Tag Archives: money

Recommended Reads: 28/2016

I have been reading up a storm! I just discovered that Pocket has a bulk edit feature, so I can delete archived-but-not-favorited articles in big chunks instead of one at a time. I had one chunk of 73 items! Today, for you, I will share only seven.

pile of books

— 1 —

Title: 4 Questions People Will Be More Excited to Answer Than “What Do You Do?”
Source: The Muse

I really do try hard not to ask that early in a conversation. My go-to since I’ve lived in Austin has been, “Are you a native Texan?” There is so much Texas pride here! Living here has actually made me significantly more proud to be from Maryland. I want to play the state pride game, too!

— 2 —

Title: Why I Love My Invisible Friend
Source: Word on Fire via CERC

One of the favorite taunts of atheists is that religious people believe in an “invisible friend.” They are implying, of course, that religion is little more than a pathetic exercise in wishful thinking, a reversion to childish patterns of projection and self-protection. It is well past time, they say, for believers to grow up, leave their cherished fantasies behind, and face the real world. In offering this characterization, the New Atheists are showing themselves to be disciples of the old atheists such as Feuerbach, Marx, Comte, and Freud, all of whom made more or less similar observations.

Well, I’m writing here to let atheists know that I think they’re right, at least about God being an invisible friend. Where they’re wrong is in supposing that surrendering to this unseen reality is de-humanizing or infantilizing.

I love Bishop Barron. God is invisible, and he is our friend, and both of those are actually beneficial.

— 3 —

Title: How to Overcome Bad Habits
Source: The Catholic Gentleman

Introspection is necessary in order that we shall isolate the habit and see it clearly as a sin. The surprise we feel when others criticize some fault in us proves that we have not practiced introspection sufficiently to know ourselves. Some people are afraid ever to look into their consciences, for fear of what they might find; they are like the other cowards who dare not open telegrams because they dread bad news.
But introspection is to the soul what diagnosis is to the body—the first necessary step toward health.

More gold from Venerable Fulton Sheen—and it’s more than just avoiding the near occasion of sin (although that is one of his tips).

— 4 —

Title: 10 Clever Time-Saving Hacks (So You Can Spend More Time Doing What You Love)
Source: Verily

This is a listicle worth reading (or at least skimming). I do 3, 7, and as much of 8 and 9 as I can.

— 5 —

Title: Brian Nosek’s Reproducibility Project Finds Many Psychology Studies Unreliable
Source: The Atlantic

Well, that’s not what you want. This isn’t to say that psychology (or any science) isn’t trustworthy, but it sure puts a damper on the rallying cry of people who won’t believe anything unless it appears in a peer-reviewed journal. Blind trust of journals is no better than blind trust of any other authority.

— 6 —

Title: The Cognitive Biases That Lead to Bad Money Decisions
Source: Two Cents at Lifehacker

Two Cents is a great personal finance (sub-)blog. I don’t read everything, but I watch the headlines in Feedly. I was stuck under the status quo bias for my old cell phone carrier for longer than I’d like to admit. My only comfort is that it’s such a common situation that Kristin used it as one of her examples! And because I zero-balance budget, I’m now capturing that 50% cost reduction to use for other purposes.

— 7 —

Title: Kids and Modesty or, How I Got My Kids to Quit Getting Naked in the Yard
Source: Catholic All Year

I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to emphasize to children the idea that our bodies are for our future spouses. While I think that that is partially true, I think that it is MORE true that our bodies are for God whether He intends us to have a spouse or not. And I think that it’s more appropriate to understand that spouses become one rather than that they take ownership of one another’s bodies. So I think it’s more useful to emphasize God’s claim on our bodies rather than a spouse’s.

Kendra is the best. I’ve always found that “ownership” angle a little too close to slavery for my comfort.

For up-to-the minute recommendations from what I read, follow me on Pocket.

7 Steps to Falling in Love with YNAB: Part Two


In the first part of my YNAB love story, I talked about how awareness of my spending and preparing for rainy days helped me see my monthly cash flow in a whole new light. I was on cloud nine until reality hit.

Step Three: Facing the Credit Card Float

My third big moment with YNAB left me with egg on my face. This part is especially embarrassing.

I had gotten into the habit of buying groceries and gas on my credit card with money I didn’t have. I told myself I was doing it for the convenience, the (meager) cash rewards, and the technological security. Every month, I paid my statement balance in full. Most of that habit was good. I still use my credit card for groceries and gas because it’s still convenient and secure. The problem was that I was always a month behind. I was riding the credit card float. (I’m not floating anymore.)

If you’ve never heard of the credit card float before, I don’t blame you. I Googled it and found mainly posts about YNAB! (See Additional Resources below.) Essentially, “floating” credit cards is spending now and paying off the balance with next month’s income.1 It’s the opposite of spending using a debit card. Debit cards only allow you to spend money you already have (when they don’t allow overdrafts). The way I was using my credit card allowed me to spend money I didn’t have yet. I was trapped in the cycle. One bad month could have ruined me.

Some months in that cycle were fine. Others were painful (especially when Christmas bills were due in January). The biggest pain of all, though, was when I entered my credit cards in YNAB and had to face the ugly red numbers of Pre-YNAB Debt. I was horrified to realize that, although I had always sworn up and down that I did not have credit card debt, I did. The grace of starting YNAB in May was that I had fairly low balances on my cards (one regular card through my bank and one store card), so I was able to make a mid-cycle payment on each card and eliminate my credit card debt immediately.

This 2-minute video explains the credit card float in detail. Pictures of my shocked face are not included.

Added August 2015: YNAB produces a weekly video series called Whiteboard Wednesday. Jesse Mecham, founder of YNAB, explains the credit card float with a diagram and a friendly face.

Step Four: Less Email and Even More Awareness

The fourth habit change caused by YNAB was small but not insignificant. Ever since I turned eighteen, started college, and began managing my own finances, I have balanced my checkbook monthly. All the financial advice I’d ever encountered admonished me to always stay on top of my checkbook balancing, so I did.

Then came online banking. I could see which transactions had posted to my account and when they cleared on a daily basis. But my old habits didn’t change. I was still waiting four weeks to balance my checkbook. When money was tight, I set up an automatic email from my bank for every outgoing transaction over $10. When money got tighter, I lowered that minimum to $5.

Then came YNAB. As I got into the habit of entering transactions daily and rolling with the punches, I used the reconciliation feature to keep YNAB in sync with my online account balances. Getting that flurry of emails was useful, but it started to feel like overkill when my account always reconciled/balanced perfectly.

It took months for me to realize that it was overkill. I didn’t need those emails anymore because (A) I recorded every direct expense immediately, (B) the scheduled transactions feature entered my bills automatically, and they’ve all been on auto-pay for ages, and (C) I was reconciling/balancing at least once a week.

I stopped the automatic emails. I don’t even read my monthly statements anymore, because I know what they say. YNAB knows, too.

I promised you seven steps, so you know the rest are coming. Stay tuned!

Additional Resources

I found three other blog posts online that mention the credit card float. They’re all about YNAB, which shows how useful YNAB is for rescuing floaters like me.

  1. There is another version of the credit card float. It involves taking advantage of the grace period between the day you spend and the day you pay your credit card statement balance. You leave the cash in your checking or savings account so it can grow interest during the grace period, spending it only when the due date arrives. That’s not what I’m talking about here. 

7 Steps to Falling in Love with YNAB: Part One

I hereby forbid myself to ever promise a specific post on a specific day ever again. I was so optimistic about my ability to get this post up two Fridays ago for 7 Quick Takes over at Conversion Diary. I even had a whole day off from work (although I did have to start getting ready at 4:30 p.m. for a wedding at 6:30). I’m not a quitter, though, so I bring you the first part of the promised post now.


Seven Critical Moments

In my previous YNAB post, I talked about how I met and began to fall in love with the You Need a Budget philosophy and the accompanying software. Think of this series as my personal finance love story. I can break my buy-in to YNAB into seven steps, seven times when I realized that YNAB was changing my financial life.

Step One: Increased Awareness

The first moment that helped me see my bright future with YNAB was awareness. A zero-sum budget like YNAB requires you to be aware of the specific “job” of each dollar and how far your income will actually go. Organizing only the cash I had in my wallet and in the bank (not money “available” on credit cards) kept me aware of the plan I was creating for my money. The necessity of entering each transaction and balancing/reconciling one or more times every week brought me to a new level of knowledge.

I didn’t have a new savings strategy. I still don’t have increased income. Nevertheless, I effectively got a raise. My checking account balance was already higher (i.e. I had more money) simply because I stayed aware of my plan and my actions. The power of that awareness cannot be overstated.

Step Two: Predicting Rainy Days

My second YNAB epiphany was discovering that I could save for rainy days. In my very first YNAB budget, I was able to start funds for Christmas, hair salon visits, my domain name registration, and my car registration. Those were not going to sneak up on me anymore. (I’m delighted to say that I was right, and they didn’t.) Saving for so-called predictable rainy days left me with a cushion in my checking account. That’s not extra money for spending on drinks and clothes, though. That money has a job. It stays in my account until the job starts.

I can’t quite describe the encouragement that came just from seeing my account balance positively affected by my rainy day funds. For the first time ever, I realized I didn’t have to be caught off guard. By putting away a little at a time (well, I had to put away a lot more at first because I started so close to “time for work”), I could just pay those less-than-monthly bills in cash when they came. That kind of freedom is so sweet.

I’ll have the remaining steps soon. It’s a long story, and I think it’s best told over time instead of in one huge onslaught. In the meantime, I encourage you to start a free trial of YNAB so we can both earn a free month! What have you got to lose?

The One Money Habit that Changed My Life, a.k.a. How I Fell in Love with YNAB

When I was in my first year of college, I found Jesus. Last Memorial Day, I found YNAB and my life will never be the same. That sounds dramatic and hyperbolic, but the effect both of those encounters have had on my life is astounding. How I met Jesus is a story for another day. This is the story of how I met YNAB.

I’ve always been thrifty, so despite taking on loans to help pay for college, I did reasonably well financially. I even made it through grad school on a pitifully low salary (technically a stipend) and with most of my savings intact.

Post-college work was a different story. Everyone knows that ministry doesn’t pay well. However, even in as cheap a state as Texas, I found myself struggling to make ends meet. In April of 2013, facing an unmanageable rent increase and a job that I could no longer keep working, I took a huge leap, not knowing how long I’d stay in the air or how far I could possibly fall.

I landed hard. I was unemployed from May to August. I found a new home with roommates and lower rent, gave up cable TV, and drove less. (Not having a job meant I didn’t have anywhere to go. How convenient.) I watched my savings account balance drop lower and lower and was genuinely scared about what would happen if I couldn’t find work.

In the middle of August, I got a call for a temporary job that finally gave me an income greater than the pennies of interest on my dwindling bank accounts. That temporary job turned into a full-time job, and that led to a raise in February and a promotion this past June.

By January, I knew that raise was coming, so I knew I needed to have a plan in place to keep it from slipping through my fingers. I also knew I would pay off my car loan before my birthday, and I definitely didn’t want that to disappear once it wasn’t promised to the bank anymore.

The first step of my plan was the dollar-a-day money challenge. There’s only one rule: Save a dollar a day. I literally set aside one dollar each day. Savings accounts can only have six transactions per month; otherwise I would have transferred that dollar every day to stay honest. In reality, I set up a $15 automatic transfer from checking to savings twice a month: one dollar for each day of the month. Despite my meager income, I didn’t miss a dollar a day, and I kept that up for 9 months! (I recently switched two dollars a day.)

The second step was YNAB: You Need a Budget.

I’d heard of YNAB before. The landing page was familiar when I followed the link from a FOCUS blog post. (Titles with numbers in them really work!) Amanda Teixeira’s ringing endorsement, a 10% discount code, and the promise of 34 free days to try it fully-featured (along with the free app) was enough to push me over the edge. You don’t give someone over a month to try something unless you know you can hook them in that time frame.

YNAB hooked me. It hooked me hard. I took two webinars over Memorial Day weekend and two more before the end of June. I accounted for every single dollar in my possession (by zero-sum budgeting) and gained a heightened awareness of my cash flow. I don’t balance my checkbook monthly anymore (or even read the statement) because I balance quickly and easily twice a week. I don’t need an email from my bank for every transaction because I record them all immediately and account for every purchase in my budget.

My day-to-day checking account balance is twice as high as it was in April, and I make no more money than I did before. It’s like I got a raise. All I did was make a commitment to budget and stick to it.

If you don’t have a budget, you need one: You Need a Budget.

On Friday, I’ll have more information about the details of my new budgeting life and the lessons I’ve learned along the way. In the meantime, feel free to leave a comment or use the contact form to ask questions. I want to tell everyone about YNAB!

Learning to Tithe

It’s no secret that I’m into religion. It’s literally my job. What may come as a surprise is that I, a Catholic, believe in tithing.

When my family was going to church regularly, I let my parents be in charge of putting any (or no) money into the collection basket. That was easy, because I was still too young to even have an after-school job. I never paid much attention to how much they put in, but I don’t think I ever saw anything more than a five-dollar bill.

Fast-forward to my reversion in college. I don’t remember if I gave any money on that first Ash Wednesday, but I might have tossed in a dollar. Ash Wednesday collections are unusual because it is a weekday and not a holy day of obligation, so there wouldn’t normally be a collection; I might not have even had the opportunity to give. Once I got more involved at the Catholic Student Center, though, and I spent time reading Boundless and really thinking about what I wanted my faith to mean, I began to consider tithing.

photo by mtsofan

Some Christian writers insisted on the biblical ten percent; others simply recommended giving enough to hurt, so to speak. Overall, everyone stressed the importance of giving more than zero dollars. So I tried it. Every week for a few weeks, I put $2 into the basket. It was more than nothing, but not more than I could easily spare. Sometimes, I wouldn’t have two one-dollar bills, so I’d toss in a five one week and purposely give nothing the next. I noticed that, even on weeks when I gave $5 instead of $2, I didn’t miss it. It felt good to be freely donating from my own money. No one had to know about it since I gave cash. Eventually, my weekly $2 became a weekly $5, and it more or less stayed that way until I finished college.

When I joined ACE, I considered giving up on giving. I’d committed to two years of objective poverty. But some part of me knew that I needed to keep giving money on top of my giving of self. I needed to show that I trusted God enough to freely give back from the little bit I’d purposely agreed to earn. Since my income was technically greater than it had been in college (even though my expenses were, too), I stepped up my tithe to $10 a week. I registered with my parish and gave using envelopes, so I wasn’t anonymous anymore, even when I gave cash. My parish was in a wealthy neighborhood, so (I hope) my contribution paled in comparison to others’, but I could still call it my parish because my money contributed to it. I volunteered as a lector as well, so I was finally giving “time, talent, and treasure” to a real parish. I continued to give money at my parish during my second year in ACE even though I no longer lectored. I was giving enough to notice that it was gone, but I wasn’t struggling without that cash. The habit stuck.

Since my current job is as close to a “real job” as I’ve ever had, I decided to try tithing in earnest. Our old development director wrote an article for our newsletter about tithing, and I also came across a helpful homily by Bishop Taylor of Little Rock. Since my job depends entirely on my faith, I decided to go in all the way this year. Following the bishop’s advice, I dropped three zeroes and started writing a check every week that will add up to 5% of my salary. I have intentionally given to various charities I care about (like Annunciation Maternity Home and debt elimination for people entering religious life). I will make a pledge to the diocesan Catholic Services Appeal. I would do these things even if I didn’t work for my parish, and I’m glad I do it.

It’s been strange to see my money go out in larger amounts than I’ve ever given before, but it just seems right. I’ve heard it said that, if you want to tell where someone’s loyalties really lie, you should read his checkbook register. Now, mine finally shows what I truly care about.

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