5 Tips to Protect the Money You Earn

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We left the comfort and security of active duty Air Force officer life in 2006 with no jobs lined up and no AF retirement benefits to fall back on {because we got out after 10 years instead of the required 20 for retirement benefits}. All we had was a bit of savings and a hare-brained idea to start a home building company. The home building business was booming in 2006, right? Well, it turns out that we left the Air Force just months before the bottom fell out of the housing market. To say that we scrambled for many years afterwards to protect our family and our financial integrity is very accurate.

In the nine years that we’ve been on our own, we have somehow managed to support four lovely children, move an old decrepit barn to our property and rebuild it, take two lovely vacations for two to Europe {Paris & Germany}, and we’re in the process of building our forever home, a gorgeous super insulated passive house that I can’t wait to move into. The best part? We have done all of this debt free {except the home build, of course}.

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Accomplishing all of these things (on one income mind you) took a lot of creativity and hard work. We relied on the generosity and help of many family members and friends. But I’m telling you today, that it’s possible to control your spending to do the things you love! It takes hard work, sacrifice, and discipline, but if we can do it, so can you.

 5 Tips to Protect the Money You Earn

I have a 5 tips to control spending and protect your income so you CAN plan for a stable financial future, tips we implemented when our income basically went to zero in 2006. A combination of all of these things allows us to protect our money so we can choose what to spend it on – instead of having that choice made for us already by bills, bills, bills.

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1. Accept help from family and friends (trade services, share meals etc).

When we first left the Air Force nine years ago, we moved into my in-law’s basement. It’s all a blur now, but we lived with my mother and father-in-law and our two babies for nine months while we renovated a foreclosure home to move into. Not having to deal with a home payment during those first months of self-employment was a huge help to us. It was never really a dream of mine to move in with in-laws after having been financially responsible and stable for over 10 years of marriage, but it was really a life-saver for us.

Moving in with relatives might be a little extreme, I admit it. However, there are many other ways to accept help from family and friends: trade services like baby sitting or pet sitting. Share meals – cook for the freezer together. Help each other out in the garden. Think about things you’re really good at and barter! With a little creativity there are many ways to help out and also to be helped out by family and friends.

2. Turn to a cash budget.

We never had a cash budget until we left the Air Force. Heck, we never even had much of a budget period. Somehow, we managed to pay off our credit cards every single month of our married life. I’m not sure how, honestly. We look back on those frivolous years and feel sick. We wasted so much money because we just didn’t protect our income. When we turned to a cash budget, it suddenly became a lot harder to spend money. There’s just something about handing over a $20 bill. It’s much harder to part with cold hard cash than it is to swipe a credit card. And when the wallet’s empty – the spending is over. Cash budgets are awesome and we still use mostly cash today, even though we are in a much better financial position now.

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3. Learn to cook.

Eating real food has always been a priority for me. Since real food can be more expensive, learning how to cook well makes all the difference. I can make a cheaper cut of meat taste pretty good with the right cooking technique. I also bake all of our own bread and save a ton of money and get a much healthier product as a result. Also, using planned leftovers and the freezer helps keep us out of restaurants. At the beginning of each month, I share a monthly menu plan – complete with recipes and at least seven, 30 minute tasks to help you fill your freezer too. If you’d like to do more cooking but aren’t sure where to start, check it out!

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4. Ditch the discretionary spending like eating out, buying 20 ounce sodas at the gas station etc.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, but eating out is seriously expensive. To take my family of six out for a meal costs at least $50 – and that’s at a cheaper restaurant. Even buying sandwiches at Jimmy Johns or burritos at Chipolte sets us back quite a chunk of change. Instead of eating out, I try to recreate some of our favorite meals at home for pennies on the dollar. We  now save the restaurant meals for special occasions instead of eating out a lot like we used to do.

Likewise, those 20 ounce sodas that I used to buy almost every single day before I dropped soda altogether? What a waste. Not only a waste of money, but a huge shot of unhealthy crap in your body. Cutting out the 20 ounce soda habit saved me probably close to $400 a year ($1.50 x 5 x 52). There are a lot of things I would rather buy than soda with that $400!

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5. Shop second hand (Goodwill, Craigslist, Ebay etc).

I’m a big, huge fan of shopping second hand. Everything. Clothes, shoes, appliances, furniture, books, toys. We’re dressed most days almost entirely in almost brand new, name brand clothes that I find at Goodwill and Salvation Army {my kids used to call it Salavation Army – made me laugh}. Yard Sale season is my favorite! I can’t tell you all the great things we find second hand. And my husband is addicted to Craigslist. We purchased a tractor and a lot of home building equipment off Craigslist. Seriously. I can’t even imagine buying clothes and shoes and toys for myself or my kids directly from the store and paying full retail price. After shopping at Goodwill for so long, I sometimes find myself griping about $5 for a pair of used jeans! Dropping $65 for new jeans on most days is a foreign concept to me. Although, on occasion, I will admit that we also buy new clothes too. There’s a time and a place for everything, right?

While you are learning to protect your income, remember that one small change will make a difference. And if you’re like me, you’ll find that one small change leads to another small change and then another small change. The cumulative effect of all of those changes might surprise you!

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By the way. One great thing we did before leaving Air Force life was to get our affairs in order by creating wills, living wills, directions for our kids should we die, and life insurance. Life insurance has always been part of our long term financial planning and with creative spending, we have never been without it.  We have found life insurance to be important for the wage earner, the spouse, and our kids – to make sure all people who are left behind are protected. As a self-employed family, protecting US and our livelihood is very, very important. To learn more about what you can protect, read the information at Protective’s Learning Library. I really encourage you to find ways to protect not only your income, but the things and people you love most as well. Here is a great financial checklist for 30 somethings and I also love the tips here for teaching kids about money!

Please share a way that you are also protective of your income and your loved ones. I always love new ideas.

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Comments

  1. Good article, Michelle. I am sure you know what I will say, but here goes anyway: "Waste not, want not." Seriously, for your other readers: Netflix for the latest movies instead of the theater. Read a good book for intertainment rather than going to some expensive place--not ALL of the time, but some of the time. Learn how to garden. It is absolutely amazing how much money you can save, and the food is SO much better than you can get at a store. Invest in solar panels if you have a place to put them. You will do well by doing good. Hurry, because the tax credit expires at the end of 2016. And be aware of the energy you are using. If you can do without a light, or stand a little less heat or air conditioning, make one trip to the store instead of two, etc., etc., DO IT!!! You will save money, and once again, do well while doing good.
  2. Great post Michelle! Love all of these ideas. As you know we implement most of these as well. Recently I stopped buying new lotions, shampoos, soaps, etc. and instead I'm using up ALL my mini bottles/samples I've gotten over the years from staying in hotels, as gifts, etc. I was shocked how much CRAP I have of this stuff!
  3. I'm curious about the "directions for our kids should we die" part - can you tell me more?? Getting our affairs in order is something we've talked about for way too long without having much in writing.
    • Chantal, mostly we wanted to make sure we have a legally appointed guardian of our choosing for our kids. Also, we wanted to make sure that the guardian would be financially set to raise our four kids. :-(
      • Oh, gotcha! Haha. I was thinking you meant like a letter to your kids about what to do, who to contact, life instructions or something. :)
  4. All good things. In the area where I live there are local virtual garage sale pages on FB. Some even require verifying that you live within that zip code, I find lots of good deals. I live in the suburbs of a large urban area but be careful when buying off of Craigslist or from others you don't know. Many police stations now let you use their lobbies and/or parking lots to meet with buyers/sellers from Craigslist. Lastly, make sure your next of kin is in agreement with your Living Will as not all states recognize them...I used to work in the ICU of a state that didn't recognize them.

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