Money

5 Tips to Starting Your Monthly Budget

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Starting to budget your finances can be really difficult at first. You probably have no idea where to start. Plus, what works for someone else, might not work for you. Totally understandable. Hopefully one (or all) of these tips and tricks that helped us, will be helpful to you!

Create Better Spending Habits

No matter how awesome your budget is, if you don't have good spending and saving habits, you'll be setting yourself up for failure. Don't worry I've got you covered! Check out the post where I share my 5 Steps to Creating Better Spending Habitsfirst. Don't worry. I'll wait... Done? Oh, not yet... Okay, now you're finished? Cool beans! Now, let's move on to the next budgeting tip.

Don't Be Afraid to Use Technology

I probably sound like a broken record, because I mentioned the Mint app by Intuit in the post about creating better spending habits. BUT! This free app is extremely helpful when it comes to tracking your monthly expenses and spending habits. It's extremely simple to set up, and it does the nitty-gritty work for you! One thing I really enjoy about this app is that you're able to make a budget, and it tells you when your close to or going over what you have allotted for that expense. It really takes the monotonous nature of doing your budget away, and is extremely helpful for someone just starting the budgeting process.

Write It Down

Now it's time to get down and dirty. I highly recommend you write down everything you spend your money as individual line item. You can use a notebook, excel file, the Mint app, my pre-made printouts ;) . Whatever makes you happy, as long as it's written out so you can visually see where your money is going.

I also like to color-code mine into three groups: Living Expenses, Financial Security, and Fun Money. Based on my research, many financial experts recommend your total monthly income fit within the following general guidelines:

  • Living Expenses (40-60%): Whatever you're spending on your month-to-month expenses goes into this account. I include items like house payment, gas, electricity, water, groceries, our 2 car payments (since we use them to get to work), phone bills, internet, TV, insurance, taxes, etc.

  • Financial Security (20-40%): This is the income you're putting toward paying off debt like credit cards and student loans, as well as into your savings account/emergency funds, or toward your retirement.

  • Fun Money (10-30%): Just like it sounds, this is the money you spend on entertainment like dinner and a movie, cocktails with friends, vacations or trips home to see family.

For our budget, we are running pretty heavy on the Financial Security side right now. We spend about 55% of our income on living expenses, 35% on financial security, and an itty bitty 10% is our fun money. And I know some people are probably thinking, how can you put 35% of your monthly income toward financial security. Honestly, I would have been asking myself the same question a couple years ago. But, something we have been very good about the past two or three years is when one of us gets a raise, we do the best we can to keep our lifestyle the same. If we do increase our income and decide to add more expenses, we do it one at a time to ensure we don't get into a financial hardship later.

 

Determine What Your Bare Essentials Cost

I recommend everyone does this, but especially those who need to reign in their "Living Expenses" category to get it within the 40-60% range. This will definitely take you a couple hours, and you'll need a pencil, paper, calculator, and a glass of wine (or whatever your drink of choice is). You need to look at all of your essential bills for the month, and determine what is the least amount of money you will need to live on. What I consider essential bills are whatever you need to survive - housing, electricity, heat, water, food, costs for a car to get to and from work - not items that are there more for entertainment - TV, internet, going out to eat, etc.  For example, you need to determine how much gas you would need to and from work, as well as 1 trip to the store per week. For me, in my current SUV it's $25 per week.

You'll also need to find out what the bare minimum you need for groceries per week. I know I can feed my husband and I on $25 a week, if needed. We don't eat anything fancy and we get sick of eating the same thing all the time. However, it's the bare minimum we need to get us by until our next paycheck. When we're tight on our budget, we're eating mainly Tuna Noodle Casserole, Baked Ziti, or Chicken Fried Rice, as well as drinking water from the tap for the majority of our meals. Not gonna lie... It sucks... BUT! I know if we ever find ourselves in a tight financial situation, I know I can cut costs instead of overspend. And that is the true meaning behind this exercise.

Make Separate Savings Accounts (and give them a name!)

If you are able to create a budget, and have money set aside to save, you'll definitely want to do this! This is something that I recently learned about, and it really changed the game on how I view my savings. I'm not sure if all banks do this, or just my credit union, but I'd recommend you check it out. What I was able to do was create separate Secondary Savings accounts that had no fees and no minimum or maximum limits. The best part is I was able name them whatever I wanted.

Now, in addition to my primary savings account, I have an Emergency Funds account, a Home account for renovations and updates, and a Kids account. You might be thinking, "Hayley, I didn't think you had kids..." Well, I don't. And, no, this is not how I'm telling my family we're expecting either. We made this account and put a very small amount of money into it ($25), and will continue to put small amounts of money($5-$25) into it every week or two. Everyone knows kids are not cheap. So, the sooner we start saving for those little rascals, the better off we'll be when we do start having them.

So, don't think you can't start saving for something that might be a ways down the road. It doesn't hurt to save money, as long as your not putting yourself into more debt to do so.

Happy Budgeting :)

Ways to Make Money with Online Surveys

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Online Survey on Computer You've probably heard about people who make money taking online surveys. It's definitely a great way to make a little extra money during your spare time.  Maybe you've thought about doing this yourself, but didn't know where to start. It can be difficult to figure out which survey companies are scams and which ones are legitimate. But don't worry! In today's post, I'm sharing three survey websites I have personally used to earn some spare change.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you make a purchase after clicking on one of the product links with an asterisk (*), I’ll receive compensation. Let's be honest, mama needs a new pair of shoes :)

MyPoints

MyPoints has to be my favorite of the three. With this site, you earn points by completing different tasks including surveys, and shopping online and in store at different retailers. When you take surveys, you only get the full points if you qualify and complete the surveys. However, if you take the time to answer the preliminary questions and don't qualify, they still give you 5 points. You can also earn points by shopping online (if you have their internet browser plug-in activated), printing manufacturers' coupons through them and using it on in-store purchases, using their online-shopping coupon codes at check out, or even donating to your favorite charities. Once you have enough points you can redeem them for gift cards at popular retailers like Target and Amazon, or have them placed into your PayPal account. You can get $5 gift cards for just under 1,000 points, and up to $100 for almost 16,000 points.

Interested in trying out MyPoints? Sign up here!

SwagBucks

SwagBucks is another survey program that rewards you for more than just taking surveys, but they currently don't offer the in-store rewards that MyPoints does. However, SwagBucks does have the an internet browser add-on to earn points while you shop major online retailers. Also like MyPoints, once you earn a couple hundred to a couple thousand points, you can cash them out for gift cards or a PayPal payout. More points equals more cash. Sign up for SwagBucks here!

YouGov

This one is a little different then the other two. First, you earn points in much larger chucks. Because of this, you also need a lot more points to cash out. In addition to taking surveys, you're also able to participate in discussions and questions that focus on understanding public views. Lastly, instead of using PayPal to get cash like the other two, you have the option for a prepaid Visa gift card. If you're interested in joining YouGov, use this link to sign up and get 2,000 points after you complete your 4th survey!

5 Steps to Creating Better Spending Habits

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I feel like there is a lot of information about how to start a budget out there in cyberspace, but many times people gloss over the foundation of a solid budget: good spending habits. You can follow all the rules, and make the best budget in the world. Sadly, if you don't understand your own spending habits and consciously make the effort toward making good choices, you'll be falling off that budget bandwagon real quick! So, I'm sharing with you some tools and techniques that I used to understand our spending habits, and how we started making better ones.

Track Your Monthly Expenses

This is absolutely key to understanding your spending habits. You need to know what you're doing right now, so you can make changes. When I did this a couple years ago, I downloaded the Mint app by Intuit. This thing is super nifty! First, you log into it and authenticate your banking accounts (checking, saving, credit cards, loans, retirement accounts, etc.). It then looks at your accounts' activities, and suggests budget buckets for you to use.  Plus, it will even remind you if you have a bill coming up that you haven't paid yet (YES PLEASE!).

So, once you have the app all set, check it a couple times a week to make sure everything is being placed in the correct bucket. You can add and remove buckets, or change what bucket specific charges are in. Give yourself a little bit of time before you move on to the next step. I would recommend tracking your expenses for at least a month (two would be even better) to ensure you have enough data. 

Determine Where You Overspend

So you've spent a month or two tracking your expenses. Did anything strike you as surprising? Maybe you spent more money than you thought you were on groceries, because those "small" trips every week added up to more than you expected. That's okay. We've all been there. Just set aside some time for you (and anyone who is apart of your budgeting process) to really look at what you've been spending, and find places to cut costs.

I would recommend looking at your "non-essential" bills like TV, internet, Starbucks and cell phones first to see if you really need everything that you're paying for. For example, when we lived in a larger city, my husband and I would only pay for TV services in the winter so we could watch Football games. We had a contract-free internet provider, and would add the cheapest TV channel bundle we needed to watch those games for only a few months. Then, when spring rolled around, we were spending more time outside and less time watching TV. So, would cancel the TV portion and use that money for summer travel expenses.

Next look at your "essential" bills like water, gas, electricity, food and mortgage/rent payments. Are you really being the most economical? Maybe you're someone who leaves the sink running while you brush your teeth. Well, turning off the faucet can save you quite a few pennies over time. Maybe you're an empty nester with too much house on your hands. Paying all those extra bills to heat/cool your home, along with having a higher mortgage payment could be cut dramatically if you downsize.

Deciding where you "overspend" is a very personal processes. Just be honest with yourself about what you really need.

Set Some Goals (and write them down!)

This seems like a very easy thing to do, but be prepared for it to be pretty difficult. I believe if you're being honest with yourself about your spending pitfalls, as well as setting attainable yet lofty goals, it's not going to be easy. I would recommend setting some weekly goals, a couple monthly goals, and at least one yearly goal. Here's a few ideas to get you started:

  • Stick to my grocery list
  • Don't eat out for one month
  • No new debt for a whole year
  • Only one coffee-shop coffee per week
  • Create a $1,000 Emergency Fund in the next year (download a free printable worksheet from one of my 4 Ways to Save $1,000 In A Year post here!)
  • Find another source of income (check out this blog post for ideas :) )
  • Pack a lunch every day

Make a Monthly Budget

If you're new at budgeting, this is another place where the Mint app will come in handy. Since you should already have a month or two of data and your goals, you can use those to help set your monthly budgets. This app is great because it will notify you when you're close to, or over your budget for each spending category. I used this app for a little over a year before I was comfortable with my budget and spending habits. Then, switched to writing it in a notebook with a black pen (yes, the color is important #typeA).

Now, I write down how much I make from each paycheck after taxes. Then, under it I list all the bills I need to pay with that check, my grocery and gas budget, as well as what I'm putting into savings. Typically, I have a couple months worth of paycheck budgets written out at a time. When I pay the bill, I take an orange pen and check it off my list. If something changes, I use a different-color pen (pink, lime green, teal, purple, whatever) to cross out the original number and replace it with my new budget number. Why all the different colors? Is there some kind of color coding you use? Nope. I do it because I can. Plus, who says a budget has to be boring?! :)

I shared some tips/tricks to starting your monthly budgets here.

Check Back on Your Progress

Don't just walk away, and forget about everything you just did. You need to set a specific time frame to check back on how you're holding up. Personally, I check back very two weeks (AKA payday). During my check-ins, I pull out my handy-dandy notebook and assess anywhere I may have overspent or saved money in the past two weeks. Then, I bust out my fun-colored pens to adjust my budget for the next two weeks accordingly.

And don't use this time to only look at everything you did poorly and need to improve. Look at what you did well, too. Maybe you were able to cut an extra $50 from last month's bills, and put it toward paying off debt a little quicker or starting an Emergency Fund. That deserves a gold star and pat on the back in my book!

BONUS TIP! Give Your Credit Cards a Break

Something you can do from day one, is stop using your credit cards. A lot of people use their credit cards without thinking about having to pay the money back. Like, you know you have to pay it back, but you'd rather use your credit card than the hard-earned cash in your account. I'm definitely guilty of doing this. For the longest time, I'd carry mine in my wallet "in case of emergency". Then, I'd use it because I really wanted (not needed) something I didn't have the money for, or felt guilty spending my money on. Yet another example of one of my not-so-finest moments... But hey! I changed my ways, and we stopped using credit cards for daily/monthly expenses. I definitely couldn't trust myself with them at first, so those suckers got locked in our safe. At first it was very difficult. I became very aware of how much I really used those cards as a crutch. In the end, it's been a very freeing experience and I wish I would have done it sooner.

Ways to Earn Extra Income

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Making enough money to pay your bills, and still be able to stash some away into your savings account can be difficult no matter your situation. Plus sometimes unplanned stuff happens, and you just need a little extra cash. Maybe you had to dip into your emergency fund. Maybe your trying to make an emergency fund for the first time #nojudgement. Well, you came to the right place. In today's Frugal Friday post, I'm sharing some things you can do on evenings, weekends, or during nap time to make a little extra cash.

Clean Out Your Closets

Take Old Clothes to Resale Shops: This is a great way to get rid of old clothes quickly, and walk out with a little spare cash. Take your gently used items to a store like Plato's Closet or Once Upon a Child and see what they'll pay you for some, if not all, of them. If you do have a few items left over, you can either donate them to your local Goodwill or Salvation Army, or try to sell them on your own.

Have a Sale: This one definitely takes a lot more time and effort on your part, but it's a great way to make some cash while clearing out stuff you aren't using anymore. If the weather's nice, you could have your own garage sale. Check around locally before you hold your sale, because some areas have annual garage sale weekends (where I grew up it was call the Treasure Hunt). Or maybe you're looking to pass the torch and unload some of your old baby items. I would highly suggest looking into having a booth at a mom-to-mom sale in your community. These sales are going to attract your ideal target market, and they'll know exactly where and when to find you.

Online: Maybe you don't have any clothes to sell, or you just don't have time to do the other two things. Then, you could always post your items online to websites like eBay, Craigslist, and the new Facebook Marketplace. These are great places to sell those larger or pricer items like electronics, appliances, vehicles, and furniture. Just be safe! I hope I'm not the first one telling you this, but if you do meet someone to exchange items, do it in a well-lit public place (if they have security cameras, that's a huge bonus).

Sell Your Skills

Start a Small Business: This one is definitely a commitment, but it could really pay off if you do it right. Along with my blog and working a full-time job, I also have a photography business. It's in the very early stages with very sporadic bookings, but I still earn an income from it. If you have a service or a skill you're willing to market, I would definitely suggest starting a business plan to see if it's a viable option.

Freelance: This is a great way to make some extra cash, and work however many hours you have available. You can do quite a few things online, like writing, graphic design, and website design. I'll link an entrepreneur.com article that shares 15 sites to find freelance jobs here for you to check out if you're interested.

Sell Your Crafts: I have so many friends and family members who are uber crafty. They create some beautiful things, that I look at and have no idea how they did it. If you're one of those people, I would suggest trying to sell them on an online store (like Etsy), or at craft shows.

Blogging: Do you have a topic you're very passionate about and have a lot of insight? Well maybe blogging is for you... This is definitely a long-term commitment to make extra cash, but I thought I'd stick it on here anyway. You'll need to have a pretty loyal reader base, and consistently high viewership numbers before companies will start looking at you for sponsored posts, and/or  before you'll get enough purchases on your affiliate marketing links to make money. So you'll have to put in a lot of leg work and long hours before you'll even get one paycheck from your blog. Once you get to that point, and you remain dedicated and consistent, you should be able to bring in some cash from there on out. I've heard those stories about people who have quit their day jobs because their blogs became so successful. Maybe that'll be you! If you're interested in starting a blog, I wrote a post on how to do that here!

Help Out Your Neighbor

Watch Their Kids, Pets, or House: Sometimes your neighbors, friends or family are going somewhere (date nights, appointments, vacations, etc.) and need someone to watch their kids, pets or home. You might be able to make a little cash by helping them out with this. Now keep in mind, if this someone you're very close with, you might not get paid cash to do this. However, you might be able to exchange the service. For example, maybe you and a friend alternate Fridays when you take your date nights, and watch each others kids for free. In the end you might not be earning extra income, but you are saving yourself some money. I see that as being a win :)

Clean Houses: Are you that friend who everyone asks for cleaning advice, because you know every trick in the book? Maybe you don't understand how it can take some people so long to clean their house, or why they haven't dusted in what seems like months. Well, you would most likely be able to make some money cleaning other peoples' houses. Talk to your friends and family, because, if we're being honest, everyone knows someone who needs a little help in this department #guilty

Let me know in the comments if there is anything specific you'd like me to cover in a Frugal Friday post. See you next Friday! :)

Welcome to Frugal Fridays!

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Welcome to my new series I'm calling Frugal Fridays! I wanted to start this series, because I think I we need to start talking about finances and stop making it such a taboo topic. In this series I'll be talking about money management techniques that have worked for us, including low-cost recipes, finding jobs, and budgeting. So, what would make me want to start sharing about my finances? Come with me for a short trip down this rabbit hole...

Ever since I was young, everyone told me about the importance of saving money and making sound financial choices. As I got older I realized very few people talk openly about how to do any of this, and what did and didn't work for them. I got even older, and I started taking finance classes in college where my eyes were opened to the complexities of making financial decisions. That's when I realized it would be practically impossible to just stumble into making consistently sound financial choices the rest of my life. You have to plan!

That's when I took it upon myself to learn as much as I could about finance, more specifically, managing mine and my husbands personal budget. There's so much information out there, but I ran into the same issue I did when I was younger. So many people are telling you what to do, but a lot fewer sharing ways to go about doing it. At that point I started playing with the idea of becoming a financial planner, but going back to school what just not in the cards for me at that time. So I read lots of books and blogs, and attended a few webinars about budgeting.

Now I'm not saying I have all the answers. Believe me... We've made our fair share of financial gambles that lead to some sucky situations. I'll be honest, I've had to call my dad from the side of the road because I didn't have $250 to pay for a tow truck to take our car to our house after an accident (PS thank you mom and dad!). BUT! You can bet your butt that I did my research on saving for an emergency fund, and we worked extra hard to find ways to put money in it. We cut our grocery budget, found ways to make some extra money on evening and weekends, and sold some stuff. It was difficult, but I haven't had to make one of those phone calls to my parents in a few years, which is totally worth it.

So, you might be thinking: Yeah, but how exactly did you do all of that without going crazy? Welp, you'll have to stay tuned, because these are the types of things I'm going to be sharing in this series.