Category Archives: Budget

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Stop Wasting Money With These 5 Tips

Get your finances off on the right foot this year and stop wasting money! These 5 tips will help you spend wisely and boost your happiness!2017 and is here, and with a New Year comes new resolutions. I’ve spread my focus thin over the past six months beginning when I established 30 goals on my 30th birthday, so I won’t be making a list of personal resolutions for 2017. However, the holiday season has gotten me thinking about how I can stop wasting money. It’s tough to acknowledge, but I have been far more wasteful with my spending habits over the past three months.

After much thought, I present the following 5 ways to stop wasting money and achieve your financial goals sooner. I hope they will help you and me to be wiser with our spending in 2017!

5 Tips to Stop Wasting Money in 2017

1. Brew Your Own Coffee

Coffee is inexpensive to purchase yourself, yet its price skyrockets when you pay Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, or the local coffeehouse to brew it for you. At minimum, a cuppa Joe on the go will cost over $1, while the same cup brewed at home will cost pennies.

2. Minimize Shipping Costs When Shopping Online

Yesterday, I ordered a complete set of seven Star Wars movie posters for our nearly-finished theater room. I shopped for the best deal I could find online, and when it came time to checkout, I was faced with many shipping options. In the end, I chose free shipping because I thought ahead in advance and ordered my items before I actually needed them.

While online shopping is simple and time efficient, it is often more costly because many people elect to pay a fortune in shipping costs in order to receive their items within 1-3 days. By shopping in advance, or taking advantage of Amazon Prime which comes with free two-day shipping on thousands of items, you can stop wasting money on shipping costs.

3. Skip Expensive, High-Calorie Appetizers

I enjoy greasy appetizer platters just as much as the next guy, but at $8 and nearly 3000 calories, I nearly always regret my indulgence. Sure, $8 won’t make me significantly richer; no, I won’t likely nickle-and-dime my way into developing a million dollar investment portfolio. But I can stop wasting money on appetizers by acknowledging that I have better options. And besides, appetizers generally leave me unable to finish my meal without a strong effort.

4. Cancel Your Newspaper Subscription

Currently, my wife and I pay for a Sunday subscription to The Chicago Tribune. Shameful confession time: the edition from last Sunday is still sitting at the end of our driveway as I write this on a Wednesday. I may as well just burn my subscription fee every month, as I’m clearly not reading the paper.

Like any good American, I find my news from the most trustworthy source: my Facebook NewsFeed.

In all seriousness, I need to stop wasting money on a newspaper that I do not read, especially when free news is available online. My sources of choice have long been The Detroit News and The Detroit Free Press, both of which are available via mobile app.

5. Stop Buying Lottery Tickets and Betting

My thoughts on the lottery system are very divided. On one hand, proceeds from the lottery in my home state of Illinois support education and indirectly pay my teacher salary. On the other, I know that dozens of my dear friends are wasting their money on a daily or weekly basis. I myself have only indulged in NCAA basketball tournament pools, which is admittedly different than the lottery (I also won the entire tournament and collected $900, but I digress. . .), but I plan to stop that this year, as well.

While a potential big payday is theoretically always just one ticket purchase or bet away, the odds of winning are microscopically small. In my opinion, the lottery system offers false hope to the hopeless; it is essentially a tax on the poor. Stop wasting money on lottery tickets and use the money saved to invest in index funds.

Saving Money Can Be Easy

Finally, if you’re looking for a helpful, easy way to ensure that you save the money you are no longer wasting in 2017, look no further! I use Digit to save money automatically each month towards upcoming purchases. In the fall, we used our savings to travel to Las Vegas for a much needed vacation! I can’t recommend the app enough, particularly for those who are prone to overspending.

Open your own Digit savings account for free today!

What are the primary ways you need to stop wasting money in 2017? How have you wasted money in the past?

41 Tips to Save Money

Today’s post, “41 Tips to Save Money,” was contributed by Tina Roth. Tina is passionate about helping people to make solid financial decisions, which motivated her to start her own personal finance blog,where she writes about money management tips and frugality. She is also the community manager at the finance guest post community.

How can I save some money?

This is one of the most common questions asked by a lot of people.

Developing a habit of overspending can disrupt your whole plan of saving some money. However, in order to escape from this trap of unnecessary spending, we need to detect some effective ways to save money.

41 Effective and Easy Ways to Save Money

Undoubtedly, there are many ways to save money. The choice to pursue any of these avenues will be dependent upon your lifestyle and preferences. Just go through this amazing list to discover some effective money saving tips.

1. Turn off your Television:

This is one of the best ways to cut down a regular expense. Paying a lower electricity bill along with staying away from those provoking commercials can actually be the outcome of your decision of cutting the cable connection or switching off the TV.

2. Keep Track of Your Spending:

Think about keeping track of your spending habits, at least for a month or two. This will help you to handle your financial issues more efficiently.

Related: How to Develop a Budget

3. Switch your Bank Accounts:

If you are being charged wrongly for your bank accounts then, think about switching your account to a different bank. You can also go for a high interest online savings account.

4. Get rid of your Debt:

Get rid of the headache of paying interest by clearing all your debts. Once you have cleared all your debts then, you can save the money for your future.

5. Plan for Having Group Dinners:

If dining out is the best refreshment for you, consider going for a group dinner. It’s an amazing way to have an access to your favorite dishes at a reasonable price.

Related: Dining Out on a Dime – 10 Money Saving Tips

6. Improve Your Credit Score:

Improve your credit score for staying benefited. Once you have a clear conception of your position, you can think about saving some money by following the above mentioned technique.

7. Build a Habit of Cooking:

Try to build the habit of cooking at home more often. This is a unique way of staying healthy as well as saving money. For the micro family, both husband and wife should take the responsibility of cooking.

8. Cancel the Gym Membership:

Think about canceling your annual gym membership if you are not going there frequently. This is a simple way to save money with minimal effort.

9. Buy in Bulk:

Buying in bulk might cost you some more money at a time, but soon you will notice the difference in the method of your savings. Opt for buying non-perishable goods in bulk.

10. Drop all the Bad Habits:

We all have bad habits. Try to get rid of those which negatively impact your health and your wallet. Stop consuming alcohol or moderate your consumption to save some money. If you smoke, stop as soon as possible.

11. Borrow a Dress:

Instead of buying an expensive dress, consider borrowing it from a friend. If you are not planning to wear a particular dress several times, it would be better for you to not waste money on it.

12. Install a Water Meter:

Install a water meter for keeping a track of your regular usage of water. Paying an excessive amount on water bills can easily be controlled by following this unique method.

13. Be Smart with your Car:

Avoid driving aggressively to stay away from accidents. Harsh driving can also cost you extra fuel, which will affect your monthly budget planning.

14. Find a Roommate:

One of the most effective ways to save money is finding a roommate to share all your expenses. The dream of living in a separate place will easily fit within your budget by getting a roommate.

Related: Would you live in an adult dorm?

15. Start Selling your Unwanted Goods:

Stop collecting items without resale value. On the other hand, opt for selling those unused items to get some money before they lose their value completely.

16. Get a Grip on your Impulses:

Don’t forget to think twice before investing in any expensive item. This will definitely save you from indulging in any kind of impulsive purchase.

17. Use Leftovers:

Utilize your fridge-clearing days by using all the leftovers of the previous day. This is an amazing way to save some money on your meal of the day.

18. Plan your Vacations Wisely:

Instead of wasting a lot of money on your overseas trips, try to find out some incredible locations near your house to visit. The money you will save from these trips can actually be utilized later.

Related: How to Save Money on Vacations

19. Transportation:

Avail public transport system instead of owning a car. If you are not comfortable traveling by bus, you can also think about getting a bicycle.

20. Conduct Purchases from Online Sites:

It may seem a critical job for you, but do consider availing the service of online shopping forums. The yearlong discount they offer on different items can help you a lot to stick with your budget.

21. Make a List Before Shopping:

Make a list before you go out shopping. This will make you think twice before getting anything that is not on the list.

22. Use Discount Websites:

You can also think about visiting the discount websites for scoring some amazing discounts on traveling or events. In this way you would be able to save a lot of money.

23. Become a Vegetarian:

If you are really willing to drastically impact your budget and health, then think about becoming a vegetarian. You can also implement meatless meals.

24. Avoid Using Candles:

Instead of buying costly room fresheners and candles, opt for using baking soda for reducing the odor. A small container of cinnamon can also work fine.

25. Clean your House Yourself:

Avoid the luxury of employing housecleaning staffs. Try to clean your house by yourself to saving at least $100 a month.

26. Get a Grip on your Phone Bills:

If you are the one who spends a lot of time outside the home, it would be useless for you to maintain a home telephone and its bill. Also review plans for mobile phones and reduce expenses as you are able.

27. Set a Budget for Gifting:

As the season of festivity is knocking at the door, you should come up with some amazing gifting ideas. Don’t forget to set a budget before getting anything.

28. Unplug Electronic Devices:

Unplug electronic devices before leaving your home. This is an effective way to save money as those devices can consume power if you let the plugs in.

29. Repair your Clothes:

Don’t throw away your favorite shirt because of a broken button. Instead of getting a new shirt, think about repairing it.

30. Brew Your Own Coffee:

Replace your habit of drinking that daily caramel mocha and brew your own coffee. This will save you approximately $4 per day!

31. Car Pool:

Sharing a ride with your fellow worker can be a huge savings. The money you save from a car pool can definitely help you in achieving something big in the future.

32. Create a Separate Bank Account:

Think about having a separate bank account other than your savings account. It can help you in reducing the chances of borrowing money from the savings account.

33. Visit Libraries:

If you are a student or live in an area with an adequate public library, you should definitely think about borrowing books from libraries instead of buying them. This is indeed an awesome way to save money to plan your future properly.

34. Read Magazines Online:

If buying magazines is the habit you cannot escape, read them online.

35. Buy Generic Products:

Brand names are catchy, but sometimes you can find similar quality goods by shopping generic.

36. Gardening:

In order to save some money, grow your  own vegetables to save on the cost of buying vegetables from the market.

37. Learn the Basics of House Maintenance:

It is very essential for you to know the basic art of maintaining a house. Try to acquire a bit of knowledge in this area, such as fixing lights, repairing walls, and painting.

38. Enjoy the Beauty of Nature:

Plan your weekend outings in beautiful parks instead of spending the evenings in fancy clubs or restaurants.

39. Buy a Water Filter:

Buying bottled water is one of the most common ways for the people to waste a lot of money. A water filter eliminates this need and helps you save money.

40. Use your Talent for Earning Extra Cash:

Maximize your skills! Starting a side business can help you earn more money, therefore increasing your ability to save.

Related: Launch Your Own Small Business

41. Opt for Leading a Healthy Life:

Leading a healthy life without any trace of bad habits like drinking or smoking is very much essential. A healthy lifestyle will save you money in the long run.

Parting Thoughts

Many times we end up spending large sums of money to fulfill our whims. The solution lies in curbing our impulsive buying nature. Just follow the above mentioned techniques to cut waste and save money today!

 

Dining Out On a Dime – 10 Money-Saving Tips

Dining out at restaurants is a quick way to bust your household budget. Follow these 10 money saving tips and you can enjoy a night out without breaking the bank!

As I mentioned in my previous post, today’s post is a collaborative effort between me, FinanceSuperhero, and my talented wife, Mrs. Superhero. In case you missed her recent article, 10 Tips for Self-Starter Entrepreneurs, I highly recommend it, as it remains one of the most-viewed articles on this website.

Within the article below, my thoughts and comments will be denoted by my traditional Gravatar, while Mrs. Superhero’s thoughts will be denoted by a similar Gravatar, as seen below.

Now, onto today’s post. Take it away, Mrs. Superhero!

Mrs. Superhero GravatarOkay, I am just going to say it: adulting is hard! For most people, a big part of adulting is sticking to a budget. However, a budget shouldn’t mean that you can’t go out or you can’t have fun; a budget simply requires that you plan for these events.

As you grow in managing your finances, you will still want to go out on dates and have fun with your spouse or significant other! I am definitely the “deal finder” of the family and have enjoyed this skill since I was a young child. Finding a good bargain feels so good and rewarding. I absolutely LOVE that feeling!

FinanceSuperhero GravatarI, too, happen to love that feeling, but Mrs. Superhero is almost certainly a better bargainer. She manages to find great deals on a monthly basis, which allows us to satisfy our urge to dine out semi-frequently without breaking the bank.

An example of Mrs. Superhero’s bargaining ability: As a college junior, Mrs. Superhero negotiated $1,000 off the sale price of a used vehicle by playing hard ball in negotiations with the seller. I thought for sure that she would lose the vehicle entirely, but the owner relented.

Mrs. Superhero GravatarHere are some tips Mr. Superhero and I use for dining out:

1. Make the Most of Gift Cards – Aren’t they the best? Because we are both teachers, we are fortunate to receive many gift cards throughout the school year, particularly in December. We save these gift cards for months in which we are surprised by unexpected expenses. By shifting our budgeted dining funds to cover those unexpected expenses and using gift cards, we are able to avoid tapping into our emergency fund.

Panera's Greek Goddess Salad, Mrs. Superhero's favorite (Credit: Mrs. Superhero)
Panera’s Greek Goddess Salad, Mrs. Superhero’s favorite (Credit: Mrs. Superhero)

 

For example,  today I actually used a gift card at Panera and had a wonderful Greek Goddess Salad – if you haven’t tried it, stop what you are doing, get in the car and go to Panera!

FinanceSuperhero Gravatar

Mrs. Superhero and I have also had good experiences converting our credit card reward points into restaurant gift cards. I am careful to wait until a specific discount on desirable gift cards is offered before I redeem points.

 

 

Mrs. Superhero Gravatar2. Value Quality Over Quantity – Our favorite restaurant in the world (no exaggeration) is Montarra Grill in Algonquin, Illinois. It has been rated the number one non-Chicago restaurant in Illinois. Needless to say, Montarra is amazing but pricey.

When we dine here, we are making a choice. If we choose to open up the pursue strings and spend a significant sum on one meal, that means no more dinner dates for the rest of the month. Typically, we save dates like this for a special occasion like a birthday or anniversary.

Always save money in your budget to splurge for special occasions.  Life is too short not to celebrate special occasions with your loved ones.

FinanceSuperhero GravatarBe sure to inquire about possible deals and discounts when planning meals for special occasions. Because I made a reservation via e-mail for our recent anniversary dinner, Montarra provided a complimentary small plate.

Similarly, another local restaurant offers complimentary entrees to all members of their e-mail list during the two weeks before and after a member’s birthday. This is a great value which we took advantage of on the eve of my 30th birthday last month!

Mr. and Mrs. FinanceSuperhero Anniversary Collage
A collage of photos from our recent anniversary dinner (Credit: Mrs. Superhero)
Happy Anniversary
English Toffee Sticky Pudding, our traditional anniversary dessert at Montarra (Credit: Mrs. Superhero)

Mrs. Superhero Gravatar3. Enjoy a Coffee Date – Sticking to an agreed-upon budget can be difficult, especially when you have spent that allotted figure early in the month. When that happens, we resort to inexpensive coffee dates, as the next best thing to food is coffee.

Let’s just be real. Especially if you are a parent or work with children, coffee is a necessity in life.  From 3-5 PM it is Happy Hour at Dunkin’ Donuts here in Chicagoland, and during this time, you can get an iced coffee or iced tea for only a dollar! (Mrs. Superhero is currently enjoying this deal!)

Not to be outdone, Starbucks is the mecca of coffee shops. I have never had a Starbucks mess up my order. So yes, they are more expensive than other places, but they provide much better service. Starbucks often offers half-priced Frappuccinos from 3-5 PM; unfortunately, they have not found a way to make them with half of the calories though! To figure out when the next deal will occur, you can sign up on Starbucks’ website to be ensured that you are receiving updates on the next deal.

4. Kids Eat Free – While Mr. Superhero and I are proud MINKs, we recognize that our friends who have children still enjoy dining out from time to time. Below you will find a list of kids-related dining deals (highly-discounted or free meals) sorted by day of the week.

*Please be sure to check with your local establishment, as there may be restrictions on some of these deals.*

MONDAY
Red Robin (kids 10 and under eat free)
TGI Fridays
Fuddruckers (4-9 PM – Kids 12 and under eat for $.99)
Applebees

TUESDAY
Chilis
UNO Chicago Grill (One free kids meal with purchase of an adult entrée)
Denny’s
Chic-Fil-A (5:30-7:30 PM – Kids receive a free kids meal)

WEDNESDAY
Qdoba Grill (All Day – Kids receive a free kids meal)
IHOP
Jason’s Deli
Firehouse Subs

THURSDAY
Carrow’s Restaurants
Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina

FRIDAY
No deals to report – let us know in the comments below if you know of a great Friday deal!

SATURDAY
Steak and Shake

SUNDAY
No deals to report

DAILY DEALS
On the Border
Cici’s Pizza

For more deals in your area, we recommend consulting KidsMealsDeals. If you live in Chicagoland, check out Kidwinks.

FinanceSuperhero GravatarWith all these great kids meal deals, I’m not sure what we’re waiting for in the family department, Mrs. Superhero!

Editorial note: I may or may not get smacked for this comment!

 

Mrs. Superhero Gravatar5. Look for Local Deals – I am constantly amazed by the number and variety of local deals which pop up during the week. One of my favorites is Mandiles in nearby Algonquin. On Tuesday’s, Mandile’s offers a great entrée for only $10: chicken parmesan, a side of pasta, and bread. The deal is available via dine-in or carry-out.

I recommend asking your friends and family about similar deals in your area. I’m the type of person who tells people in line about deals so they can get their meal cheaper. The last time I did this, the manager shot me a funny look, but that doesn’t deter me from helping others.

6. To Go Deals When In a Pinch – When time is precious or plans change in a hurry, pizza is our go-to meal.

For only $5, the Little Caesar’s Hot-N-Ready Pizza represents one of the best values on the market. My mom, who is the ultimate bargain hunter, can make amazing food on a low budget, but she calculated that it is cheaper to order a Hot-N-Ready Pizza than it is to bake her own at home.

Similarly, Domino’s currently offers three medium pizzas for $5.99 each. Despite Mr. Superhero’s nearly-insatiable appetite, we are able to order three pizzas and freeze several left over portions for days in which we don’t feel like cooking. This also saves us time, and as we all know, time is money!

7. Get Your Groupon – All of my friends know I have a slight obsession with Groupon, but it has saved us lots of money and has allowed us to do things that we normally would not have the money to do in our budget.

Within Groupon, you are able to search for restaurant deals in your particular location. However, always read the fine print; recently, I purchased a deal only to find out you could only use it on weekends. Fortunately, we still had a lovely night out during the week!

If you haven’t signed-up for Groupon yet, please sign-up using our referral link.

8. Utilize Restaurant.com This amazing website helps you find deals for restaurants in your local area. Their app is very user-friendly, which eliminates the need to print certificates. By using this app, we have found fabulous deals at local steakhouses and other fine dining establishments, allowing us to dine like kings while paying pauper-like prices. The most common Restaurant.com offer is $10 for a $25 gift certificate. Check out the Restaurant.com offerings in your area by following the link and entering your zip code.

9. Ask About Specials – When arriving at a restaurant or calling in a carry out order, always be sure to ask about specials. Servers often forget to mention specials, and you may miss out on a great deal if you don’t ask.

10. Share, Share, Share – Mr. Superhero is not a big fan of sharing his food, but many of our couple friends go to Panera, order the Take Two option, and share their meal as a couple. We definitely did this at times during college when we were young and broke.

FinanceSuperhero GravatarSpecial thanks to Mrs. Superhero for putting together these 10 tips for dining on a dime, allowing me to order my own meals, and making sure I don’t starve!

If you missed Mrs. Superhero’s last post, be sure to check out 10 Tips for Self-Starter Entrepreneurs.

Note: This article contains affiliate links.

 


What tips do you have for saving money when dining out? Did we miss any deals? Do you use Groupon and Restaurant.com?

20 Budgeting Tips for Singles – A Bachelor’s (or Bachelorette’s) Guide

Last week, the state of Illinois finally passed what I would describe as a “Band-Aid” budget. While politicians largely celebrated this move and patted themselves on the back, their budget does very little to solve the gaping wound that is the state of financial chaos in which Illinois currently finds itself.

As I read the headlines and a few articles, I marveled at the difficulty the legislature faced in passing a budget. As you may or may not know, Illinois recently went an entire fiscal year without a budget. This standoff made previous budget delays (18 days in 1991, multiple delays of several weeks in the 2000s, and the bitter standoffs of recent years) look like small blips on the radar.

While Governor Rauner and Speaker Madigan set aside partisan gridlock long enough to pass a budget, public schools, state universities, and social service agencies are from celebrating. To the detriment of the citizens of Illinois, the finger pointing between Republicans and Democrats will surely resume and intensify in the next months.

Right around the time that Governor Rauner was delivering his press conference regarding the new budget, I sat down to review my planned budget for July 2016. Since September 2009, I have created a unique monthly budget using Gazelle Budget, the online software platform created Dave Ramsey’s team at Ramsey Solutions. That makes 71 unique budgets. It felt good to add yet another accomplishment to the mental list of ways in which I put the state of Illinois to shame.

MY FIRST BUDGET

As I often do when completing a budget, I took a look through the archives to see how Mrs. Superhero and I have come. My trek brought me back to September 2009, the month in which I created my very first budget.

In September 2009, I was a newly-employed, engaged bachelor, living independently for the first time in my life. Less than one week before the new public school year started, I accepted a job offer to teach music about 25 miles away from my university campus. With a week to prepare, I scrambled to locate housing, sign my contract, and prepare for a radical life change.

At the time, I had barely a tiny inkling of how to responsibly manage my money. I had recently read The Total Money Makeover in record speed, but I didn’t know the first thing about budgeting an “adult” paycheck. This was going to be the first time I had ever earned a paycheck which included a comma in the amount field!

After reading about Gazelle Budget (which is being replaced soon by EveryDollar), I purchased an 18 month membership, which included access to all three hours (ad free) of the Dave Ramsey Show podcast, for $89.95. Moments later, I created my first budget.

In all its glory, my very first monthly budget, from September 2009
In all its glory, my very first monthly budget, from September 2009

I began by projecting my total net income for the month, $2,357.29 in total. In that moment, I recall feeling pretty wealthy. I continued by inputting my desired charitable giving ($236 – 10%), rent ($400 – I rented a room in a two-bedroom condo from a friend-of-a-friend), food ($305 – for groceries and restaurants), and my debt obligations ($50 car payment and $200 credit card bill). From that point, I filled out the budget with an estimate of utilities, transportation (gas, car insurance, and routine maintenance), clothing (new work clothes and change for laundry), personal spending (spending money blow money Starbucks fund, books, gifts, hair cut, toiletries, and the Gazelle Budget subscription), and savings (emergency fund and honeymoon fund).

As you can see above, my projections for spending (middle column) were not entirely accurate when compared with my actual spending (leftmost column) at the end of the month. In fact, despite projecting a zero-based budget, I spent more money than I earned in September 2009.

This was hardly a Superhero effort.

On the other hand, the percentages of my categorical spending mimicked responsible spending.

Budget Percentages 1

Budget percentages 8-11
Categorical budgeted spending as a percentage of net income, September 2009

THE TROUBLE WITH PROJECTIONS

For the first full month of living on my own, I updated my budget on a daily basis. I kept a stack of receipts for all cash purchases and utilized internet banking to reconcile all other transactions. Yet despite my diligence, I was still brand-new to the process of budgeting.

As you can see below, I overspent considerably on food and personal spending; I had budgeted a combined $572.29, approximately 24% of my net income, but at the end of the month, I had spent a combined $761.58, approximately 32% of net income.

When I broke these spending figures down further, I discovered that I had spent $156.50 at restaurants and $80.77 at Starbucks.

Ouch.

My First Budget - Spending
20 TIPS FOR THE BACHELOR’S OR BACHELORETTE’S BUDGET

I chose to present the above figures for two primary reasons. First, I wanted to prove that it is possible to build and maintain a monthly budget as a single person. Second, I wanted to be fully transparent about my early mistakes.

Yes, creating a budget is not always easy. It isn’t the cool thing to do, especially as a young 20-something fresh out of college. Even at age 30, I can still recall the temptation to throw caution to the wind and live it up. Heck, I almost went out and leased a car!

However, I still recall one of the most powerful motivators for a 20-something single: the desire to prove one’s independence. Creating a budget is one of the best ways to set out to accomplish this goal and appear to be an adult. If you don’t manage your money responsibly, you will surely appear to be a child to you parents and extended family.

To win with money as a bachelor or bachelorette, follow these 20 tips.

20 BUDGETING TIPS FOR SINGLES - TW

1. Share costs with a roommate.

In my case, I avoided spending $1,000 per month for a one-bedroom apartment and spent $400 to rent a home in a two-bedroom condo. By sharing costs in this manner, I avoided spending 40% of my net income on housing costs.

Housing is by far the biggest budget buster for the average bachelor or bachelorette. Spending within this category can be a difference-maker.

2. Gather an accurate picture of your monthly debt obligations.

When you are just starting out, you will feel the temptation to delay examining your debts, particularly if your student loans are still in deferment. Avoiding your debts will not make them go away, so gather this information, including total principal, interest rates, minimum payments, and loan terms for each debt. If you’re unsure or unclear about any debts, contact the appropriate customer service department right away. Also, you should check your credit report; remember, this can be done free of charge once per year with each of the major credit reporting bureaus.

3. Prepare your own meals and cook at home as much as possible.

As a single young adult, preparing your own meals will accomplish two goals: you will save money, and you will not gain weight eating low nutrition/high calorie fast food. As an added bonus, you will be able to host your dates for dinner and impress them with your fine culinary skills. They’ll expect Ramen, and you’ll blow them away with shrimp creole!

Ladies, don’t forget, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.

4. Maintain a college lifestyle, at least in terms of spending.

When your first paycheck rolls in, you will immediately experience the temptation to buy everything in sight. If you establish an unreasonable level of spending out of the gate, you will set yourself up for failure. As much as possible, continue to live a college lifestyle (i.e. behave as if you are poor), within reason, of course.

5. Do not go out and buy a new (or new to you) vehicle.

You need to get used to living on a budget first in order to determine what you can or cannot afford in a new vehicle. Don’t allow pride and vanity to influence your decision-making process. If your current vehicle gets you from point A to B, it’s a keeper – at least for a few months.

6. Invest in a decent coffee maker with a timer function and brew your own coffee at home.

I learned this the hard way when at the end of my first budgeted month I had spent $80.77 on coffee on my way to work. I had a decent Mr. Coffee coffeemaker, but it didn’t have a timer feature. If I happened to be running late to work in the morning, I resorted to a quick Starbucks stop, which cost me significant money without adding any perceived value (neither happiness-wise nor nutritionally speaking).

Nothing beats the sweet aroma of morning coffee, especially when you brew it yourself and save money in the process

Mr. Coffee
Nothing beats the aroma of freshly-brewed coffee in the morning – and it saves you money!

7. Stay in.

Fortunately, I did a good job of this. My wife-to-be and I enjoyed cooking dinner at my condo and watching reruns of The Office. I know that many single people will feel the temptation and be pulled into the expensive night life scene, but do so within reason. Invite friends or your significant other back to your place, where food and drinks are cheap.

8. Find affordable dates with Groupon and Restaurant.com . I’m not even sure if Groupon and Restaurant.com existed back when I was a bachelor, but taking advantage of them today is a key part of our dining out experience. With either platform, you can purchase certificates for what is usually a fraction of the value, which allows you to realize significant savings and still enjoy a night out. The most common Restaurant.com offer is $10 for a $25 gift certificate. Check out the Restaurant.com offerings in your area by following the link and entering your zip code.

9. Build an emergency fund as quickly as possible.

As a young single person, building an emergency fund is the definition of adulting. Without an emergency fund, you will face unexpected expenses and be forced to swipe your credit card. Or worse yet, you may have to beg your parents for a loan or a gift.

10. Begin charitable giving right away.

While I have always given 10% to charity and missions organizations, I know this isn’t for everyone. If you’re not a natural giver, start small. Even $1 or $10 per month will benefit worthwhile organizations. If you’re not into structured giving, pay it forward and purchase the coffee or meal for the driver of the vehicle behind you in the drive-thru.

I strongly believe that regular, consistent giving is a key to winning with money. The act of giving teaches you that money is not an asset to be horded, stockpiled, wasted, or worshipped, but a tool to help yourself and others.

11. Strive to create a zero-based budget every month.

Remember, you will fail at this at first. Over and over and over. However, I found comfort in a Dave Ramsey quote during my initial months of struggle with my budget:

Adults devise a plan and stick to it. Children do what feels good. -Dave Ramsey

12. Accept that your budget projections will rarely be perfect.

On a related note, embrace your budget mistakes as they occur. Be willing to adjust your budget several times during the first several months.

13. Share your budget with a friend who is wise with his or her finances.

Accountability is helpful for everyone. It is part of the reason why I write this blog. A good budget is not inflexible.

14. Tell yourself every day that instant-gratification isn’t all that gratifying.

A few days ago, I read that the average person only waits 5 seconds for a web page to open before becoming irritated and moving on. Clearly, we live in a culture which embraces speed and instant results over patience.

You will need to learn to delay your desires in order to maintain a successful budget. Make a plan and stick to it.

15. Don’t worry about investing money right out of the gate.

In the personal finance blogging community, the suggestion to delay investing for retirement is utter blasphemy! However, I believe that there are better uses for your first months of pay. Make sure your budget is in order, build an emergency fund, and take time to research your investment options. When the time comes to invest, look into low-cost options through Betterment and Motif Investing. You will be glad that you waited.

16. Identify your values and be sure that your budget follows them.

If you’re not sure where to start with values-based budgeting, check out my two part series on budgeting with values in mind:

Values and Budgeting – Part One

Values and Budgeting – Part Two

17. Once you’ve identified your values, create written goals that you wish to accomplish.

Writing V-SMART Goals is the best way to accomplish your goals.

18. Be transparent with your friends and family about your budget.

It is OK to explain that you are striving to manage your spending responsibly. In fact, if you keep your budget goals a secret, it will be more difficult to stick to your budget, as co-workers will invite you out for happy hour drinks and apps every Friday. Just be up front and honest.

You can still have a social life on a budget. But be willing to say "no."
You can still have a social life on a budget. But be willing to say “no.”

19. As follow-up to number 18, be willing to say “no.”

If you want to live on a budget and win with money, you will likely hurt people’s feelings from time to time.

20. Avoid making any purchases on impulse.

If you are considering a sizeable purchase, write it down and check back again in thirty days. See my recent piece, The Thirty Day List, for a step-by-step process on delaying purchases.

Note: This piece contains affiliate links. FinanceSuperhero only recommends products designed to save readers money.


Readers, what budget tips do you have for singles?

Values and Budgeting – Part Two

In my previous post , I proposed that because change is inevitable, we should do anything and everything within our power to take action to create positive changes, thereby pursuing continual growth. In order to effectively pursue this growth, a wise Superhero should create goals. Before we unpack these ideas further in relation to our personal finances, I want to make some important distinctions.


 
Goals Are Empty Without a Foundation of Values

If you think you are motivated by goals and achievement, you are wrong. “But I have achieved a lot in my life,” you say. Congratulations! I want you to achieve all of your goals. I certainly want to achieve all of my own goals. However, the goal itself is not the driving force, as we saw when reflecting upon the rapid rise of a young phenom named Michael Jordan. Values are the driving force for meaningful goals. Show me a significant goal, and I will point out the values that underpin the goal.

Side note: It is possible to achieve a significant goal that is not underpinned by one of your highest values. For example, I could set a goal to complete a triathlon in 2017. Do I think I could complete this goal? Absolutely. Do I have any interest? No. Why? While I value Health and Personal Wellness, the driving value that leads me to exercise is Leisure, believe it or not. Swimming and biking are not nearly as leisurely to me as is running -I know, feel free to groan. However, I think we all can agree I am pretty likely to phone it on the triathlon and end up running a marathon instead.

Discover Your Values

Now that we have seen the importance of our values in relationship to our financial goals, allow me to present a few simple questions which are designed to help you quickly identify your values. All of the following questions are related to the concept of Purpose. Think of Purpose as the reason you wake up in the morning.

  • What or whom do you live for?
  • What activities and experiences provide you with deep fulfillment?
  • How do you best contribute to the world?
  • What kind of legacy do you wish to leave?

Honest and in-depth answers to these questions should point you clearly to  your Purpose and, subsequently, a set of easily identifiable values. Alternatively, values may point to purpose, depending upon how your line of thinking.

Think of Purpose as the reason you wake up in the morning.


 
A Non-Financial Example of Values and Purpose

During a European college band tour in 2005, I met a Pastor in a small Austrian town who clearly understood his life’s purpose, identified his values, and adhered to them by his actions. As he told me his story, I was fascinated by the seemingly-disconnected details of his remarkable life. This was a man who had grown up in the US, yet here he was, complete with a southern drawl and Colonel Sanders beard, leading a flourishing congregation in a picturesque town nestled between snow-capped mountains. Curious, I asked him how he had been called to his position. His response, which puzzled me for years, is much clearer today in light of my understanding of the principles of purpose and connected values:

“Called? I wasn’t called. I had to go.”

This was a man who knew his purpose and acted upon it. I believe he was compelled to do so. He left his comfort zone in order to fulfill his purpose, and at the intersection of purpose, values, and action, he found fulfillment.

What Happens When We Discover Our Values and Purpose?

Like the Pastor above, when we discover our values and purpose, we will naturally shift toward spending the majority of our time and energy on impactful activities. Hint: Highly-successful people do not watch 6 hours of television and compulsively check their Facebook feeds every fifteen minutes. Successful people allow their purpose and values to drive their actions.

Your Financial Values

Armed with knowledge of your personal values, now let us answer the following adapted questions:

What is your primary reason for earning money?

What use of your money do you find most fulfilling?

How do you best contribute to your financial well-being?

What kind of financial legacy do you wish to leave?

I believe the answers to these questions will show you your Financial Values. Here is an example, which utilizes my brief answers to the above questions:

What is your primary reason for earning money?

Living well in the present and the future.

What use of your money do you find most fulfilling?

Giving to others.

How do you best contribute to your financial well-being?

Carefully managing my family’s income to ensure it aligns with your goals and values.

What kind of financial legacy do you wish to leave?

I wish to change my family tree and have an impact that is several generations deep without breeding a sense of entitlement in my children and grandchildren.

Did you notice any themes? My financial values are Moderation, Giving, Stewardship, Order, and Dependability. I craft each monthly budget with these values in mind.

How to Start Values-Based Budgeting

I strongly believe that getting on board with a values-based budgeting approach can be the boost you need to reinvigorate your financial pursuits, expand your horizons, and achieve your dreams. Here are a few examples of how this approach has revolutionized my own budgeting process in the past few months:

  • Mrs. Superhero and I discovered that our spending on restaurants and expensive dinners was far out of alignment with our values. Yes, we value time for relaxation, and spending money on a night out certainly provides that. However, we realized we were not gaining additional relaxation benefits from dining at a local five-star steakhouse versus spending $20 at Red Robin. This freed up a significant percentage of our budget, which we re-dedicated toward toward saving and reducing debt.
  • I am strongly considering reducing or eliminating my cable TV package. Intellectually, I grasp the enormous benefits just waiting to be realized when and if I pull the trigger on this change. For me, cutting the cord will be equivalent to what many people experience when they cut up a credit card they have had for decades. It will be painful, but I am starting to realize I value my financial independence far more than the ability to access hundreds of channels. As a sports fanatic, I will, however, need to ensure that I have alternate systems in place prior to cutting the cord.
  • Mrs. Superhero works extremely hard in her day job as a music teacher and as a self-made entrepreneur with her music lesson studio. After discussing her values, she and I have decided to reinvest more of her income in needed items for the studio in the near future, such as tablets, method books, and an accounting service.

To get started, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How can my values influence my goals and my budget?

Make a list of your values and keep them near by as you assemble your budget.

  • How do my recent actions misalign with my values?

Track your spending actions for one week (or better, one month) and connect them with your associated values. If they do not align, you have discovered an opportunity to improve your budget.

  • How do my recent actions align with my values?

Continue to implement these steps to stay on track.

  • What false values are indicated by the patterns of my actions?

For example, am I spending too much money on restaurants, clothing, or miscellaneous categories, all at the expense of other goals?

 

Build on SMART Goals to Achieve Success

When you have built a successful budget that have been able to adhere to for several months, you are on track to achieve your goals. If you discover that you are not sticking to your budget, I have one final recommendation.

Most people today are familiar with the concept of SMART Goals. Smart goals are intended to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Oriented. I would like to propose a simple addition to this concept.

You guessed it: Values.


 
Introducing the V-SMART Goal: Values-based, Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Oriented

I believe that the creation of V-SMART Goals can be the jolt that you may need to finally establish goals and retain the momentum and desire to fully accomplish them. Allow me to provide a simple example:

SMART Goal: I will pay off $5,000 of debt on my MasterCard prior to July 1, 2016, by limiting my discretionary spending in the areas of Clothing and Entertainment.

V-SMART Goal: In order to align with my values of Stewardship and Financial Independence, I will pay off $5,000 of debt on my MasterCard prior to July 1, 2016, by limiting my discretionary spending in the areas of Clothing and Entertainment.

Just by making a simple distinction like you read above and keeping values at the forefront of your mind, I am confident you will increase your success. The consideration of values has added a new depth and breadth to financial planning and budgeting for me and Mrs. Superhero. It is supporting faster achievement of our goals.

To bring this post to its conclusion, I would like to leave you with a profound reminder from Henry David Thoreau:

What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.

Values and Budgeting – Part One

Author John Maxwell is famous for countless best-selling books. He is considered America’s Expert On Leadership. I feel that title sells him short, as Maxwell also knows a thing or two about finances. While I have many favorite Maxwell-isms memorized, the following quote may be my favorite:

Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.

Why? I appreciate it for its simplicity. I appreciate it for its truth. And I appreciate its implications upon my finances.

To me, it is a call to action. I cannot halt change, whether it be in my personal life, career, or finances, no matter how much I may wish I could. But I can choose my response to change. I can choose to pursue growth.

But how?

A Growth Mindset Starts with Values

Many people choose to pursue growth by establishing goals and then striving to achieve them.  They develop plans, identify benchmarks to track progress, and dive in head first. While this is admirable and certainly better than wandering through life aimlessly, I believe this approach narrowly misses the mark. It reduces growth into a destination at which one may arrive rather than as a continual process.

In order to properly frame the pursuit of growth, I believe one must view it through the lens of values.

Values – Actionable But Not Achievable

Why are values the key to the proper pursuit of growth? Values articulate what is most important to a person. When a person has identified her values, she has realized the foundational reasons for the pursuit of growth. These are the reasons a person might provide when asked why they are so vigorously pursuing growth in a particular area. Goals alone do not serve to provide these foundational reasons.

For example, suppose Susan has identified a goal: to make the varsity basketball team. Again, the reasons “why?” could be a number of reasons. Perhaps Susan is motivated by competition. Perhaps friendships are a driving force. Or maybe she is seeking to follow in the footsteps of her older sister. At any rate, an end date is embedded within this goal. At the end of tryouts, Susan will have either achieved her goal or failed. Further growth will be halted as her motivation dissipates.

Now, suppose instead Susan has identified a set of values to support her pursuit of the aforementioned goal. Susan understands that Contribution, Fitness, and Achievement are the key values supporting the goal.  With these values underpinning her goal of making the basketball team, Susan is on the pathway toward continual growth. Her goal is not the sole motivating force, as the values drive and underpin the goal.

If you’re not buying my philosophy or nodding your head in agreement at this point, pause with me and consider the case of Michael Jordan. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Now, contrary to popular legend, Jordan was not cut from his high school varsity basketball team as a sophomore; he simply was placed on the jayvee roster. However, that fact is immaterial to our discussion. Had Jordan been solely motivated by a goal -to make the varsity basketball team- rather than values -such as self-worth, achievement, and challenge- he may have decided to turn away from the face of failure and focus on baseball. As you know, Jordan was driven to make the varsity team the following year. Of course, the rest is history. A commitment to his personal values made Michael Jordan the most-recognizable and arguably most-successful athlete of his time.

While goals are achievable, values are only actionable (but not achievable) in nature. Let me provide an additional example. I may set a goal to lose five pounds. When I achieve the goal, I have arrived. By arriving, momentum and motivation are halted. (This is why many people experience the “yo-yo” effect when pursuing weight loss.) When I identify Health as a value, I cannot “arrive.” I must continually seek to live out my desires to be healthy. Values sustain ongoing growth, while goals unsupported by values do not. This ongoing momentum – the drive to keep bettering oneself- is near to the heart of growth.

Aligning Values and Finances

If we accept the notion that change is inevitable, we would be wise to strive to make the best of it by choosing to pursue growth in everything we do, including our personal finances. Yes, to most effectively pursue growth, we should establish goals, but only after careful consideration is given to values. In my next post, we will outline how to identify values and implement a value-driven plan which will lead to the achievement of your financial goals.

In short, our process will become:

Identify values. Take action. Create positive change.


 

Readers, what are your goals? What are your values? Are they aligned? How do you strive to keep your goals fresh and at the forefront of your personal financial pursuits? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments section below.

A Detailed Guide to the Zero-Based Budget

In this post, we will take a detailed look at how to create a zero-based budget.

 A zero-based budget is a budget in which all income is allocated to a budget category with no remaining unused funds.

At this point, you should realize that you can’t afford to go another month without a budget. It could be the difference between one day reaching financial freedom and remaining in bondage to debt. It could leave you trapped working a job you hate just to pay the bills. It could diminish your happiness. If you don’t feel urgency and understand the importance of a budget, thus requiring more convincing , start here.

Methods of Budgeting

Depending on your personality and degree of tech-savviness, you may wish to create a budget the old-fashioned paper-and-pencil way. You may prefer using Excel, or even an automated program, such as Mint, YNAB, EveryDollar, or PersonalCapital.

If you are a budget rookie, I cannot understate the importance of creating a budget and crunching the numbers yourself without the benefits of an automated program, at least for your first few budgets. I highly recommend the pencil-and-paper or Excel methods for your first few budgets simply because these methods will force you to pay attention and be precise.

Budget Basics

Before we get into the specifics of your budget, let’s review some pertinent basics.

  • You need to create a new, unique budget at the beginning of the month, every month. Why? Some expenses occur on a bi-monthly or quarterly basis, and you will want to capture this within each unique budget you create. Remember, some expenses are fixed, while others vary from month to month.
  • Your budget should be based upon your net income (after state and federal taxes, employer deductions, and insurance premiums). Whether you are paid bi-weekly or weekly, this figure, too, will vary from month to month.
  • You should create a budget which utilizes categories. I personally use the following categories, which are recommended by Dave Ramsey. You should use the categories that represent areas of significant expense in your budget, delete those which do not, and add any pertinent categories which may be missing.

Giving/Charity

Saving

Housing

Utilities

Food

Transportation

Clothing

Health/Medical

Personal

Recreation

Debt

  • Within each category, your expenses should fall within the following typical ranges.

 

Category Recommended Percentages
Giving/Charity 0-10%
Saving 5-15%
Housing 25-35%
Utilities 5-10%
Food 5-15%
Transportation 5-15%
Clothing 2-7%
Personal 5-10%
Health/Medical 5-10%
Recreation 5-10%
Debt 0%

Sample Expenses Within Each Category

Giving/Charity: Tithes and offerings to church/religious organization, charitable donations

Saving: Emergency fund savings, retirement savings (401k, 403b, Roth IRA, Traditional IRA), college savings (ESA, 529), vacation savings fund, sinking funds

Housing: Rent, mortgage (including property taxes and insurance in escrow), home maintenance

Utilities: Electric, Gas, Water, Trash, Home/Mobile Phone, Cable/Internet, Home Security

Food: Grocery, restaurants, fast food, coffee and drinks

Transportation: Fuel, auto insurance, auto maintenance, bus passes, train tickets, Uber fares, tolls, miscellaneous transportation costs

Clothing: Includes shoes, outerwear, work wear, accessories
Personal: Discretionary spending, disability/life/identity theft insurance premiums, miscellaneous spending

Health/Medical: Insurance co-pays, prescription co-pays, miscellaneous medicine, gym memberships

Recreation: Movie tickets, concert tickets, sporting events, local/regional travel, miscellaneous recreation

Debt: Student loans, car loans, home equity loans, credit cards

The Specifics of a Budget

Before we proceed, it is important to note that your figures may or may not fall squarely within the categorical ranges previously mentioned. For example, if your Housing costs represent 24% or 36% of your monthly budget, this is not a serious problem. Please view the percentages above as suggestions for a healthy budget. Clearly, room exists for give and take, particularly if you are a very low or very high income earner, as long as your percentages add up to 100%.

Some of the categories above cover fixed expenses, such as Housing, Debt, and Utilities. Others address what we will call variable fixed expenses; you will spend money in each of these categories during a typical month, but the amounts may vary slightly from month to month. Variable fixed categories include Food, Transportation, Clothing, and Personal. Finally, the remaining categories, including Giving, Saving, and Recreation, are what we will refer to as discretionary expenses. You may choose to allocate money within these categories, but it is not mandatory for your family’s survival.

Note: Mrs. Superhero and I strongly believe that Giving is important, and we choose to include it as a fixed expense within our budget. Your values will dictate how you choose to handle this category in your budget.

Here is a sample budget based upon a $5,000 monthly income:

Category Dollar Amount Allocated Allocations as Percentage of Budget Recommended Percentages
Giving/Charity $500 10.00% 0-10%
Saving $250 5.00% 5-15%
Housing $1,500 30.00% 25-35%
Utilities $500 10.00% 5-10%
Food $700 14.00% 5-15%
Transportation $400 8.00% 5-15%
Clothing $150 3.00% 2-7%
Personal $500 10.00% 5-10%
Health/Medical $200 4.00% 5-10%
Recreation $150 3.00% 5-10%
Debt $150 3.00% 0%
Totals $5,000 100.00%

As you can see above, the total of all categories combines equals $5,000. This budget adheres closely to the recommended percentages, and it even manages to stay below the recommended percentage ranges in the Health/Medical and Recreation categories.

Creating Your Detailed Monthly Budget

In the previous section, we allocated targeted spending amounts based on our categories. Now, we will explore how to reconcile our actual monthly spending with these estimated allocations.

In order to utilize accurate expense figures, it is advisable to download copies of your monthly checking, savings, and credit card statements from your financial institutions. If you are doing a paper pencil-and-pencil budget, I recommend adding expenses by category using columns.

Once you have calculated categorical totals for the entire month, the final step is to add all categorical totals and compare the final sum to your allocated final sum. Again, in order to have a zero-based budget, these figures should be identical.

Possible Problems and Trends

As you are doing your first few monthly budgets, you are likely to encounter the following problems or trends:

  • Spending more than the allocated targets in one or more categories
  • Spending less than the allocated targets in one or more categories

Why? A budget is a rough prediction. Think of it as a rough draft of an essay. You will return to it and refine any errors at the end of the month. The previous mistakes you made will influence and impact your thought process as you create later budgets.

Two Serious Warning Signs and Solutions

The following are two warning signs that your budget is not working:

  • Warning Sign: You consistently spend more than the allocated targets in specific categories.
    Solution: Increase allocated funds for the category if you are within recommended ranges. If you are exceeding recommended ranges, implement measures to reduce spending.
  • Warning Sign: Your spending exceeds your income.
    Solution: Forgive me for shouting, but STOP OVERSPENDING! Stay out of restaurants, learn to like your old clothes, and ride your bike to save on gas. Alternatively, seek alternative streams of income.

Next Steps

Now that you understand the nuances of a zero-based budget, get started on yours today. A budget only takes a few minutes to assemble, but the rewards are potentially without limit. Getting on the right path, understanding your money, and controlling your money are keys to being a Finance Superhero. A budget doesn’t require sophistication, manipulation, or secret wisdom. It requires patience, intentionality, and a desire to be in control of your money.


Readers, how do you plan your monthly budget? Do you use automated software? Excel? Paper and pencil? How much time do you spend on your budget each month? Share your thoughts and burning questions in the comments section below.

Five Reasons Why Everyone Should Have a Budget

A few weeks ago, I was lamenting the cost of graduate school with a friend over coffee. I commented that I had no idea why so many people were willing to go back to school for an MA or MBA and happily load up on debt that would have to be factored into their budget.

Yup, I said the b-word. My friend winced, as if I had just kicked him in the shin under the table.

For reasons I will forever struggle to understand, the word budget is a major taboo in today’s culture. Of course, I have never let that fact deter me in the past, and I wasn’t about to let it in this conversation, either.

“You do have a budget, right?”

“No. . . Budgeting just isn’t my thing. Besides, I’m always going to have debt anyway. What’s the point?”

Sadly, this attitude isn’t all that uncommon today. Chances are, you have also had similar conversations with friends, relatives, co-workers, or maybe even your neighborhood barista.

This, my fellow Superheroes, is a tragedy. With proper budgeting, there is no reason that the average person today cannot retire a millionaire and live a life of financial independence.

Five Reasons to Budget

While there are far more than five reasons everyone should have a budget, today I will present five reasons. My intention is to make you think and simultaneously stir your emotions. After reading this, please do not go another day without having a budget in place for your family.

  1. A Budget is Easy to Create

I am convinced that the average person’s aversion to budgeting stems from the budgetary failures of both federal and state government units. They ask, “If they can’t figure it out, how am I supposed to do it?” In my home state of Illinois, for example, our elected representatives and Governor have consistently demonstrated an inability to play nice and do what is best for their constituents. Ironically, the Illinois General Assembly recently enjoyed a vacation after months of accomplishing nothing.

With a Superhero mindset, you can do much better. Let’s walk through the basics of a simple starter budget:

  • If you have an understanding of addition, subtraction, basic fractions, and can operate a calculator, you can do a budget. Grab a pencil, a legal pad, and get started.
  • List your income from all sources at the top of the page. I recommend using net income, commonly referred to as “take home pay.”
  • Gather information on your fixed necessity expenses: mortgage/rent, utilities, and medications.
  • Gather information on your flexible necessity expenses: food/groceries/toiletries, clothing, and fuel/transportation.
  • Gather information on your discretionary expenses: restaurants, entertainment.
  • Calculate the total of your expenses and subtract this figure from your total net income. If you are spending more than you are earning, something must change.  First of all, aim to reduce unnecessary discretionary spending. Next, explore ways to reduce/eliminate restaurants, save on groceries and toiletries, and formulate a plan to reduce fuel/transportation expenses through well-planned travel. If you have money remaining at the end of your budget, it can be used to build your emergency fund, pay off your debts, and give to organizations/individuals in need.
  • Lastly, examine your fixed expenses and explore all avenues to reduce them. This can be done by paying off debts, thereby reducing your monthly obligations, negotiating rent/refinancing your mortgage (especially if your mortgage is 3-5 years old, you may be missing out on historically low interest rates), and reducing your usage of utilities. Any additional cash you can save is equivalent to receiving a raise.

Note: I realize that this guide to a simple starter budget is basic. We will dive into the nuances of a more detailed budget in a future post. Your starter budget will be approximate. That is OK. The goal is for you to establish a wide lens view of your current income and spending. When assembling future, more detailed budgets, we will use budget software, such as EveryDollar, to add precision to our process. If you prefer, you can jump to this step rather than the old-fashioned paper and pencil method outlined above.

  1. A Budget Puts You in Control of Your Money

Superheroes, you work hard to earn your income. I know I do. Without a budget, it is difficult to keep your income inline. Each dollar you earn in your lifetime is like a tiny employee that is ready to work for you. You wouldn’t hire an employee for your department or business and fail to provide her with a detailed purpose and role. If you did, you would be a poor boss. Employees need guidance and structure to succeed, and your money is no different. Put those dollars to work by assigning them a unique role. That begins and ends with a budget.

  1. A Budget Requires You to Pay Attention to Your Money

With several Mr. Washingtons working for you, suddenly doing exactly what you tell them to do, things begin to change. Suddenly, you notice that your grande non-fat no whip latte costs you $7 each morning. You may even experience a bit of pain upon realizing that this equates to $35 per week and over $1800 per year.

Is this worth $1800 per year?

Noticing details like this is just the beginning when you maintain a monthly budget. And when you start to pay attention, innocent trips to the ATM don’t seem quite so innocent anymore. You begin to think twice before you spend because you understand the ramifications of departing from your plan, a point which segues nicely into the next reason to budget.

  1. Operating Without a Budget is a Missed Opportunity

Though the US government prints money like it is going out of style, you and I know that money is a finite resource. Each of us has a limited number of working years, and logically, our earned income is similarly limited as a result. Do not let any of it go to waste. You must be intentional to be successful.

Today, more and more people strive to out earn their stupid spending. They work long hours to pay for cars, boats, and summer beach homes, yet they are too busy working to enjoy the fruits of their labor. I am not condemning hard work, nor am I saying that you should not have nice things. However, as Chris Hogan puts it, “I don’t want nice things to have you!” If you do not have a budget, your hard-earned money is likely being wasted on buying things you don’t need to impress people you don’t even know. The longer you continue this way, the longer you are missing out on what Albert Einstein dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World: compound interest. And in this case, being late to the party isn’t fashionable; it’s foolish.

For example, consider the following scenario: Ben and John are both 20 years old. Ben begins investing $250 per month in index funds, and he continues until he is 30 years old, at which time he never invests another cent, allowing compound interest to grow his money until retirement at age 59 ½. John decides to lease a vehicles for $250 per month during this same 10 year window, and wisely snaps out of it when he reaches age 30, at which time he begins investing $250 and continues until age 60. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that both gentlemen invest in similarly-performing index funds, which average a 10% return each year. Surely John must catch up to Ben? Take a look below:

  Ben’s Investments John’s Investments
Age Contribution Interest Balance Contribution Interest Balance
20 $3,000.00 $300.00 $3,300.00 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
21 $3,000.00 $630.00 $6,930.00 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
22 $3,000.00 $993.00 $10,923.00 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
23 $3,000.00 $1,392.30 $15,315.30 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
24 $3,000.00 $1,831.53 $20,146.83 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
25 $3,000.00 $2,314.68 $25,461.51 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
26 $3,000.00 $2,846.15 $31,307.66 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
27 $3,000.00 $3,430.77 $37,738.43 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
28 $3,000.00 $4,073.84 $44,812.27 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
29 $3,000.00 $4,781.23 $52,593.50 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
30 $0.00 $5,259.35 $57,852.85 $3,000.00 $300.00 $3,300.00
31 $0.00 $5,785.29 $63,638.14 $3,000.00 $630.00 $6,930.00
32 $0.00 $6,363.81 $70,001.95 $3,000.00 $993.00 $10,923.00
33 $0.00 $7,000.20 $77,002.15 $3,000.00 $1,392.30 $15,315.30
34 $0.00 $7,700.22 $84,702.37 $3,000.00 $1,831.53 $20,146.83
35 $0.00 $8,470.24 $93,172.61 $3,000.00 $2,314.68 $25,461.51
36 $0.00 $9,317.26 $102,489.87 $3,000.00 $2,846.15 $31,307.66
37 $0.00 $10,248.99 $112,738.86 $3,000.00 $3,430.77 $37,738.43
38 $0.00 $11,273.89 $124,012.75 $3,000.00 $4,073.84 $44,812.27
39 $0.00 $12,401.28 $136,414.03 $3,000.00 $4,781.23 $52,593.50
40 $0.00 $13,641.40 $150,055.43 $3,000.00 $5,559.35 $61,152.85
41 $0.00 $15,005.54 $165,060.97 $3,000.00 $6,415.29 $70,568.14
42 $0.00 $16,506.10 $181,567.07 $3,000.00 $7,356.81 $80,924.95
43 $0.00 $18,156.71 $199,723.78 $3,000.00 $8,392.50 $92,317.45
44 $0.00 $19,972.38 $219,696.16 $3,000.00 $9,531.75 $104,849.20
45 $0.00 $21,969.62 $241,665.78 $3,000.00 $10,784.92 $118,634.12
46 $0.00 $24,166.58 $265,832.36 $3,000.00 $12,163.41 $133,797.53
47 $0.00 $26,583.24 $292,415.60 $3,000.00 $13,679.75 $150,477.28
48 $0.00 $29,241.56 $321,657.16 $3,000.00 $15,347.73 $168,825.01
49 $0.00 $32,165.72 $353,822.88 $3,000.00 $17,182.50 $189,007.51
50 $0.00 $35,382.29 $389,205.17 $3,000.00 $19,200.75 $211,208.26
51 $0.00 $38,920.52 $428,125.69 $3,000.00 $21,420.83 $235,629.09
52 $0.00 $42,812.57 $470,938.26 $3,000.00 $23,862.91 $262,492.00
53 $0.00 $47,093.83 $518,032.09 $3,000.00 $26,549.20 $292,041.20
54 $0.00 $51,803.21 $569,835.30 $3,000.00 $29,504.12 $324,545.32
55 $0.00 $56,983.53 $626,818.83 $3,000.00 $32,754.53 $360,299.85
56 $0.00 $62,681.88 $689,500.71 $3,000.00 $36,329.99 $399,629.84
57 $0.00 $68,950.07 $758,450.78 $3,000.00 $40,262.98 $442,892.82
58 $0.00 $75,845.08 $834,295.86 $3,000.00 $44,589.28 $490,482.10
59 $0.00 $83,429.59 $917,725.45 $3,000.00 $49,348.21 $542,830.31

At age 59 and approaching retirement, Ben will have invested a total of $30,000 and hold a portfolio valued at $917,725.45. John will invest $90,000 over 30 years -three times what Ben invested-yet he will only hold a portfolio valued at $542,830.31! John never caught up due to the avalanche of compound interest that worked in Ben’s favor.

  1. A Budget is Freeing

When my friend claimed that a budget really wasn’t his thing, I immediately realized that he had never experienced the freedom that results from a fine-tuned budget. When you maintain a budget, you have the benefits of:

  • knowing how much money you have at any given moment
  • knowing you do not have to fear a bounced check or overdraft fees
  • no surprises
  • peace of mind that comes from having budgeted for emergencies (a post on the value of the emergency fund and how much you may need is coming later this week)

Surprisingly, the notion that a budget is restrictive is pure nonsense. As a regular listener of The Dave Ramsey Show, I have heard countless “Debt-Free Screams” in which the callers said that planning a budget felt like they had received a raise.  

Lastly, a budget is freeing because it causes you to think.  Thinking leads to reflection, and reflection leads you to consider your values and decide what is most important to you. Value driven budgeting is the key to seeing beyond the numbers and focusing on the why behind the numbers.

What Are You Waiting For?

A budget only takes a few minutes to assemble, but the rewards are potentially without limit. Getting on the right path, understanding your money, and controlling your money are keys to being a Finance Superhero. A budget doesn’t require sophistication, manipulation, or secret wisdom. It requires patience, intentionality, and a desire to be in control of one’s money.


Do you have a monthly budget? How you maintain it? How much time do you spend on budgeting each month? Please share your thoughts on all things budget-related in the comments section below.