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Want To Eliminate All Your Money Stress? Make A Budget!

 

There are lots of different factors that play into your emotional wellness, and one of them is your stress level. Your financial wellness (maintaining a quality lifestyle within your financial means) can have a significant effect on your stress level. In other words, having an understanding of your financial situation and taking care of your finances keeps your stress level down and helps you be emotionally well.

In order to understand your financial situation, you have to have a good grasp of how much money you have coming in and also where it’s going. The key to that is maintaining a balanced budget for all of your expenses in a way that not only keeps you from living beyond your means, but also allows you to save money and plan for unexpected expenses.

How to create a budget

Track spending

The most important step in making a monthly budget is knowing where your money goes now. Many people spend a few dollars here and there without paying much attention to it, but what they don’t realize is how much those little expenses add up. In order to get a firm grasp on how you are spending your money,¬† you need to spend a month tracking every single expense – even if you just spend 50 cents to buy a diet coke out of a vending machine.

One easy way to track your expenses is by carrying a small notebook with you wherever you go. It sounds silly, I know, but it works. Carry your notebook (a notebook app on your phone works too), and every time you spend any money, whether with cash or credit or debit, make a note of it. Keep all your receipts too, just in case you forget to write something down.

You can find a an expense worksheet at www.financialliteracymonth.com if you prefer to fill out a form. Just make sure when you spend money on something that isn’t listed on the form, you add that in too!

Track your spending for a whole month, and then review your notes. In general, where does your money go? Did you make wise spending choices? Were your purchases necessary? Look at some of the categories for purchases that are not necessities, but where you seem to spend a lot, such as getting drinks with friends or lunch out with your office mates. Add up your total amount spent for the month on those expenses. Does it surprise you?

Make a list of fixed costs

Now that you know how much you spend each month on both needs and wants, you can use that information to create a monthly budget. The first step is to make a list of your monthly fixed costs. This includes things like your mortgage/rent, utilities, and insurance. Your utilities might vary a bit each month, but if you have a record of your bills over the last year, just find the average for things like electricity, gas, water, and anything else that isn’t a set amount.

Other debt repayments also go in this category. That might include student loans, credit card debts, and car payments. Add up the total cost of your monthly bills that you must pay each month. We’ll use this number later.

Create a spending plan

You’re now ready to create a plan for how you will spend all your income. First, identify all your income from different sources. Even if you have just one paycheck, you might be earning interest on account, receiving dividends, getting inheritance checks, or maybe even working odd jobs. This income worksheet can help you identify all your income sources. It also helps you understand all the deductions that are taken out of your paycheck. Look closely at those too, and see if there are some areas where you might be able to decrease deductions to increase the amount you take home.

Do you allow the government to take out too much for taxes so that you get a big refund in April? If so, that is just like giving the government an interest-free loan from money you could use now. Or maybe you have a paycheck deduction for health insurance, but you can get it cheaper through your spouse? Examine your paycheck stub closely, and make sure you know where all your money is going.

Once you are clear how much income you bring in each month, subtract the total amount of your fixed/necessary costs that you calculated in the previous step. Now, how much is left over? That is your discretionary income – the total amount that you get to decide how you want to spend.

Compare your total discretionary income with the amount you tallied in your expenses journal in step one. Is your discretionary income lower than the amount you are spending? If so, you are living beyond your means and could well be destined for some very difficult financial times. If your expenses are lower than your discretionary income, you are doing well! But you also need to consider saving money.

If you have calculated that you are living beyond your means, or if you’d like to create more breathing room in your budget, the next step is to start cutting expenses. You can do this by reviewing your expenses journal and honestly assessing which expenditures are needs and which ones are wants.

Look at all your “wants” and try to identify areas where you can cut costs. Some, such as eating out or going to the movies, will be obvious. But it’s also important to look at things that you might deem to be necessities, but actually aren’t. Those include cable television, internet access, snack foods you pick up with your groceries, and even your gym membership.

If you look at your list and too many things feel like necessities to you, use this financial priorities worksheet to help you better understand which things you need versus which things you want. The worksheet will also help you rank your priorities so you can figure out what matters most to you. Don’t forget to make saving a priority too. It’s important that you don’t set up your monthly budget so it consumes all of your total monthly income. Saving for vacations and retirement and unexpected expenses is key component of your financial wellness.

Set up your budget sheet so that you account for all your disposable income (your total take-home pay), and you include your monthly set expenses, your “wants”, and savings. You can find lots of budget templates online. This one is pretty simple and straightforward to get you started.

A few more details

One thing to keep in mind when you are cutting expenses is to be realistic. Look back at your spending journal and see what makes sense. If you are feeding a family of four, budgeting $50 per month for groceries won’t work, and you’ll just end up getting frustrated.

Also consider whether increasing your income is a possibility. Besides looking at your paycheck deductions, would it make sense to find additional work? Is it time you talked with your supervisor about a raise? Are there other ways you can turn your spare time into extra cash? Even if it’s just for a short while, finding a way to increase your income can help you achieve your financial goals sooner.

One last note about creating a budget. If you’re not sure how much you should be allowing for different categories of expenses, follow the 50/30/20 rule. Spend 50% of your net income on all your necessities. That includes your monthly fixed expenses, plus other necessities like food, child care, gas and oil for your car, etc. Spend 30% on all your wants. This is anything that is not a necessity and includes internet, cable, entertainment, updates to your home, etc. And plan on spending 20% of your income on savings and debt repayment.

You can divide your savings plan down even further, into short-term (small purchase in a few months), medium-term (vacation next year), and long-term (emergencies, retirement, and major purchases).

The debt repayment part of your overall 20% is anything you spend over the minimum monthly payment. This would include extra payments on your student loan or car loan or any other such debt. You might want to use this financial goal worksheet to help you identify your savings goals. It also will help you determine whether they are short or long term and how much you need to save to meet those goals.

How to use your budget

Once you create your budget, follow it! But don’t be too rigid. You don’t want your money to control you, and you don’t want to feel deprived. Keep tracking your expenses, so you can be sure you are following your plan. After a month or two, re-evaluate it and see what worked for you. You might have some areas where you need to allow for more spending, and there might be other areas where you could tighten your spending even further.

Remember to keep your financial goals in mind. Do you want to be debt-free? Would you love to retire early? Are you saving up for an extravagant vacation to commemorate a big event? When you remember your big goals, it’s easier to stick with your spending plans.

Did you know April is financial literacy month? It’s the perfect time to begin understanding where your money is going and start designing a spending plan that will work for you. Why not get started now?

Make a Good Relationship Better: Equal Partnerships Are Built To Last

 

We all want good relationships with the people around us. Family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors all play a role in our social wellness. Some of those relationships (supervisor/subordinate, parent/child) might not be built on equality. With your spouse or partner, though, equality is vitally important. Equal partnerships foster closeness, which results in a stronger and happier relationship. When partner are equal, they feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings, causing them to feel better about themselves, their partner, and the relationship as a whole. Couples with an equal partnership also report more stability in their marriage, less conflict, less dependency, and less resentment.

There are eight types of interactions that are associated with equality in a relationship. You and your partner may be stronger in some areas than others. By knowing, understanding, and implementing the following behaviors, you can foster a healthier relationship and a stronger bond.

Negotiation and Fairness – When you and your partner are trying to resolve a problem, find resolutions that really work for both of you. In an equal relationship, neither person’s wants and needs are more important. While both partners should be willing to compromise, neither should be expected to give up or give in just to satisfy the other.

Respect – A big part of having respect for someone comes in how you listen to them. When your partner is talking, hear her out before responding. Listen to her without judging her, and try to respond in a way that shows you really heard her. If you can do those things, she might feel like she can tell you anything.

Being respectful also means affirming your partner in a positive way. By valuing opinions and acknowledging emotions, you create a space in which both partners are comfortable sharing all of their thoughts and feelings.

Trust and Support – In an equal relationship, both partners’ life goals are supported by the other – not one person’s more so than the other. You also trust each other so that each of you can have your own feelings, friends, activities and opinions.

Economic Partnership – If you are striving for an equal relationship, it is also important that you and your partner make money decisions together. This doesn’t mean you have to check with each other before any purchase is made (as some financial independence is also important), but big decisions like the family budget, significant purchases, and savings and retirement accounts should all be discussed and decided together.

Equality also means that both partners benefit from the financial arrangements, and one isn’t feeling controlled by the other through money. Both should have equal say and equal access when it comes to family funds, and neither should feel pressed to give up his own wishes to allow money to be spent based solely on his partner’s preferences.

Non-Threatening Behavior – It’s also important for both partners to talk and act in a demeanor that makes the other feel safe and comfortable expressing herself and doing things. In other words, both people should be comfortable being themselves around the other. If one partner is particularly critical or domineering, for example, it could create an environment where the other feels s/he has to act or say or do things a certain way in order to avoid being criticized.

There rarely is one right way to do any one thing, so give your partner space to be him or herself without you responding with your own critique.

Responsible Parenting – Equal partners also share parenting responsibilities. That doesn’t mean you necessarily have to take turns each time the baby needs to be changed or the teenager needs homework help. Usually one parent or the other is better at certain tasks and will handle the bulk of those¬† parenting duties. But what it does mean is overall both parents should work equally in the process of raising their children, and they should both constantly make the effort to be positive role models for the children.

Honesty and Accountability – Creating equal relationships is a continuing process, and it’s rarely perfect from the start. Part of that equation in reaching equality is that both partners must accept responsibility for themselves.

Acknowledge things you have done or said in the past that were hurtful to the relationship. Admit when you were wrong without trying to make someone else share the blame. Taking steps to make sure past wrongs won’t be repeated also makes you more accountable. Saying you were wrong and you’re sorry isn’t enough until you demonstrate how committed you are to not making those mistakes again. Communicate openly and truthfully with each other to avoid passing blame and keep working toward resolution.

Shared Responsibility – You can’t have an equal relationship if one person isn’t pulling her weight around the house and the other person feels he is having to do everything. If there is an imbalance in your house, work together to agree on a fair distribution of work. Once you do that, be responsible about your commitment.

Saying you’ll do something and actually doing it are two different things. If you want an equal relationship, both partners have to contribute fairly and responsibly to helping the house run smoothly.

It’s also important to make family decisions together. Both partners need to have equal input and both need to be heard by the other.

When you build these behaviors into your relationship, you will strengthen your relationship’s foundation. Each partner will feel better about her/himself, feel more positive about the other person, and value the relationship more.

How would you assess the equality in your relationship? Are there areas that are particularly strong? Are there other areas that you think you and your partner could do better? Take some time to think about how you can improve in those areas, and talk with your partner. Listen to each other, make some changes, and let me know how it goes!