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
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X-out E-Cig Reliance

X-out E-Cig Reliance

vapor

The terrible health and social consequences of being a smoker are convincing more and more people to make the switch to smoking electronic, or e cigarettes. E cigarettes provide smokers with a means to avoid the agonies associated with nicotine withdrawal, without the harmful side effects caused by tobacco usage. Unlike using snuff, chewing tobacco, pipes, cigars, or other ways to obtain nicotine without smoking cigarettes, e cigarettes completely free former smokers from the toxic and carcinogenic effects of tobacco smoke. Within a few weeks of switching to e cigarettes, smokers find that they stop coughing, regain lung capacity, and generally feel much healthier. Even though the carcinogenic effects disappear, the carcinogen matter doesn’t. A recent study claimed hidden high levels of the carcinogen formaldehyde were found in e-cigs, potentially increasing lifetime cancer risk by 5 to 15 percent.

People using, or considering using electronic cigarettes should acknowledge that they are not healthy for you. Using them entails inhaling a highly addictive, somewhat toxic compound – nicotine – into your lungs. Hence, just like cigarettes are highly addictive, so are electronic cigarettes. As a result, all of the side effects associated with nicotine use are associated with electronic cigarette use.

That said, electronic cigarettes are certainly preferable to traditional tobacco products, because even if they contain nicotine and entail its side effects, they do not contain the thousands of other toxic compounds in tobacco that cause other health issues. For instance, nicotine, on its own, is not known to be a carcinogen. This means that nicotine alone does not cause cancers; the many other tobacco compounds found in cigarette smoke, as well as additives that cigarette manufacturers add, cause cancers. Cigarettes contain over 4000 chemicals, including 43 known cancer-causing carcinogenic compounds and 400 other toxins.

Chemicals in a Cigarette

So, though electronic cigarettes are admittedly, somewhat negative for your health, it seems that they are far less risky or unhealthy than using tobacco. Some doctors and researchers even suggest that switching from tobacco use to e cigarettes is an effective implementation of a strategy known in the medical world as “harm reduction”.

The idea behind harm reduction is that though addiction (such as that of a smoker’s to nicotine) and other issues will lead some people to participate in behavior that is detrimental to their health, that these people should be encouraged to engage in those behaviors that are of the least harm to themselves and others as possible. Harm reduction only reduces, but does not cure nor put an end to habit.

 

Therefore, a smoker switching to e cigarettes does not help he individual quit the habit of smoking or addiction to the nicotine or tobacco, but ONLY represents harm reduction for two reasons:

  • It minimizes the smoker’s exposure to toxic and carcinogenic compounds while satisfying their physiological and psychological cravings for nicotine.
  • The switch to e cigarettes also reduces the health impact that smoking has on bystanders near a smoker.

while a smoker will pollute the air around them with side stream and second-hand smoke, a person using an e cigarette inhales harmful products, but exhales a harmless vapor that dissipates nearly instantly. Though this vapor looks like smoke, it is odorless, and contains none of the chemicals that are so harmful in secondhand smoke via cigarettes. As a result, bystanders have nothing to worry about whenever someone smoking an e cigarette is nearby. If more people switch to e cigarettes, the negative public health effects of secondhand smoke will be reduced, but the harm done to its host and addiction does not completely disappear.

 

Smoke by gorky

The nicotine that is contained within electronic cigarettes is known to have certain side effects. But first, a few facts about nicotine: first, it is highly toxic. Doses over 30 mg have the potential to be fatal to human beings, who have a fairly low nicotine tolerance (however, ingesting this much nicotine at once would require smoking at least a pack of cigarettes simultaneously, affixing dozens of nicotine patches to the body at once, or drinking the fluid from e cigarettes – as a result, death by nicotine poisoning, like many other substances, is a very difficult thing to achieve by accident). In the lower doses that are administered by tobacco products (measured in single milligrams), nicotine has various effects. It is a mild stimulant, and like most stimulants, it affects the cardiovascular system. It elevates heart rate, and constricts the blood vessels in the body. As a result, the use of nicotine is strongly related to the development of heart disease, high blood pressure, and vascular diseases. Given that coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death of people within the United States, this is certainly a serious concern to be aware of.

In addition to nicotine, the liquid that is used by e cigarettes contains two or more other compounds: the base compound (propylene or vegetable glycol), and one or more food flavoring compounds (which give the vapor a flavor). The base compound, usually propylene glycol, is listed by the United States Food and Drug administration as a compound “generally recognized as safe” for use in products that humans use. Hence, it’s used in foods, medicines, cosmetics, and other products quite regularly without ill effects. The food flavor compounds used are the same compounds that one would find in candies and other processed food products on a regular basis, and as a result, are recognized as safe. Neither is known to cause side effects.

So regardless of the much popularity amongst potential quitting smokers, electronic cigarettes are not intended to be used as a smoking cessation aid. Some people find that it is helpful to kick the tobacco habit before working on kicking the nicotine habit so don’t expect to rely on E-cigs to do the job of quitting smoking. Cigarettes may have been an addiction you are fighting to quit, but E-cigs can become your next.  X-out E-Cig reliance.

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Samantha Jonas-Rongo