Category Archives: Food Budgets

Best Tips for Shopping at the Grocery Store on a Budget

It’s no secret that you can be healthy on a budget, but the real secret lies in how you can stay healthy and on budget.  Just like adapting to a new diet, staying on budget is all about behavior change.  In my previous article, I shared tips on eating healthy on a budget, and this time around, I’m digging a little deeper into how to stay on budget on a shopping trip.  Since I get groceries at least once per week, both for work projects and for my personal family shopping, I consider myself an expert in saving money at the grocery store.  Here are my top 10 tips for shopping at the grocery store on a budget, and don’t be surprised- some of these tips start even BEFORE you hit the store!

1. Check mail for coupons and ads

Cutting coupons may seem like a blast from the past, but if cutting out little pieces of paper can save $5 for my future, then I’ll be clipping away!  Each week, your mail includes ads from local grocery stores and coupons from major brands, so tossing that mail out is like throwing away money. Instead, look through that mail to find deals on your frequently used items, and anything special coming up.  Shopping ads especially help me to plan food for holidays, like for this budget-friendly spread for Fourth of July.

2. Make a grocery list.

I suggest planning out weekly meals and making a grocery list for it. This not only saves a lot of money, but will also save time in the grocery store and help reduce food waste (which is basically wasted money).  Going into the store with a list makes me feel more prepared and in control of what I spend. It’s pretty easy to say no to those extra treats in the cart if they’re not on my list.

3. Shop where you bag your own groceries.

If you have a grocery store in town where you bag your own groceries, chances are that store has the best prices since the savings on staff can be reflected on your receipt.  Plus, I like to bag my own groceries, as it gives me a final run-through of my purchase to make sure I didn’t forget anything, and I get to bag them exactly how I want.

4. Eat before to avoid impulse and unhealthy buys.

The biggest mistake in overspending at the grocery store is going shopping when your stomach’s growling.  That extra bag of chips gets half-way eaten before check-out at the register, and guess what?!?! It wasn’t on your grocery list, in your budget, OR on your meal plan.  Prevent that mistake by eating before a trip to the grocery store and it will be easier to stick to your plan.

5. Buy seasonal fruit and vegetables.

There are so many reasons why eating seasonally is better- less impact on the environment, more nutrients, and better taste- but buying produce in season is actually a great way to save money and eat healthy.  You don’t have to spend extra on foods that are imported from different regions when it’s growing in season in your area.  When produce is in season, it’s in abundance so farmers are able to give a better deal.

6. Buy frozen veggies.

While I stress that fresh is best, there are some times when it just makes sense to buy frozen veggies.  One reason would be because of cost. If there is a good sale on organic frozen peas, I’ll go ahead and purchase some ahead of time since I can store it in my freezer.  Another reason to buy frozen is because of seasonality. There is plenty of fresh and juicy corn available in the summer, but when it comes to winter months, I like to pull corn straight from my freezer.

7. Buy deli meat and cheese at the deli.

There is so much emphasis on how pre-packaged foods are more convenient, but these foods are not convenient on my wallet or my diet. When you buy foods that are already packaged, you’re paying for that extra packaging and all the costs that go along with that (from advertising, to transportation, to even stocking it on the shelves).  On top of that, buying food already packaged up can mean you end up wasting some of that food if you don’t use it.

That being said, I am all for soliciting the various departments of the grocery store and getting exactly how much I need, which means I pay for only that.  I get my sandwich meat and cheese from the deli and what I love is that I can tell them how much to slice, how many slices, and even how thick to make my slices.  Gone are the days of moldy cheese because I ran out of bread- now I know to shop for exactly what I need.

8. Buy bread and baked goods in the bakery. 

Speaking of bread, I also buy baked goods at the bakery.  Not only are these items usually made fresh in stores, they also skip all the fancy packaging and trickle all those savings to you.  If you’re seriously on a budget, some bakeries even sell day-old goods for a fraction of the cost.

9. Buy meat in bulk, cut and freeze.

While you’re visiting the different departments of the grocery store, don’t forget to make a stop to the butcher.  I like to buy meat in bulk and cut it to freeze for later. It’s so much cheaper to buy meat like this, and I love the convenience of having options to use in my freezer.  My biggest tip is if you’re going to make chicken, get the whole chicken because that’s considerably cheaper than one that’s cut. Aside from using just the meat, you can also make a delicious chicken broth with the carcass, which is a great way to use the whole animal and also save money even more!

10. Buy Bulk Bin items.

You know those bulk bins at the grocery store?  That section is like gold to me since every time I visit it, I’m saving money!  Since I’m usually developing recipes, it’s just easier to purchase the exact quantity of something, that way I know exactly how much something costs.  What’s even better is that I only have the amount needed for the recipe, and that leaves me with less food to waste each month. I absolutely dread throwing away food, because it’s like throwing away money, so by buying some ingredients in bulk, I know I’m using up what I need.

Using ingredients from bulk bins, I’m going to make aebleskiver, or Danish Pancakes.  Ever since I got a special pan, I’ve been obsessed with making these fun-size pancakes.  I usually don’t purchase separate pans for specialty foods, but I really got my money’s worth for this pan since I use it a few times each month.  Yes, I could buy these ingredients packaged up ahead of time, but it’s happened where I think I have enough flour for a recipe (usually after I already mixed up the other ingredients), but I don’t have enough so I have to waste my time with an emergency trip to the store.  But ever since I started using bulk bins, I know I have enough for my recipes every time, and when it comes to eating healthy on a budget, everything adds up!

 

The post Best Tips for Shopping at the Grocery Store on a Budget appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

7 Money Steps to Take Before 2021

With the end of the year rapidly approaching, it’s a good time to take stock of your financial situation as you head into 2021. 2020 has been a strange year, and a difficult year for many people. With many people’s health and/or economic livelihoods affected by COVID-19, many people’s situation looks very different than it did back in January. As we head into a new year, here are a few things that you can do to improve your finances before the end of 2020.

#1 Put at least $1000 into an emergency fund

If you don’t have an emergency fund set up to handle unexpected expenses, that is a good first step to putting yourself on a solid financial footing. $1000 may not be enough to handle every possible thing that could go wrong, but it can be enough to handle your car breaking down or an unexpected home expense. If you don’t have at least a minimal emergency fund in place, make a plan for how you can start one before the end of the year.

#2 Fully fund your retirement accounts

401k, IRAs, and other retirement accounts have an annual contribution limit that caps the amount that you’re able to contribute each year. Before the end of the year, set aside some time to go through each of your accounts that have an annual contribution limit. Decide for which of those accounts it makes sense to fund before the end of the year.

#3 Consider donating to charity

With the increased standard deduction available in recent tax years, not as many people itemize their deductions. But if you do itemize your deductions, then remember that your charitable contribution may be tax-deductible. If you make that charitable contribution before the end of the year, you may be able to deduct it in this tax year — otherwise, you’ll have to wait an entire year before you’re able to deduct it.

READ MORE: 5 Best Credit Cards When You Make Charitable Donations

If you’ve already made charitable contributions in 2020, make sure that you have them documented and ready to include on your tax return.

#4 Make sure you have a financial security plan in place

Still, using the same username and password on every internet site? It may be time to get a financial security plan in place. With data breaches always a possibility now’s as good a time as any to take some steps to minimize your risk in case of a data breach or a hacker accessing your financial information. One thing that you can do before the end of the year is to set up a password manager to put some variety into your passwords. Another thing is to set up two-factor authentication (2FA) on your important financial accounts.

#5 Review your credit report

Each year you are entitled to a free three-bureau credit report once a year from annualcreditreport.com, and the end of the year can be a good time to do that. If you already have a Mint account, you have access to your credit score at any time, but reviewing your actual credit report can make a big difference to your credit report. Between 10 and 21 percent of people have errors on their credit report, and clearing up incorrect or inaccurate information can raise your credit score.

#6 Use up any money in your FSA

Flexible spending accounts can be a great way to save money on health expenses. An FSA is typically set up through your employer and allows you to make pre-tax contributions. Any money that you contribute to your FSA is not subject to tax, and you can use that money to get reimbursed for many different types of health expenses. The only downside is that most FSA plans are use-it or lose-it plans. So any money that is left in the FSA at the end of the year is forfeited. Check the details of your plan, and make sure that you use all the money in your FSA before the end of the year.

#7 Set your financial goals for 2021

Finally, the end of the year can be a great time to set up your financial goals for 2021. You don’t have to wait until January to start up a new resolution. Meet and talk with your spouse, family, or trusted friends and advisors. Decide where you want to be in one year, in five years and beyond, and start taking the steps to get yourself there.

The post 7 Money Steps to Take Before 2021 appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

How to Financially Prepare for Post-Pandemic Life

As the dust slowly begins to settle and we observe businesses putting their action plans in place to recover, we all sit and wonder what this may look like for us. How will I recover from this? How am I going to cover these unexpected expenses? How will I increase my earning potential? Whether you’re navigating the muddy waters of being unemployed, furloughed, return to office plans or continue working remotely – we have many things to consider as time continues to quickly progress. How should we handle debt? Are there any more relief programs or funding? How can we pick up the pieces and properly recuperate what may have been lost? Use the tips below to jumpstart your journey of reclaiming your finances.

Identify your financial focuses

Over the course of this year, many financial goals that were initially set needed to be tweaked or came to a screeching halt altogether. While it would be nice if we could rectify the many financial aspirations we have for ourselves and our families all at once, it’s simply not realistic. To alleviate the impounding pressure many have had to experience for a good chunk of time this year, it’s best to identify two to three key areas of focus. Not only does narrowing your focus help direct where your efforts should lie, it removes unnecessary stress so that a plan of attack can be created and executed upon. For example, if you would like to begin rebuilding your emergency fund, savings or simply get caught up on bills and other overhead expenses – make sure the actionable steps you take align with the overarching goal. This helps create tunnel vision to execute on the goal while quieting the noise of things that can be tackled at a later time. You owe it to yourself and your finances to see these goals through to the finish line.

Revisit your budget and make adjustments as necessary

Many think of budgeting like that pesky chore you put off every single week. It’s that ‘thing’ you know needs to be done, but you always find something else to do instead. However, once it’s done – you’re always glad that you did it. Even if you have to have an adult temper tantrum, pull out the pen and paper (once again) to compare your income with expenses. Has your income increased or decreased? Are there expenses that are no longer on the list? Are there certain wants or luxuries that can be temporarily put on hold until things settle down? Take all of these factors into consideration when recalibrating your budget. Since there’s an increased amount of time indoors, are there any spending habits you’ve noticed that have been on the rise? If these questions are not easily answered, commit to reviewing the last few months of your bank statements. Do you notice more to-go food orders? An increased amount of emotional or impulsive purchases? Be honest with yourself and your habits so that you can address and make changes to healthily rebuild your finances.

Adjust debt payoff plan

If you haven’t taken the opportunity to contact your creditors – consider this as a reminder! It’s imperative you maintain an open line of communication with all lenders. These conversations can potentially lead to various options being available to assist you in your debt payoff process. Remember to keep in mind that you are not the only person experiencing financial hardship, so let pride become a thing of the past and be candid. Are there relief options during the pandemic? Are interest rates being lowered because of the current climate? If I were to miss a payment, what are the consequences? Are negative remarks being reported to the credit bureaus? Be very clear in your delivery. There are thousands and thousands of people attempting to pick up the pieces on their money journey. Take some time to check all creditor accounts for the most recent balances. From there, create (or readjust) your plan based on your personal circumstances. If it’s easier to tackle the smallest debt, shift your attention to those accounts. If catching up and restoring good standing with utilities and other overhead expenses need to be addressed first, do that. There is no right or wrong way to approach your plan; just don’t adopt the spirit of avoidance.

Monitor your credit score regularly

There’s been a huge surge in personal data being compromised due to the pandemic. To protect yourself and your credit score, be sure to obtain a copy of your credit report from at least one of the bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) and review regularly. Normally, you are allotted one free credit report every year – however, because of the pandemic you can now request your report weekly at no cost to you until April 2021. We all know there’s a lot on all of our plates, but this can be incorporated in your weekly routine to make sure information stays accurate. During your review if there’s anything that’s false, submit a dispute and be sure to have any supporting documentation that can serve as evidence to support your claim.

Even though we don’t like to admit it, life can present a lot of challenges that we may not be fully prepared for in our ever-changing adulthood journey. This pandemic has shined a light on the areas in our lives that can use some more time, intention and attention. Instead of beating ourselves up about the lack of preparedness, let’s be sure to make adjustments now so no matter what happens with the economy or the state of this country it does not have such a huge, negative impact to our financial goals. Let’s face it – even in the midst of tragedy, this year equipped us with a different level of endurance and resilience. It reminded us what really matters and where our energy should really be dedicated to. Start where you are and do what you can. Refrain from comparing your personal money story to someone else’s. We all have unique situations and obligations that influence our saving and spending plans. Dust yourself off, grant yourself grace and begin a new chapter in your financial journey.

 

The post How to Financially Prepare for Post-Pandemic Life appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

How To Create A Budget Friendly Spread For Fourth Of July

Nothing says summertime like a BBQ, and getting friends and family together for some food and friends for the Fourth of July is the perfect way to celebrate. I’m usually the host for these get-togethers, and even though I absolutely love having people over, feeding everyone can take a toll on your budget, especially with a big family like mine.

Now that I’ve been using Mint to keep track of expenses, here are some tips on how to have a cost-conscious Fourth of July spread:

1) Declare the BBQ a Potluck.

There’s no secret here: potlucks save money AND time. When you invite your guests to bring dishes to the party, that basically means they’re not only helping out with the food budget, they’re also taking the time to shop for the ingredients and deliver it to your house ready to eat! I would suggest setting some guidelines for your guests so that there is a variety of food in your spread and not just 5 versions of chips and salsa….and that’s it. To divide up the dishes, you could try a few different methods:

  • Assign your guests by categories. If there’s an easy way to divide up your guests, like by their last name, or their birthday month, then you could assign one set of guests appetizers, and another set of guests foods for the grill, for example. For this option, I would suggest asking your guests to confirm their choice with you and even post it on a message board if you are using a website to plan your party, so that you know and your other guests what’s coming and to avoid too much of one type of food.
  • Ask guests to bring specific foods. If your best friend makes the most amazing potato salad, and you need potato salad, ask your best friend to bring potato salad. There’s no need to do all the work when you can tap into the strengths of your guests. For those who are known to shy away from cooking, ask them to bring something simple like a salad or lemonade.

2) Set a food budget….and stick to it!

This tip comes directly from my previous post on Healthy Food on a Budget because it’s also important to serve your guests healthy food and stick to your budget. Just because it’s a party doesn’t mean you should let your health and your money slip up! It’s easy to set up budgets in Mint, like saving for a vacation, but you can also set up smaller budgets like for a summer BBQ celebration. Ideally, since you’re having everyone over for a potluck, this get-together won’t take a huge toll on your wallet, but it’s still important to set limits for what you can spend. I like to make it a fun challenge to see how much money I can save and get the most bang for my buck, while not cutting corners on the quality of food served for my guests.

3) Check out the weekly sales ads.

Don’t throw away those ads because right before Fourth of July, the mail will be filled with sales on foods for entertaining. Gather those ads up to look through what’s on sale for the week and map out your menu from those hot buys. If you have apps for your favorite stores, check those out too because I’ve seen in-app coupons that weren’t in the print ads that have saved me some money. Once you cross-reference the sales and build your shopping list, also plan out where you will shop from. If you have to travel from 2 different stores to save $15 dollars, I think it’s worth it to take the time to shop smart. Sure, it may take an extra 15 minutes, but I can bet that you’ll feel a lot better to have that extra money in your wallet.

4) Pick a dish that saves you money and time.

As the host of the party, you’ll be pretty busy with all the details of the day so your time on the day of the party will be limited. From cleaning up the house to setting up the grill, there’s plenty to do before guests show up. The last thing you want to do is prep a labor-intensive dish when there is so much more on that to-do list. To save money and time, I like to serve up a dessert dish that brings a wow-factor to the party, my Banana Boat S’mores. These delicious treats light up the eyes of all my guests, and if they knew how cost-effective they are, they’d light up even more!

To save money, I like to use fruit for dessert, especially in the summer season, because they’re more affordable, easier to prepare, and most importantly, they’re healthier! Bananas are only 19 cents each, so just make sure to have at least one banana per guest. I also know that marshmallows and Graham crackers are always on sale for $1 around this time of year, so already, this is a dish that costs less than 50 cents per serving.

To save time, I like this dish because you can have your guest prep their own Banana Boat. All you have to do is set up a station of the ingredients and let them make their creation as they please. When you get your guests involved in the food preparation, you’re saving some valuable time on your end, but also your guests are having fun! They’ll leave your party with another recipe under their belt as well, so it’s a win-win for everyone.

5) Buy your food in bulk bins.

Don’t pass up those bulk bins on your shopping trip, because buying from these can be 30-40% cheaper than packaged branded items. For the chocolate, I paid per ounce from the bin instead of buying packages. Since I’m setting up a station for my guests at my own home, I don’t need the packaging or extra chocolate so why should I pay extra for it? Half a pound only costs $2, whereas if I were to buy a bag or a bar it would cost me close to $5.

With these tips on how to have a cost-conscious Fourth of July spread, I hope you can spread out your budget and use some of that money you save on other fun activities this summer!

The post How To Create A Budget Friendly Spread For Fourth Of July appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

We Earn $200,000 and Can’t Save. Help!

Mia, 35 and her husband Luke, 36, earn a combined $200,000 per year. But after paying their mortgage and rental property loan, as well as car and student loans, child care, and other living expenses, the Los Angeles couple has a difficult time socking away money in savings.

They do have about $10,000 in a rainy day account, which could cover their expenses for about one month. But adding to the account has been proving difficult.

Luke feels confident that if they ever run into a serious financial bind, they could always take advantage of their low-interest home equity line of credit. But Mia isn’t comfortable with that route. She’d prefer to have more cash on hand.

A bit more background on the couple and where they stand financially:

Luke recently transitioned to a new job as a government attorney, which he loves, but it also meant taking a 50% pay cut. That’s impacted their ability to spend and save as comfortably in recent months. It was an unexpected opportunity for which the couple wasn’t financially prepared.

Mia and Luke would like an objective look at their finances to discover ways to reduce spending, increase saving and possibly find new revenue streams. “I’d love to figure out a side-hustle, so that I can eventually leave my job and spend more time with the kiddos,” says Mia, who works in marketing. Other goals including affording a new car in a couple of years and remodeling their primary residence.

Here’s a closer look at their finances:

Income:

  • Combined salaries: $200,000 per year
  • Net rental income: $6,000 per year

Debt:

  • Car and student loan debt. $13,000 combined at 2%
  • Mortgage at primary residence $845,000 at 3.625%
  • Mortgage at rental property $537,000 at 3.5%
  • HELOC on primary residence: $200,000 (have not used any of this credit)

Retirement:

  • Mia: contributes about $1,000 total each month, including a company match
  • Luke: contributes about $1,000 total each month, including a company match

Emergency Savings: $10,000

College Savings: The couple has 529 college savings funds for both of their children. They allocate their cash back rewards from credit cards towards these accounts. Currently they have about $10,000 saved for their 4-year old and $5,000 saved for their 1-year old child.

Top Monthly Spending Categories:

  • Primary residence mortgage: $4,000
  • Primary residence property tax: $1,100
  • Childcare: $1,900 (daycare for both children, 3 days per week. Grandmother watches other 2 days per week)
  • Food (Groceries/Eating Out): $800
  • Car and student loan payments: $450

From my point of view, I think the biggest hole in Mia and Luke’s finances is their rainy day savings bucket. Relying on a HELOC to cover an unexpected cost is not really an ideal plan. In theory, the money can be used to cover expenses and the interest rate would probably be far lower than the rate on a credit card. But in reality, tapping a HELOC means falling further into debt. They do have $10,000 saved, which is good. But it’s not great.

If not for an emergency, the savings can allow them to achieve other goals. The couple mentioned wanting to buy a car in a couple years. This will probably require a down payment. Having cash can also assist with renovating their home.

Here are my top three recommendations:

Transfer Rental Income Towards Savings

Their previous residence is now a rental property. It nets them about $500 per month. The couple is using this money to pad their living expenses. Can they, instead, move this into their savings account for the next few years? The way I see it, they should have a proper six month cushion in savings to tide them over in an emergency and/or if they need money to address their goals. This rental income isn’t going to get them to this 6-month reserve too quickly, but it’s a start.

Carve Out Another $500 for Savings

While I don’t have a detailed breakdown of all of the family’s monthly expenses, I can bet that they can pare their expenses to save an additional $300 to $500. A few dinners out, some unplanned purchases at the grocery store (because you took the kids) and a couple monthly subscription plans can easily add up to $500 in one month. Whenever I want to save more, I schedule money to transfer out of my checking and into savings at the top of the month. I do this automatically and only spend whatever money I have left. I’d suggest doing this for the first month and seeing how it feels. Do you really notice the money is gone? If yes, revisit some of your recurring costs and decide on trade-offs. If Luke’s salary has decreased by 50% then the couple needs to make some modifications to their spending. The math, otherwise, won’t add up.

Can Mia Adjust Her Work Structure?

Mia is interested in a side hustle, too, to bring in extra income (which I highly recommend). Sites like tutor.com, care.com, taskrabbit.com and others can help you find quick work within her preferred time frame. In the meantime, can she and her husband find ways to adjust their work hours or commute, which saves gas, time and money?

Mia’s commute to work is one hour each way. That’s ten hours per week stuck in a car. And my guess is that while Mia’s driving, she’s paying for daycare, for at least some of those hours. Could she work from home one or two days per week to reduce her time in traffic, as well as her child care costs?

Bottom line: When Luke’s income dropped by 50%, the couple didn’t adjust spending. It may help to take pen to paper and imagine they were building their budget for the first time. Take all of their expenses off the table and rebuild the budget and lifestyle to better align with their adjusted income. Start with the absolute needs first: housing, insurance, food. And really scrutinize all other expenditures. Unless it’s an absolute need that they can easily afford it, consider shutting it off until they’ve reached a 6-month savings pad.

The post We Earn $200,000 and Can’t Save. Help! appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

How to Create a Financial Plan in 11 Steps

Structure is the key to growth. Without a solid foundation — and a road map for the future — it’s easy to spin your wheels and float through life without making any headway. Good planning allows you to prioritize your time and measure the progress you’ve made.

That’s especially true for your finances. A financial plan is a document that helps you track your monetary goals to measure your progress towards financial literacy. A good plan allows you to grow and improve your standing to focus on achieving your goals. As long as your plan is solid, your money can do the work for you.

Thankfully, a sound financial plan doesn’t have to be complicated. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to create a financial plan. 

What Is a Financial Plan?

Financial planning is a tangible way to organize your financial situation and goals by making a roadmap to achieve them. When determining where to start, you should consider what you currently possess, your long-term goals, and what opportunity costs you’re willing to take on to meet your money goals.

Financial planning is a great strategy for everyone — whether you’re a budding millionaire or still in college, creating a plan now can help you get ahead in the long run. If you want to make a roadmap to a successful future, here’s how to create a financial plan in 11 steps. 

1. Evaluate Where You Stand

Building your financial plan is similar to creating a fitness program. If you don’t have exact steps to reach your goals, you could end up doing random exercises without making progress. To create a successful plan, you first need to understand where you’re starting so you can candidly address any weak points and create specific goals. 

Determine Your Net Worth

One way to figure out your financial status is to determine your net worth. To do this, subtract your liabilities (what you owe) from your assets (what you own). Assets include things like the money in your accounts and your home and car equity, while liabilities can include any debt, loans, or mortgages. Here’s how to calculate your net worth using your assets and liabilities.

Determine your net worth by subtracting your liabilities from your assets.

Your ratio of assets to liabilities may change over time — especially if you pay off debt and put money into savings accounts. Generally, a positive net worth (your assets being greater than your liabilities) is a monetary health signal. You should regularly keep track of your net worth to monitor the trajectory of your financial plan.

Track Your Spending

Another way to evaluate your financial planning process is by measuring your cash flow, or how much you spend compared to how much you earn. Net worth is a great way to understand where you stand financially, but measuring cash flow is how you might ensure you’re heading in the right direction.

Negative cash flow means that you’re spending more than you make, leading to things like credit card debt and bankruptcy. Conversely, positive cash flow means you’re earning more than you’re spending — which is an excellent step towards achieving your money goals. 

Now that you have an idea of your net worth and cash flow, it’s time to set your financial goals. 

2. Set SMART Financial Goals

By setting SMART financial goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound), you can put your money to work towards your future. Think about what you ultimately want to do with your money — do you want to pay off loans? What about buying a rental property? Or are you aiming to retire before 50?

Start by putting together a list of your goals and dreams, from running a doggy daycare to living in Paris. Even if it feels outrageous, your financial plans should help you work towards your long-term goals.

SMART goals help you break down your more extensive financial planning process into actionable pieces. Remember that dream to move to Paris? Using SMART goals, you may make your dream to live on the Seine a reality. Here’s how to get started creating your SMART goals:

SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

Setting concrete goals may keep you motivated and accountable, so you spend less money and stick to your budget. Reminding yourself of your monetary goals may help you make smarter short-term decisions to invest in your long-term goals. 

It’s important to understand that your goals aren’t static. When your life goals change, your financial plans should follow suit.

3. Update Your Budget

Creating a budget may help you determine how to create a financial plan and achieve your long-term monetary goals. When you create a budget and stick to it, you can understand what areas you might afford to spend and where you should be saving. 

An excellent method of budgeting is the 50/30/20 rule, popularized by Senator Elizabeth Warren. To use this rule, you divide your after-tax income into three categories: 

  • Essentials (50 percent)
  • Wants (30 percent)
  • Savings (20 percent)

Pie graph shows how you can break down your budget with the 50/30/20 rule.

The 50/30/20 rule is a great and simple way to achieve your financial goals. With this rule, you can incorporate your goals into your budget to stay on track for monetary success. 

No matter what financial goal you’re working towards, it’s essential to have an updated budget and plan to achieve it. For example, if you’re planning for a wedding, you might eat out less to reduce your grocery budget each month.

What to Include in Your Budget

If you’ve ever tried to put together a budget, you’ve likely considered the basics like rent, loans, and groceries. But what other expenses should you consider? Over time, those daily lattes may start to add up — which is why it’s crucial to think about the many different costs you could incur during the month. When updating your budget, here are some of the most common items to include:

  • Rent
  • Groceries
  • Dining out
  • Household maintenance
  • Emergency fund
  • Subscriptions and memberships
  • Travel and transportation
  • Prescriptions
  • Bank account fees
  • Car registration or lease
  • Pet costs
  • Entertainment
  • Clothing
  • Personal care
  • Charity

So you know what you need to include in your budget. Now what? Check out our budgeting tips to get smart about creating your budget in line with your financial plan. If you’re ready to get the ball rolling on your future, try using a spreadsheet, a piece of paper, or a budgeting app to create your financial plan today. 

4. Save for an Emergency

Did you know that four in 10 adults wouldn’t be able to cover an unexpected $400 expense? With so many people living paycheck to paycheck without any savings, unexpected expenses might seriously throw off someone’s life if they aren’t prepared for the emergency. 

It’s important to save money during the good times to account for the bad ones. This rings especially true these days, where so many people are facing unexpected monetary challenges. Whether you’re just starting on your path to financial literacy or have been saving for years, it’s good practice to review your emergency finances to ensure they would adequately cover your current needs. 

You already know you should be storing away money in case something goes wrong. But did you know that you should be saving for both a rainy day and emergency fund? It’s important to have multiple backup funds to hold you over in case of an unexpected crisis. 

5. Pay Down Your Debt

It can be frustrating to allocate your hard-earned money towards savings and paying off debt, but prioritizing these payments can set you up for success in the long run. With two significant methods of paying off debt, it’s essential to understand the difference between them so you can make the smartest decisions for your financial future. 

A chart shows the differences between debt snowball and debt avalanche repayment. Debt snowballs start with the smallest, while the avalanche method targets the highest interest loans.

No matter the debt repayment option you choose, the key to successfully paying down debt is to be disciplined with your budget. Skipping even one or two months of debt repayments may throw a wrench in your financial plans, so it’s essential to create a realistic budget that you can stick to. 

6. Organize Your Investments

Investing may seem like a difficult topic to navigate, but you can put your money to work and passively grow your wealth when you understand the basics. To start investing, you should first figure out the initial amount you want to deposit. No matter if you invest $50 or $5,000, putting your money into investments now is a great way to plan for financial success later on. 

When deciding how to create a financial plan, you should consider budgeting a set amount each month to go directly into your investment portfolio — this will be your contribution amount. Over time, those small bits of money may begin to grow into increasingly larger sums. However, it’s important to note that investing is a long game. If you want to see serious results, you’re going to have to wait for at least five or more years. 

Ready to get started on your path towards long-term financial success? Check out our investment calculator to create goals, forecast metrics, and find opportunities to grow your wealth even further. 

7. Prepare for Retirement

When thinking about how to create a financial plan, it’s crucial to consider your goals far in the future. Although retirement may feel a world away, planning for it now is the difference between a prosperous retirement income and just scraping by. 

The earlier you can start saving for retirement, the better. If you start saving for retirement in your 20s, you’ll have 30+ years of consistent contributions to your funds by the time you retire. Generally, the older you are, the more you should try to contribute to your retirement fund. However, a good rule of thumb is to save around 10–15 percent of your post-tax income annually in a retirement savings account.

Retirement Plan Types

There are several types of retirement savings, the most common being an IRA, a Roth IRA, and a 401(k):

  • IRA: An IRA is an individual retirement account that you personally open and fund with no tie to an employer. The money you put into this type of retirement account is tax-deductible. It’s important to note that this is tax-deferred, meaning you will be taxed at the time of withdrawal.
  • Roth IRA: A Roth IRA is also an individual retirement account opened and funded by you. However, with a Roth IRA, you are taxed on the money you put in now — meaning that you won’t be taxed at the time of withdrawal.
  • 401(k): A 401(k) is a retirement account offered by a company to its employees. Depending on your employer, with a 401(k), you can choose to make pre-tax or post-tax (Roth 401(k)) contributions. 

A chart shows the difference between IRA, Roth IRA, and 401K retirement options.

8. Start Your Estate Planning

Thinking about estate planning isn’t fun — but it is important. When figuring out how to create a financial plan, it’s crucial to start estate planning to outline what happens to your assets when you’re gone. 

To create an estate plan, you should list your assets, write your will, and determine who will have access to the information. Estate taxes can run up to a steep 40 percent, so having a plan for how to set up your estate may ease the financial burden of your passing on your loved ones. 

Using a Lawyer for Estate Planning

Using a lawyer for estate planning can solidify financial plans that you don’t want to leave to chance. By clearly outlining your estate plan, you can protect against potential legal battles or missteps that could occur when sorting out your estate. If you plan to use a lawyer for estate planning, here’s what you need to know:

  • Find an estate planning specialist: Just like doctors, lawyers specialize in all different fields. You wouldn’t expect a dermatologist to be performing knee surgery, so why would you expect a lawyer with a different specialty to create your estate plan?
  • Clarify legal fees: Estate planning fees may vary dramatically depending on the lawyer and your specific needs. Some lawyers charge based on the complexity of the plan; others charge a flat or hourly fee. There is no right or wrong with estate planning fees, but you should have an upfront conversation with your lawyer to determine which method would work best for you.
  • Find a lawyer you trust: Estate planning is a very personal matter, so you should find a lawyer with whom you feel comfortable sharing personal matters. 

9. Insure Your Assets

As your wealth grows over time, you should start thinking about ways to protect it in case of an emergency. Although insurance may not be as exciting as investing, it’s just as important. 

Insuring your assets is more of a defensive financial move than an offensive one. When determining how to create a financial plan, you want to have insurance to protect yourself from any unforeseen difficulties that could hinder your success. 

Types of Insurance

There are several types of insurance you might get to protect your assets. Here are some of the most important ones to get when planning for your financial future. 

  • Life insurance: Life insurance goes hand in hand with estate planning to provide your beneficiaries with the necessary funds after your passing.
  • Homeowners insurance: As a homeowner, it’s crucial to protect your home against disasters or crime. Many people’s homes are the most valuable asset they own, so it makes sense to pay a premium to ensure it is protected.
  • Health insurance: Health insurance is protection for your most important asset: Your life. Health insurance covers your medical expenses for you to get the care you need. 
  • Auto insurance: Auto insurance protects you from costs incurred due to theft or damage to your car.
  • Disability insurance: Disability insurance is a reimbursement of lost income due to an injury or illness that prevented you from working. 

10. Plan for Taxes

Taxes can be a drag, but understanding how they work can make all the difference for your long-term financial goals. While taxes are a given, you might be able to reduce the burden by being efficient with your tax planning. When planning for taxes, it’s important to consider:

  • How to reduce your taxable income: You can capitalize on tax savings investment options like a 401(k) or 403(b) to help you save money by reducing your taxable income (while putting more money away for your future). 
  • How to itemize your deductions: Tax deductions are a way to lower taxable income as a full- or part-time self-employed taxpayer. You can deduct incurred expenses from doing business to reduce your taxable income. 

11. Review Your Plans Regularly

Figuring out how to create a financial plan isn’t a one-time thing. Your goals (and your financial standing) aren’t stagnant, so your plan shouldn’t be either. It’s essential to reevaluate your plan periodically and adjust your goals to continue setting yourself up for success. 

As you progress in your career, you may want to take a more aggressive approach to your retirement plan or insurance. For example, a young 20-something in their first few years of work likely has less money to put into their retirement and savings accounts than a person in their mid-30s who has an established career.

Staying updated with your financial plan also ensures that you hold yourself accountable to your goals. Over time, it may become easy to skip one payment here or there, but having concrete metrics might give you the push you need for achieving a future of financial literacy. 

After you figure out how to create a monetary plan, it’s good practice to review it around once a year. However, this is just a baseline metric, so checking it more often may be necessary if a significant life event occurs. 

It’s always a good idea to reevaluate your financial plan if you get married, have kids, or quit your job. Every few months or so, take some time to look at your progress and assess problem areas. Take the time to celebrate milestones — it may help motivate you going forward.

Ask for feedback on your financial plan from people who know you. Your best friend might point out some things you’d forgotten about, like your desire to get a dog or live in a downtown loft. You can also run it by a professional, who can provide some objective insight and professional wisdom on how to create a financial plan.

It’s important to remember that the journey to financial success is a personal one, and should be taken at your own pace. However, the earlier you get started, the more prepared you may be for a strong financial future. Download Mint to get started taking control of your finances today.

Sources: CNBC | Federal Reserve | IRS | IRS

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