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10 Steps to Making a Budget

10 Steps to Making a Budget

Apr 2021

Creating — and sticking to — a household budget is the cornerstone of a sound personal financial plan. Here’s how to make one in 10 simple steps.

 

1. Pick a system. There’s no shortage of budgeting apps and online tools available. You can also use a basic electronic spreadsheet or even pen and paper, if you prefer. But whatever your approach, select a convenient and flexible system to capture and categorize your income and expenses over time.

 

2. Track current spending. Keep track of everything you buy for a month to have a realistic picture of your spending before you start. It can be surprising how many purchases occur under your radar — like that occasional latte, magazine or fast-food lunch.

 

3. Log Your Income. Record income from your job and any other sources, like a side hustle building websites or selling handmade jewelry on Etsy. Don’t forget to include investment or retirement income as well.

 

4. Record Fixed Expenses. These are costs that remain relatively stable over time — things like your mortgage, insurance premiums or car payment.

 

5. Project Variable Expenses. These change from month to month. They might include things like gas, takeout dinners and clothing purchases. Credit card payments tend to also fall into this category. Look at your average over the two previous months for a ballpark, but always err on the high side when it comes to budgeting for them.

 

6. Include Occasional Expenses. Some expenses only come up from time to time. They can be predictable (like your summer vacation) or unpredictable (like a car repair). Either way, it’s important to budget for expected and unexpected occasional expenses. To do this, take the total estimated cost, divide by 12, and include that amount into your monthly budget.

 

7. Emergency Fund Savings. Aim to set aside at least 3-6 months’ worth of expenses in a highly-liquid savings vehicle like an FDIC-insured bank account (some advisors suggest 12 months depending on whether you own a home, are married or have children). Clearly, this can take time to build up, so if you don’t yet have enough saved for a rainy day, budget regular contributions to an emergency fund.

 

8. Retirement Savings. Sit down with your financial advisor, who can help you determine how much you’ll need to save in your 401(k) and other retirement accounts each month to stay on track to achieve your retirement goals. It’s important to “pay yourself first” when it comes to funding your future — and your budget should reflect this important priority.

 

9. Plan for Windfalls. Decide ahead of time what you’ll do with an increase in pay, tax refund, gift, bonus or other found money. Having a plan reduces the likelihood of an impulse buy. Consider using most of it to bolster your retirement fund or pay down debt.

 

10. Monitor and Periodically Re-evaluate. It’s important to reexamine your budget regularly and whenever your financial circumstances change. Depending on your situation, that could be quarterly, semi-annually or annually.

 

Don’t be hard on yourself if it’s difficult to stick to your budget each and every month. You may need to make some adjustments from time to time. The most important thing is to keep trying to meet your spending and saving targets. If you need help determining a realistic budget for your situation, make an appointment with a financial advisor who can assist you.

 

Budgeting During a Pandemic

Budgeting During a Pandemic

Feb 2021

Sticking to a budget is hard enough normally — and things are anything but normal right now. Unfortunately, this is one more area of our lives that’s a lot more complicated since the pandemic began. Just as many folks are rethinking how they work and grocery shop, it’s a good idea to look at your household budget and consider whether some adjustments are in order.

 

Budgeting is about planning ahead. But before you do that, review changes in your spending habits since the COVID-19 crisis began. While it may feel like you’re saving money by eating out less or staying home, there may be other areas where you are, in fact, spending more than you did before the pandemic. These might include groceries, utilities and even household repairs, as appliances and other systems in your home deal with increased demand.

 

Once you have a good sense of the increases and decreases in your spending, adjust your budget accordingly. Then, consider the following:

 

1. Bolster your emergency fund. Whether or not you’ve had to tap your emergency fund, consider adding to your safety cushion. With the future still uncertain, see if you can squirrel away an extra $50 a month to put toward repairs or other unexpected expenses. Adding to your Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or Health Savings Account (HSA) can also help cover any unanticipated medical costs.

 

2. Review discretionary spending. Some budget items are necessary expenses, such as food, housing and utilities, while others are optional. Review your discretionary spending, such as multiple streaming services and nonessential clothing. Consider cutting back on these temporarily to liberate additional money for building your emergency fund or paying down debt.

 

3. Seek out savings on essential spending. Curb grocery bills by using paper or online coupons. Buy in bulk and look for lower-cost meal options that include pasta, beans and in-season vegetables. Cut back or eliminate alcohol purchases. Getting creative with leftovers can also help. Look for new budget-friendly recipes to add to your meal-planning repertoire. Many auto insurance carriers are offering discounted rates as well, so check to see if yours is one of them. You can lower monthly insurance payments by increasing your deductible, but only consider this strategy if you can afford the higher out-of-pocket expense.

 

4. Negotiate with creditors and service providers. If your budget is straining, speak to your lenders to see if they can lower your monthly payment or interest rate. They may even allow a forbearance of payments altogether. If you have a mortgage, investigate whether refinancing that loan makes sense for you. Call credit card companies and ask for a lower interest rate or consider a balance transfer to a card with a more favorable fee structure.

 

5. Review your retirement plan. Try to avoid dipping into your 401(k) as this could potentially set you back years on your retirement timeline — as can lowering or stopping contributions. It’s particularly important to contribute the minimum required to receive any company-match funds if possible.

 

Many American families are feeling the crunch right now. You’re not alone. Seek out guidance from those who can help. Setting an appointment with your financial advisor is a great place to start during this challenging time. If you’re under a great deal of financial stress, talk to supportive friends and family. And, if necessary, obtain professional help from your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or a qualified counselor through your health insurance plan.

 

Avoid These 8 Budget Blunders

Avoid These 8 Budget Blunders

Feb 2021

Creating and maintaining a household budget is a powerful tool for achieving financial goals. But these eight budgetary blunders could tank your best efforts to stay on track.

 

1. Omitting occasional expenses. You (hopefully) don’t have to repair your car on a monthly basis, but it’s unrealistic to pretend it’ll never happen. And just because you don’t know when the next breakdown will be, that doesn’t mean you should leave an occasional bill from your mechanic out of your budget. For unpredictable expenses like these, look back at the cost of prior repairs for an average figure to factor into your budget. As your car gets older, you may want to adjust that estimate up a bit as you’ll have a greater chance of more extensive repairs with a “mature” vehicle.

 

2. Forgetting about small purchases. That daily cup of joe at the train station may not cost you much, but little things can add up when they’re repeat offenders. Capture small expenses like these in your monthly budget. Include things like tips on services and your Sunday morning bagel run.

 

3. Ignoring large purchases. How do you budget for a big two-week summer vacation? It’s important to have a plan if you don’t want to end up with a gigantic credit card bill as a final souvenir of your beach getaway. Tackle large expenses like these by dividing the total cost by 12 and including that amount in a monthly savings budget. That way, by the time you pack your bathing suit and sunscreen, your fun-times fund will be able to cover your costs.

 

4. Relying on memory. When you review your spending at the end of the month, it’s easy to forget a purchase here and there. This is why it can be helpful to look back at electronic banking records to account for every dollar spent. After all, if you don’t accurately align your spending with your budget, what’s the point of making one to begin with?

 

5. Leaving no wiggle room. Always reserve a little cushion in your budget just in case. It’s pretty hard to anticipate every expense that might come up during the month, so don’t budget down to the penny – allow some wiggle room in case you’re overly optimistic in your projections.

 

6. Not paying yourself first. Don’t let planning for your future become an afterthought. Make it a top priority each and every month. Participating in your employer-sponsored 401(k) plan is a great way to make retirement saving automatic. And when by making regular contributions, you’ll dollar cost average into the market, which means you’ll accrue more shares when prices are lower. And everyone likes a bargain, right?

 

7. Being too hard on yourself. Sticking to a budget takes practice and discipline. You might not hit your target each and every month, but it’s important not to beat yourself up if that happens. Try to understand what occurred, make adjustments based on what you learn and get right back on track. You don’t need to budget perfectly to make a positive impact on your financial future.

 

8. Going it alone. Your employer-provided financial advisor is a fantastic resource. Budgeting can be complicated, and your advisor can help you sort through the details. Make an appointment to review your budget or get help setting one up for the first time.

 

Making — and maintaining — a budget is one of the best things you can do to stay on track for your retirement and other financial goals.

How to Make Your Retirement Savings Last

How to Make Your Retirement Savings Last

Apr 2021

At one time, employees worked until they reached their 60s and passed away not long after retirement. However, as life expectancies have reached the late 70s and early 80s, planning for a long retirement is an integral part of managing financial risk. Consumers must plan for longer golden years.

Set a Budget

When your income is reduced, the best way to combat the difference is to pull back on your spending. You already won’t have the expense of a daily work commute, so look for other ways to cut back as well. Set a monthly budget and stick to it, tracking expenses as you go and asking someone to hold you accountable. Over time, you’ll observe spending trends that will help you make reductions and save even more.

Continue Earning Income

One of the best ways to safeguard your retirement savings is to ease into retirement rather than quitting work cold turkey. This could mean going part time at your current workplace or retiring and starting a small job. Retirement is the perfect time to do what you’ve always wanted to do; if you love books, work in a bookstore; if you’ve always wanted to run your own business, consider becoming part of the sharing economy, driving for a ride-sharing service, or shopping for grocery delivery services.

Move

Retirement is a great time to change your location. Since you no longer need to live within a reasonable commute to a business, the world is wide open. Consider moving to a more remote area or another state where the cost of living is much more affordable, and you’ll be surprised by how far your dollar stretches.

Managing your financial risk means making sure you have enough money in the bank to keep you comfortable during retirement. With a little planning and some cutbacks, you can confidently enjoy your senior years.

Tags: help with budget, retirement planning, retirement

Smart Things to do BEFORE You Retire

Smart Things to do BEFORE You Retire

Apr 2021

A lot of people focus on things to do after they retire, but there are a number of things you should take care of before you hit that milestone. Retirement planning specialists can explain the steps that will help you better prepare for retirement and help make this transition successful.

Establish a Plan:

You need to know how much money you’ll have coming in during your retirement, and then balance that against your expenses. Start by creating a budget, listing all your sources of income, and all your likely expenses. You’ll need to make sure your income covers or exceeds your essential expenses. As part of your plan, create a schedule. You need to know when you’ll apply for Social Security and Medicare and when you’ll receive any pension benefits or distributions from your retirement plans. These rules are complex, so you may want to consult with a retirement planning expert at least a year before you retire.

Consider Your Health:

As part of your plan, you need to factor in any health considerations. A medical emergency or major illness can completely disrupt your retirement. People often assume Medicare covers “everything,” but that’s not true. In addition to Medicare, you will probably want to obtain supplemental medical insurance to protect your family and future from unforeseen medical expenses or accidents. You should also review any wills, powers of attorney, medical powers of attorney, and other estate documents to make sure they still represent your wishes. Finally, start focusing on your personal health NOW. Exercise, eat right, and start doing the things that will support your health in retirement.

Set Goals for Your Future:

What do you want your life to be in retirement? Often, people focus on financial planning but don’t actually think about what they will do after they retire. Strong social networks, family and personal relationships, and new opportunities to learn and grow are important components of a happy and successful retirement. The things you want to do will influence many of your financial decisions, so it’s a good idea to figure out what those goals are before you retire.

Tags: help with budget, retirement, retirement planning


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