Category Archives: Budget

Finance Focus for February 2016

finance focus, merelynne

I am declaring this month to be Finance Focus February.

Here I am, about 26 weeks pregnant.  This whole nesting thing has kicked in and I’m dying to reorganize something in our home.  I’ve already got my hands on our garage and the closets and the kitchen.  But I need something else.  So since it’s late and not the easiest for me to be sneaky anymore, I’m on the computer.  With nothing to really do, my brain starts wondering and I start worrying.  Insurance for the baby? I have that figured out.  Maternity leave?  Luckily, I work for my dad’s company so I can stay home or take the baby with me.  It’s whatever I feel comfortable with.  Money?  Do we have enough?

It’s no lie that money can stress me out.  I have this love-hate relationship with money.  I’m pretty sure most of us do.  We could always do with a little more (not a lot, we don’t want to be greedy or anything), but we seem to get by with what we have.  

As I’m getting closer and closer to this baby’s arrival I have been on full-attack mode when it comes to our finances.  I know that babies are expensive.  I just don’t know how expensive yet.  So, J and I have made a pact to be really focused and really diligent about our spending until the baby comes.  That way we can have our savings built up and be ready to tackle anything.

Back in January when I was doing our annual budget, I had an aha-moment…

…I realized we need to plan as if the baby was already here.

The last thing we needed to be worrying about or stressing over was our finances when we’re trying to learn how to take care of another human being.  I knew something was going to slip.  It just had to.  There are only so many balls a person can juggle before they all come tumbling down.  So until I learn how to care for a newborn baby and what our new “normal” is going to be, I didn’t want to be navigating a new financial situation.  Make sense?

We budgeted for all of the baby expenses that we knew of back in January.

man-person-hands-coffee-large

Yes, the baby isn’t here and we’re not planning for him to make his debut for a few more months.  But I knew how much daycare was going to cost each month.  I would share that number, but from talking with my friends that have newborns in bigger cities, I realize just how lucky we are – like half-as-much lucky then they are!  So thankful!

Here was our master plan: Twice a month, I take our cost of daycare (let’s say $900 for the whole month, but it’s not that!) and we split it into two payments of $450 each.  Then we take the amount and transfer it into our savings account.  We’re already learning on how to get by with $900 less each month AND we’re building our savings account a little faster for those rainy days.  

I’ve more than doubled our grocery budget back in January and am transferring our leftover amount each month into our savings.  Because… honestly I have no idea how much diapers, wipes and everything else is going to cost us each month either.

Here’s my other finance focus thought…

Our emergency fund is the same as our insurance deductibles.  Now we’re adding another human being, which means a higher deductible for one of us.  So by building our emergency fund we are preparing for an unexpected expense.  When something comes up, because we ALL know it will then we won’t be in too much pain.

Genius!

Now, this is a learning curve for both J and I.  As both new parents, everything is going to be… well, new.  So I did a little research and saw on Parenting the cost of raising a newborn is roughly $12,000 for the first year.  Gulp!  That’s crazy!  And that was for 2010!  I know inflation and costs have just continued to climb ever year so it’s going to be a lot more now.  All I know is that we’re taking the right steps to get there.  We will make adjustments as it goes along.  But for now, we’re rocking and rolling.  What did you do to prepare for your first baby?  Any tips or tricks?  

Want more budgeting tips? Check them out here!

How to do Christmas on a Budget

Christmas on a budget

Christmas always comes quick around here.  I’m always caught off guard and end up running around like a crazy lady trying to get everything done.  Plus, with a baby on the way I really wanted to be conscious of just how much we were spending.  Money can get tight from time-to-time, like I’m sure most families can be.  I wanted this year to be memorable with some surprises, but I didn’t want it to break the bank.  

So I planned ahead.  A few weeks before Thanksgiving I came up with a list of what to get everyone in my family and J’s family, plus I added in my work gifts that we exchange.  Then I decided on a budget per gift, which was really helpful when it came to sticking to it.  Last year and in years past, I just decided on an overall budget for everyone.  But that never seemed to work.  I always ended up going over.  So this year, I went about it a little different.  Each person had their own budget.  If I went over on one then I had to cut from someone else.  It’s rough and cold, but it had to be done.  

I was really frugal with everyone’s budget.  I tried hard to think of gifts that were reasonable and that people would really love.  Then I did a bit of research before assigning their budget.  That way I was educated when it came to creating my overall savings goal.

Then I shopped smart.  I used ebates.com*, which I talked about the other day (check out how I make money shopping).

I enlisted my saved total from my Walmart Savings Catcher, I shopped Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, used free shipping coupon codes and found gift packages that I could use for multiple gifts.

Once I purchased a gift, I immediately updated my spreadsheet.  I kept my Christmas List handy by using Google Sheets, which I love.  I could pull it up anywhere, no matter what device I was using.  I would add what I purchased, highlight the person showing they were done and then entered in the actual amount I spent.  

I went over on my father-in-law’s gift, but luckily my cousin gift exchange present wasn’t as much as I was planning.  So in the end it evened out and no one had to suffer.  But without using a budget-per-person I wouldn’t have been able to see it.  I would have kept spending money like it was coming from a tree and by Christmas-time we would have been hurting.

Also, by using my $70 from my Savings Catcher I was able to cut down a huge portion of our Christmas budget, which really helped us!  We ended up coming in $100 under budget this year!  I was pretty impressed with it.

Here are my top tips for doing Christmas on a budget:

  1. Make a list of everyone you have to shop for – include family, friends, and co-workers.
  2. Give each person their own budget and me strict with the budget you give.
  3. Shop deals like Black Friday and Cyber Monday
  4. Search for Coupon Codes before shopping.  I use Coupon Sherpa on my phone when I’m in store and just Google any other place while shopping online.
  5. Don’t use credit cards to purchase any gifts – use cash!
  6. Take advantage of money saving apps and websites – ebates.com* is my favorite and the Walmart Savings Catcher app.
  7. Create inexpensive gift baskets that really mean a lot.  You can find items for a gift basket that don’t cost too much, but can be really personalized.  The DIY Mommy has some really great gift basket ideas that are super easy and really impressive!
  8. Don’t be afraid to make something.  I did this last year with homemade Christmas ornaments and they went over great.  Check out my tutorial here.  

DIY Christmas photo ornament how to

*referral links.

How I Make Money Shopping Online

 

ebates.com and walmart savings catcher, making money shopping

I don’t like to spend a lot of money.  I guess you could say, I like to save as much money as possible!  Some call it cheap, but I call it being frugal.  I like to make my dollar last, which means I’m not afraid to get down and dirty to save a few.  I’m willing to take the time to find the best deal, submit my receipts for money back, and search out coupons.  Luckily, I have discovered a few things that help me accomplish saving money!

One of my favorite sites to make a little money while I shop is ebates.com*.  I discovered ebates.com after seeing their commercial for like the hundredth time.  I had my laptop near me and I just decided to see what it was all about.  I have to admit I was pretty skeptical at first.  They’re going to send me a money for shopping? Yeah right!  

Then I started using it.  I started small – login before ordering our dog food.  We buy dog food every 2 weeks, so it was pretty consistent total each time.  Then I received a check in the mail for a few dollars.  Hmmm maybe this does work.  

How I Make Money Shopping, ebates.com

So I added a few more – birthday gifts, clothing purchases, more dog food and toys.  This year I even did all of my Christmas shopping online so that added up to be quite a bit.

Now I have a pretty substantial cash back check waiting to be sent.  It sends automatically every few months.  I don’t have to remember to tell ebates.com to send it to me.  It’s usually a nice little bump when it comes in.

This year, I combined ebates.com* with my Savings Catcher Receipt money from walmart.com.  I do most of my grocery shopping at Walmart, so once I’m done and loaded in the car I quickly scan my receipt before pulling away.  I started in February and by Thanksgiving I had a little over $70 saved!  

I asked Walmart to send me my money via an e-gift card and within a few hours it was in my inbox.  

Then I did something crazy – I went to walmart.com through my ebates account.  I purchased $70 worth of Christmas gifts for our family on Black Friday, I received free shipping and used my e-gift card to pay.  I actually made money for not even spending one dollar!  Crazy pants!

Now I’m just sitting back waiting on my packages to arrive and my ebates.com check to come rolling in and it’ll go towards our Christmas Savings for next year.  Boom! That’s how I make money shopping online, pretty easy!

Here are my favorite money saving apps.  Check them out!

*referral links

Christmas Wish List for Him – Under $25

We all need a little inspiration this time of year to find the perfect gift for the hardest guys in our lives.  I am so lucky because I have two really difficult men to shop for – J and my Dad.  

J is horrible at giving hints and Dad always just buys whatever he wants/needs.  So, this year I came up with a little Christmas wish list to help me stick my budget and surprise them.  The biggest priority to me (besides getting everyone something nice) was not wasting money.  So I have scoured sale racks online to find some of the best deals.  Each of these gifts are under $25 a piece while on sale!  

Men's Christmas Wish List

1. slippers  2. button down shirt  3. picture frame  4. pocket knife  5. holiday socks

J, if you’re reading this post then don’t think I don’t have a few surprises for you this year.  

 

*This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive income if you make a purchase using this link.

10 Habits To Better Your Life

10 habits for a better life

Better habits = better life?  Perhaps.  But I’m a firm believer that small steps towards your goals is better than waiting for something to happen to you.  You’re more likely to work hard and save your money then you are to hit the jackpot in the lottery, right?  So develop small habits that are going to get you the results you want.  You can just daydream of the perfect body, you have to work for it.  You have to eat right, work out regularly and be disciplined.  By regularly choosing a lean protein and veggies over pasta you’re creating a habit to better your health.  By developing a good habit now then you can continue to work on your goals without having to focus on the small stuff – it will come natural to you.

I’m working on developing 10 habits to better your life, you should join me:

habits to better your life

Choose family.

Considering your family – spouse, children in any decision is vital.  You need to strengthen those relationships on a daily basis.  Letting those around you know how much you care about them and need them is the most important.  Think about you as a team.  You and your team have certain goals, needs and wants.  By treating your family as one unit then you all move forward together and can stay on the same page during big life decisions – like moving, changing jobs, big financial purchases, parenthood, etc.

Before any big decision I like to think about my family.  “Is this the best choice for them?”  “Will this help us reach our long-term goals?”  Make your family a priority.  You should put your spouse and your children before your job and before other commitments.  It’s easy to say to put your family first, but it’s a lot harder.  When you get caught up in projects, presentations, and other events it can be easy to let a few things slip.  Remember why you’re working so hard, why you put in those long hours – it’s to better yourself and your family.  To help your kids do more than you were able to do, but don’t forget that your family needs to be a unit.

habits for a better life

Plan your days.

I make fun of J all the time for being the man with the plan, but he’s right.  Now, I don’t want to go overboard with the planning.  I like to have a little bit of adventure in my days or my trips, but I do like knowing where I need to be and what time I need to get there.  I like having my planner updated with appointments, a daily task list for work and home, and a to-do list of things I’d like to get done.  I usually rotate items off my to-do list and onto my daily task list when I’m ready.

When you plan your days, you’ll be able to do more and be more dependable.  You won’t have unexpected pop-ups happen that prevent your from keeping appointments.  Usually before I put anything on my planner, I check my planner.  It’s a simple concept.  Make sure you’re actually available the day and time you’re being asked to do something.  That way you’re able to keep your appointments, be on time and make a good impression.

how to spend your tax refund

Manage your money

Successful people know how to work their finances.  They know how to budget their money and are working towards their financial goals.  Most of our spending habits are automatic.  We have to mindfully manage our money and change our habits.  You need to find out what works best for you and your family.  J and I use a cash envelope system for our groceries and eating out.  Mainly because those are two areas we used to unintentionally overspend in.  By using cash, we can’t overspend.  Once the green stuff is gone, we can no longer spend.

Make it a habit to review your bank account along with your budget on a weekly basis.  By creating a habit to check-in to your finances then you’ll know where you stand.  Make sure you keep track of your spending, too.  I like to use Google Sheets to track our spending.  I can access it from anywhere and can know just how we’re doing.  I also compare our register to our online bank statement every few days.  It takes about 5 minutes each time, but it reassures me that all of our bills are being paid and we don’t have anything unexpected coming out of our account.

Setup a savings account.  J and I have two separate savings accounts.  One for our emergency fund and the second one is for our irregular payments, like property taxes, home insurance, etc.  That way we can budget for it on a monthly basis and have it ready when the bills come due.

5 habits to better your life

Stay hydrated.

Letting yourself get dehydrated can have a negative effect on yourself.  You get tired, feel hungry, can get headaches and even get yourself sick.  You can feel hungry even when you don’t need food.  Typically when you think you’re hungry you make poor, unhealthy decisions.  So make sure you’re drinking enough water throughout the day to keep you on track.  I usually have a glass on my desk that I try to drink every few hours and then refill it.

There are so many benefits to drinking more water – more energy, better skin, etc. Did you know when you first wake up each morning your usually a little dehydrated?   It’s true.  You should make it a habit to drink a full glass of water first thing each morning.  It will rehydrate you and get your day off on the right foot.

Small habits throughout each day will help your mind stay clear and sharp.

Rest.

It’s true that sometimes all our minds and bodies need is a little bit R&R.  If we let ourselves get run down then we tend to get sick more often.  We are no good to anyone, including our family.  Make it a habit to let yourself unwind and put yourself first sometimes.

Rest doesn’t have to be literally sleeping.  It can come in many forms, like reconnecting with a friend, a bubble bath, being alone, or spending time doing something you enjoy.  Find something that makes you happy and be sure yo allow yourself the chance to do it.

Say “no” more often.

In a world of instant gratification and constant yes, it’s okay to say no.  You have to prioritize what’s important to you and what you want to spend your time on.  So if something comes up and it’s not something that will better one of your goals then say no.  The world won’t end if you pass on a get together, another project, or commitment.  By knowing where you want to spend your time then you’ll better be able to say yes only when you actually want to.

Make it a habit to say no more often.  Try not to overcommit yourself during the day so you can focus on what you really love.  If you can’t say no to a project at work, which is totally understandable, then perhaps you have a team that you can use.  Get others involved so you can share the workload and make it less stressful.

habits for a healthier life

Eat right.

It’s true that you can really feel better just by cutting junk out of your diet.  Now, I’m not one for extremes so I’m not suggesting completely cutting out foods you love.  I’m just all in favor of moderation.  If someone told me that I couldn’t eat ice cream anymore then I’d probably pass out of shock.  That just won’t do.

If you don’t enjoy the food and it doesn’t reap much benefit, then there isn’t a need to eat it.  Find recipes that you can cook together as a family and make if fun.  Make a habit out of spending time together, not just eating dinner, but also preparing it.  When I was little, my role was washing the veggies and potatoes so my older sister could finish preparing them.  My mom was very good at putting us to work.  I’m sure when we were younger we actually caused more work for her, but she was always good about making us feel like were apart of something.

Don’t be too strict with yourself or your family.  Allow some yummy tasting treats in moderation.  You’ll have long-term success when you don’t deprive yourself.  Your mind will feel clearer, you’ll have more energy and will get sick less with a healthy diet.

5 habits to better yourself

Get up early.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a morning person.  I prefer to sleep in until my natural alarm clock wakes me up.  I don’t want to hear any buzzing, barking, or any noise.  I know I’m not alone here, right?  Who’s with me?  But we have to realize that we cannot be successful starting each day at 10am.  It just doesn’t work.

You need to wake up and give yourself time to adjust each morning.  As we get older, the less we’re able to set the alarm for 15 minutes before we need to walk out the door.  We need to time to wake up our body and our mind, we need coffee, water (make sure we’re hydrating ourselves!), food, time to get dressed, shower, etc.

Make sure you’re waking up about the same time each morning, including the weekends.  We have our dogs as our weekend alarm clocks.  Like clock work each morning, the pups are up at 6am.  Our body needs to get into a habit of waking up at the same time.  That way we have the right amount of time to allow ourselves to gently wake up and get ready.  It’s best to start your day off with no stress and a little consistency.

You also should go to bed at the same time each night too.  Creating habits for yourself to get up earlier can really help you be more successful.  If you’re tired then go to bed earlier, don’t push yourself too far.

habits to better your life

Be organized.

Keeping your house and your workspace clean can make you less stressed.  You’ll feel better just putting away your shoes, making your bed, and cleaning off your desk each day.  My mom had this saying when I was growing up and it got burned into my brain, “keep your work area neat and clean.”  One thing I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is that she was right.  But please, please don’t tell her that.

You don’t have to spend hours each night tidying up, but a few minutes through out the day will really make a difference.  Before going to bed do a quick sweep through the main rooms to make sure blankets are folded, shoes are put away and the dishes are taken care of.  Try to get the whole house involved – everyone gets a task.  You can take care of the dishes, husband takes care of the family room and the kids put away their toys before bed.  Making it a family effort can really help the pressure from building up because you won’t feel like it’s all your responsibility.  Here are 5 tips to become more organized that can make a huge difference.

Make time for yourself.

This one kind of goes with the rest section, but it’s very important.  You must have so many different things pulling at us every day – kids, work, home, other family commitments, committees, etc. You name it and you probably have to face it.  You probably have a tendency to put everything and everyone else ahead of your own needs.  It’s okay to make time for yourself.

You have to find something that you’re passionate about or something helps you recharge your batteries.  It doesn’t have to be daily or even weekly, but you need to allow yourself some downtime.  You’ll be able to focus on what’s really important and give gratitude to your blessings.  A great habit to develop that can change your attitude for the better is giving gratitude.

Having time to reflect and show appreciation for the great things in your life can really positively affect you.  Making a habit to remember why you’re blessed can be beneficial for your soul.  It can be as simple as making yourself your favorite meal, taking a long bubble bath, having time to read a new novel, or just being alone.  Find something that gives you a chance to be thankful and hold onto it.

These habits don’t have to be too complicated, but they’ll take thought at the beginning.  It takes 21 days to change or make a new habit.  So give yourself three weeks.  Also, don’t try to make too many changes at once.  It can be overwhelming and you can get discouraged.  Keep yourself positive and remember why you are trying to create new, healthy habits.

5 Financial Habits to Learn in Your 20s

5 financial habits for your 20s

As children we learn most of our habits from our parents and family members.  We continue developing our habits even as high schoolers.  Once we’re in our late teens and early 20s, most of our habits are set.  However, there are a few important ones that we need to continue working on to set us up for financial success.

Not to get too deep on you, but what you do now will help develop a path for the rest of your life.  Now that we’re out of high school, we have to start acting a little bit more responsible.  That means knowing where our money is going, helping others, and focusing on those in our lives instead of ourselves.

Here are my tips for the 5 financial habits you need to develop in your 20s:

monthly bill tracker download

Learn how to budget your money.

If you haven’t setup your budget, do it now.  It doesn’t take very long and it can really show you where you stand.  We all want real-time results and budgeting can you give real-time feedback.  Starting a budget is the first step you should take to becoming financially successful.

cash envelope system

Don’t live above your means.

I know sometimes it’s hard to say no, but you have to be realistic.  Know what you can afford, how much play money you have and respect it.  I like using the cash envelope system spending for the areas I have tendency to go a little crazy in.  It keeps me on track and focused on my bigger goals.

Know your credit score.

In your 20s you should know what’s on your credit report and be working towards a good credit score.  Don’t let past mistakes haunt your future.  Plus, a higher credit score means you get a lower interest rate and better deals on loans.  So if you’re looking at buying a new (to you) car or a house having a credit score about 700 is ideal.  Make sure you check your report a few months before needing to take out a loan.  If there are any errors on the report then you’ll have time to get them corrected.

tips on doing the debt snowball, how to do the debt snowball

Pay down debt and student loans.

Now is the time to be paying off debt and knocking out those student loans.  You can take my way of paying down debt, which is the debt snowball.  You will have so much more money for saving or spending when you don’t have debt to worry about.  Just think about the amount of money you spend each month on bills like credit cards, loans, etc.  That money could be spent on saving for a future home, your retirement plan, or even just being able to do more.

Save for a rainy day and the long term.

I cannot preach enough about the importance of having an emergency fund.  It doesn’t have to be some crazy high number when you’re starting out.  I always say $1,000 is a good starting number.  J and I have used our emergency fund a few times when something unexpected comes up then we simply work on replacing it.

As a couple or as a young adult you need to know what’s important to you.  For us, having a solid retirement savings and building our dream home are huge.  Once we pay down more debt then our next focus is saving for land and building our dream home.

I never think that J and I can’t reach our goals.  I know that by creating these great financial habits now then in the years to come we won’t struggle as much.  We will be able to reach any goal as long as we work together and have the same end-goal in mind.  A few months ago, I created the 5 Money Management Tips you need to know.  You’ll notice a few repeats, but that’s just because these tips and habits are crucial to long-term financial success.

Another One Bites The Dust {Celebrating Paying Down Debt}

paying off debt

The moment you send off the final payment is a great feeling.  This past week J and I were able to cross off another debt on our snowball list.

How do you celebrate paying off bills?

It’s hard to celebrate without spending money, just like when you have reach a weight loss goal it’s hard to celebrate without food.  I have my handy “Soon-To-Be Debt Free” booklet I’m using from One Beautiful Home Blog.  I talked about it in this post.  I started highlighting the debts we pay off and writing the date off to the side.  The booklet has a section to put the goal to have your debt paid off and the game I like to play is to beat that goal.  It’s just like the same goal I play with the GPS – try to shave as much time off your estimated arrival time without driving like a crazy person!

This time we beat our goal by one month!  That got my wheels turning about paying off our next goal a month early and then the next debt a month early.  That makes me happy.

Here’s how we celebrate paying off a debt:

Talk about it.  It’s okay to be excited with one another.  It’s a big accomplishment digging yourself out of debt.  Don’t just act like it’s another day.  This is monumental!

Start on the next one.  Keep the momentum going.  I was able to go ahead and apply a little extra to the next bill on the list.  Thanks to the payoff amount not being as high as we were putting towards the debt each month.  I took the difference and paid it towards our next debt.

Cross it off on the list. I get no greater satisfaction then crossing something off my list.  I’ve been known to add a completed task to my list JUST so I can cross it off.  Sad, I know!  But it makes you feel accomplished.  We used to have a list hanging on our fridge with each debt (no totals).  Each time we would knock off one, we would cross it off.  It was something we could look at it.  We’ve since removed it from our fridge because we didn’t like having it open for friends to see, but we still keep a list to cross off.  It’s with our monthly budget.

How do you celebrate paying off another debt without spending money?  I’d love to know!

Giving Your Money Purpose

Giving Your Money Purpose

No matter your personality type there is one thing you need to do with your money.  Give it purpose.

I am very much a Type A control freak.  I have my budget that I update at least once a week, a check register that I can access from anywhere, and a to-do list to go with every facet of my life.

I have friends that are complete opposite of me.  They are free spirits who go with the flow.  They don’t really think too much about next week or having a plan for the weekend, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to have financial freedom.

This one piece of advice fits every personality out there and can really help you become successful:

Give every dollar a job.  Giving your money a task is one of the most important money decisions you can make.

Of course, I’m bringing back the budget topic.  I know budget is everyone’s least favorite B-word, but it’s too important to push under the rug.  A budget assigns each dollar a purpose.

There is something you should know about having financial decisions – you have to tell your money what you want it to do.  Don’t let money control you.  

Creating a budget that works for you doesn’t have to take a lot of time, but you have to be realistic with yourself.  The reason people assume budgets fail and why they do actually fail is because people have unrealistic expectations.  It’s one thing to write down your income and expenses and guesstimate the amounts, but it’s a whole other beast when you have to live by it.

In your budget you need to be honest with yourself and what’s important to you.  If going to Starbucks is a priority then create a category called “Starbucks.”  If eating out is important to you then make sure to have that category.  It’s your money and you can spend it anyway you want.  However, you need to make sure all of your necessities are covered first.  Rent, utilities, food, car payment, insurance, etc.  I also recommend forcing yourself to save for a rainy day.  By having an emergency fund available when something unexpected comes up then you don’t have to sacrifice something you love.  It worked great for J and I when we woke up to our fridge not working.

Have you ever heard of a balance sheet?  A lot of businesses use a balance sheet to see how they are doing.  It compares their assets and liabilities.  I’m a big fan of personal balance sheets, it’s where income and expenses balance out.  You list your assets, income, debts, and payments.  That’s what you need to be doing with your budget – listing everything out.

Your income and your expenses need to balance at the end of each month.  When you’re creating your budget, make sure every single dollar is assigned to a category.  So if you have $1,000 coming in every two weeks then in your budget you need to assign ever single dollar bill to an area.  That means you need to have $1,000 going out – utilities, emergency fund, savings, rent, groceries, etc.

Spend your money on paper before actually spending it.

By sitting down and setting specific amounts you are going to be a step ahead in your finances.  You will be able to actively make decisions involving your money instead of letting things happen to you.  Money may be tight, you might be living paycheck to paycheck, but your finances should not send you into a panic attack.  Remember, giving your money purpose will help you make smart financial decisions.

For more budgeting tips and how-to advice, click here.

 

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.