Saturday, January 23, 2016

How to Budget: 101

Gooooood afternoon, readers!  I hope everyone had a nice week!  It's been a busy busy week here in the Neuerman household... I always find it comical that "short weeks" (due to the MLK Holiday) always seem to be the busiest.

Today, I'm kicking off what will hopefully become a few posts about our least favorite  I am by NO means a financial pro... Okay, I am actually an accountant, but I am not a budgeting pro or financial advisor or anything of that nature.  However, I have learned a lot in the 5 years my husband and I have been married, because we have been living on a budget almost that entire time.  I'm hoping I can share some of these tidbits so that they can help you on your journey!

Budgeting is such a "4-letter word" to some people, and it really shouldn't be!  I think where people get in trouble is they hide things from each other, or don't acknowledge where their true weak points are when it comes to unhealthy spending habits.  These 3 simple points that I'm going to discuss have been key to helping us establish a detailed week-by-week budget, which we now live by.

Gather the Facts
In order to start a budget, you have to know what you are working with.  So grab your pay stubs, your bills, your account balances, and start writing it all down.  For utilities and bills that can fluctuate, I recommend pulling 1 year's worth of bills to help you estimate your monthly payments.  

It's important to not only know your income (and how often - weekly, biweekly, semi-monthly), but also your expenses and your outstanding balances on any loans, credit cards, and bank accounts.  The debt balances will allow you to project your potential pay off date(s), as you look ahead, and the bank balances will let you know where you might need to stash some extra cash.  Also, when it comes to paying off debt, I like the Dave Ramsey approach (great stuff, if you've never read or listened to any of his materials), and that involves paying off the lowest balance first.  The ONLY exception would be anything you have with 0% financing - make sure that gets paid off before your free financing ends.

I also recommend tracking your spending habits for approximately 3 months.  Bucket these items into simple categories, such as Groceries, Gas, Eating Out, Entertainment, etc.  Not only will this help you identify how you should breakout your budget, it will also help you identify trouble-spots where you might be spending in excess.  For us, it's eating out...big time.

To help you get started, I've created a free printable PDF document to help you document your expenses.  Click here to download and good luck!

70-15-10-5 Rule
A couple years ago we learned a great principle for helping to identify where you SHOULD be spending your money: The 70-15-10-5 rule.  It was actually taught to us as the 70-10-10-10 rule, but we have found that a slight adjustment works better for us.  Use what works for you, but try to maintain percentages close to these numbers so that you can still maintain balance.

70%:  This represents the bulk of your spending, from day-to-day expenses to monthly bills, to planning for the unexpected (we'll talk about that more in the next section).  If you find after a couple of months that you are not sticking to your budget for this section, you may want to consider going to Cash only (sometimes referred to as the "envelope method").  Again, this might be something that changes over time that you evolve into.  We started with cash, and now use our debit cards, because we have become more disciplined with our spending.

15%:  This is for giving, which is mainly our Tithe at church and any offerings/donations we make.  While tithing is technically 10%, we tithe off our net amounts (we learned this in The Blessed Life class...another great resource), and we also give some to missions.  So we took 5% from our "cushion" (see below) and added 5% to here.  Tithing is SO important for us represents SO much more than paying a bill, since it represents a covenant with God.  Please don't take away from your 10% to pay bills - God will bless you for it!  I could go on and on with testimonies...

10%:  Savings... in addition to maintaining an Emergency Savings of $1,000 (goal #1 when starting a budget), you should always try to put something into savings.  We currently are only putting $50 in every other week, which doesn't seem like much, but it works when you're paying off bills.  Also, if your work allows it, set this up as an automatic allotment so that you don't see the money.  We chose to have our Emergency Savings at our same bank with our checking (just in case we need to move money fast), then opened a separate Long-Term Savings a couple of years ago at a separate bank.  This was handy for a down-payment on our home, and starting an investment account for Ellis.  While paying off your current debt is vital, you also need to look ahead.

5%:  This is your cushion, which is exactly what it sounds like.  Unexpected things always happen, and this is to give you an extra buffer so you don't have to dip into your savings too often.  While planning ahead can help with this too, the cushion is just an extra safety net, if you will.
Plan Ahead
Planning ahead is vital to keeping you on-track with your budget.  Always expect the unexpected... if we have all learned one thing in life, it's that as much as you plan, things always happen that you didn't expect.
This includes planning for medical expenses, pet expenses, car maintenance, and larger expenses, such as hair appointments.  Also, don't forget those items that aren't monthly.  For example, our car insurance payments are every 6 months, but they're a large chunk, so we want to ensure we budget for those.  The more you plan, the more prepared you should be for those unexpected expenses.  You can't cover everything, that that's what the cushion and your emergency savings are for, but do your best!

I really hope this helps someone out there.  I can't answer all your questions, but I'm happy to help lay out some principles, and let you fill-in the details that work for you.  Good luck!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Needs, Wants, and Unnecessary's for a Baby

I thought I'd take some time to write a post about some of my lessons learned from items we have used during our first 4 months of parenthood.  I know we only have one child, which by no means makes me an expert, however I still think I have some opinions that someone out there somewhere might find valuable.  So here we go...

The Needs

First up, the "Needs" - these are items I couldn't live without... Okay, I'd live, but these were pretty much sanity-keeping tools for us.
  • On Becoming Baby Wise - This book is a God-send... several moms told me about it, but let's be honest...everyone has their 'two-cents' when it comes to babies, so you tend to tune it all out.  However, I finally caved and read this book when Ellis was around 7 weeks, because she was still getting up almost every hour all night long.  I read almost the entire book in 2 hours (and I'm not a reader), and Ellis started sleeping in 4-hour chunks that same night!  It's a miracle! Every new parent needs to read this book.  I actually recommend both parents read it, so that you are both on the same page when it comes to the principles it recommends.
  • Rock 'n Play - This was another one I resisted buying in advance because I was determined to stick with crib sleeping, and didn't want to clutter her room with too many gadgets.  However, by the 2nd week, we ended up purchasing it.  While its time was short-lived (didn't use past 3 months), there were times it was the only way to get Ellis to sleep, and for that reason, it's a "Need."
  • Pack 'n Play - Investing in a good playard was a great idea for us... Especially with a 2-story house.  It allowed us to setup a 'station' downstairs in our living room, for changing Ellis, letting her nap, and keeping "necessities" handy.  This was really nice during the beginning, when I was still healing, because it limited my trips up & down the stairs.  We chose the Graco Pack 'n Play Playard with Reversible Napper and Changer, and used the open space for diapers, wipes, etc.
The Wants
  • Tummy Mat - We chose the Infantino Go Gaga Deluxe Twist & Fold Gym for Ellis, and it has been so nice for entertaining her, and helping her learn.  She loves to just lay there, watch herself in the mirror, and reach for the dangling toys.  I also truly believe it has helped to advance her hand-eye coordination skills.  The accompanying pillow is great for tummy time too.
  • Pampers Swaddlers - These diapers are wonderful.  They have a genius yellow line on them that turns blue when they are wet, which is the most simple, yet genius thing EVER!  Also, Ellis had very sensitive skin, and developed a couple of severe diaper rashes early on, and these diapers seemed to help things heal (along with medicine).  Not to mention, Pampers has a great rewards program that allows you to earn points and redeem rewards for your purchases.


The Unnecessary's

I originally titled this section "The No Ways," but then decided to rename it... because it's not that these are awful items no one should buy...they just didn't work for us in our situation. 
  • Baby Seat with Tray - I actually was excited about this item, but have found that we really don't use it very much.  First off, it doesn't offer a ton of support, so I don't feel comfortable enough leaving Ellis in it for long, or without us within arm's reach.  Also, the tray seems to sit kinda far from the baby, making it somewhat inconvenient.  Instead, we have really enjoyed the high-chair, and move it between our dining room and living room.  Ellis loves the support, and sitting up higher.  I still have hope for this one though, and am thinking it might be more handy as Ellis gets a little bigger.
  • Vibrating Seat - Luckily this one was given to us as gently used, so no money was wasted on it, because we were not a fan... and neither was Ellis.  Specifically, we had the Fisher-Price My Little Lamb Infant Seat, and while she did nap in it a couple of times, it just seemed awkward and not very comfortable for her.  The headrest (which is not removable or adjustable) made head lean too far forward, and she was always sliding down, even after we tightened the straps.


  • Peg Perego Car Seat - Now, this one is a bit product specific since a car seat is obviously a must for a baby.  Being our first, we splurged and bought what we viewed as a top of the line car seat.  While we love the leather and some of the features it offers to transition a child through different growth stages, there are some big issues too.  The biggest problem I have is that the car seat is not compatible with shopping carts, which makes running most errands extremely difficult.  I've made it work a few times, but it really limits how much you can buy, and what size it can be.  Also, the canopy feature is thin and seems somewhat pointless, since it still allows some wind and sun through.

Well, I hope someone out there finds this helpful!  Again, use what works for you... take all advice with a grain of salt (except this blog, haha!)... and learn as you go.  Be flexible and willing to adjust with your baby's ever-changing needs.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Christmas 2015

Oh Christmas... How I love you!  Not to be cliché, but it really is one of my favorite times of the year.  I could care less about the commercial aspects, but I love it because people seem a little more gracious and giving, and it shows how humanity can be selfless.  It's a time for friends and family, which are my favorite things in the whole world!

Merry Christmas from the Neuerman's!
(please forgive the picture without a headband on Ellis...
I'm fairly certain my husband busted, mister)

Although, I will say that this year snuck up super-duper fast.  Anyone else agree?!  I'm guessing it was the combination of having a baby, Thanksgiving falling late in November, and it being 60 degrees outside!  But despite the chaos and seemingly lack of planning (thank God for Amazon Prime or there would have been no gifts), this was a great Christmas for us!

The biggest focus this year was on the fact it was Ellis' first Christmas, of course.  Even though at 3 1/2 months, she is completely oblivious about what presents are about, she loved the lights on the trees and meeting all her family.  There obviously had to be multiple wardrobe changes... her pajamas:

Christmas Eve                                     Christmas Morning
A note about the jammies on the right - they were a gift from a sweet lady we work with.  Not only do they have her initials embroidered on them, but they came with a personalized book of "Ellis' Night Before Christmas" which has her name all throughout the book!  The most precious thing I've seen...

Oh, and let's not forget the tutu she HAD to wear on Christmas Day (to my husband's dismay):

Ellis - Christmas 2015

Seriously, I can't get enough...I may just turn this blog into pictures of Ellis all the time...

Not only was it our first year with Baby Ellis, it was also our first year to host a family Christmas!  I may be silly, but I really feel like that is a huge milestone for a lady - especially to host for in-laws!  I was so honored to host this year, and it honestly worked out so well since we had a new home with more space, and it allowed Ellis to stick with her naps so we can all stay sane.  Here are some random pics from the day with Carey's family:
Papa and Nana with Ellis

My Mother-in-law and 2 of her sisters
Family playing with Ellis
We kept it traditional and roasted a ham for Christmas lunch.  I found this recipe on Pinterest that we used to copycat Honey Baked Ham, and it was delish!  I was kinda proud :)

Christmas Ham 2015
We also got to visit with my Grandma, while she was in town for Christmas with my Aunt and Uncle.  I love her to pieces - she's had a rough year, with the passing of my Grandpa.  I could not imagine suddenly living all alone after 60+ years with the same man!  Got bless her.  Ellis absolutely loved her, which blessed my heart...

Grammy Tabor - Christmas 2015
Lastly, I'll share some random Christmas pictures of our house.  I have to say, this first picture may be my favorite thing EVER...

Daddy and Ellis - Christmas 2015
(Traditional Tree)

Big Tree - Christmas 2015

Christmas Mantel 2015