This is how it works. At the beginning of every month, you withdraw in cash all the money you plan on spending. Then, you divvy up your money into envelopes that represent different budget categories. For example, if you’ve budgeted $100 for eating at restaurants for the month, place $100 cash into an envelope labeled “restaurants.” That’s what you’ve got to dip into when you go out to eat. You don’t have to think about it. It’s that simple!
Not convinced? Here are 6 advantages of adopting the cash envelope system!
1. It’s a great way to save money. The ultimate goal of using cash envelopes is to save money. It can be an effective system because it brings your budget out into the open and makes it tangible. It can help reduce the likelihood that you’ll break your system and overspend.
2. The cash envelope system is flexible. Regardless of your age or financial situation, the cash envelope system can help you manage your spending. Barring categories for investing or emergency savings, it empowers you to accurately track and visualize your daily expenses.
3. You can easily see where you’re overspending. Every envelope that’s empty before the end of the month is a category where you’re potentially overspending. You now know exactly where you need to cut back.
4. It helps keep your budget organized. Nothing takes the wind out of your financial strategy quite like an overly complex budget. The cash envelope system takes the guesswork out of your budgeting and let’s you know exactly how much you can spend on what categories, and how much you have left over.
5. Cash envelopes help reduce the risk of impulse purchases. Why? Because they require that all transactions are planned ahead of time. That means fewer unbudgeted and out of the blue treats, toys, and trips!
6. It’s a great way to teach your kids about money management. That’s right, the envelope system is simple enough to teach to your kids. Consider setting up envelopes to help them budget their allowance. You can even make it a fun family project and help them decorate their envelopes! Start with simple categories like saving, spending, and giving, and add more categories as time goes on.
If you need a budget that’s simple and can help save you money, cash envelopes may be for you! Identify your top spending categories, buy a few envelopes and label them, and then start filling them with cash. Let me know what results you see!
In fact, it can be a straightforward—and profoundly enlightening—exercise that reveals your available cash flow and where you can reduce spending.
Here’s your step by step guide to creating a simple budget!
Get a pen and paper (or laptop). You’ll need a place to write and crunch a few simple numbers. If you’re “old school”, a pen, piece of paper, and a calculator will work perfectly. But you can also use a text document or spreadsheet if you’d rather!
Also, consider using a budgeting app. They’re simple tools right on your phone that you can use to track your income and outgo.
Make a list of all your monthly expenses, including housing, utilities, groceries, and transportation. Then, log in to your online banking account. You should be able to determine your average monthly spending in all of your expense categories. Write down those numbers in your budget.
Add up how much you spend in each category. That’s your total average monthly spending!
Then, subtract that number from your income to calculate your average available cash flow. That’s how much money you have leftover each month to tackle debt, save for emergencies, or use to start building wealth.
If it’s a smaller number than you expected, it’s ok. You’ve taken a very important step to face reality and move forward financially! You now know what you’re spending each month, and on what. Look at categories like entertainment and dining out. Can you reduce your monthly spending in these areas?
If your budget is tight and cash still isn’t flowing as freely as you’d like, you may need to consider starting a side hustle or part-time business to help make up the difference.
Ask me if you need help constructing your budget. It’s a simple process that can seriously improve your financial wellness.
But when your budget is already tight, they might be hard to find! Read on for 5 simple strategies to save money that may surprise you…
Cook your own food instead of eating out. Eating at a restuarant is about 300% more expensive than cooking at home. For instance, a $12 dollar burger at your favorite spot would cost $4 to prepare in your kitchen.¹
The takeaway is clear—whenever possible, prep your own food. Search the internet for recipes you love, recruit friends and family, and start creating… and saving!
Use coupons and promo codes. There are two ways to take advantage of online coupons and offers.
First, download your favorite grocery store’s app. Look for the savings section and start clipping coupons to your phone. Simply scan the app the next time you buy groceries for some potentially serious savings.
Second, install a plugin, like Honey, onto your browser. It will seek out coupons and promo codes and automatically apply them to your online purchases!
Walk and bike whenever possible. Any opportunity you have to replace your car with your feet or pedals, take it. Doing this has the potential to save you money on both gas and repairs over the long haul. Taking public transportation can also be a wise move—it’s been shown to save $10,000 per household.²
Make your own coffee at home to save money on daily expenses. Making your coffee in a traditional coffee pot can potentially save you over $1,900 annually.³ There’s nothing wrong with splurging on a coffee shop drink every now and then. But try to incorporate brewing your own coffee into your daily routine and see how it impacts your savings.
Find free entertainment. It’s not impossible! Organize a group of friends to throw a frisbee or play tag football in a park. Visit a museum with your family on a free-entry day. Go for a long walk with your partner. You might be surprised by how much fun you can have for free.
Apply these tips and let me know how much you save! What are some money saving ideas you use when you’re on a tight budget?
¹ “The True Cost Of Eating Out (And How To Save),” Amy Bergen, Money Under 30, Feb 11, 2021, https://www.moneyunder30.com/the-true-cost-of-eating-in-restaurants-and-how-to-save#:~:text=By%20contrast%2C%20the%20average%20meal,%244%20meal%20you%20prepare%20yourself.
² “Public Transportation Facts,” American Public Transportation Association, https://www.apta.com/news-publications/public-transportation-facts/#:~:text=Public%20Transportation%20Saves%20Money&text=A%20household%20can%20save%20nearly,living%20with%20one%20less%20car
³ “Here’s How Much Money You Really Save by Making Coffee at Home,” Samantha Rosen, NextAdvisor, February 3, 2021, https://time.com/nextadvisor/banking/savings/save-money-by-making-coffee-at-home/
All parents must contend with the cost of childcare, education, housing, and food. But there are some unexpected expenses that can blindside you if you’re not prepared for them. Here are some hidden costs that every parent should anticipate in advance!
The newborn utility bill spike When your baby first arrives home from the hospital (yay!), expect your utility bills to seriously increase. Chances are, your newest family member will require a cozy temperature all day to maintain their mood and sleep schedule. Plus, you’ll probably run a few extra loads of laundry and dishes every week! Before your child comes home, budget in some extra cash specifically for utility bills.
Birthday parties for preschoolers Nobody loves birthday parties more than preschoolers. If you’re not careful, you may end up paying far more than you ever expected on decorations, party favors, and gifts.
Come up with a budget-friendly gift giving strategy for your family early and stick with it. That might be placing a cost limit on what you give, or developing creative and heartfelt ways to make gifts from scratch.
Date nights will temporarily increase in cost Until your kids are old enough to look after themselves, you’ll need to hire a babysitter before you go on a date night.
There are responsible ways to save money on this often unexpected expense. If possible, have a family member look after your kids while you enjoy your romantic dinner. Also, consider swapping babysitting duties with a friend—you look after their kids on their date nights, they look after your kids on your date nights!
Extracurricular activities Music lessons, sports teams, and driver’s ed are sometimes far more expensive than parents realize. In addition to the upfront costs, you’ll also need to buy instruments, cleats, jerseys, and more to empower your kids to enjoy their favorite hobbies.
Create an extracurricular activities fund and start building it now. Then, decide how much you can pay each month for lessons and coaching.
What’s a parenting expense that caught you by surprise? I’d love to hear what it was and how you overcame it!
By now, you’ve probably noticed that there’s a lot that goes into caring for your newest family member. Between the diaper changes, sleepless nights, and feedings, take a few moments to make these critical financial moves. They may bring you the peace of mind and financial security your family needs!
Add your child to your health insurance coverage. Once your child is born, you have between 30 and 60 days to enroll your newborn in your health insurance plan.¹ Fortunately, it’s not a difficult task. Have your child’s birth certificate and social security number handy, and then call your health insurance provider. Share the good news that you’ve had a child and would like to add them to your plan. If your health insurance plan is through work, you’ll need to contact your HR department and go through the same process.
Find the right childcare for your family. Childcare can be pricey, ranging from $9,100 to $9,600 annually.² If both you and your spouse work, you’ll need to find a way to budget in this significant expense.
Review the costs of local daycare centers. Nannies are worth investigating, but can be more expensive than other forms of childcare. Consider asking your stay-at-home friends or family if they can tend to your children while you’re away from home. You might land a sweetheart deal that builds relationships and saves you money!
Protect your family with life insurance. There is no better time to consider life insurance than after the birth of your child. Raising a kid is expensive! Food, education, and clothing can require significant financial resources. The right life insurance policy can protect your family’s financial stability even if you pass away or if you get sick or injured and can no longer earn an income. Now’s the time to provide the financial security that your loved ones may need in the future.
The first few months of a baby’s life are crazy—they depend on you for everything! Just be sure to take some time between caring for their physical and developmental needs to tend to your financial concerns. It’s one of the greatest services you can offer them!
¹ “How do I sign my new baby up for health insurance?,” Nikki Davis, Bernard Benefits, Sept 2, 2020, https://blog.bernardbenefits.com/how-do-i-sign-my-new-baby-up-for-health-insurance
² “Child Care Costs by State 2020,” Procare Solutions, Jun 24, 2020, https://www.procaresoftware.com/child-care-costs-by-state-2020/
As you’re probably aware by now, growing a baby comes with serious financial responsibility. Here are a few expenses to anticipate and start planning for as soon as possible!
Prenatal care costs. Keeping both the mother and baby healthy throughout the pregnancy is a top priority. That means regular checkups and ultrasounds to make sure everything is progressing safely and normally.
Investigate what’s covered and what you’re expected to pay for beforehand. Health insurance policies will often cover prenatal care, but it’s best to find out what your expenses will be ahead of time. Out of pocket, prenatal care costs on average $2,000, so start preparing now!¹
Maternity clothes. Pregnancy requires a wardrobe overhaul for women that, on average, costs about $500.² Fortunately, there are commonsense strategies to cut back on this expense. Check local thrift stores for maternity options, and even consider buying flowy dresses or tops that are a size–or three–larger than your normal size. Also, ask family members if you can borrow their spare maternity clothes. Try to avoid designer maternity clothes which can come with a hefty price tag.
Delivery expenses. The cost of giving birth varies greatly—from $4,000 to $20,000 depending on your state and health insurance coverage.³ Again, it’s critical to consult with your healthcare and insurance providers to see what you’ll be expected to cover. The earlier you discover this information, the better—it gives you time to start saving for the hospital bill!
Budgeting for doctor visits, the delivery, and the hospital stay positions you to cover those expenses without having to borrow money. And that means you can provide your child a financially stable environment in which to grow, without the stress caused by unexpected medical expenses.
¹ “How Much Does it Cost to Have a Baby?,” Rickie Houston, SmartAsset, Oct 01, 2020, https://smartasset.com/financial-advisor/cost-of-having-a-baby#:~:text=The%20average%20price%20of%20having,and%20the%20hospital%20care%20fee.
² “Dressing for Two,” Stephie Grob Plante, Vox, Jan 30, 2018, https://www.vox.com/2018/1/30/16928328/maternity-clothes-pregnancy-miscarriage
³ “What It Costs to Have a Baby,” Heather Hatfield, WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/baby/features/cost-of-having-a-baby#1
Here’s how that works. Items are typically cheaper in thrift stores and flea markets than they are online. That means there’s potential to make a handsome profit if you buy something at a thrift store and then sell it on a digital marketplace.
Let’s look at an example…
You notice an item at your local thrift store that you’re certain sells online for about $60. You check the price tag—it’s only $5. You buy it and make a listing on your favorite digital marketplace. It sells! Let’s say shipping costs and selling fees are also $5 each. Your net profit is $45. You’ve made back triple the cost of your initial investment and business expenses.
It’s a simple, elegant, and fun business model that can potentially generate extra cash flow.
If you decide to start a thrifting business, consider these tips to maximize your profits!
Start at home. Before you send something to a landfill or thrift store, search for it on an online marketplace. You might be surprised how much of your “trash” is actually treasure! Make no mistake—some items aren’t worth your time salvaging and selling. But if you have clothes, toys, and books that are in good condition, consider listing them online and see what happens!
Scout out the right locations. Whenever possible, shop at thrift stores in wealthier neighborhoods. They’ll typically have higher-end products that fetch better prices. Also, consider using an app like Nextdoor to monitor local garage and estate sales—those are where you’ll find the real treasures at potentially deep discounts.
Prioritize the right items. Not all resale items are created equal. Books, textbooks, picture frames, and designer clothes tend to have strong returns. But always check the price of an item on eBay or another online marketplace before you buy it.
Buff up what you buy. Before you buy anything from a second-hand vendor, check it for damage or blemishes, but don’t be put off by surface-level issues. You might be surprised at how many items are simple to repair, fix, or clean. Putting in a little elbow grease may substantially boost the selling price.
Remember to have fun while you’re thrifting. The beauty of the reselling business is that it allows you to make money and enjoy a hobby at the same time. It’s perfectly fine if you don’t walk out with an incredible find. Embrace the process, see what’s out there, and make some extra cash while you’re at it!
A recent set of studies demonstrated that enjoying experiences created more anticipation, in-the-moment excitement, and longer-term satisfaction than purchasing items.¹ The results held true regardless of how much money was spent.
Why? Because an experience creates memories that last a lifetime. Possessions, however, can quickly become boring.
What does that mean for your budget?
Try shifting your discretionary spending from items to experiences for a month. Instead of spending your weekend at the mall, take your family on a day trip. Cut back on visiting designer stores and opt to walk through the park with a friend. Spend your time online planning exciting vacations instead of scrolling through store websites.
Then, take stock of how you feel. Has your quality of life–and cash flow–improved? Let me know how this simple shift makes a difference for your family and your budget!
¹ “Spending on experiences rather than things is associated with greater immediate happiness, study finds,” Susan Perry, MinnPost, Mar 12, 2020, https://www.minnpost.com/second-opinion/2020/03/spending-on-experiences-rather-than-things-is-associated-with-greater-immediate-happiness-study-finds/#:~:text=coverage%3B%20learn%20why.-,Spending%20on%20experiences%20rather%20than%20things%20is,greater%20immediate%20happiness%2C%20study%20finds&text=Plenty%20of%20recent%20research%20has,such%20as%20clothing%20and%20gadgets
A recent survey revealed that 83% of respondents underestimated their subscription spending by a wide margin.¹ On average, they thought subscriptions only cost them $80 per month. In reality, it was over $230.
That was back in 2018. Since the COVID-19 Pandemic started in 2020, that number has dramatically increased. A 2020 survey discovered that, on average, consumers added $192 in new subscriptions after lock downs started.²
The takeaway? Subscriptions might be consuming more of your cash flow than you realize.
Scroll through the apps on your phone. Are there streaming, dating, or wellness subscriptions that you pay for but never use? Unsubscribe and uninstall them!
If you and your family regularly use a streaming service, consider cancelling your cable subscription. They’re expensive, and your streaming services probably carry your favorite shows as it is.
It’s also worth investigating the value of any subscription boxes you receive. Is a monthly shipment of makeup or comic books significantly improving your life? Or do most of the items go unused? If the latter is true, consider cancelling your subscription.
Once you’ve cleared out unnecessary subscriptions, you might be surprised by how much cash flow you’ve freed up for reducing debt or building wealth.
¹ “You probably spend more on subscriptions than you realize,” Angela Moscaritolo, Mashable, Feb 20, 2019, https://mashable.com/article/you-probably-spend-more-on-subscriptions-that-you-realize/
² “Americans More Than Tripled Subscription Service Spending Amid Social Distancing,” David Dykes, Greenville Business Magazine, May 14, 2020, http://www.greenvillebusinessmag.com/2020/05/14/308970/americans-more-than-tripled-subscription-service-spending-amid-social-distancing
In the years when there was an abundance of crops, it was wise to store up as much as possible in preparation for the years of famine. However, if instead of saving you ate it all up during the 7 years of abundance, the result would be starvation for you and your family during the 7 lean years. This might be an extreme example in our modern, First World society, but are you “eating it all up” now and not storing enough away for your retirement?
The definition of retirement we’ll be using is: “An indefinite period in which one is no longer actively producing income but rather relies on income generated from pensions and/or personal savings.”
According to this definition, the “years of plenty” would be the years that you are still working and generating income. While you still have regular income, you can set aside a portion of it to save for retirement. This amount is called the “Personal Savings Rate.”
According to the latest statistics, the monthly personal savings rate for Americans is approximately 13.6% of their income.¹ For much of the past decade it’s hovered around 7% to 8%, briefly spiking during the first months of the COVID-19 Pandemic to over 30%.
Suppose you’re looking to retire for at least 10 years (e.g., from 65 years old to 75 years old). Even if you’re planning to live on only half of the income that you were making prior to retirement, you would need to save up 5 years worth of income to last for the 10 years of your retirement. Just raw saving at average rate without the power of interest would take years before it became the wealth most people need to retire.
So unless you’ve found the elixir of everlasting life, we’re going to need to do some serious “saving” of the personal savings rate. Is there a solution to this dilemma? Yes. If you’re looking for possible ways to store up and prepare for your retirement, I’d be happy to have that conversation with you today.
¹ “Personal Saving Rate,” U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Nov 25, 2020, http://bit.ly/2qSGrR3.
It might feel like every salesperson is pulling the wool over your eyes to take as much money from you as possible while delivering the least value.
Not to worry! Here are a few car buying insights that can help you get a ride that meets your transportation needs without sacrificing your financial stability.
Buy a used car
Chances are, you’ll buy your first car with limited financial resources. You most likely just need a vehicle that reliably gets you around town without breaking the bank.
In terms of price, used cars beat new cars almost every time. And reliability is decreasingly an issue–used cars sometimes travel 100,000 before they need a major repair.¹
As a rule of thumb, look for used cars that are three years old or more. They often can have the same features as newer models, still have many miles left before they break down, and can cost a fraction of a brand new car.
Ask for a car’s VIN before you buy it
If you decide to buy used, ask for the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) of each car you consider. A VIN gives you access to the full history of your car, including…
Once you have the VIN, check it out on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System. They have digital resources that allow you to search VINs and discover the history of the vehicles you’re considering.
Say no to bad deals
Don’t sweat it if you find a not-so-great car at a good price. It’s perfectly fine to walk away and keep searching. 40 million used cars were sold in 2019.² You’ll find the car you want at a price you love soon enough!
Above all, do your research. Buying a first car is a serious financial commitment. The last thing you want to do is drive off with a car that costs too much or will need constant repairs and maintenance. Check out sites like Kelley Bluebook and Consumer Reports to find information on car prices and reliability. Then, start asking around. You might be surprised by how many people in your circles are trying to unload a reliable used car!
¹ “How Many Miles is Too Many on a Used Car?,” Autolist, June 27, 2017, https://www.autolist.com/guides/how-many-miles-is-too-many-used-car
² “New and used light vehicle sales in the United States from 2010 to 2019,” I. Wagner, Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/183713/value-of-us-passenger-cas-sales-and-leases-since-1990/#:~:text=U.S.%20new%20and%20used%20car%20sales%202010%2D2019&text=Sales%20of%20used%20light%20vehicles,and%20automobiles%20were%20sold%20here.
Whether you’re a highschool student working a cash register or a fresh-out-of-college graduate who just landed a cubicle, a first job often comes with a steep learning curve. But don’t let that weigh you down! This is your once in a lifetime opportunity to start your financial journey strong and develop skills that will last you throughout your career.
Here are two simple steps you can take to make the most of your first job.
A first paycheck is a magical thing. It makes you feel like the hard work has finally paid off and you’re a real adult. You might just become unstoppable now that you’ve got a regular income!
But that empowerment will be fleeting if you spend everything you earn.
It’s absolutely critical that you begin saving money the moment your first paycheck arrives. This practice will go far in establishing healthy money habits that can last a lifetime. Plus, the sooner you start saving, the more time your money has to grow via compound interest. What seems like a pittance today can grow into the foundation of your future wealth if you steward it properly!
Evaluate your performance.
There’s much that you can learn about yourself by studying your job performance. You’ll get an idea of strengths that you can leverage and weaknesses that you need to work on.
But most importantly, you might discover moments when you’re “in the zone”. You’ll know what that means when you feel it. Time slows down (or speeds up), you’re totally focused on the task at hand, and you’re having fun.
That feeling is like a compass. It helps point you in the direction of what you’re supposed to do with your life. Do you get in the zone when you’re working on a certain task? With a group of people? Helping others succeed? Pay close attention to when you’re feeling energized at work and delivering quality results… and when you’re not!
Above all, keep an open mind. Your first job might introduce a passion you’ll pursue for the rest of your life… or it might not. And that’s okay! Whatever it is and wherever it leads, be sure to save as much as you can and to pay attention to what you like. You’ll be better positioned both financially and personally to pursue your dreams when the time comes to make your next move!
Before they might know what a 401(k) or mortgage even are, their financial future is already starting to take shape. It’s never too early to teach your kids the wisdom of budgeting, limiting their spending, and paying themselves first. So the sooner you can instill those lessons, the deeper they’ll sink in!
Fortunately, teaching your kids about saving is quite simple. Here are two common-sense strategies that can help you instill financial wisdom in your children from the moment they can tell a dollar from a dime!
Give your child an allowance
The easiest way for your child to learn how money works is actually for them to have money. If it’s within your budget, set up a system for your child to earn an allowance. The more closely it relates to their work, the better. Set up a list of family chores that are mandatory, and then come up with some jobs and projects around the house that pay different amounts.
What does this have to do with saving? The simple fact is that spending money you receive as a gift can feel totally different than spending money that you earn. Teaching your children the connection between work and money instills a sense of the value of their time and that spending isn’t something to be taken lightly!
Teach your child how to budget
Budgeting is one of the most essential life skills your child will ever learn. And there’s no better time for them to start learning the difference between saving and spending than now! The same study that revealed children solidify their spending habits at age 7 also suggested they can grasp basic financial concepts by age 3!
So when your kid earns that first 5 dollar bill for working in the yard, help them figure out what to do with it! Encourage them to set aside a portion of what they earn in a place where it will grow via compound interest. Explain that the longer their money compounds, the more potential it has to grow! If they’re natural spenders, help them determine how long it will take them to save up enough to buy the new toy or game they want and that it’s worth the wait.
Start saving for yourself
Remember this–the most important lessons you teach your children are unconscious. Your kids are smart. They watch everything you do. Relentlessly enforce spending limits on your kids but splurge on a vacation or new car? They’ll notice. That’s why one of the most critical means of teaching your kids how to save is to establish a savings strategy yourself. When you make and review your monthly budget, invite the kids to join! When they ask why you haven’t gone on vacation abroad for a while, calmly inform them that it’s not in the family budget right now. Model wise financial decision making, and your children will be far more receptive to learning how money works for themselves!
The time to start teaching your kids how to save is today. Whether they’re 2, 8, or 18, offer them opportunities to work so they can earn some money and give them the knowledge and resources they need to use it wisely. And the sooner your kids discover concepts like the power of compound interest and the time value of money, the more potential they have to transform what they earn into a foundation for future wealth.
“The 5 Most Important Money Lessons To Teach Your Kids,” Laura Shin, Forbes, Oct 15, 2013, https://www.forbes.com/sites/laurashin/2013/10/15/the-5-most-important-money-lessons-to-teach-your-kids/?sh=2c01a4956826
For example, how much would you spend on a meal at a restaurant before it moves into lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous territory? $100? $50? $20? To some, enjoying a daily made-to-order burrito might be par for the course, but to others, spending $10 every day on a tortilla, a scoop of chicken, and a dollop of guacamole might seem extravagant. Chances are, there may be some areas where you’re more in line with the average person and some areas where you’re atypical – but don’t let that worry you!
In case you were wondering, the top 3 things that Americans spend their money on in a year are housing ($20,091), transportation ($9,761), and food ($7,923).¹
Those top 3 expenses might very well be about the same as your top 3, but everything else after that is a mixed bag. Your lifestyle and the unique things that make you, well you, greatly influence where you spend your money and how you should budget.
For example, let’s say the average expenditure on a pet is $600 annually, but that may lump in hamsters, guinea pigs, all the way to Siberian Huskies. As you can imagine, each could come with a very different yearly cost associated with keeping that type of pet healthy. So although the average might be $600, your actual cost could be well above $3,000 for the husky! That definitely wouldn’t be seen as ‘normal’ by any means. And that’s okay!
What are we getting at here? It’s perfectly fine to be ‘abnormal’ in some areas of your spending. You don’t need to make your budget look exactly like other people’s budgets. What matters to them might not be the same as what matters to you.
So go ahead and buy that organic, gluten-free, grass-fed kibble for Fido – he deserves it (if he didn’t pee on the carpet while you were away, that is)! If Fido’s happiness makes you happy, then more power to you. Just make sure that at the end of the day, Fido’s food bill won’t bust your budget.
¹ “American Spending Habits in 2020,” Lexington Law, Jan 6, 2020, https://www.lexingtonlaw.com/blog/credit-cards/american-spending-habits.html
But not all goals are created equal. Planning to win the lottery is a foolish objective that won’t help you fulfill your dreams. Spending hours clipping coupons worth a few dollars is probably a waste of time.
Fortunately, establishing proper goals is actually incredibly straightforward. You want to pursue objectives that are SMART—specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. Formulating these types of goals can radically focus your energy and increase your ability to get things done. Let’s start with the first criteria!
The more specific your goal, the more clearly you’ll understand exactly what you need to do to achieve it. It’s the difference between a vague daydream and a solid plan.
When writing out your financial goals, be crystal clear on exactly what you want to accomplish and why. Outline the steps and people needed to bring about your vision. Something like “I want to make more money” becomes “I want to earn a raise at work by taking on more responsibility.”
How will you know if you’ve accomplished, exceeded, or failed your goal? Including a clear metric gives you insight into how close or far you are from completing your objective.
Decide on a clear numeric goal you can shoot for. Take a vague notion like “I want to save more money” and transform it into “I want to save 15% of my income this year for retirement.” You’ll have a clearer idea of what steps you need to take to meet that benchmark and feel a deep sense of reward once you hit the target.
Trying to attain an ill-defined, pie-in-the-sky goal will only lead to crazy behavior, incredible discouragement, or both. If you’re aiming for something huge (which is admirable), break it down into mini goals and focus on one at a time. Achieving a goal like “I want to start a multi-million dollar business” takes careful planning, a lot of research, and loads of help, but there are many, many people in the world who have done just that. How do you eat an elephant? (One bite at a time!)
Are your goals appropriate? That seems like an obvious question, but it’s a critical one to ask when establishing objectives. For instance, saving up $1,000 so you can buy your new niece a Swarovski crystal, gold-plated baby rattle (yes, that’s a real thing) might be really memorable, but do you have an emergency fund in place? Make sure you’re meeting those practical, basic financial goals before you start aiming for the non-essential ones.
Knowing that the clock is ticking is one of the most powerful motivators on the planet. You’ll want to establish a realistic time-frame, but deciding that you want to buy a house in two years or be debt free in six months can increase your intensity, narrow your focus, and inspire you to start working on your goals as soon as possible!
Do your financial goals meet these criteria? If not, don’t sweat it! Spend 15 minutes reviewing your objectives and work in specific details or break down some of your more ambitious targets. Remember, I’m here to help if you hit a financial goal roadblock and need some professional insight and clarity!
Setting goals has the power to change your life. Research has shown that people who write down their goals are 33% more successful in accomplishing them than those who don’t.¹ That data seems to verify what we instinctively know. Is there anything worse than working on a project that has no clear objective or outcome defined?
But here’s the million dollar question: Have you written down your financial goals?
It’s one of those simple things that we tell ourselves we’re going to do or that we’ll get around to later, but we tend to leave undone. And that results in our earning, saving, and spending money aimlessly, without purpose. No wonder the majority of 40-somethings and almost a third of people in their 60s are woefully short of having enough for their retirements!²
In case you still need convincing, here are three reasons why you should write down your financial goals the second you’re done reading this article!
Financial goals bring clarity
Imagine trying to build a house without a blueprint. Where would you start? Would you know what supplies you’d need? What color paint you’d want? Would you end up with a basement? Who knows?
Your finances are the same way. Until you have a clear financial goal for your lifestyle and retirement, you’ll never truly know what to do with your money and how it can help you. Once you’re locked in on a vision of your future, you can start exploring the actions necessary to make your dreams become realities.
Financial goals create intensity
Discovering the steps you need to take to achieve your goals cuts away distractions. You’re no longer as susceptible to distractions and temptations because you’re laser-focused on creating an outcome. You can focus all of your mental and financial energy on bringing your vision to life. Clarity leads to focus. Focus creates intensity. Intensity accomplishes goals.
Financial goals are rewarding
There are few better feelings than the one that comes after a day of hard, productive work. That’s because your brain knows that you accomplished what you set out to do.
Your finances are no different.
Setting goals for your money gives you the opportunity to feel that deep sense of reward and accomplishment. It provides your life with a source of gratification that isn’t shallow and instantaneous.
So what are you waiting for? Grab a piece of paper or pull up your note taking app and write down a few financial goals! Be realistic and hyper specific. Let’s talk about what comes to your mind and what it would take to bring that vision of your life into reality!
¹ “Goal-Setting Is Linked to Higher Achievement,” Marilyn Price-Mitchell Ph.D., Psychology Today, Mar 14, 2018, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-moment-youth/201803/goal-setting-is-linked-higher-achievement
² “Here’s how much Americans have saved for retirement at different ages,” Kathleen Elkins, CNBC Make It, Jan 23, 2020, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/01/23/heres-how-much-americans-have-saved-for-retirement-at-different-ages.html
It can be enlightening to see how rates are applied. Hopefully, it motivates you to pay off those cards as quickly as possible!
What is APR?
At the core of understanding how finance charges are calculated is the APR, short for Annual Percentage Rate. Most credit cards now use a variable rate, which means the interest rate can adjust with the prime rate, which is the lowest interest rate available (for any entity that is not a bank) to borrow money. Banks use the prime rate for their best customers to provide funds for mortgages, loans, and credit cards.¹ Credit card companies charge a higher rate than prime, but their rate often moves in tandem with the prime rate. As of the second quarter of 2020, the average credit card interest rate on existing accounts was 14.58%.²
While the Annual Percentage Rate is a yearly rate, as its name suggests, the interest on credit card balances is calculated monthly based on an average daily balance. You may also have multiple APRs on the same account, with a separate APR for balance transfers, cash advances, and late balances.
Periodic Interest Rate
The APR is used to calculate the Periodic Interest Rate, which is a daily rate. 15% divided by 365 days in a year = 0.00041095 (the periodic rate), for example.
Average Daily Balance
If you use your credit card regularly, the balance will change with each purchase. So if credit card companies charged interest based on the balance on a given date, it would be easy to minimize the interest charges by timing your payment. This isn’t the case, however—unless you pay in full—because the interest will be based on the average daily balance for the entire billing cycle.
Let’s look at some round numbers and a 30-day billing cycle as an example.
Day 1: Balance $1,000 Day 10: Purchase $500, Balance $1,500 Day 20: Purchase $200, Balance $1,700 Day 28: Payment $700, Balance $1,000
To calculate the average daily balance, you would need to determine how many days you had at each balance.
$1,000 x 9 days $1,500 x 10 days $1,700 x 8 days $1,000 x 3 days
Some of the multiplied numbers below might look alarming, but after we divide by the number of days in the billing cycle (30), we’ll have the average daily balance. ($9,000 + $15,000 + $13,600 + $3,000)/30 = $1,353.33 (the average daily balance)
Here’s an eye-opener: If the $1,000 ending balance isn’t paid in full, interest is charged on the $1353.33, not $1,000.
We’ll also assume an interest rate of 15%, which gives a periodic (daily) rate of 0.00041095.
$1,353.33 x (0.00041095 x 30) = $16.68 finance charge
$16.68 may not sound like a lot of money, but this example is a small fraction of the average household credit card debt, which is $8,645 for households that carry balances as of 2019.³ At 15% interest, average households with balances are paying $1,297 per year in interest. Wow! What could you do with that $1,297 that could have been saved?
That was a lot of math, but it’s important to know why you’re paying what you might be paying in interest charges. Hopefully this knowledge will help you minimize future interest buildup!
Did you know? When you make a payment, the payment is applied to interest first, with any remainder applied to the balance. This is why it can take so long to pay down a credit card, particularly a high-interest credit card. In effect, you can end up paying for the same purchase several times over due to how little is applied to the balance if you are just making minimum payments.
¹ “Prime Rate,” James Chen, Investopedia, Jun 30, 2020, https://www.investopedia.com/terms/p/primerate.asp
² “What Is the Average Credit Card Interest Rate?,” Adam McCann, WalletHub, Oct 12, 2020, https://wallethub.com/edu/average-credit-card-interest-rate/50841/
³ “Credit Card Debt Study,” Alina Comoreanu, WalletHub, Sep 9, 2020, https://wallethub.com/edu/cc/credit-card-debt-study/24400
For instance, you can increase the shelf life of cottage cheese if you store it upside down.¹ That’s a great hack if you like saving money every few weeks or eating cottage cheese. But today we’re looking at high return tricks that will impact your wallet every time you check out. Let’s start simple!
DO NOT BUY BOTTLED WATER
Maybe you just get your water out of the tap, but if you’re in the habit of purchasing fancy bottled water, STOP. If you must indulge in decedent H2O, do the cost-effective thing and buy a reusable bottle with a filter. Use the $100 that most Americans spend on water annually for savings or donating to cause you care about.² At the very least, use it to buy something that doesn’t have a free alternative!
Wait until evening to hit up your farmers market
Local vendors usually don’t want to lug their unsold goods back home with them. That’s why they’ll often start discounting their produce as the day drags on. Hit them right at the end of the day to get the best deals. And don’t be afraid to ask them for items that aren’t visually perfect but are still usable.
Always. Make. A. List.
Stores are designed as mazes. You’re meant to wander around and notice as many products as possible. Afterall, you might just see something you “need” but didn’t plan on getting!
That’s why you must bring a list with you when you go shopping. You’re far less likely to explore your options and stay on track if you have a few written objectives.
While you’re at it, try to stick to the perimeter of the store. That’s where the essential items you’ll need are often stocked!
Saving money on food is a long game. If you’re preparing your own meals instead of going out, you’re already well ahead of the curve. Try out these tips to take your frugality game to the next level!
¹ “How to Store Dairy Products to Keep Them Good As Long As Possible,” Margaret Eby, Food and Wine, Apr 3, 2020, https://www.foodandwine.com/how/how-to-store-dairy-products
² “The Money Spent Can Be Used Better Elsewhere,” The Water Project, https://thewaterproject.org/bottled-water/bottled_water_resources
It makes up nearly a quarter of the global economy and has a GDP of roughly $21.44 trillion.¹ But that statistic doesn’t tell the whole story. The truth is that only a few Americans have truly mastered how money works and the rest are lagging behind. Despite having the largest economy, the U.S. ranks 13th in GDP per capita.²
And it all begins with the state of financial literacy.
Knowing how money works has never been more important. But it’s becoming an increasingly rare skill among Americans. Here’s a quick look at the significance of financial literacy in the modern world and how ignorance is hampering our ability to build wealth.
The importance of financial literacy is increasing.
Americans are faced with a complex world. We have access to unlimited information on everything under the sun, endless opinions on every issue, and infinite options for entertainment. Money is no exception. The two tried and true safety nets of the past—social security and pension plans—can fall short, so we need to figure out how to provide for our own futures. The options for how to save and grow our money are myriad. Now it’s on us to figure out how to build wealth, save for retirement, and leave money behind for our kids.
Understanding how money works isn’t just helpful for achieving those goals. It’s absolutely mandatory. Saving, budgeting, and the power of compound interest are just a few of the concepts that you’ll need to master before you can start building your financial future.
Financial literacy is decreasing.
Americans are less able to plan and provide for their futures than ever. Financial literacy slid from 42% to 34% between 2009 and 2018.³ And that number is significantly lower for Millennials than for the rest of the population, with only 17% able to answer 4 out of 5 basic questions about finances.⁴ That ignorance shows in our decision making and our inability to build wealth. A stunning 33% of Americans have nothing set aside for retirement.⁵ 44% don’t have enough saved to cover a $1,000 emergency.⁶ We’re surrounded by money and opportunity but don’t have the knowledge to convert them into personal wealth.
There are several reasons why financial literacy could be decreasing. Financial education is not widely taught in public schools, with less than half of states requiring a personal finance course for a highschool diploma.⁷ Perhaps we’ve just been slow to keep up with the rapid changes in the global economy. Or maybe some people benefit from having a large chunk of the population stay in financial ignorance. The lack of financial literacy is most likely a combination of all these reasons! The real question is, do you know how money works? And if not, where will you learn?
¹ Caleb Silver, “The Top 20 Economies in the World,” Investopdia, Updated Mar. 18, 2020,https://www.investopedia.com/insights/worlds-top-economies/
² “GDP per Capita,” Worldometers,https://www.worldometers.info/gdp/gdp-per-capita/
³ Andrew Keshner, “Financial literacy skills have taken a nose dive since the Great Recession,” MarketWatch, June 27, 2019,https://www.marketwatch.com/story/americans-financial-literacy-skills-have-plummeted-since-the-great-recession-2019-06-26
⁴ Keshner, “Financial literacy skills have taken a nose dive,” MarketWatch.
⁵ Dani Pascarella, “4 Stats That Reveal How Badly America Is Failing At Financial Literacy,” Forbes, Apr. 3, 2018,https://www.forbes.com/sites/danipascarella/2018/04/03/4-stats-that-reveal-how-badly-america-is-failing-at-financial-literacy/#69cecb072bb7
⁶ Pascarella, “4 Stats That Reveal How Badly America Is Failing At Financial Literacy,” Forbes.
⁷ Ann Carrns, “More States Require Students to Learn About Money Matters,” The New York Times, Feb. 8, 2020,https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/07/your-money/states-financial-education.html
Maybe your numbers never add up or too many expenses are coming “out of the blue”. You might also feel a sense of dread every time you make a purchase. No matter what you do, this whole budgeting thing doesn’t seem to be working.
Hang in there! Here are a few budgeting potholes that might be slowing down your financial goals and how to avoid them!
Budgets are supposed to help you use your money wisely. They should be a positive part of your life—they’re not supposed to make you feel like you’re constantly failing. But sometimes our passion to save money and get our financial house in order gets the better of us, and we set up budgets that are too restrictive. While coming from good intentions, an overly thrifty budget can actually make it harder to achieve your goals. An impossible to follow plan can make you feel discouraged and resentful. You might even decide that it’s not worth the hassle! Try starting with a more reasonable strategy and then build from there!
Sometimes our budgets are just too complicated to actually be useful. Not everyone loves working with numbers, and sometimes fiddling with spreadsheets can get so overwhelming that we just want to quit. Plus, there’s plenty of room for human error! A good option is to investigate free budgeting sites or apps. All you do is punch in the correct numbers and the magic of technology will do the rest!
One time budget
Life is constantly changing. Your simple, streamlined budget might be perfect for the life of a young single professional, but will it still hold up in five years? Where will the portion of your paycheck that works down your student loans go once you’re debt free? And when will you start saving for a house?
Take some time every few months to review your budget and see what’s changed. Evaluate what you’ve accomplished and areas that need improvement. Ask yourself what your next milestones should be and if those line up with your long-term goals!
Budgeting takes work. But it shouldn’t be a burden. Cut yourself some slack, prune your process, and stay consistent. You might be surprised by the difference filling in budgeting potholes can make in your financial life!