It’s very important to keep track of your books. It’s the only way you’ll be able to measure the profitability of your business. In other words, there are only two reasons that a business can go bankrupt. First is when the owner doesn’t have enough money to pay the bills. The second is when there’s a discrepancy in the books. That being said, bookkeeping and accounting are critical things to consider as a business owner. [Read more…]
During the month of June, I wrote an article Down Payment or Investment Opportunities. It was my perspective on what to do with my savings, as I want to buy a home as soon as possible, but I also saw incredible opportunities to make money in the stock market.
Review a previous post
I thought I would revisit this topic, but my mindset shifted a little bit. That’s not to say that I’m proceeding in a different way than I thought I would, but now I’m thinking about it differently.
In that post, I said that I wanted to save $25,000 (I think) for a down payment, and wanted to do it in 4 years.
That meant that I would have to set aside a decent chunk each month to make that a possibility. The caveat to that is I would forego many chances to put money to work in the stock market.
Saving money for a down payment versus actively participating in the market is not the smartest financial decision (in my opinion), but in terms of what’s best for my family and for my psyche, this is the right move.
Because I have conviction in my decision now, my “regret” for not participating in the market has gone away.
When I first made the decision to save for a home instead, I often felt regret because the opportunities to make money were so great. Just from when I wrote that post (June 17) to now, the S&P 500 index ETF (SPY) is up 7.5%.
But I know this is the right choice, so I’m better able to focus my efforts on this goal. I’m eating out much less, I reviewed my budget to see where I could save more, and I’m finding bargains or buying second-hand items where I can.
While we are on the topic of saving money, I want to stress the importance of having some set aside for a rainy day.
As we’ve seen over the past few months, life can get pretty ugly. Now economic and humanitarian events of this scale don’t happen very often, but that’s not the point.
What I’m trying to convey here is that life is unpredictable. You don’t know what’s going to happen, or when. You don’t know how bad it’s going to be, so it’s important you have something set aside if things do get bad.
What’s more, it’s clear that the majority of businesses and corporations don’t have hardly any money set aside when disaster strikes. We like to think that if we put our time and energy working for a company, that they’ll take care of us when the time comes, but it’s clear now that most businesses won’t do that. They’ll protect the bottom line, and that’s that.
Obviously, not every company is like that, but I think it’s safe to say that the majority of organizations operate in this fashion.
Now, I do believe that this event will change how businesses operate. They’ll back away from the lean and mean operations, and start focusing on supply chain redundancy, as well as paying a little more for the security of their products and their people.
What I’m trying to say here is you need to look out for yourself and your family first. Sometimes, it’s necessary to forego big vacations, big expenses, or take out.
I think there’s room to be optimistic but also plan for the worst. I think it’s necessary to do both.
Living a life full of optimism is great, but you become a deer in the headlights when something bad happens. Taking the other side of things, being pessimistic, turns you into a cynic, and that has to be a depressing way to live.
Find room for both. Expect the worst, hope for the best, and save for a rainy day.
Losing your job is like a big punch to the gut. At first, it’s hard to process, but then your head starts spinning. What will I do for work? How will I pay my bills and put food on the table? What will my family do?
Taking a deep breath is a good first step. After that, it’s time to put a plan into action. Many of you could be experiencing this right now, given what the world looks like today.
In this article, I’m going to lay out how to financially prepare before and in the midst of a job loss.
As I said, this will be a big shock to absorb. Give yourself some time to realize what has happened. More than likely, you’ll go through the 5 stages of grief.
One of the first things you should do is apply for unemployment. There might be some hoops that you have to jump through, but one imperative item you need to confirm with your old employer is that you were let go and without cause. Resigning or being fired for cause disqualifies you from collecting unemployment.
Set money aside for taxes. Unemployment does not withhold FICA taxes or state income tax (if applicable). If you normally receive a refund, you might get a reduced refund or none at all. Plan accordingly.
The next step has to do with severance. If you were let go or fired without cause, your company will, most likely, offer it to you. It isn’t required by law, but most companies do it. Take severance home and review it closely. Don’t sign right away. Once you’ve reviewed it, take it back and negotiate.
Starting looking for a new job right away. It does not pay to wait. All jobs are first come first served, set get searching as soon as possible.
Be picky, but pick up a job of some sort that will provide you with some cash flow.
Is now the time for a career change? Have you been dissatisfied with your industry or line of work? Do you have the skills and/or qualifications to make such a change? These could be questions to consider.
With regard to any debts that you have outstanding, call your creditors and see if they will let you defer payments, or at least make reduced payments, for a while. Also, make the minimum on your debt payments. Having cash available for other necessary items is more important.
Relentlessly cut expenses and review your budget with fine-toothed comb. Again, cash flow is your friend in your new situation so the more liquidity you have the better.
Pad your emergency fund. Obviously, this is something that needs to be done before you lose your job, so it’s imperative that you listen. Common advice is to save 3-6 months’ worth of expenses. If you’re self-employed and are responsible for payroll and other business expenses, it’s prudent to have 6-12 months worth saved.
HELOC? That stands for Home Equity Line of Credit. Is that something you are able to do? Is that something that you want to do? A HELOC turns the equity you’ve accumulated on your home into a loan.
Life and disability insurance are very important coverages to have, but a just loss and loss of income could derail those coverages. There is a rider that can be added (waiver of premium) at the time of application so your policy stays in force while you are unable to make payments. *Be advised: this has to be done when you sign up, not after the fact.*
Healthcare is another important item to take care of. First off, if you have any appointments you were waiting to schedule, do it now before your coverage changes. The next step is to find a suitable replacement for your current coverage. This could be taking your spouse’s insurance, finding new coverage on the marketplace, or signing up for COBRA.
Avoid dipping into retirement savings – this should be your last resort. Retirement savings accrues most effectively when you leave it alone. That’s when compounding works the best. Not only that, withdrawing funds prematurely will subject you to income taxes and an early withdrawal penalty.
Do you have 401(k) loans? If the answer is yes, you’ll be required to pay that loan back in its entirety in the next 60 days, otherwise, it’ll be considered a withdrawal. Again, taxes and a penalty.
Make a decision on what to do with the old retirement plan – Do you roll it to your new employer, roll it to an IRA, or leave it with the current institution. If you have a lower account balance, your HR department could require you to transfer it or cash out. Each company is different.
Our daily lives have been disrupted. People are working from home, unable to go to the store, or have lost their job.
For those of us that are able to continue living our lives, relatively normal, with some minor inconveniences, we need to adjust.
We need to take advantage of the 21st-century technology available to us. This could be anything from grocery shopping apps, social media, or the apps of your favorite stores.
In this article, we’re going to dive into some of the tools and hacks you can use to help get through this period of quarantine and social distancing.
Grocery Shopping Hacks
There are several hacks you can use to make your trips to the grocery store more efficient and effective.
- Get what you need and get out. You HAVE to make a list and you NEED to stick to that list. This isn’t the time to browse or look for sales (more on that in a minute), buy the items on your list and leave.
- Plan your route – If there’s a particular store you frequently visit, use that store’s app to plan your route. Personally, I go to Walmart for almost everything. The first thing I do is make my list. Then I go onto the app and start searching for the items on my list. The location marked as “your store” will pinpoint which department, aisle, and shelf position for your item.
- Buy in bulk – with items that won’t go bad or if the time in which you need to use it by is several months or years in the future, buy it in bulk. Be careful, however. It is important to do the math. Figure out the “per unit” price and make sure buying in bulk is an economically beneficial decision.
- Look up recipes ahead of time that require only a few/minimal ingredients. Ideally, you’ll want to find recipes that require few ingredients that can also make a healthy amount of food. That way you have leftovers. The way I like to think about it is how much does each meal cost?
- That brings me to my next point…buy foods you can freeze, or make meals that you can freeze. This gives you food that you can use down the road and also gives you something easy to eat if you’re tired or aren’t feeling well.
- One more quick one – Use your knuckles and/or elbows when possible. We all want to stay healthy and avoid passing Covid onto others. Where it makes sense, try not to use your hands.
Grocery Shopping Apps
There are possibly hundreds of grocery shopping apps available, but in doing my research, I found five apps that I thought were extremely useful.
- Flipp – Matches coupons from your favorite brands with the weekly flyer from your favorite store.
- MealBoard – Manages your recipes, grocery list, and it also keeps track of what you do or don’t have in your pantry.
- Grocery Pal – Browse sales and coupons from the stores you frequent, and seamlessly add sale items to your grocery list.
- Out of milk – Lets you know what’s in your pantry and what you need to add to your shopping list.
- Big Oven – Kind of like a social network for groceries and recipes. Find out what your connections are buying to get inspiration for recipes. You can also type in the ingredients you do have and find some recipes you can make with those ingredients
Working from home
It’s no doubt that we are extremely fortunate to be able to work from home. With all of the technology available, a considerable amount of the workforce is able to tap in from a remote location and still get their stuff done.
As lucky as we may be, working from home comes with its own unique challenges. Here are some hacks for those working from home.
- Get dressed like you’re going to work – this is something that’ll help you psychologically. It’ll trick your brain into thinking you’re going to work. This helps you frame your mindset for work.
- Designate a work-space in your home – a psychological trick as well as a means to an end. You can’t work in front of the TV. You need a space where you can actually be productive.
- Keep a strict schedule (if you can) – Now this isn’t possible for everyone, especially if you have little kids at home that need constant attention. Just do your best. Lean on your family members to watch the kiddos for a little while so you can get some work done. Also, please remember to take breaks. Check-in with friends and colleagues. Try to make your day as normal as possible.
- Communicate everything – Almost to a fault. Send emails and texts. Make phone calls about anything and everything. We’re so familiar with communicating in person that we don’t realize how much we actually say.
My favorite part of this post. Writing about the human condition and how in times of crisis we always put our differences aside to help our neighbor.
During this pandemic, do what you can to help your fellow humans. Offer to pool resources together. Share recipes. Have a rotation of who goes to the grocery store.
If you have an elderly neighbor or family member, do everything you can to help them. Go to the store for them. Send letters to loved ones. Send letters to folks in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
We’re not all scientists, healthcare professionals, retail employees, or other essential professions that are keeping the wheels turning, so we have to do our part in some form or fashion. Be nice.
Reading and Resources:
A New Year often brings lofty goals. I want to get in shape or I want to get that promotion, but how often are our yearly goals about our finances?
In this post, we’re going to talk about some of the things you can do to set yourself up for financial success this year.
Put your credit cards away
For the vast majority of people, credit cards hurt more than they help. If you’re financially responsible and pay off your balance right away, they’re an extraordinary tool. For everyone else, credit cards often come with financial pain.
Don’t close your credit card (more on that in this post, here). Take it/them out of your wallet and delete them from your “payment options” on Amazon and/or any other online retailers you frequently visit.
The easiest way to avoid temptation is to take it away. Avoid using your credit card(s) this year.
Pay yourself first
Before you spend a single dollar, set some money aside for yourself.
What you do with that savings will vary. Everyone should have an emergency fund. Ideally, 3-6 months’ worth of expenses.
At the very least, have $1,000 set aside for emergencies, and then build up from there.
Once the emergency fund is set, start building an account for short-medium term goals. A new car or a down payment, are two examples of short-medium term goals.
Last, but not least, you need to save for retirement. This should be its own line item on your budget (more on that below), but it’s something that requires intentional savings each month.
Your saving methodology, or how you save, deserves it’s own section because often times, we save after we spend.
We need to flip that around. You need to save BEFORE you spend. When you budget (make a spending plan), there are several line items.
What you pay, in order, should be necessities, savings, and then excess spending.
Additionally, your savings rate shouldn’t stay stagnant. It should constantly be adjusted. At the very least, on an annual basis.
Run the numbers. Do the math and figure out if you can spare another percentage of your salary, or another $5/month.
Invest in yourself
There’s no better way to improve your year than to improve yourself!
Put healthy habits into practice. Read, exercise, meditate, hang out with friends, go for a walk. The list is endless.
Some of those activities have compounding benefits. Walking is great exercise and is also meditative.
“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest” – Benjamin Franklin
Audit your spending
Figure out where all of your money is going. I typically look back three months, but Holiday shopping is there, so that will distort your spending a little.
If you can, audit October, November, and December, and remove any item that isn’t normal (i.e. gifts/presents).
Once you have a good grasp on how much you’re spending and where you can develop a budget.
Make a spending plan
My term for budget, as the word “budget” has negative connotations tied to it. Using your spending audit, create a spending plan.
- List your necessary expenses – rent, utilities, groceries, travel, insurance, debt payments, savings
- List discretionary spending – fun money. Give yourself an allowance here, but keep it reasonable.
- Monthly income – What do you bring in each month.
Once you have these items listed (debits and credits, respectively) compare the two. The resulting number should be positive. Make adjustments accordingly.
A financial plan isn’t something that’s set in stone. It’s a living organism that’s constantly changing.
If there’s one thing that’s been proven (time and again) it’s that helping other people makes you feel good. However, the reason for being generous shouldn’t be the dopamine rush that follows, it’s to help someone/something that needs it.
Whether that’s a stranger at the store or a cause that you strongly identify with, do what’s right. Live to serve.
Start saving now! December sneaks up quickly, and before you know it, you’re spending hundreds of dollars on things you didn’t budget for.
Save a little bit each day, week, or month. Whatever you’re comfortable. I encourage you to figure out what you think you’ll need for the Holidays and break it down.
Discern what is manageable for you and put it into practice.
If there is one thing I would like to teach you, it’s how to save properly and effectively. Money shouldn’t be a life goal, but it is a necessary evil.
How can you trim your expenses if you don’t know where your money is going? My advice, go back three months and add up your expenses.
Create categories for each item. Housing, utilities, transportation, insurance, debt, food, etc. Those are your necessary expenses.
Then create a category for “fun”. Eating out, going out with friends, etc.
Figure out where all your money is going and how much is going to each category. Trim where you can.
Spending plan (aka budget)
List all of your necessary expenses, and add them up. List your monthly income. Compare those two totals and see how you finish the month. Do you have money left over, or are you negative?
The answer to this question will dictate what you do next. Regardless, the goal of this article is to teach you how to save money, so I’d advise you to trim expenses where you can.
I view every expense as a planned expense. Typically, planned expenses are things that come up on a regular basis. This month, you have a list of things you have to pay. Next month, the majority of those will have to get paid again.
I refer to all expenses as planned because to an extent, we can anticipate having to pay for certain things. Whether it’s next month or next decade.
Eventually, our car is going to break down, the water heater will rust out, and/or our roof will need replacing.
All of these things will happen, it’s just a matter of when. To relieve yourself of the financial burden this could cause, save early! If you figure a new roof will cost $10,000 and you have 15 years until that needs to happen, save now and save often.
I linked to it last week, but I feel compelled to do it again. When it comes to holiday spending, you need to save throughout the year. *Another “planned” expense.
You know it’s coming, don’t let it surprise you. Here’s the 52-week savings challenge I was talking about. Start early and save small amounts regularly.
Another neat challenge you can take part in is a no spend week/month. Obviously, the necessary expenses that have to be paid don’t count, but I’d highly recommend giving it a try. We buy for convenience, not necessity.
I’m talking about apps, programs, and good old fashioned automation.
Some other go-to’s include coupon apps like Coupons.com or Rakuten. I’d also recommend browser extensions to assist with online shopping. I personally use, RetailMeNot, but Honey is another popular one.
Automation – I need to spend some time here because I am a huge advocate for automating your finances. It makes too much sense to not automate. The only time, I wouldn’t recommend it is if your income is variable.
Even then, however, I’d only not recommend it for a few months until you have built up enough reserves. Then, with enough cushion, automation shouldn’t be a problem.
Things to automate – bill pay, savings, and debt repayment.
Since this site is primarily geared towards finances, I wanted to write a reflection about my own personal struggles with financial matters.
I might toss a few other non-finance related items in there as well, but we’ll see.
I’ve been duped
There are two instances that come to mind, where I learned the hard way about investing/handling money.
The first is from early childhood when Pokemon was all the rage. This one day, a kid from the neighborhood wanted to sell me some cards of his. I ran home, opened my piggy bank and took out $5.
I ran back to the kid and bought one card with that $5 bill. I later found out that you can get a big deck of cards for that much. I’d be swindled.
Fast forward several years. I’m in high school now. This infomercial came on with a guy raving about how much money he made using Google search. Specifically, Google Adwords.
All you had to do was pay for the program. Said program would walk you through the steps to setting up a website (I now know the site was to be an affiliated sales rep).
A $90 lesson. But mistakes are made so we can learn from them.
Young and dumb
Before I begin this section, you need to know that I did not know I was going to be a financial advisor, and financial education was limited in my household and was not taught in schools (unfortunately, very common).
That said, I made pretty typical mistakes. Got a credit card, and another, and another. I had spent too much money that I didn’t have and I’m still paying the price for it.
So when I talk about getting out of debt and using a credit card wisely, it’s because I learned first hand the negatives of using it irresponsibly.
More often than not, when individuals make financial mistakes, it’s on the personal finance side of things. Things like saving money, debt management, budgets, etc. Get those things down, the rest takes care of itself.
One part of my finances where I continually struggle is my budget. Very specifically, it’s one particular item, and that’s eating out. I am a sucker, no doubt, for restaurants. Whether that’s drive-thru or a sit-down place. It just takes all the hassle out of preparing a meal.
As good as it is sometimes, it’s also costly. My resolution was to actually include restaurant spending on my budget. I gave myself $50 for the month for take-out. This limits how much I actually spend and also scratches my itch for eating food outside of my home.
If there is an item you know you’ll spend money on, put it in your budget.
Related reading: Your Go-To Budget Guide
On the more personal side of things, it’s been a pretty challenging year for me. Had a mental health diagnosis that created some hurdles for me to jump through. As I write, I’m still jumping through these hurdles, but I’m starting to see the benefits of doing so.
By hurdles, I’m referring to medications and therapy. As well as things I can do on my own time, like exercise, journaling, and meditation.
Those last three items have been difficult for me to do consistently, but when I actually do them, I feel much better.
Another challenge of mine is that I am in the middle of a divorce. This has been incredibly difficult. It’s caused a lot of anger, sadness, doubt, among many other emotions.
What it did, however, was it forced me to turn the microscope inward and figure out the parts of me I don’t like, the parts of me I do like, and the past experiences that shaped me and the lessons to take away from those experiences to continue to grow.
With all of the battles I’ve fought this year and as taxing as this year has been, it’s also been one of the more life-changing periods in my life.
For me, it was extremely difficult to look inside myself and analyze what makes me, me, but I’m glad I did it. It’s given me a better understanding of who I am, how I function, and what I can do to continue to grow and improve.
It’s given me the tools I never thought I would have. It’s helped me be a better parent. I’ve been able to focus more on the things that matter. And I’ve been able to be more present and limit the amount of forecasting I do for the future. (Don’t worry. On the finance side, I’m still looking ahead).
My advice to you is to just keep moving forward. At times, life is stuff. Navigating your finances can be challenging, but we, as humans, are resilient creatures.
With Fall quickly approaching I thought it’s fitting to write an article about the (inexpensive) activities you can partake in that won’t break the bank.
Below you’ll find a large number of fun things you can do when the leaves start to change.
- Go for a hike – Depending on where you go, this can be free! If the hike takes place in a state park, there might be a small fee. Regardless, a hike is a great way to spend time, get exercise, and experience nature.
- Pick pumpkins – This is an autumn staple! Go to your local pumpkin patch and pick out your favorite pumpkin. Then figure out what design, pattern, or face you’ll carve into it and go to town!
- Have a picnic – Ingredients for sandwiches, potato salad, chips, and a dessert item. What else could you need? Through in an item from below (scenic drive) and a nice spot to set up, and you’re good to go! Inexpensive and relaxing.
- Apple orchard – Go apple picking! Gives you a great excuse to go outside, walk, and hand-pick some healthy food for yourself. A typical orchard operation will charge you $1.25-$2.00 per pound.
- Local festivals – Most of these are free or cheap to attend, with most of the cost coming from the games and events you participate.
- Maze – Many of the fall festivals will have a maze. These are typically made from hay bales. Additionally, farms that have pumpkins to be picked sometimes have a corn maze and/or hayrides. I have one of those near me and it was a ton of fun, and cheap too.
- Football games – Local high school games are really exciting to watch. They’re inexpensive to go to, they usually have good food, and you get to show off some hometown pride. Added bonus, you could have a promising player on your team or one on a visiting team to watch. I don’t know about you, but watching a special talent is…well..special!
- Haunted house – I’m partial to the scary stuff because I’m into things that frighten me, but haunted houses are awesome. Yes, some are quite lame, but when they’re done right, it’s exhilarating!
- Sit around the campfire – This is an incredibly relaxing activity. Sitting around a fire with your family and/or friends, roasting marshmallows, and making smores – can’t get much better. Costs nothing more than marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate!
- Scenic drive – For me, there aren’t many things that can beat a scenic car ride (the previous item does). Especially in the fall. Trees change colors, there’s a slight nip in the air, and it just smells like autumn.
- Scary movie marathon – I understand that scary movies aren’t for everyone, but if you have a few and invite people over that bring additional movies, you can make a long and scary evening out of it. If you don’t have scary movies, go to your local library and check some out. It’s free!
- Make collages with leaves – This could be a nice, little craft you can do as a family. Especially if you have young kids. They love getting messy and creating with their hands. They can also have a ton of fun jumping in leaf piles before you pick the leaves out for your collage.
- Ghost hunting – Seriously. In doing research for this post, this actually came up, and it surprisingly checks out. There are a number of apps available.
All-in-all, autumn is my favorite time of year. I love the weather, the leaves changing, and all of the fun things you can do. I recommend doing at least one of these activities in the next few months!
Questions are a fantastic way to understand things better. They are vitally important in our everyday lives.
One area where I think they are underutilized is personal finance.
You NEED to ask yourself questions on the regular so you can discern if you are doing the right things and taking the correct steps for YOU.
In the following article, we’re going to explore the various questions you need to ask yourself in order to be financially effective.
What is my goal with money?
This is a fairly general question, so we’ll break it down into three buckets: short term, medium-term, and long term.
- Short-term (Under 2 years) – If you are saving for a short-term goal, what is it? A vacation? Down payment on a house? No matter the goal, that money will be used soon so the best place for it is in a savings account.
- Medium-term (2-10 years) – This could be anything from a down payment for a house to saving for your kids’ college education. What you do in the interim depends on when you’ll need it and the goal you are saving for. If it’s less than 5 years, I’d still recommend a savings account or short-term bonds. Something that can earn you a little interest, but is still relatively safe. That 5-10 year period depends on the goal. If there’s a particular dollar amount you need to it (down payment, for instance) I’d go no more than moderately aggressive. You want to earn a little, but you don’t want that saved amount to go under what you need.
- Long-term (10+ years) – Most often, a goal that’s over 10 years away can be invested in the stock market, though the percentage of your assets that’s actually in the market depends on the risks you are willing to take and when you need to access those funds.
Related reading: Financial planning for all ages
How much am I willing to lose before I sell?
I almost always propose this question to new clients because it gives me a good understanding of their risk tolerance.
If they are only comfortable with losing 10 percent of their portfolio, they’ll be invested pretty conservatively.
On the other hand, if they can tolerate a 50 percent drawdown and not bat an eye, then we can “put the pedal to the floor”, excuse the expression.
Determine how much of a loss you can stomach and that will give you a good idea of how to allocate your assets.
Related reading: Are you taking on too much investment risk?
How long will it take to adjust my allocations?
Questions regarding asset allocation, typically, pertain to risk and time horizon. For example, if you start saving for retirement when you’re 25, the majority of your portfolio will be in equities (stocks).
This allocation, generally speaking, is suitable for you for a couple of decades. At which point, you’ll probably (again, speaking generally) want to shift a little more of your portfolio to bonds.
Your allocation will, and should, shift over time, and once you get within a few years of your goal, the primary objective of your portfolio becomes capital preservation.
Related reading: Why asset allocation matters
Are my actions suitable for my current financial situation?
Financial situation takes everything into consideration (income, debt, spending, savings, etc.) Actions can be anything related to those items.
Specifically what I’m talking about is how much you are saving, how much you are spending, and how much $ you’ve dedicated to paying down debt.
If you have a sizeable amount of debt and not a whole lot of savings, it’s time to cut your spending. Conversely, if you’ve paid down your debt and are ahead of the game with your savings, it would be alright if you loosened up a little and enjoy yourself.
Like everything in life, your personal finances are a delicate balancing act, and when you ask questions, you can figure out how to shift your priorities.
How is my money being spent?
Kind of related to the last point. Tracking your spending to find out exactly where all of your dollars are going is an important step.
Another recommendation I usually make is to create a financial playbook. Here’s a brief outline of how I create a financial playbook:
- Big picture – List all assets and liabilities. How much you have saved and how much debt you have.
- List your necessary expenses – These are things that you have to pay (rent, utilities, transportation, food, minimum debt payments, etc.)
- List your monthly income
- Total up your monthly necessary expenses and your monthly income and see how much you have leftover. What’s leftover will help you discern what to do with it.
- I would list another line item for “fun,” though I would keep it to a minimum.
- What’s left after fun should be saved and used on debt.
Related reading: How to cut your spending
As I said in the beginning, questions help us understand the world, and ourselves, better.
Having a better grasp on why and when we make certain changes or do certain things is a must if we are to be more effective in managing our finances.
Do you know what could really help you reach your financial goals? Answer: If you had more money to work with! Cutting your spending is an integral part of your finances.
I’m not saying you need to cut out the things you love (insert Starbucks coffee, avocado toast, etc.). I’m saying you need to splurge on those things wisely, either by reducing their frequency or cutting out something else.
Let’s figure out ways we can cut our spending.
How are you supposed to know what to cut spending on if you don’t know where your money is going?
Go back a few months and look for a “pattern.” Where is all of your money going? Bills, housing, transportation, debt payments, etc. are in their own category. Everything else that’s not considered necessary spending (minus groceries) goes in the discretionary spending category. Everything else that’s not considered necessary spending (minus groceries) goes in the discretionary spending category. Keep in mind, things will change if you’re living in an affordable city like Columbus, Ohio, rather than an expensive place like New York City.
This discretionary spending is what you need to pay attention to.
Grocery spending is necessary, but the amount can vary. Figure out what you typically spend, each month, on groceries and determine if that amount can be lowered. More often than not, it can. Just don’t go hungry.
Budget (and budget alternative)
The classic budget lists the necessary expenses (housing, groceries, debt, utilities, savings, and other bills). You then assign dollar amounts for other “unnecessary” expenses (take-out, clothes, etc.).
The dollar amount is what you’d like to spend on that item/category, and not go over. The purpose of a budget is to come to a total expenditure that’s less than your monthly income.
My approach is similar. I list the necessary expenses (excluding debt payments and savings). Just the things I need to pay (housing, streaming, utilities, insurance, and transportation).
Next is my grocery budget. This is a necessary expense, but I try to keep it relatively low. Between my son and I, the limit is $300 per month. Then I list debt payments and savings.
I calculated how much I needed to pay per month to pay off my debt by a certain date. My savings is automated and partitioned.
I have one savings account for emergencies, one for car repairs, one for holiday spending, and one for vacations. Once a week, money is automatically transferred from my checking to each savings account.
The amount of each transfer is less mathematical and is more about comfort. My retirement savings is done right away at the beginning of the month so I don’t have the chance to spend it away.
Whatever remains is mine to do with as I please.
No spend days
Have one day per week or a few days per month where you don’t spend any money.
I’ve seen some people go as far as having a no spend week! Implement these days at your discretion because obviously, you’ll still want to pay your bills and such.
Another cool idea is to restrict paying for certain items during particular times of the year. For example, you don’t buy any clothes during the month of September, or you don’t have any take-out/restaurant food in April.
With smartphones, applying coupons to your purchases has never been easier. I use coupons.com. You can save which coupons apply to you and they can be scanned at checkout. From your smartphone!
Also, wherever you do your shopping, make sure you are a member/rewards member. There’s usually a sale for members. Excluding paid memberships (like Costco), being a rewards member is free and can save you money.
By the way, it costs money to shop at Costco, but their goods are very reasonably priced. They make their money on the memberships, and they sell all of their goods at cost. That means they sell a product at whatever price they paid to get it in the store.
Use price per unit/item
When you are making a decision about how much of something you need to buy, always use price per unit as your factor. The overall price of something may look less expensive than the bulk item, and it is at the time of purchase, but more often than not, the price per unit is lower for the bulk item.
It’ll cost you more when you check out, but through time, you’ll spend less money.
Quick hacks to cut expenses
- Negotiate a lower interest rate on your credit cards
- Balance transfer to 0% introductory APR
- Personal loan to lower average credit card APR
- Unplug unused electrical devices
- Cancel unused subscriptions
- Reduce entertainment expenses
- Carpool to work
- Keep tires properly inflated (better gas mileage)
- Use LED light bulbs
- Use a programmable thermostat
- Lower the temperature on your hot water heater
- Eat at home more/eat out less
- Buy generic
Achieving financial success doesn’t have to be difficult and boring, though it does take some discipline. Small rewards are important. Without them, you’ll go crazy!
Cut the fat off of your budget, and you’ll see how much better it feels to make significant progress in your financial life.