Simplifying the Finances

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Simplifying the finances is a journey, what works for me may not work for you. Your life situation is likely different from mine. But I do think that there is value is discussing how we do these things, both for experienced minimalists and for those new on the path. So here are a few things that have simplified my finances:

1) I am a minimalist. I do not shop for recreation. I generally do not buy objects or services that I do not need. I habitually look for a simpler way to do everything. It’s my favorite hobby.

2) I track every cent that I spend. I used to write expenses down on an 3 x 5 card that I kept in my wallet. Now I purchase most things with a cash back credit card. I use a debit card for the grocery store.  I use cash to pay the boys for their chores and to buy the occasional coffee or water. * I first read about tracking every cent in the book Your Money or Your Life and I have found it to be an invaluable practice.

3) I evaluate my spending at the end of each month and the end of each year. Is the money spent in line with my values? If not, why did I spend it?  I started with a written ledger and now use purchased software. I use YNAB (You Need A Budget.) My daughter-in-law uses Mint.

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4) Except for my mortgage, I have no debt. I have in the past: car loans, school loans, consumer debt. I do not like it. It would be a really dire circumstance that would cause me to borrow money again.

5) I am constantly evaluating my purchases: Do I really need this? Is there a less expensive way to get the need met? How have other people solved this problem?

6) I learn about the lives of exceptional people. Not exceptional in a Kim Kardashian kind of way, but someone who lived quietly and donated 1.3 million to the school of their choice when they died exceptional. Or the man I recently met, who with his wife fostered over 100 special needs children over a 30 year period. And they did it in a house with about 1000 sq. feet.

That is a few of the things that I do. These things are just habits now and easy. When I started each of them, there was a bit of a learning curve.

I would love for you to share how you keep your finances simple.

* I travel a lot for my job, in seventeen counties. Sometimes, I am far from home or the office and I need to use the restroom. I’ll stop in a gas station and use theirs. If I am not buying gas too, I’ll buy a coffee or water, as my way of saying thank you for providing me with a clean restroom to use.

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22 responses to “Simplifying the Finances

  1. Before I purchase anything other than the necessities, I ask myself “Who am I making rich by buying this?”. If not me, then I don’t buy it. I don’t have cable television (actually, no channels at all – the TV is for dvds from the library (movies and exercise), have no computer thus no Internet; a land phone; a cell phone that costs me $100 per year (no texting and no one has the number since it’s for outgoing emergency call only) and to ipods, ipads, etc. When I retire, I’m going to do like Francine at missminimalist.com. She has no tv but users her laptop to play dvds and cds, no land phoyne (uses only cell phone) so this eliminate the cost of cable, a stand to put the tv on, the look of an ugly tv and her laptop is mobile so she can wastch dvds in her living room, kitchen or bedroom.

  2. Please ignore my typos. My computer wouldn’t let me see what I was typing after the third sentence!!

  3. Diane, we already do this and it’s so nice to be mobile 🙂

    Otherwise, what else could be simpler?! I think you do all the right things. Here in Switzerland, I know people without credit cards (they don’t travel much, that is the main reason – to be able to rent a car abroad you need a credit card!). It is still a bit frowned upon to pay by card, even debit card – people carry cash and pay up immediately. The restaurant next door doesn’t even accept credit cards, and is not that unusual.
    Personally, I’m trying to work out how we can avoid having a bank account – at interest rates of 0.025%, it costs more to have an account than it’s worth with the fees and all 😮 (If you’re under 26 you can get up to 1%… still not exactly much! It used to be so different…)

    • I used to hate using my credit card for everything because the banks charge the merchant 2% of the charged amount so we end up paying more because the merchants have to raise the prices. I faught this for a long time then just gave up because everyone uses their credit cards. I won’t use it at a small mom & pop shop but will at large stores, etc. and the cash rebate I get at the end of the year goes to a charitable organization — so at least someone benefits other than just the banks!

  4. I have also read Your Money or Your Life and, while I slip some months, most months I do track every penny I spend and it is a huge eye opener, and also very helpful when it comes time to budget. I have been on a stop spending kick since the first of the year and it is amazing to realize that I really do have enough.

    I use Excel spreadsheets that I have created to track my budget, checking/savings accounts, as well as spending. I also use cash for pretty much everything I buy at the store (groceries, pet food, etc.) because that way I won’t overspend like I tended to do when I used my debit card (a Dave Ramsey trick). When the cash for any given category is gone for the week/month, it is just gone and I don’t buy any more until that category is replenished.

  5. What a beneficial book Your Money or Your Life has been, as I see how it has influenced so many of us in this direction with such simple techniques: tracking, then looking at those figures to determine if, in our own opinion, the money was well-spent, etc. It is with the encouragement of you, Fawn, and many others, that we feel we are in good company if we’re not doing things the way many of our neighbors and friends might do them.

    So, to answer your question, I take a little notebook around with me & track my daily expenses (and income), and at end of month and end of year, evaluate to learn what those figures have to teach. Another side benefit of this practice is that at tax time, everything has already been tallied up and things are easy to find.

  6. It started with Thoreau for me, when I first read him at age 12. The book that inspired me to keep track of all my spending was Jerrold Mundis’ How to Get Out of Debt, Stay Out of Debt, and Live Prosperously, According to the Principles of Debtors Anonymous. Catchy title!! There was one page that showed how he kept track, and I’ve modified it a little over the 25+ years I’ve been doing this. But I use a pencil, an adding machine with a tape, and 3-hole-punched, 5-column ledger paper, a page for each month. I used to have notebooks full until I purged the earlier years.

    I keep track of my life in a 5×7 “Month//Week at a Glance” calendar. It shows the month first, then the weeks of that month. So besides Dr. appts, lunch dates, car mtnce appts, etc., I also write how much I spend each day on that page. My checkbook register also shows my credit card items in detail, so all the info I need is in those two places.

    I’m also emptying closets, file cabinets, storage boxes, etc., so someone else won’t have to, now that I’m in my 70’s. I like my bare white walls, minimal furniture, books, TV and cable (yes!), Netflix, and my $20 glider rocker from a thrift store. Being a Quaker since age 15 also helps, given one of our testimonies is simple living and a life focused on the nonmaterial world.

  7. Thank you for writing this. I have in the past written down daily expenses. There are 3 people in our home. We are debt free but occasionally use our credit card for an online purchases. we have never had cable,but borrow movies from the library. We have (around $70.00) home phone, internet, and $7.00 (each) a month cell phones.. My oldest daughter uses Mint and it works for her. I am working on not shopping unless I need an item and purging unwanted (wasted) items. Fawn, I am slowly coming along, and I’m proud of how my journey is going. I want to simplify my chores of shopping, dressing, laundry (having less items in the wardrobe?), and house cleaning (do I only use homemade or just a few bought items?). I need to tally the yearly balance and use a budget. I have never done these things before. I would love for us to be able to retire early if needed or wanted. We plan to go to a one car family at that time.

  8. Fawn, I love this way of thinking; buying coffee or water at the gas station as a way to thank them for providing clean restroom feels so right (as long as it is not a conglomerate type of gas station). I never thought of it that way! Here in Europe, one usually has to pay for the restroom anyway but I will remember your habit next time I travel to the US.

    My only monthly bills are 1) the rent (which is all inclusive – water, electricity and internet), 2) my “land” line (it looks like a normal phone but works through the internet, that allows me to make unlimited international calls for a tiny monthly fixed amount) and 3) my gym subscription. All of them are paid through direct debit so I do not have to do a thing, the bank pays it for me. For my cell phone, I use pay-as-you-go cards, that works well for me as I use it mainly for texting.

    Like Vada, I use a self-made Excel spreadsheet. I used to forget to keep track of the little luxuries like coffee or small bakery items. They represent a large amount of money at the end of the month for me, so I experimented with cash enveloppes just for that but it did not work for me. I found it too complicate and I felt that it did not simplify my life, my natural tendency is to be cash free. What I have start doing instead is to make a mental note whenever I spend money, I guess you could call it “mindfully spending”. Then, at the end of the day I go through my day and then with the help of the receipts I have collected during the day and the mental notes I have made, I write down all the expenses in my Excel sheet according to categories. It works surprisingly well. In addition, I will think of Diane’s quote “who I am making rich by doing this” whenever I make my mental note! That way I hope to make sure it is either myself or a cause I support* I am making richer.

    * By a cause I support I mean that I would rather try to promote local small businesses than large brands even if they are cheaper.

  9. My idea of financial simplicity stems from my loathing of doing “money work.” Balancing checkbooks, writing checks, keeping track of pennies. This stuff eats at me in the worst kind of way. So what I’ve done is this: I use a debit card (not a credit card) for most purchases and occasionally check my balance online. Occasionally. I usually just kind of know about how much I have. When I need to save up for something big, I do just that. Or I find more work.

    I grew up thinking you had to manage each penny, and doing that caused so much frustration for me. I don’t know why, but it was palpable. So yeah. I have no idea exactly how much money I have at any given time. And the debit card won’t let me spend money I don’t have. I don’t recommend this approach. But I love it for me.

    • Dave–I am a HUGE fan of what works. It works. Good deal.

    • In fact, I would like to be like you. I sometimes felt that my habit of tracking every cent stemmed from a need of being in control that was working against me. I am not sure, I need to think about it …

  10. 2013 found me inspired by so many people walking through life with intention! Dave Ramsey, Francine Jay, and now you (thanks to the posting you made on Francine’s website). This post is a cumulation of all the things I have been striving for. My husband is in the US Military. We have lived overseas for the majority of his career. We now find ourselves at the end of our military journey and living in Rome, Italy. Balancing finances while dealing with multiple bank accounts and multiple currencies has been quite the challenge. Like others who have posted above, traveling/ living abroad means the use of the credit card, a debit card simply wont do.. and then cash only. I simply cannot choose a course of action, but instead have to utilize what is available at the time. Trying to track each penny spent is another challenge. Often enough I find myself on a military base where US currency is expected, whereas I step foot off of it and the Euro is the only way to go (naturally). It can be quite confusing, and very difficult to judge and balance. More often than not we simply use our debit or credit card depending on what is accepted, and carry cash for the places that don’t accept a card of any sort.
    My quest to take my family (husband, and ten year old daughter) on the journey to minimalism has had its challenges. After a 20+ career wearing the same clothes day in and day out, my husband now has 4 closets full of clothes and shoes. I have one. European sized mind you. My daughter… has one. My husband, although not a pack rat by any means, enjoys variety. He owns more than 19 jackets and utilizes them all over the course of the 4 seasons, so I can’t even give him the valid reason of “you never wear this.” So, with these challenges in mind, I carry on. I do my best to keep items at a minimum (with the help of both my husband and daughter, who like the look and feel of the streamline and less clutter), and the budget balanced (we too will be debt free save for our mortgage in May). Thank you all so much for your inspiration! It is wonderful to be able to share with others as they take a similar journey.

    • Wow! What fun, living in Italy.
      Since your husband enjoys his clothes and is making use of them, I do not think you need to be responsible for his clothes, other than allowing them space. My children are not minimalists. My only requirement is that they take care of their stuff-keep it clean, put it away, etc.
      The various currencies and methods of payment would drive me mad, but it sounds like you have a handle on it.
      Welcome to the minimalist path.

  11. Hi Fawn, I love your blog. You have such a soothing writing style that exudes peace! 🙂 Your minimalism comes out in your writing.

    I am fascinated with how you manage food in your household. I, too, have 3 teens. Granted, I am a stay-at-home homeschooling mom, so my kids and I are together 24/7. They have outside activities, but never for meals.

    I have a million questions for you, but will keep it to 2 🙂
    1. How do you deal with the near constant clamour for food? I try to feed my kids heathly and do not keep a lot of junk food in the house. I also try to make large meals so we can have leftovers. But it is never enough. For example, I also feed my kids steel cut oats (purchased in 50lb bags) for breakfast. They will eat a cup of that cooked a day, 4 eggs, 5 apples, and a fruit smoothie for breakfast. They can eat an entire casserole for lunch. Then for dinner;a soup, a meat dish, a salad, a fruit, maybe a dessert. Even with all this, they still want snacks in-between. In case you are wondering, they are not overweight. Still scrawny and you can see their ribs. My boys are almost 6′ and my daughter 5’6″.
    2. Do you ever buy anything in bulk (Costco?)

    Dealing with food is such a pain for me. I only need to eat once a day and I could eat the same thing every single day. I don’t like thinking about eating all the time, but with kids, it is overwhelming.

    Thanks again for writing your blog. I am going to be buying your book next!
    Ruth

    • 1) I really only fix 1-2 meals per day. Kid’s are responsible for their own breakfast most days (unless I cook them something special to get rid of left overs before they go bad–shhh! Don’t tell.) I do keep healthy snacks in the house. Peanut butter and hazelnut spread-which they will eat by the spoonful, homemade granola bars, yogurt. They do not seem to each as much as your kids, esp. for breakfast. But later in the day, lots of carbs, especially during track or cross country season. I always seem to have a partial 10# bag of potatoes lying around and 89 cent boxes of pasta. I make cookies or cake 1-2 times per week and I do not eat that, that is all for them. My kids are skinny too, and one 6′ another 6’4″. The oldest son (now 30 and a college coach) eats like your kids do. I figure the athletes are going to need 4,000 to 6,000 calories per day, depending.
      2) No Costco in my town. There is a Sam’s Club, but I do not shop there on principal.
      3) Like you, I could eat very simply and be content. I see my cooking for the family as a way that I express my love for them-both by creating healthy meals that nurture their bodies and by making efficient use of our food dollars, so we have money for other things (like music lessons.) Since yours are teens also, be mindful that this particular problem will be gone in a few years. I have made it my habit to focus my attention on the qualities that I love about each stage of the kid’s development and to the things I find tedious, I murmur under my breath, “This too shall pass.”

      Spoiler alert: the book is not about single parenting, but about learning about living well through the experiences of dying persons and their families. (I am a hospice nurse.)

      • Fawn, 1) if you have the time one day, would you give us the recipe for your homemade granola bars?

        2) I love what you say: “I have made it my habit to focus my attention on the qualities that I love about each stage of the kid’s development and to the things I find tedious, I murmur under my breath, “This too shall pass.” I will try to put that in practice. If you have any other advises/stories that you want to share from your experience with younger kids, I would be thrilled. I loved this one: https://singlemomenough.wordpress.com/2011/09/22/deep-breath/

  12. I’ll see if I can get the recipe for the Granola bars up today. If I don’t do it today, I won’t have time for a week or so.

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