By Lisa Walters, Credit Counseling Center Success Story
To be honest, the only reason why my husband and I found ourselves in financial quicksand is simply because we were disorganized. We never made a budget or discussed money. As time went on, our family grew and I worked less to alleviate childcare costs, but our poor spending habits remained the same. Living life without a budget was no longer a path we could continue down.
As people are now spending more time at home, and focusing on cleaning out material items and clutter, it’s a good time to evaluate – or create – a system for your financial life. Here’s how I started budgeting and organizing our family finances, which started with an initial meeting with a financial advisor at the Credit Counseling Center to help us get a plan in place.
After that initial meeting, we were ashamed of our poor decisions, but we were also hopeful. After some tough discussions and reflecting, we took ownership and committed to paying off our debts by making smarter financial decisions. Our very first step was gathering all our monthly statements and getting organized.
One night, I dusted off an old binder full of notes and papers from a college psych class. I emptied out my old school work, put new labels on the tabbed dividers, and stuck a title page that said “GIRL, GET IT TOGETHER!” in the front plastic sleeve. The token night owl of the family, I spent several weeknights storing statements and filling in costs and notes in each section of our finance binder, after my family went to bed.
Here are some suggested categories that I included in our family’s finance binder, and the types of things I put into each section:
- The Reoccurring, not going anywhere, Monthly Bills (mortgage, utilities, preschool tuition, car insurance, life insurance, etc.)
- Financed Loans (school loans, cars, new boiler system, washer/dryer)
- Credit Cards (listed in order from smallest outstanding balance to largest)
- Food and Gas (A place to track all food purchases – groceries, restaurants, coffee, alcohol, etc. – and gas fill ups. Recorded on a monthly calendar page)
- Savings Plan Goals (Monthly, quarterly, annually)
- Kids Activities and Extras (sports, dance class, piano, school stuff- pictures, fundraisers, new patio furniture, birthday gifts/parties)
- Hopes and Dreams (home renovations, vacations, savings account goals, timeline for debt pay off)
Our finance binder wasn’t fancy. It wasn’t some shiny brand new thing from the internet that promised to fix our debt problems. It was simple and homemade and custom fit to our needs. – Lisa
We had a place to track our spending, and let the reality of the tens of thousands of dollars of our accumulated debt that our financial advisor had highlighted for us, really stare us in the face. Facing those numbers is scary, but it also leads to a mindset change that becomes extremely motivating. It’s when we stopped avoiding and started our action plans.
Obviously there are a variety of factors that lead to individual financial stress; but I promise you no matter what the cause that led you to where you are today, there is no mountain too tall to climb. Make a binder of your reality, set some goals, and GET IT TOGETHER!
In 2021, Paula was named Executive Director of Credit Counseling Center. She joined the organization in 2008 as a Credit Counselor and was quickly promoted to Director of Housing Counseling in 2009. Paula is a firm believer that each client is a representation of a family whose lives, financial challenges, and needs are important.
She developed and still leads the Center’s Foreclosure Prevention program; and has partnered with the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas Foreclosure Diversion Program. Her keen focus on making a positive impact in the community has generated numerous program collaborations with the United Way of Bucks County and a multitude of social service organizations in the region.
Previously, Paula served 21 on Active Duty in the US Air Force. Initially serving as a combat photographer and finishing the second half of her career as a recruiter, leading to the position of Flight Chief. Highly decorated, she has received awards from the Air Force and the Department of Defense.
An active leader in the Bucks County community, Paula donates her time annually as a board member for the annual Congressional Service Academy Nomination Interviews under the office of Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick. She is an active Chamber member in Lower Bucks, BucksMont, and Upper Bucks, advocates for financial literacy education opportunities at venues servicing low/moderate income consumers and senior citizen organizations.