You know that you need to budget, save, and pay off debt. Your parents, your teachers, your friend who is a financial advisor, and the morning news show you watch have all told you so. You made a list of bills and expenses and subtracted them from your income, figured out how much you had left, and maybe put some of that into your savings account every month. You’ve been doing that for awhile and don’t seem to be getting anywhere. The savings always gets spent, or somehow the money never makes it into savings in the first place. Something always comes up. The student loan debt seems like it is never going to go away, and saving up to buy a house is never going to happen. It’s time to look at a new approach to budgeting. Continue reading “The Net Worth Budget”
I have been wanting to put this lesson together for awhile. I created an annuity spreadsheet to calculate the long-term impact of various spending habits. What would your retirement income look like if you brewed your coffee at home instead of going to Starbucks or drove a sedan instead of an SUV? When you replace small spending habits over a 30 year period and earn investment returns on the savings, the difference can be tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Check it out:
Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover is not a perfect system, nor is this a perfect book, but it is the reality check that tens of thousands of American consumers need. After one filters out the unhelpful testimonials and the plugs for his radio show, this book a lot of good common sense about finances.
Ramsey rightly compares personal finance to personal health. Most of it is common sense, but as he says, it is 20% knowledge and 80% behavior. Ramsey’s system is all about correcting behavior. There are some methods that are more efficient than Ramsey’s but that offer too many temptations that many people can’t handle. While Ramsey encourages you to follow his system strictly, he is forthcoming about the arguments against everything he says. This is an important reason why I recommend this book.
Some people need this system and need to follow it strictly to fix their finances. Some people are already doing okay and can keep doing what they are doing. I would say that this program is not for everyone, but everyone should read it to make sure. It could be the difference between becoming a millionaire and going bankrupt. Even if you don’t use it all, there is plenty of good information and some solid reality checks in here for everyone, even those who already know a lot about finance and are financially successful.
I spend a lot of time talking about the importance of paying off debt and investing for long-term goals. I preach it to my high school personal finance class every day. However, the real struggle for most Americans is making room in their monthly budget to pay for it. The “pay yourself first” strategy is helpful, but still involves making room for saving or paying off debt in your budget. In the end, it always seems to come back to earning more money and spending less of it.
Both are easier said than done. Asking for a raise is a joke in many industries, and there are only so many hours in a week that you can spend laboring. When it comes to spending, almost everyone could read off a list of things he or she would like to have or even need to have but sacrifice to keep the budget in line.
For me, I don’t pay for television. I mooch off a family member’s account for one subscription service, and I buy an occasional DVD. That’s it. I have never paid for live or on-demand video entertainment of any kind. I watch an occasional sporting event or PBS series, and the rest of the time I spend reading. This is one of many things I do to keep excess expenses down.
Despite that and many other efforts I make to save money, I still feel like Sisyphus pushing student loan payments up the hill, only to have the next statement roll down over me, showing that at age 32 I’m nowhere near done paying for the college degree I finished at age 22. And I still feel like I need to save more for retirement and for a downpayment on a house.
If you feel that way too, here are 2 easy tips that have helped me recently:
- If you can’t make a huge increase in debt repayment, at least round up what you pay on your higher-interest debt payments. Within a few months, you will notice improvement in your statements and even see the minimum statement payments decrease. It gets quick results, and that feels good.
- Track your spending by recording it, using your bank’s expense-tracker for your debit card, or using an app like Mint, Personal Capital, Tiller, or Wally.
Consumer sector corporations are brilliant at getting you to develop bad spending habits: café coffee, gas station soda and candy, eating out too much, not sticking to your grocery list, or impulse-buying at discount stores, department stores, or online. You can probably relate to more than one of those. I certainly can.
For my wife and I, the biggest spending problem right now is food. We are both teachers, and we both have some health problems that rob us of energy. At the end of the school day, we often feel too tired to cook, and are tempted to eat an easy processed meal, grab a pizza, or stop at a quick service restaurant, all of which are usually more expensive than a home-cooked meal, and not great for your health either. To make matters worse, I have a gluten allergy. Those easy processed meals like mac-n-cheese, TV dinners, or frozen pizza cost about 3 times as much when you have to get them gluten free. Putting together 5 gluten-free sack lunches per week is not cheap or easy for me either.
This summer, we came up with a plan to solve our food spending issues, and we were able to get most of it done in one weekend. Continue reading “Bringing Spending Down to a Low Boil”