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Everyday Cheapskate: Planning tools to help you make it happen

A friend — I’ll call her Sally — in her early thirties moved from Arizona to Florida in search of a better job and a new life. Not that many months later, she decided a change of scenery wasn’t the solution she thought it would be and moved back.

She decided that what she really wanted was to settle down and buy a house.

She’d had surgery the year before, and thanks to some poor choices during employee benefits enrollment, she’d had to pay a big share of the bill. The recovery was easy; the doctor and hospital bills were not.

Back in Arizona, she was working two jobs just to make a dent in the medical bills, not to mention her rent, credit-card debt and car loan. For some reason I have never quite understood, she thought it was time to take on a mortgage.

To jumpstart her dream, Sally packed up her belongings and moved again, but this time into the basement of some friends for a hundred bucks a month. It wasn’t the ideal housing arrangement for a thirty-something professional, but it helped her overcome the obstacles blocking her way to her dream of home ownership.

She lived cheaply, all while diligently paying down her debt and putting cash in the bank for a down payment. Two and a half years later — ironically on April Fool’s Day — she was pre-approved for a mortgage. Two months later she took possession of a quaint starter home.

That’s what financial planning is all about. You have a goal, and then you do whatever it takes to make it happen. Given her situation, two and a half years was a remarkably short season of hard work in order to realize her dream. There were sacrifices, but that’s nothing unusual for a first time homebuyer.

Affordability and availability prompted Sally to buy a house in an entirely different city than she had originally planned, but doing so cut her commute to work in half. She also chose an adjustable rate mortgage with a lower introductory interest rate in hopes of landing a better house. In her excitement, she forgot the “introductory” part and got a big surprise when her rate jumped a year later, pushing her mortgage payment up more than $200. That increase presented her with yet another financial planning opportunity.

But Sally also picked up a few planning tools that will help her make the next goal happen. Perhaps they’re tools you could put to work as you consider your own dreams:

— Write it down. No matter how goofy it sounds, write down your goal. You have to own it for a goal to have any chance of being reached.

— Be positive. Don’t go wishy-washy by saying, “I hope I can buy a house,” or “I’d love to pay off my debt.” Instead, make it “I will buy a house,” “I will pay off my credit-card debt.”

Set a date. Unless you have a deadline, you won’t accomplish the goal. Just be reasonable and don’t be too hard on yourself if you miss your deadline.

— Stay focused. Keep visual reminders around that will keep you thinking about your goal. Create a chart that will let you see when you meet interim goals along the way so you can adequately evaluate your progress. Celebrate lightly, and then keep going.

Even now, Sally tells me that when she is tempted to charge up the cards and fall back into her old ways, she forces herself to recall the cold, damp floor of her friends’ basement.

Mary Hunt is founder of and author of 23 books, including her 2012 release, “7 Money Rules for Life.”

You can email her at, or write to Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630.

To find out more about Mary Hunt and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at


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