Working from home has its perks. Thereâs the money saved from skipping the commute, and just think about all of that time you get back by avoiding crowded freeways or public transit during rush hour. As far as workplace attire goes, few employees would trade âwork-from-home casualâ for dress slacks.
But while working from home affords some new freedoms, it also creates new challenges. One of your biggest tasks is to create a productive, ergonomically correct workplace in your home without breaking the bank. If this sounds familiar, youâre probably asking yourself, âHow can I set up a home office on a budget?â
Whether youâve always worked from home as a freelancer or started during the pandemic, these expert tips will help you get started as you design your home office on a budget:
Strive for an ergonomically correct home office
Being home all day creates an unexpected obstacle: pain. Many workers find that transitioning from a well-equipped office to a makeshift setup at home leads to discomfort. Thatâs because many of them go from having a spacious desk, comfortable chair, and monitor and keyboard in their office building to working from a laptop in their living room.
If you suffer from neck pain or eye strain when working from home, you may be feeling the effects of poor ergonomics. Ergonomics, commonly known as the science of work, aims to optimize productivity and health in a workspace.
As a physical therapist with more than 25 years of experience, Karen Loesing, owner of The Ergonomic Expert, knows this issue all too well. Loesingâs company performs ergonomic assessments for businesses and home offices. Over the years, she has seen countless clients suffering from neck, back or other health issues due to poorly designed workspaces. But it doesnât have to be that way, Loesing says.
âHaving an ergonomically correct workstation enhances productivity and generally overall happiness at work.â
There are relatively easy ways to transform an ergonomic nightmare into a well-functioning home office on a budgetâeven if youâre stationed at the kitchen table, she says. And the investment is worth it.
âHaving an ergonomically correct workstation enhances productivity and generally overall happiness at work,â Loesing says. âFor those who are able to designate a certain space in their home where they can work without distractionsâmaybe even a window with a view and the flexibility to work at your own paceâit has been proven this makes for a happier employee.â
Who doesnât want to boost their health, productivity and happiness in one fell swoop?
Find the optimal location for your at-home workspace
When setting up a home office for remote work, location should be your first decision, says design consultant Linda Varone, author of âThe Smarter Home Office.â Depending on your living situation, there may be an obvious answer, such as that spare room youâve always thought could become an office space.
If you donât have a dedicated office, donât despair. While you design your home office on a budget, think creatively about where it can be.
Varone once visited a clientâs home to help reconfigure her workspace. The client was running a business from a table in the hallway. âAt the end of each workday, she had to pack everything up and store it in the closet in the guest room,â Varone says.
But as Varone learned, guests only stayed over two weeks a year, leaving the room empty the rest of the time. It hadnât occurred to the business owner, but turning the guest room into a home office for most of the year was the perfect solution.
âThere are some simple, simple ways that people can rethink their home office without a big investment and make that space really work for them,â Varone says.
In addition to using a guest room, a dining or living room can also function as a home office on a budget.
Establish the ideal setup for your workstation
Once youâve decided on the room, determine the location for your workstation, Varone says. As you plan your home office, consider placing your desk or table near a window, allowing for natural light and an occasional glimpse of nature. Donât face directly outside; instead, aim for a line of sight thatâs perpendicular to the window, Varone says. Thatâs because, even on an overcast day, youâd be looking into too much bright light if youâre facing the window.
âWhatâs happening is your eyes are adjusting back and forth between the bright sunlight that youâre facing and the darker light of your computer screen,â Varone says. âAnd that ends up being really fatiguing for the eye.â
If you live with others, the biggest challenge will be privacy. Try to clearly define the boundaries of your âofficeâ if you can, such as with an area rug, she says. Then ask your roommates or family members not to enter your space while youâre working, apart from an emergency.
If you use a multipurpose space, be sure to tidy everything up at the end of the day, Varone says. Taking the 10 minutes or so to clean up your âofficeâ will reduce clutter. Ultimately, a clutter-free space can reduce your stress and boost your productivity.
âThat also has a benefit of becoming a little ritual and helping you say, âAll right, my workday is over,ââ Varone says. ââNow I can focus on my personal life.ââ
Choose your furniture wisely
Now that youâve found the perfect location for your home office on a budget, focus on finding the perfect work surface. Maybe itâs a traditional desk. Or it could be your dining room table or kitchen counter.
If you do need to buy a desk or chair, donât feel like you need to spend a fortune. Try looking for a used office furniture store or liquidator in your area, Varone recommends. You could even try searching online marketplaces for a gently used model.
When planning a home office and considering your work surface, what matters most is the height.
The average desk is 29 inches high, Loesing says. This will likely accommodate someone whoâs 5â8â, she acknowledges, but for everyone else? It will take some adjusting to make it fit for them.
Thatâs where your chair comes in. Most people donât need a high-end office swivel chair to work comfortably. As long as you can adjust the height of your chair to fit you and your desk, youâll have a comfortable setup.
Itâs important to adjust the height of your chair to achieve a neutral position, Loesing says. If you donât have the instructions from the manufacturer on how to adjust your model, try searching for videos online, she adds.
One more chair takeaway from Loesing?
âIf you canât spend a dime, at least get as comfortable as you can where youâre sitting, and sit all the way back in your chair,â Loesing says. âWhen you donât sit so your back is against the backrest, youâre using your back muscles all day long instead of them being at rest.â
Adjust your furniture and equipment
As you continue planning a home office, youâll likely find that your computer is your most important piece of equipment. But it can also lead to neck strain. Whether itâs a laptop or an external monitor, Loesing says screen placement is key. In fact, she says itâs the single most important feature to addressâas well as the most commonly disregarded one.
While you plan your home office, Loesing recommends keeping the following ergonomic guidelines in mind to help avoid neck strain:
Align your monitor so your eyes are level with the screen. (Thatâs typically about 4â from the top of the monitor.)
Place your feet flat on the floor and your knees at about a 90-degree angle with the ground.
Place your arms at about a 90-degree angle from the writing surface so your shoulders are relaxed.
If you only have a laptop, and no monitor, you still have options for raising your screen to eye-level. âThere are budget-friendly laptop risers on the market,â Loesing says. âIf you donât want to spend any money, you can place books or reams of paper to bring the screen up to eye level.â
When setting up a home office for remote work and thinking about your arm placement, note that Varone is a strong advocate for an external keyboard. If youâre working at a desk that has a keyboard tray built into it, thatâs a great way to keep your arms at about a 90-degree angle, she says. If you donât have a built-in tray, she says you can improvise by placing your keyboard on an inexpensive laptop table situated directly under your desk.
While the exact adjustments will vary depending on your equipment, height and budget, the focus is on acquiring a neutral position or a position where thereâs no strain on anything, Loesing says.
âWith the addition of standing desks, which encourage movement, employees often find they have significantly more energy at the end of the day.â
Stand if it suits you
If youâre intrigued by the idea of a standing desk, youâre not alone. Standing desk sales have soared over the last decade, buoyed by reports of the dangers of too much sitting.
âStatic postures (e.g., sitting all day in front of a computer) present more fatigue than dynamic working,â Loesing says. âWith the addition of standing desks, which encourage movement, employees often find they have significantly more energy at the end of the day.â
You donât have to buy an official standing desk to reap the benefits when planning a home office. âThe least expensive way would be to take a laptop and place it up high on a built-in high counter using a compact wireless keyboard and mouse,â Loesing says.
Even if you donât have a standing deskâmakeshift or otherwiseâyou can still incorporate movement and circulation into your workday. Set a timer to remind you to stand up and stretch every 20 minutes, Loesing suggests.
For an even better boost, combine this with a popular guideline known as the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, give your eyes a break by looking out a window at something at least 20 feet away, and do so for at least 20 seconds.
Donât forget the ambience and accessories
Your desk, chair and computer are the major players when youâre setting up a home office for remote work. But there are a few additional items to consider, like lighting, plants and sound.
Your overhead light fixture likely isnât enough, as it will create shadows and can be too weak by the time it reaches your workspace, Varone says. She recommends investing in a table lamp that creates a wider spread of light in your area. Pick one with a translucent shade that will softly diffuse the light and make it easier on your eyes.
As youâre planning your home office, Varone also recommends incorporating a potted plant or flower into your workspace. Not only can it help purify the air and boost your mood, a natural element can contribute to a restful atmosphere.
Working from home means working with home noisesâespecially if youâre in an environment with roommates, a partner or little ones. To keep the noise down, consider noise-canceling headphones for a quieter workspace and clearer meetings. Other budget-friendly options? Try placing a towel under the door to block out noise from other rooms, Loesing says. Consider curtains instead of blinds, since theyâre better at blocking out sound. Even pillows or large cushions can help reduce noise, she adds.
After youâve taken care of the essentials and if you have the space and money, think about adding a reading chair to your home office. You can use this as a space to review documents or do some deep thinking, Varone says. It can be a welcome respite from your desk while keeping you in the office area, she adds.
One last tip? Add a personal touch, whether itâs a framed family photo or a souvenir from your travels. Itâs your home office, after all. Let your personality shine.
Set up a home office for remote work that allows you to thrive
Now that you know how to create a home office on a budget, youâre ready to make a space that works well for you. Whether youâre an experienced remote worker or a newbie, you can apply these expert tips to set up an office thatâs functional and keeps you motivated day in and day out.
Ready to break in your new home office? Keep that motivation going by learning how to increase your earning potential this year.
The post Planning a Home Office? Check Out These Budget-Friendly Tips appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
With so many of us dealing with the coronavirus pandemic (plus the financial fallout from it) and spending more time at home this year, thereâs a very good chance your family budget looks different. Our own budget had some big adjustments (transportation costs went down to basically nothing) along with some minor changes (buying supplies and items around the house for projects).
Our money dates have had us reevaluate some things and redirect money to other expenses and savings. Besides making sure that youâre taking care of essential expenses and building up your financial cushion, you want to want to make sure you include another key area in your budget – some guilt-free spending in there as well.
Why Budgets Need to Include Some Guilt-Free Spending
First off what exactly is guilt-free spending? And why should families include it when planning out their budget. Basically, it covers the expenses that you enjoy. Every family has different ways they use that money. It could be travel, eating out together, adding another pair of shoes to your collection, or gadgets. With families having to deal with so many decisions and challenges, there has been an increasing awareness of having proper self-care as part of the routine. Families are now including that in their budgets.
The key part of keeping these expenses guilt-free is that they bring you joy without breaking the bank. These arenât frivolous spending sprees. They can be meaningful purchases such as supplies for a hobby like painting that enriches your life. Second, these expenses are planned ahead of time and baked into your budget so youâre not taking on debt or upsetting your familyâs cash flow.
Why Budgets Typically Fail
One of the reasons why I think having some fun money in your budget is a wise move is because itâll help make your budget more sustainable. How? If I asked you what the point of a budget is, what would you say? Most tell me itâs to keep their spending in check.
It makes sense to believe that because for most families thatâs what itâs about – restrictions. However, the best budgets Iâve seen are geared towards the direction of the money. Iâve interviewed families who have retired early or have knocked out a ton of debt and something they had in common was that their budgets reflected their priorities and circumstances.
Before they put pen to paper (or tap the app), they sat down and defined what goals they wanted to achieve. If you had to break down a budget the three key areas are basically:
Paying your essential bills.
Building long term financial stability.
Have the money you can use now to enjoy.
Many times, the disagreements, arguments, and sometimes sabotage with budgets come from friction on finding a balance between spending money with long term stability and enjoying now. If you skew too much to saving up for the future, one or more of you in the family could start getting resentful. Financial infidelity or set back with keeping the budget can occur for many reasons, but some spouses say one reason is thereâs absolutely no wiggle room in the budget for fun. If youâre only focused on the now when something comes up – hello 2020! – youâre left without a safety net.
For families with kids, thatâs an additional source of stress they donât need.Â I noticed that the families who hit their goals had found a way to balance things. They save towards their long term goals as well as set aside money to enjoy now. How? By redoing how they approached their budgets.
Easy Budget Framework to Use
Letâs go back to those three key goals of any budget – taking care of essentials, saving for the future, and spending on the present. Families looking to include all of these goals need a budget that can weave them together. If youâre just starting out with a budget and are still trying to figure out a framework, an easy foundational budget is the 50/20/30 budget. It divides up your money into those three key goals, with 50% going to necessary expenses, 20% towards financial stability and wealth, and 30% towards discretionary or fun money.
Feel free to adjust the percentages based on your circumstances, but for many families that three-bucket approach is easy enough to set up and it gives them enough wiggle room where there can enjoy some of their money now. Once youâve created that budget, you can then take the next step – automating your money. Weâve done this for over a decade and it has been incredibly helpful. We have our bills automated every paycheck plus our savings and investments are scheduled monthly. With those necessary things taken care of first, we know whatever spending we do wonât harm our expenses.
Staying on Top of Your and Budget – The Easy Way
Now that you have a budget and youâre including some guilt-free spending, how do you make sure youâre staying on track? There are some wonderful options out there including money apps like Mint. You can stay on top of your money without losing your mind because the apps can pull that data from your accounts and give you an easy and clear way to see where your money is going. You can also use Mint to track your goals like paying down debt or saving up for a house. With that information in front of you can quickly and easily see how youâre doing anytime.
Another handy tool with Mint is how simple it is to set up alerts on certain spending. So if you have set aside $200 for your âfunâ account, Mint can notify you when your spending is getting close to your limit. Itâs a more proactive and real-time way to manage your money without having to worry about every single penny.
Your Take on Budgets
As you can see, with a little planning you can be financially savvy and enjoy some fun now. Iâd love to get your thoughts – how do you approach your budget? What are some must-have expenses in yours?
The post How to Include Some Guilt-Free Spending in Your Budget appeared first on MintLife Blog.
Maybe you want to lose those stubborn 10 pounds, score a big promotion or run your first marathon. Whatever your priority, it all starts with setting a goal.
Financial priorities are no different. Whether you want to save for your child’s college education or get yourself out of debt, budgeting to help reach your financial goals allows you to determine what’s most important to you, make a plan to attain those goals and hold yourself accountable for success.
Still, when it comes to managing your money, knowing how to set financial goals and sticking to them can feel like opposite sides of the same coin. You might even find yourself asking, “How do I create a simple budget to reach my financial goals?” If you follow these three steps, you could be crossing the finish line in record time:
1. Pick a day to get started
Sometimes the hardest part of tackling a new project is simply getting started, especially if your to-do list feels like it’s never ending. There’s always tomorrow, or the day after that… right? To create a simple budget to help you reach your financial goals, pick a day and time to get started. Consider picking a time when you do your best thinking, are most focused and least likely to get interrupted. Maybe it’s Sunday morning over breakfast and coffee before kicking off a day of chores or on a weeknight after the kids go to bed.
Once you’ve landed on the best time to sit down and create a simple budget, add it to the calendar and schedule reminders on your computer or phone to hold yourself accountable.
2. Create a simple budget, however complex your finances
Chances are your finances are pretty complicated, with lots of moving parts. Things seem to be moving along nicely with your regular expenses like rent, groceries, transportation and entertainment… and then your carburetor goes kaput in your car and you must replace it right away. Or that toothache has become unbearable and requires a root canalâand you’ll have to cover some of the expense out of pocket. Just when you’re finally making a dent in paying down your debt and getting your finances on track, life throws you some curveballs. But that doesn’t mean you can’t create a simple budget.
One of the easiest ways to create a simple budget and stay on track is to follow the 50-20-30 rule:
50 percent of your income should address your needs, such as housing, utilities, healthcare and transportation;
20 percent should be put toward your financial goals, like building your savings and paying off debt;
30 percent should cover your wants or discretionary expenses, like shopping, entertainment and dining out.
Managing your finances with the 50-20-30 is a good first step when you’re first learning how to create a budget, but trying to deal with multiple financial goals within that 20 percent bucket can be overwhelming. When it comes to budgeting to help reach your financial goals, certified financial planner Jim White suggests taking your financial goals one step at a time.
“Make a simple plan to tackle debtâor maybe just one debtâthen when that goal is accomplished, work on a simple plan for the next debt,” White suggests. “A bunch of small victories goes a long way to changing your financial discipline and gives you a boost to keep moving forward,” White adds.
Similar to how you picked a day to begin the budgeting process, make a habit out of managing your finances by picking one day of the week and checking in with yourself at a scheduled time. After about two months, budgeting to help reach your financial goals can become habit forming. “When you focus on your goals on the same day every week, you are creating a habit, and a pattern, to follow,” says Karen Ford, financial coach and motivational speaker.
Budgeting to help reach your financial goals becomes even more effective when you’re reviewing your priorities every seven days and making adjustments to your spending and saving as needed.
“Make a simple plan to tackle debtâor maybe just one debtâthen when that goal is accomplished, work on a simple plan for the next debt. A bunch of small victories goes a long way to changing your financial discipline and gives you a boost to keep moving forward.”
3. Automate your financial plan
Now that you know how to set financial goalsâwhether it’s paying down debt, saving up for a car or putting money away for retirementâwhat’s next? Time to get moving! One way to do that is to automate your finances. By setting up automatic bill pay and account transfers, it will be easier to stick to your plan for paying monthly expenses and contributing to savings.
When it comes to paying your bills and learning how to set financial goals, consider automating the bills that you pay regularly, especially those that fall within the 50 percent budget category that covers your living essentials. To gain momentum with your savings progress, set up automatic transfers from your checking account to your savings account for the amount you wish to save each month. If your financial goal is retirement, you could even set up automatic transfers to an individual retirement account (IRA) so you’re consistently making progress. You could also arrange to have a portion of your paycheck automatically go into savingsâbefore you even have time to miss it.
By making automatic contributions to your savings accounts, you are “subscribing to the idea of paying yourself first,” says Riley Adams, CPA and blogger for Young and the Invested, a professional’s guide to financial independence. “By doing this, it removes the temptation to spend and takes any lack of discipline out of the picture,” Adams says.
Keep in mind that any time you automate your finances as part of creating a simple budget, you should monitor your accounts regularly. Check in to make sure your automated settings are up to date, that you always have the funds available in your accounts to cover your expenses and transfers and that your savings are growing according to your plan.
How to set financial goals in 3 steps
Once you find time to focus on your finances, create a simple budget and automate your payments and transfers, budgeting to help reach your financial goals is one habit that is sure to stick. By following these three rules and keeping yourself on track, you’ll be ready to build a solid foundation for your financial future.
The post How to Set Financial Goalsâand Crush Them appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
Having medical supplies in your apartment just makes good sense. A well-stocked first-aid kit can help you respond effectively to common injuries and emergencies, according to the Mayo Clinic . Especially when an urgent need for an adhesive bandage or ice pack happens.
Why not be prepared and tailor a first aid kit to meet your everyday needs? A homemade first aid kit for minor emergencies lets you pick and choose all the must-haves. It doesn’t need to cost a slew of bucks either. Start your medicinal scavenger hunt at your local dollar store, where you’ll likely be surprised by the inventory.
The first step, determine your budget. Spend between $10 and $20 and have plenty of handy essentials right at your fingertips. Your first aid kit can be easily stored neatly in a pantry, or beneath the sink in your kitchen or bathroom.
We’ve organized a list of basics to help you get your homemade first aid kit ready for use.
1. Pain relievers
Generic-brand pain relievers come in many formats such as gel, lotion and patches. Use pain relievers for headaches and to reduce swelling. Find them for less at discount stores.
You can also look for brand name pain relievers at your favorite big-box retailer, drug store or pharmacy. If you have a rewards card at your drug store, you can also look for two-for-one deals on the pain relievers that work best for you.
2. Reusable ice packs
Reusable ice packs, which you can store in the freezer, are musts for your first aid kit. They should be your go-to to reduce swelling from bumps and twists.
If you need an ice pack immediately but don’t have one that’s cold, make an investment and buy instant cold packs. They’re easy to use: Snap the seal inside or squeeze the pack and they get cold in an instant! Just be sure to look for ones that are non-toxic.
3. Protective gloves
Be cautious about cleanliness. Try to keep a wound that requires attention clean of germs by picking up non-latex gloves. Look for deals. Sometimes, they come in multi-packs.
4. Minor wound dressing
Think of what you might need to dress minor wounds from accidental falls or burns from cooking. The list could include:
Cute band-aids for littles
Bandage strips and “butterfly” bandages in assorted sizes
5. Hydrogen peroxide
You can shop for hydrogen peroxide at the dollar store of choice. You can also save there on musts like hand sanitizer and non-latex gloves for whoever is administering the first aid.
Be sure to have items you use every day, including cotton balls and swabs. They’ll serve double-duty in the bathroom for everything from ear cleaning to makeup removal.
Look for tweezers for splinter removal in the health and beauty section. Get small scissors for cutting bandages or gauze to the right length, too.
To know for sure if someone is running a fever, you should pick up a thermometer and add it to the kit’s mix. Some digital varieties even come with disposable plastic sleeves. These are great if you have more than one child whose temperature must be taken.
9. First aid box or case
Check the automotive and household aisles and you might score a small, sectioned case with a snap-lock to store everything in.
10. First aid manual
It’s also helpful to include a first aid manual in your kit as a guide for treating minor injuries and wounds. Look for one with instructions on performing CPR and diagrams of how to perform the Heimlich maneuver, in the event of choking.
Need more stuff?
For more extensive homemade first aid kits, you’ll probably have to stray outside the bounds of the dollar store. Head to your local pharmacy or supermarket to pick up extra items.
Now that you’ve created a first aid kit for your apartment, you’re a pro! Create a second first aid kit to keep in your car. You never know when it could come in handy.
The post 10 Essentials for a Homemade First Aid Kit appeared first on Apartment Living Tips – Apartment Tips from ApartmentGuide.com.
Back to school season is in full swing, and that means your kids will be coming home with more and more homework. They will need a productive space to study, and your home office can be a good option. But the office may need a few essentials before itâs ready for the school year.
Get Good Lighting
Studying in the dark can strain your eyes or put you to sleep. To avoid the likelihood of snoozing during study time, youâll want to have adequate lighting. Add a small desk lamp, a floor lamp, or a brighter bulb in your overhead lighting.
Your kids will ideally spend a lot of time studying in the office. Make it comfortable. Invest in a good chair or a lumbar support cushion.
Keep Supplies Within Reach
Your kids may need pens, pencils, paper clips, glue sticks, and all of the things on their long back to school shopping list. Try to fit the necessary supplies in arms reach. Set up pencil holders on the desk surface, or dedicate a drawer to school supplies. If they can simply grab what they need, theyâll be likely to save time and stay on track.
People are more productive when they work in an organized space. So instead of throwing supplies and papers anywhere, make sure everything has a place. Invest in folders, binders, and a file cabinet (and make sure the entire family uses them).
Creative work is done best in a visually pleasing space, so donât skimp when it comes to interior design. Personalize the space and make it one where your family actually enjoys spending time.
Get your home office in shape. Your entire family may be more productive as a result.
The post Back to School: Home Office Essentials first appeared on Century 21Â®.
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 youâre serious about your money. Maybe you even have some financial goals in mind.
The end result will bring you peace of mind. But if youâre creating a budget for the first time, remember that budgets will vary by individual and family. Itâs important to set up a budget thatâs 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 thingâs 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 shouldnât stop there. Once youâve 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
Youâll 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
Rent or mortgage payment.
Living expenses like utilities (electric, gas and water bills), internet and phone.
Car payment and transportation costs.
Insurance (car, life, health).
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.
Donât forget to account for expenses you donât 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.
Review all of your bank account statements for the past 12 months to make sure you donât miss periodic expenses like quarterly insurance premiums.
Donât 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 â 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, itâs time to make some adjustments to meet your goals.
How to Cut Your Expenses
If you are overspending each month, donât 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. Youâll save money by planning and prepping recipes for the week that use many of the same ingredients. Use the circulars to see whatâs 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 youâre 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 youâll 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 youâve 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 donât forget to remind yourself of your financial goal when youâre craving Starbucks at 3 p.m. But remember that itâs OK to treat yourself â occasionally.
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 donât 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 wonât 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 doesnât mean you canât 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 youâre 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.Â
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, itâs 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. Itâs 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. Itâs also beneficial for those living to paycheck to paycheck.
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
A reminder NOT to spend.
Grocery Shopping – How far away is your usual store?
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 canât 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 youâre 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.
Some of the links in this post are from our sponsors. We provide you with accurate, reliable information. Learn more about how we make money and select our advertising partners.
Take a moment. Think about being your best self â living your best life.
What do you really want to do with your life? Raise a happy family? Travel the world? Buy a nice house? Start your own business?
Reality check: To accomplish any of those things, youâre going to need to know how to save money.
Unfortunately, Americans are bad at saving money, and weâre getting worse. Thanks to rising costs, stagnant salaries and student loan debt, weâre saving less than ever.
Table of ContentsÂ
Step 1: Develop Savings Goals and Strategies
Step 2: Pick Budgeting and Debt Repayment Methods
Step 3: Choose a Financial Institution and Accounts
Step 4: Automate Your Finances
Step 5: Establish a Budget-Conscious Lifestyle
Step 6: Make More Money
Here Are Our Best Tips to Save Money
Are you ready to actually start saving money? What youâre reading is a step-by-step guide on how to do it â how to come up with savings strategies, choose a budgeting method, pick the right financial institution, automate your finances and live a budget-conscious lifestyle.
Pour yourself a cup of coffee and buckle up. Itâs time to get serious about this.
Step 1: Develop Savings Goals and Strategies
Youâre probably asking yourself, âHow much should I save?â
Your first move is to set specific savings goals for yourself â emphasis on specific. Naming your goals will make them more real to you. Itâll help you resist the temptation to spend your money on other stuff.
Think Long Term and Short Term
What exactly do you want to save money for? How much will you need to save? And what do you need to save for first? Think short- and long-term:
Short-term: Save for a real vacation or nice holiday gifts. But first, save enough to have a decent emergency fund â three to six monthsâ worth of living expenses, in case you run into an unexpected car-repair bill or lose your job, for example.
Long-term: This involves big-picture thinking. Here, youâre saving money for things like your childrenâs college fund or for your retirement plan.
Analyze Your Income
How much can you realistically save for these goals, now that youâre making them a priority?
Write down your income and expenses â all of your expenses, from utility bills to your Netflix subscription.Â There are probably more ways to save money than you realize. Donât forget your student loans or credit card debt. Make sure you know what youâre spending in every budget category. Pay special attention to what youâre spending on non-essentials, such as eating out.
An easy way to automate this process is to use Trim, a little bot thatâll keep track of all your transactions.
Connect your checking account, credit card and savings account for a big-picture look at your spending habits. Then, take a closer look by checking out each of your transactions. Set alerts thatâll let you know when bills are due, when youâve hit a spending cap or when youâve (hopefully not) overdrafted. This will help you stick with your savings plan.
Check in on Your Credit
Do your own credit check. Keeping tabs on your credit score and your credit reports can help guide you to a financially healthier life â especially if you use a free credit-monitoring service like Credit Sesame. It gives you personalized suggestions for improving your credit.
The better your credit, the better off youâll be when youâre getting a home or car loan. Credit Sesame can estimate how big a mortgage you might qualify for, for example.
Hereâs our ultimate guide to using Credit Sesame.
Step 2: Pick Budgeting and Debt Repayment Methods
Itâs time to start making a monthly budget and sticking to it â especially if you have debt.
This way, you can put savings right into your budget. Itâs never an afterthought.
Here are five different budgeting methods. We canât tell you which one to choose. Be honest with yourself, and choose the one you think is most likely to work for you. This is how to save money on a tight budget.
The 50/30/20 Rule
This one was popularized by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a bankruptcy expert, and her business-executive daughter Amelia Warren Tyagi.
Split your income into three spending categories: 50% goes to essential bills and monthly expenses, 20% toward financial goals and 30% to personal spending (all the stuff you like to spend money on but donât really need). Put the money earmarked for your financial goals into a separate savings account.
Good for: People who worry they wonât have a life if theyâre on a budget. Hereâs our complete guide to 50/30/20 budgeting.
So-called envelope budgeting is traditionally a cash-only budget. Every month, you use cash for different categories of spending, and you keep that cash for each category in separate envelopes â labeled for groceries, housing, phone, etc.
Prefer plastic? Hereâs our review of Mvelopes, an app that lets you digitize this method.
Good for: People who know they need help with self-control. If thereâs nothing left in one envelope toward the end of the month, thereâs no more money to spend on that category, period.
Hereâs how you draw up this budget: Your income minus your expenses (including savings) equals zero. This way, you have to justify every expense.
Good for: People who need a simple, straightforward method that accounts for every dollar. Hereâs our guide to the zero-based budget.
This debt-repayment method helps you budget when you have debt. Pay off your debts with the highest interest rates first â most likely your credit cards. Doing that can save you a lot of money over time.
Good for: People with a lot of credit card debt. Credit cards generally charge you higher interest than other lenders do. Learn more about the debt avalanche method here.
Money management guru Dave Ramsey champions the debt snowball method of debt repayment. Pay off your debts with the smallest balances first. This allows you to eliminate debts from your list faster, which can motivate you to keep going.
Good for: People who owe a lot of different kinds of debts â credit cards, student loans, etc. â and who need motivation. Hereâs how to use the debt snowball method to eliminate debt.
FROM THE DEBT FORUM
Eviction on credit report
Helping Covid-19 Victims
Struggling to pay debt or going bankrupt
Can’t afford car loan
See more in Debt or ask a money question
Step 3: Choose a Financial Institution and Accounts
You might be thinking, I already have a bank. And of course you do. If youâre like most of us, youâve had the same bank for years.
Most people donât give this a second thought. They figure itâs too inconvenient to switch. But itâs worth shopping around for a better option, because where you bank can make a real difference in how much you save.
What to Look for in a Bank Account
Does your checking account pay you interest? What are the fees like? What other perks does it offer?
Did you know the biggest U.S. banks are collecting more than $6 billion a year in overdraft and ATM fees?
Maybe itâs time to try another financial institution. Weâve found some great online bank accounts to help you avoid fees and get features you wonât find with the brick-and-mortar banks.
Hereâs one example: Thereâs a mobile baking app calledÂ Varo Money.
The FDIC reports that the average savings account pays a paltry .08% APY*, but when you open an online checking and savings account with Varo, it will pay you more than 20 times that amount on your savings account.Â
We know opening a new bank account isnât exactly everyoneâs idea of fun, but Varo makes it easy. You can open an account with just a penny, and more than 750,000 people have already signed up.
Oh, and there are no monthly fees.Â
Want more options? Hereâs our ultimate guide to help you choose the right account.
To free up more money for savings, try to spend less paying interest on your debts â especially if you have high-interest credit card debt.
These days, credit card interest rates often climb north of 20%. How can you avoid paying all that interest? Your best bet is to cut back on your expenses and pay off your balance as soon as you realistically can.
Start by using the right credit card for you, based on your situation and needs. Would you prefer a card that gives you cash back or travel incentives, a balance-transfer card, or a card thatâll help you build credit?
Also consider paying off your high-interest debt with a low-interest personal loan. Itâs easier than you might think. Go window-shopping at an online marketplace for personal loans. Here are some weâve test-driven for you:
AmOneÂ allows you to compare rates side-by-side from multiple lenders who are competing against each other for your business. Itâs best for borrowers who have good credit scores and just want to consolidate their debt.
Fiona is also a marketplace but allows you to borrow more money and borrow it for a longer period of time â if thatâs what you want to do.
Upstart tends to be helpful for recent grads, who have a young credit history and a mound of student debt. It can help you find a loan without relying on only your conventional credit score.
Step 4: Automate Your Finances
Thatâs right. Weâre deep into the 21st century, here, so make technology do the work for you.
The best ways to save include automation. Youâll save time, and time is money. Here are a few money-management steps you can take today to ensure you wonât have to think about money for more than a few minutes every month.Â
Automate Bill Pay
Most bills are paid online now, reports the Credit Union Times. But you can take it a step further. Set it up so youâll receive and pay all of your bills online through your bank. That simplifies things so youâll never miss a payment.
Hereâs how: Go to your bankâs online bill-pay feature. Enter all the companies that bill you, and the account numbers for each. Arrange to receive e-bills from whichever billers will do that.
You can also have your bank send digital payments to individuals (like a landlord).
Whatever you need done financially, thereâs an app for that. Weâve put several to the test.
Digit is an automated savings platform that calculates how much money you can save. Hereâs our review of Digit.
Long Game Savings combines online games and saving money.
Also, see whether your bank offers automatic savings transfers that will move money from your checking account to your savings account each month.
You donât have to be Warren Buffett to be an investor. You donât even have to follow the stock market, read The Wall Street Journal or watch CNBC.
You can take advantage of these apps offering easy, automatic ways to start investing â the âset it and forget itâ method. Theyâre useful for tricking your brain into saving more. Youâll do it without even realizing youâre doing it.
Stash lets you start investing with as little as $5 and for just a $1 monthly fee for balances under $5,000. Bonus: Penny Hoarders get $5 just for signing up!
Acorns connects to your checking account, credit and debit cards to save your digital change. It automatically rounds up purchases with your connected cards and invests the digital change into your chosen portfolio. Bonus: Penny Hoarders get $5 just for signing up! Read our full review of Acorns here.
Blooom is a company that offers a free âhealth check-upâ for your 401(k). Then, for only $10 a month (Penny Hoarders get the first month free!), itâll optimize and manage your retirement savings for you. See how Blooom helped one Penny Hoarder make the most of her 401(k).
You can automate your budget, too. Thereâs an app for that. Actually, weâve found several.
Charlie is a money-saving penguin who lives in your SMS text messages or Facebook Messenger (your choice, though Charlie is more fun and reliable on Messenger). He helps you save money through things like making sure youâre getting the best deals around (ahem, overpaying $24 a month on that cell phone bill?).
Mint lets you see all your accounts, cards, bills and investments in one place.
Medean for iOS ranks your finances based on how they stack up to those of people of similar age, income, location and gender. It calls itself a âhealth index for your finances,â and helps assess your situation and find ways to save money.
MoneyLion offers rewards to help you develop healthy financial habits and will literally pay you for logging onto the app. You can earn points in the rewards program by paying bills on time, connecting your bank account or downloading the mobile app.
Step 5: Establish a Budget-Conscious Lifestyle
Hereâs the harsh reality: To save more money, youâll need to spend less money. (Or make more money, but weâll get to that next.)
That doesnât mean you have to live like a monk. Nor do you have to survive on ramen noodles and the dollar menu, wear scuffed shoes and patchy clothes, or cut your own hair with hedge clippers.
You just have to be smart and strategic. Here are some of our best tips to help you spend less:
Save Money Around the House
Your home is your castle. But castles are so, like, expensive. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to save money around the house.
Your priciest purchases â like appliances and furniture â are a natural place to look for savings. Try repairing your appliances instead of replacing them. And hereâs a good list of other tricks for saving on furniture and appliances.
The cost of cooling, heating and lighting your home is massive. Try installing thermal curtains and a programmable thermostat. Or check out these creative, energy-saving ways to slash your utility bills.
Find Free Entertainment
Entertainment can cost an arm and a leg. But hey, we have to live, right? So do it for free! Next time youâre planning a night out, take advantage of one of these free date nights or group outings.
If youâre going to stay in, cut the cord. More and more people are doing this, because their cable bill has gotten so expensive.
If youâre thinking of switching to an online streaming service and youâre wondering which would be best, weâve got you covered with our comparison of Netflix, Prime Video and Hulu. We compared costs, type of content, number of available titles and more.
You also should reconsider that gym membership if youâre not really using it.
Cut Your Food Budget
Groceries are a huge part of everyoneâs budget, so theyâre a big target for savings. Next time youâre putting together your shopping list, make sure to check out our favorite tricks to save money at the grocery store:
Look for free printable coupons.
Compare your local grocery prices using this worksheet.
Ibotta pays you cash back on purchases if you take pictures of your grocery store receipts. Plus, youâll get a $10 bonus for signing up!
Scan grocery storesâ websites for deals and hit more than one store.
Not loving the supermarket? Nearly 70% of us say we spend too much on take-out or going out to eat. Hereâs how to save money at restaurants, too.
Find out If Youâre Wasting Money on Insurance
Buying insurance can be confusing and overwhelming, because there are so many options.
Hereâs how to find affordable insurance:
For Your Car: Auto Insurance
Here are the blunt facts about how to get lower car insurance premiums: Have fewer accidents, get fewer traffic tickets and boost your credit score.
Automotive experts also gave us the following tips:
Buy a used car.
Participate in your insurerâs safe-driving program.
Shop around for better rates. One easy way is The Zebra, a car insurance search engine that compares your options from more than 200 providers in less than 60 seconds. Hereâs how one guy is saving $360 this year on car insurance because of The Zebra.
For Yourself: Health Insurance
Letâs face it: Health insurance can be confusing and intimidating.
If youâre buying insurance for yourself, start with the federal health insurance marketplace at Healthcare.gov to see whether you qualify for any discounts or assistance.
Finding affordable health care coverage is a huge challenge for freelancers. Hereâs how to get covered if youâre self-employed.
For Your Family: Life Insurance
Life insurance pays your dependents a set amount of money if you die. Whether to buy it is a judgment call.
Life insurance is considered more important if youâre married or have children. You might also want a basic policy that would pay off your funeral, mortgage or other debt.
Youâll probably be asked to choose between two options: term or universal life insurance. If youâre like most of us, youâll choose term â the simplest, cheapest and most popular kind of life insurance policy.
To help you save money and navigate this complicated industry, modern companies are updating the old model:
Policygenius is an online-only platform that offers instant quotes from top carriers to help you make a quicker decision.Â Once you choose a life insurance company, you can apply right online, and a Policygenius rep will give you a quick call to ask a few follow-up questions.
Haven Life can insure you quickly based just on the health information you provide online.
Ethos can get you term life insurance in less than 10 minutes â with no medical exam â for coverage up to $1 million. Ethos offers a digital application, and customer service is available if you have questions.
Step 6: Make More Money
How can you increase your income? Itâs easier to save money if youâre bringing in more money to begin with.
Here are a couple of simple ways to make extra cash at home:
Share Your Opinion
You wonât get rich taking surveys, but if youâre just vegging out on the couch, why not click a couple buttons and earn a few bucks? Weâve tried a lot of paid survey sites, and two of the best weâve found are My PointsÂ andÂ InboxDollars.
Clear Your Closets
Sell your old stuff! Use the Decluttr app to get paid for your old DVDs, Blu-Rays, CDs, video games, gaming consoles and phones.
You can also sell nearly anything through the Letgo app. Just snap a photo of your item and set up a listing in about 30 seconds. If you have more free time, try selling items on Craigslist or eBay.
Find a Side Gig
For our best ideas to boost your bottom line, check out the following:
Unique ways to make money at home.
How to make extra money online.
How to earn passive income.
The Penny Hoarderâs continually updated page on open work-from-home jobs.
Mike Brassfield (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Heâs slowly getting better about saving money.
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.