~ $15 Dollar General Gift CardYou can also keep an eye on Dollar General’s Facebook page in May to make your own “Moms Rule” Cover and get more information for the upcoming Twitter Party on May 7th!
You can say what you want about external factors but much of your financial situation is one brought on by yourself. Sure, there are those unexpected moments when you have to burn through savings (such as a major car incident) but the point of personal finance is to get you set up with proper money management regardless of how much you bring home.
The main elements of personal finance
PF comes down to just a few small actions to make the biggest difference in money management:
- Understanding where your money comes and goes
- Developing a routine for your savings
- Creating a safety net through an emergency fund
- Expanding your options and growing your wealth
Many people live outside their means which drives them to pitfalls and financial ruin. The best action one can take is to embrace a frugal lifestyle. No, you’re not being cheap and you’re not eating lentils every night – frugality is a way of life which trains your mind into understanding the smart, logical choices for your money.
Acknowledge what you’re doing wrong
It’s time to “man up” to how you’re spending your income:
- Do you continually upgrade gadgets that don’t truly need upgrading?
- Do you splurge on dining out when you could stay in and cook?
- Are you failing to maintain your housing, transportation, and health?
These are but a few examples that many people let slip which eventually starts a snowball effect on their debt. Being unprepared for life’s curve-balls is what will drive you off the cliff of financial stability.
The only way you can truly fix your money mistakes is by knowing what’s causing them.
Take a cold, hard look at your finances and you’ll quickly realize what needs to be done; it’ll be an uphill battle but clamoring out of debt, setting a workable budget, and living within your means will give you a stress-free lifestyle that has no limits.
Get things in motion
One great way to get things moving is to undertand where you currently stand financially. This can be done by creating a basic budget or by using a resource like MyMoneyCheckup.org; a website and tool created in part by the Social Security Administration’s Financial Literacy Research Consortium (that’s a mouthful), funding from Ohio State University, and the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (which has been active since 1951 offering guidance on credit and debt reduction).
The tool itself is about as simple as you can get but packs a punch when it comes to personal finance education.
The tool will take you through a questionnaire in the main categories of money (budgeting, borrowing, savings, housing, retirement, and more). When you work through this tool and run the report, you’ll see the areas which need improvement; these areas are marked by green (good), yellow (okay), and red (bad).
- Come to terms with your ability to manage your money
- Understand where your money is going by using the MyMoneyCheckup tool
- Use the financial calculator (on the site) to reconfigure your finances
- Begin the process of rebuilding your financial education with the included resources
A simple 5 – 10 minute process, using the tool (which is also now available in Spanish) will give you the jump-start on “owning” your mistakes. It’s unfortunate that personal finance isn’t a skill most taught throughout school but one which you discover but there’s no reason to wait any longer – get started right this moment and you’ll never again need to be on the lower end of your finances.
You can find this helpful financial tool and resources over at MyMoneyCheckup.org.
Image credit: Tax Credits
Although it’s important to be smart with money, it’s also important to treat yourself from time to time. But if you’re cash strapped, saving up for a fun gift may seem out of reach. Maybe you’ve always wanted to go on a fabulous cruise or purchase a large screen television. Because these are high-ticketed items, it can take awhile to save for these purchases. And if unable to reach your goal, you might get discouraged.
Fortunately, there is a better way to save. Rather than think big, think of inexpensive items you can save for today. It’s much easier to save $500 than $1,000 or more. And if you meet a small savings goal, this can encourage you to reach bigger goals in the future.
What are some fun things you can plan for in the future?
1. Plan a weekend getaway: Maybe your budget doesn’t allow an elaborate or fancy trip. This doesn’t mean that you’re stuck at home. Check into local cities or popular tourist spots within driving distance of your home. Perhaps you can plan a weekend in New York City, Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon or Miami. Compare hotel rates and browse attractions to determine how much you’ll need to save. There’s the cost of your fuel, hotel, food and entertainment – but you can easily complete a trip for $500 or less. To make the trip extra special, consider unique activities. For example, if you’re visiting Washington, DC, you might pickup Washington Wizards tickets.
2. Update your electronics. Are you behind on technology, but want to join the rest of the world in the 21st century? Cellphones and computer tablets are constantly changing. And if you update your phone every 10 years, you might miss out on useful features. The cost of tablets and cellphones can be a major turnoff, yet a motivating factor to save your cash.
3. Check out designer labels. The average person can’t afford to spend thousands on designer clothes, purses, sunglasses or other accessories. But if you’ve always wanted a particular designer item, why not treat yourself? There are plenty of high-end products priced under $500, and if you start saving your money, you can have your wish list item in a matter of months.
Tips to Save Your Money
Of course, saving money is easier said than done. You might think, “how can I save when I don’t have extra money?” A common concern, but there are tips to help you spend less and put cash away.
- Brown bag your lunch: Sure, it’s easier and more fun to join coworkers for lunch. But if you spend $7 a day on lunch, that’s $35 a week. Bring your own lunch and you can save $500 in about three and a half months.
- Reduce grocery bill. Food is a huge expense, but simple tricks can knock several dollars off your grocery trips. Use coupons, take advantage of saving programs offered by the store, inquire about double coupon days and give generic brands a try.
- Pick up a little extra work. Whether you’re babysitting on the weekends or asking your boss for additional hours, the money earned can help you meet your savings goals. Earn an extra $75 a week and you’ll save $500 in about seven weeks – or less than two months.
Saving doesn’t come natural for some people. Getting into a habit not only increases your personal wealth, but teaches the importance of waiting and then rewarding yourself for hard work. Think of a fun gift that you’ll like to give yourself or someone else in the near future, and make this gift your motivation for saving your cash.
Image credit: 401(K) 2013
Budgeting Can Help You Save Money
When you hear the word budget, chances are you cringe just a little bit. Living within a budget is one of those things that is necessary for most people. The best way to think about it is not as a horrible chore or as depriving yourself of things that you enjoy, but rather as a necessity that in turn will help you get your money in order to live a comfortable life for years to come.
A family budget is important as it offers a way to save money and not become inundated with debt. A good household budget will remain realistic, allowing you to do things that you enjoy, but at the same time not spending over what you can afford.
How to Create a Family Budget
The first step to making a budget is to understand your cash flow. The backbone of a solid household budget is to know how much you spend each month on both your needs and your habits. A family budget will require you to track your personal cash flow, meaning how much comes in and how much goes out.
Figuring out your monthly income is the easy part, tracking all of your spending is what will take a bit of effort. You will need to collect all of your bills. This includes credit card statements, grocery bill receipts, gas receipts, and anything that you use cash to pay for. If you have not been keeping records of your spending, or do not have access to some of these receipts, you may need to track every dollar that is spent for an entire month before you can set up an accurate budget. You can use a notebook or an online program such as Microsoft Money or Quicken. These programs will make your budgeting much easier and are definitely worth the investment.
Once you have determined your spending habits, you then need to divide them into fixed costs and variable costs. Fixed costs include things such as your mortgage payment, car payment, and loan payments. Variable costs include things such as food, clothing, and entertainment.
Set Your Goals
The next step to setting up a family budget is to set your goals. Once you know what you are spending each month it becomes easier to determine the costs that you can trim from your spending and which ones that you cannot. Setting small goals is a great way to stay motivated and on track with your budget. For example, take the $2 you spend on coffee every morning and put it into a piggy bank or a jar. By the end of the month you will have a tidy little amount of money that can be placed into a savings account or money market account. Remember, budgeting does not have to be hard, but you do have to motivate yourself to do it.
Image Credit: 401K
Do you have budgeting tips that you would like to share?
As a family of four living on a single income, it is important to budget wisely. This includes saving money on food whenever possible. One of the best ways to save money on your monthly grocery bill is through meal planning. Most families spend the majority of their monthly budget on food.
When you hear the word planning, it is likely that your thoughts automatically go to time consuming and difficult. However, once you get organized with a few simple steps, you will find that weekly meal planning is actually quite easy and can even be fun.
The first step to meal planning and saving money is to get a flyer from your local grocery store. Most of the time, these flyers will come in the mail each week. You might want to search through a couple of different ones to find the best prices. You can also go to the store’s website in order to see the weekly sales ad.
Sales and Coupons
The first thing that you should look for is sales on fresh ingredients. Fresh produce and meat are things that you will need to buy on a weekly basis, so it is important to look for the lowest prices on each. I tend to focus on these types of ingredients for my meals and ignore most of the prepackaged food items. The reason for this is that most fresh ingredients are cheaper in the long run and also healthier.
Use a Meal Planning Sheet
A simple meal planning sheet will consist of the days of the week with a box for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Once you have your recipes and ingredients in place, start plugging in the meals for the week. Many lunches can consist of leftovers from the night before. You can also purchase simple items for lunches such as sandwiches. You can then make your list from the ingredients needed for each meal. Cross off items you currently have and make sure that you have enough of the basics such as flour, butter, eggs, milk, etc.
Taking the time to plan meals out for the week is a great way to save money. Make sure to stick to your list and shop the sales. You will also want to use any coupons you can find. It is amazing how much money you can save when you take the time to plan out your meals.
Sometimes locking into a cell phone plan can be a lot more expensive than you had originally planned. Once you figure the cell phone, the minutes, the added features like texting and Internet, then add all of the taxes and line charges, the charges can be overwhelming. What’s worse, if you want to purchase a cell phone for your child, you then have to either closely monitor your child’s phone usage or pay an additional fee to have it monitored and automatically limited for you.
The great news is that there are other options out there that will allow you to provide your child with a cell phone and give them that sense of responsibility and “coolness”, while also giving you a method to stay in touch with them that won’t end up costing you a small (or large) fortune.
TracFone is one of these options. It’s a great way for parents to stay in touch with their kids in the summer, on the weekends or just after school. In fact, we bought my stepdaughter a TracFone for her first phone when she was 11 and I’m glad we did. She went through her first 200 minutes in the first week. That’s when she realized that she wouldn’t get any more talk time until the next month, thus forcing her to learn to be more responsible with her phone time.
Here are a few other things we liked about the TracFone:
- There are no contracts, no credit checks, no activation charges or cancellation fees. I thought that was awesome because it meant no surprises later.
- Great nationwide coverage and excellent reception/connectivity. See more here: Get into Everywhereness
- There are several different phones to choose from, including brand names like Motorola, Kyocera, LG, Nokia and Samsung. Choose from simple “Candy Bar” phones, to Bluetooth®-enabled “Smart” phones. Of course, the fancier ones are more expensive, but your kids will think they are rock stars regardless if this is their first cell phone. Still, if you want to get them phones that take pictures, videos, have text capabilities and more, TracFone has them available.
- You can top up your minutes monthly by going online or you can buy cards nationwide at thousands of different retailers. If you want to save even more, you can purchase a one-year service card. Doing so will double the minutes you buy for the entire life of your phone – that can save you a lot!
- It’s also worth noting that, although we never used it, the TracFone allows you to make International calls to more than 60 different international destinations for the same charge as a local call. In fact, with TracFone’s International Neighbors program, you can provide family and friends in Mexico or Canada a local phone number in those countries to reach you on your TracFone in the U.S.
- If you don’t want to have a huge plan, you don’t have to. You can get a calling and texting plan for as little as $10 a month, which makes this a great choice for an emergency phone to have with you on the road or anywhere else.
- TracFone can provide a lot of value for seniors as well. See why here: Senior Value
For us, the TracFone was a great choice for our stepdaughter. It taught her responsibility, while also giving us a way to reach her and vice versa. It might not be for everyone, but it worked for us and likely saved us an enormous amount on our cell phone bill while she learned to ration her minutes. I can’t imagine what we would have been charged those first few months through our traditional mobile carrier!
Spending time with your spouse is important for sustaining a healthy relationship. I really like my husband. He’s my best friend, but it’s getting tougher to find time alone because of our little ones, our growing businesses and our work at home jobs. The best solution we’ve found is to schedule dates at home.
Not only is it free, but it’s convenient. I know that most people would suggest that we ought to pay for babysitting and get away on a “real date.” But that’s just not our style. We like being close to the kids if they need us for anything, and we’re hermits. Our best date is cuddling up in bed and streaming a movie on the laptop, munching on snacks. We tend to schedule our dates overnight, when the kids are sleeping and once a week. If my infant wakes up to nurse, we pause the movie, get her back to sleep and voila, we keep going.
You might find yourself in similar circumstances, where going out for a date night is not an option or a preference right now. Rather than abandon the idea altogether, try these at home dating ideas:
- Plan a backyard picnic
- Set up a table for two in your bedroom and prepare a special meal
- Play a game together
- Enjoy a dessert date instead of a full meal
- Listen to music and delight in conversation in bed or on the floor
If you don’t schedule these dates, you’re less likely to keep up with them on a regular basis. Try to come up with a night once a week that you set aside for just you and your husband.
Saving money is a side benefit to dating at home. You eliminate fuel, tickets, eating out, babysitting and other costs associated with having a date outside the home. It might be just what you need when you’re trying to pinch pennies and keep the fire lit in your marriage.
You go to work to make money, right? Of course you do! But if you’re not careful, incidental costs in the workplace can add up tremendously, reducing your paycheck little by little. Get the most money you can out of your job by following some simple tips for saving at work.
1. Drink Up
Most employers offer coffee makers and water coolers, and you should use them if you want to save money. Bringing your own bottled water is a waste of money. So is that $5.00 daily frappu-cappu-macchichino; reserve the fancy drinks for a special treat. If you don’t like the water cooler, bring your own jug of filtered water from home. Frugal living doesn’t have to be bland; try the myriad of flavor add-ins available for some variety.
You hear it all the time: take your lunch to work. When I worked outside the home, I got into the habit of eating out for lunch nearly every day of the week. It took adding up how much I was actually spending ($150 a month!) to kick the habit. Seeing what it did to my waistline helped, too. Make it easy on yourself by:
- Packing a lunch for yourself when packing lunches for the kids
- Getting leftovers ready for work right after supper
- Buying convenient, healthy frozen meals
- Making foods like salads and sandwiches for the entire week at one time
Make sure you’re taking advantage of all the perks that come along with your job. Does your employer offer a flexible savings program, health savings account or commuter reimbursement? You can take money out of your paycheck for some necessities like prescriptions, day care and parking fees before taxes are deducted. Do everything you can to maximize your take-home pay.
Photo courtesy of Phil Monger.
In today’s economy, every dollar counts. Yet you’d be surprised how much money we waste on a weekly basis. Read on to find some practical saving tips to help you keep more of the money you earn with little effort. They might seem obvious — and really, they are. But we don’t always do them!
- Pay your bills on time. Companies will tack on a late fee of up to $30 if you miss your due date. Avoid these extra charges by setting up automatic payments, either directly through the company or via an online bill pay service, such as Checkfree. With a little planning, there’s no reason to waste your money on late fees.
- Avoid ATM fees. Here’s another pointless fee that you should never pay. Find out about your bank’s fee structure. Use only ATMs where your bank won’t charge a withdrawal fee, or get your cash directly from the bank. Exception: these are hard to avoid when you’re out of town and need some cash.
- Use the Library. I’m always surprised at how many people don’t take advantage of their local library. I must admit that I’m a reformed book buyer. I used to only buy books new because I liked the way they looked lined up on a shelf. Crazy, I know! Once you realize that books are only for reading, you’ll be OK with borrowing.
- Drink from the tap. I touched on this when I talked about having a green summer. With millions of government dollars spent to keep our water clean and safe, why are wasting our own money on the same thing? Buy a filter if you don’t quite like the taste. Skipping the bottled water is an easy way to save money, and you won’t have to lug those heavy cases!
- Go to matinees. If you like going to the movies, consider going a little earlier. Tickets before and after 6:00 P.M. can differ by as much as $3.00 or more. For a family, the difference can really add up.
Do you have any smart tips for easy ways to save? Share them here in the comments!
Photo courtesy of MoneyBlogNewz.
Besides saving a ton of money from not having to buy expensive baby formula, there are several long term benefits breastfeeding provides that help both mother and child. An infant feeding on breast milk receives hundreds of proteins, vitamins and minerals per feeding. All these proteins and vitamins will affect an infant’s health later on in life. Research has shown that the long term benefits of breastfeeding reach adulthood; adults who were breastfed as infants are less likely to be overweight or obese as adults.
That is not the only good news for breastfed infants. The nourishment a mother’s breast milk provides also helps infants fight off infections in their early years. Breastfed babies are less likely to get ear infections in the first year of life, as well as suffer less incidents or severity of pneumonia and meningitis. As for long term affects, breastfed babies are less likely to develop asthma, allergies and eczema.
Breastfed babies are not the only ones making out like bandits; moms benefit from breastfeeding as well. A breastfeeding mom uses a lot of energy in the production of milk and that causes her body to use calories. This can cause a breastfeeding mom to lose weight if she maintains her food intake and doesn’t overeat. Breastfeeding moms also develop a smaller risk for breast and ovarian cancer. Finally, a lactating mom who breastfeeds for at least six months delays the return of her menstrual cycle and is less likely to become pregnant in the first six months of a child’s birth.
A feeding baby has only one thing in mind when it attaches itself to its mother’s breast as it satisfies its hunger. However, they will realize later on in life that their mother did plenty more to improve their health as adults. Breast milk not only serves as food, it is also an antidote and protects an infant well into adulthood.