Personal Finance

  • How to Build an Emergency Fund

    Having an emergency fund is incredibly important and the roller coaster of this year has proven it to many of us. Currently my number one financial goal is saving up a 3 to 6 months emergency fund.

    We can’t control everything in the world despite our internal desire for control and certainly. Life happens and it can be very unpredictable. The face that people can feel secure and then end up laid off the next week proved that the unexpected can happen. Beyond just job loss, cars will need repairs, medical costs can occur, and any number of unexpected things can happen.

    Having an emergency fund helps you weather those unexpected storms so your financial life does not spiral out of control. When you are facing unexpected expenses you are able to tap into your emergency fund instead of taking on new debt.

    Even if you are already in debt then an emergency fund can be the stepping stone you need to get out of debt because this system prevents you from adding more debt. Emergency funds are important because even if you are living near the end of your means you will have money set aside if things get even worse financially.

    We are still paying off debt but we are prioritizing an emergency fund for just this reason – having money set aside for unexpected events means you won’t have to ever go into debt again.

    So how do you build up an emergency fund?

    Set Your Savings Goal

    If you don’t know how much money you need for your emergency fund then it will be impossible to know when you can feel more secure with your savings.

    Unfortunately the question of “How much should I have in my savings account?” will vary between all of us because an emergency fund needs to be tailored to your individual situation. There is no right answer to the question of “how much should I have in my emergency fund.”

    In general there are a few milestones and goal amounts most of us can use as our individual goals.

    For just beginning you can start with a goal of $1,000. This is often the experts recommendation for a minimum savings and often referred to as a started emergency fund. It is a great place to start when you have never saved before.

    For a more secure emergency fund you should start thinking in terms of “months of expenses” and aim for between 3 to 6 months worth of your expenses.

    Set Savings Milestones To Hit

    For our situation we determined that one month of expenses roughly equalled $3,000 when we cut back all of our extra categories. That meant a 3 month emergency fund for us was $9,000 and a 6 month emergency fund was $18,000.

    These types of numbers can be very daunting when you start saving your emergency fund. It’s easy to feel intimidated by those numbers so I recommend after saving $1,000 you then aim for 1 month of expenses saved first. This is actually the amount I recommend in a “beginner emergency fund” and it is the amount many budgeting systems recommend so you can get one month ahead of your spending.

    After saving up one month of expenses you can then work on adding another and another until you have 3 months of emergency fund savings. Three months of expenses is a great amount to achieve and can make most of us feel much more comfortable.

    Beyond that you can work on moving up to 6 months of expenses saved or even 1 year’s worth of expenses depending on your situation and risk tolerance. You can continue adding amounts to your emergency fund each paycheck until you are at your desired number. Remember that you should always base your numbers on your exact situation!

    Along the way you can track your progress with a visual emergency fund tracker. Once you hit these milestones or mini milestones you set for saving you can give yourself a little bit of a reward!

    If you are just starting out this can all feel daunting, but remember that consistent savings over time will put you in a much more secure position.

    Pick Your Savings Account

    You may wonder what type of savings account you should use for your emergency fund. Some people even ask if they should invest their emergency fund (short answer: no!).

    I personally use and recommend an online savings account with a high interest rate. There are many online bank accounts you can open at placed like Capital One, Ally, or SoFi where you get a high interest on your savings with no fees.

    Reasons I like these types of accounts for your emergency fund:

    • You don’t have account minimums so you can start your emergency fund from the very beginning with just $1 or $5 or whatever you can spare. If you watch my Transfer Tuesday videos then you know $5 of consistent action adds up!
    • They are easy to open and generally very user friendly. These banks are not complicated and they make the process very easy and also don’t charge fees that traditional banks may charge.
    • Online only banks make it more inconvenient to withdraw the whole amount in your emergency fund which means you will be more likely to only use it in a real emergency.
    • You can keep your savings account separate from your regular checking account. If you want you can open an account at one of these banks you don’t normally use so your money is safe and not immediately accessible to put into your checking account.

    Online bank savings accounts are my personal favorite way to save but you can also save in any other savings account. Just make sure there is not a minimum balance requirement in case you need to use all the money and that there are no fees.

    Most savings accounts, even the ones with the highest return will not give you much return for your money. That is totally ok because you are not looking to make this money “work for you” as an investment.

    Your emergency fund is not meant to be an investment. It is meant to be an insurance policy so that it is there when you need it. You should not invest your emergency fund in the stock market since there is no guarantee the money will be there when you need it.

    Add Money Every Paycheck

    Once you’ve got your account setup it’s time to add money! Take a look at your budget and see what money you can set aside for emergency fund savings.

    You can do this a number of ways. Many people like to automate their savings by either setting up an automatic withdrawal from their account or even having your paycheck deposit a certain percentage directly into that savings account. Both of these methods can help you consistently save without ever thinking about it.

    You can also manually move the money every time you get paid. This method can work well for people as well if you enjoy feeling like you’ve done something and made progress.

    So how much should you be saving every paycheck for your emergency fund? That number is totally up to you and what your budget can allow!

    Remember that even if you can only save $5 or $25 that those amounts will add up over time. Your savings amounts can be small but when they are consistent they will add up. Taking action toward your goals consistently will matter more than the amount you choose to start and you can always increase it over time.

    Add Extra Money

    Besides the consistent paycheck savings you’ll contribute to your emergency fund you can also add any extra money you come across.

    So where do you find extra money for emergency fund savings?

    This would include things like bonuses, tax refunds, and any sort of windfall. You can contribute at least a big percentage of any big amount of money to growing your emergency fund.

    It will also include weekly amounts you find within your budget from cutting back or spending less in certain areas. For example some weeks I’ve spent less than my grocery budget by $5 or $8. Instead of rolling that money over, I put it in my emergency fund. I started doing a thing called Transfer Tuesday where every week I moved money over on a Tuesday so I’d have certainty that at least some extra money was going toward my goals each week.

    You can also put any extra money you earn from side hustles into your emergency fund. This “extra” money you earn beyond your normal salary.

    In this step of savings you can also systematically increase the amount you were originally saving from your paycheck. You can increase your savings per paycheck from $25 to $30 for an example.

    Remember that savings can feel like it’s taking forever but the more money you can throw toward your emergency fund the quicker it will go. Stay consistent and over time that money will definitely grow!

    Keep Preparing For Emergencies

    Like I mentioned earlier, unexpected things will happen. So we all need to expect the unexpected to eventually occur. All we can do is to continue preaparing for future emergencies.

    One way of doing this is continuing to save until we have a fully funded six month emergency fund saved up. We never know when uncertain times will hit so saving during good times will provide during hard times.

    Another way of doing this is building a stockpile of important supplies and preparing in physical ways for emergencies that may come along like a natural disaster.

    We can also make a plan for how we will handle emergencies like losing a job. Knowing what to do when you lose your job can make the whole experience less emotional and more of a practical experience where you walk through certain action steps.

    It is impossible to prepare and save for every potential emergency that may come along, but being financially prepared will help you work through emergencies and focus on what matters instead of worrying about your bank account and how you will buy groceries or make your payments.

    If you haven’t already begun saving in your emergency fund, I highly recommend you do so!

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  • What Are Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps?

    If you’ve ever looked up how to get out of debt then you’ve come Dave Ramsey. He is the author of countless books on personal finance and focuses much of his advice on how to get out of debt fast in order to live a better life. Live like no one else so you can live like no one else, as he often says on his popular radio show.

    I’ve been listening to Dave Ramsey’s radio show podcast every day for months and I’ve even taken his Financial Peace University class with my husband! Along the way we picked up a lot of good advice including learning about the baby steps.

    The Baby Steps To Financial Peace

    So what are the baby steps in Dave Ramsey’s program? Why do they work? Watch the video below for a summary or keep reading!

    There are 7 baby steps to financial freedom in Dave Ramsey’s program. The steps are designed to help you get out of debt forever, save for emergencies, and build wealth.

    Baby Step 1

    Save $1,000 for your starter emergency fund.

    This step is designed to get you off of the roller coaster of using credit in order to float any unexpected expenses that come up in your life.

    Baby Step 2

    Pay off all of your debt using the debt snowball.

    The debt snowball method of paying off debt is where you pay off all your debts from smallest balance to largest balance. It’s designed to help you get wins quickly by eliminating some small debts very quickly.

    Baby Step 3

    Save 3-6 months of expenses in a fully funded emergency fund.

    Saving up an emergency fund is critical to living life without debt. Saving up a funded emergency fund prepares you to handle any emergencies of financial crisis situations that come along like a job loss.

    Baby Step 4

    Invest 15% of your household income into retirement.

    Once you are debt free and prepared for emergencies then it is time to start investing for retirement. This baby step is to help you provide for your future needs in retirement.

    Baby Step 5

    Save for your children’s college fund.

    In baby step 5 you save for your children’s college expenses in the future. Because you will never take on debt again in the future you will need to save to pay for college.

    Baby Step 6

    Pay off your home early.

    Baby Step 6 is all about paying off your home early and living a mortgage free life. Once you pay off your home you free up a lot of your income to use for the final baby step.

    Baby Step 7

    Build wealth and give generously.

    The final baby step is one that will continue for your entire life. You continue saving and building wealth. You also give generously in this step as you earn and build wealth for yourself.

    Those are the 7 baby steps in Dave Ramsey’s program and for many millions of people they have led them out of debt and into a stable and even wealthy position.

    Good & Bad Advice From Dave Ramsey

    Dave Ramsey is a polarizing figure in the personal finance community. People either love him or hate him … or get sued by him.

    Personally I think he has both good and bad advice depending on people’s situations. He is wrong in his opinions just as much as the rest of us are wrong, but his advice has helped more people get out of debt than anyone else.

    Here’s some of the good advice he gives:

    • Paying off all your debt. Being debt free brings peace of mind and getting rid of high interest debt saves you a lot of money.
    • Building up an emergency fund. Having savings for an emergency gives you the chance to survive any number of unexpected events and is a great idea for all people.
    • He encourages a written budget every month. Obviously as a budgeter I love this advice because giving your money a job to do will help you be able to save up and achieve all sorts of financial goals.

    Here are a few of the pieces of advice that aren’t as good that I don’t personally follow:

    • He says stop your retirement contributions until you are out of debt even if you get a 401k match. Personally skipping a 401k match seems insane since you are generally getting that money with no risk and it’s part of your overall compensation package at your job.
    • He says stop using credit cards even if you’re able to use them responsibly. The goal of having no credit is noble but it often makes people struggle with getting a mortgage or even certain jobs. Keeping our cards open and using them sparingly has earned us rewards and kept our credit scores high.
    • He still encourages a $1,000 emergency fund which isn’t enough for most basic emergencies and this number has not changes in decades. At minimum I think a starter fund should at least have $1k per person in the household.
    • He says you should never ever go on a vacation if you are in debt. I disagree as life is short and none of us know what will happen tomorrow. While we have the chance we plan to live our best life while still paying off debt. We also do all of our vacations in cash so we don’t add to our debt.

    It seems like I listen to Dave Ramsey but don’t actually implement all of his advice, just some of it. In fact I often go out of my way to do the opposite of what he teaches because it makes more sense mathematically and for my life.

    Unfortunately because we generally follow his guidelines instead of exactly following them, he would insult us. He’s go on a rant and call us stupid and that’s one thing I really disagree with regarding his style. He routinely insults and is rude to people who don’t follow his advice exactly even if they are successful. This turns a lot of people off his advice and his show, but hopefully they find ways to take the good without the bad.

    Who Is Dave Ramsey?

    dave ramsey personal finance

    Dave Ramsey is a Christian personal finance expert, radio show host, and author. He is the author of the New York Times bestselling books Financial Peace and The Total Money Makeover.

    His radio program, The Dave Ramsey Show, is heard on more than 450 radio stations throughout the U.S. and transmits Ramsey’s inimitable financial advice to millions of listeners each week.

    Overall he has helped millions of people get out of debt and build wealth through his radio show, live events and personal finance books.

    What Is Dave Ramsey Good For?

    Dave Ramsey is great for motivation.

    I listen to Dave Ramsey because he is a great motivator. He has spent years learning how psychology and how to motivate others to take action.

    Listening to his show keeps me committed to accomplishing my financial goals. I might not be paying off debt and saving in the same way he teaches but I am paying off debt and saving. We don’t have to agree on the details on everything to agree on the big things. His show keeps me motivated on the big things like getting rid of debt and building wealth.

    I truly love listening to debt free callers to his show. I love hearing how they’ve paid off so much debt and the ways they have cut down their lifestyles and made sacrifices in order to achieve a big goal. Often they had paid off way more than I’ve paid off! I re-listened to his special show where people who had paid off everything including the house called in and that was super inspirational to me. I want to pay off my house one day.

    Ultimately I love Dave Ramsey’s motivation because I do want to live without any bills. I want that freedom. I want to life life without having debt hanging over me. With no debt comes no risk. When things get bad you don’t have to worry about that debt.

    In conclusion, Dave Ramsey is good for inspiration. And perhaps the occasional idea. At least that’s what he is good for to me!

    Get Inspired By Dave Ramsey

    You can get inspired, motivated, and fired up by Dave Ramsey and his advice in many ways.

     I recommend doing one or all of the following:

    rave ramsey total money makeover

    Whichever way you decide to listen, enjoy! He offers a ton of great info for free on his daily radio show and youtube channel so you never had to pay for the financial advice and motivation if you don’t want to do so.

    Dave Ramsey will definitely inspire you and motivate you to take action to improve your personal finances and your entire life.

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  • 8 Money Moves To Make In Your 20s

    Your 20s are a fantastic decade full of discovery, growth, mistakes, and successes. It’s a wonderful time to explore all that life has to offer but it’s also the best time to build a financial foundation that will set you up for decades to come.

    There are thousands of blog posts and YouTube videos about there about personal finance moves and money musts in your 20s. Most share the same common advice and I agree that it’s generally good advice! I’ve read hundreds of these posts over my decade of being in my 20s so today I am sharing what I think are the best personal finance moves to make by age 30.

    In your 20s you likely are constantly comparing yourself to your peers to see how you stack up. Its the reason why we all love to see lists about what your net worth should be at a certain age or what goals you should hit by 30. While these are just suggestions it’s important to remember that your pace is ok no matter when you hit certain goals. Instead it is best to aim to do the best things you can for yourself during your 20s.

    Create an emergency fund

    Creating an emergency fund sounds like a very adult thing to do and it’s one of the first things you should start working on in your 20s when you are employed.

    Having an emergency fund will allow you to weather potential storms like a layoff or car repair while you handle other financial goals like paying off debt or saving for big expenses.

    You can start with $1,000 in savings and then work toward having 3 to 6 months of expenses saved.

    Read more: How to build an emergency fund

    Create a budget that works

    Giving your money a plan by creating a budget is one of the best moves you can make in your 20s. When you have money coming in you need to direct it toward your goals and expenses in order to continually move ahead.

    Creating a budget allows you to best utilize your income for big goals while still allowing yourself to have a life including guilt free spending (because it’s in your budget to buy those shoes!).

    Finding the right budgeting style for you might take trial and error but don’t throw out all of budgeting just because one style didn’t work for you. Test out one of the most common methods and keep trying til you find what works for you.

    Read more: How to create your first budget

    Plan for big expensive life goals

    During your 20s you will like hit a lot of big but very expensive milestones like planning a wedding, buying your first home, getting a pet, or starting a family.

    There are many expensive lifestyle adjustments that will occur during this because you you’ll want to plan ahead for them. This means creating rough budget estimates and beginning to save in advance so you’ll be able to afford these big things without going into debt.

    Read more: First time home buyer tips

    Save for your retirement

    Yes retiring in 40 years sounds very far away and like there is plenty of time to save. However, the earlier you start saving for retirement the less you have to save overall because of compound interest. You should begin by saving with your 401k at work especially if you get an employer match. Always contribute enough to get the employer match. If you do not have access to a 401k then you should start investing in a Roth IRA. Starting to invest and investing throughout your 20s will significantly set you up for a better future.

    Read: Tips for beginner investors

    Pay off high interest debt

    If you’ve got debt from college then your 20s is the time to pay it back/ If you’ve got other debt like high interest credit cards then you should pay that debt off aggressively. Prioritizing your high interest debt and paying off all debt besides a mortgage can help you setup your next decades for less stress and less payments so your income is able to be used for other things.

    Read more: How to setup a debt snowball

    Increase your credit score

    While some financial experts suggest you don’t have a credit score at all, your score is actually a very important tool for buying a home and even getting certain jobs. If you have student loans then you will have a credit score until it’s paid off so you should work on increasing your credit score in other ways. A higher credit score will allow you to get better interest rates of big debts you’ll need to take on like a future mortgage.

    Resource: Use Credit Karma to check your score for free

    Invest in yourself

    One of the very best investments you can make in your 20s is to invest in yourself. If you have extra discretionary income consider using it to invest in yourself rather than just spending it all.

    Investing in yourself means doing things like continuing education in your career field, taking a course to learn a new skill, or starting a side hustle.

    Investing in yourself will pay off in the long run better than many other things you can do in your 20s. These types of investments can increase your long term earning potential and generally give you a better life.

    Read more: Side hustle ideas for moms

    Learn about personal finance

    Maybe you learned about how to handle money from your parents or a class in high school or maybe you still feel clueless. In either situation you still likely have more to learn about personal finance topics and educating yourself in your 20s is a must do. Whether you listen to fun money minded podcasts, subscribe to budgeting YouTube channels, or read personal finance books like Your Money or Your Life ($9) and Total Money Makeover ($15), it is important to learn about the best ways to handle money.

    Read more: 25 Frugal Tips I’ve Learned From The Debt Fee Community

    Use Your 20s To Build A Foundation

    Those are a few of the best things you can do during your 20s to better your current financial life and set yourself up for an even better future. Your future self will thank you for taking your finances seriously and getting things on the right track before you turned 30.

    Your 20s is a a great time to save and build a strong foundation for the rest of your life. It’s the perfect time to take advantage of a low expense living situation, ability to work a lot, and the power of compounding interest.

    In my opinion the best personal finance move you can make before 30 is to educate yourself about money. Don’t let someone else handle your money without understanding your money and why they are doing the things they are doing. The more you understand and take control of your personal finances, the better your life will be. Education and empowerment in personal finance will completely change your life…. so do it before 30!

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  • April 2020 Monthly Budget

    Our April monthly budget has a ton of new changes because our lives are different now! With trying to navigate the current financial crisis and global pandemic we’ve adjusted our goals for the year and our budget is going to reflects that change.

    Our main focus is savings for our emergency fund and building up 3 months of expenses. We are also planning to celebrate birthdays and investing small amounts for future goals.

    Budget With Me!

    In the video you can budget along with me as we cover the budget necessities: bills, fixed expenses, variable expenses, debt payments, and sinking funds.

    As always I’m planning in my happy planner with the budgeting printables from my Etsy shop.

    If you are new to watching our budgets, here’s a little run down of our situation! We both work full time, I do freelance work and earn income from my YouTube channel and this is our take home income that I am budgeting. I cover bills, variable spending expenses, sinking funds and the goals for the month. This month we are super focused on increasing our emergency fund which we are trying to cover 3 months of expenses and eventually even more.

    April 2020 Monthly Budget Setup

    During this month’s budget preplanning I set our monthly goals and covered the important one time expenses for the month.

    April monthly goals:

    • Save $2,000 for our emergency fund
    • Don’t do unnecessary online shopping

    April one time expenses:

    • Birthdays for all of us: $300
    • Car insurance increase: $122 (sinking fund)
    • Filing for new car tags: $145

    Thankfully we are able to plan for all of these one time expenses and still save for our main goal of the emergency fund because we aren’t paying typical expenses like daycare and fun activities.

    As far as our monthly to do items, we are trying to increase the savings even more by tailoring the to do list to this goal:

    • Earn more money through YouTube and Etsy and freelance work
    • Find free activities to keep my toddler entertained
    • Start potty training to cut diaper spending out

    Hopefully we can at least achieve a few of these to do items!

    April 2020 Monthly Budget

    Here’s the breakdown of the actual budget for April 2020.

    Extra Income$200
    Pennies Not Perfection$800
    Total Income$6,000

    With $6,000 in planned income for the month we broke it down this way:

    529 Plan$25
    Security System$25
    M1 Finance$10
    Roth Ira$10
    New Car Tags$145
    AES Loan Payment$220
    Misc. Spending$50
    Phone Sinking Fund (Mint Mobile)$50
    Car Insurance Sinking Fund$75
    Life Insurance Sinking Fund$35
    Subscribe & Save Sinking Fund$50
    Emergency Fund Sinking Fund$2,260

    Our Emergency Fund Savings

    Because we aren’t playing many different expenses like daycare or going out to eat or going to events or throwing parties (the list goes on) we are able to save a lot more money in our emergency fund!

    We recently determined what we need for our emergency fund to equal 3-6 months of expenses.

    Looking at our monthly expenses and cutting out many things for an emergency situation means we need roughly $3,000 a month for our expenses. This means for a 3 month emergency fund we will need $9,000 saved. For a 6 month emergency fund we will want to stock up $18,000.

    We have a plan for our emergency fund and hopefully things go well and we can save it up with our extra income coming in and big paychecks from the government.

    Now with planning to save $2,000 a month we will also be adding a lot of our regular income to our emergency fund. This means we will be able to save up to $9,000 much quicker than I originally expected.

    Investing Small Amounts

    While we are prioritizing savings during this crazy time, we are also continuing to invest small amounts into the market and dollar cost average our investments.

    I’ve been investing for a long time now and I love investing when markets are going up and when markets are going down. In fact, my shortest time frame investments are for at least 15-16 years from now when I want to use the dividends to help my daughter.

    Because I am not investing money for the short term I don’t worry about the markets year to year ups and downs. I simply add money which will continue to grow. That’s why I’m still investing small amounts even when I have bigger goals to achieve, because I know small amounts I won’t miss now will add up to huge amounts later.

    I’ve talked a bit about the investing platforms I use for different purposes and here are the ones I plan to use this month:

    Because all of thee accounts have different goals and allow me to try out the more popular investing platforms I’m able to try different things and also work toward multiple goals in the far off future.

    Keep On Budgeting

    In times of stress and changes a lot of people think throwing out budgeting is the right choice. In reality, creating a budget and following it during times of uncertainty helps you create a sense of calm and control. You might not be able to control much of the outside world, but you can control your budget!

    Now is the right time to hunker down and do the best things you can for yourself and your specific situation. For us that means saving a lot of our income for our new emergency fund.

    If you’ve lost your job then that might mean making big budget changes and filing for unemployment so you can cover your budget priorities – the four walls of survival.

    If you’re still working and have a secure income then maybe you can increase your investments to fund your future or even find ways to help those around you and use your money to spread joy in a time where it is much needed.

    No matter what your goals are, continue with budgeting and using your money wisely and consistently to hit your goals. You don’t have to be perfect with your money but you do need to be consistent!

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  • How To Create Your First Budget

    Budgeting can feel a lot like guessing and failing in the beginning. 

    You can save yourself time by using worksheets or an app that guides you through the process but the basics of creating your first budget are actually easy. You need to figure out how much money you are bringing in and how much money you are spending.

    For most people you are going to budget your after tax post deduction income. Basically you want to give the money you bring home an assignment so you can better optimize your budget to achieve all of your financial goals.

    So let’s get started creating your first budget.

    Gather Your Budgeting Supplies

    First, gather up all the supplies you’ll need to determine your current expenses and spending. To start your first budget you will need a few different things in order to get organized.

    The supplies you will need to create your first budget includes:

    These are the basic supplies you will need to gather up in order to understand your current spending habits so that you will be able to start your first budget and get on the path to financial success.

    Write Out All Your Monthly Bills

    For the first step, write out all your bills. You can start by brainstorming a list and writing down everything you remember. This list should include everything you pay every month that is a set price like your rent or mortgage, utility bills,

    On first glance relying on memory you may forget some bills. It is very easy to forget about bills that are on autopay or subscription plan. Next you’ll want to give your statements a look and add anything you’ve forgotten, which includes things like subscriptions.

    Next to each bill write the due date or the date you pay it every month. This will help you for the next steps where you are going to plot out your expenses based on when things must be paid.

    Order Your Bills By Calendar & Paycheck

    Now, write out all of those bills in order or on a calendar view. This step is optional but it is very, very helpful especially if you feel like you’ve been living paycheck to paycheck and struggling to find any money during certain times of the month.

    Laying out your bills in a visual format can help you see areas where you can improve. Maybe all of your bills are due at one time of the month so it’s obvious why you are struggling to have anything left over during that paycheck.

    Look at the month and add in where you get paid so you can see where bills are actually falling. The two biggest things you can do with your bill due dates in order to stop living paycheck to paycheck are to change your due dates and to split bigger bills between paychecks. 

    • If all of your bills fall within one paycheck period, call and move some of your bill due dates. This is easy to do with a lot of companies and they will move when your payment is due to earlier or later in the month. Spreading our your bills throughout the month and splitting them between paycheck cycles can be very helpful.
    • Split your big bills between multiple paychecks if possible. For most people your biggest monthly payment is your rent or mortgage. You can split this between two paychecks in order to make it easier to pay and leave you more disposable money one each paycheck. In our case, we were paying our $1,200 mortgage payment all at once but that took up the entirety of one of our paychecks. So we contacted our mortgage company and switched to biweekly payments so now we pay $600 every other week. This is much easier to do and eased a lot of the burden on our budget. You can do this with big bills like rent by putting aside half of the bill payment in savings until the paycheck when it’s ready to be paid. So every paycheck you’ll be saving something toward that bill instead of having to pay it all at once. 

    Categorize Your Previous Spending 

    Once you have gathered up all of your budgeting supplies, it is time to take a look at what you have already been spending every month. This process will be eye opening if you have never done it before. Most people are shocked by how much they spend in certain categories – but it is critical that you take a look at the spending you’ve already been doing!

    For this step you will review your spending over the last three months and group spending into categories. This can take a little bit of time but is absolutely critical knowledge to have.

    The easiest way to do it is to go through your statements and assign each type of spending a highlighter color. Then when you are done highlighting a month into categories, add up all the spending in that category. Doing this for three months gives you a better idea of what you actually spend than just doing it for a month.

    Set Reasonable Goals For Spending

    Now that you know what you were already spending, it is time to add your variable spending to your budget plan. You will look at the categories of spending and set new budget amounts for each one based on reducing your previous spending in a reasonable way.

    Once you have your totals, be realistic about those categories for your first month of budgeting. Don’t try to cut them to the bare bones immediately – that is just a recipe for failing and giving up on budgeting in the first month!

    If you were spending $1,000 on food each month for the last three months, try reducing it by 10% the first month of budgeting and only plan to spend $900. If you spend less than that because you are more aware then great job! However, if you instead only gave yourself $200 for food for the month and ending up spending $500, it would feel like a failure.

    By starting to cut your spending by realistic amounts in the beginning, it will help you make progress instead of feeling like a failure and giving up immediately. Seeing the money you’ve saved from the very beginning will give you a satisfactory win during your first budget months.

    Plan Your Sinking Funds

    Finally, think about your sinking funds and irregular expenses. Everyone has some items they must pay for during the year but don’t happen every month. This includes things like car insurance, car maintenance, yearly vet visits for pets. You can set up sinking funds for a number of categories including these 13 popular sinking funds.

    To plan your sinking funds you will need to figure these out along with the amount you need for each irregular bill or an estimate of unexpected expenses. When you know the full number for an irregular bill you will divide this number by the amount of months or paychecks until you need to pay it.

    As an example, if you want to save $600 for Christmas, divide that by 12 and plan to save $50 a month. If you have to pay $300 in car insurance that is due every 6 months, but you are only 3 months away and get paid twice a month, then divide that $300 by 6 for a total of $50 you need to save each paycheck.

    Do this exercise for each expense you have and then create a sinking fund or separate savings account to store that money until the bill is due and needs to be paid. We do this in our Capital One banking account but there are many other banks that allow this and you can also create one account and keep a spreadsheet of the money you’ve got for each sinking fund.

    Monthly Budget Planner Printable

    Add All Your Expenses Up

    The final step of creating your budget is to list the dollar amount for all of your bills, your expected spending in each variable category and your savings amount for your sinking funds. Now add it all up! This is the amount you’ll need to have in income to cover your expenses.

    If your income exceeds this total number, then great! You’re done and can plan to add the leftover income amount to your financial goals like saving or paying down debt.

    If your income won’t cover this final number then you need to look back at all the numbers and find areas to cut the expenses and spending levels. While you don’t want to be drastic with your first budget, you do need to make cuts in order to cover everything you are going to spend. If you have been living above your means and spending too much each month then this process might be more painful.

    The number one rule of budgeting is to never ever ever ever spend more than you make. If your income is less than your planned expenses then you need to make more changes.

    Track Your Spending

    The last and most important part of budgeting is the one we all tend to gloss over but it is crucial – you must track your spending.

    If you don’t track your spending, how will you know if your budget worked or not? You won’t and being disorganized is what leads a lot of people into tricky debt situations.

    You can track your spending in a number of ways – write it down on pen and paper, keep a spending log, use an app that automatically pulls your bank transactions that you just have to categorize.

    There are many ways to do it but you need to pay attention and keep track of how much you are spending – especially in categories where you tend to overspend. For us that budget category where we overspend is eating out and groceries. These are categories where we have to carefully track what we spend and use cash envelopes to give ourselves a hard stop so we don’t go over budget.

    Create A Prioritized Spending Plan

    One thing to note is that not everyone can budget the same way and this is especially true if you have a variable income. If you have an income based on commission or is otherwise variable then you need to create both a prioritized spending plan and a savings account to even out your income.

    If your income is variable or inconsistent then you can create a priority list for all the things you’d like to do after your bills, expenses, and sinking funds are taken care of with your budget. With inconsistent income you need to cover the must haves first and then each month plan to do as much as you can with what you bring in.

    You should always plan to have your main expenses covered by your lowest / worst case income in a month. When you have a very good month you can cover more of your prioritized list and also add extra income to your savings account that will then be used on months with less income. This can help you adjust to having a roller coaster income and make months less volatile.

    Continue Making Cuts & Adjustments

    After your first budget is made and passes you can then review your budget to see how well you did. Many people don’t do a great job the first month or even the first 3 times or more!

    In fact, we were very bad at budgeting for a long time. It took us about a year to get our budget fine tuned and another year to cut out enough expenses so that our spending was covered by just one income.

    Adjusting your budget over time and continually making cuts to reduce your spending so you can increase savings is a normal part of budgeting. Work on finding ways to be more frugal and new ways to save money that you can implement each month and keep reducing your overall expenses!

    Keep On Budgeting!

    All of these steps will get easier and easier each time you do them. Eventually you will be budgeting without much thought and flying through your financial goals.

    Just remember that the first time you make a budget is the hardest but it’s also the first step to a better, happier, more secure financial life without stress and worry.

    Your future budgets will get better and sometimes even future budgets will be a mess. Budgeting is a continual process where you learn and change and adjust as you go. The two main rules are to always spend less than you make and track where your money goes! Everything else you can adjust to fit how you personally like to do those two things!

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  • Are Gym Memberships Worth The Money?

    For the past 8 months I’ve paid $150 for a gym membership. It’s the most I’ve ever paid for a gym membership and a number of times on my budget videos people have questions whether the gym membership was worth it or if I could get out of it. It’s made me wonder monthly if gym memberships are worth the cost in general.

    Why pay for a gym membership?

    Unfortunately, as most of us get older we start to gain a few pounds or find it’s harder to lose weight than it once was. Now that my friends and I are in our 30s we have to focus more on what we eat and how much we workout. Being active is important to not only our physical health but our mental health as well.

    While being active is very important many wonder why you need to pay for a gym membership when there are plenty of ways to workout for free. If you can do free workouts via YouTube, run through bodyweight exercise or go for a run outside, why would you spend money to achieve fitness?

    For many of us we struggle to workout at home and motivate ourself to be active. There is not an internal drive to be active especially when we view our homes as a sense of calm and relaxation. To achieve the level of fitness we need we must instead seek out an environment that encourages action – hence paying for a gym membership.

    Personally I’ve got to stay active to help with my mental health and dislike working from home. While I do go for walks often I struggle with running and find myself much more active in a group class environment or with a personal trainer at a gym. Since I know my personality and need to stay active this means I need to belong to a gym.

    I’ve had a lot of experience trying to decide if I want to keep my gym membership or let it go to help reduce budget expenses. Ultimately I’ve always decided that the gym membership has been worth it for me, whether I’m paying $10 a month or $150 a month by asking myself a set of questions regarding each membership.

    Questions to answer about the cost of gym membership:

    When trying to determine whether or not your gym membership is worth the cost, you should ask yourself the following questions:

    • How much does your gym membership cost?  Deciding whether or not a gym membership is worth the cost involves look at exactly how much it costs. There are a variety of gym types that cost different amounts. Your local 24/7 basic gym will cost less than a YMCA membership which will cost less than a Crossfit membership. My current gym costs $150 per month but previous gym memberships cost me $10-$25 per month. Whether or not your membership is worth it depends on both the amount it costs and if that cost fits in your budget or not.
    • How often do you use your gym membership? Gyms make money by selling memberships that are never used. This is a well known fact and they depend on it to stay afloat. For every one person in the gym they need to have memberships for 5 more people that never come in. It’s a strange business model but it works and keeps many gyms in business. If you want your membership to be worth the cost then you need to actually get in the gym and use what you pay for. I believe my gym memberships have been worth the cost because I utilize the gym anywhere from 3 to 6 times a week depending on my schedule. There has not been a week where I’ve used it less than 3 times and since I struggle making myself workout at home the gym membership solves my issues because I will actually use it.
    • How convenient is your gym membership? If you use your gym membership regularly then you need to also consider whether the gym is convenient enough for you. Is it close to work or home? Do you have to go out of your way to get there? Even if you use a gym a lot there may be a more convenient option for you that is cheaper. If you have a gym membership that is so convenient it seamlessly fits into your routine then it is likely worth the cost.
    • Do you have the money for a gym membership? This is the most important thing to consider when trying to determine if the cost is worth it. If your gym membership will make it hard for you to get by each month then it is not worth the cost. You shouldn’t have to choose between a gym membership and necessities like food or utilities. If you don’t have the money for luxuries and consider the gym a luxury then you should not have a gym membership. Getting into better shape does not have to cost any money at all. However if it is instead a necessity for you because it is the only way you will stay active then you should try to find a low cost membership that fits in your budget.
    • Will you be stuck in a contract for a long period? Unfortunately gym membership contracts are one of the downsides to joining a gym. You sign up for one year or more in many locations before you are certain that the gym will be the right fit long term. Remember to consider not only if you can afford the gym for the first month but 12 months down the road. Before signing up look into what options you have in case you change your mind or no longer feel the gym fits your needs.

    Those are the things that I think you should consider when trying to decide if a gym membership is worth the cost or not. It’s how I looked at the question and decided my gym membership was in fact worth the cost in most situations.

    Do you actually need a gym?

    So maybe you are considering a gym membership but you are on the fence. You don’t necessarily think you have to have one or you aren’t sure the perks are worth the cost. Do you have to actually belong to a gym to be fit?

    The answer of course, is no! You don’t need a gym membership to be fit at all! In fact, there are plenty of reasons to skip it altogether.

    Reasons why you might want to skip a gym membership:

    • Skipping a gym membership will save you money
    • You won’t have another monthly bill
    • Gyms can get boring over time
    • Working out at home can save time
    • There are a lot of germs in gyms and they aren’t always clean
    • There are many free or lower cost ways to workout without a gym membership

    Here are a few ways to get fit without belonging to a gym:

    • Do YouTube workouts that are put out there for free
    • Join a free local running club that meets weekly (or more) for accountability
    • Buy a bicycle and join a regular cycling meetup to get fit in a group or just bike along on streets or trails
    • Play loud music and dance around by yourself or with your family every day
    • Find ways to be more active naturally like walking more to complete errands
    • Buy a treadmill or elliptical for your home (even one for $2,000 will pay off after just a couple years)
    • Buy home gym equipment you can use to workout with daily

    Having a home gym or being able to workout regularly at home for free comes in handy especially during times when gyms may be closed. You will never lack for a workout during a holiday or when gyms are forced closed by natural disasters or health emergencies.

    Answering the question about whether gyms are worth the money really comes down to your personal situation (like most things in personal finance!). It depends on your situation, your health, your motivation, your budget.

    Whether or not a gym membership will be worth the cost to you is only a question you can answer because there is no right or wrong answer to the question!

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