day? Don’t worry; something beautiful will make it better. Break up with a guy? Go shopping! A Coach bag will never break your heart.
 
You know where this story leads to… Disaster, Debt, and Doubt. That’s right, I created a disaster of my financial situation. I had debt. And, I doubted my ability to create the life that I had long envisioned for myself. It was a shock.
 
When it finally dawned on me that I was being careless with my money and my future. I took a step back. First, I stopped shopping. I stopped going to stores. I began to enjoy time all to myself that included getting back to reading, writing and thinking. Finally, I learned some important things.
 
I learned that pretty things do not bring happiness. I learned that unless you are whole on the inside no amount of pretty stuff on the outside can fill the hole. I learned that, if you are not careful or honest with yourself, the things you own end up owning you.
 
I cannot say that I am improved or evolved. Even now, I like pretty things. But, now I do not buy everything that I think is pretty. Though I do not enjoy the tedium of shopping, I do find the acquisition of property to be satisfying. But, I know that I am not better because of the things I own. I know that my worth as a human is not based on the car I drive, house I own or money in my bank account.
 
But, I also know that money is powerful. Money can enable you to pursue a passion, extend a helping hand, or assist you in creating memories. And therefore, it should be respected along with the efforts it takes to make it. I still do not keep a tight budget. I still do not pay attention as much as I should. But, I balance immediate desires to use my money in a way that can help me achieve my lifelong goals. More importantly, I have reset my approaches to money. 
 

What kind of relationship do you have with money?

What is Amada’s Guide?

 

Over the course of the last four months I have been pondering ways in which I can share my nonfiction and fiction writings with those who, like me, wish to see more Latinas in literature. I decided to create this website.

But, I also wanted to find ways to connect with other Latinas and share my journey. I wanted to share my thoughts. More importantly, I wanted a place where others can share their journeys and thoughts with me. For that purpose, I present you my blog, Amada’s Guide to Money, Men & Mama.

Amada’s Guide is a compilation of nonfiction essays where I will present topics that I hope can help Latinas. I will present ideas on career development, financial planning, and money management (the Money portion of the blog.) I will share my insights on sex and romantic relationships (the Men portion- though I don’t necessarily mean to exclude women who love women from reading my blog; I am just a sucker for alliteration.) And, I will start a conversation about parenting, step parenting, and relating to our parents as adults (thus, the Mama portion of the blog.) I will also present special feature articles throughout the year. Finally, I will post motivational or thoughtful mantras that help me shape the person that I am. I hope they will help you as well.

I compile all of these things in AMADA’S GUIDE because I want to share the ways I have managed both my career and personal development. I hope my ideas will help you too. And, if you want to share your ideas for success with me and others, please connect. Respond in comments or post to my Facebook page. I would love to learn from you.

Con Cariño, Amada.

Mama-3

Identify Your Goals

Every year, I try to challenge myself by trying something new. Most years, I forget my first of the year promise. By the second quarter of the year, I get busy with the day to day responsibilities that are part of my career, family, and personal obligations. And, I fail to accomplish the things on my aspirational list.

But this year, I have promised, will be exceptional. This year, I plan to share my fiction and nonfiction writing with the world. I plan to open up a conversation with Latinas worldwide who are navigating the numerous tags that identify them to the world.

But, I recognized that having an exceptional life requires exceptional efforts. For that reason, I began four months prior by preparing a future-focused plan. I not only backwards engineered my plan by contemplating my goals, my deadlines to accomplish said goals, and the current efforts that I must continue to exert in my life. I have created an excellent game plan for success.

What do you dream?

Plans require VISION.

But, before I could do all of that fun planning, preparation, and plotting, I had to start with the most important thing… A GOAL. Identifying my goals was crucial to creating my plan for success. If you wish to identify your goals as I did, check out the list of questions that I asked myself to identify my goal. I hope the list will help you begin an important conversation with yourself.

If these questions help you or you want to share any additional questions you use to help in your personal development efforts, comment on this post. You can also communicate with me at my Facebook page @AmadaAcostaAddair, Let me know how they work. I will start checking in on the steps you are taking to accomplish your goals.

5 Questions to Help You Identify Your Goals

What are three goals you wish to accomplish in your life? (or, In the next five years? In the coming year?  Etc. Think of any three goals. You are strong, hard-working, and achievement-oriented. You crush goals. Only you can limit your dreams.)

What are five steps which you must take under each of these goals in order to accomplish them?

Are there any time limitations or requirements you must meet in order to complete your goals? (I.E.- I wish to become a teacher. I must obtain a bachelor’s degree and a teaching certificate in order to be a teacher. A bachelor’s degree takes approximately 4-6 years to complete.)

Do any of your goals require a certain amount of financial investment? If yes, are you able to make that financial investment at this time?

Which of these goals are you going to start working towards today?

What is the first step you need to take to get started?

What is next?

I hope these questions have helped you identify the goals. And, I hope that they help you evaluate whether or not you can begin to work towards your goals today.

Once you have identified the goals you have for your life, it is easy to create a future-focused plan that can be executed and accomplished. You deserve to live the life you envision for yourself. However, it is important to remember that amazing opportunities come from extraordinary efforts. Therefore, you must now use the goals you have identified to create the plan. It is as easy and hard as all of that.

Do you want to  discuss how to create a plan from your goals? Wish to discuss your goals in greater detail? Remember, identifying your goals is just the first step. Now that you have determined what goals you have the time and money to accomplish, you will need to create a plan.

 

What question(s) would you have added to my list of five?