Category Archives: Budget

25 Week Christmas Savings Plan

25 week Christmas savings plan

 

Did you know Christmas is less than 8 months away?!

I know, I know.  It’s crazy to start thinking about Christmas already.  I mean, how early are stores putting out their decorations now?  It may almost be June, but I’m sure we’re going to start seeing decorations soon! HA!

I’m a planner.  I think everyone should be planners because it would just help everything run more efficiently.  Okay, I’m not that much of a control freak that I think everyone should be just like me.  BUT I do think we should plan ahead somewhat.

Every year Christmas sneaks up on me and I’m never ready.  I never know what to get at least one person in my family until the week before (if not a few days before).  I also never seem to have enough money to go around.  I’m frugal by nature.  I like using my cash envelope system so I don’t overspend and I love coupons so I can get more bang for my buck.  Also, make sure you’re using money saving apps to get rewards points and money back for your purchases.  With that being said, I figured this year I would get off on the right foot.  Yes, that foot is months early, but it’s never too early to be prepared.

I created a 25 week Christmas savings plan to help keep us on track for the holidays.  It’s pretty easy to follow.  Starting Monday until the week of Thanksgiving we’re going to put aside $40.  That $40 will add up to $1,000.  Just in time for Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales!  I like to do most of my shopping online on Cyber Monday.  Now I will have money saved up and all I have to do is decide what color sweater to get my Mom.

TIP: Print this FREE Christmas savings plan out to check off each week you save.  I plan on keeping this bad boy next to me at my desk so I can check off each week I transfer $40 into my savings.  I included an image for you to do the same with.  Just open it up, print it off and check off when you’re done.  

25 week Christmas savings plan

Simple!

Now, if you have a bigger family or like to go all out then just double the weekly amounts to have $2,000 saved.

5 Money Management Tips For Your 20s

money management skills for your 20s, money management, merelynne

In your 20s you have a lot more concerns going on.  Usually you’re dealing with student loan debt, credit card debt and car payments.  You’re probably living paycheck to paycheck, stretching every penny as far as possible.  If you’re like me, then you probably miss the carefree days of being in college not worried about your financial future.

Developing your money management skills early can really give you a strong foundation for your financial future.  Here are my no fail money management tips to follow.

Create a budget:

You will see me talk about budgeting over and over, but it’s because it’s so important.  You need a budget, even when you’re just starting out and not making that much money.  It’s critical to see what comes in and what goes out of your bank account each month.  Many people don’t budget, but know they should.  So don’t be in that category.

In all honestly, no matter you age you should have a monthly budget.  If you need help starting one, read my quick 10 minute tutorial.  Need help deciding how much should be spent on each category?  Check out these figures I like to go by:

– 50% of your income should be spent on fixed expenses
– 25% on your financial goals – paying down debt, savings, retirement
– 25% should be spent on other expenses like eating out, travel, etc.

Open up a savings account:

People try to complicate savings way too much.  It’s really simple.  You should aim to put 10% of your after-tax income into a savings account each month.  If you’re able to do more then that’s great – do more.  If not, then stick to the most you can do.  I recommend aiming for a $1,000 emergency fund while trying to pay down debt.  It’s great to have an emergency fund to fall back on for those unexpected expenses.

I would recommend setting up an automatic contribution into your savings account each month.  It’s best to do it so you don’t even miss the money.  I think your payday is a great day.  If it comes out of your account before you even notice then you won’t make other plans for it.

Check your credit score:

As I’ve mentioned, right now is a great time to starting building your financial foundation.  Your credit score affects most everything you want to do in your financial life – credit cards, mortgages, car loans, etc.  Having a lower credit score can negatively affect the interest rate on any approved loans.  Monitoring your credit score is easy and it allows you to see what areas you need to improve.  You can use free services like Credit Karma to regularly check your score.

Create a debt payoff plan:

In your early 20s you might have gotten yourself into some debt.  Credit cards are basically thrown your way when you enter college.  Plus, school loans have become a huge part of the college life.  Create a plan to reduce your debt and start working towards it.  Being able to pay off your debt in your 20s will be a huge advantage when it’s time to buy your first home or your next car.  You’ll be able to qualify for better interest rates with having less debt on your credit report.  I like the debt snowball method where you pick your smallest bill to start with.  You pay as much as you can towards one debt while continuing to pay the minimum payment on others.  Once once debt is paid off you apply the unused payment towards the next smallest debt.

Setup monthly money dates:

I’m a firm believer in checking in with yourself.  By setting up a monthly money date you can review your budget.  If you need to make any changes or plan for any future expenses then the money date is the perfect opportunity.  Sit down during these dates and pay any bill that’s not setup on auto-draft, review and update your monthly budget, and plan out the next month.  Don’t let yourself get discouraged with money management.  Keep it fun by giving yourself time to plan for the future.

I’m Featured on Alpha Chi Omega’s Blog

Today is a big day for me.  Huge!  My post about making financial decisions has gone live on Alpha Chi Omega’s blog.

I have always wanted to be featured somewhere.  It makes me feel all fancy.  I was honored to have the opportunity to share my knowledge about finances with women from my sisterhood.  I am a proud Alpha Chi alumna and I cherish the memories I made in college, so to have this chance is a pretty big deal.  I’m talking about how Alpha Chi’s values and rituals can be applied to every day financial decisions.

alpha chi omega, axo, financial tips

I really think starting on the right foot at a young age or fresh out of college can make a huge difference.  Just think about how many steps ahead you can be if you start planning your retirement at 25 instead of 45.

If you have a few minutes, I would really appreciate you hopping over to their blog to read the post.

How to Enjoy Life Without Going Broke {an open letter to you}

how to enjoy life without going broke

Dear You,

I don’t need to tell you how amazing you truly are.  Let’s be honest, you have so much going for yourself that it’s out of this world.  You work hard and you plan smart.  You give every day 100% and put your soul into all of your accomplishments.  And sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in what’s not that important.  You may even spend too much money from time to time, but I want you to remember one thing:

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have the time of your life.

It’s true.  The more money you spend doesn’t mean you’re going to have more fun or make more memories.  Actually, it could mean the complete opposite.

I know that I don’t have to tell you this though.  I realize that you already know how to have a good time.  I mean, you’re reading this, right?

You already know how to plan and prepare.  You want to soak up every moment with those you love most.  So you aren’t going to waste your money on anything that isn’t worthy.  Let’s be honest for a minute, shall we? You take your time to analyze everything.  There’s no judgment here!  You research, you ask questions and you save money when you can.

You are the life of the party so you already know hanging out with friends is going to be a good time.  No need for a fancy trip or wild nights out.  No, no.  You don’t need that to have the time of your life.  So you plan potluck dinners and casual get togethers at your place.  You ask your friends to bring a dish and some wine, and next thing you know it’s the gathering of the century.  Stories are being told, laughter is erupting and you’re making memories.

Now I know you are a savvy shopper.  You browse Groupon and other discount sites regularly.  You like to make sure anything that you’re wanting to buy for yourself or as a gift isn’t cheaper somewhere else.  It never hurts to browse discount sites to make sure you’re getting the best deal, so you put in the time needed.  You understand that your money can go further by doing a quick recon.

I mean, who needs fancy pet daycare places?  Sure they’re great for when you’re traveling out of town and can’t find a friend to dog sit.  But you know  when you can hit up a trail early in the morning.  Your dog will love the extra me-time, your butt will love the walking and your pockets will love their cushion.

Of course you remember that horrifying college picture you took years ago?  You know the one where you had just got that awful, awkward haircut and your hair was doing that flip thing… you know the one I’m talking about. Well you’ve dusted that ID off and you use it time-to-time at the movies.  Yes, you know it’s wrong to use a student ID when you’re no longer a student.  I really do… but sometimes it doesn’t’ hurt to save a few bucks.  I’m sure you kept that over sized purse that’s perfect for sneaking in your own sweet treats and bottled water, too.

I know how you love to read all the latest New York Bestsellers.  So instead of forking over the cash at the local bookstore, you hit up the public library.  Their membership is free and they have the biggest selection around.  Look at you go!

I’m sure you’re taking the time to enjoy today.  You never spend on credit card for more than you can pay cash for that day.  You know that if you don’t have it in your checking account today then you just have to wait.  You’re smart like that.  You budget your time, just like you do your money.

Here’s to all of the sound financial decisions you’re making each and every day.  You go, girl!

Sincerely,

Life

 

Our Financial Plan

our financial plan, merelynne

What is a financial plan?

It’s a map to your personal financial goals with actionable steps.

A financial plan is an evaluation of where you currently stand and where you want to go.

You can make it as complicated and detailed as you want or you can make it simple.  I like to keep ours short and sweet.  You know the saying – You must K-I-S-S it!  Keep It Simple, Silly!

I was reading an article about CFP®, Carl Richards and his one page financial plan.  I immediately pulled out a pen and piece of paper.  In my first attempt, I nailed it.

Why YOU need a financial plan.

It’s easy to get distracted with everything life throws your way.  By having a financial plan, you’re able to stay focused on what’s important.  You should update it often or when your plans change.  I recommend keeping the plan in a place where you will see it.  You need to remind yourself why you’re working so hard for.

What YOU need to include in your financial plan.

FIRST, You need to answer Carl’s question: “Why is money really important to you?”

The reason could be your family’s motto or number one goal.  Whatever it is, write it down!  Maybe it’s providing for your children’s future education costs.  Perhaps it’s traveling the world.  Maybe it’s making memories with those you love.

Our answer to why money is important was simple: To live the life we have always dreamed of!

SECOND, you need to write down your top 3 goals.

Here’s what we came up with:

1) Fund our IRAs
2) Start our 401(k) plans at work this summer (that’s when we both qualify to join our employers’ retirement plans)
3) Save for our dream home

Our financial plan is simple, concise and to the point.  

one page financial plan, merelynne

I had over half the page left, so I added our top 5 goals.  Our goals are simple reminders for us.  This is what’s important to us to have a full life.

1) Be able to retire early
2) Provide for our (future) kids
3) Build our dream home
4) Travel the world
5) Live comfortably

What is on your family’s financial plan?  Leave a comment letting me know.  I’d love to encourage you on your journey!

Cash Envelope Q&A

Cash Envelope Q&A

Here’s a quick run down of the cash envelope Q&A that I’ve had to answer.

It’s no secret that I love offering budgeting tips.  I’ve been sharing quite a few lately.  I’ve noticed a buzz for my How to Use the Cash Envelope System.  I thought I would answer a few questions that I’ve come across.  If you haven’t read my earlier post, go ahead.  It’s pretty helpful if you’re thinking about switching to the envelope budgeting system, but not sure how to go about it.

Of course, your first step before doing anything is creating your budget.  If you haven’t done that then you should jump on over to How Create a Budget in 10 Minutes.  Budgeting doesn’t have to be hard or time consuming.  You just have to do it.  It helps you focus in on your financial goals as a family (or individual!) to stay on track.

Q: Do you have to pay everything with cash?

A: No.  Absolutely not.  If you can setup a bill to be auto-drafted then I would highly recommend it.  It makes your budget more streamline.  For J and I we have our phone bill, satellite, school loans, car insurance and gym membership all on auto-draft.  Those are usually the same amount each month, which makes adding them to our budget a breeze.  You might also be able to setup your utilities on a recurring payment, too.

TIP: If your bill fluctuates from month-to-month make sure you update your budget and check register.  It’s best to do update them as soon as you receive the statement.

We also purchase our dog food online because of the discount.  So I don’t pull cash out for the dogs anymore.  I just know how much I spend and how often I need to purchase.  That’s added to our budget and to our Google Sheets check register that I created.

You have to know what is best to be paid with cash.  A good rule of thumb is whenever your can easily go over your budget then you need to use cash.

A good example would be groceries.   It’s easy to keep adding to your cart without paying much attention.  Carrying cash will force you to stick to a budget.

Q: Do you always carry that much cash with you?

A: No.  The cash envelope system I purchased from Etsy is great.  It has a bigger snap wallet for all the envelopes to fit into, but each envelope is removable.  That way I can just pull the ones I want out and take with me.  It’s great when J and I are going to meet up with friends at a bar.  I don’t want to carry a lot of cash in case my purse gets taken.  I also don’t want the temptation to overspend.  So I simply grab out eating out envelope and stick it in my purse.

cash envelope wallet

Q: What happens if you have money leftover at the end of the month?

A: There are several different options here.

First, you can roll the money over for the next month.  Think of it as a sort of savings account for that category.  You’ll have extra when you need it.

Second, you can pull out less money at the beginning of the next month.  Let’s say you have $40 leftover in your eating out fund.  You could simply withdraw $40 less from your bank that next month to make it fresh.  That way your keeping more money in your checking account.

Third, distribute the money into other envelopes.  This works if you  know of a bigger purchase coming up for another category.

Fourth, pull the money and deposit into your savings account.  It’ll help you reach your savings goal quicker.

It’s really up to you.  J and I do a mixture of these.  If I’m running short in one category then I’ll pull from my leftovers.  If I have quite a bit leftover then I will not withdraw that amount the next month.  The money that I didn’t need is transferred into our savings account.

Q: What happens if you need more money in a category?

A: You have to ‘borrow’ it from another category.  If I go over on eating out that month then I simply have to pull from another envelope.  I like to use the word ‘borrow’ because I do like to pay back what I take at the beginning of the next month, if possible.  If I go a little crazy at the grocery store to stock up on meat then I might have to borrow from our eating out fund.  But I know that next month I won’t need to buy so much at the store.  J and I could treat ourselves to an extra dinner out.

how to use the cash envelope system

Q: Do you have to use a register for your cash?

A: Not if you don’t want.  Some people have great success with keeping a register to jot down where they spend their money and how much they are spending.  You can keep a simple register with each category or a master register with a grand total.

Or you can be like me and not use one.  I don’t really care where I spend my cash.  I budget to spend it and by using cash I’m thinking about each purchase.  So I don’t see the point.  Plus, it’s extra work for me.  I don’t want to keep up with an extra check register.  Especially if it’s handwritten!  I love my register for all other purchases on Google Sheets, but I’m not about to have a second one that I have to carry with me.

It’s all about keeping yourself accountable.

With using the cash envelope system you’re unable to spend as freely.  You have to think about your purchases.  Which is good.  You spend less if you think about everything.

Stay On Top of Your Monthly Bills {Free Monthly Bill Tracker download!}

Stay on top of your bills with a monthly bill tracker

You’re probably like me and are really busy from day-to-day.  It’s hard to keep everything straight that’s on your plate.  You have work to get done, errands to run, bills to pay, and probably even play dates to be at.  You’re trying to do it all and stay on top of everything, but sometimes things slip through the cracks.

You wrote out the check for your car loan, but a week later you find it buried in the bottom of your purse.  Now it’s late.  You panic.  You rush to the post office to get out in the mail.  Now you feel bad because it’s your husband’s car that’s getting hit with the late payment.  You tell him and he seems upset.  It’s the car he bought before the marriage and it’s only in his name.  Now he has a late payment and you don’t.  You said you would take care of it, but obviously you couldn’t.

What he doesn’t realize is that this past week was a doozy for you.  You’re lucky that you remembered to wash your hair that morning (or if you’re like me.. within the past few days).

You need something to help you out.  A tool that’s on your side.  A monthly bill tracker that’s easy to see at a glance.  Not too much information that makes it distracting.  Just the right amount so you can quickly see where you are at for the month.

monthly bill tracker download

That’s where this monthly bill tracker comes into play.  You simply write out the bill’s name, the date it’s due and then mark off when it’s paid.

There’s not even a distracting space to put the amount.  Most amounts like car payments, cell phone bills, cable bills don’t change from month-to-month.  You probably have those amounts memorized by now.  No need to write them down again and take up space on the page.

monthly bill tracker download

There is room in each month’s box if you want to keep track of changing monthly amounts.  I do write down our monthly utilities so I can keep an idea of how much it fluctuates in the cold and warm months.  As you can see it really works great for those payments that are quarterly or annually, too.  Like for us, our trash bill is only due every 3 months.  So each month I transfer money into a savings account that more than covers our trash costs.  When it’s due on the 10th of every month, I transfer $35 from our savings account into our checking account.  I draw an X on the months it’s not due so I don’t confuse myself.  I also added the transfer as a monthly bill to track to make sure I transfer the money.

You really can do anything you want with this monthly bill tracker to make it work for you.

You can either cross off when the payment is made, or do what I do and highlight the box.  I think it’s easier to see with just glancing if a bill has been paid.  I keep this monthly bill tracker with our budget information.  It’s in a file behind my desk so when I pay bills, update our budget or reconcile our check register it’s pulled out.

To download your free monthly bill tracker download

To download your free monthly bill tracker download, click here.

5 Great Budgeting Tips

It’s no secret that I love some great budgeting tips.

To me, budgeting helps you reach your goals.  It’s a road map to get from point A to B that allows you to detour every once in awhile to have some fun.  I hear from so many people that a budget is too restrictive.  You just can’t have a life and a budget, too.  PEOPLE! You are so wrong!  A budget is freeing!  It’s so much more than a ball and chain.

I’m all about having fun now, but I want to have fun later in life too.  For me, it’s all about balance.  Set priorities of what you want to be doing now so you can enjoy yourself, but make sure your future is a priority.  You don’t deserve to work all of your life only to learn that on the day you retire that you have to change your standard of living.

5 great budgeting tips

I’ve put together some resources of some really helpful budgeting tips to get you started and keep you on track.  

1) You need to create a budget.  A budget doesn’t have to be complicated.  You can create a budget in less than 10 minutes if you do it right.

2) Learn how to spend your money, the right way.  For some, using the cash envelope system is the way to go.  It prevents you from overspending and keeps your priorities straight.

3) Build up your emergency fund.  You never know when a rainy day is going to come.  It’s best to be prepared, always.  I suggest starting off with $1,000 in your savings account.  Usually that’s enough to get you buy until the next pay day.  If something unexpected comes up then you will have your emergency fund to help out.  I really like Alea from Premeditated Leftovers’ guide on how to build an emergency fund on a slim budget.

Having an emergency fund can really pay.  Trust me, J and I have had to use our emergency fund a few times to get us by when my car broke down and when our fridge went out.  We were still able to buy groceries and pay all of our bills on time.  Our life was not interrupted at all.

4) Set goals for yourself and your family.  Having a goal in mind is a great motivator.  Saving just to save isn’t fun.  You’ll find yourself spending more than you budgeted for and next thing you know, everything is out of whack.  J and I save for many different things.  Some are just for him and others are for me, but most of everything we have a goal for is something we both want.  We want to travel, spend time at the lake and spoil our family so we set goals, save for them and then have fun when we get there.

5) Get creative.  Saving money and budgeting doesn’t have to be boring.  I like to make a game out of it – how much money can I save today?  I play whenever I have to buy something.  Going to the grocery store?  Let’s see how much money I can earn and save!  Going clothes shopping?  I love seeing how much money I saved at the bottom of the receipt.

great budgeting tips

Kim from Thrifty Little Mom has some great tips on how to lower your grocery bill.  I really like these money saving apps I found.  I plan to save the money to use towards Christmas shopping.  Christmas is still 8 months away so by then I should have quite a bit saved up to take care of a few gifts.

Remember, budgeting doesn’t have to be controlling.  You tell your budget what you want and it will work for you.  Just make sure you’re being honest with yourself when creating it.

5 Easy Ways To Save Money

Today I’m sharing 5 easy ways to save money with you.

easy ways to save money

Money is great, am I right?  It helps us achieve our goals, feed our families and provide a roof over our heads.  Who doesn’t want to save more, right?  I know I do.

J and I have been doing great with budgeting and tracking our spending so far this year.  Here our my 5 easy ways to save money that won’t make you go crazy.

ONE: Track Your Spending

This is a big one.  Probably the most important way to save more money.  You have know where your money is going.  By realizing how much you’re spending on your favorite Starbucks drink can really put things into prospective.  First, you need to create a budget to see how much you should be spending.  Creating a budget doesn’t have to be difficult and should only take about 10 minutes.  Next, you need to switch to the cash envelope system if you overspend.  Using cash, instead of swiping your debit card, can really help you stay on point each month.  When you run out of cash then you can’t spend anymore money.  Simple as that.

TWO: Cook at Home More

I love this piece of advice.  Eating out has become so easy that it’s not longer fun, but it has become expensive.  Even fast food is way over-priced.  You can spend $20 at Taco Bell for your family and at the end of the night you’re probably hungry again!  I love cooking dinner at home.  That $20 we would have spent eating out could feed us for almost the entire week at home.  Plus, J and I get to spend time cooking together and eating as a family.  We are getting more quality time while saving money.

THREE: Audit Your Bills

You should be spending some time each month looking over your bills.  Making sure the charges are correct and seeing if there is any wiggle room.  Maybe you’re not anywhere near your data limit for your cell phone.  There is some room there to downgrade and save a few extra bucks.  Also, you never know when something is going to sneak in.  I remember a few years ago (might even be more recent) AT&T getting busted for charging people for bogus services.  They had to refund money to those customers, but it took time.  If you spend just a few minutes with each bill then you can catch overages and get your money back.

FOUR: Shop Smarter

I like to think of grocery shopping as a game.  I like to see how much money I can save and earn back.  There are so many ways to save money on groceries – you can use coupons and you can use some great money saving apps.  Grocery shopping doesn’t have to be a big budget sucker.  You could really leverage your meal planning with what’s on sale to really add up the savings.

FIVE: Entertain for Less

Getting together with friends doesn’t have to be costly.  Don’t meet at a bar for drinks that cost upwards of $7 per drink, instead opt to go to a friends house.  Decide on a signature drink for the evening and everyone bring an ingredient.  Host a potluck where everyone brings a dish to share.  When my parents were younger they were in a club that would travel to a member’s home each month.  The host would make the main dish and everyone else would bring a side dish, dessert and drinks for everyone.

Another great way to save more money is swap babysitting.  J and I don’t have any kids yet, but when we do this is what we’ll be doing.  Instead of paying a babysitter to watch your kids just find friends with some kids.  Then you guys can swap babysitting needs.  Saves you money, saves your friend money and lets your kids be around their friends.

I also like have a date-in night.  Preparing dinner together, watching a movie from Redbox (which you can get for free by using online codes), and just spending time together.

How to Save for Annual Bills or Irregular Payments

Let’s talk about how to save for annual bills today.

Most of us, if not all of us, have specific bills that are not due each month.  There are specific bills that are due only once a year, every 6 months, or even every 3 months.  It can be a real hit to your budget or paying down debt if you’re not prepared.

There’s an easy trick to never be caught off guard by an irregular payment.

Take the full amount of the bill and divide by the number of months you have until it’s due.

Let’s take an example:

property taxes.  In most states they are due by December 31st each year.  Let’s say your property tax is $1,000.  It’s now January 1 so you have 12 months until it’s due again.  Take $1,000 and divide by 12 months.  You need to put back $83.34 each month into a savings account. By December you will have $1,000 saved.

No surprises.  You don’t have to cut into other areas of your budget or lessen your cash envelope amounts to make it work.

cash envelope system

Unless you purchase or sell property throughout the year, the amount doesn’t change that much.

TIP: I always take the amount from the previous year and add 3% to it.  Sometimes I don’t add enough and others I add too much.  Either way the difference is less than $50 each time.

how to save for annual bills

You need to do this trick with every annual or bi-annual bill.  Our trash bill is due every 3 months.  It’s only $35, which is not a budget breaker for us.  I still like to be prepared.  So every month I transfer $11.67 into our savings account.  When it’s due I simply transfer $35 to our checking account and pay the bill.  It doesn’t affect our budget at all.

Being prepared isn’t hard.  It takes a little bit of time each month, but if you’re updating your budget (like you should be) then it won’t add any more then you’re already spending.