10 helpful money decisions we keep repeating

11 June 2024

You know those podcast episodes that you hit play on as soon as you see them in your feed? Today’s post was inspired by one of them – a recent Lazy Genius episode. In it, Kendra shares 20 helpful decisions she keeps repeating across four areas of life: personal, kids, food, and money.

“Decide once” is probably my favorite Lazy Genius principle – it speaks to my heart which loves both efficiency AND intentionality – and though I’ve written about some of my “decide once” decisions before, we’ve never discussed money-related decisions specifically. Since I loved hearing Kendra’s, I thought it might be helpful to share some of John’s and mine, especially since we love chatting personal finance around here :) Let’s do it!

P.S. This is probably obvious, but “deciding once” means making one decision about one thing and continuing to make that decision over and over until it doesn’t work for you anymore. Boundaries AND freedom!

A mostly unrelated photo, but you know these Articles Club gals are a great source of riches in my life!

1. I sign up for every Meal Train that crosses my path, and I bring a prepared meal from a local shop. In this season of young kids, trying to prepare and deliver two meals in one day (for my family and the other family) was causing enough stress that it had begun to dissuade me from signing up in the first place. While it’s more expensive than cooking from scratch, I love that I can choose a meal that matches the family’s needs with ease (gluten- or dairy-free, vegetarian, etc.) and support a local small business, too.

2. When a school or teacher asks for money, we give it. Our oldest attends a public elementary school, and our middle will soon join her. We believe strongly in the importance of a vibrant and healthy public school system, and because I’ve done the mind-numbing math of what we’d pay if we sent our kids to a private school, it feels comparatively easy to drop by the store or send money on Venmo whenever a request circulates.

3. When we can help a foster family or a family in need, we do. Similarly, our church helps support foster families and at-risk families in a few different ways (buying diapers or baby gear for vulnerable pregnant moms, buying backpacks and school supplies for foster kids), and we always say yes when asked. Caring for the orphan, the widow, and the generally vulnerable was near to Jesus’ heart, and because we will likely not be a foster or adoptive family ourselves, it feels like a duty and joy to tangibly help those who are.

4. We will keep John’s car as long as we can. John’s Ford Focus is currently 12 years old, with less than 100k miles on it. He drives it to and from work twice a week… and that’s about it. While it does have power windows and AC (ha!), it’s a basic trim level and nothing fancy.

But that’s kind of why we love it :) It’s been paid off for almost a decade, and it works just fine. We have money sitting in an account for his next car, and it will be wonderful when he gets it, but that day won’t be until this one needs repairs that no longer make sense. Until that day comes, we just don’t think about replacing it.

5. We have a date night every month. And we almost always go out to eat, because the Triangle has incredible restaurants and all we really want to do is talk to each other :) Both the restaurant bill and the babysitter are expenses, but it is a non-negotiable for us and has been since June was small (back when it was a lot harder to fit it into the budget!).

6. We give 10% of our income each year to our church. While not a command to Christians, we believe this guidance is to our benefit, and a way God graciously cares for us as He partners with us to care for others. It took us several years of slowly increasing our percentage until we hit the 10% mark; we hope to increase it over time from here.

7. We give annually to our college. This feels like a direct inheritance from my maternal grandmother, who was a devoted alumna of her school (and heavily involved with my grandfather’s college even after his death). There was never a question of whether I’d give after graduation, and I’ve done so every year since. (I think I gave $50 the first year!) While it’s debatable how much of an impact my four years of undergrad had on my professional trajectory, I nevertheless feel incredibly grateful for my career path – and this is one way to pass on that gratitude.

8. We max out our HSA. While a bit more arcane, we prioritize this over maxing out our 401ks in this season, and have for many years. (I wrote a post about it in 2018!) It’s simply a part of building our budget each year: we look up the maximum contribution limit, then plug that into our budget.

9. We save a certain amount in our Home Free account each month. When I think about decisions we don’t think about, this is a big one. In fact, in many ways, it’s best not to think about this too much :) And luckily, we don’t have to! The money is automatically transferred from our checking account to our investment account each month. After almost a decade of doing so, we don’t miss it – which is very much to our benefit, as it quietly adds up in the background.

10. We make a budget every year. I know I’m a particular type of person, but it is truly hard for me to grasp how people maintain their mental health without a budget. Our budget is a plan. It reassures me that we’ve taken care of everything that we need to, and that if we stick to the budget, we are free to spend money without guilt, we’ll be able to pay our bills, and we can rest assured that we’re making progress on all of our savings goals. A budget has worked for us when we’ve had little money and when we’ve had more; it has helped keep our marriage (and minds) happy and peaceful in every season. I am so grateful.

Now I’d love to hear from you, friends! What’s on your financial “decide once” list?

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June 11, 2024 1:55 pm

I love these! We have a lot of similarities, especially number 4! I just did the math and our cars are 17 and 18 years old!! Eeps! We will for sure be replacing one or both in the next year or so, but until then, we are driving them to the ground.

The other decide once we do is try our best to live off of Jeff’s salary and use mine for savings or trips or unexpected bills that come up. It’s easier because my income is flexible and changes and his is pretty set.

I love that you give to your college! We have a handful of nonprofits we give to but like the idea of giving back to our alma-mater!

June 11, 2024 4:57 pm

These kinds of posts are the best and so interesting to me!
I have one to add… We always buy from any kids that come to our door selling something (girl scout cookies, etc)… And we always stop to buy from any kids who have a lemonade stand. It always makes my day to see the kids excited to get a sale! :)

June 11, 2024 9:21 pm

Love this principle applied to personal finance. We’re also on the drive-our-cars-until-they-die train. My Honda turned 17 this year!
Another important one for me is that therapy is a constant line item in the budget. I have had the same specialist for several years and she is out of network. In leaner times, I’ve cut out new clothing, haircuts, streaming services, fancy vacations etc to make the numbers work for biweekly sessions. This is a deeply personal and rewarding investment that has paid untold dividends through the years. (Bonus: it ensures I use my full FSA benefit.)

June 11, 2024 11:04 pm

These are great!
We’ve set a firm $ figure per year for donations, and use that to some recurring charities, but also have some unallocated for when something moves us! It’s a great way to feel committed to giving.
A much smaller line item was when we decided to financially support NPR and a couple of newspapers as a ‘thanks’ for the many years of free information and podcasts!

Kristen M
June 12, 2024 11:31 am

We are also drive our cars into the ground folks – we have a 2011 RAV4 that’s still going strong and then a 2018 Sienna we will drive as long as we can. We are also pay in full cash for cars people – so we only need to maintain insurance on them!
This is kind of a financial decision – we have two travel credit cards we really try to get maximum value out of (a Chase Sapphire Reserve and an Amex Platinum) – I have one and my husband has the other – and we put almost all purchases on them. This has really allowed us to rack up points over the years to then put towards travel. We have also done this with a Southwest credit card that pretty much allowed us to book tickets for free with all the points we accumulated (we had a companion pass for two years and the places we went – pre kids!). This limits what cards we have to pay off and has the bonus perks for travel we do (which is ramping back up now that our kids aren’t tiny anymore! )

June 12, 2024 3:52 pm

Love that you max out your HSA. Do you spend from it for medical? Or just save it all?