Author’s Note: This started as something else entirely, but it quickly shifted. I’m still happy with it because it needs to be said. And lived.
I hope this is something you all do on an annual basis. It’s not only important for you, but it is important to your family. You’ll be happier, you’ll live better, and you’ll have the confidence that things are going right. Yep, time for your annual financial checkup.
This is a habit I got into a few years back. At the end of each year, I call every business who holds an account in my name and review my account. I call every creditor and ask for a change in my rates. And I check my credit reports for any problems as well. If necessary, I also re-opt out of receiving credit card offers since, let’s face it, I don’t want nor do I have a need for credit cards. I haven’t even owned one since last March and despite all the “wisdom” of the experts and what not, I’m still breathing. No, change that. I’m thriving. Last but not least, I do a year-end review of the budget to find the big trends and weak spots, and we fix them.
Yesterday, I called my car insurance company. I spent about 10 minutes talking with the lead agent (always go to the top if you can), and I cut my annual insurance bill by $220 while increasing most of my coverage. If you’ve got a clean bill of health on your driving, make that call immediately. You’ll be surprised how simple it is to tweak what you have to save you a lot of money.
I’ll also be calling our mortgage company this weekend. We’ve been with them for several years now, and it’s time to see what they can do for us. Likely nothing since changing a mortgage typically requires an expensive refinance, but mortgage companies want to hold on to the good loans they have, and there may be some pressure I can apply. If you are a “good mortgage” don’t think you are left out in the cold on the assistance being thrown around. Go straight to the top, demand assistance and a change, and if they don’t, go elsewhere. Don’t be rude about it, but be firm and honest. You’ll have to work harder to get it, but you can do it. And while you’re at it, do a serious look at going to a 15-year mortgage. It’s a bigger payment, but if you can scrounge up the extra cash, do it. You won’t be sorry.
And of course the credit report. We’ll do that soon, too. There are lots of different sites out there, but remember this one: annualcreditreport.com. This is the only credit report site that is offered in accordance to federal law. Every other site is not. You can still get the information other places, but you’ll likely pay for it. Why pay for something that is offered free? And you don’t need to know your score. Just make sure the information is correct and your score will take care of itself. Besides, if you have to borrow money to buy it, doesn’t that automatically mean you can’t afford it? Just a thought.
Last but not least, the budget review. Courtney hates this part because she’s much the free spirit in our marriage. I am too, right up to the second someone says “spreadsheet” or “bar graph.” I could sink into the bitter depths of a spreadsheet for hours and analyze and configure and graph and chart and otherwise bore Courtney’s free spirit nigh unto death. To spare her, I typically do this alone. I like it better that way since I don’t get frustrated with her boredom and she doesn’t have to put sedatives in my water to get me to calm down. And when I’m done with my marathon analysis, I can present “The Budget” on stone tablets as Moses of old descending from Mt. Sinai. “BEHOLD YE WICKED GENERATION (that would be Courtney)!!! THE BUDGET!!!” Hopefully, the Lord cooperates by granting a single crash of thunder. For Courtney’s part, she typically rolls her eyes before going back to the Golden Calf.
We found an idea from Dave Ramsey to help us with the budget. I get to create it all I want, but I only get 15 minutes of Courtney’s time to present it. And by rule, she has to make at least one change, and I have to accept it. It keeps us both honest and interested in the budget.
This last year, we made a significant change away from credit cards (we had 6 with over $70,000 in credit available to us) to a cash system. We’ve tried to become, as Dave Ramsey calls it, Gazelle Intense on getting out of debt and being financially free. We’ve done what we can. Recently I saw a report that said Americans have, on average, about $3,500 in credit card debt and that number is expected to go up by $1,500 over the next year. Wow.
And no thanks.
I wonder sometimes who is going to get my share of that credit debt.
Let’s face it: I make a median income wage. I live in a house that is only 750 sq ft with two bedrooms for 4 people. I drive a car that I paid $15,000 down on and will pay off in full 3.5 years early on a 5 year loan. We don’t go out to eat because we’d rather our money went to our debts and our future. We save money to pay for things. We have no credit cards. We don’t have the mega-ultra plasma TV. We budget faithfully and then live our budget. We give generously.
We are happy.
Our lives our by no means comparable to the bounty of many of those around us, but we are more than happy with what we have. Bigger and better will come when our budget is bigger and better. Until then, I see little reason not to be satisfied and perfectly happy with enough.
Besides, like I said, if you have to borrow money to buy it, doesn’t that automatically mean you can’t afford it? Just a thought.
Now go get your financial checkup.
The doctor is in.