Free is for Me!

January 27th  marked the beginning of the last year of my 30’s. Getting older and finding random gray hairs can be slightly depressing. Although, I was reminded of how joyous another birthday could be every time I opened my e-mail and found a special gift just for me. These gifts were coupons for free stuff! I got them from various corporations because I am enrolled in their membership clubs. The membership clubs offer reward programs which are usually based on a point system.  You accumulate points based on your spending totals. Once you have spent a certain amount of money you will receive a coupon for a free item or a discount on your next purchase. Many of the corporations will give you an extra bonus for your birthday by giving you something for free.  As the saying goes, “Free is for Me!” `

Since January is my birthday month, I have received coupons for free meals from IHOP and Houlihans, wings from Buffalo Wild Wings, ice cream from Cold Stone, a beverage from Dunkin Donuts, and my choice of an appetizer or dessert from Red Lobster and Olive Garden. I also received $25 in coupons from DSW and $15 from Best Buy. This is only a partial list of membership rewards I received. Signing up for membership clubs at many stores and restaurants is free and normally an introductory gift is given just for signing up.  The corporations use their membership clubs to keep customers aware of new product offerings and sales. The preferred method of communication is e-mail. If you do not want the store promotions intermingling with other personal or business e-mails, I suggest setting up a separate email account for your club memberships.

Receiving these coupons can be an extra little perk, but they can also save you a significant amount of money over time. I have a dog that eats expensive food that doesn’t go on sale often. I am enrolled in the Petco rewards club. Every time I reach $100 in purchases, I receive a coupon for $5 off my next purchase. That is an 8% savings on a $60 bag of food.

Being a part of these memberships clubs has shaped the way that I think about spending. I almost never want to pay full price for anything. I seek ways to find discounts and keep more money in my pocket! Below is a list of some stores and restaurants that offer membership club rewards. Go sign up and enjoy your savings!

  • Benihana
  • Best Buy
  • Buffalo Wild Wings
  • California Pizza Kitchen
  • Chili’s
  • Cold Stone
  • Dairy Queen
  • DSW
  • Dunkin Donuts
  • Houlihans
  • IHOP
  • Longhorn’s
  • Panera
  • Petco
  • P.F Chang’s China Bistro
  • Olive Garden
  • Outback
  • Red Lobster
  • Ruby Tuesday
  • Starbucks
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Creating A Monthly Budget

Now that you have an understanding of where your money is going each month, it is time to create your monthly budget. The term monthly budget doesn’t always spark positive thoughts. A budget may be looked at as being restrictive or a hindrance to your lifestyle. I don’t want you to view it that way. A budget is a tool used to help you maintain your standard of living and meet your financial goals.

What are some of your financial goals? Is it to pay off your credit card debt? Save for a down payment on a house? Or increase your emergency savings fund? Whatever your goals may be, budgeting will help turn them into a reality.  Create a chart similar to the one I have below. List your goals and figure out how much money you need to obtain them. Then determine the timeframe in which you want to achieve each goal. . Give your goals a priority, because you may not have the funds to accomplish each goal at the same time. Therefore, you may have to wait before you can add a goal into your monthly budget. Below is an example of the worksheet:

Goal Total $ Amount Need  # of Months to Reach Goal  $ Need Each Month Priority
Vacation 1000.00 12 83.33 3
Laptop 500.00 12 41.67 4
Six months of Salary in Savings 18000.00 60 300.00 1
Create fund for Home Repairs 5000.00 36 138.88 2

Now we are going to construct your monthly budget. Use a spreadsheet application to create your budget. If you don’t have access to software, you can construct a chart similar to the one I have below.  You will add the following sections:

  1. Net monthly income
  2. Monthly expenses
  3. Lifestyle Expenses
  4. Financial goals

Subtract the total of your monthly expenses, lifestyle expenses and financial goals from your net monthly income. Below is an example:

Net Monthly Income 
Bi-Weekly Paychecks $3,000.00
Child Support $400.00
Total $3,400.00
Monthly Expenses
Mortgage/Rent $1,100.00
Car Payment $300.00
Utilities $250.00
Cable $100.00
Credit Cards $100.00
Car Insurance $85.00
Cell Phone $85.00
Total $2,020.00
Lifestyle Expenses
Groceries $250.00
Gas/Transportation $160.00
Clothes/shoes $70.00
Eating out $50.00
Hair Done/Cut $50.00
Total $580.00
Financial Goals
Six months of Salary $300.00
Funds for Home Repairs $140.00
Savings for College Tuition $200.00
Total $640.00
Net Monthly Income $3,400.00
Monthly Expenses+ Spending+Fin. Goals ($3,240.00)
Balance $160.00

After completing your budget, if your balance is positive, meaning you have money left, congratulations! You have created a budget that is within your means and have increased your chances of sticking to it.

If your balance is negative, meaning you do not have any money left, you will need to rework your budget. You have to reduce the amounts designated to your lifestyle expenses and your financial goals.

Remember the amount spent on each item within your monthly budget doesn’t have to be set in stone. You should always be looking for ways to reduce your expenses. Also once you accomplish one of your financial goals you can remove it from your budget and work towards the next goal on your list.

Keep your budget somewhere easily accessible so that you can refer to it and become familiar with it. If you are having trouble sticking to your budget you will need to re-work it or use greater discipline in your spending habits.

If you have any questions or need some advice, just ask. I would be happy to hear from you! Stay tuned for my upcoming posts on ways to save money and stay within your budget!

 

Why Don’t I Have More Money?

I know that I said in my last post I would tell you how to create your monthly budget.  Before we do that I want to address a situation that you, amongst many others, may be in. After calculating your monthly disposable income, (by subtracting your monthly expenses from your net monthly income) did it appear that you should be doing better financially than you really are? On paper, do you have money left after paying all of your bills but still fall short each month? If this is the predicament you find yourself in, we need to further exam exactly what you are spending your money on. You are spending more than you can afford and you need to be conscious of where your money is going.

I remember when I did a financial evaluation because I was starting the process of buying a home. I was happy with the final numbers and the amount of home that I could afford. I was also fully aware this was nothing more than my financial picture on paper. My financial reality was slightly different. I had a few bad habits that I knew I was going to have to get under control before I actually purchased my home. I ate out way too much and I was known to frequent the mall a little too often.

To tighten the reins on your spending habits, begin by making a list of things that you have a consistent cycle of spending money on. For example, how often do you go out to eat, to the club/bar, get your hair done/cut, buy clothes or engage in one of your hobbies? If you did not include food, gas (or transportation expenses) as a part of your monthly expenses from the last exercise, include them on your list.  Once you have the complete list, give a dollar amount of how much you spend on these items each month.

Being realistic about your expenses and your spending habits is key to being able to create a budget that works for you and will allow you to stick to it. If you are having trouble figuring out exactly where your money is going, then I want you to track every penny that you spend for one month. Yes, I really did say, every penny for one month. Remember, I said I would help you make your finances simple, however it will take some effort on your part.

To track your spending, you can use your debit card for purchases so that you can have an electronic account of your spending in one place. If you need to pay in cash, keep all of your receipts. To make it easy on yourself, I suggest tallying your receipts each week. Then add up the grand total at the end of the month.

Once you have this valuable information, prioritize how important these expenses are to you. Think of how you can begin to scale back or possibly eliminate expenses. Once again, make sure that you are realistic. If you eat out 3 to 5 times a week and spend about $50, don’t make your goal to stop eating out altogether. Instead make a more realistic goal like eating out once a week with a limit of $15. If you stop each morning before work to grab a $2 cup of coffee, you can start making your own coffee at home. You can save $40 a month on the store bought coffee.

After evaluating your spending and figuring out ways to cut back, if you still don’t have enough disposable income, you need to figure out how to increase your income. Keep this in mind though, for every dollar that you earn you only keep a percentage of it due to taxes that will be taken out. However, you will be able to use the full amount of each dollar that you are able to save by cutting back on your expenses. Therefore, cutting back on your expenses, if you can, will be more beneficial.

Thanks for reading and walking with me towards “Finances Made Simple”. Make sure to check out my next post when I help you to create a monthly budget.

Start Managing Your Money

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There are many conversations that take place around money. The topics range from making money, not having enough money and all the ways we find to spend money. Another topic that needs to be added to the conversation is managing money.  I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance and Marketing from Drexel University, and I understand that thoughts of managing money can be scary. For many the phrase “managing your finances” sparks thoughts of investing in stocks, bonds and other financial instruments. Some believe that this is a science that they will never master and usually shy away. There is no reason to be scared.

You can take small steps in your journey of understanding and mastering your financial situation. You don’t need to aspire to be the next Wall Street superstar, but you can be a successful manager of a household budget. In the past 20 years I have gone from not having 65 cents in my pocket to buy a soda on a hot summer day, to being a financially stable homeowner with a luxury car parked in the driveway. I have learned a lot during this time and I want to share it with you.

I want to start with having you evaluate your current financial state. If you are making more money than you can spend, this blog may not be for you. For the other 99% of America, I have practical tips that can improve your financial situation and increase your quality of life. Yes, I am saying that improving your financial outlook can make your life better. Think about it, what if you could decrease the stress in your life that is associated to money? Wouldn’t your life be better?

I want to help you learn about managing money in a way that may be new to you.  It will take some effort but I assure you that implementing some practical techniques will pay off. So let me help you, make your finances simple!