In Naked With Cash, seven anonymous Consumerism Commentary readers publicly track and analyze their finances on a monthly basis. For almost a decade, I tracked my own finances on Consumerism Commentary; now I’m sharing the benefits of public accountability with the participants. I’ve partnered with financial planners who will offer some guidance along the way. Read this introduction to learn more about the series.
JW is thirty-one years old and a father of two. He works in retail and is underemployed, and his wife and kids are on state medical plans. Their household income is supplemented by SNAP (food stamps). Read his bio for more information about his family’s situation.
His goal is to be able to provide for his family while still tithing 10% of his income to his church. JW is on Team Neal, with Certified Financial Planner Neal Frankle. Get up-to-date on JW’s progress by reviewing his update from last month. This month, there is a special focus on debt.
JW’s own analysis and comments are followed by feedback from Neal Frankle.
JW’s comments and analysis
Income: This month had three paychecks through my job. My wife had another piano student start lessons and one that stopped. My wife had multiple students who did not pay yet for November lessons. We usually plan on one, not five. It was not a problem due to my third paycheck. This should add a boost to next month’s income. Total income this month was $3,353.
Expenses: The month started with payment for medical costs incurred last month. Total ended up being $839.
This month saw higher than average spending money ($302) in an effort to make money. We are still in line with our budget and this amount is in part from smaller spending in the previous month and front loading some purchases that will not be made next month.
We spent $100 tuition for preschool for the four-year-old.
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas spending total was $268 this month.
Not counting food for Thanksgiving, spending was $382 in addition to food stamps. This represents a decrease of almost $250 from the previous month. Most of this difference comes from more spending toward the end of October for food supplies that we had at the start of November.
We went to see Trans-Siberian Orchestra this month. Spending in conjunction with the show was $56. We also attended a family planning conference. Spending in conjunction with our annual family planning conference was $255. This amount includes food, gas, parking, etc., related to three days of travel. The hotel was paid for previously.
This month we also had an additional $93 in guilt-free spending and we added $30 to the kids’ savings accounts.
Family Planning Conference: This month we took a long weekend away to plan and set goals for the upcoming year. We had family watch our children so childcare costs were minimal. Much of our planning included two scenarios: one in which I receive a possible promotion, and one in which I don’t receive the promotion.
We began preparing for filing taxes as close to January 1 as possible, as we appear to be set for a decent return. We began planning our family vacation for next year. We set a time frame, budget, and location.
We looked at budgeting for the next year. This process involves reviewing our budget from the current year and updating plans based on goals for the new year. One big change we are making for the next year is moving to a more top-level budget. We will no longer have separate lines for car insurance, service, future new car and gas; we’re moving to one line for auto-expenses.
Debt: How we manage debt is the biggest financial area that my wife and I have not seen eye-to-eye on lately. Shortly after we got married we began paying extra to try and rid ourselves of debt. We had credit card bills, car loan, and student loans totaling around $50,000. We began paying them down using a Debt Avalanche. The order of our loans was the same ranked by amount or ranked by interest rate. We paid off the credit card loans and moved onto the car loan.
Recently my wife has begun wanting to spend more and save/pay down debt less. I think this is from pressure by her family. Most of her family makes decisions based on being able to afford the payments. They know we have funds in savings and feel we should be using those funds for other things.
I used to be in the same boat. Looking at payments to make my decisions. My views changed after I lost a job. I ended up liquidating my retirement fund to be able to make my payments. It was a horrible feeling that I won’t go through again. I had to rob my future to be able to pay for my past.
I don’t see all debt as bad. While I’d rather never have a home loan and pay for my home out of pocket, I don’t have a plan in place to be able to do that. I am not sure it is worth the large amount of debt to pay for an education. I now see more areas I could have used to have less student debt when I graduated. After using all those avenues, then using a loan for the rest I feel is OK. Really any debt is a lack of willingness to tell yourself no and/or sacrifice enough. Sometimes that is OK.
Feedback from Neal Frankle, CFP
JW, I don’t know if this is true or not, but I don’t feel like you believe you have alternatives or are asking if there are any. I’m not sure if you are asking for help or reporting in. As a result, I just don’t know how to be of service to you.
Feedback from Luke Landes
It sounds like your wife feels under pressure to live her life a certain way, a way that involves spending money you don’t have. The reality is you have more student loan debt than you have assets. That’s true for a lot of people your age. Yes, sometimes it’s fine to go into debt to own a house — you can often get a really low interest rate, at least — and for education — a college degree is one path towards earning a better living for yourself and your family, not to mention creating a culture where education is important.
But accepting debt carries with it the responsibilities of paying off that debt.
You’re getting assistance from the government in the form of food stamps. How can you even consider spending money on luxuries right now? Your wife’s family’s opinions on what you do with your money should have no effect on your decisions. I’m sorry that you and your wife are not seeing eye to eye on this issue, but I’m sure this is just one side of the story.
The $2,440 you have in savings is good, but that’s not nearly enough to justify the type of spending I assume your wife is feeling pressured to start. You need your emergency fund. You need to pay off debt. Spending can come later, when you’re no longer on government assistance. I don’t think you should be completely deprived of any spending, but I am concerned by this external pressure and how there doesn’t seem to be a lot of teamwork and agreement when it comes to your family’s finances.
Published or updated December 30, 2013. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.