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Five Quick Money Tips for the New Year

Five Quick Money Tips for the New Year

Depending on your point of view, a glance at the calendar these days can elicit one of two responses: relief that 2016 is finally coming to an end, or panic that you have yet to set resolutions for 2017. While goals related to weight loss and health tend to be most popular each year, the hope to get a better hold on finances usually isn’t far behind. If you’re one of the many Americans looking to change their money-wasting ways in the coming year, here are a few quick tips for you.

Have a budget and stick to it.

Perhaps the single biggest personal finance mistake that many of us make is spending without tracking our purchases. Although just striving to keep your bank account in the black may work for a little while, it doesn’t leave room for error, not to mention emergency. That’s why it’s so important to take the time to create a real budget for yourself.

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Luckily, this process has now been made less painful as several apps (e.g. Mint, YNAB, and GoodBudget) allow you to set spending limits and will automatically categorize your purchases for you. Of course, you can always keep a spreadsheet of your own as well or use one as a backup. Lastly, if your addiction to plastic is really getting the best of you, try using the old school envelope method where you put cash (yes, cash) into folders labeled with each category of spending. Once your cash is gone, that’s it. You’ll quickly learn what areas you need to work on.

Up your 401(k) contribution.

With another year over, you are now another year older. Sorry to bum you out but it’s important to consider. Even though retirement might seem like an eternity from now, the truth is that you still need to be saving for it. One of the best ways to do that is by contributing to a 401(k).

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What’s great about 401(k)s is that in many cases your employer will match a certain percentage of the contributions you make and might also offer profit sharing. If you’re not taking advantage of this “free money,” you really should be. In fact, now is a great time to change your withholdings as open enrollment traditionally takes place at the beginning of each year.

Save more on your purchases by planning ahead and getting creative.

Impulse buying can lead not only to some ill-advised purchases but could also cause you to spend more than you need to. There are several ways to save money on the things you buy, but most of them involve planning.

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As someone who visits the mall on a weekly basis, one my favorite ways to save is to find an item I want, set a target price I’d be willing to pay for it, and then wait until it is marked down enough for me to buy. While that may be time-consuming, running a Google search for a coupon code before buying something online is super-fast and oftentimes very effective in helping you reach that important target price. Lastly, don’t forget to be creative and use loyalty offers, credit card rewards, and regular old coupons to your advantage— even all at once!

Start an emergency fund.

Speaking of planning, if 2016 taught us anything, it’s that the unexpected can happen. That’s why having an emergency fund is paramount to ensuring your financial security. Furthermore, in addition to having enough saved up to cover three to six months of essential bills should you lose your job, you might also want to consider having a separate fund for things like car repairs. With these savings in place, you’ll be able to make it through tough financial times without resorting to credit cards. If the worst does happen, you’ll be very thankful you were prepared.

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Consider a side hustle.

Obviously saving money is a big part of personal finance, but so is making money. Luckily, thanks to the Internet, you can now monetize more possessions, talents, goods, and services than ever before. As a result, maybe it’s time you considered pursuing a side hustle of your own. Whether that means blogging about your passions, using some of your free time to drive people around town, selling items you create yourself, or renting/selling items you don’t need, you may be surprised by what you can do and what you could earn. Why not give it a shot?

Happy New Year, everyone — here’s to a great 2017!

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Published on October 8, 2018

13 Incredibly Useful Tactics to Help You to Stick to Your Family Budget

13 Incredibly Useful Tactics to Help You to Stick to Your Family Budget

Are you having trouble sticking to a family budget? You aren’t alone.

Budgeting is difficult. Creating one is hard enough, but actually sticking to it is a whole other issue. Things come up. Desires and cravings happen. And the next thing you know, budgets break.

So how can you stick to a family budget? Here are 13 tips to make it easier.

1. Choose a major category each month to attack

As the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” With that in mind, one approach to help you get into the habit of sticking to a budget is simply starting slow.

Spend too much on Starbucks runs, eat out too often, and have an out-of-this-world grocery bill? Choose one bad habit and attack.

By choosing one behavior to focus on, you’ll prevent yourself from being overwhelmed. You’ll also experience small victories, which help you gain positive momentum. This momentum can then carry over into your overall budget.

2. Only make major purchases in the morning

If you’re making large purchases in the evening, there’s a good chance you’re doing so after a long day and you’re probably tired.

Why does this matter? Because our judgement tends to be off when tired – our willpower is compromised.

Instead, only make major purchasing decisions in the morning when you’re energized and refreshed. Your brain will be firing on all cylinders and your resolve will be high. You’re less likely to give in and settle at this point.

3. Don’t go to the grocery store hungry

Have trouble with impulse buys at the grocery store? If so, there’s a good chance you’re going grocery shopping while hungry.

The problem here is that when you’re hungry, everything looks good. So you’re more likely to make split decisions on things that aren’t on your grocery list.

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Instead, make sure you eat prior to your grocery store trip. Then take your list, along with your full stomach, and go shopping. Notice how food doesn’t look quite so good when you’re not fighting cravings.

4. Read one-star reviews for products

Is there a product you just have to have (but maybe not really)? Check out the one-star reviews.

By reading all the horrible reviews, you may be able to basically trick yourself into deciding that the product isn’t worth your time and money.

Next thing you know, you didn’t make the purchase, you saved the money, and you feel good about the decision.

5. Never buy anything you put in an online shopping cart until the next day

If you are making a purchase online, it’s typically a two-step process. First, you click “Add to Cart” and then you go in to review your cart and pay.

The problem is that there not typically much reviewing during step two. It’s generally click pay and there you go. However, this is the perfect point to stop for reflection.

Once you add to your cart, your best bet is to step away until the next day. Let the item sit there and grow cold, so to speak.

This gives you a night to “sleep on it” and decide if you really want and need to spend that money. If you wake up the next day and still find the purchase viable, then perhaps it’s time to go for it.

6. Don’t save your credit card info on any site you shop on

One of the other pitfalls of shopping online is that fact that most sites ask you to save your credit card information.

While the sites will frame it as a method of convenience, the truth is they know you’ll spend more money in the long run if your credit card information is saved.

The “convenience” takes away one last decision-making point in the purchasing process. True, it’s a pain to get out your credit card and enter the information every time. But guess what? That’s the point. If that inconvenience helps you stay on budget, then it’s worth it. Which leads into the next tip.

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7. Tape an “impulse buy” reminder to your credit card

Credit cards make spending much easier than cash. When you spend cash, you can literally see your wallet emptying. A credit card comes out, then goes back in. No harm, no foul.

That’s why it’s a good idea to tape a reminder to your credit card. Customize a message that is something along the lines of “do you really need this?” or “does it fit the budget?”

That way when you pull out the card, you get one last reminder to help you question your decision and stick to your budget.

8. Only use gift cards to shop on Amazon

Amazon is probably the easiest place online to blow money. It’s just so easy to click and buy. However, one way you can slow the process down is buy only using gift cards. Here’s how it works.

If you plan on making a purchase on Amazon, go to the grocery store and purchase a pre-loaded Amazon gift card of the proper amount. There’s no convenience fee, so you literally pay for the money you’ll spend.

Now take that gift card home and load it to your Amazon account. There’s your money to spend.

Why does this help? It makes you have to purposely go to the score and purchase the card in order to purchase the item. That’s a pretty deliberate thing that takes some time, commitment, and thought.

This process will effectively kill the impulse buy.

9. Budget using cash and envelopes

As mentioned earlier, it’s a lot harder to spend cash than swipe a credit card. You can take this even farther by using only cash, and separating that cash by budget category.

Create an envelope for each category and stick the cash in there at the beginning of each month. When the envelope is empty, no more spending on that category, unless you borrow from another (be careful of that approach).

This can be pretty helpful for people that have a hard time following transactions in their checking account, or keeping a budgeting spreadsheet.

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The envelopes simplify the tracking process, leaving no room for error. Nothing hides from you because it’s tangible in the envelopes in front of you.

10. Join a like-minded group

Making the decision to stick to something like budgeting is difficult. It takes long-term commitment.

You’re going to feel weak sometimes. And sometimes you may fail. That said, support from others can help strengthen resolve.

Support can come from a spouse or a friend, but they won’t always have the exact same goal in mind. That’s why it’s a good idea to join a support group that’s likeminded.

No need to pay here, as there are tons of free communities that fit the bill online.

For example, reddit has multiple subreddits that deal with budgeting and frugal living. You can follow, subscribe, and get active in those communities.

This will open your eyes to new tips and strategies, keep your goal fresh on your mind, and help you realize there are others dealing with the same struggles and being successful.

11. Reward Yourself

When you set a budget, it’s usually with a large goal in mind. Maybe you want to be debt free, or perhaps you want to see $10,000 in your savings account.

Whatever the case, the end goal is great, but the end is often far away, making it hard to see the end of the tunnel.

With that in mind, it’s a good idea to set mini-goals along the way. This helps you still look at the big picture but have something that’s attainable in the short-term to help with momentum.

But don’t stop there – set rewards for yourself when you reach that small goal. Maybe it’s an extra meal out. Or a new pair of shoes.

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Whatever the case, this gives you something in the near future to look forward to, which can help with the fatigue that can result in pursuing long-term goals.

12. Take the Buddhist approach

You don’t have to be a Buddhist to recognize some of the wisdom in the teachings. One of the tenets of the philosophy involves accepting that we can’t have everything we want. And that’s okay.

Sometimes you won’t feel good. Sometimes you’ll have cravings. You can’t deny them. But you can recognize them, accept them, and let them pass by. Then you move on.

Apply this to the times you want to do things that will break your budget. You’re going to have the desire to eat out when you shouldn’t. You might want to stay out and spend too much at happy hour with your work friends.

The feelings will come. Recognize them, accept them, but let them go.

13. Set up automatic drafts to savings

If you wait until you’ve spent all your budgeted money to deposit money into savings, guess what? You probably aren’t going to put any money into savings.

It’s too easy to see that as extra money and end up using it to treat yourself.

Instead, set up automatic savings withdrawals. That way, the money is marked and gone before you can even think about it. It becomes a non-issue. It’s no longer “extra.” It’s just savings.

Conclusion

Sticking to a budget can be difficult. No one is denying that.

However, if you can do a few things to set yourself up for success, and put some practices in place to curb impulse buys, then you can (and will!) be successful sticking to your family budget.

Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

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