Maggie asked how I learned to work on my budget and savings goals. I'm about to give her much more of an answer than I think she bargained for. I talked about this a bit in this post, which was mostly some backstory and where I was at the begining of last year. I didn't really talk about how we got from point A to point B and to where we are now.
There were a few things that helped tremendously in making saving work for me. The biggest was simply the fact that we got the credit cards paid off. The Credit Counseling program we were in was basically a forced Debt Snowball. When we paid that off, it freed up almost $1000 per month, which we determined to put towards other debt and savings. The keys to learning how to do this were largely from a few websites, and a book. The book is The Wealthy Barber. It's a personal finance book that reads like a novel. The advice isn't anything earth-shattering, or even terribly specific, it's just advice presented as if by a close, trusted friend. It didn't so much change how I looked at personal finance, as it changed how I looked at learning personal finance. It no longer felt like math and rules. (Now, I enjoy math and rules for some things. But There has to be an answer at the end, and personal finance isn't like that.) So I began seeking out new resources for learning about finance. Most of what I found was geared at people who were not in my situation. There was a lot of advice about investing, but not as much about getting to the point where you could invest. Much of what was out there focused on finance and finance only. Much of it seemed to only apply if you were in a career field where you worked 9-5, had weekends off, and were making at least $50,000 a year. I saw lots of advice along the lines of "eat out less, go to bars less, go to coffee shops less, go shopping less". While variations of these applied, a lot of it didn't, and it was hard to find information that I felt really applied to me. For the first time though, I not only wanted to make finances work for me, I really needed to make them work for my family.
So I found some blogs. There are several that I like, but two that I identified with and felt spoke directly to me. These are The Simple Dollar and Get Rich Slowly, which has a great forum. The forum on GRS has actually been a huge help. Seeing the successes of others, getting advice, and having an environment to talk about goals with people who are pursuing similar goals adds some serious motivation.
Overall, what I've learned is that reaching the goals (at least for me) requires following the SMART plan (Specific, Measurable, Acheivable, Realistic, Timely) and being accountable to others. That's what the graphs in the sidebar are all about. I've got a lot still to learn, but I'm making progress, and I hope that what I've learned will help others too. I'll try to put up some more specific step-by-step information in the future, and when I figure out how to budget in an effective way, I'll pass that on too. If you have any tips that've helped you deal with money, I'd love to hear about them.