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Beware These Budgeting Potholes

Beware These Budgeting Potholes

So you’ve made the commitment and started your budget, but after a while something seems off.

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!

Stinginess
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!

Too complex
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!


Mediocre Money Mindsets

Mediocre Money Mindsets

Healthy money habits start with mature money mindsets.

Even though it’s not always obvious, we carry lots of assumptions and attitudes about money that might not be grounded in reality. How we perceive wealth and finances can impact how we make decisions, prioritize, and handle the money that we have. Here are a few common money mindsets that might be holding you back from reaching your full potential!

I need tons of money to start saving
It’s simple, right? The rich are swimming in cash, so they’re able to save. They get to build businesses and live out their dreams. The rest of us have to live paycheck to paycheck, shelling out our hard earned money on rent, groceries, and other essentials.

That couldn’t be further from the truth! Sure, you might not be able to save half your income. But you might be surprised by how much you can actually stash away if you put your mind to it. And however much you can save right now, little as it might be, is much better than putting away nothing at all!

I need to save every penny possible
On the other side of the coin (get it?) is the notion that you have to save every last penny and dime that comes your way. There are definitely people in difficult financial situations who go to incredible lengths to make ends meet. Just ask someone who survived the Great Depression! But most of us don’t need to haggle down the price of an apple or forage around for firewood. And sometimes, the corners we cut to save a buck can come back to bite us. Set spending rules and boundaries for yourself, but make sure you’re not just eating ramen noodles and ketchup soup!

I don’t need to budget
There are definitely times when you might not feel like you need to be proactive with your finances. You don’t feel like you’re spending too much, debt collectors aren’t pounding down your door, and everything seems comfortable. Budgeting is for folks with a spending problem, right?

The fact of the matter is that everyone should have a budget. It might not feel important now, but a budget is your most powerful tool for understanding where your money goes, areas where you can cut back, and how much you can put away for the future. It gives you the knowledge you need to take control of your finances!

Breaking mediocre money mindsets can be difficult. But it’s an important step on your journey towards financial independence. Once you understand money and how it works, you’re on the path to take control of your future and make your dreams a reality.


Furnish Your Home Without Breaking Your Bank

Furnish Your Home Without Breaking Your Bank

Furnishing your house can be pricey.

One interior decoration blog estimated that decorating a living room from scratch could cost between $14,400 to almost $50,000!(1) The numbers for the dining room, bedrooms, and kitchen are similarly high. Furnishing an apartment averages about $6,000.(2) But is there a better way? How can you save some cash if you’re trying to furnish your home? Here are a few helpful tips to guide your decorating process!

Plan and prioritize
Start by taking stock of what furniture you have that can be used in your new home. Some of it might work in your new home, some of it might not. Try to get an idea of what existing furniture will go where and make note of new items you’ll need.

Arrange your list of new items in order of importance and buy those first. Mattresses for your bedroom? Top of the list. Abstract modern art to hang in your bathroom? Maybe hold off on that until you’ve taken care of the essentials!

Paint
Concerned that your kitchen is a little drab? Worried that your table cloth doesn’t match your dining room? You might be surprised how far a new paint job will get you! It might be a more budget-friendly way to spice up your living situation than tossing all your old furniture out the door, especially if you do it yourself. Things like tables and wooden chairs are all potential candidates for a new coat of paint, as are the walls of your home.

Shop smart
But there’s no doubt that at some point you’ll need to get a new piece of furniture. What then? Cough up and pay a ridiculous price? You might be surprised by the resources available to acquire furniture at a bargain. Local thrift stores can be treasure troves for things like chairs, coffee tables, and bookcases. Craigslist and eBay are also worth investigating, as are estate and garage sales. And you can always scour the curbs for a free sofa if you’re feeling bold!

Furnishing your new house can be fun. It’s a chance to unleash your creativity and make your home a special place. Just make sure you follow these budget-friendly tips before you start indulging!

(1) https://www.kathykuohome.com/blog/budget-breakdown-how-much-does-it-cost-decorate-a-room/

(2) https://medium.com/@ColonialVanLinesInc/how-much-does-the-average-person-spend-on-furniture-8a0a6ba179ca


Splurging Responsibly?

Splurging Responsibly?

We have an odd relationship with splurging.

Many of us treat it like a guilty pleasure and almost take a little pride in our extravagant purchases, even seeing it as “self-care”. But there’s also a part of us that knows we’re not being wise when we senselessly spend money.

So how do we resolve that tension between having fun and making good decisions? Here are a few ideas to help you splurge responsibly!

Budget in advance
“Responsible splurging” might seem like a contradiction, but the key to enjoying yourself once in a while and staying on track with your financial strategy is budgeting. Maintaining a budget gives you the power to see where your money is going and if you can afford to make a big/last-minute/frivolous purchase. And when you decide that you’re going to take the plunge, a budget is your compass for how much you can spend now, or if you need to wait a little longer and save a little more.

Beware of impulse purchasing
The opposite of budgeting for a splurge is impulse buying. We’ve all been there; you’re scrolling through your favorite shopping site and you see it. That thing you didn’t know you always wanted—and it’s on sale. Just a few clicks and it could be yours!

Tempting as impulse buying might be, especially when there’s a good deal, it’s often better to pause and review your finances before adding those cute shoes to your cart. Check your budget, remember your goals, and then see if that purchase is something you can really afford!

Do your research
Have you ever spent your hard-earned money on a dream item, even if you budgeted for it, only to have it break or malfunction after a few weeks? Even worse, it might have been something as significant as a car that you wound up trying to keep alive with thousands of dollars in maintenance and repairs!

That’s why research is so important. It’s not a guarantee that your purchase will last longer, but it can help narrow your options and reduce the chance of wasting your money.

Responsible splurging is possible. Just make sure you’re financially prepared and well-researched before making those purchases!


Healthy Financial Habits

Healthy Financial Habits

Consistency is essential for anything, and the key to consistency is habit.

Habits are behaviors that we do so frequently that they feel second nature. So your friend who’s woken up at 5:00 AM to work out for so long that it seems normal to him? He’s unlocked the power of habit to wake up, get out of bed, and make it happen.

Healthy money habits are the same way; they open up a whole new world of financial fitness! Here are a few great habits you can start today.

Begin with a Budget
Developing a budgeting habit is foundational. Consistently seeing where your money is going gives you the power to see what needs to change. Notice in your budget that fast food is hogging your paycheck? Budgeting allows you to see how it’s holding you back and figure out a solution to the problem. The knowledge a budget gives you is the key to help you make wise money decisions.

Pay Yourself First
Once you’re budgeting regularly, you can start seeing who ends up with your money at the end of the day. Is it you? Or someone else? One of the best habits you can establish is making sure you pay yourself by saving. Instead of spending first and setting aside what’s left over, put part of your money into a savings account as soon as you get your paycheck. It’s a simple shift in mindset that can make a big difference!

Automate Everything
And what easier way to pay yourself first than by automatically depositing cash in your savings account? Making as much of your saving automatic helps make saving something that you don’t even think about. It can be much easier to have healthy financial habits if everything happens seamlessly and with as little effort as possible on your part.

Healthy financial habits may not seem big. But sometimes those little victories can make a big difference over the span of several years. Why not try working a few of these habits into your routine and see if they make a difference?


So You’ve Graduated...Now What?

So You’ve Graduated...Now What?

Graduating from college is a big deal.

It represents a transition from student to adult for millions of people. But leaving university and joining the workforce can be intimidating. Looking for a job, paying bills, commuting, and living independently are often uncharted territory for recent grads.

Here are a few tips for fresh graduates trying to get on their feet financially.

Figure out what you want
It’s one thing to leave college with an idea of what career you want to pursue. It’s something else entirely to ask yourself what kind of life you want. It’s one of those big issues that can be difficult even to wrap your head around!

However, it’s something that’s important to grapple with. It will help you answer questions like “What kind of lifestyle do I want to live” and “how much will it cost to do the things I want?” You might even find that you don’t really need some of the things that you thought were necessities, and that happiness comes from places you might not have expected.

Come up with a budget
Let’s say you’ve got a ballpark idea of your financial and lifestyle goals. It’s time to come up with a strategy. There are plenty of resources on starting a budget on this blog and the internet on the whole, but the barebones of budgeting are pretty simple. First, figure out how much you make, how much you have to spend, how much you actually spend, then subtract your total spending from how much you make. Get a positive number? Awesome! Use that leftover cash to start saving for retirement (it’s never too early!) or build up an emergency fund. Negative number? Look for places in your unnecessary spending to cut back and maybe consider a side hustle to make more money.

Looking at your spending habits can be difficult. But owning up to mistakes you might be making and coming up with a solid strategy can be far easier than the agony that spending blindly may bring. That’s why starting a budget is a post-graduation must!

Meet with a financial professional
Find a qualified and licensed financial professional and schedule an appointment. Don’t let the idea of meeting with a professional intimidate you. Afterall, you trust your health, car, and legal representation to properly trained experts. Why wouldn’t you do the same with your financial future?

Being scared of starting a new chapter of life is natural. There are a lot of new experiences and unknowns to deal with that come along with leaving the familiarity of college. But the best way to overcome fear is to face it head on. These tips are a great way to start taking control of your future!

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5 Financial Strategy Tips for Couples

5 Financial Strategy Tips for Couples

Talking to your spouse about money can be tricky.

Different spending habits and conflicting money management values are sometimes sources of tension between partners. Finances are the number one cause of arguments within relationships. In fact, it’s one of the most common reasons for divorce.

With bills to pay, emergency expenses, and a child’s college tuition and retirement on the horizon, many couples find their finances are stretched as they seek solutions to cover the cost of everyday life. The following 5 tips may help you and your spouse gain control of your finances.

1. Set Goals
The goal-setting phase allows a couple to talk openly about their financial history, current obligations, and future objectives. Gauging your spouse’s retirement preferences can often be a challenging obstacle before establishing a financial strategy.

2. Identify Risky Spending
Overspending and making frivolous purchases may damage your financial future. Discussing mistakes respectfully on both sides of the relationship can help prevent poor decisions in the future. If an expense proves to be a blunder, own up to the fact and move on.

Review the household “record of accounts” (that is, your budget) and your current financial landscape before adjusting your strategy. This may help protect your family from further problems that might delay the timeframe you want to retire.

3. Pay off Bills
Be fair. If—or when—your spouse admits to overspending, try not to blow up. We live in a consumerist society designed to push our buttons and trick us into spending. Even worse, it’s a pattern that can be difficult to break because it’s a very socially acceptable addiction.

Instead of exploding, ask them open-ended questions about their spending habits. The key here is working towards a compromise in a way that doesn’t villainize your partner but also protects your financial future together.

4. Periodic Review
Due to the dynamics of financial decision-making between spouses, it’s clear that periodic review has a benefit. Changes in income, lifestyle, and family or business obligations can alter a couple’s financial goals for retirement. Try to meet at least once a month (maybe over a cup of coffee) to review your finances and update your budget.

5. Don’t forget to have some fun!
The goal of getting in control of your finances is not to make life miserable. Sure, you might need to cut back on frivolous spending in the present to have more in the future, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy life. Set aside a little each month for a movie night or dinner with friends. You actually might discover that things like budgeting free up cash!

Building a financially sound relationship takes time. It takes a willingness to listen, to compromise, to take responsibility, and to prepare. Sometimes it might take some experience as well. Contact a qualified and licensed financial professional to help you and your loved one come up with a strategy to build your future together.


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How to Budget for Beginners

How to Budget for Beginners

Everybody needs a budget.

But that doesn’t stop “budget” from being an intimidating word to many people. Some folks may think it means scrimping on everything and never going out for a night on the town. It doesn’t! Budgeting simply means that you know where your money is going and you have a way to track it.

The aim with budgeting is to be aware of your spending, plan for your expenses1, and make sure you have enough saved to pursue your goals.

Without a budget, it can be easy for expenses to climb beyond your ability to pay for them. You break out the plastic and before you know it you’ve spent fifty bucks on drinks and appetizers with the gang after work. These habits might leave you with a lot of accumulated debt. Plus, without a budget, you may not be saving for a rainy day, vacation, or your retirement. A budget allows you to enact a strategy to help pursue your goals. But what if you’ve never had a budget? Where should you start? Here’s a quick step-by-step guide on how to get your budgeting habit off the ground!

Track your expenses every day
Start by tracking your expenses. Write down everything you buy, including memberships, online streaming services, and subscriptions. It’s not complicated to do with popular mobile and web applications. You can also buy a small notebook to keep track of each purchase. Even if it’s a small pack of gum from the gas station or a quick coffee at the corner shop, jot it down. Keep track of the big stuff too, like your rent and bill payments.

Add up expenses every week and develop categories
Once you’ve collected enough data, it’s time to figure out where exactly your paycheck is going. Start with adding up your expenses every week. How much are you spending? What are you spending money on? As you add your spending up, start developing categories. The goal is to organize all your expenses so you can see what you’re spending money on. For example, if you eat out a few times per week, group those expenses under a category called “Eating Out”. Get as general or as specific as you wish. Maybe throwing all your food purchases into one bucket is all you need, or you may want to break it down by location - grocery store, big box store, restaurants, etc.

Create a monthly list of expenses
Once you’ve recorded your expenses for a full month, it’s time to create a monthly list. Now you might also have more clarity on how you want to set up your categories. Next, total each category for the month.

Adjust your spending as necessary
Compare your total expenses with your income. There are two possible outcomes. You may be spending within your income or spending outside your income. If you’re spending within your income, create a category for savings if you don’t have one. It’s a good idea to create a separate savings category for large future purchases too, like a home or a vacation. If you find you’re spending too much, you may need to cut back spending in some categories. The beauty of a budget is that once you see how much you’re spending, and on what, you’ll be able to strategize where you need to cut back.

Keep going
Once you develop the habit of budgeting, it should become part of your routine. You can look forward to working on your savings and developing a retirement strategy, but don’t forget to budget in a little fun too!


¹Jeremy Vohwinkle, “Make a Personal Budget in 6 Steps: A Step-by-Step Guide to Make a Budget,” The Balance (March 6, 2020).

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Are You Prepared For A Rainy Day?

Are You Prepared For A Rainy Day?

It’s never a bad idea to prepare for a financial emergency.

Unexpected expenses, market fluctuations, or a sudden job loss could leave you financially vulnerable. Here are some tips to help you get ready for your bank account’s rainy days!

Know the difference between a rainy day fund and an emergency fund … but have both!
People often use the terms interchangeably, but there are some big differences between a rainy day fund and an emergency fund. A rainy day fund is typically designed to cover a relatively small unexpected cost, like a car repair or minor medical bills. Emergency funds are supposed to help cover expenses that might accumulate during a long period of unemployment or if you experience serious health complications. Both funds are important for preparing for your financial future—it’s never too early to start building them.

Tackle your debt now
Just because you can manage your debt now doesn’t mean you’ll be able to in the future. Prioritizing debt reduction, especially if you have student loans or credit card debit, can go a long way toward helping you prepare for an unexpected financial emergency. It never hurts to come up with a budget that includes paying down debt and to set a date for when you want to be debt-free!

Learn skills to bolster your employability
One of the worst things that can blindside you is unemployment. That’s why taking steps now to help with a potential future job search can be so important. Look into free online educational resources and classes, and investigate certifications. Those can go a long way towards diversifying your skillset (and can look great on a resume).

None of these tips will do you much good unless you get the ball rolling on them now. The best time to prepare for an emergency is before the shock and stress set in!


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7 Tips for Talking to Your Partner About Money

7 Tips for Talking to Your Partner About Money

Dealing with finances is a big part of any committed relationship and one that can affect many aspects of your life together.

The good news is, you don’t need a perfect relationship or perfect finances to have productive conversations with your partner about money, so here are some tips for handling those tricky conversations like a pro!

Be respectful
Respect should be the basis for any conversation with your significant other, but especially when dealing with potentially touchy issues like money. Be mindful to keep your tone neutral and try not to heap blame on your partner for any issues. Remember that you’re here to solve problems together.

Take responsibility
It’s perfectly normal if one person in a couple handles the finances more than the other. Just be sure to take responsibility for the decisions that you make and remember that it affects both people. You might want to establish a monthly money meeting to make sure you’re both on the same page and in the loop. Hint: Make it fun! Maybe order in, or enjoy a steak dinner while you chat.

Take a team approach
Instead of saying to your partner, “you need to do this or that,” try to frame things in a way that lets your partner know you see yourself on the same team as they are. Saying “we need to take a look at our combined spending habits” will probably be better received than “you need to stop spending so much money.”

Be positive
It can be tempting to feel defeated and hopeless that things will never get better if you’re trying to move a mountain. But this kind of thinking can be contagious and negativity may further poison your finances and your relationship. Try to focus on what you can both do to make things better and what small steps to take to get where you want to be, rather than focusing on past mistakes and problems.

Don’t ignore the negative
It’s important to stay positive, but it’s also important to face and conquer the specific problems. It gives you and your partner focused issues to work on and will help you make a game plan. Speaking of which…

Set common goals, and work toward them together
Whether it’s saving for a big vacation, your child’s college fund, getting out of debt, or making a big purchase like a car, money management and budgeting may be easier if you are both working toward a common purpose with a shared reward. Figure out your shared goals and then make a plan to accomplish them!

Accept that your partner may have a different background and approach to money
We all have our strengths, weaknesses, and different perspectives. Just because yours differs from your partner’s doesn’t mean either of you are wrong. Chances are you make allowances and balance each other out in other areas of your relationship, and you can do the same with money if you try to see things from your partner’s point of view.

Discussing and managing your finances together can be a great opportunity for growth in a relationship. Go into it with a positive attitude, respect for your partner, and a sense of your common values and priorities. Having an open, honest, and trust-based approach to money in a relationship may be challenging, but it is definitely worth it.


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4 Ways to Get out of Debt

4 Ways to Get out of Debt

Dealing with debt can be scary.

Paying off your mortgage, car, and student loans can sometimes seem so impossible that you might not even look at the total you owe. You just keep making payments because that’s all you might think you can do. However, there is a way out! Here are 4 tips to help:

Make a Budget
Many people have a complex budget that tracks every penny that comes in and goes out. They may even make charts or graphs that show the ratio of coffee made at home to coffee purchased at a coffee shop. But it doesn’t have to be that complicated, especially if you’re new at this “budget thing”. Start by splitting all of your spending into two categories: necessary and optional. Rent, the electric bill, and food are all examples of necessary spending, while something like a vacation or buying a third pair of black boots (even if they’re on sale) might be optional. Figure out ways that you can cut back on your optional spending, and devote the leftover money to paying down your debt. It might mean staying in on the weekends or not buying that flashy new electronic gadget you’ve been eyeing. But reducing how much you owe will be better long-term.

Negotiate a Settlement
Creditors often negotiate with customers. After all, it stands to reason that they’d rather get a partial payment than nothing at all! But be warned; settling an account can potentially damage your credit score. Negotiating with creditors is often a last resort, not an initial strategy.

Debt Consolidation
Interest-bearing debt obligations may be negotiable. Contact a consolidation specialist for refinancing installment agreements. This debt management solution helps reduce the risk of multiple accounts becoming overdue. When fully paid, a clean credit record with an extra loan in excellent standing may be the reward if all payments are made on time.

Get a side gig
You might be in a position to work evenings or weekends to make extra cash to put towards your debt. There are a myriad of options—rideshare driving, food delivery, pet sitting, you name it! Or you might have a hobby that you could turn into a part-time business.

If you feel overwhelmed by debt, then let’s talk. We can discuss strategies that will help move you from feeling helpless to having financial control.


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How To Make A Budget You Can Stick To

How To Make A Budget You Can Stick To

Some people love to live a life of thrift.

It’s a challenge they tackle with gusto. Shaving down expenses with couponing, hunting the best deals with an app on their phones, or simply finding creative ways to reuse a cardboard box, gives them a thrill. For others, budgeting conjures up images of living in tents, foraging for nuts and berries in the woods, and sewing together everyone’s old t-shirts to make a blanket for grandma.

To each their own! But budgeting doesn’t have to be faced like a wilderness survival reality TV competition. Sure, there might be some sacrifice and compromise involved when you first implement your budget (giving up that daily $6 latte might feel like roughing it at first), but rest assured there’s a happy middle to most things, and a way that won’t make you hate adhering to your financial goals.

Simplifying the budgeting process can help ease the transition. Check out the following suggestions to make living on a budget something you can stick to – instead of making a shelter out of sticks.

Use that smartphone. Your parents may have used a system of labeled envelopes to budget for various upcoming expenses. Debit cards have largely replaced cash these days, and all those labeled envelopes were fiddly anyway. Your best budgeting tool is probably in your pocket, your purse, or wherever your smartphone is at the moment.

Budgeting apps can connect to your bank account and keep track of incoming and outgoing cash flow, making it simple to categorize current expenses and create a solid budget. A quick analysis of the data and charts from the app can give you important clues about your spending behavior. Maybe you’ll discover that you spent $100 last week for on-demand movies. $5 here and $10 there can add up quickly. Smartphone apps can help you see (in vivid color) how your money could be evaporating in ways you might not feel on a day-to-day basis.

Some apps give you the ability to set a budget for certain categories of spending (like on-demand movies), and you can keep track of how you’re doing in relation to your defined budget. Some apps even provide alerts to help keep you aware of your spending. And if you’re feeling nostalgic, there are even apps that mimic the envelope systems of old, but with a digital spin.

Plan for unexpected expenses. Even with modern versions of budgeting, one of the biggest risks for losing your momentum is the same as it was in the days of the envelope system: unexpected expenses. Sometimes an unexpected event – like car trouble, an urgent home repair, or medical emergency – can cost more than we expected. A lot more.

A good strategy to help protect your budget from an unexpected expense is an Emergency Fund. It may take a while to build your Emergency Fund, but it will be worth it if the tire blows out, the roof starts leaking, or you throw your back out trying to fix either of those things against your doctor’s orders.

The size of your Emergency Fund will depend on your unique situation, but a goal of at least $1,000 to 3 months of your income is recommended. Three months of income may sound like a lot, but if you experience a sudden loss of income, you’d have at least three full months of breathing room to get back on track.

Go with the flow. As you work with your new budget, you may find that you miss the mark on occasion. Some months you’ll spend more. Some months you’ll spend less. That’s normal. Over time, you’ll have an average for each expense category or expense item that will reveal where you can do better – but also where you may have been more frugal than needed.

With these suggestions in mind, there is no time like the present to get started! Make that new budget, then buy yourself an ice cream or turn on the air conditioning. Once you know where you stand, where you need to tighten up on spending, and where you can let loose a little, budgeting might not seem like a punishment. In fact, you might find that it’s a useful, much-needed strategy that you CAN stick to – all part of the greater journey to your financial independence.


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Money Saving Tips for the Holiday Season

Money Saving Tips for the Holiday Season

The holidays shouldn’t be a time for worrying about your finances.

But the cost of travel, food, and gifts can add up quickly, making it hard to focus on the things that matter most. Here are some tips to help protect your pocketbook this holiday season so you can focus on sharing old traditions and making new memories with friends and family.

Play secret Santa
Secret Santa is an easy way to divvy up gift buying duties, especially if you have a large family or friend group. Have everyone participating put their names in a hat. Everyone then draws a random name out of the hat and must buy a gift for the person they’ve selected. It’s a simple and fun way to limit how many people you need to buy gifts for and control how much you spend on presents. Optional Secret Santa: Only do the gift swap with the kids and skip the adults this year.

Buy gifts with cash when you can
Watch out for credit card debt this holiday season. Purchasing presents with credit can be tempting (especially during the Black Friday frenzy), but how much you’re going to owe can quickly add up. Set a budget for yourself and then take that much cash out of the bank. Once it dries up, stop buying gifts! Your future self will be glad come January when you don’t have a whopping credit card bill to pay off.

Take advantage of sales and coupons early
Start collecting wishlists a few months before the holidays begin. If Aunt Margaret mentions a new cookware set she has her eye on in August, take note! Shopping early is an easy way of increasing your chances of finding sales and deals before the hardcore holiday shopping ensues. For online shopping, investigate couponing apps and add-ons. They can automatically add discounts to purchases, potentially saving you big money over a few gifts!

The holidays are about remembering what really matters, not worrying about money. The goal of these tips isn’t just to save you some cash, but to help you celebrate the things and people you love, free of financial distractions. Happy Holidays!


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Can You Afford to be Generous this Holiday Season?

Can You Afford to be Generous this Holiday Season?

The holidays tend to be a time when we want to reach out and help those who are less fortunate than we are.

But sometimes it can feel like you simply don’t have enough resources (whether it be time or money) to contribute to causes you care about, especially with the usual yuletide expenses—and stress—of travel and buying gifts for friends and family.

Here are a few holiday generosity tips to help get you in the spirit of the season without sacrificing your peace of mind (or your pocketbook)!

Start a Budget
Creating and sticking to a budget is a great way to kickstart your giving. There are a couple of factors that might play into this, but it seems likely that having command of your spending will allow you to see how much you can realistically set aside for a worthy cause. You might find that you can accumulate enough throughout the year for a big holiday donation. Also, be open to the possibility of automated donations—it might be easier to regularly contribute a few dollars a week than to save up for a large lump sum contribution.

Get Creative
There are plenty of nonfinancial ways to be generous during the holidays. Look into volunteering opportunities with local charities or nonprofits that might need labor. You might be surprised by the diversity of positions that they need filled. Setting aside a Saturday morning to work at a soup kitchen with your family can go a long way towards spreading some holiday cheer and helping those in need.

Give but Verify
Don’t donate your time, resources, or energy to organizations that misuse contributions. Do your research—a quick online search may suffice. Nonprofits are required to publish how much they spend on advertising and overhead, so make sure you take a few minutes to verify that your generosity won’t get wasted.

Even if your time and money are tight this year, hopefully these tips will provide some practical insights into how you can support the causes and things you care about—without busting your budget.


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Royal Wedding or Vegas? Keeping Your Wedding Costs Under Control

Royal Wedding or Vegas? Keeping Your Wedding Costs Under Control

The average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is over $33,000.¹ That’s an expensive day by any standard.

By comparison, that amount might be enough for a down payment on a first home or for a well-equipped, late-model minivan to shuttle around your 1.6 to 2 kids – assuming your family has an average number of children as a result of your newly wedded bliss.²

Having cold feet about shelling out that much cash for one day’s festivities? Or even worse, going into debt to pay for it? Here are a few ideas on how you can make your wedding day a special day to remember while still saving some of that money for other things (like a minivan).

Invite Close Friends and Family
Many soon-to-be newlyweds dream of a massive wedding with hundreds of people in attendance to honor their big day. But at some point during any large wedding, the bride or the groom – or maybe both – look around the well-dressed guests and ask themselves, “Who are all of these people, anyway?”

You can cut the cost of your wedding dramatically by simply trimming the guest list to a more manageable size. Ask yourself, “Do I really need to invite that kid who used to live next door to our family when I was 6 years old?” Small weddings are a growing trend, with many couples choosing to limit the guest list to just close friends and immediate family. That doesn’t mean you have to have your wedding in the backyard while the neighbor’s dog barks during your vows – although you certainly can. It just means fewer people to provide refreshments for and perhaps a less palatial venue to rent.

Budget According to Priorities
Your wedding is special and you want everything to be perfect. You’ve dreamed of this day your entire life, right? However, by prioritizing your wish list, there’s a better chance to get exactly what you want for certain parts of your wedding, by choosing less expensive – but still acceptable – options for the things that may not matter to you so much. If it’s all about the reception party atmosphere for you, try putting more of your budget toward entertainment and decorations and less toward the food. Maybe you don’t really need a seven-course gourmet dinner with full service when a selection of simpler, buffet-style dishes provided by your favorite restaurant will do.

Incorporate More Wallet-Friendly Wedding Ideas
A combination of small changes in your plan can add up to big savings, allowing you to have a memorable wedding day and still have enough money left over to enjoy your newfound bliss.

  • Consider a different day of the week. If you’re planning on getting married on a Saturday in June or September, be prepared to pay more for a venue than you would any other day of the week or time of the year.³ Saturday is the most expensive day to get married, and June and September are both peak wedding season months. So if you can have your wedding on, say, a Friday in April or November, this has the potential to trim the cost of the venue.
  • Rent a vacation house – or even get married on a boat. The smaller space will prevent the guest list from growing out of control and the experience might be more memorable than at a larger, more typical venue. Of course, both options necessitate holding the reception at the same location, saving money once more.
  • Watch the booze costs. There’s no need to have a full bar with every conceivable drink concoction and bow-tied bartenders that can perform tricks with the shakers. Odds are good that your guests will be just as happy with a smaller-yet-thoughtfully-chosen selection of beer and wine to choose from.
  • Be thrifty. If you really want to trim costs, you can get creative about certain traditional “must-haves,” ranging from skipping the flowers (chances are that nobody will even miss them) to purchasing a gently-used gown. Yes, people actually do this. Online outlets like OnceWed.com provide beautiful gowns for a fraction of the price of a new gown that you’ll likely never use again.

There’s a happy medium between a royal wedding and drive-thru nuptials in Vegas. If you’re looking for a memorable day that won’t break the bank, try out some of the tips above to keep things classy, cool – and within your budget.


Sources:
¹ Seaver, Maggie. “The National Average Cost of a Wedding Is $33,391.” the knot, 2018, https://bit.ly/2FycQmH.
² Russell, Andrew. “Here’s why Canadians are having fewer children.” Global News, 5.7.2017, https://bit.ly/2C1fPii.
³ Mackey, Jaimie. “What Are the Most Affordable Months to Book a Wedding Venue?.” Brides, 9.10.2017, https://bit.ly/2ry6wSt.

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Avoid these unhealthy financial habits

Avoid these unhealthy financial habits

As well-intentioned as we might be, we sometimes get in our own way when it comes to improving our financial health.

Much like physical health, financial health can be affected by binging, carelessness, or simply not knowing what can cause harm. But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel – as with physical health, it’s possible to reverse the downward trend if you can break your harmful habits.

Not budgeting
A household without a budget is like a ship without a rudder, drifting aimlessly and – sooner or later – it might sink or run aground in shallow waters. Small expenses and indulgences can add up to big money over the course of a month or a year. In nearly every household, it might be possible to find some extra money just by cutting back on non-essential spending. A budget is your way of telling yourself that you may be able to have nice things if you’re disciplined about your finances.

Frequent use of credit cards
Credit cards always seem to get picked on when discussing personal finances, and often, they deserve the flack they get. Not having a budget can be a common reason for using credit, contributing to an average credit card debt of over $9,000 for balance-carrying households.[i] At an average interest rate of over 15%, credit card debt is usually the highest interest expense in a household, several times higher than auto loans, home loans, and student loans.[ii] The good news is that with a little discipline, you can start to pay down your credit card debt and help reduce your interest expense.

Mum’s the word
No matter how much income you have, money can be a stressful topic in families. This can lead to one of two potentially harmful habits.

First, talking about the family finances is often simply avoided. Conversations about kids and work and what movie you want to watch happen, but conversations about money can get swept under the rug. Are you a “saver” and your partner a “spender”? Is it the opposite? Maybe you’re both spenders or both savers. Talking (and listening) about yourself and your significant other’s tendencies can be insightful and help avoid conflicts about your finances. If you’re like most households, having an occasional chat about the budget may help keep your family on track with your goals – or help you identify new goals – or maybe set some goals if you don’t have any. Second, financial matters can be confusing – which may cause stress – especially once you get past the basics. This may tempt you to ignore the subject or to think “I’ll get around to it one day”. But getting a budget and a financial strategy in place sooner rather than later may actually help you reduce stress. Think of it as “That’s one thing off my mind now!”

Taking the time to understand your money situation and getting a budget in place is the first step to put your financial house in order. As you learn more and apply changes – even small ones – you might see your efforts start to make a difference!


[i] https://www.valuepenguin.com/average-credit-card-debt
[ii] https://www.fool.com/taxes/2018/04/22/how-much-does-the-average-american-pay-in-taxes.aspx

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Allowance for Kids: Is It Still a Good Idea?

Allowance for Kids: Is It Still a Good Idea?

Perusing the search engine results for “allowance for kids” reveals something telling: The top results can’t seem to agree with each other.

Some finance articles quote experts or outspoken parents hailing an allowance, stating it teaches kids financial responsibility. Others argue that simply awarding an allowance (whether in exchange for doing chores around the house or not) instills nothing in children about managing money. They say that having an honest conversation about money and finances with your kids is a better solution.

According to a recent poll, the average allowance for kids age 4 to 14 is just under $9 per week, about $450 per year.¹ By age 14, the average allowance is over $12 per week. Some studies indicate that, in most cases, very little of a child’s allowance is saved. As parents, we may not have needed a study to figure that one out – but if your child is consistently out of money by Wednesday, how do you help them learn the lesson of saving so they don’t always end up “broke” (and potentially asking you for more money at the end of the week)?

There’s an app for that.
Part of the modern challenge in teaching kids about money is that cash isn’t king anymore. Today, we use credit and debit cards for the majority of our spending – and there is an ever-increasing movement toward online shopping and making payments with your phone using apps like Apple Pay, Android Pay, or Samsung Pay.

This is great for the way we live our modern, fast-paced lives, but what if technology could help us teach more complex financial concepts than a simple allowance can – concepts like how compound interest on savings works or what interest costs for debt look like? As it happens, a new breed of personal finance apps for families promises this kind of functionality. Just look at the App Store!

Money habits are formed as early as age 7.² If an allowance can teach kids about saving, compound interest, loan interest, and budgeting – with a little help from technology – perhaps the future holds a digital world where the two sides of the allowance debate can finally agree. As to whether your kids’ allowance should be paid upon completion of chores or not… Well, that’s up to you and how long your Saturday to-do list is!


Sources:
¹ Nova, Annie. “Here’s how much the typical kid gets in allowance each year.” CNBC, 1.4.2018, https://cnb.cx/2E6hBic.
² Kobliner, Beth. “Money habits are set by age 7. Teach your kids the value of a dollar now.” PBS, 4.5.2018, https://to.pbs.org/2GBrjuI.

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Does your budget have more holes than Swiss cheese?

Does your budget have more holes than Swiss cheese?

Given enough time, even the best planned budgets can start to feel like they’ve sprung a leak somewhere.

Sometimes you’ll notice right away (getting halfway through the month and realizing it’s going to be peanut butter sandwiches for lunch every day). Other times it can take a while for imperfections to show (you thought you were going to have more in the vacation fund by now).

When you first start building your budget, a good place to begin is to list all the big expenses – the ones that are impossible to miss. Then it’s time to turn to the little ones that can escape notice – these are the ones that might keep your budget math from working out the way you planned.

Dig out your bank statements. Try to go back at least 6 months, if not a year. Some regular expenses may not occur monthly and can be a surprise if you only used a month or two of bank statements to track spending and build your initial budget. Many times, automatic payments or fees may be charged quarterly or even annually.

Read on for some common expenses that might sneak up on you:

Subscriptions and online services – Many of us have subscriptions for software packages or online services. Remember that deal they offered if you paid for a whole year at once? At renewal time, they may charge you for another year unless you cancel.

Memberships – Gym memberships or dues for clubs may be quarterly or annual charges as well, so they might be missed when building your budget.

Protection plans – From credit monitoring to termite protection plans, there are lots of chances to miss an annual or quarterly expense in this category.

Automatic contributions – Many charities now offer automatic contributions. These can be easy to miss when budgeting.

Things you forgot to cancel – Free trials (that require your payment info) won’t be free forever. It’s easy to miss these as well.

Bank fees – Budgeting mishaps can lead to bank fees if your balance dips. Yet another potential surprise.

Automatic deposits – Saving for your future is a great move. Just be sure to know how much is going to be withdrawn and when, so your budget doesn’t feel the pinch.

Oftentimes, when people first make the commitment to create a budget and stick to it, it can be discouraging if it doesn’t seem to be working as expected right away. Try to keep in mind that your budget is a work in progress that will evolve over time. It probably won’t be perfect from the get-go.

If you hit a speedbump, take a little time to evaluate where the numbers aren’t quite adding up, and then make adjustments as necessary. You can do this!


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Why It's a Good Idea to Track Your Budget

Why It's a Good Idea to Track Your Budget

So you’re finally on board with this whole budget thing.

You’ve set up your plan. Now you’ve got a budget complete with average historical spending by category. You’ve discussed it with family members, roommates, and anyone else to whom the budget applies. You’ve checked off all the boxes. Yet somehow – at the end of the month, the math isn’t working out. The budget is busted.

What went wrong? Life is full of mysteries, like who left an empty box of cereal in the cupboard? Where are my glasses? Why won’t the baby go to sleep? And, where did all my money disappear to?

For a budget to work well, you’ll need to track it regularly and often. Many times, the reason you made a budget in the first place is that there’s very little room for error with saving and spending your money. A budget’s got to be loved and nurtured, kind of like a garden. Sometimes you have to get out there and pull some weeds or dig up a few rocks to keep it thriving.

Making Your Budget
To make your budget (if you haven’t already), there are several methods you can use. Good old pencil and paper never goes out of style. And it might help you see where you stand a little faster than potentially losing your initial momentum by learning a new “app”. Specialized software or online budgeting tools can be great – but they can also be fiddly if you’re not used to them. Rather than trying to figure out complicated menus and search for hidden buttons from the get-go, you might want to try it on paper first to work through your budget and establish a limit for each category of spending. Writing out your expenditures by hand has the added benefit of helping you face reality. It hurts a little more than automated solutions if you have to write the numbers down in black and white. If you’re good with spreadsheets, Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets can also be used to quickly build a budget without a frustrating learning curve.

Tracking Your Budget
Technology can be friend or foe in the home budget process. Even though you may have started out on paper, when it comes to tracking your spending for the long haul and in real time, technology is definitely a friend.

Mobile apps come in two forms: free and not free. We’ll focus on free apps for now because it’s consistent with the goal of keeping your spending under control.

Mint.com is owned by Intuit, famous for Quicken and Quickbooks software, and makes budget tracking very simple. Mint links to your bank account and other accounts you’d like to track, so you can see a complete view of your finances at a glance either on your mobile device or on your computer. Budgets are set automatically for each category but can be changed easily. Spending and income are also automatically tracked and categorized so you can view your progress – including budget amounts remaining for the month. Cash purchases can be added from the home screen.

Another good option is Clarity Money, which tracks spending by category but also provides an easy way to cancel subscriptions and access your free VantageScore Credit Score (by Experian). Clarity Money was featured by Google Play as a “Best of 2017” and is also available for iOS.¹

Paper or spreadsheet methods help to make the budgeting process more tangible. Automated tracking makes it easy to monitor your progress against your budget – and to maybe think twice about spending on impulse.

The important thing is to think of your budget like a garden – once you have it planned and laid out, it’s going to take regular maintenance to ensure it stays beautiful.


Source:
¹ “Best Daily Helper.” Google Play, https://play.google.com/store/apps/topic?id=campaign_editorial_apps_productivity_bestof2017&hl=en.

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What Does “Pay Yourself First” Mean?

What Does “Pay Yourself First” Mean?

Do you dread grabbing the mail every day?

Bills, bills, mortgage payment, another bill, maybe some coupons for things you never buy, and of course, more bills. There seems to be an endless stream of envelopes from companies all demanding payment for their products and services. It feels like you have a choice of what you want to do with your money ONLY after all the bills have been paid – if there’s anything left over, that is.

More times than not it might seem like there’s more ‘month’ than ‘dollar.’ Not to rub salt in the wound, but may I ask how much you’re saving each month? $100? $50? Nothing? You may have made a plan and come up with a rock-solid budget in the past, but let’s get real. One month’s expenditures can be very different than another’s. Birthdays, holidays, last-minute things the kids need for school, a spontaneous weekend getaway, replacing that 12-year-old dishwasher that doesn’t sound exactly right, etc., can make saving a fixed amount each month a challenge. Some months you may actually be able to save something, and some months you can’t. The result is that setting funds aside each month becomes an uncertainty.

Although this situation might appear at first benign (i.e., it’s just the way things are), the impact of this uncertainty can have far-reaching negative consequences.

Here’s why: If you don’t know how much you can save each month, then you don’t know how much you can save each year. If you don’t know how much you can save each year, then you don’t know how much you’ll have put away 2, 5, 10, or 20 years from now. Will you have enough saved for retirement?

If you have a goal in mind like buying a home in 10 years or retiring at 65, then you also need a realistic plan that will help you get there. Truth is, most of us don’t have a wealthy relative who might unexpectedly leave us an inheritance we never knew existed!

The good news is that the average American could potentially save over $500 per month! That’s great, and you might want to do that… but how* do you do that?

The secret is to “pay yourself first.” The first “bill” you pay each month is to yourself. Shifting your focus each month to a “pay yourself first” mentality is subtle, but it can potentially be life changing. Let’s say for example you make $3,000 per month after taxes. You would put aside $300 (10%) right off the bat, leaving you $2,700 for the rest of your bills. This tactic makes saving $300 per month a certainty. The answer to how much you would be saving each month would always be: “At least $300.” If you stash this in an interest-bearing account, imagine how high this can grow over time if you continue to contribute that $300.

That’s exciting! But at this point you might be thinking, “I can’t afford to save 10% of my income every month because the leftovers aren’t enough for me to live my lifestyle”. If that’s the case, rather than reducing the amount you save, it might be worthwhile to consider if it’s the lifestyle you can’t afford.

Ultimately, paying yourself first means you’re making your future financial goals a priority, and that’s a bill worth paying.


Source:
Martin, Emmie. “Here’s how much money the average middle-aged American could save each month.” CNBC*, 11.8.2017, https://www.cnbc.com/2017/11/08/how-much-money-the-average-middle-aged-american-could-save-each-month.html.

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