Save Your Family

Grave

I don’t attach much importance to dreams.  They are just there to make sleepy-time less boring. Last night, I had a dream where I spent most of my time trying to prepare my wife to run our finances before telling my son that I wouldn’t be around to watch him grow up.    That’s an unpleasant thought to wake up with.  Lying there, trying to digest this dream, I started thinking about the transition from “I deal with the bills” to “I’m not there to deal with it”.   We aren’t prepared for that transition.   Last year, we started putting together our “In case of death” file, but that project fell short.    The highest priorities are done.   We have wills and health directives, but how would my wife pay the bills?  Everything is electronic.  Does she know how to log in to the bank’s billpay system?    Which bills are only in my name, and will go away if I die?   Is there a list of our life insurance policies?

I checked the incomplete file that contains this information.   It hasn’t been updated since September.  It’s time to get that finished.  Procrastinating is inappropriate and denial is futile.   Here’s a news flash: You are going to die. Hopefully, it won’t happen soon, but it will happen.  Is your family prepared for that?

The questions are  “What do I need?” and “What do I have?”

First and foremost, you need a will.  If you have children and do not have a will, take a moment–right now– to slap yourself.   A judge is not the best person to determine where your children should go if you die. The rest of it is minor, if you’re married.   Let your next-of-kin, your spouse keep it.  I don’t care.   Just take care of your kids! Set up a trust to pay for the care of your children.   Their new guardians will appreciate it.  How hard is it to set up?   I use Quicken Willmaker and have been very pleased.  Of course, the true test is in probate court, and I won’t be there for it.   If you are more comfortable getting an attorney, then do so. I’ve done it each way.    You can cut some costs by using Willmaker, then taking it to an attorney for review.

It’s a sad fact that often, before you die, you spend some time dying.  Do you have a health care directive?   Does your family know, in writing, if and when you want the plug pulled? Who gets to make that decision?   Have you set up a medical power of attorney, so someone can make medical decisions on your behalf if you aren’t able?  Do you want, and if so, do you have a Do-Not-Resuscitate order?  Willmaker will handle all of this, too.

What’s going to happen to your bank accounts?  I’m personally a fan of keeping both of our names on all of our accounts.   I share my life and my heart, I’d better be able to trust her with our money. If that’s not an option, for whatever reason, fill out the “Payable on Death” information for your accounts, establishing a beneficiary who can get access to your money if you die.   Do you want your spouse to lose the house or the car if you die? Should your kids have to miss meals?  Make sure necessary access to your money exists.

Does anybody know what you have for life insurance? Get a copy of the policy and make sure your spouse and someone else knows what company holds it and how much it is worth.

Now, it’s time to make some lists.   You need to gather account numbers and contact information for everything.

  • Bank accounts. List every bank and account you own.  Checking, savings, CDs.
  • Investment accounts. Again, every company, every account.
  • Mortgage and car payment information.
  • Life insurance. Get your policy numbers, contact information, beneficiaries, and amount of coverage all in one place.
  • Credit card accounts. Every card, every company.    If it’s just your name on the account, your spouse will need to send certified death certificates to stop collections.  Otherwise, she’ll need to pay the bills.
  • Utilities.  Get the account number for the electric bill, the gas bill, water/sewer/garbage, cable and phones.
  • Other bills. These include car/home insurance, Netflix, memberships and anything else you pay.
  • I’ve included the account information for my web host, registrars and websites. Some of it is salable, some of it is income-generating.
  • Car titles. Put the actual titles in the pile of lists.
  • Property deeds. Keep these here, too.

Non-financial information to list:

  • Online accounts. Any financial sites that would be useful, or any community sites you would like to have informed about your death.  Your online presence is a part of who you are.
  • Email accounts. Will your survivors need to interact with anybody potentially contacting you?   They will need your username and password, or most big providers won’t let them in.
  • Social media. How many networks do you participate in?  Do you want to disappear, or should all of your Facebook friends know your dead?
  • Blogs. Do you have a blog that needs an announcement?   Does it generate income?  Could it be sold?
  • Contact list. Who else needs to be informed of your demise?  Don’t make your loved ones hunt for the information.

Now, take all of this information and put it in a nice, fat envelope and lock it in the fireproof safe you have bolted to the floor.  Make a copy and give it to someone you trust absolutely.   Make sure someone knows the combination to the safe or where to find the key.

Your loved ones will appreciate it.

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Personal Finance, Canine-Style

No matter how many excellent books you read, or how many experts you consult, sometimes the best advice comes from beast out fertilizing my yard.  My dog is pretty smart.  At middle-age, she’s got no debt, no stress, and no possibility of being fired.    I asked her what her secrets are, and she gave me 5 rules for managing her finances.

  1. Sniff around. You never know when or where an opportunity will present itself.  Keep your eyes open and look in some unusual places and you may just find the golden opportunity you’ve been waiting for.   Jacob and Susan D’Aniello have a multi-million dollar franchise called DoodyCall.   They have turned themselves into millionaires, starting with a shovel, a leash, and a plastic bag.   Never be afraid to look your future in the eye.
  2. Don’t be afraid to sniff a butt. It’s important to know who you are dealing with, especially when your are making life-changing or expensive decisions.  If it doesn’t smell right, bare your teeth and back off.   Seriously, in most situations, you can trust your gut instinct.  Especially if that instinct is telling you to run away.  Read everything you sign.  If you don’t understand it, find someone who does.  Know what you are getting into at all times.   Get referrals.  Call the Better Business Bureau.   You are in charge of protecting your own interests.
  3. Lick your own butt. Watching your emergency fund grow is nice, but not everything is.   There are some aspects of personal finance that are downright unpleasant, but ignoring them is worse.  You can’t ignore an upside-down budget forever, or it will never get fixed.   Sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and do what needs to be done, no matter how distasteful.  But keep the mouthwash handy.
  4. Bury a bone. Minds out of the gutter, please.   Save for the lean times.   You may have two bones today, but what about tomorrow, or next week?  What if the bone-fairy never comes to visit again?    Make your surplus last, because you never know when life will whack you with a newspaper.  If you don’t have an emergency fund, start one.   Today.   Now.   Go set up an automatic transfer of $10 per week.  Now.   If you don’t have an emergency fund, everything is an emergency.
  5. Wag your tail. Don’t be afraid to enjoy the good things.   When you make progress on your debt, congratulate yourself.  Take credit and take pride in what you’ve accomplished.  It’s more important to be happy than rich, so don’t obsess over the little things, or the material things.   Enjoy your family, enjoy your job(or find a job you can enjoy), enjoy your life.

Maybe I shouldn’t write while watching my dog poop at 5AM.

Update:  This post has been included in Festival of Frugality.

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It’s My Fault So Stop Me Now

One of my biggest problems with maintaining a goal is follow-through.    Three weeks or six months into pursuing a goal, it becomes incredibly easy to rationalize setbacks.    If my back hurts, it’s easy to skip some sit-ups.  If a custom knife maker offers me a good deal, it’s easy to drop a significant part of my discretionary budget on a really nice knife.   The rationalizations come pouring in when I see a good deal on Amazon.   “I need to read that book” or  “I’ve been waiting for the move forever.”  The excuses don’t matter.  As long as they are coming in, I will eventually cave to my inner impulse demon.   How do I avoid that?

I try to make myself accountable to as many people as possible. At the beginning of the year, I posted my 30 Day Projects here, for the world to see.    I post updates on a regular basis.   Admitting my failure with the sit-ups was surprisingly difficult.   I made myself accountable and fell short.  That’s hard.  Thankfully, none of you came around with a sjambok to make me regret my slip-up.   When I was doing push-ups, my wife was more than willing to let me know when I slipped into bad form to try to squeeze out a few more before I collapsed.   I count on that.

I count on my wife to help me stay on the right path.  Eliminating our debt is easily the longest goal either of us have ever set for ourselves.   Mutual support and mutual accountability are our main methods to maintain that goal.   It is, after all, a marathon, not a sprint.   When I want to buy more cookware, she reminds me that we already have something to serve the purpose.    When she wants to buy the kids new jammies, I remind her that they have more than can fit in their dressers already.    Neither of us are afraid to tell the other to return bad purchases to the store if it’s not in our budget.  When we go shopping, we go through everything in the cart before we get to the checkout, to decide if we really need everything we picked up.   We support each other.

If I couldn’t make myself accountable to my wife, my family, my friends, and–last, but certainly not least–the three people reading this, I would fold in the face of my marshaled rationalizations and leave my goals in the oft-regretted gutter.   Thanks for that.

How do you keep yourself on track?

Update:  This post has been included in the Money Hackers Carnival.

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Budget Lesson, Part 7

It’s been a month(again!) since I’ve written a post for the budget series, so I’ll be continuing that today.  See these posts for the history of this series.

This time, I’m looking at how to reduce my “set aside” funds.  These are the categories that don’t have specific payout amounts and happen at irregular intervals.   One of the convenient features of our set-aside funds–also a feature of our non-monthly bills–is that the money sits in our checking account, providing a buffer against overdrafts.   The buffer is big enough  that I can withdraw our entire month’s discretionary budget on the first of the month.

  • Parties  – Twice a year, we have large parties.  We have a barbecue(not necessarily low and slow, I’m in the midwest) and a Halloween party.   We also have three kids with birthdays.   Each year, we try to do something exotic at the barbecue.  One year, it was a turducken.  This year, we’ll be skipping the show-off portion of the show.    The Halloween party is never expensive.   I don’t drink much, so the bar stays well-stocked without frequent expensive shopping trips.   We throw two large parties for less than $300 combined, and our guests start RSVPing a year in advance.  We’re fun.   The kids are getting gypped this year.   I am over my addiction to expensive birthday parties for my kids.  There will be a small party for one, a sleepover for another, and a party combined with some cousins’ birthday parties for the third.    It sound horrible but all of them will have fun.
  • Gifts  – We set aside money for presents, but we don’t feel we need to spend all of the money we have set aside.   Anything left over stays here.  Eventually, it will be something nice for all of us.
  • Pet Care – We have 4 cats and a dog.  Cat litter and food are expenses that we can’t make disappear.  We don’t buy the fancy food, but we also don’t buy the stuff that uses cardboard as filler.   We have set a new limit at 3 pets, but that limit will only be reached through attrition.   There’s nothing to cut here for a few years.
  • Car Repair – This is another category with nothing to cut.   If we don’t spend it, and something catastrophic happens to a car, we’ll be covered.  If it doesn’t, we’ll have a bit more cushion in our checking account.
  • Furnace Warranty – When we bought a new furnace and air conditioner, we got the extended warranty.   This is an unlimited renewal warranty, so, in 5 years, we’ll have to buy it again to keep it.  If we keep it forever, they will eventually replace our furnace when it dies.
  • Medicine/Medical – It’s a sad fact that people get sick.   We set aside a small amount to cover our costs.   The costs rise and fall, but over any given quarter, I don’t think I’ve been off by more than $5.

I’ve taken a hard look at most of the bills over time, so there isn’t always a lot to cut.  Next time, I’ll be addressing our discretionary spending.

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