Best Financial Decisions We Have Made- Top Ten Tuesday

moneyI am a reformed credit card abusing, spending more than I made, buying things I couldn’t afford, Spendy McSpenderson. Then I met my husband. Early on in dating when we talked about finances I may have scared him a little. Seeing how much I spent monthly on clothing nearly sent him into cardiac arrest. But he talked sense into me and I changed my ways.

Now I am a Dave Ramsey loving, saving until we can afford it,  Thrifty Vanderson (I live in the land of the Dutch. Dutch people pride themselves on being thrifty- at least all the Dutch people I know. There are also 7000 pages of names starting with Van in the local phone book. Hence Vanderson).

I like to think that we make smart financial decisions without being too far “out there”. I get frustrated when I read books or blogs and their suggestions about smart finances are so far out of the norm that they just don’t seem feasible. Plus, I still like to spend money on a few of the finer things in life (see my hair budget). So here are some of the easier and manageable tips we do in our house.

  1. Take Advantage of Your 401K: If your company offers one, contribute to it. If they provide matching funds then contribute max they will match. Think you can’t afford it? This is where my husband would start talking about compounding interest and my head would explode. It is a good thing. Just do it.
  2. Cook at Home: I love cooking. And I actually have a pretty decent sized grocery budget because we buy almost all whole, organic foods. But I make a ton from scratch which saves money. We also don’t eat out much which saves a lot. And honestly the changes we have made in our diets have resulted in our family rarely getting sick which saves money too.
  3. Pay Cash for Cars: I have never had a car payment. I have also never had a new car. In fact until my most recent minivan I had never driven a car made in the same decade as I was driving it. I only got to relish in that moment for 2 years until the calendar rolled to 2011 I am now in the same predicament again driving a 2004. But I have a nice chunk of change in my bank every month instead of going to a car loan. It seems like I should be able to justify that bigger clothing budget…..
  4. Have an Emergency Fund: Last month we had a raccoon in our chimney, the air conditioning went out on my husband’s car, I lost my keys and had to get them replaced (the dealer wanted $400 to do so!!!) and we needed breaks replaced. An emergency fund is so fantastic because when “life” happens (and it always does) we don’t panic. We know we have a little cushion in savings. And in this economy, with the scary job market, it is just essential to have 3-6 months salary in the bank.
  5. Shop Around: So I lost my keys. And Toyota’s have super fancy keys so I went to the dealer to get them replaced. I also needed the remote entry thing STAT because going back to having to manually unlock doors with arms full of groceries and three kids was about to send me over the edge. The dealer quoted me over $400. I literally laughed at him. I went to a local key place to see if it was even possible to get it done outside the dealer. They quoted me $65. Score. They also recommended a place I should look into to get remote entry. They had to replace my entire remote entry system but that would cost $135 AND I would get two remotes. It was a bit of a pain and both processes took forever with kids running amok in their stores, but for $200 I will endure my kids turning a store into their own personal amusement park. Sometimes just getting it done is worth it but usually shopping around totally pays off.
  6. I Negotiate: I recently noticed that our phone bill went up by $20 a month. Which was super annoying because 6 months ago I changed companies with the promise of savings. Well the fine print read that the deal they gave me expired in 6 months. A simple call to the company allowed me to negotiate a lower price.
  7. Pay in Full: There are a lot of companies who will reward you for paying in full. If it isn’t stated in your bill, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Our insurance, water, garbage and even private school tuition bill take a percentage off when we pay up front. Any time I have had a medical bill that isn’t covered by insurance I always ask if they will give a discount for paying in full. Nine out of ten times they have given me one.
  8. Pay Off Your Credit Card: I don’t believe in not having credit cards. For use it just doesn’t work and I enjoy being able to major purchases without taking out the cash. That being said, we don’t buy what we can’t afford. And we always pay off our balance every month., Then every Christmas I cash out our credit card points and knock off a few presents from the list.
  9. Embrace The Hand Me Down: Our sun porch is filled with my parents furniture. So is my bedroom. My daughter’s sleep on mattresses from Ryan’s side of the family. My kitchen and living room is filled with Craigslist furniture. I can count on one hand the pieces of furniture that we have purchased new from an actual store. Is it all my dream furniture? Not even close. But it is paid for.
  10. Also Embrace the Setback: I have a pricey little graduate degree. I took out some hefty loans (thanks to some shady advice from a loan officer) to pay for three little letters behind my name. And then I used that degree for five years until I quit to be home with my kids. I wouldn’t trade my time at home with my kids for all the money in the world (actually that is not true. I can be bought. What are you offering?), but I am STILL paying off those loans {mumble, mumble} years later. This year we planned on getting aggressive and paying the loans off. And we sat down with a spreadsheet and it was quite doable. But “life” keeps happening. Tuition at my kid’s school went up, cars need repairs, roofs get ripped apart by raccoons (seriously with the raccoons this year) and so on and so on. So we haven’t gotten as far as we hoped to. But that is ok. I would love to be completely debt free, but we just keep plugging away.

We don’t do everything right. We could definitely be paying off my loans quicker, saving more for our kid’s college, and putting even more in retirement. But we also decided to take a vacation to celebrate our ten year anniversary and rent a house for a summer trip with the family. We send our kids to Christian school. We like to go to nice dinners occasionally, watch our cable, buy concert tickets and my hair isn’t going to stay brunette without a little help from Gary (seriously, my hair budget isn’t pretty. But my hair is.) The point is, we make choices. And they are the right choices for us. And they are all within our means.

All our choices are intentional. And that is where I have changed the most. I used to spend without thinking about it, very Scarlett O’Hara like. I’ll worry about money tomorrow. But money has this funny way of catching up with you when you don’t pay attention to it. So we try and frequently review, assess, discuss and set goals. And the funny thing is I was more scared of money when I was pretending not to pay attention to it. There is a lot of freedom in discipline. Who knew?

What is the smartest thing you do with your finances?

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Disclosure: Compensation was provided for this post by SunTrust via Glam Media. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and are not indicative of the opinions or positions of SunTrust.


  1. This post is from the Lord! My hubby and I just started listening to Dave Ramsey and organizing our money. We cut up our credit cards two nights ago. Mrs. Diaper Diaries, the Lord just used you to minister to us, and you didn’t even know it. :)

  2. I love this post! We are also Dave Ramsey fans. We have had to be flexible to make it work for us and we’re far from perfect. Switching from using our debit card to using cash as much as possible made a huge difference in our spending. We still go over our cash allowance each month, but we’re trying to get it down to the right number. Doing FPU gave us a way to talk about money neutrally, without feeling defensive. I was afraid a budget meant no more spending money, but I was wrong. We have a BLOW category that is for things like surprise trips for ice cream or picking up clothes on sale for me or the kids. We have a plan, and that plan includes being spontaneous. It is truly freeing to plan where your money will go. If we just maintain our current spending and debt snowball we’ll be debt free in 3 years. But we are hoping to do better than that.

  3. You have a fabulous list. I agree with all of them, but number two has a special place in my heart because we’ve noticed such a HUGE difference from cooking at home and increasing our grocery budget to incorporate whole, organic foods in terms of saving healthcare wise … not to mention quality of life. :)

  4. Carrie says:

    #11: Entering this sweepstakes to win a free iPad! http://classwish.org/days/share. If you donate money upon entering in the sweepstakes, it all goes to Class Wish, a nonprofit site where parents, teachers, and communities easily unite to provide the classroom resources our children need.

  5. Meagan says:

    Paying cash for cars is so great! I have never had a car payment, which is not as difficult as it seems. Each month, I make a “car payment” in advance to a high-yield money market account. Then, whenever we need a new car, we already have the money available. You can really negotiate a good deal when you are able to pay cash. Using this method, hubby and I have purchased 2 cars in our 9 years of marriage and have the funds available to purchase a larger vehicle to accommodate our 2 kids later this year.

  6. This is such a fantastic list. You list many things that are goals of mine. We are working on paying off our credit card debt and creating an emergency fund. It seems like slow going but it is changing the way we approach spending. I was surfing craig’s list last night for used furniture and I recognized that a few years ago I would have never even considered that.

    • The process of building an emergency fund IS slow and seems to never end. Every time we get it where we want it something comes up. But I feel so much better knowing it is there.

  7. Enjoyed reading your list. It’s gratifying to know that others have made the same or similar changes as we have. Every little bit of encouragement helps, right?!

    Our next goal is to finish off the last little bit on our credit card and only pay cash for our cars. Gotta start somewhere. lol

  8. We’ve been Ramsey fans for many years as well. One of the smartest things we’ve done is to budget in some small luxuries. For us, that’s a gym membership (gasp!) that allows us to work out regularly (even though i loathe it) and use a nice pool all hot Texas summer long. Another luxury is a winter thermostat limit that’s not bordering on freezing. I’m miserable when I’m cold and life is just all around depressing. So, to factor in a little bit of luxury is so good for the soul. After all, as I always say, deprivation leads to excess, so if you’re *so* tight on finances that you have absolutely zero breathing room, you’re much more likely to throw in the towel and give up on the Baby Steps altogether.

  9. Todd Schipper says:

    My new years resolution this year was to get out of debt. (Surprisingly, I actually stuck to this one) I had tried the Dave Ramsey thing once before, but this time I felt I didn’t have a choice. I had two car payments, two mortgages and a second child on the way, plus my wife was going to lose her job. We started the Debt snowball and went to work, and in seven months we paid off $25,000 got rid of pesky credit cards, car loans, and now only have one car payment, and my wife’s student loan also. The best feeling is the control you actually have over your budget, and the money you actually see at the end of the month. My only other advice to readers is to seriously consider re financing your house if you have not done it. Do it soon. We went from a 6.3% rate to a 3.85% on a15 yr fixed. for less then a $150.00 more a month we will take 15 years off of our mortgage. the amount of interest over that time is staggering. from $250,000 in total intetest paid to the bank to around $75,000 that alone will help pay for Kids colleges.

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