Power to the People

As we begin 2012, the Occupy Wall Street protests continue across the country, Greece and the rest of the EU teeter on the brink of something precipitous, and news outlets broadcast every sigh and gasp of various global stock exchanges, I, Denise, will attempt do something nearly as life changing for our family – begin to tame the household finances. Because, while the world around me seems to be, well, (depending on whether I’m in a half-full or half-empty mood), reforming or collapsing, our household budget is one bucking bronco I can control. With will, focus, a firm grip on the rope and, above all, balance, I can and will direct this family toward debt-free prosperity.

I should say that I have not always been in this relatively privileged position. In my previous life as a single person and owner of a small business start-up, I was once so broke that I was moonlighting as a waitress and even had to borrow money from my sister to cover my mortgage one dire month. Credit card debt piled up faster than discarded wrapping paper on Christmas morning.

As a single person I could scrimp and cut costs to nothing. Eat air and water. Now, married with a family the responsibilities are different. My husband and I agree we need to plan ahead. We have the power to do this. With the Warren book, we have a sensible guide that is designed to help “the little guy” like us make our way through a frenzied financial field that is not necessarily level.

We at NerdHaven Farms South have a few positives on our side: My husband, the breadwinner, is a tenured professor. Until the government does away with the tenure system (which could be soon), he has job security. (Buddha knows security is an illusion, but I want to help bolster any here-and-now “security” we appear to have with the application of moderation.)

Also in our favor is our location. North Florida has a relatively low cost of living as compared to say, Los Angeles. Our farmer’s market veggies are cheaper, our restaurants much less expensive (if also less varied and less bleeping* amazing). Entertainment costs are pennies on the dollar to LA’s.

Working against us is our age at the onset of this true experiment. My husband and I are in our 40s, leaving us precious little time to save for retirement, pay off mortgages and student loans, let alone save for our daughter’s education. Late bloomers are we, which is one reason why we have a (fabulous) three-year-old daughter, Clara, otherwise known as She-Who-Will-Have-Increasingly More-Expensive-Needs. I thought the cost of those biodegradable diapers was high – bring on the swim, ballet and gymnastic classes, etc. Phew. I can feel college looming on the horizon.

To survive it, my husband and I agree we must get our house in order now. I’m nearly finished reading All Your Worth. From it I have gleaned Warren’s plan to balance our budget. While I can’t go into specifics yet, from the book I have learned creating a budget is, contrary to what many of us have heard our entire lives, not about penny-pinching, rather it is about balance. Innocuous, powerful, central — balance. So for the next few days I’m going to crunch numbers until I can uncover how much we spend on each of Warren’s three categories: needs, wants and savings. Then I’m going to make a plan to make sure we spend no more than 50 percent of our after tax income on needs, 30 percent or less on wants, and 20 percent (which includes paying down debt) on savings. Wish me luck analyzing our budget. I will report back soon.

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