Tag Archives: Budgeting

How to Set Financial Goals: A Simple, Step-By-Step Guide

Saving money is all well and good in theory.

It’s pretty hard to argue against having more money in the bank.

But what are you saving for? If you don’t have solid financial goals, all those hoarded pennies might end up in limbo when they could be put to good use.

Figuring out where your money should go might seem daunting, but it’s actually a lot of fun.

You get to analyze your own priorities and decide exactly what to do with your hard-earned cash.

But to make the most of your money, follow a few best practices while setting your goals.

After all, even if something seems like exactly what you want right now, it might not be in future-you’s best interest. And you’re playing the long game… that’s why they’re called goals!

What to Do Before You Start Writing Your Financial Goals

To help keep you from financial goals like “buy the coolest toys and cars,” which could easily get you deeply into debt while you watch your credit score plummet, we’ve compiled this guide.

It’ll help you set goals and create smart priorities for your money. That way, however you decide to spend your truly discretionary income, you won’t leave the 10-years-from-now version of you in the lurch.

First Thing’s First: How Much Money Do You Have?

You can’t decide on your short- or long-term financial goals if you don’t know how much money you have or where it’s going.

And if you’re operating without a budget, it can be easy to run out of money well before you run out of expenses — even if you know exactly how much is in your paycheck.

So sit down and take a good, hard look at all of your financial info.

A ton of great digital apps can help you do this — here are our favorite budgeting apps — but it can be as simple as a spreadsheet or even a good, old-fashioned piece of paper. It just takes two steps:

  1. Figure out how much money you have. It might be in checking or savings accounts, including long-term accounts like IRAs. Or, it might be wrapped up in investments or physical assets, like your paid-off car.
  2. Assess any debts you have. Do you keep a revolving credit card balance? Do you pay a mortgage each month? Are your student loans still hanging around?

Take the full amount of money you owe and subtract it from the total amount you have, which you discovered in step one. The difference between the two is your net worth. That’s the total amount of money you have to your name.

If it seems like a lot, cool. Hang tight and don’t let it burn a hole in your pocket. We’re not done yet.

If it seems like… not a lot, well, you can fix that. Keep reading.

A woman creates a monthly budget while sitting on her bed. The sheets are white with a floral pattern on them. This story is about how to set up financial goals.

Create a Budget

Once you’ve learned your net worth, you need to start thinking about a working budget.

This will essentially be a document with your total monthly income at the top and a list of all the expenses you need to pay for every month.

And I do mean all of the expenses — even that $4.99 recurring monthly payment for your student-discounted Spotify account definitely counts.

Your expenses probably include rent, electricity, cable or internet, a cell phone plan, various insurance policies, groceries, gas and transportation. It also includes categories like charitable giving, entertainment and travel.

Pro Tip

Print out the last two or three months of statements from your credit and debit cards and categorize every expense. You can often find ways to save by discovering patterns in your spending habits.

It’ll depend on your individual case — for instance, I totally have “wine” as a budget line item.

See? It’s all about priorities.

Need to go back to basics? Here’s our guide on how to budget.

Start by listing how much you actually spent in each category last month. Subtract your total expenses from your total income. The difference should be equal to the amount of money left sitting in your bank account at month’s end.

It’s also the money you can use toward your long-term financial goals.

Want the number to be bigger? Go back through your budget and figure out where you can afford to make cuts. Maybe you can ditch the cable bill and decide between Netflix or Hulu, or replace a takeout lunch with a packed one.

You don’t need to abandon the idea of having a life (and enjoying it), but there are ways to make budgetary adjustments that work for you.

Set the numbers you’re willing to spend in each category, and stick to them.

Congratulations. You’re in control of your money.

Now you can figure out exactly what you want to do with it.

Setting Financial Goals

Before you run off to the cool-expensive-stuff store, hold on a second.

Your financial goals should be (mostly) in this order:

  1. Build an emergency fund.
  2. Pay down debt.
  3. Plan for retirement.
  4. Set short-term and long-term financial goals.

We say “mostly” because it’s ultimately up to you to decide in which order you want to accomplish them.

Many experts suggest making sure you have an emergency fund in place before aggressively going after your debt.

But if you’re hemorrhaging money on sky-high interest charges, you might not have much expendable cash to put toward savings.

That means you’ll pay the interest for a lot longer — and pay a lot more of it — if you wait to pay it down until you have a solid emergency fund saved up.

1. Build an Emergency Fund

Finding money to sock away each month can be tough, but just starting with $10 or $25 of each paycheck can help.

You can make the process a lot easier by automating your savings. Or you can have money from each paycheck automatically sent to a separate account you won’t touch.

You also get to decide the size of your emergency fund, but a good rule of thumb is to accumulate three to six times the total of your monthly living expenses. Good thing your budget is already set up so you know exactly what that number is, right?

You might try to get away with a smaller emergency fund — even $1,000 is a better cushion than nothing. But if you lose your job, you still need to be able to eat and make rent.

2. Pay Down Debt

Now, let’s move on to repaying debt. Why’s it so important, anyway?

Because you’re wasting money on interest charges you could be applying toward your goals instead.

So even though becoming debt-free seems like a big sacrifice right now, you’re doing yourself a huge financial favor in the long run.

There’s lots of great information out there about how to pay off debt, but it’s really a pretty simple operation: You need to put every single penny you can spare toward your debts until they disappear.

One method is known as the debt avalanche method, which involves paying off debt with the highest interest rates first, thereby reducing the overall amount you’ll shell out for interest.

For example, if you have a $1,500 revolving balance on a credit card with a 20% APR, it gets priority over your $14,000, 5%-interest car loan — even though the second number is so much bigger.

Pro Tip

If you’re motivated by quick wins, the debt snowball method may be a good fit for you. It involves paying off one loan balance at a time, starting with the smallest balance first.

Make a list of your debts and (ideally) don’t spend any of your spare money on anything but paying them off until the number after every account reads “$0.” Trust me, the day when you become debt-free will be well worth the effort.

As a bonus, if your credit score could be better, repaying revolving debt will also help you repair it — just in case some of your goals (like buying a home) depend upon your credit report not sucking.

A retired woman floats in a circular floating device in a swimming pool.

3. Plan for Retirement

All right, you’re all set in case of an emergency and you’re living debt-free.

Congratulations! We’re almost done with the hard part, I promise.

But there’s one more very important long-term financial goal you most definitely want to keep in mind: retirement.

Did you know almost half of Americans have absolutely nothing saved so they can one day clock out for the very last time?

And the trouble isn’t brand-new: We’ve been bad enough at saving for retirement over the past few decades that millions of today’s seniors can’t afford to retire.

If you ever want to stop working, you need to save up the money you’ll use for your living expenses.

And you need to start now, while compound interest is still on your side. The younger you are, the more time you have to watch those pennies grow, but don’t fret if you got a late start — here’s how to save for retirement in your 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s.

If your job offers a 401(k) plan, take advantage of it — especially if your employer will match your contributions! Trust me, the sting of losing a percentage of your paycheck will hurt way less than having to work into your golden years.

Ideally, you’ll want to find other ways to save for retirement, too. Look into individual retirement arrangements (IRAs) and figure out how much you need to contribute to meet your retirement goals.

Future you will thank you. Heartily. From a hammock.

FROM THE BUDGETING FORUM
Starting a budget
S
A reminder NOT to spend.
Jobelle Collie
Grocery Shopping – How far away is your usual store?
F
Budgeting 101
Ashley Allen
See more in Budgeting or ask a money question

4. Set Short-Term and Long-Term Financial Goals (the Fun Part!)

Is everything in order? Amazing!

You’re in awesome financial shape — and you’ve made it to the fun part of this post.

Consider the funds you have left — and those you’ll continue to earn — after taking care of all the financial goals above. Now think: What do you want to do with your money?

What experiences or things can your money buy to significantly increase your quality of life and happiness?

You might plan to travel more, take time off work to spend with family or drive the hottest new Porsche.

Maybe you want to have a six-course meal at the finest restaurant in the world or work your way through an extensive list of exotic and expensive wines. (OK, I’ll stop projecting.)

No matter your goals, it’s helpful to categorize them by how long they’ll take to save for.

Make a list of the goals you want to achieve with your money and which category they fall into. Then you can figure out how to prioritize your savings for each objective.

For example, some of my goals have included:

  • Short-term financial goal: Save spending money for a trip overseas.
  • Medium-term financial goal: Pay off my car within a year, or sell it — and its onerous loan — and buy an older car I can own free and clear.
  • Long-term financial goal: Buy a house I can use as a home base and increase my income by renting it out while I travel. This will probably take me through the rest of my 20s.

By writing down my short- and long-term financial goals and approximately how long I expect it will take to achieve each, I can figure out what to research and how aggressively I need to plan for each goal.

It also offers me the opportunity to see what I prioritize — and to revise those priorities if I see fit.

Jamie Cattanach (@jamiecattanach) is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Budgeting for Beginners: These 5 Steps Will Help You Get Started

Setting up a budget is challenging. Doing it forces you to face your spending habits and then work to change them.

But when you decide to make a budget, it means you’re serious about your money. Maybe you even have some financial goals in mind.

The end result will bring you peace of mind. But if you’re creating a budget for the first time, remember that budgets will vary by individual and family. It’s important to set up a budget that’s a fit for YOU.

Budgeting for Beginners in 5 Painless Steps

Follow these basic steps and tailor them to your needs to create a monthly budget that will set you up for financial success.

Step 1: Set a Financial Goal

First thing’s first: Why do you want a budget?

Your reason will be your anchor and incentive as you create a budget, and it will help you stick to it.

Set a short-term or long-term goal. It can be to pay off debts like student loans, credit cards or a mortgage, or to save for retirement, an emergency fund, a new car, a home down payment or a vacation.

For example, creating a budget is a must for many people trying to buy their first home. But it shouldn’t stop there. Once you’ve bought a home, keep sticking to a budget in order to pay off debt and give yourself some wiggle room for unexpected expenses.

Once one goal is complete, you can move on to another and personalize your budget to fit whatever your needs are.

Step 2: Log Your Income, Expenses and Savings

You’ll want to use a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet or another budget template to track all of your monthly expenses and spending. List out each expense line by line. This list is the foundation for your monthly budget.

Tally Your Monthly Income

Review your pay stubs and determine how much money you and anyone else in your household take home every month. Include any passive income, rental income, child support payments or side gigs.

If your income varies, estimate as best as you can, or use the average of your income for the past three months.

Make a List of Your Mandatory Monthly Expenses

Start with:

  1. Rent or mortgage payment.
  2. Living expenses like utilities (electric, gas and water bills), internet and phone.
  3. Car payment and transportation costs.
  4. Insurance (car, life, health).
  5. Child care.
  6. Groceries.
  7. Debt repayments for things like credit cards, student loans, medical debt, etc.

Anything that will result in a late fee for not paying goes in this category.

List Non-Essential Monthly and Irregular Expenses

Non-essential expenses include entertainment, coffee, subscription and streaming services, memberships, cable TV, gifts, dining out and miscellaneous items.

Don’t forget to account for expenses you don’t incur every month, such as annual fees, taxes, car registration, oil changes and one-time charges. Add them to the month in which they usually occur OR tally up all of your irregular expenses for the year and divide by 12 so you can work them into your monthly budget.

Pro Tip

Review all of your bank account statements for the past 12 months to make sure you don’t miss periodic expenses like quarterly insurance premiums.

A woman with a dog reviews financial docements spread out on the floor.

Don’t Forget Your Savings

Be sure to include a line item for savings in your monthly budget. Use it for those short- or long-term savings goals, building up an emergency fund or investments.

Figure out how much you can afford — no matter how big or small. If you get direct deposit, saving can be simplified with an automated paycheck deduction. Something as little as $10 a week adds up to over $500 in a year.

Step 3: Adjust Your Expenses to Match Your Income

Now, what does your monthly budget look like so far?

Are you living within your income, or spending more money than you make? Either way, it’s time to make some adjustments to meet your goals.

How to Cut Your Expenses

If you are overspending each month, don’t panic. This is a great opportunity to evaluate areas to save money now that you have itemized your spending. Truthfully, this is the exact reason you created a budget!

Here are some ways you can save money each month:

Cut optional outings like happy hours and eating out. Even cutting a $4 daily purchase on weekdays will add up to over $1,000 a year.

Consider pulling the plug on cable TV or a subscription service. The average cost of cable is $1,284 a year, so if you cut the cord and switch to a streaming service, you could save at least $50 a month.

Fine-tune your grocery bill and practice meal prepping. You’ll save money by planning and prepping recipes for the week that use many of the same ingredients. Use the circulars to see what’s on sale, and plan your meals around those sales.

Make homemade gifts for family and friends. Special occasions and holidays happen constantly and can get expensive. Honing in on thoughtful and homemade gifts like framed pictures, magnets and ornaments costs more time and less money.

Consolidate credit cards or transfer high-interest balances. You can consolidate multiple credit card payments into one and lower the amount of interest you’re paying every month by applying for a debt consolidation loan or by taking advantage of a 0% balance-transfer credit card offer. The sooner you pay off that principal balance, the sooner you’ll be out of debt.

Refinance loans. Refinancing your mortgage, student loan or car loan can lower your interest rates and cut your monthly payments. You could save significantly if you’ve improved your credit since you got the original loan.

Get a new quote for car insurance to lower monthly payments. Use a free online service to shop around for new quotes based on your needs. A $20 savings every month is $20 that can go toward savings or debt repayments.

Start small and see how big of a wave it makes.

Oh, and don’t forget to remind yourself of your financial goal when you’re craving Starbucks at 3 p.m. But remember that it’s OK to treat yourself — occasionally.

A couple organize tax-related paperwork.

What to Do With Your Extra Cash

If you have money left over after paying for your monthly expenses, prioritize building an emergency fund if you don’t have one.

Having an emergency fund is often what makes it possible to stick to a budget. Because when an unexpected expense crops up, like a broken appliance or a big car repair, you won’t have to borrow money to cover it.

When you do dip into that emergency fund, immediately start building it up again.

Otherwise, you can use any extra money outside your expenses to reach your financial goals.

Here are four questions to ask yourself before dipping into your emergency fund..

Step 4: Choose a Budgeting Method

You have your income, expenses and spending spelled out in a monthly budget, but how do you act on it? Trying out a budgeting method helps manage your money and accommodates your lifestyle.

Living on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t have fun or splurges, and fortunately many budgeting methods account for those things. Here are a few to consider:

  • The Envelope System is a cash-based budgeting system that works well for overspenders. It curbs excess spending on debit and credit cards because you’re forced to withdraw cash and place it into pre-labeled envelopes for your variable expenses (like groceries and clothing) instead of pulling out that plastic. 
  • The 50/20/30 Method is for those with more financial flexibility and who can pay all their bills with 50% of their income. You apply 50% of your income to living expenses, 20% toward savings and/or debt reduction, and 30% to personal spending (vacations, coffee, entertainment). This way, you can have fun and save at the same time. Because your basic needs can only account for 50% of your income, it’s typically not a good fit for those living paycheck to paycheck.
  • The 60/20/20 Budget uses the same concept as the 50/20/30, except you apply 60% of your income to living expenses, 20% toward savings and/or debt reduction, and 20% to personal spending. It’s a good fit for fans of the 50/20/30 Method who need to devote more of their incomes to living costs.
  • The Zero-Based Budget makes you account for all of your income. You budget for your expenses and bills, and then assign any extra money toward your goals. The strict system is good for people trying to pay off debt as fast as possible. It’s also beneficial for those living to paycheck to paycheck.
A hand writes financial-related labels on envelopes.

Budgeting Apps

Another money management option is to use a budgeting app. Apps can help you organize and access your personal finances on the go and can alert you of finance charges, late fees and bill payment due dates. Many also offer free credit score monitoring.

FROM THE BUDGETING FORUM
Starting a budget
S
A reminder NOT to spend.
Jobelle Collie
Grocery Shopping – How far away is your usual store?
F
Budgeting 101
Ashley Allen
See more in Budgeting or ask a money question

Step 5: Follow Through

Budgeting becomes super easy once you get in the groove, but you can’t set it and forget it. You should review your budget monthly to monitor your expenses and spending and adjust accordingly. Review checking and savings account statements for any irregularities even if you set bills to autopay.

Even if your income increases, try to prioritize saving the extra money. That will help you avoid lifestyle inflation, which happens when your spending increases as your income rises.

The thrill of being debt-free or finally having enough money to travel might even inspire you to seek out other financial opportunities or advice. For example, if you’re looking for professional help, set up a consultation with a certified financial planner who can assist you with long-term goals like retirement and savings plans.

Related: How to Budget: The Ultimate Guide

Stephanie Bolling is a former staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

16 Small Steps You Can Take Now to Improve Your Finances

Pretty brunette with moneybox in hands

You have all kinds of financial goals you want to achieve, but where should you begin? There are so many different aspects of money management that it can be difficult to find a starting point when trying to achieve financial success. If you’re feeling lost and overwhelmed, take a deep breath. Progress can be made in tiny, manageable steps. Here’s are 16 small things you can do right now to improve your overall financial health. (See also: These 13 Numbers Are Crucial to Understanding Your Finances)

1. Create a household budget

The biggest step toward effective money management is making a household budget. You first need to figure out exactly how much money comes in each month. Once you have that number, organize your budget in order of financial priorities: essential living expenses, contributions to retirement savings, repaying debt, and any entertainment or lifestyle costs. Having a clear picture of exactly how much is coming in and going out every month is key to reaching your financial goals.

2. Calculate your net worth

Simply put, your net worth is the total of your assets minus your debts and liabilities. You’re left with a positive or negative number. If the number is positive, you’re on the up and up. If the number is negative — which is especially common for young people just starting out — you’ll need to keep chipping away at debt.

Remember that certain assets, like your home, count on both sides of the ledger. While you may have mortgage debt, it is secured by the resale value of your home. (See also: 10 Ways to Increase Your Net Worth This Year)

3. Review your credit reports

Your credit history determines your creditworthiness, including the interest rates you pay on loans and credit cards. It can also affect your employment opportunities and living options. Every 12 months, you can check your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) for free at annualcreditreport.com. It may also be a good idea to request one report from one bureau every four months, so you can keep an eye on your credit throughout the year without paying for it.

Regularly checking your credit report will help you stay on top of every account in your name and can alert you to fraudulent activity.

4. Check your credit score

Your FICO score can range from 300-850. The higher the score, the better. Keep in mind that two of the most important factors that go into making up your credit score are your payment history, specifically negative information, and how much debt you’re carrying: the type of debts, and how much available credit you have at any given time. (See also: How to Boost Your Credit Score in Just 30 Days)

5. Set a monthly savings amount

Transferring a set amount of money to a savings account at the same time you pay your other monthly bills helps ensure that you’re regularly and intentionally saving money for the future. Waiting to see if you have any money left over after paying for all your other discretionary lifestyle expenses can lead to uneven amounts or no savings at all.

6. Make minimum payments on all debts

The first step to maintaining a good credit standing is to avoid making late payments. Build your minimum debt reduction payments into your budget. Then, look for any extra money you can put toward paying down debt principal. (See also: The Fastest Way to Pay Off $10,000 in Credit Card Debt)

7. Increase your retirement saving rate by 1 percent

Your retirement savings and saving rate are the most important determinants of your overall financial success. Strive to save 15 percent of your income for most of your career for retirement, and that includes any employer match you may receive. If you’re not saving that amount yet, plan ahead for ways you can reach that goal. For example, increase your saving rate every time you get a bonus or raise.

8. Open an IRA

An IRA is an easy and accessible retirement savings vehicle that anyone with earned income can access (although you can’t contribute to a traditional IRA past age 70½). Unlike an employer-sponsored account, like a 401(k), an IRA gives you access to unlimited investment choices and is not attached to any particular employer. (See also: Stop Believing These 5 Myths About IRAs)

9. Update your account beneficiaries

Certain assets, like retirement accounts and insurance policies, have their own beneficiary designations and will be distributed based on who you have listed on those documents — not necessarily according to your estate planning documents. Review these every year and whenever you have a major life event, like a marriage.

10. Review your employer benefits

The monetary value of your employment includes your salary in addition to any other employer-provided benefits. Consider these extras part of your wealth-building tools and review them on a yearly basis. For example, a Flexible Spending Arrangement (FSA) can help pay for current health care expenses through your employer and a Health Savings Account (HSA) can help you pay for medical expenses now and in retirement. (See also: 8 Myths About Health Savings Accounts — Debunked!)

11. Review your W-4

The W-4 form you filled out when you first started your job dictates how much your employer withholds for taxes — and you can make changes to it. If you get a refund at tax time, adjusting your tax withholdings can be an easy way to increase your take-home pay. Also, remember to review this form when you have a major life event, like a marriage or after the birth of a child. (See also: Are You Withholding the Right Amount of Taxes from Your Paycheck?)

12. Ponder your need for life insurance

In general, if someone is dependent upon your income, then you may need a life insurance policy. When determining how much insurance you need, consider protecting assets and paying off all outstanding debts, as well as retirement and college costs. (See also: 15 Surprising Insurance Policies You Might Need)

13. Check your FDIC insurance coverage

First, make sure that the banking institutions you use are FDIC insured. For credit unions, you’ll want to confirm it’s a National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) federally-covered institution. Federal deposit insurance protects up to $250,000 of your deposits for each type of bank account you have. To determine your account coverage at a single bank or various banks, visit FDIC.gov.

14. Check your Social Security statements

Set up an online account at SSA.gov to confirm your work and income history and to get an idea of what types of benefits, if any, you’re entitled to — including retirement and disability.

15. Set one financial goal to achieve it by the end of the year

An important part of financial success is recognizing where you need to focus your energy in terms of certain financial goals, like having a fully funded emergency account, for example.

If you’re overwhelmed by trying to simultaneously work on reaching all of your goals, pick one that you can focus on and achieve it by the end of the year. Examples include paying off a credit card, contributing to an IRA, or saving $500.

16. Take a one-month spending break

Unfortunately, you can never take a break from paying your bills, but you do have complete control over how you spend your discretionary income. And that may be the only way to make some progress toward some of your savings goals. Try trimming some of your lifestyle expenses for just one month to cushion your checking or savings account. You could start by bringing your own lunch to work every day or meal-planning for the week to keep your grocery bill lower and forgo eating out. (See also: How a Simple "Do Not Buy" List Keeps Money in Your Pocket)

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With the new year here, it’s time to take control of your financial goals. From creating a household budget, to calculating your net worth, or setting a monthly savings amount, we’ve got 16 small steps you can take to improve your finances. | #personalfinance #moneymatters #budgeting


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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

Budgeting For Beginners: A FREE Five Day Quick Start Course

The post Budgeting For Beginners: A FREE Five Day Quick Start Course appeared first on Penny Pinchin' Mom.

Learn How to Budget

 

If you feel stress about money, worry about paying your bills or are just tired of trying to find a way to rob Peter to pay Paul, you aren’t alone.  In fact, I get it.

I really get it.

I tried to figure it all out on my own and failed miserably. That lead me to declare bankruptcy.  While it wasn’t my finest moment, it had to happen to lead me to the place I am today.

Sometimes, our biggest mistakes force us to learn the most.  For me, thinking that I could just try to wash my hands of my financial problems was mine.  I did not take the time to figure out the right way to get control over my money and stay out of debt. Bankruptcy was the easy solution – but the wrong one.

Before filing, I had tried it all.  I organized my bills to pay them on time. I worked with debt consolidation companies to try to lower my payments. I put spending freezes in place, just to blow that a few days later.

Nothing I had done was working.

So, I did what I thought was right. I contacted an attorney and filed.

As I said, that wasn’t the answer for me.  I never took the time to get to the root of why I was looking at money the way I did.  I did not want to face my own demons head-on.  And that lead me to build up more debt…..even after bankruptcy.

Once my bankruptcy was behind me, I married my husband.  We both knew that I wanted to stay home and raise our children.  We thought that we would be OK when I quit my job, after all, my husband had a good income.

Boy.  Were we wrong.

After our daughter was born, reality set in.  The truth is, we did not really know where we were spending our money and continued to live the same lifestyle, even though our income had dropped.

Our finances were a mess.

Then, one night, after a rare dinner out with friends, the light bulb came on.  Both of us realized that we could make some changes.

From that moment on, things were different.  We both had revelations:

  • We figured out we had to have a budget.
  • We learned why we were spending.
  • We worked together to create an actionable plan.
  • We were on the same team and found new ways to save more money than ever before.
  • We had a financial plan in place.

For us, it was our REBOOT moment.  When we took control of our finances, it was like we started living again.  When we stopped trying to hard to fight it and allowed ourselves to be vulnerable to change, it happened.

This is true for anyone who wants to learn how to budget.  You have to allow yourself to be open to the change.  You need to be willing to try something new.  After all, what you are currently doing isn’t working, is it?  What more have you got to lose?

That’s where the Free Five Day Money Management Course can help. This is a simple course that anyone can take – no matter your financial situation.

You will learn:

  • How to understand your own attitude towards money
  • Really see where you spend every penny you make
  • Create a workable budget
  • Develop a plan to dig yourself out from debt
  • Finally feel in control of your finances

Like I said above, this is free.  I will not charge you a dime to take the course. Your first lesson will arrive in your inbox tomorrow morning, so you can wake up and be ready to jump in and learn.

Best of all, I’m here with you.

You aren’t alone.

Sign up now and take control of your finances. What have you got to lose?

The post Budgeting For Beginners: A FREE Five Day Quick Start Course appeared first on Penny Pinchin' Mom.

Source: pennypinchinmom.com

How Much Should You Spend on an Engagement Ring?

How Much Should You Spend on an Engagement Ring?

There’s nothing like falling in love and finding the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. But when it’s time to shop for rings, it’s easy to get discouraged by the price tags. Just how much should you spend on an engagement ring? We’ll dive into the topic and discuss ways to save on the big purchase.

Find out not: How much do I need to save for retirement?

What the Average Engagement Ring Costs

Maybe you can’t buy love. But if you’re in the market for an engagement ring, you’ll quickly realize that it won’t be cheap. According to the Knot’s 2016 Real Weddings Study, Americans spent an average of $6,163 on engagement rings, up from $5,871 in 2015. Wedding bands for the bride and engagement rings combined cost between $5,968 and $6,258.

If you want your wedding to happen sooner rather than later, keep in mind that on average, couples spend more than $30,000 to tie the knot. That’s roughly how much you can expect to pay for everything from your wedding reception and DJ to your cake and your photographer. Location matters when it comes to weddings, however, so you might be able to save some money by choosing a more affordable place to host your ceremony.

How Much Should I Spend?

How Much Should You Spend on an Engagement Ring?

Conventional wisdom says that anyone planning to propose to their partner should prepare to spend at least two or three months of their salary on an engagement ring. But spending too much isn’t a good idea for various reasons.

A recent study conducted by Emory University connected pricey rings to divorce rates. Men who spent more money on rings for their fiancees were more likely to end their marriages. That’s a possible long-term consequence of overspending on an engagement ring. In the short term, using a large percentage of your money to buy a ring might prevent you from using those funds to pay bills or stay on top of your debt, which can hurt your credit score.

If the marriage doesn’t work out and your ex-spouse decides to sell their diamond engagement ring, its value won’t be nearly as high as it was when it was first purchased. That’s why diamond rings can be such bad investments.

So exactly how much should you spend on an engagement ring? It’s a good idea to make sure that the price you pay doesn’t prevent you or your partner from accomplishing whatever you’re planning to achieve in the future, whether that’s buying a house or having a child. Rather than following an old-school societal notion that says you should spend x amount of money on a ring, it’s best to spend an amount that won’t compromise your financial goals or jeopardize the status of your relationship.

How to Save on the Ring

If you don’t want the engagement ring you’re buying to break the bank, it’s a good idea to learn as much as you can about the rings and what makes some more expensive than others. Diamonds are the gems most commonly used in engagement rings, and if you’re buying one for your significant other, it’s important to familiarize yourself with what jewelers refer to as the four C’s: clarity, cut, color and carat weight.

In terms of clarity, the best diamonds are flawless, meaning that they don’t have any blemishes when viewed under a microscope with 10 power magnification. Since no one’s eyesight is that powerful, you can get away with choosing a diamond with a lower clarity grade that costs less. Getting a diamond that has fewer carats (meaning that it weighs less) or getting one that isn’t completely colorless can also lower its overall price.

Or don’t get a diamond at all. Your partner might be just as happy with a simple band, a white sapphire or an emerald ring and it probably won’t cost as much as a diamond engagement ring. Shopping for your ring at a vintage store, looking for one online rather than in-person and getting a ring with a series of smaller stones surrounding the center stone (also known as a halo ring) are a few additional ways to save when buying a ring.

Final Word

How Much Should You Spend on an Engagement Ring?

There’s no need to spend a fortune on an engagement ring. And you don’t have to feel guilty about cutting corners in order to find one that you can afford to buy.

Like any other major purchase, it’s a good idea to take time to save up for a ring. If you have to take on more credit card debt or a personal loan in order to buy an engagement ring, it’s a good idea to find out how long it’ll take to pay off your debt. It isn’t wise to begin a marriage by digging yourself (and your partner) into a deep financial hole.

Tips for Getting Financially Ready for Marriage

  • If you haven’t already, start talking about money. It’s important to establish an open dialogue and make sure you understand and respect each other’s money values.
  • You might also consider sit down with a financial advisor before the big day. A financial advisor can help you identify your financial goals and come up with a financial plan for your life as a married couple. A matching tool (like ours) can help you find a person to work with to meet your needs. First you’ll answer a series of questions about your situation and goals. Then the program will narrow down your options from thousands of advisors to three fiduciaries who suit your needs. You can then read their profiles to learn more about them, interview them on the phone or in person and choose who to work with in the future. This allows you to find a good fit while the program does much of the hard work for you.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/sergey_b_a, ©iStock.com/svetikd, ©iStock.com/adamkaz

The post How Much Should You Spend on an Engagement Ring? appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

10 financial resolutions for 2021 – that are actually doable

How many times have you made a number of New Year’s resolutions – only to forget about them long before spring?

The trick to making New Year’s resolutions is to choose those that are actually doable. And a good place to start is with your finances.

To explore feasible financial moves that are easy to stick to, we got advice from Bankrate Chief Financial Analyst Greg McBride, CFA.

Use these tips to set yourself up for financial success in 2021.

10 financial resolutions for 2021

  1. Set financial goals
  2. Create or freshen up your budget
  3. Check your progress on paying down debt
  4. Review your credit card benefits and reward offers
  5. Review your asset allocation and rebalance your portfolio
  6. Consider converting your traditional IRA to a Roth
  7. Review your beneficiaries
  8. Review your savings
  9. Check your credit report
  10. Continue to educate yourself

1. Set financial goals

Before you dive into your finances, make sure you know what you hope to accomplish this year. According to Women & Financial Wellness: Beyond the Bottom Line from Merrill Lynch, “Seventy-seven percent of women say they see money in terms of what it can do for their families.” By figuring out what is most important to you, you can create specific priorities and goals.

Do you hope to pay off your credit cards or are you saving for a down payment on a house? Or do you see yourself purchasing a new car this year? Map out your goals so it’s easier to see why you need to create a budget.

2. Create or freshen up your budget

You’ve heard that you need to create a budget a million times. Why? Because it’s one of the healthiest financial moves you’ll ever make.

Particularly after 2020, when many faced unemployment, 2021 is a good time to figure out where your money is going by tracking your spending against a budget.

“Make a monthly budget for 2021 and resolve to track your spending against it throughout the year,” McBride said. “Any month you spend less than budgeted, transfer the difference into savings.”

As daunting as it may seem, a budget will provide long-term benefits, both financial and mental.

Mint, Goodbudget and You Need a Budget (YNAB) are all good options. But whichever tool you pick, make sure to:

  • Give your money a purpose by bucketing it into specific funds or accounts.
  • Be patient as you settle into a budgeting routine.
  • Schedule a “money meeting” with yourself every month and examine your spending, make tweaks and congratulate yourself for the work you’ve done.

See related: How to create a budget that works for you

3. Check your progress on paying down debt

McBride congratulates those who have made steady progress in paying down their debt and recommends making a plan to pay it down in 2021 (if you’ve stalled a bit in 2020).

You can temporarily cut your expenses and throw that money toward your debt, or, if you have high-interest debt, consider debt consolidation, McBride said.

A nonprofit credit counseling agency can set you up with a debt management plan that will even likely lower your interest rate.

In addition, you might want to pick up a side hustle and use that money to pay down your debt.

The average credit card interest rate is still around 16%, and that’s still a high rate, particularly if you carry a balance.

“Credit card debt is the most expensive debt most households have, so put some urgency behind the efforts to get these balances paid off,” McBride said. “Paying down a 16% credit card balance is a risk-free return of 16% – at a time when savings accounts and government bonds pay less than 1%.”

There are many strategies you can use to pay off your credit card debt, but a good guideline is to first pay off the debt with the highest interest rate.

See related: How to pay off credit card debt – 3 best strategies

4. Review your credit card benefits and reward offers

Credit card issuers have responded toward consumer spending changes as a result of the pandemic by adding new benefits and rewards bonuses to their credit card products.

Don’t miss out on those perks, such as extra cash back on groceries and food deliveries, streaming services and more.

See related: Best cash back credit cards

5. Review your asset allocation and rebalance your portfolio

The stock market has been particularly volatile in 2020 so you should review your mix of investments in 2021.

“Taking the opportunity to rebalance back to your intended mix of stocks, bonds, cash and alternative investments means lightening up on things that have done well while adding to asset classes that have lagged,” McBride said. “This also enforces the discipline of ‘buying low’ and ‘selling high.’”

“Travelers have been largely sidelined in 2020, but credit card rewards have very much been on the move,” McBride said. “Check your cards and make sure you’re aware of category spending payouts that have changed and are using the right card for those expenditures.”

See related: Investing tips for women: Overcoming financial setbacks for future success

6. Consider converting your traditional IRA to a Roth

If you lost income in 2020, McBride suggested maybe taking advantage of your lower tax bracket to convert some of your traditional IRA into a Roth IRA.

“Be advised that converting will trigger taxes on any contributions not already taxed, so be sure to consult your tax adviser,” McBride cautioned.

If you earn too much to contribute to a Roth IRA, consider a “back-door” Roth conversion.

“If you’re unable to contribute to a Roth IRA directly because of your income, you may benefit from contributing to a traditional IRA, then converting the funds to a Roth IRA,” McBride says.

“If you have an existing traditional IRA, be sure to consult your tax adviser about the tax implications before converting anything,” he added.

7. Review your beneficiaries

Many people designate beneficiaries and forget about it but it’s important that your assets go to whom you want, so review yours for 2021. McBride said to keep in mind that beneficiaries trump wills, so make sure the two documents are aligned in their directives.

“If you haven’t looked at it in a while or especially if there has been a change in family dynamics such as a marriage or divorce, review the beneficiary designation on your life insurance and retirement accounts to make sure it reflects your current intentions,” McBride said.

8. Review your savings

Having savings is important in the event of an emergency. If you had to exhaust your savings during 2020, you’re not alone. But in 2021, make a plan to replenish and grow your savings account.

“Add up the amount you’ve contributed to your retirement accounts, 529 college savings plans, savings accounts and other investment accounts and subtract out any withdrawals taken during the year.” McBride said.

How much emergency fund should I have?

9. Check your credit report

You should check your credit report routinely to see if there are any mistakes on it that happen to be affecting your credit score – or, worst-case scenario, to see if you’ve been the victim of identity theft.

“Regularly checking your credit report is a great way to spot errors or evidence of identity theft,” McBride said. “Knowing what is on your credit report and that everything is correct is important when going to apply for a loan, rent an apartment or even changing insurance carriers.”

AnnualCreditReport.com provides consumers with a free credit report annually, so make sure you take advantage of that in 2021 so you can catch (and fix) any errors early.

See related: Credit cards that offer free credit scores

10. Continue to educate yourself

Learn the ins and outs of your own financial picture – even as it relates to the fine print. Find places where you can make tweaks or by gaining a better understanding of your taxable income, your investments, your insurance products, etc.

Some great financial literature to get you started includes “Clever Girl Finance: Ditch debt, save money and build real wealth” by Bola Sokunbi, the founder of Clever Girl Finance and a Certified Financial Education Instructor (CFEI). The book is an accessible personal finance book written specifically for women.

Another piece of literature worth looking into is “Live Richer Challenge: Learn how to budget, save, get out of debt, improve your credit and invest in 36 days” (which comes with accompanying resources) by Tiffany Aliche, better known as The Budgetnista. An award-winning teacher of financial education, Aliche has been featured on “Queer Eye” and, through her company, has created a financial movement that has helped over 800,000 women worldwide collectively save more than $100 million.

Free resources are also available to you as you make your way through your personal finance journey. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) offers tools and resources to help women bridge issues like the wage gap.

Final thoughts

As you make your way through 2021, don’t put too much pressure on yourself when it comes to your finances. Use the tools available to you and make a plan that you can easily follow. By adding personal finances to your 2021 resolutions, you’re setting yourself up for success!

Source: creditcards.com