March was a mixed month in my financial world. I ended March with a slightly higher net worth (up 0.6%) but my spending was the highest it’s been this year: $5989.10. Yet, that spending was mostly mindful. I wasn’t frittering away money on silly things.
If I wasn’t buying dumb stuff, then where did my money go? A few worthwhile places:
I spent $653.31 on the yard and garden. Specifically, Kim and I tore out a big cedar tree in the corner of the yard, then converted that space to a small orchard. I use the word “orchard” loosely here. We planted three fruit trees, four blueberries, four grape vines, and a bunch of strawberries. I hope to write about this more in the near future.
I spent $625.72 on health and fitness. In the middle of the month, I had quite a scare. Out of nowhere, I had chest pains, so I visited the local hospital ER. My co-pays and prescriptions are reflected in March’s spending — and there’s more to come. (We’re about to have a l-o-n-g article on the $6800 hospital bill I received in the mail yesterday. That’ll happen in April or May.) Meanwhile, Kim had knee surgery at the end of the month. I paid for some of her stuff out of my pocket.
I spent $579.36 on gifts in March, which is very very unusual.
I paid the $450 annual fee on my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card. (Yes, I know this seems like a lot. But remember the card comes with a $300 travel credit, which means my effective annual fee is $150. I believe I receive $150 in value from the card’s other benefits.)
I don’t consider any of that spending frivolous although I recognize that some of it isn’t necessary. (Do we need an orchard? Do I need to give gifts?)
That said, I did have some weak spots in my spending. I bought several movies on iTunes. In fact, I spent $72.63 on iTunes in March. I need to be careful lest I return to my former profligate ways. No more looking in the iTunes store! I also spent $230.15 on alcohol during the month (most of which was beer).
How did I do with groceries? As you know, my food spending had grown out of control, which is one of the primary reasons I’m tracking my spending in detail this year. Last year, I spent over $1000 per month in food. This year, I’m spending less than $700 per month.
I was very proud of my food spending for most of March. I spent a total of $658.21 during the month: $468.27 on groceries and $184.24 on dining out. That’s my lowest monthly food total in two years (excepting months during which I’ve been on the road).
Going into the last week of March, I’d only spent $241.87 on groceries. That’s amazing! Things fell apart, however, when I stocked up on food for Kim’s convalescence. Meanwhile, we only had three restaurant meals during the month. For one of those, I paid for two guests. Not bad. Not bad.
Now that we’ve made it through the first three months of 2019, I was curious how my quarterly spending compared to last year. Monthly spending can fluctuate quite a bit. You can get a better idea of your actual habits by looking at a bigger picture.
Here are some highlights:
I spent $116.56 at the iTunes store during the first quarter of 2019. That’s less than I spent on movies and TV shows during any single month last year, so that’s a win.
I spent $2076.54 on food for the quarter, which is lower than any quarter in 2018. I spent $1179.53 on groceries, $323.52 on HelloFresh, and $542.29 on dining out. That restaurant spending is another big win. The grocery spending was good — better than any quarter in 2018 — but I feel like I can do better.
I spent a lot on health and fitness during the first three months of the year: $1752.60. And the thing is, it’s not going to get much better.
This year, I decided to separate hot tub expenses into its own category. I spent $151.88 on hot tub stuff (chemicals, etc.) during the first three months of the year. And, no, that doesn’t include electricity.
Our zoo — three cats and a dog — cost us $447.54 during the first quarter of 2019.
You know where I could save big bucks? By drinking less. I spent $586.36 on alcohol during the first three months of the year (and that includes four weeks during which I didn’t drink a drop!). That’s $6.44 per day. Time for me to cut back on my craft beer obsession…
I spent a total of $15,364.85 during the first quarter of 2019, an average of $5121.62 per month. That’s not a great number, to be honest. It’s pretty much what I was spending last year. Still, I’m trying not to get too stressed about things…yet.
The whole point of this exercise is for me to figure out where I’m spending my money and why. Once I have a clear picture, I can make some course corrections.
April is the Cruelest Month
Unfortunately, April is going to have some crazy, crazy spending numbers. My accountant called yesterday to give me my tax bill. I owe $20,000. (I’m not joking.) The hospital called too. They wanted to let me know that I owe them $6800 for the ER visit in the middle of March. To cap things off, payment is due on the vacation that Kim and I booked a year ago. We’ll be headed to Greece and Italy in August — but we’re paying for it today.
Fortunately, I knew that some of these expenses were looming, so I have cash set aside to pay for taxes and our trip. (The ER visit was a surprise, obviously, and I don’t have money set aside for that.) That doesn’t change the fact that April’s expenses are going to be insane, though. It just means I’m somewhat prepared for the insanity.
The upside to having a $6800 hospital bill so early in the year? It gives me a chance to make maximum use of my health insurance! My max “out of pocket” is $7900 annually. Since it looks like I’m going to hit that, it makes sense to address all medical issues that are bugging me in 2019.
At the end of 2018, I had a net worth of $1,334,227.20. At the end of March, my net worth was $1,397,545.18. That’s a leap of more than $63,000 (or 4.75%). That’s great! In reality, this simply reflects a hot stock market. My investment accounts are up $77,933.04 this year (11.45%).
Budgeting for new homeowners starts with understanding the true costs of owning a home.
Ready to buy your first home? While open houses, mortgage paperwork and the planning of your housewarming party may have you busy, creating your budget as a new homeowner and uncovering the hidden costs of owning a home should be top of mind as you take this big financial step.
“It’s extremely important to determine how homeownership will affect your monthly budget before you purchase a home and not afterwards,” says Emily Graham Stroud, president and owner of Stroud Financial Management, Inc. in Fort Worth, Texas. “One of the biggest mistakes people make financially is house hunting and falling in love with a home before they’ve analyzed their monthly budget.”
“How do I adjust my budget after buying a home?” is a question to tackle as soon as possible during the buying process. Learning the rules of budgeting for new homeowners can help you avoid money headaches once the ink is dry on your mortgage.
Break down the costs of owning a home
When adding up homeownership expenses, your mortgage payment is just the tip of the iceberg. There are other things to budget for after buying a home beyond what you pay to your lender each month.
John Bodrozic, co-founder of HomeZada, a digital home management app, says budgeting expenses for a first home usually fall into four categories:
Mortgage, insurance and property taxes
Utilities, including electric, water, pest control, garbage collection, internet and phone services
Maintenance and repair costs
In addition to the principal and interest on your home loan, your mortgage payment may also include escrow for your annual property taxes, homeowner’s insurance and homeowner’s association dues (if you live in a condominium or neighborhood with an HOA). If not, you’ll need to separately include these hidden costs of owning a home in your budget.
“If you don’t escrow for property taxes and homeowner’s insurance, then you need to create your own escrow savings account that’s earmarked specifically for these expenses,” Stroud says.
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For example, if your annual homeowner’s insurance premium totals $2,400, you could budget $200 per month toward this cost and stash that money in a high-yield online savings account. You’ll need to do the same for your property taxes. When it’s time to pay for these hidden costs of owning a home, you’ll have the cash on hand to cover all of it.
Include a line item in your budget for home savings
You likely already know that an emergency fund can help you cover unexpected expenses, like a flat tire or an unplanned visit to the doctor. When buying a home, budgeting for new homeowners should also include setting up a separate savings account for unplanned home maintenance and repairs.
“A good rule of thumb is to save between 1 and 4 percent of the purchase price of your home for annual preventative maintenance and repair costs,” Bodrozic says.
When considering things to budget for after buying a home, Bodrozic says if you’re dealing with a newer home, you may be able to aim for a one percent savings goal, as things like the roof, appliances, and heating and air system should still be in good shape. “If your home is 20 to 25 years or older, a budget of 4 percent is more appropriate because many of the home’s equipment and assets are near the end of their useful life.”
When determining which things to budget for after buying a home, remember that repair costs may increase over time as the property ages, and you’ll need to adjust your budget accordingly. Bodrozic says keeping up with regular maintenance can help preserve your home’s equipment and structural elements, potentially allowing you to delay spending on major repairs.
Determine your new disposable income
The hidden costs of owning a home could affect how much money you have left over each month after your bills are paid. While your monthly mortgage payment could be less than your previous rent, your property taxes, homeowner’s insurance and other home-related expenses may mean you’ll pay more on housing each month.
Stroud says if owning a home means having less disposable income each month, then you need to be clear about distinguishing between your wants and needs to better adjust your spending plan.
On the other hand, budgeting for new homeowners could mean monthly housing costs that are less than or equal to what you previously paid in rent. If you have more wiggle room in your budget, you could funnel any “extra” cash into your emergency fund or home maintenance savings.
Once those are fully funded, you could find room in your budget to pay down credit card or student loan debt, or increase the amount you’re saving for retirement each month. As you’re working toward your financial goals, be mindful of purchases you may be tempted make as a new homeowner—especially if lower housing costs mean you have more discretionary spending to play with in your budget.
“Many first-time homeowners find that their first home causes lifestyle changes,” Bodrozic says. That could mean buying new furniture, upgrading your TV, purchasing an expensive lawn mower or rushing into costly renovation projects.
Plan regular budget reviews
Once you add up the hidden costs of owning a home and the not-so-hidden ones, budgeting for new homeowners means regularly reviewing and adjusting your spending and savings plan.
“It’s important to review your home’s budget and expenses at least four times a year, perhaps even monthly if you bought an older home,” Bodrozic says.
Checking in with your budget regularly can help you track things to budget for after buying a home, like maintenance and repairs and seasonal changes that may affect your utility bills. It’s also a good way to stay on top of all of your expenses, not just homeownership costs, and monitor your savings progress, which can help you avoid overspending and taking on debt.
One final thing to consider is how much you will be chipping away at your mortgage over time. Though it’s not one of the things to budget for after buying a home, Bodrozic recommends being aware of how much equity you’re building up in the home over time because it may influence your future housing expenses.
For example, if you took out a conventional loan with less than 20 percent down and are paying private mortgage insurance (PMI), you can request that it be removed once you reach 20 percent equity in the home. That in turn can reduce your monthly mortgage payment. If you think you might consider a cash out refinance at some point to make upgrades or renovations, you’ll need to have equity available that you can draw on later.
Master budgeting for new homeowners
Buying a home can change your life and your budget. Reviewing the numbers and planning your budget before you sign on the dotted line can make a huge difference in creating a positive homeownership experience.
Have you made your resolutions yet? It can feel a little daunting trying to figure out what you need to focus on, so we made it easy: These are the resolutions everyone else is taking on in 2021, according to a survey by Wallethub, and you should, too. Plus — how to accomplish them.
1. Make A Realistic Budget And Stick To It
This one sounds familiar, right? Oft-regarded as Old Faithful when it comes to New Years’ resolutions, it holds that title for good reason. Having a budget you can actually stick to will set you up for financial success, no matter what your goals are.
It’s easy to slip away from our good financial habits as the year goes on, so it’s particularly important to find a budgeting system that works for your lifestyle and won’t be hard to maintain.
We recommend the 50/30/20 method. It’s simple, yet effective, and has a bit of a cult following, too! Here’s how it shakes out:
50% of your take-home income every month covers your fixed expenses — rent, utilities, groceries, minimum debt payments, etc. 30% goes towards the things you can live without, but don’t want to (like food delivery, a Netflix subscription and travel). Finally, the last 20% of your monthly income is dedicated to your financial goals.
2. Look For A Better Job: Make up to $69/Hour
The most surefire way to achieve your financial resolutions and stay within that budget you made is to earn more money.
2020 made that really hard for most people. Which is why finding a better job, that you actually enjoy — and will pay you more — is a top resolution for 2021.
But what if you could create that higher-paying and more rewarding job? There’s an idea…
Can you open an excel spreadsheet? Does earning $69 an hour sound appealing? How about the freedom to work remotely while helping others succeed?
Those are the perks of working as a bookkeeper, says Ben Robinson, a CPA and business owner who teaches others to become virtual bookkeepers through online courses called Bookkeepers.com.
You don’t have to be an accountant or even really good at math to be successful in this business. In fact, all you need are decent computer skills and a passion for helping business owners tackle real-world problems. The ability to stay moderately organized is helpful, too.
You can make up to $69 an hour, according to data from Intuit, the creator of QuickBooks, and you have no commute. It’s a great opportunity for parents who want a part-time job, recent college grads or anyone who wants to bring in real money working from home.
Robinson shares what it takes to be a virtual bookkeeper, plus tips for making this career work for you in his free class at Bookkeepers.com. If you stick with the classes, you could be running your own business in just a few months.
3. Pay Off Credit Card Debt: Wipe Out All Your Debt by Tomorrow
2020 was actually a good year for paying down credit card debt — Americans did more of it this year than they ever have.
But there’s still work to be done, which is why paying off credit card debt is one of the top financial resolutions this year. Because if you still have credit card debt, you know. The anxiety, the interest rates, the fear you’re never going to escape…
And the truth is, your credit card company doesn’t really care. It’s just getting rich by ripping you off with high interest rates. But a website called AmOne wants to help.
If you owe your credit card companies $50,000 or less, AmOne will match you with a low-interest loan you can use to pay off every single one of your balances.
The benefit? You’ll be left with one bill to pay each month. And because personal loans have lower interest rates (AmOne rates start at 3.49% APR), you’ll get out of debt that much faster. Plus: No credit card payment this month.
AmOne won’t make you stand in line or call your bank, either. And if you’re worried you won’t qualify, it’s free to check online. It takes just two minutes, and it could help you pay off your debt years faster.
4. Monitor Your Credit Report
Did your credit score take a dive this year? Or is still stuck at a “fair” grade? Then monitoring any changes on your credit reporting and working to improve your score should be one of your financial resolutions for this year, too.
When it comes to your credit score, it’s important to stay organized and keep tabs on it. After all, it’ll play an essential role in any big purchase you want to make — whether that’s a home or a car.
So if you’re looking to get your credit score back on track — or even if it is on track and you want to bump it up — try using a free website called Credit Sesame.
Within two minutes, you’ll get access to your credit score, any debt-carrying accounts and a handful of personalized tips to improve your score. You’ll even be able to spot any errors holding you back (one in five reports have one).
James Cooper, of Atlanta, used Credit Sesame to raise his credit score nearly 300 points in six months.*** “They showed me the ins and outs — how to dot the I’s and cross the T’s,” he said.
Want to check for yourself? It’s free and only takes about 90 seconds to sign up.
5. Get Insured In Case Of A Catastrophe. You Could Give Your Family up to $1 Million
Talk about a scary year. If a global pandemic didn’t have you thinking about your own mortality, what else could? With that thought in mind, people are adding “buy life insurance” to their list of 2021 to-dos.
Have you thought about how your family would manage without your income if something happened to you? How they’ll pay the bills? Send the kids through school? Now’s a good time to start planning for the future by looking into a term life insurance policy.
You’re probably thinking: I don’t have the time or money for that. But your application can take minutes — and you could leave your family up to $1 million with a company called Bestow.
Rates start at just $16 a month. The peace of mind knowing your family is taken care of is priceless.
If you’re under the age of 54 and want to get a fast life insurance quote without a medical exam or even getting up from the couch, get a free quote from Bestow.
6. Add A Month To Your Emergency Fund
Having an emergency fund is important; you know that. But it’s easy to deprioritize it when things are going fine. And as 2020 showed us, you can lose your job at the drop of a hat, meaning a full emergency fund can be what keeps your lights on.
So prioritize your emergency fund this year. If you don’t have one yet, start by opening an account that will help you grow your money.
One way to do that is with a company called Aspiration. It lets you earn up to 16 times the average interest on the money in your account.
Not too shabby!
Enter your email address here to get a free Aspiration Spend and Save account. After you confirm your email, securely link your bank account so they can start helping you get extra cash. Your money is FDIC insured and they use a military-grade encryption which is nerd talk for “this is totally safe.”
7. Pay Bills Right After Payday
It’s easy to get swept up in the joy that is payday and immediately start buying things you don’t need. But as the final financial resolution on this list, paying your bills right away can help keep the rest of your goals on track.
It means you can avoid late fees on your utilities, which can really add up and destroy your budget. You can pay off your credit card debt without mounting interest charges. And you can prevent any hiccups that would dock your credit score a few points.
Whatever your financial goals are this year, we know you can achieve them! Here’s to making 2021 your best financial year yet.
Kari Faber is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.
***Like Cooper, 60% of Credit Sesame members see an increase in their credit score; 50% see at least a 10-point increase, and 20% see at least a 50-point increase after 180 days.
Credit Sesame does not guarantee any of these results, and some may even see a decrease in their credit score. Any score improvement is the result of many factors, including paying bills on time, keeping credit balances low, avoiding unnecessary inquiries, appropriate financial planning and developing better credit habits.
As a parent, one of the scariest things to think about is what your children will do if something happens to you someday. This can be even scarier if you’re a single parent without a partner to fall back on.
But here’s the thing: you are the sole provider for your children. It’s even more important that you take time to consider all the future possibilities. Here’s what you need to know about life insurance, including how much coverage to get and how much it’s likely to cost.
How Much Coverage Do You Need?
The biggest life insurance question is usually about how much coverage you need. There are all sorts of rules of thumb for this issue. Some say you need seven times your current annual income, while others say more or less.
But how much coverage you need really depends on how the benefit would need to be used if you were to pass away. Ultimately, this depends on a few factors, including the following:
How old your children are right now
Who would care for them if you were to pass away
What that caregiver would need to be able to care for your children
How much debt you currently have
Whether or not you want to pay for your children’s college costs
Let’s break this down, then, into the five things you’ll need to consider to get the most out of your life insurance policy.
1. Talk to Potential Caregivers
If you don’t already have plans for alternative caregivers for your children, now is the time to make them. Your life insurance decisions will largely hinge on the circumstances of those who would care for your children in the event of your death.
For instance, let’s say you have four kids who would live with your parents if you passed away. If your parents have already downsized into a retirement home, they’d probably need to move to care for your children. In this case, you need to account for their additional moving and housing expenses in your life insurance policy. If they’ve already retired, you may need to consider the other ways that caring for your children would impact their ability to cover their own living expenses.
But what if you have only one child who would move in with family friends if you passed away? If your friends already have a few kids of their own, they may not need to move or add on to their home to accommodate your child. In this case, you may not need quite as much life insurance coverage.
It’s a good idea to have an up-front conversation with potential caregivers. What would they need in order to care for your children appropriately? These are difficult conversations to have, but they’re an essential part of this equation.
2. Think about Your Kids’ Needs
How much insurance you require also depends on your kids’ ages and needs. If you have younger children, you’ll need more coverage—and you’ll need it to last longer. If your kids are older, though, you can probably purchase a shorter policy with less coverage.
Beyond just their ages, you’ll want to consider your kids’ particular needs as well. Are they currently attending a private school that you’d want them to continue attending? Or maybe you have a child with special medical needs. Make sure your policy is large enough to cover those costs.
If you want to fund your children’s college attendance with your death benefit, you’ll need quite a bit more coverage. If you can’t afford to cover college tuition right now, you could also look at college funds as the icing on the cake. In a couple of years, if you’re in a better place, consider upping your policy or adding a second one to cover these costs.
3. Consider Your Current Financial Situation
Even those without children should have enough life insurance coverage to tackle leftover debts and other end-of-life expenses, but it can be even more important for single parents. You’ll want to be sure your children aren’t dealing with a burden of debt while also grieving your loss. If possible, you’ll want to cover the full amount of your debt so they don’t need to.
Keep in mind the costs of end-of-life services, like a funeral service and burial, as well. These can run as much as $10,000 and be a real financial burden if you forget to plan for them yourself.
4. Add It All Up, and See What You Need
Now it’s time to determine how much total life insurance coverage you need. Here’s an example, based on the recommendation that you cover seven times your annual salary.
Sherry is a single mom of a four-year-old and a ten-year-old. She makes about $40,000 per year. If she passed away, her parents would care for the kids, and they’d need to move into a larger home to do so. She has about $25,000 in debt, outside of her mortgage, and she would want to fund both kids’ college funds with her life insurance. Here’s where she stands:
Income Replacement: $280,000
Additional Housing Costs: $50,000
End of Life Expenses: $10,000
College Funds: $200,000
Total Life Insurance Needs: $565,000
That sounds like a lot, right? Before you decide you can’t afford insurance, though, take the next step.
5. Check Out Term Life Insurance Coverage
Over half a million dollars in life insurance coverage seems like a lot, but many people actually overestimate the actual costs of such insurance, especially for healthy, relatively young individuals.
The key is to get term insurance (unless you have a good reason to have more expensive whole life insurance coverage) for only as long as you need it. The longer your term, the more expensive your coverage. Sherry should probably have a 15-year policy, which would cover her until her children are both adults. And if Sherry is in good health, a policy like this could cost well under $50 per month. That’s much better, right?
Once you know how much coverage you need, it’s time to shop around. Plenty of online quoting systems can get you an estimate on your costs in just a few minutes.
These steps aren’t fun to think about. But having an affordable life insurance policy you know will protect your loved ones is worth a bit of discomfort. Check out our Personal Finance Learning Center to ensure you’re on the right track to keep your children safe and secure when you’re no longer here.
If you’re part of the sandwich generation, having a money management plan is crucial.
Everyone knows that raising kids can put a serious squeeze on your budget. Beyond covering day-to-day living expenses, there are all of those extras to consider—sports, after-school activities, braces, a first car. Oh, and don’t forget about college.
Add caring for elderly parents to the mix, and balancing your financial and family obligations could become even more difficult.
“It can be an emotional and financial roller coaster, being pushed and pulled in multiple directions at the same time,” says financial life planner and author Michael F. Kay.
The “sandwich generation”—which describes people that are raising children and taking care of aging parents—is growing as Baby Boomers continue to age.
According to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, 17 percent of adult children serve as caregivers for their parents at some point in their lives. Aside from a time commitment, you may also be committing part of your budget to caregiving expenses like food, medications and doctor’s appointments.
When you’re caught in the caregiving crunch, you might be wondering: How do I take care of my parents and kids without going broke?
The answer lies in how you approach budgeting and saving. These money strategies for the sandwich generation and budgeting tips for the sandwich generation can help you balance your financial and family priorities:
Communicate with parents
Quentara Costa, a certified financial planner and founder of investment advisory service POWWOW, LLC, served as caregiver for her father, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, while also managing a career and starting a family. That experience taught her two very important budgeting tips for the sandwich generation.
First, communication is key, and a money strategy for the sandwich generation is to talk with your parents about what they need in terms of care. “It should all start with a frank discussion and plan, preferably prior to any significant health crisis,” Costa says.
Second, run the numbers so you have a realistic understanding of caregiving costs, including how much parents will cover financially and what you can afford to contribute.
17 percent of adult children serve as caregivers for their parents at some point in their lives.
Involve kids in financial discussions
While you’re talking over expectations with your parents, take time to do the same with your kids. Caregiving for your parents may be part of the discussion, but these talks can also be an opportunity for you and your children to talk about your family’s bigger financial picture.
With younger kids, for example, that might involve talking about how an allowance can be earned and used. You could teach kids about money using a savings account and discuss the difference between needs and wants. These lessons can help lay a solid money foundation as they as move into their tween and teen years when discussions might become more complex.
If your teen is on the verge of getting their driver’s license, for example, their expectation might be that you’ll help them buy a car or help with insurance and registration costs. Communicating about who will be contributing to these types of large expenses is a good money strategy for the sandwich generation.
The same goes for college, which can easily be one of the biggest expenses for parents and important when learning how to budget for the sandwich generation. If your budget as a caregiver can’t also accommodate full college tuition, your kids need to know that early on to help with their educational choices.
Talking over expectations—yours and theirs—can help you determine which schools are within reach financially, what scholarship or grant options may be available and whether your student is able to contribute to their education costs through work-study or a part-time job.
Consider the impact of caregiving on your income
When thinking about how to budget for the sandwich generation, consider that caring for aging parents can directly affect your earning potential if you have to cut back on the number of hours you work. The impact to your income will be more significant if you are the primary caregiver and not leveraging other care options, such as an in-home nurse, senior care facility or help from another adult child.
Costa says taking time away from work can be difficult if you’re the primary breadwinner or if your family is dual-income dependent. Losing some or all of your income, even temporarily, could make it challenging to meet your everyday expenses.
“Very rarely do I recommend putting caregiving ahead of the client’s own cash reserve and retirement.”
When you’re facing a reduced income, how to budget for the sandwich generation is really about getting clear on needs versus wants. Start with a thorough spending review.
Are there expenses you might be able to reduce or eliminate while you’re providing care? How much do you need to earn each month to maintain your family’s standard of living? Keeping your family’s needs in focus and shaping your budget around them is a money strategy for the sandwich generation that can keep you from overextending yourself financially.
“Protect your capital from poor decisions made from emotions,” financial life planner Kay says. “It’s too easy when you’re stretched beyond reason to make in-the-heat-of-the-moment decisions that ultimately are not in anyone’s best interest.”
Keep saving in sight
One of the most important money strategies for the sandwich generation is continuing to save for short- and long-term financial goals.
“Very rarely do I recommend putting caregiving ahead of the client’s own cash reserve and retirement,” financial planner Costa says. “While the intention to put others before ourselves is noble, you may actually be pulling the next generation backwards due to your lack of self-planning.”
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Making regular contributions to your 401(k), an individual retirement account or an IRA CD should still be a priority. Adding to your emergency savings each month—even if you have to reduce the amount you normally save to fit new caregiving expenses into your budget—can help prepare you for unexpected expenses or the occasional cash flow shortfall. Contributing to a 529 college savings plan or a Coverdell ESA is a budgeting tip for the sandwich generation that can help you build a cushion for your children once they’re ready for college life.
When you are learning how to budget for the sandwich generation, don’t forget about your children’s savings goals. If there’s something specific they want to save for, help them figure out how much they need to save and a timeline for reaching their goal.
Ask for help if you need it
A big part of learning how to budget for the sandwich generation is finding resources you can leverage to help balance your family commitments. In the case of aging parents, there may be state or federal programs that can help with the cost of care.
Remember to also loop in your siblings or other family members when researching budgeting tips for the sandwich generation. If you have siblings or relatives, engage them in an open discussion about what they can contribute, financially or in terms of caregiving assistance, to your parents. Getting them involved and asking them to share some of the load can help you balance caregiving for parents while still making sure that you and your family’s financial outlook remains bright.
Earning an advanced degree as a working professional can be a challenge—unless you have a good financial plan.
Deia Schlosberg had been working as an environmental educator, teaching students about issues concerning conservation and sustainability. While she loved teaching, she wanted to reach people on a larger scale about the importance of protecting the environment. So she decided to follow her dream of becoming a filmmaker—a dream that would require her to return to school for a graduate degree. She had no idea at the time that it would lead to becoming an award-winning documentarian.
While Schlosberg’s choice may have paid off, learning how to pay for grad school as a working adult can be a challenge. There are various benefits to getting an advanced degree: You can learn more, you can earn more, you can further advance in your current job or prepare for a career change. However, you might also find yourself stressed by the expense and resulting debt of it all, especially if you have kids, a home or other financial commitments. So a big question on your mind could be, “How much should I save for grad school?”
Below are some lessons on how to financially prepare for grad school to help you determine if and when you should go back to school. If you haven’t yet decided if graduate school is right for you, see section 1 for tips on how to decide. If you already know you want to go back to school, skip to section 2.
1. Decide if going back to school is right for you
Getting an advanced degree may seem like a ticket to success, but depending on your chosen area of study, the outcome may vary. For Schlosberg, it was a bit of a risk. It can be difficult to get a break in the film industry, and going to grad school could mean carrying around debt for a long time. Is this the type of outcome you would be willing to accept?
According to Emma Johnson, best-selling author, career consultant and founder of Wealthysinglemommy.com, there are a few things you can do to help you decide whether or not going back to school is right for you:
Do your homework. When considering how to pay for grad school as a working adult, research your degree options and the jobs to which they might lead. Compare cost and compatibility—for instance, will classes for the program align with your work schedule? Once you’ve determined what kind of occupation you may pursue after grad school, search online for information about that occupation’s average earnings.
Solidify your goals. You may find clarity in writing out your goals for going back to school. Some benefits are tangible, like earning more money, building a professional network and gaining skills. Others might be less tangible, such as finding personal fulfillment. Once you know your goals, it will be easier to determine if a graduate degree makes personal and professional sense.
Give your degree program a test run. Consider taking classes that relate to the degree you are interested in getting in grad school. These classes can give you a taste of the subject matter you’ll be studying and help you meet people involved in the field. Also, if prerequisites are required for your advanced degree, they often cost less online or at a community college, which is important to remember when thinking about how to prepare your finances before grad school. Make sure the course credits will be accepted at the graduate school you plan to attend.
Take a hands-on approach. To level up in your existing career or find out what it’s like in a new field before making the change, get some work-related experience first. For instance, to learn more about moving up in your own field, get out and meet those higher level professionals by attending conferences and networking events. The same tactic applies if you want to change careers.
2. Know how much you need to save
How to pay for grad school as a working adult can be complicated, but you’ve decided you’re ready for it. Plus, hitting the books at a time when saving for retirement or your child’s education could be at the forefront makes the task of how to prepare your finances before grad school even more critical.
Figuring out how much to save for grad school begins with determining the cost of attendance. Here are a couple ways to do that, according to Johnson:
Do the research. Once you have found a school and degree that you like, visit the school’s web site. Some schools may provide the cost of tuition, fees and estimated costs for books, supplies and transportation. Costs can vary tremendously, depending on various factors: whether you attend full or part time, whether you attend a public or private school, whether you are an in-state or out-of-state resident and the time it takes to get your degree.
Determine your budget. Once you have a handle on the school-related costs, build a spreadsheet that accounts for these costs and projects monthly income and living expenses. Working through a savings plan beforehand can help you financially prepare for grad school by showing just how much you’ll need to budget for monthly on tuition plus living expenses. Once you determine these factors, you’ll get a better idea of what you need to save up.
Create a savings buffer. After you determine your monthly costs, pad that number. “Your savings should not only depend on tuition but also what the degree is—i.e., how easy it will be to repay once you are working in the desired field,” Schlosberg says. She saved a little more than she estimated, giving herself an extra cushion to cover some of the potential risk to her finances.
3. Allow yourself a flexible timeline
One key factor in planning the timeline for earning your graduate degree: Don’t be in a rush. If you need to, create the time to save. It may not be necessary to go back to school full time or finish on a particular schedule, Johnson says. She mentions these possible paths to earning your degree when planning how to pay for grad school as a working adult:
Consider a side hustle. One option is to go to school full time and take on a side hustle. You may not make as much as you did as a full-time employee, but the income can complement your savings. It may also allow you to concentrate more on your degree and finish faster.
Attend part time. Go to school part time (nights and weekends) while working. It will take longer, but it will also minimize your debt, which could be better in the long run.
Take it slowly. Only sign up for a class or two—whatever you can afford—and continue to work. This part-time “lite” approach may take even longer, but could help you avoid overextending yourself financially or sliding into debt.
Take online classes. Consider online programs that could lower the cost of tuition and allow you to continue working full time.
4. Take advantage of potential cost-saving benefits
So you’ve done your research on how much you need to save while determining how to prepare your finances before grad school. But there are ways to potentially cut or eliminate some of those costs. What comes next are some solutions that may help pay your grad school bills:
Consider loans, financial aid and scholarships. “I took out some student loans for living expenses, but I tried to pay off my tuition as I went by working through school,” Schlosberg says. Graduate students may also be eligible for different types of scholarships and grants, which is aid that does not need to be paid back. Depending on your area of study, scholarships and grants can also be obtained through federal and state organizations, private foundations, public companies and professional organizations.
Ask your employer to pay the tuition. One way to financially prepare for grad school is to talk to your manager or human resources representative to find out if your current employer would help pay for, or fully fund, your degree through tuition reimbursement. This is most likely if you plan to move up the ladder and use your new skills on behalf of the company.
Take advantage of in-state tuition. Some people move to the same state as their desired school to try to get a break on tuition. “I moved to Montana and worked a couple jobs for a year before applying so I could get in-state tuition,” says Schlosberg. Whether you are already a resident or you move to a new state, be sure to determine how long you need to be a resident to qualify for in-state tuition at your desired university.
Cut back on discretionary expenses. Seemingly small things like adjusting your lifestyle to lower your monthly costs, which could mean fewer lattes and dinners out, might go a long way in resolving how to prepare your finances before grad school. “You may have to downscale your career and current lifestyle to go back to school, which may be a worthwhile investment of time and resources,” Johnson says.
Financially prepare for grad school and get a new start
Answering the question of how to pay for grad school as a working adult requires significant research and preparation, but some say it’s worth it, including Schlosberg. It not only gave her a whole new start, but a wealth of knowledge going forward to nurture her future endeavors. “Getting a graduate degree gave me the confidence to jump into a new career. I met an amazing network of people,” Schlosberg says.
But an advanced degree may not be a necessity. While it could look impressive on a resume, for many employers, a master’s degree is not a requirement. “Whatever you do, don’t go back to school just for the sake of getting a degree,” Johnson says. When thinking about how to financially prepare for graduate school, make sure it fits into your financial picture and that you’re able to “weigh your sacrifices against future gains,” she says.
Those who are fortunate enough to still be collecting a paycheck while quarantined or sheltering in place might expect to build up some serious savings. While you work from home, you’re avoiding your usual commuting expenses, and you’re probably saving money by not going to bars, restaurants, and movies, or skipping that vacation to Fiji.
But as spending decreases in some areas during self-isolation, it can creep up in others. To brace yourself and your budget, keep an eye on these expenses while you’re self-isolating at home.
If you’ve gone from office life to Zoom life, you’re spending more time at home than usual, which could ramp up your household expenses.
“Your utility spending might be considerably higher if you’re spending more time at home cooking, charging devices, using lights and appliances,” says Ted Rossman, industry analyst at CreditCards.com.
To keep your utility bills down, turn off lights when you leave the room, open windows during the day to let in cool air, unplug devices that you’re not using, and consider turning down your water heater by a few degrees.
Even if you’re not hoarding (and you shouldn’t be), you might find yourself spending more on groceries while you shelter in place.
For some people, an uptick in grocery spending will be offset by the money saved from not dining at restaurants. But if your local store is picked over—or if you pay fees for grocery delivery—you could spend more on groceries than usual.
“I’ve been to a local grocery store, and the only thing that was available was organic, so I couldn’t buy the generic. I actually had to spend more money,” says Steve Repak, author of the “6 Week Money Challenge for Your Personal Finances.”
If your grocery spending feels out of hand, be flexible and creative with your menu. Cook the food you already have at home before you head back to the store. Sites such as Eater have compiled resources for home cooks, including Pantry Cooking 101 and How to Stock a Pantry.
If you’re using a delivery service, place infrequent, larger orders instead of several small orders. Or consider curbside service; many stores are allowing free pickups where they bring your groceries right to your car, so you can save on delivery fees and tips.
3. Meal delivery and takeout
You may not be able to enjoy a nice meal at a restaurant, but you can order takeout and delivery—and those indulgences can add up quickly. After all, it’s not just the meal you’re paying for.
“There’s probably still a service fee, and on top of that you have to leave a gratuity,” Repak says. (It’s also a good idea to generously tip the workers who are delivering your food in these times.)
If you’re on a budget, reserve takeout and delivery for special occasions or those days when you just can’t muster the motivation to cook.
4. Alcohol and other sources of comfort
If you find yourself decompressing with a glass or two (or three) of wine every night, your drinking habit could do a number on your budget. And you wouldn’t be alone—alcohol consumption has shot up nationwide, and in states where recreational marijuana is legal, dispensaries are reporting booming business.
“Social isolation is really strongly linked to physical and mental health problems, and the way we cope with a lot of them is by drinking more,” Repak says. “People are going to smoke more and drink more … and we need to find other healthier coping mechanisms to offset that additional spending.”
You may not want to totally forfeit your evening glass of pinot, but you can make your supply last longer by sipping a mug of (far more affordable) chamomile tea on occasion, or opting for a calming yoga video or breathing exercise.
Watch: Our Chief Economist’s View on the Pandemic, Mortgage Rates, and What’s Ahead
You’ve rewatched all your favorite shows on Netflix and Hulu—so, now’s the time to add a Disney+ subscription, right?
Not so fast, Repak says.
“Save a little bit of money by just picking one of the streaming services,” he suggests, or at least don’t pile on new subscriptions to the ones you already have.
To free up your budget, take inventory of your other monthly subscriptions, services, and other recurring expenses, and see if there’s anything that can be eliminated.
“Ten dollars a month may not sound like a lot, but if you have five of those, that’s $600 annually,” Rossman adds.
6. Online shopping
If you turn to retail therapy to soothe your soul, your budget could take a hit. True, many retailers are offering deep discounts in order to move merchandise, but even discount purchases add up.
“Impulse buying is a potential trap,” Rossman says. “Some people fall victim to it more than others.”
Instead of clicking “add to cart” as a coping mechanism, Repak suggests cleaning out your closet instead.
“This is a great time that we can offset our budget by decluttering our house or apartment,” he says.
Use sites like Poshmark to sell your clothes, or Mercari for your household items. Many donation centers such as Goodwill are still accepting donations, too—just call ahead to make sure your local store or donation drop-off location will take your items.
7. New hobbies you’re trying in quarantine
Our spending habits are highly personal, and you might find yourself throwing money at a new habit or hobby to fight cabin fever.
“It’s a worthwhile exercise to track your spending, especially now that so much is different,” Rossman says. “Look through your credit card and bank statements from the past month. Do you see anything surprising? Are there areas where you spent extra but didn’t feel it was worth it? These could be good ways to cut back.”
And remember: Even if quarantine has eliminated some of your old day-to-day expenses, it’s easy to overestimate how much you’re saving.
“Most people don’t have a great handle on their budget and spending habits anyway, and so much has changed of late,” Rossman says. “It’s easy to overlook things.”
For more smart financial news and advice, head over to MarketWatch.
5 Neglected Expenses That Can Ruin Your Vacation Budget
With the weather warming up, summer vacation isn’t too far away. If you haven’t already, it’s time to start a vacation budget and account for everything you’ll be paying for that week.
After all, you don’t want to have to cut your relaxation time short because you forgot that you actually have to pay for gas.
But there are other financial surprises too, ones that perhaps you don’t think very much about when sitting down to create your budget. Here are a few that maybe you have not taken into account just yet, but absolutely need to.
Let Mint.com help you create the perfect vacation budget. Click here to get started!
Despite free public parking not being a popular idea among money-hungry companies for a while now, a lot of us still forget that we have to pay for the damn thing. This may be a few bucks or a few dozen bucks, but either way you can’t forget it when budgeting for your vacation.
Do the research to find out the charges for each place you’re staying or going to. Going to see a ball game? How much does the park charge to park? Going to take the train into the city? How much do they charge and, if need be, how much does valet parking cost?
Add those up, and you might be surprised how much not actively driving your car can run you.
These days, Wi-Fi is just about everywhere, and just about everydiv uses it. While the airport Wi-Fi might be free, the hotel you stay in might want a few bucks extra for use of their signal. This is especially true in nice, upscale hotels, where Wi-Fi access could run you $10-$20 a day.
So either annoy your family by checking into some rinky-dink motel, where Wi-Fi is free but everything is roach-ridden and moth-eaten, or factor in the money necessary for Junior to use his iPad on the coziest bed he’s ever slept on.
The Food Bill
Even though it’s part of our daily lives, many people don’t think about food when punching out their budget. And if they do, they vastly underestimate how much stomach fuel actually costs.
This goes for vacations as well. You should find out what restaurants in the area typically charge, so you don’t get blindsided by the high cost of steak. If you’ve rented out a house with a kitchen and fridge, take some time to deduce how much you and your family spend on food at home.
Then, take that total and add a bit more to the food budget. It’s vacation time, after all, and for many, relaxing and unwinding means more burgers and s’mores than during a regular workweek.
Checked Bag Fees
If there’s one thing all travelers can agree is pure evil, airlines charging people to check in their bags has be it. Some airlines, such as Southwest, will let customers get away with some checked bags for free, but expect to fork over $25 or more for each additional one.
Checked bag fees need to be part of your budget every time, because it’s never, ever going away. Airlines make too much money off of it to abandon it simply because we don’t like it.
Either pack minimally, ensuring that you can get away with nothing but carry-ons and maybe one or two checked bags, or put a couple hundred bucks aside in the budget for the over packers in your family.
There was an episode of Full House where Danny Tanner attempted to script the family’s Hawaiian vacation to the letter — every activity planned ahead of time, strict time limits on said activities, and naturally every penny accounted for.
This almost never happens. Vacations aren’t nearly that organized, and you will have some unpredictable moments, not to mention costs that you didn’t see coming. Maybe your children see an ad for horse riding trails and immediately start begging you to let them ride the horsies.
Sadly, horsies aren’t cheap, but this is a vacation, so why not let them indulge?
The trick is to not indulge too much. Don’t do everything that sounds fun, because the inevitable overdraft charges on your bank account won’t be very fun. Leave enough room in your budget for unplanned, spontaneous activities, and stick to that window as closely as you can.
This way, you and your family will have a great, fun vacation, and you won’t still be paying for it months and months later.
Mint.com can help create a complete vacation budget just for you and your family. Click here to sign up and start!
Here’s how to handle all of the possible expenses your dog could incur—and then some.
When Craig Hynd and his fiancée brought home their new Lhasa Apso puppy Chewie, they knew the addition to their family would be worth it—but they didn’t quite understand the true cost of owning a dog. As new homeowners, “we didn’t have a lot of money to spare on a month-to-month basis,” Hynd says, “but we also love dogs and felt that we could afford to bring one into our home.”
To make sure they were financially on the mark, Hynd, a marketing executive for HR software company Youmanage, decided to do some research on how to afford a dog on a budget, shortly after Chewie settled in. He was glad he did: He found that the costs of dog ownership added up to much more than he originally anticipated. Fortunately, there was still time for him to adjust.
But Hynd’s foresight is not always top of mind for new dog owners. Getting a dog can be an emotional, knee-jerk decision, and you may not think about the expenses that go along with it or how to budget for a dog. The cost of owning a dog over the average lifespan of 12 years ranges from $5,000 to $20,000. The majority of dog owners underestimate this figure.1 That’s the kind of misunderstanding that can leave you short on funds for things such as vaccinations and preventative care—even food and toys.
So when asking yourself the question, “How much money should I budget for a dog?” you’ll be glad to know that a little financial preparation can go a long way toward making sure you’re ready for the responsibilities that come with pet ownership. The information that follows can help you and your new pooch share a happy, healthy friendship for years to come.
Welcome home: First-year costs for your pup
“Before getting my dog, I made sure to save as much money as possible,” says Danielle Mühlenberg, a professional dog trainer and blogger at PawLeaks, a site that focuses on dog training and dog behavior. Mühlenberg paid $1,300 for her 115-pound rottweiler Amalia. A safe approach when thinking about how to budget for a dog is to “always put away more money than you’ve calculated in your budget, so you won’t be overwhelmed by any surprise costs,” she adds.
Mühlenberg outlines the first-year expenses new dog owners should expect as they resolve how to afford a dog on a budget and some suggestions on managing costs:
Purchase/adoption fees and dog license
The purchase of a purebred puppy from a breeder can cost anywhere from $800 to $1,500 or more—which makes a pure-blooded hound the most expensive type of dog to own. At the other end of the spectrum are the many shelter or rescue dogs in need of a home; they can generally be adopted for as little as a few hundred dollars. You will also need a dog license to bring home your pup, which runs from $10 to $20 on average (and needs to be renewed annually).
Pro Tip: Once you bring your tail-wagger home from the shelter or breeder, research local vets. Offices in one neighborhood or town can be much pricier than what you’d find if you’re open to a commute.
Upfront medical costs
It can cost between $200 and $800 to spay or neuter a dog at a veterinary clinic. You can typically pay less at a shelter or humane society, where such procedures are often subsidized by donations. In other costs, puppies need an initial exam and special vaccinations that typically run between $75 and $100 (rabies is the only shot required by law, however). Microchipping, while not mandatory, is recommended to help identify your pet if it’s lost or stolen. This procedure costs around $40.
Pro Tip: Plan to have your dog spayed or neutered. Otherwise, you may pay higher boarding fees and license fees, as well as release fees if your pup is taken in by animal control.
Comfort, training and grooming supplies
Expect to spend another few hundred dollars for a collar and leash ($6 to $50), food bowls ($10 to $50), waste bags ($6 to $20), a crate and bed ($25 to $250), doggie shampoo and brushes ($5 to $10), training pads ($16 to $35), toys ($10 to $200) and the first month’s supply of food ($40 to $60).
Pro Tip: Supplies like a dog crate or bowl can be found secondhand for a lower cost, sometimes for free. Check online listings for yard sales and giveaway events, where used or unwanted items are given away instead of being sold or thrown away.
Lost time at work
A new puppy needs a lot of attention, which can add to the cost of owning a dog. One in five dog owners took time off from work to care for a new puppy.2 Some puppies have a harder time on their own and can chew up your home and belongings, so it’s worth knowing this upfront in case your pup needs a sitter.
Pro Tip: Prepare for “puppydom” ahead of time by banking extra personal days or asking about short-term, work-from-home opportunities.
Ongoing expenses for your furry companion
Annual, ongoing costs of owning a dog can vary widely depending on your situation. Why the disparity? It’s due mainly to dog size. For instance, larger dogs eat more food, and if you’re the type of owner that chooses premium kibble over a lower-cost option, that can really add up. Groomers also charge more for larger dogs because of the extra time and care needed to handle them.
Mühlenberg spends about $1,200 per year on her Rottweiler’s high-end food and another $600 annually for twice-weekly social training sessions. A pricey diet and puppy play camp may fall in the “nice to have” category of dog ownership for some. Dog owners worried about how to afford a dog on a budget can minimize these costs by choosing less expensive canned food and kibble or by making their own dog food. To save on other expenses, Müehlenberg grooms her dog at home, makes her own toys and treats and buys pet supplies in bulk.
To get a handle on how to budget for a dog, here are some of the biggest costs annually that dog owners need to plan for:
To help relieve the financial burden of how to afford a dog on a budget, you may want to open a savings account for emergencies. Mühlenberg puts a few hundred dollars aside each month, which can be tapped for unplanned household repairs due to any damage the dog may cause, dog sitting for unexpected travel or illness or other pup-related surprises. The Discover Online Savings Account is one place to hold cash for a dog-only emergency fund and grow your savings.
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Invest in keeping your pooch healthy
As you can see, there are a lot of annual costs to consider when determining how to afford a dog on a budget—and they can really add up, particularly when a pooch gets sick or is involved in an accident. Preventative care such as flea, tick and heartworm medication, which can cost a total of $64 to $320 monthly, and regular vet visits can decrease the risk of an expensive health condition.3
For larger or recurring costs, consider pet insurance (an annual policy costs about $360 to $600).2 Some unexpected expenses can be offset by a pet insurance policy, which “is kind of like a forced savings account,” says Sara Ochoa, DVM, veterinary consultant for product review site DogLab. “You pay the insurance company, and they will pay for most of your pet’s medical bills.” This might go a long way in resolving how to budget for a dog.
For example, a typical pet insurance policy may cover accidents, illness and conditions that are genetic, congenital and chronic, as long as these conditions were not present at the time the policy was purchased.5
Ochoa is often able to witness the financial benefits of pet insurance firsthand. She cites one example of a client whose dog had emergency surgery and spent a few nights in the hospital. According to Ochoa, the bill would have cost the owner around $7,000. With their pet insurance, they paid somewhere around $1,000.
Create a happy home for your four-legged friend
In the end, how to budget for a dog just takes some advance planning and preparation, which can help manage the upfront costs and monthly cash cushion required to ensure a happy and healthy dog. By understanding the cost of owning a dog as much as possible, you’ll have less financial stress and more time to focus on play time with your pup.
“Even with the associated costs,” Hynd says, “I don’t for one moment regret our decision [to bring Chewie home].” Mühlenberg agrees: “Bringing a dog into my life has always been a goal and dream of mine. The love and affection you receive back from a dog are priceless.”
1“The True Cost of Owning a Dog or Cat,” Credit.com 2“The True Cost of Getting a Puppy in 2019,” Rover.com 3“The True Cost of Getting a Dog,” Rover.com 4“5 Reasons to Get Your Dog Licensed,” Cesar’s Way 5“Pet Insurance Coverage: What You Need to Know,” ConsumersAdvocate.org
The top 5 budgeting methods turned into simple and easy printable budget planners. Just print & go!
I find that so many times, I read about a good idea, something I want to try, and I end up making it a lot harder than it needs to be! I see a recipe for the best bread to make with kiddos, and I go out and try to figure out how to get the grain to grind into flour to make the bread!
Drastic? Yes! Just plain silly? Yes! I make things a lot harder than I need to. Just buy the dang flour! We will get great results from using regular flour.
Do you ever make things harder than they need to be?
The same example could be used for budgeting, and specifically the actual budget planner. People grab spiral notebooks, scratch paper, napkins, or whatever to write it all down. They think it’s great and tell themselves budgeting is easy. Then they realize through the month that their budget is missing a bunch of things, and the layout doesn’t make sense, and before you know it…
“I hate budgeting! It doesn’t work for me!”
When in all actuality, you just had to go a bit deeper and find a printable budget planner (aka just buy the flour). These are already tried and tested forms from money nerds who might be slight perfectionists when it comes to their nerdom. Now that you found the budget templates, you need to find the best budget planner to get started on today!
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Why are there different budgeting methods?
Just as someone likes to read a book, others like to read magazines or in their kindle app. Some people like strict guidelines, and others like some wiggle room. It’s all personal preference and what works for your personal situation.
As a budgeting beginner, you may want to try a few different budgeting methods and see what you find to be the best.
The information you put on the form will be the same dollar amounts. Yet, it will be in a different layout with different budget planners, with importance placed on different elements.
For example, some budgets place saving money as a priority, and some don’t. With some, you spend your money in cash, and with others, you can use whatever you want.
Having options ensures that you will find the best fit for you!
What makes a monthly budgeting planner the “best”?
Some key things make a method the “best” for you. But remember, it may not be the best for your friend. So don’t try to force something that isn’t working for you!
Your budget planner should…
Be on one page so you can see everything at once (don’t overcomplicate it).
Have you come out to $0 at the end of the month or a positive number. Constantly overspending your budget isn’t good.
Be tweaked! Nothing is a perfect fit on the first try. It may take you a few months to get all the kinks smoothed out.
Not confuse you or be too complicated. If it takes you half a day to plan your budget, then something isn’t right.
Reflect your financial goals! If your goal is to save to buy a house, then why is your clothing budget $200 a month?
When should you switch budgeting methods?
It’s time to try a different method when…
You are hating your money life
You have no idea what’s going on with your money
You are constantly overspending
That will be the key with all of the budgets! That you come out at the end of the month with a $0 or a positive number! If you are continually overspending, it may not be a “budget problem,” but an “I want everything” issue that you’d need to dig in to.
Heck, it would be great to afford everything that we wanted, but that’s probably not possible for 99.9999998% of us! (dang it!)
Remember, almost every budget will need to be tweaked and adjusted. Nothing comes out perfect the first time! By month 3, you should have it down (if it’s a good method for you).
Sometimes you don’t need to switch budgeting methods, you just need to switch out your tools. A great tool can be a physical budget planner, like the mini books, or folios. These planners help guide down a path, and can be a great resource to help broaden your financial perspective!
Simple monthly printable budget planner
The simple monthly budget planner is as simple & easy as it gets in regards to a printable budget planner. You take income minus savings, minus debt repayments, minus the items you must spend, and then you have your discretionary spending.
There aren’t any preset spending categories to confuse you or add fluff. The main point being you lead the way with specific expenditures and savings buckets!
All you need to do is make sure that the bottom left-hand section, the Monthly Budget Snapshop, has a positive number (or $0) as the last number in the actual column.
Cash envelope printable budget planner
Earlier, I mentioned financial goals, and if you those, you most likely will need to be saving money. My very favorite way to save money is through sinking funds! One of the easiest ways to do this is through cash envelopes!
In a nutshell, you say, “I want to go on vacation.” So each payday, you portion out a set amount of money directly into your vacation fund (a separate bank account ideally). Then in a few months or a year, depending on where you want to go, you will have the money saved! Sinking Funds use a Pay Yourself First model, as you pay your sinking funds before paying any discretionary bills. Here, your goals are your most important financial obligation!
The cash envelope printable budget planner for sinking funds considers this. The very first section, after your income, are your SF’s! This is important, as you want your must spends at the top of the list (while there’s money left), and then the least important expenses are down at the bottom of the list.
I know this goes against traditional budgeting methods, where you pay your bills first. But honestly, if that were working so well, then 37% of Americans wouldn’t be in credit card debt (source).
If you want a different result, you need to try a new way of doing things!
The zero-based budget planner
The zero-based budget method is the method that I personally use for my family. I have combined a bunch of different practices into this one method, and it absolutely works! I have detailed the process out more in Part 4 of your Ultimate Guide on How to Budget – it’s a Better Budget.
**If you want the full step by step guide, the Better Budget is what you’ll want. But if you’re looking for just a zero-based budget form (with no step by step guide) then this works great!
With a zero-based budget, as the money guru, Dave Ramsey says, “You give every dollar a job!” Because each and every dollar could be earning you money or putting you closer to your goals! No sense in leaving money out there to do nothing!
This printable budget planner lays out the most common spending categories, which is great as then you don’t forget any of your bills (either regular or one-off bills, like an Amazon subscription or your gym annual fee).
You start with income and then work your way down the line until you have everything filled out. This form has the spending categories and line items set up in a very specific order. The items at the top are things you must spend money on. As you go down the list and get to the bottom, the items are more non-necessity expenses (aka things to cut if you don’t have enough money).
Then at the very bottom of the sheet, your total should be $0. If it’s negative, then check your math; if it’s not positive or zero a second time, then it’s time to trim the budget! If it’s a positive number, then putting extra in your savings is always a good idea! Especially if you don’t have a fully-funded emergency account.
Again, if you’re looking for the full meal deal of budgets (with all the bells & whistles) then go here to check out the Better Budget!
The 50/30/20 printable budget planner
The 50/30/20 Budget Planner is a great method to start with, especially if you’re just getting started with budgeting and want a general picture of where your money “should” be going. I say should because this is a framework that multiple experts agree upon.
Yes, it’s your money, you earned it, so you should be able to do what you want with it. Yet, you came here for guidance, so I’m going to give you the generally accepted norms for budgeting percentages.
With the 50/30/20 budget, you like a framework but still want flexibility.
You input your monthly take-home income at the top (not gross) and then dole out…
50% for needs
debt minimum payments
30% for wants
20% for savings
The budget by paycheck printable budget planner
The budget by paycheck planner method is simply dividing your month (the income, bills & expenses) in two. Instead of a full one month budget, you have two mini month budgets (approx 2 weeks).
Unlike the others, this method may mean that you call some of your credit cards and bill companies and ask them to move your bill “due by date.” Which is totally common! Don’t think that you are stuck with the exact date they gave you!
With this method, you would ideally take your total bill amount for the entire month and have 1/2 of them (by dollar amount, not by the number of bills) due at the beginning of the month and then half at the end of the month. This way, you always have money left over from paying bills, and you never have too much month left and not enough money.
I know it can sound confusing, but having a monthly calendar and writing in your bills can make it much easier to understand. Remember, we all learn in different ways! Be it auditory (reading this blog out loud so you can hear it), simply reading it, by watching someone else do it, or by actively doing it (kinesthetic learning).
Sometimes, if a concept is confusing at first, I will read it a few times. Then do something else for a few hours (or a few days) and let it marinate in my brain a bit. In the background of doing other things, my brain continues to process this info, and eventually (hopefully), when I come back to it, it makes more sense. OR, I think of a different way to ask my question, which pops up a new and different answer!
My best advice on which is the best budget planner
If you’re brand new to budgeting and don’t have an immediate need (aka bank collectors are at your door), then try the 50/30/20. It’s a great place to start because it gives good common-sense guidelines on spending amounts by a percentage of your income.
Yet, if you’ve tried budgeting before, and ended up frustrated and annoyed, then maybe it wasn’t a “you” problem. Maybe it was just the budgeting method you tried. Remember, even those that find the “right” way for them have to do it still do a decent amount of tweaking in the first three months, and then they find a rhythm and pattern.
An easy way to find the best budget planner is to try them all! Seriously, just grab the printable Budget Planner Sampler Pack, grab your financial numbers, fill out the printable budget planners, and see which form…
Makes the most sense to you
One that you will be likely to stick to in the long run
Isn’t too complicated for your lifestyle
Keeps your financial goals up in front
The printable Beginning Budgeter’s Planner Sampler Pack has each of these budget templates in there so you can try them out. I’ve made this pack so it would be super easy for you to experiment with budgeting and finally find the right fit. I fully believe in the corny saying…
“If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again.” (ya, super corny, but it fits!)
For the DIY budgeters
I get it, I totally do. Sometimes you just need to put pen to paper and scratch it out on your own. Yet, you can still grab my free budgeting templates, which has 13 pages of free printable worksheets for you to get started!
At the end of the day
Budgeting can be hard initially, especially when you feel like you don’t “get it.” But I am living proof that anyone can learn about and master their money! (I used to buy shoes like they were tic tacs!) I found some ways that worked for me, Googled a bunch of stuff, I used available resources, and I practiced and practiced some more!
Again, there’s no need to make things harder than they need to be. Be smart and use things that others have already worked the kinks out of! Using a printable budget planner could mean that you get the hang of things 6 months sooner, and you reach your financial goals that much sooner! So do it! Buy the dang flour!
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It doesn’t matter which printable monthly budget planner you try, just start! Start right now!
Kari is a total Money Nerd Mama, helping other Mamas to learn about all things money & personal finance, so they can execute money management strategies to make a secure future for their family!