Week 6 of Budget 101

Part 6: Save on the Special Things

Vacations.  Birthdays.  Holidays.  We know they’re coming, and yet it is so easy to blow our budgets just because “it’s a special occasion.”  If you’re still with me after all this time, you should be starting to feel pretty good about your budget.  After all, you’ve been able to make a distinction between your wants and needs, you’ve set a budget for yourself, and hopefully found ways to save some money on the big things (like housing & insurance), the necessary things (like utilities & groceries), & even the fun things (like shoes and wine!)

(NOTE: Before we go any further, if you are new to my blog or missed out on the last five weeks, you might want to start at Week 1 of Budget 101 before starting this week’s assignment!)

If there is no leeway in your budget for those things that only come up once in a while, you may find yourself seriously strapped for cash when the time comes.  Since holidays, birthdays, & vacations are terrible times to be worried about money, it is best to plan ahead.

This week’s assignment:

Keeping your online buying hidden

1. Set a Special Occasions Budget.

Sitting down and actually writing down how much you can afford to spend is a giant step towards saving money in this area.  Too often we get caught up in wanting to “splurge” for something special, but those splurges can catch up with us!  After all, there are a LOT of special occasions throughout the year!  By looking at them as a whole, rather than a once-in-a-while thing, it is easer to see the big picture.  It is also easier to set limits for ourselves when we are not caught up in the moment!

2. Find ways to save throughout the year.

I realized during my college years that coupons DO work. The key to saving lots of money with coupons is to buy things when they are at their rock bottom price, then stock up for when you need them.  This method of shopping has easily been carried over to the rest of my life, and has saved me a lot of money in the long run.

The more you plan ahead & buy things when they are cheapest, and not when they are most convenient, the better off you will be.  Stock up on items for the next year in the post-holiday clearance sales or buy toys & other gifts in bulk when you find a great special.

You can also keep in your purse or wallet, a list of people or occasions you know you will need to buy gifts for in the next year. Make sure it includes how much you have budgeted to spend.

3.  Be on the lookout for good deals!

Once again, this is more of an ongoing assignment, and once again keep in mind there are always going to be more bargains available than you can afford to spend. Stick to the list and to your budget. Last week I listed several of my favorite places to score great deals; those same places apply here.

4.  Shop around & compare prices

This almost goes without saying, but is especially important when you are booking vacation travel!  Because prices fluctuate so much, there are no hard, and fast rules about where to find the best travel deal.  The only constant is that prices change a LOT, so shop around!

If you are traveling to a specific destination, be sure to price out all your different options, and to check a variety of travel sites before you book.  Don’t assume that package prices will be cheaper–sometimes they will and sometimes they won’t– be sure to check smaller, independent airlines in addition to larger travel sites when booking flights.

On the other hand, if you just want to get a great deal on a vacation but aren’t too particular about where you go, you may want to check out some of the daily deal sites like Groupon, Eversave, Totsy, & Living Social that offer vacation deals.  Additionally, Jet Setter is a daily deal site that exclusively offers high end vacation deals for a fraction of the normal price.

5.  Start Working On Handmade Gifts

Consider handmade gifts for as many people as possible.  With more time to plan, you also have more time to put together something really special.  Even better, those gifts will probably mean a lot more–it truly is the THOUGHT that counts!
Even if you’re not that creative on your own, the internet is full of amazing handmade gift ideas.
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And that’s all for this week!!!!! Stay tuned for next week’s saving challenge next Sunday.

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4th of July Shooters

Celebrate this 4th of July with this flight of three tasty red, white and blue shooters, or as some call them, shots!

America.  Land of the free, because of the brave.  We are a country that certainly has our issues, but we always manage to bond together and work through them.  Always united.  All of our blemishes and accomplishments are what make us the great country that we are.  Always growing, always changing.

The fourth of July is less than a week away! Oh how that crept up on me.  These three shots are not only festive, but also taste delicious!  They take tequila, vodka, and silver rum to a whole new level.  The best part about them is that they can also be made into drinks too if shooters aren’t your style.

The Red

1oz Vodka

.5oz DeKuyper Watermelon Pucker

1oz Cranberry Juice

Pour all ingredients into a shaker with ice.  Shake and strain into a large shot glass. This shot tastes like a gummy bear!

The White

1oz coconut Rum (I prefer Malibu but if not available, Bacardi Coconut)

.5oz Lime juice

1oz Sprite

Pour all ingredients into a shaker with ice.  Shake and strain into a large shot glass. This shot is super refreshing

The Blue

1oz Patron or Jose Cuervo Silver Tequila ……Silver, not Gold!!!

.5oz Lime juice

.25 (literally a splash) of Simple Syrup …..Not Maple, Simple Syrup. Its clear and specifically for drinks.

.5oz DeKuyper Blue Curacao

Pour all ingredients into a shaker with ice. Salt the rim of shooter glass. Shake mixture and strain into salted glass. This shot is probably the strongest of them all but the salt, lime and simple syrup help take the edge off the tequila.

Enjoy and remember, Drink Responsibly!

Week 5 of Budget 101

Part 5: Save on the Fun Things

Finally, a topic that we actually WANT to think about.  Or maybe that’s just me! 🙂 Saving on the all the things we MUST spend money on, is in all actuality as important as tedious, to say the least.

(NOTE: Before we go any further, if you are new to Through The Eyes Of I, or missed out on the last four weeks, you might want to start at Week 1: Stop Spending before starting this week’s assignment!)
 

If we’re being perfectly honest, which of these two scenarios would make you do the happy dance:

a.) You were able to negotiate a .3 percentage point drop in your mortgage rate

b.) You found the cutest pair of designer shoes that ever existed on clearance for 90% off AND you had an additional 10% off coupon AND the only pair left was in your size.  It was like the heavens opened up and the shoe gods named you the Chosen One.

(Hint: If you picked (b), this might be the wrong guide to savings for you.)

But there is a very important distinction between (a) and (b).  The first scenario is an actual savings–additional money in your pocket that would otherwise be gone.  The second scenario, while a “good deal,” is NOT really saving you any money.  Those perfect shoes will still cost you something, even if it is far less than the original price.

You are spending, not saving.

Last week we methodically tackled saving on all those pesky things we have to spend money on each month–food, utilities, & gas–whether we want to or not.  Hopefully once you started looking, you found that there were plenty of tweaks you could make to squeeze the most out of your budget.

This week we are going to focus on saving money on the things we want to buy, but don’t necessarily need to buy.

Remember the exercise from Week One? Well let’s face it, although the most obvious answer to saving money in this category is simply to stop spending money on things we don’t need, it’s probably not a very realistic option for most people, including myself.

So what’s a girl (or guy) to do?  As hard as it may be (especially for those of us who want instant gratification), there is a very simple way to save on everything you buy:

Wait for the best price.

Everything goes on sale eventually, it is just a matter of being patient. It is such a simple concept, and yet so hard to follow sometimes for many people.

This week’s assignment:

  •  Stop shopping mindlessly.

If this one doesn’t apply to you, feel free to skip to #2, but for some of us (and WE know who WE are), shopping is more than just a means to an end, it is how we fill our time. Regardless of how much we try to convince ourselves that we’re “just looking,” or “window shopping,” eventually the temptation becomes too great, and we buy things we not only don’t need, we end up with things we don’t even really want.  No matter how good the sale, if we buy something we don’t need OR want, it isn’t a good deal, and we are NOT saving money!  Save your pennies for the things you want, and find another way to fill your day! We do not want make any more poor decisions.

  •  Figure out what you really want

Make a list of all the things you want to buy.  Clothes, shoes, new TV, car, blender, professional family portraits, house, new couch, etc. Next to each item, indicate how soon you want/need it, (i.e. “sometime in the next 5 years,” “for my cousin’s wedding next week,” “this October.”), as well as how much you want to spend.  The goal is to aim low, not high, giving yourself a goal to shoot for and a reason NOT to spend more than you have to.  Try to limit your list to no more than 10 items at a time.  If something doesn’t make your top 9, then you probably don’t want it that badly!  Save your money for the things you truly want.

  •  Be on the lookout for good deals!

This is more of an ongoing assignment.  Wish list in hand, you are now free to search for bargains.  But BE CAREFUL.  There are always going to be more bargains available than you can afford to spend.  Stick to the list and to the things you really want.  Diligence truly does pay off, and if you continue looking, you will almost always find what you want at a price you like.  The internet and the use of apps are almost an endless source of bargains, but here are some of my favorite places to look for deals:

Amazon Gold Box –I have found some of my best deals this way. There are Deals of the Day and Lightning Deals which often feature products for 75% or more off the regular retail price.  Even better, you can sign up for Amazon Mom (for free!) and get FREE 2 day shipping on almost everything including 20% off diaper subscriptions.

Amazon is also one of my favorite places to find great deals. You can find almost anything, and if you sign up for Amazon Prime, you get access to thousands of movies, and music for free and the ability to enjoy FREE 2 day shipping.

Ebates– If you do any online shopping at all, using Ebates to get cash back on all your purchases is simply a no-brainer. However, Ebates also frequently features “Daily Double” specials that can mean huge discounts on a wide variety of items.  When you Sign up you will automatically receive their daily email, which is a great way to keep track of the specials!

  • Daily Deal Sites – More & more of these deal sites seem to pop up every day, but my favorites thus far are Beyond The RackGroupon, and Zulily.
Target Online Daily Deals– who doesn’t love Target?  Their daily deals are often nothing short of amazing AND shipping is free!
Craigslist– I have found some amazing deals on Craigslist, but usually only after a LOT of searching. I have the most success when I am looking for something specific, and then search daily until I find it. Don’t be afraid to negotiate either, even if the price is low. Unless it’s free, it can always go lower!

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 See, wasn’t this week a lot more fun?  (That’s because shopping under the guise of “saving money” is always more fun than cracking down!)  Stay tuned for another week’s saving challenge next Sunday, and don’t forget to let me know how you’re doing!

DIY Phone Pouch Made From Old Leggings

Ever had a pair of leggings which you hardly wear anymore but love the color? Why not turn it into a handy pouch or a pencil case instead!

In another of my “Ah Ha moments”, I remembered I got these pair of leggings with a zipper at the bottom of each leg last year. They came in handy for some work outs but since, I have pushed these to the back of the drawer, and placed my new work out gear in the front.

But I really loved the texture and color of this pair (some kind of purple-grey which I’m sure someone has coined a name for). So… since I was short of a braided phone pouch to compliment my hair recently, I decided what better way to re-use this great fabric and turn these hardly worn leggings into something useful! 🙂 It’s also a great coin and pen/pencil pouch.

Grab an old pair of leggings. I think this would be fun if you had a bright or pattered pair of leggings too! Maybe even neon, don’t worry I won’t judge you.

DIY leggings into pouch pencil case 1

Cut off one side, giving some allowance after the zipper ends. This will be the base of your pouch/ pencil case. If your leggings don’t have a zipper, feel free to insert your own if you know how. If not, use an old pouch as a base. Cosmetic counters tend to give a lot of these pouches as free gifts during purchase or you can find some at your local dollar store.

You should have something like this. Note that most leggings taper towards the end, so you should cut a straight line at the base to ensure everything remains even.

Cut off another chunk of the leggings and make sure it is at least 1.5 to 2 inches longer than your pouch zipper.

Cut it open and cut out strips. The width of the strips depends on how thick you want each braid to be.

In this instance, I used strips of about 1 inch in width (using eyeball power of course. If you want it to be exact and perfect, you can use a ruler and mark it out with a pen or chalk).

Pile three strips together, pin the top and start braiding.

I may be taking it for granted that everyone knows how to braid. So if you need detailed instructions in another tutorial, please feel free to let me know!

You should end up with something like this.

Make as many braids as you need to fill up the sides of the pouch. In this case, I used four as I wanted a slimmer case for my phone, loose change and pencils and pens.

Did I fail to mention it also compliments my hair when I wear a side or French braid?  🙂

If you want a deeper pouch, sew on more fabric to the side walls and continue adding on more braids!

Stitch the braids down onto the fabric underneath. The important parts to stitch are the sides of each braid to hold them down, and the top and bottom of each braid row. You’ll want to make small stitches on the outside and use similar colored thread so it’s not obvious.

Repeat for the opposite side. If you’re feeling lazy you could get away with just one side too of course.

Now close the zipper to about the halfway mark and flip the pouch inside out. Sew all around to form your pouch shape.

Once you’re done with stitching all around, cut off the excess edges. Be careful not to cut any threads as everything will unravel! I didn’t insert a lining in this, but you can if you want to make it even prettier.

Flip it back to the right side and you’re done! The braids also provide some cushioning in case you have more delicate items to place inside.

Color Code Your Keys

Nail Polish Keys

Its self-explanatory. Any questions, feel free to send an Email or comment.

Make sure to do two coats on each side. The only task that took up time was waiting for one side to dry before painting the other side.

What Every Mom Needs to Know About Insurance

As parents, it’s our responsibility to make sure our kids are cared for. We go out of our way to keep our kids safe, from buying bicycle helmets to Band-Aids to winter coats, right down to holding their hand when they cross the street.

Most of us worry endlessly about our kids’ well-being. I know I do! But as much as we worry about the little things, it’s sometimes easy to let the big things, those risks and dangers that are a little more intangible—slip by ignored or unattended to.

A big part of protecting our kids, as well as securing financial peace, is making sure our families are covered for the big things including natural disasters, an injury or illness, job loss, or worse. Even so, it can sometimes be hard to determine exactly what coverage you need, especially when it seems like most insurance salesmen only want to play on your emotions.

When money is tight, you certainly don’t want to overspend on coverage that you don’t need, but you need be protected from major catastrophe. The best approach is to do your research ahead of time and be aware of the state of your family’s finances before you get a sales pitch.

It is important to remember that it’s not the insurance agency’s role to make sure you’re getting the best deal on insurance. It is up to you to be your own advocate and to get the best rate. Insurance isn’t something you can put on the back burner and just pay each month.

To get the best rates, you must continuously (at least once a year) revisit your insurance policies and do some comparison shopping. Plans and offers are constantly changing to meet the needs of the market. Rates can fluctuate as your family’s needs and situation change as well. Adding another driver, building on an addition to your home, changing your security system, or bringing a new member of your family into the world can all raise insurance questions and call for a little guidance.

There are seven types of insurance that you NEED: Homeowners/Renters, Auto, Health, Disability, Long-Term Care, Identity Theft, and Life.

Other insurances you should consider is also boat, farm and travel.

resizedimage600583-Home-Insurance-Icons

Home

If you’re paying a mortgage, the lender requires homeowner’s coverage, but even if you’re lucky enough to own your home outright, you want to be sure that you’re protected.

For renters, insurance protects your possessions in case of fire, theft and, in some cases, flood. Renters insurance is often thought of as optional, but as a parent, you must cover yourself in case of tragedy. Renters insurance is often really quite inexpensive (less than $20/month!) and it’s very important if you have big-ticket items that might be difficult to replace, such as audio equipment, collectables, exercise gear, televisions and appliances. Take inventory of your household and make a list of those larger items that could be damaged or stolen, and would result in major financial hardship if you’d have to replace them.

There are several ways to save on homeowner and renter’s insurance. You can raise your deductible, combine policies and do some home improvements and emergency preparations to raise the protection level on your home. Improvements to home security can also help you save, as can new windows, doors, and extreme weather protection.

Auto

 When we think insurance, auto insurance is often the first thing that comes to mind. Driving is possibly the highest risk activity that any of us do almost every day, and we all know the importance of having liability coverage. In many states, it’s now illegal to operate a vehicle without liability insurance or proof of financial responsibility.

In our litigious society, unfortunately, coverage is mandatory to protect yourself from financial ruin in case of an accident or driving mistake. One moment can change your life and the life of another driver forever. Trust me, your mind will be at ease when you know you’re protected.

When it comes to auto insurance, the value of your vehicle is important when you’re determining the amount of coverage and type of insurance you need. If your car is in its twilight years, you may feel comfortable with less coverage or just liability. If you have a newer car (or if you’re paying off a car loan), you need to have full coverage to keep your investment safe.

There are several other ways to save on car insurance. Shop around, compare rates, and don’t become too loyal to just one agency or provider. There are good driver discounts, multiple car discounts, and even good grade programs for driving teens and students. Installing safety upgrades or attending defensive driving courses can also help lower your monthly payments and save you when it comes to paying for coverage.

family health insurance coverage

Health

Health insurance is so important. As parents, we know we must take children to the doctor for regular checkups. We also know that serious health issues can come out of nowhere, and without coverage they can leave households financially devastated. For the many of us just surviving in todays middleclass, we make enough to pay all our bills, not enough for the extras, and too much for any assistance such as government plan health insurance such as Medicaid, family health plus and their attached HMO plans.

Many employers offer health insurance at a cost which also requires deductibles and co-pays, but if yours does not, or if you’re independently employed, private insurance providers are available. Under the Affordable Care Act, you may qualify for low-cost coverage based on your income. Keep in mind though, low-cost means anywhere from $200-$400 per person a month with deductibles and co-pays which is low cost for health insurance.

Consider a Health Savings Account and/or a high deductible plan to save the most. An HSA can save families thousands of tax-free dollars every year, which you can use toward your deductible, so your monthly premium will be lower. You can use your HSA for prescriptions, and depending on the plan, eye exams and preventative care.

Disability

Disability insurance should cover 65% of your income, and most employers offer disability coverage. It’s often something that’s overlooked, but one in seven workers will face a disability before retirement.

You should be sure your disability insurance is long-term. My personal opinion is that you should have 3–6 months of expenses saved up, which would cover your needs in the case of a short-term or minor disability. It’s the long-term scenarios that you should plan for. Most disabilities (90%) are not covered by worker’s comp or social security.

The effects of a disability can financially ruin a family if you’re not properly prepared. Many workers facing disabilities can be out of work for three years or more. Consider what would happen to your family should they face an unforeseen accident or tragedy that leaves you unable to work.

Long-Term Care

As a parent, long-term care is not necessarily something that’s on any of our minds, but it’s a necessity for anyone over age 60. If your parents cannot afford long-term care insurance, this may be something you want to consider.

Consider the scenario of a parent who is facing a condition like dementia, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, and requires long-term care. This situation can quickly eat up your parents’ retirement savings and even dip into your own savings and accounts. Those who qualify for Medicaid will receive some assistance, but it often leaves patients with limited options and plans for complete care.

As you near your 60s, long-term care should be on your horizon and part of your post-retirement financial plan. It’s a way to make sure you don’t financially burden your children or spouse and ensures you won’t leave them unable to make ends meet.

Identity Theft

If you’ve never faced the horror in dealing with having your identity stolen, then consider yourself very lucky. With data breaches on the rise among major retailers, it seems like everyone is at risk. Identity theft can cost you big-time in terms of time, money, effort, and just general headaches. In a worst-case scenario, identity theft can damage your credit and make recovery very difficult—even if you’re an innocent victim.

Part of your insurance portfolio should include identity theft protection. You should be sure it includes an identity restoration service that can fix the damage and get your identity restored and safe once again. Teaching your family good identity-safety habits such as limiting your exposure online and protecting your passwords can help protect you as well, but should the worst happen, insurance will be a lifesaver.

Long Island Insurance Company

Life

Life insurance can be a little confusing. The general rule of thumb is you need term, not whole life. Cash value insurance can sound like a great way to invest and save money, but truth be told, it doesn’t offer high returns at all and generally is a poor performing product.

Term life insurance, on the other hand, is a way to cover yourself until you’re debt free and in a position to invest. It offers a way to help your spouse or children settle your estate and survive in relative comfort should something happen to you.

Term life insurance can help you cover burial costs and the costs of paying off your debt, plus further support of your family, particularly if you’re the sole breadwinner.

Facing uncertain scenarios in life is always unsettling, but having the proper insurance coverage can ease your mind and allow you to sleep a little easier at night. Look into the faces of your children and think of all the ways you would love to keep them safe. Insurance is one of the most simple, practical, and logical ways to protect your loved ones. 

Week 3 of Budget 101

Part 3: Save on the Big Things

After spending the last week sorting out your budget and then recording all your purchases, you hopefully now have a fairly clear idea of where your money is going.  Over the next 6 weeks be sure to keep those worksheets handy–you will need to adjust your amounts as we work to lower expenses in the various categories.  Be sure to also continue recording all your purchases in the expense tracking worksheet too!
(NOTE: If you are new to “Through The Eyes Of I” or missed out last week, you might want to start at Week 1 of Budget 101 before starting this week’s assignment!)

This week we are going to tackle lowering the BIG 3:  Housing, Transportation, & Insurance.  I will readily admit that this is not my area of expertise.  Not even close. From this point forward it should be known that you are taking financial advice from a girl who thinks a cute pair of designer shoes or a great book is a perfectly reasonable investment, not just an impulse buy.

In other words, some of this stuff is a little over my head.

Since this kind of stuff overwhelms me, I’m guessing that it probably overwhelms many of you too. So let’s figure it out together and be better for it.  Luckily for us, the internet is a vast pool of knowledge.  This week, we’re going swimming.

I think the most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to your finances and the money you’re spending is this premise: Everything is negotiable.  

The great thing about NOT being socialists is that we live in a country where companies have to compete for OUR business. This is something they don’t really want you to figure out.  Most companies would rather have you believe that they are doing you a favor by financing your home or car, or providing insurance, because if you believe that, you’ll pay whatever they tell you to.  The truth is that they NEED your business, and that if they are not willing to negotiate, there is probably someone else out there who will.

Knowledge is power; use it to your advantage!

When it comes to saving money on your housing costs there are a lot of factors that will come in to play, far too many to get into specifics here.  Do you rent or own?  Do you owe more on your house than it’s worth?  Are you looking to buy?  Are you in an apartment? Is your lease coming due soon?  Your individual circumstances will determine your course of action, or even whether there is a course of action possible.

As far as transportation costs go, unless your vehicle is constantly in need of repair or way more expensive than you can afford, it is almost always more cost effective to stick with the car you have than get a different vehicle. Thus, your current car payment is probably not going to change much.  That said, if you need a new car, it is almost always better to buy used than to lease or buy something brand new. Your auto insurance, on the other hand, can definitely be negotiated!

Likewise, health, life, & home insurance prices can also be negotiated and shopping around pays.  When my Husband and I needed health insurance last year, we took a lot of time to price things out.  When we took into consideration how little we actually go to the doctor, we discovered that it made a lot more sense financially to buy only catastrophic coverage with a high deductable, then to pay a huge premium each month for medical coverage we weren’t using.  As with most things, it is very important to do the math!

How to negotiate when chartering a gulet

Here is your assignment:

1. Research options for lowering your mortgage payment or rent

Once you’ve done your homework, decide if making some changes or re-negotiating your rent or mortgage would be the right solution for your family.  I found some awesome, super informative, and, most importantly, short articles to start with:

How to Lower Your Mortgage Payment Without Refinancing (homeowners)

How to Negotiate Low Mortgage Interest Rates [Video] (homeowners)

I Owe More Than My House Is Worth (homeowners underwater)

How to get the best mortgage rate (looking to buy a home)

How to negotiate lower rent (renters)

Tips for Reducing your Insurance Premium

2. Research options for lowering your insurance rates

If you haven’t shopped around for auto, homeowners, health, or life insurance lately (or ever) then you need to.  Do some due diligence to find out what options are available, then make some phone calls (or send some emails) and get new quotes.  You might be surprised at how much money you can save.

 Here are some great articles I recently wrote to get you going:

What Every Mom Needs to Know About Insurance

9 Smart Ways to Save on Car Insurance

12 Smart Ways to Save on Home Insurance

It’s only two tasks, but this should be plenty to keep you busy this week!  If it seems daunting, just remember that every dollar saved on your mortgage, rent, vehicle, or insurance is a dollar that can be spent on shoes.
Stay tuned for another riveting installment next Sunday and don’t forget to let me know how you’re doing! What big things do you want to save money on?  Do you think it will be possible?  What is something you know you can’t save on?

Week 2 of Budget 101

PART TWO: MAKE A BUDGET

It’s been a week.  How’s that no-spending thing going? Well, here’s the good news:  You can start spending money again.  Of course the bad news is that after today’s assignment, you might not want to. Hopefully last week’s exercise started you thinking about the reasons WHY you’re spending and also got you to start making a serious distinction between the things you WANT and the things you NEED.

(NOTE: If you are new to “Through The Eyes Of I” or missed out last week, you might want to start at Budget 101 Part 1: STOP SPENDING before starting this week’s assignment!)

Before we go any further, I want to make a quick but important distinction that just because something is a “WANT” instead of a “NEED” doesn’t make it wrong or bad. It’s okay to want a pretty comfortable house with all the amenities, vacations or cute shoes. What’s not okay is to want all those things at the expense of your financial well-being,  your marriage, relationships, your children or anything else that we know is more important than stuff. It’s okay to WANT, but not to GET if you are not at a stable financial stance to do so. ***Don’t go on vacation, then come back and not pay your electric and gas bills. Don’t go out shopping with your friends and then go and tell your family you’re struggling*** If you are not struggling with your spending or find that you have plenty of money leftover for your savings, life & retirement accounts at the end of the month, have no trouble paying all your bills on time, know exactly where all your money is going, have great credit and don’t stress out over unforeseen expenses, then you probably don’t need to be reading this series.  In fact, you probably could write it better than me because you are obviously doing something right. I have multiple bills including a retirement and savings account, life, funeral and health insurances that I pay towards monthly, and I don’t have school or credit debt so I say I am pretty financially stable BUT…… most of us, including I struggle with money or budgeting, at least in some area. Believe me when I tell you there is plenty of room for improvement. This week’s assignment is going to require a little more effort.   The hard truth is that no one can fix your budget for you.  There are no magic solutions or ten-minute fixes that will have permanent results.  Improving your financial outlook will require change, and change is HARD.  Do it anyway.

As I tell my stepson, never neglect to do something just because it is hard, because it is the things you work hardest for that will reward you the most. Don’t let fear stop you either. It can be very scary to open up the Pandora’s box otherwise known as your finances, especially if you’ve been turning a blind eye.  In some ways, ignorance is bliss.  But if you’re still reading up to this point, you probably know, deep down, that this is something you need to do.  Take a deep breath, muster up your courage, and just do it.  You’ll be better for it. And now that the pep talk is over, it is time to get down to business:

HERE IS THIS WEEK’S ASSIGNMENT:

                      CLICK TO DOWNLOAD MY PERSONAL BUDGET WORKSHEET

1. Assess your income and fixed expenses

Print out the nifty budget worksheet above, then grab your bank statements, your bills, your check register, & any other financial information you can think of.  A calculator might come in handy too.  Then grab a glass of wine, sit down (with your spouse if your married), and start crunching the numbers.  Use worksheet number one to list all your sources of income, as well as all those key fixed payments you MUST make each month

Use worksheet #2 to add up all the subtotals of your fixed expense categories, then subtract that total from your income.  The remaining number is what you really have to work on creating a budget for.
In the coming weeks, we will work on finding ways to lower both your fixed AND variable expenses, but we need a place to start from, and this is it.

2.  Create a budget for your variable expenses

Use a pencil to fill in each category with what you are currently paying each month, then add up your subtotals and see how it compares to the number you are shooting for.  Then go back and lower different categories as necessary.  Obviously some things, like your water and electric, won’t be adjustable, but other things can probably be cut significantly.   Include SOMETHING in your savings budget, even if it is just a small amount.  If you have credit card payments, include those in your household expenses as well.

3. Take some time to self-reflect

This step may be the hardest, but it is also the most important.  Complete worksheet #4 and make some concrete decisions and goals based on what you’ve discovered through this budgeting exercise.

Maybe you’ve realized it is time to cut up your credit cards, or, at the very least, put them on ice. (Fill a bowl with water, put your credit cards in, and freeze.  If nothing else, it will slow you down!)  Maybe you’re ready to start packing a lunch instead of going out or to give up cable.  What you spend your money on is a very personal decision that only you can determine for yourself (or with your spouse.)

4. Track your spending

The last page of the PDF packet is an expense tracker.  Print out as many as you need, and use it to keep track of everything you spend.  At the end of each day, and then again at the end of each week, go over your expenses to make sure you are staying on track.  The more frequently you “check in,” the less likely you will be to let your spending get out of control.  Little things add up quickly!

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Whew, what a week!  I know this probably seems like a lot, but please don’t give up on me!  I promise it will be worth it in the end, and your bank account will thank you.  Stay tuned for another riveting installment next Sunday and remember, I want to hear from you!  How did your first week of the challenge go?  What did you learn about yourself or your budget?
Keep in mind, once again, that I am not a financial expert.  You are welcome to use these worksheets to help you–they are what make sense to me–but there are lots of other budgeting books, worksheets, & software available that might work for you better

About Budget 101

My goal for this series is to guide you through a series of assignments intended to put you on a sounder financial footing.  Basically it is eight weeks to a better budget. It is my personal guide, a beginners budget 101. Each week we will tackle one specific area for us to work on, and then complete assignments related to that segment of our financial life. Keep in mind, just as anything you need to do in life, following this series will take some effort & commitment on your part. There are many ways to budget your financial life, and this is the blood, sweat, & tears edition. Okay, well maybe no blood 🙂 Every Sunday will mark a new week towards a better budget. Come join me and save! Click on Budget 101 in the menu scale, and use the drop down to view the series by week.

Disclaimers: 

  • I am not a financial expert or certified financial planner.  I have degrees in business administration, criminal and business law, have studied accounting, and am a certified tax preparer and tutor.  I have no credentials whatsoever beyond my own experience to qualify me for teaching anyone about saving money.  There are plenty of money experts out there who could probably explain this stuff far better than me, and some I will even refer you to.  My only goal here is to try to break down the scary world of budgets and saving into manageable bites.  Yes, this is the baby steps guide to saving. This is my personal guide, and it has worked for me.