Tag Archives: Emergency Fund

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

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

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

Zero-Based Budgeting: The Ultimate Guide

When you create a budget that works for you, you gain a sense of peace and freedom that comes with taking ownership of your finances. Although there are many approaches to budgeting, certain systems prove to be more effective than others. Zero-based budgeting is an easy and reliable method to achieve your financial goals. The concept of zero-based budgeting is simple: When you create your budget, you assign a role for every single dollar of your income.

By knowing exactly where your hard-earned cash is going, zero-based budgeting eliminates uncertainty and increases confidence in your financial decisions. Could a zero-sum approach to budgeting be the key to helping you regain your financial freedom? We’ll walk you through the specifics of this detail-oriented budgeting method so you can decide if it’s the right choice for your situation.

What Is Zero-Based Budgeting?

In short, zero-based budgeting is when you allocate every dollar you earn so that your income minus your expenses equals zero. If you earn $3,000 a month, the entirety of that $3,000 is accounted for in a zero-based budget. The goal is to avoid having extra money at the end of the month so you make wise spending choices.

Your budget should allow for spending money on monthly expenses like groceries and utilities, as well as “fun money.” Rather than waiting to see what’s left over after taking care of bills and other essentials, a zero-based budget forces you to make financial decisions in advance. If you truly want to align your actions with your financial goals, you’ll realize that every penny needs a purpose to make the most of it.

zero based budgeting

By forcing you to decide how much of your income will go towards goals like paying off debt or saving for a house before you even receive your check, zero-based budgeting encourages you to stick to your goals.

Is Zero-Based Budgeting Right For You?

Zero-based budgeting can be for everyone. A damaging myth of budgeting is that it’s only for people who lack the discipline to hold themselves accountable. No matter how much you’re struggling or thriving financially, you can benefit from taking control of your money with a zero-based budget. If you’re still skeptical about zero-based budgeting, take a look below at how it compares to the four other most popular budgeting alternatives, including the 50/30/20 method:

  • Zero-Based Budget: Make sure your expenses match your income each month so that your earnings minus your costs equal zero.
  • “Pay Yourself First” Budget: Dedicate money to savings and then the remainder is free to be spent how you choose.
  • Envelope Budget: Divide cash into physical envelopes filled with the exact amount of money you can spend on that category.
  • 50/30/20 Budget: 50% of your income is for essentials, 30% is for personal expenses, and 20% goes towards savings.
  • Value-Based Budget: Calculate the monthly cost of each need based on your values, then choose how to stretch your income to meet those needs.

When you don’t know exactly how you intend to divide your money each month, it’s easy to fall into spending traps. A zero-based budget using a digital budgeting tool is a great way to set yourself up for success and stick to your plan.

How to Create a Zero-Based Budget

Develop a zero-based budgeting plan by making it as simple as possible. Your main objective is ensuring your expenses match your income during the month. Don’t overcomplicate the process by stressing about making the “perfect” plan. The best part about creating a zero-based budget is that it’s easy to adjust month-over-month.

how to create a zero based budget

1. Record Your Monthly Income and Expenses

Write down every single monthly and seasonal expense to set yourself up for success. If you don’t know where to start, you know you’ll always have to factor in the cost of housing, utilities, transportation, and groceries.

Next, consider expenses you’re saving for, like a new car, a birthday or anniversary gift, etc. With a little bit of forethought, there shouldn’t be any surprises. It’s wise to set aside cash for unexpected or one-off expenses so you’re not immediately dipping into your emergency fund.

2. Adjust Your Budget Until Income Minus Expenses Equals Zero

When you’re new to zero-based budgeting, don’t worry if your income and expenses don’t balance each other out at first. It’s likely that you’ll have to reduce recurring costs or increase your earnings to reach a zero-sum. Canceling unnecessary subscriptions, packing your own lunch, skipping Starbucks, and starting a passive income-generating side hustle are all helpful.

Using an app with a budget categorization feature is particularly useful when you’re in the trial and error phase. Otherwise, it can be tedious and discouraging to manually re-adjust your budgeting strategy.

3. Track and Optimize Your Monthly Spending Accordingly

A zero-based budget is rarely flawless the first time around. Thankfully, you can optimize your spending by reallocating your funds as often as you need to during the month. Be sure to set yourself calendar reminders to have budget check-ins on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, especially if you’re working on budgeting as a family.

There are countless ways to increase and decrease your dollar allocations according to what makes the most sense for your circumstances. Oftentimes, three to six months are required to master zero-based budgeting. Once you get the hang of it, chances are that you’ll enjoy reaping the rewards so much that you’ll wonder why you didn’t start sooner.

Pros and Cons of Zero-Based Budgeting

There’s no right or wrong answer to how you choose to manage your finances, but the key is that you need some kind of systematic approach to handling your money. Budgets are essential to help you build an emergency fund, save for retirement, pay off loans, or grow wealth through investing. If you aren’t sure that zero-based budgeting is the best strategy for you, we’ve outlined the pros and cons below.

pros and cons of zero based budgeting

Business management expert Peter Drucker is well-known for saying, “you can’t improve what you can’t measure.” If you want to make progress towards your financial goals, you need a way to define and track where your money will go. If you’re not convinced that a zero-based budget will work for you, don’t force it. You can always give it a try for a month or two and fall back on a different budgeting solution.

In Summary…

Zero-based budgeting is an easy and effective method to help you achieve your financial dreams. Don’t miss the chance to get the most value from your money by budgeting. We’ve summed up our main points below.

  • Zero-based budgeting is when all of your income minus all your expenses equals zero. Every dollar of your hard-earned cash has a specific, purpose-driven role.
  • Having a zero-based budget allows you to make your income go further by proactively allocating your funds to different areas of spending and saving.
  • Using a digital budgeting tool like Mint helps to set yourself up for success and hold you accountable in your zero-based budgeting goals.

 

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Source: mint.intuit.com