How to Budget Groceries: 11 Easy Tips

Have you ever sat down to go over your budget only to find out that you’ve outrageously overspent on food? Local, organic, artisan goods and trendy new restaurant outings with friends make it easy to do. With food being the second highest household expense behind mortgage or rent, our food choices have a huge impact on our budget. Using this monthly budget calculator can also help guide how to budget for food. 

You may be surprised to find out that the most nutrient-dense foods are often the most budget-friendly. It’s not only possible, but fun and easy to eat nourishing, delicious food while still sticking to your budget. Here are 11 ways to help you learn how to budget groceries.

1. Track Current Spending

Before you figure out what you should be spending on food, it’s important to figure out what you are spending on food. Keep grocery store receipts to get a realistic picture of your current spending habits. If you feel inclined, create a spreadsheet to break down your spending by category, including beverages, produce, etc. Once you’ve done this, you can get an idea of where to trim down spending.

2. Allocate a Percentage of Your Income

How much each household spends on food varies based on income level and how many people need to be fed. Consider using a grocery calculator if you’re not sure where to start. While people spent about 30 percent of their income on food in 1950, this percentage has dropped to 9–12 today. Consider allocating 10 percent of your income to food as a starting point, and increase from there if necessary.

3. Avoid Eating Out

This is the least fun tip, we promise. Eating out is a quick and easy way to ruin your food budget. If you’re actively dating or enjoy going out to eat with friends, be sure to factor restaurants into your food budget — and strictly adhere to your limit. Coffee drinkers, consider making your favorite concoctions at home.

4. Plan Your Meals

It’s much easier to stick to a budget when you have a plan. Plus, having a purpose for each grocery item you buy will ensure nothing goes to waste or just sits in your pantry unused. Don’t be afraid of simple salads or meatless Mondays. Not every meal has to be a gourmet, grandiose experience.

5. Keep a Fridge Grocery List

Keep a magnetized grocery list on your fridge so that you can replace items as needed. This ensures you’re buying food you know you’ll eat because you’re already used to buying it. Sticking to a list in the grocery store is an effective way to keep yourself accountable and not spend money on processed or pricey items — there’s no need to take a stroll down the candy aisle if it’s not on the list.

6. Eat Before You Go to the Store

If your mother gave you this advice growing up, she was onto something: according to a survey, shoppers spend an average of 64 percent more when hungry. Sticking to a budget is all about eliminating temptations, so plan to eat beforehand to eliminate tantalizing foods that will cause you to go over-budget.

7. Be Careful with Coupons

50 percent off ketchup is a great deal — unless you don’t need ketchup. Beware of coupons that claim you’ll “save” money. If the item isn’t on your list, you’re not saving at all, but rather spending on something you don’t truly need. This discretion is key to saving money at the grocery store.

8. Embrace the Bulk Section

Not only is the bulk section of your grocery store great for cheap, filling staples, but it’s also the perfect way to discover new foods and bring variety into your diet. Take the time to compare the price of buying pre-packaged goods versus bulk — it’s almost always cheaper to buy in bulk, plus eliminating unnecessary packaging is good for the planet.

Bonus: a diet rich in unprocessed, whole plant foods provides virtually every nutrient, ensuring optimal health and keeping you from spending an excess amount on healthcare costs.

9. Bring Lunch to Work

Picture this: you’re trying to stick to a strict food budget, and one day at work you realize it’s lunchtime and you’re hungry. But alas, you forgot to pack a lunch. All the meal planning and smart shopping in the world won’t solve the work-lunch-dilemma. Brown-bagging your lunch is key to ensuring your food budget is successful. Plus, it can be fun! Think mason jar salads and Thai curry bowls.

10. Love Your Leftovers

Would you ever consider throwing $640 cash into the trash? This is what the average American household does every year — only instead of cash, it’s $640 worth of food that’s wasted. With millions of undernourished people around the globe, throwing away food not only hurts our budget but is a waste of the world’s resources. Tossing food is no joke. Eat your leftovers.

11. Freeze Foods That Are Going Bad

To avoid wasting food, freeze things that look like they’re about to go bad. Fruit that’s past its prime can be frozen and used in smoothies. Make double batches of soups, sauces, and baked goods so you’ll always have an alternative to ordering takeout when you don’t feel like cooking.

Sticking to a food budget takes planning and discipline. While it may not seem fun at first, you’ll likely find that you enjoy cooking and trying a variety of new foods you wouldn’t have thought to use before. Being resourceful and cooking healthfully is a skill that will benefit your wallet and waistline for years to come.

 

Sources: Turbo | Fool | Forbes | Medical Daily | GO Banking Rates | Value Penguin

The post How to Budget Groceries: 11 Easy Tips appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Affording a Second Child: How to Make Your Budget Work

Having kids is anything but cheap. According to the USDA, families can expect to spend an average of $233,610 raising a child born in 2015 through age 17—and that’s not including the cost of college. The cost of raising a child has also increased since your parents were budgeting for kids. Between 2000 and 2010, for example, the cost of having children increased by 40 percent.

If you’ve had your first child, you understand—from diapers to day care to future extracurricular activities, you know how it all adds up. You’ve already learned how to adjust your budget for baby number one. How hard can it be repeating the process a second time?

While you may feel like a parenting pro, overlooking tips to prepare financially for a second child could be bad news for your bank account. Fortunately, affording a second child is more than doable with the right planning.

If your family is about to expand, consider these budgeting tips for a second child:

1. Think twice about upsizing

When asking yourself, “Can I afford to have a second child?”, consider whether your current home and car can accommodate your growing family.

Think twice about upsizing your car or house if you're concerned about affording a second child.

Kimberly Palmer, personal finance expert at NerdWallet, says sharing bedrooms can be a major money-saver if you’re considering tips to prepare financially for a second child. Sharing might not be an option, however, if a second child would make an already small space feel even more cramped. Running the numbers through a mortgage affordability calculator can give you an idea of how much a bigger home might cost.

Swapping your current car out for something larger may also be on your mind if traveling with kids means doubling up on car seats and stowing a stroller and diaper bag onboard. But upgrading could mean adding an expensive car payment into your budget.

“Parents should first decide how much they can afford to spend on a car,” Palmer says.

Buying used can help stretch your budget when you’re trying to afford a second child—but don’t cut corners on cost if it means sacrificing the safety features you want.

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Families can expect to spend an average of $233,610 raising a child born in 2015 through age 17—and that’s not including the cost of college.

– USDA

2. Be frugal about baby gear

It’s tempting to go out and buy all-new items for a second baby, but you may want to resist the urge. Palmer’s tips to prepare financially for a second child include reusing as much as you can from your first child. That might include clothes, furniture, blankets and toys.

Being frugal with family expenses can even extend past your own closet.

“If you live in a neighborhood with many children, you’ll often find other families giving away gently used items for free,” Palmer says. You may also want to scope out consignment shops and thrift stores for baby items, as well as online marketplaces and community forums. But similar to buying a used car, keep safety first when you’re using this budgeting tip for a second child.

“It’s important to check for recalls on items like strollers and cribs,” Palmer says. “You also want to make sure you have an up-to-date car seat that hasn’t been in any vehicle crashes.”

3. Weigh your childcare options

You may already realize how expensive day care can be for just one child, but that doesn’t mean affording a second child will be impossible.

A tip to prepare financially for a second child is to weigh your childcare options.

Michael Gerstman, chartered financial consultant and CEO of Gerstman Financial Group, LLC in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, says parents should think about the trade-off between both parents working if it means paying more for daycare. If one parent’s income is going solely toward childcare, for example, it could make more sense for that parent to stay at home.

Even if this budgeting tip for a second child is appealing, you’ll also want to think about whether taking time away from work to care for kids could make it difficult to get ahead later in your career, Palmer adds.

“If you stay home with your child, then you’re also potentially sacrificing future earnings,” she says.

4. Watch out for sneaky expenses

There are two major budgeting tips for a second child that can sometimes be overlooked: review grocery and utility costs.

If you’re buying formula or other grocery items for a newborn, that can quickly add to your grocery budget. That grocery budget may continue to grow as your second child does and transitions to solid food. Having a new baby could also mean bigger utility bills if you’re doing laundry more often or running more air conditioning or heat to accommodate your family spending more time indoors with the little one.

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Gerstman recommends using a budgeting app as a tip to prepare financially for a second child because it can help you plan and track your spending. If possible, start tracking expenses before the baby arrives. You can anticipate how these may change once you welcome home baby number two, especially since you’ve already seen how your expenses increased with your first child. Then, compare that estimate to what you’re actually spending after the baby is born to see what may be costing you more (or less) than you thought each month. You can then start reworking your budget to reflect your new reality and help you afford a second child.

5. Prioritize financial goals in your new budget

Most tips to prepare financially for a second child focus on spending, but don’t neglect creating line items for saving in your budget.

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“An emergency fund is essential for a family,” Palmer says. “You want to make sure you can cover your bills even in the event of a job loss or unexpected expense.”

Paying off debt and saving for retirement should also be on your radar. You might even be thinking about starting to save for your children’s college.

Try your best to keep your own future in mind alongside your children’s. While it feels natural to put your children’s needs first, remember that your needs are also your family’s—and taking care of your future means taking care of theirs, too.

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“Putting money aside when you’re expecting can help offset the sticker shock that comes with a new member of the family.”

– Kimberly Palmer, personal finance expert at NerdWallet

The key to affording a second child

Remember, the earlier you begin planning, the easier affording a second child can be.

“Putting money aside when you’re expecting can help offset the sticker shock that comes with a new member of the family,” Palmer says. Plus, the more you plan ahead, the more time you’ll have to create priceless memories with your growing family.

The post Affording a Second Child: How to Make Your Budget Work appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.

Source: discover.com

Is Being Debt Free Worth it?

I had a great talk with Millennial Money Man yesterday and my favorite piece of advice he gave me was to “write what you’re passionate about.” It took me literally five seconds to think of the one thing I’m really passionate…

The post Is Being Debt Free Worth it? appeared first on Modern Frugality.

Source: modernfrugality.com

Tips for Building Your Credit

A woman wearing a brown coat and scarf smiles as she throws fall leaves around herself

Your credit
score can affect many aspects of your life—from getting a loan to getting a
job or getting a house. Good credit is necessary for sound finances and many
major purchases. But there are no quick fixes or shortcuts to building good
credit. You must start by establishing credit, then embrace responsible credit
habits over time. This helps you create a record that shows lenders you’re a
low risk and a desirable customer.

The following tips for building your credit help you understand and improve on the key factors that the three major credit bureaus use to calculate your credit score. By following these smart financial guidelines, you can demonstrate your credit worthiness. That makes you a more desirable customer and borrower for many businesses and lenders.


1. Review Your Credit Report

In order to build your credit, you have to understand it. Start by regularly reviewing your credit reports. You can request your free annual credit report from each of the three credit bureaus and assess your credit as it stands right now. Review the following:

  1. Payment history
  2. Amount of credit you’re using
  3. Credit age
  4. Mix of credit account types
  5. Credit inquiries

Our free Credit Report Card can help you understand what is in your credit report and how those things affect your credit score. Our report card will help you identify areas that need improvement and help you make a plan to address these issues.

2. Dispute Errors and Inaccuracies

As you review your reports, keep an eye out for any errors. Credit report errors are not uncommon. In fact, a Fair Credit Reporting study found that one in four consumers found mistakes on their reports that can hurt their scores. You have the right to dispute those errors and fix your credit report. You can do credit repair on your own or hire a credit repair company to help you.

3. Keep Credit Accounts Open and In Good Standing

If you already have available credit, keep the accounts
open. Older credit accounts help assign a credit
age, which makes up 15% of your score. Closing an old account makes it look
like you didn’t start establishing credit until later, which can lower your
credit score.

And if you close a credit card, you also lose valuable
available credit for your utilization rate. It may be better to keep the card
open to support a lower debt-to-credit ratio—just don’t run up the balance.
Make small purchases two to three times per year and pay them off during the
following billing cycle.

4. Make On-Time Payments

Making on-time payments is one of the most important
things you can do to build your credit. Your payment
history accounts for 35% of your credit score. It tells lenders and
potential employers how reliable you are. Missed payments are serious signs of
trouble. Charge offs and defaulted accounts say you can’t be trusted to repay
your debts as promised.

If you are newly establishing credit, avoid late payments
and other poor payment habits. This is one of the two most impactful factors
for building good credit. If you already have a poor payment history, commit to
changing now. Over time, those old payments will have less impact. Eventually,
they’ll even fall off your report.

5. Use a Maximum of 30% of the Credit Available to You

Ironically, lenders would rather not give you credit if
it looks like you need it or you like using it too much. That may seem
counterproductive, since they make their money off loan interest and fees. But
using too much of your available credit is a warning sign.

Maxing out your cards and lines of credit may point to
problems with spending, debt and income. That worries creditors, since it means
you may stop paying your loans. That’s why your utilization rate is a vital
part of your credit score—accounting for 30% of the calculation in most scoring
models.

The most
desirable utilization rate is less than 10% of your available credit. At
most, keep it under 30%. If you make any large purchases on your revolving
credit accounts, pay them off as quickly as possible to keep your utilization
rate low.

6. Open Different Types of Credit Accounts

Having a mix of credit types is a good demonstration of
creditworthiness. This factor contributes 10% to your credit score. There are three
types of credit accounts to consider:

  1. Revolving accounts—credit cards and lines of credit. They have a credit limit and require regular payments.
  2. Installment accounts—student loans, car loans, mortgages and personal loans. The lender provides a lump sum, and you make payments until the debt is paid off.
  3. Open credit—charge cards, utilities and cellphone services. With charge cards, you have a credit limit, and you can make purchases and cash advances, but you don’t carry a balance. With open credit accounts, you need to pay off your charges each month.

To build credit, work toward maintaining an account
from each of these categories—as long as you can afford them.

7. Open a Secured Line of Credit

It may be difficult to build credit if you haven’t
established a credit history yet. If you have poor or fair credit, it may also
be hard to get approval for traditional credit cards or loans. However, secured
lines of credit—like secured
credit cards and secured
personal loans—can help you get started on your path to good credit.

OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card

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on Capital Bank’s secure website

Card Details
Intro Apr:
N/A


Ongoing Apr:
17.39% (variable)


Balance Transfer:
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Credit Needed:
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Snapshot of Card Features
  • No credit check necessary to apply. OpenSky believes in giving an opportunity to everyone.
  • The refundable* deposit you provide becomes your credit line limit on your Visa card. Choose it yourself, from as low as $200.
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  • 99% of our customers who started without a credit score earned a credit score record with the credit bureaus in as little as 6 months.
  • We have a Facebook community of people just like you; there is a forum for shared experiences, and insights from others on our Facebook Fan page. (Search “OpenSky Card” in Facebook.)
  • OpenSky provides credit tips and a dedicated credit education page on our website to support you along the way.
  • *View our Cardholder Agreement located at the bottom of the application page for details of the card

Card Details +

To get a secure line of credit, you will need to put up
some form of collateral—usually cash, a savings account, or other personal
property. With this credit option, you may get a decent interest rate. The
lender’s risk is lowered due to your secured asset. This means they don’t need
to charge a much higher interest rate, as is common with poor credit.

8. Limit Credit Inquiries

Be careful when applying for new credit. You don’t want
more than two hard
inquiries every six months or so. Too many requests for credit can look bad
to potential lenders. These inquiries account for 10% of your score. Only apply
for credit if it can help improve your score through one of the methods
discussed above or is necessary for making a large purchase such as a home or
car.

When you do apply, comparison shop. Carefully weigh all
the terms and the chances that you will qualify for the card or loan on offer.
Then, choose only one or two and apply. If you’re turned down, don’t try again
for at least six months.

Build Your Credit

These personal tips can help you build credit and work on improving poor or fair credit. Building good credit habits can have a bit impact on your credit score. Start by signing up for Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card to get personalized advice for your unique credit situation.

Sign up for the Free Credit Report Card.

The post Tips for Building Your Credit appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

Do You Know How Much You’re Spending on Dining and Takeout?

Pretty much everyone upped their spending on take-out food in 2020 – and for good reason. With restaurants closed for indoor dining and grocery stores experiencing unpredictable staffing and inventory issues, many consumers chose to order out for the majority of their meals.

Now that things are slowly returning to normal, you may be wondering how to adjust your budget accordingly. We’ll walk you through how to determine the right amount to budget for take-out and dining, and give you some strategies to save money when ordering from your favorite restaurants.

How Much Should You Spend on Dining and Take-Out?

It’s hard to give an exact prescription for how much you should spend on take-out because it largely depends on the specifics of your budget and financial situation. In general, your food budget, including groceries and eating out, should make up between 10 and 15% of your income. Families with multiple children may spend more than that, so don’t worry if your percentage exceeds the recommendation.

If you’re not sure how much you spend on food, go through your transactions for the past few months and calculate the percentage.

John Bovard, CFP of Incline Wealth Advisors said consumers who have no credit card debt and invest 20% or more of their income in a retirement account can spend 10% of their post-tax income on take-out.

Ways to Save on Takeout

Want to keep your takeout tradition but still feel like you’re spending too much? Here are some tips to save money when ordering out from your favorite restaurants:

Pick up in person

Everyone knows that delivery fees add a huge surcharge to your total bill, but you might not realize how big the difference actually is. A New York Times article found that the same sandwich at Subway costs between 25% and 91% more when delivered, depending on the specific delivery app.

A $20 order could cost between $5 and $18.20 more if you get it delivered. The cost is generally higher during weekends and holidays.

Look for specials

Plan your take-out around restaurant specials. Follow restaurants on social media to see when they’re running discounts, like half-price oysters on Sundays or happy hour specials. When you’re picking up the food, ask someone behind the counter when the best deals are.

Restaurants often print coupon codes or discounts on their receipts, so don’t forget to check there.

Use discounted gift cards

Many restaurants and fast food places sell gift cards and often run special sales, like selling a $50 gift card for $45. This is especially popular during the holiday season.

Wholesale clubs like Costco and Sam’s Club regularly sell discounted gift cards to popular chains. For example, you can buy $100 worth of gift cards to California Pizza Kitchen for only $80 at Costco, or $75 worth of Domino’s gift cards for only $65.

You can also buy restaurant gift cards online through GiftCardGranny or CardCash, which sell gift cards for up to 10% off.

Skip dinner

Dinner is the most expensive meal of the day, so opt for breakfast or lunch if you’re eating out. If you get take-out a couple times a week, use one for dinner and the other for brunch or lunch.

Cash in rewards

Some restaurants have loyalty programs you can join with an email address or phone number, while others have an old-fashioned punch card system. Keep track of these rewards so you cash them out before they expire.

Order catering

If you’re eating with a group of people, see if the restaurant offers catering, which may be less expensive than ordering individual entrees. Everyone will have to eat the same thing, but it’s a great way to save money.

Sign up for restaurant emails

Both local and national restaurants often have email newsletters you can join to get extra discounts. For example, my favorite Mexican restaurant is constantly sending me emails for 10 or 15% off take-out.

Create a separate label for these emails so you can sort through them before ordering take-out. You can also add reminders on your phone to use the discounts before they expire.

Use a rewards credit card

Many credit cards offer points or cashback when you dine out, and some let you cash in points for restaurant gift cards. Look up the rewards policies for your current credit cards to see which one you should use for restaurants.

Consider opening a new card if you don’t have a dining rewards card. The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers 2% cashback for dining and also comes with a year of DashPass, the DoorDash subscription service with $0 delivery fees.

Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders earn 3% cashback on dining, get a free year’s worth of DashPass and also have $60 of DoorDash credit for the first year.

Most dining rewards cards have an annual fee, usually around $95, so don’t open one unless the cashback rewards will exceed the fee. Some card companies will waive the fee for the first year, allowing you to see if you’ll earn enough rewards to offset the fee. Some rewards credit cards also let you cash in points for restaurant gift cards.

Buy a food delivery subscription

If you don’t have easy access to transportation, then ordering delivery may be your best option.  In this case, consider signing up for a food delivery membership. DoorDash, Grubhub, Postmates, and Uber Eats all offer a monthly subscription for around $10. Each subscription comes with free delivery and other specials.

Before you sign up, calculate how often you order out and see if a monthly membership makes sense. If you have a neighbor or roommate, consider splitting a subscription with them to save even more money.

Many of these services have a free trial period, allowing you to gauge how much you’ll actually use them. Choose the app with the largest number of restaurants you like.

Use a browser extension

Browser extensions like Rakuten provide cashback when you order from delivery sites like Grubhub and Seamless. Just click on the Rakuten button on the top right of your browser when you visit either of those sites. You’ll earn up to 11% cashback with eligible orders.

The post Do You Know How Much You’re Spending on Dining and Takeout? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Struggling with money anxiety and finding balance

On Saturday evening, I had a chance to chat with my friends Wally and Jodie. You might remember them from a reader case study from last August. They’re the couple that wants to get their finances in order but they’re worried because they’re starting with less than zero.

When we chatted in August, Wally and Jodie had over $35,000 in debt. They had variable incomes, but somehow seemed to spend exactly what they earned — about $3000 per month after taxes. Worst of all, they were behind on some payments.

Now, eight months later, their situation has improved.

Over smoked German sausage and beer, Wally and Jodie told me about their progress. (My dog, Tahlequah, was eager to take part in the conversation. Or maybe it was the sausage she wanted?)

Jodie, Tally, and Wally

Taking Baby Steps

“Based on your advice, we’ve worked hard to increase our incomes,” Jodie told me. “We’ve both been picking up extra shifts whenever possible. And I started a second job that pays pretty well.”

“So, you’ve been able to get a gap between your income and your spending?” I asked.

“You bet,” said Wally. “By working more, we don’t have time to spend much money. In August, we didn’t have any gap between our earning and spending. Our gap was zero. Now our gap is almost $2000! And we’ve been using the debt snowball method to get out of debt. We’ve already paid off a bunch of smaller stuff and now have $438 extra per month for debt payoffs. Plus, we have an emergency fund.”

“This all sounds amazing,” I said. “Great work!”

“It is amazing,” Wally said. “This is the best shape I’ve ever been in financially. But we’re struggling to figure out what to do next.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well,” said Jodie. “We’re getting married in September. We don’t know how much to budget for that. Meanwhile, we still have a lot of debt. We owe about $10,000 on Wally’s car. We had to replace my Mini Cooper last winter, and that brought us another $10,000 of debt. Plus, I still owe on my school loans.”

I did some mental math. While the couple’s cash flow has improved, I was a little nervous that they hadn’t actually decreased their debt since the last time we talked about money. That said, I know Jodie’s old car had been a thorn in their side. And they have paid down nearly $10,000 in miscellaneous debts.

“The real issue is that we can’t seem to find balance,” Wally said. “We’re burned out. We’ve been working so much that we never have time for ourselves. Or each other. It’s affecting our moods and our attitudes.”

“Yeah,” I said. “That’s tough.”

Wally nodded. “Now I have a friend who wants us to fly out to his wedding,” he said. “We’ve done the math, and we can’t afford it. He’s offered to pay for the trip, but we don’t know how we feel about that. We want to go, but even if we do accept his help, it’ll cost us a few hundred bucks — plus whatever income we lose while we’re gone.”

“What should we do?” Jodie asked. “We thought saving more would reduce the stress, but we’re just as anxious as ever. Well, maybe not anxious in the same way, I guess, but still. We’re worried about money — even with a $2000 gap each month.”

“Trust me,” I said. “The money worry never goes away. Everybody has money anxiety, no matter how much they earn, no matter how much they have saved.”

Worrying About Money

“Do you worry about money?” Wally asked.

“Yes, of course,” I said. “I’m basically financially independent, but I still have money anxiety. In fact, I’m so worried about it that this year I’m tracking every penny I earn and spend. And, just like you, there always seems to be something that comes up for me to spend on. There’s my heart-attack scare, which now looks like it’ll cost me $7500. I just paid a huge tax bill. And there’s all of this travel I’ve committed to this year. It’s always something.”

“Should we fly to my friend’s wedding?” Wally asked. “I haven’t seen him in a long time. I can tell it’s important to him for us to be there.”

“That’s a tough call,” I said. “And it’s an example of how personal finance isn’t just about the numbers. There are relationships and emotions to consider too.”

“From a financial perspective, I don’t think you should go. But it’d be hypocritical of me to tell you that. My cousin Duane is still fighting cancer, but he wants to make another trip to Europe next month. At first, I was reluctant to join him. Like I said, I’m trying to cut expenses this year because I feel like I’m spending too much. But you know what? I’m going. So, you see, my advice and my actions are at odds here.”

I didn’t know how to tell Wally and Jodie, but my biggest concern with their situation is that it seems like they’re getting ready to stop the race when they’ve barely begun. They’re not out of debt yet. They’ve made some excellent progress, but there’s still a long way to go.

They’ve spent eight months on this project. From the looks of it, they have another eighteen months to go — but that’s if they use the gap they’ve created to accelerate their debt payments. If they don’t choose this route, it’s going to take them even longer.

At the same time, I get where they’re coming from about feeling cramped. Sure, there’s a finite amount of time until they get the debt paid off, then they can loosen up. But when you’re in the thick of it, eighteen months can feel like eighteen years.

Finding Balance

The key, of course, is to find balance. And I think that’s what Wally and Jodie are trying to do.

They’re not trying to quit the race early. They don’t want to get behind on payments like they used to be. They don’t want to spend their emergency fund or to stop their debt snowball. What they want is to find a balance between today and tomorrow.

I didn’t mention it to them at the time, but I think they should look at the balanced money formula from Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Tyagi’s excellent All Your Worth.

The Balanced Money Formula

Warren and Tyagi argue that in order to achieve financial balance, your after-tax spending should be allocated like this:

  • At least 20% should go to Saving (which includes debt reduction).
  • No more than 50% should be allocated to Needs (which includes housing, utilities, healthcare, basic food, and basic clothing).
  • The rest — around 30% — should go to Wants (which is everything else).

Warren and Tyagi are adamant that less than half your budget should go to Needs. If you pour too much toward necessities, you don’t have room in your budget for fun or the future.

The authors are just as insistent that you should build room into your budget for Wants. “You should ask yourself,” they write, “are you making enough room for fun?”

Wally and Jodie aren’t spending much on Needs at the moment, but they’re not spending much on Wants either. They’ve been pumping most of their money into Saving (in the form of debt reduction). This is a Good Thing. But maybe it’s too much of a good thing?

Making a Plan

On Sunday morning, Wally sent me an email. After meeting with me, he and Jodie formulated a plan:

  • Until their wedding in September, they’ll keep their debt snowball where it is today: minimum payments plus the $438 they’ve freed from satisfied debts.
  • They’ll use an envelope-like budget for entertainment, travel, gifts, dates, and personal items.
  • With the rest of their monthly gap, they’ll create a dedicated savings account for their wedding. After the wedding, they’ll throw this money at debt.

This seems like a good, purposeful plan to me. It balances today and tomorrow. And you can be sure that I’ll follow up with them in the fall to make sure they’ve stuck to the plan — that they’ve remembered to prioritize their debt snowball again.

In the meantime, I sent Wally this Reddit post in which a young guy realized that by pushing for a 65% saving rate, he was miserable. He writes:

I’m currently shooting for a 55% saving rate and I cannot tell you how much more I enjoy life. I went from feeling like I couldn’t spend a dollar that wasn’t strictly budgeted, to travelling with friends, going to concerts, and enjoying the pleasures of life. That 10% made all the difference in the world

As for me, I still feel anxious. I’ve done a good job of controlling my small, everyday expenses this year, but the big stuff is still stressing me out. I need to heed my own advice and find better balance. That will come, I think, as I consciously make better decisions about future large expenses — and as I work to increase my own income.

Source: getrichslowly.org