How to Create a Budget

Knowing how to create a budget is important, even essential, for financial success. However, it’s not often taught in high school or even college. Many people begin married life with no concept of balancing the budget, or sticking to a spending plan.

How to Make a Budget presents the basic steps involved in budgeting your money. Rather than repeat the whole article, I’ll simply summarize the steps:

1. Create a list of all set expenses and estimates for groceries, gas and personal.

2. Tally your income, from all sources.

3. Compare the two numbers. If you earn more than you have listed under expenses, allocate the “extra” for savings, investing, and charity. If you have more expenses than income, trim your expenses (or increase income–fast!)

4. Hold a weekly budget meeting with yourself (or your spouse if married) and stay accountable to your spending plan.

As the saying goes … if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Cliche? Maybe, but with finances as with many other things, it’s true.

Budget Wedding Gifts

Weddings can be such lovely, joyful affairs, and staying out of debt attending them can be a feat in itself for many families. From airfare to accommodations and garb to gifts, fancy weddings can be quite expensive.

As many families tighten their budgets to better afford gas and groceries, gift giving is taking a hit as well. Linens N’ Things, where I registered as a bride, recently declared bankruptcy. Retail sales are down, even in the traditional wedding-related sector.

I recommend making your own wedding gift if possible, but realize this doesn’t have to mean something that looks tacky or especially homemade.

Think about your skills, your family members’ talents, and family businesses or enterprises. What about these ideas:

~ Professionally framing the couple’s wedding invitation. My friend’s father owned a framing shop, and I received an elegant framed display of my wedding invitation that I treasure to this day.

~ Gift certificate for services. If you or your spouse are self-employed, what about a gift certificate? Services such as gutter cleaning, hardwood finishing, pet sitting or vehicle tune-up would be practical and much appreciated by many couples.

~ Elegant crafts. Do you make scrapbooks, notecards, or gift baskets? What about making items for the bride’s wedding gift?

~ Thrift stores and discount shops. After looking through the couple’s registry to get an idea of their taste and style, look for very inexpensive yet new items at thrift outlets. You’ll be surprised at the bargains and quality you’ll find.

To avoid overspending on wedding gifts, Kiplinger advises sticking to a budget or teaming up with friends for a group gift. They even go so low as to advise re-gifting. Hey, don’t laugh–soon re-gifting may be mainstream as purse strings continue to tighten for many.

Are you scaling back on gift giving because of finances or the economy? What budget wedding gifts do you recommend?

Finding the Best Gas Prices in Your Local Area

Okay, so gas prices are past ridiculous at this point, and since there is not much we can do about them, other than complain or rush right out and buy a hybrid (like the economy is doing well enough for the people hit hardest by the prices to do that in the first place, right?) the next best thing is doing a bit of research to find out where the best gas prices are in your area.

According to GasBuddy.com, the average national price for a gallon of regular unleaded fuel is $4.086.  A year ago, $3.015!  Well, the good news is that by using GasBuddy.com, not only can you find the best prices in your area, but you can also help others by reporting what you are paying at the pump, and where.  *This feature does require a sign-up, but why not help your neighbors out and report it every time you get back from filling up?*

To find the gas prices at your local stations, click your state.  Then you will come to a list of counties, so choose the one you live in.  From there, you’ll get a city selection, and you will see the listings.

Sometimes you may find that the cheapest gas station is a little out of your way, but when it comes down to it, not much can be done to avoid the impact on your wallet at the pump.

How much are you paying in your area?  How often do you see the prices fluctuate?  Share your thoughts below.

Money Mondays: Saving for College

The video to your left is a Brady Bunch parody about a family who needs help with their college fund for their nine children.  If you watch, at the end, you will see the Upromise logo.  What the heck is Upromise?  Glad you asked, because that’s what will help you in your quest to save money for college for your children.  The program allows you to save money for college through your everyday spending.

Here’s How It Works

By registering your debit/credit cards, along with any local store savings cards (stores must be participants in the Upromise program, and you will be provided with a list of participants in your local area during sign up) and shopping as usual, a percentage of your purchase will go into an account to use for college related expenses later.  This percentage will vary depending on the merchant, and sometimes the product you purchase.  Certain purchases will be a percentage of the entire amount, and others will be a percentage of the price of the qualifying product.  I know this sounds confusing, but if you check out the site and look at the details, you’ll understand.  It is more difficult to explain than it is to demonstrate.

When you sign up, you will be prompted to list the name of the children you wish to save for, along with their birth date, and the percentage of total savings to allocate for this person.  These percentages can be altered at any time, and are meant to serve as a mechanism to divide your savings evenly amongst all your children.

Another awesome feature is that you can invite your family and friends to sign up and designate all, or a portion of their savings to your child.  This means that aunts and uncles, grandparents, and friends can support your child, too.  Refer to the web site for details on how to use this feature.

So, what are you waiting for?  Go sign up now at: http://upromise.com.

If you already use this program, tell us how it’s working for you.

Tuesday’s Tips: Reducing Utility Bills

Since the money you get paid for working probably is not going up anytime soon, and if you do get lucky and find a better job or get a raise it probably will not be enough to compensate for the rising cost of living; this week’s tips are on how to reduce utility costs.

  1. Lower the thermostat on your water heater. 120 degrees is safe.  Any higher and you risk burning yourself, and raising your electric bill.  The savings may or may not be noticeable if this is the only technique you employ; but it will make a difference over the course of time.
  2. Keep your indoor temperature regulated. This way the heating or cooling is only running when needed, as opposed to all the time.  78-80 degrees is an ideal setting for comfort and energy conservation.  For each degree warmer you keep your home, you save 7-10% on your energy bills.
  3. Use efficient light bulbs. Use appropriate wattages, or switch to the compact fluorescent bulbs
  4. Grill or Microwave your meals. This uses less electricity, prevents the house from warming up excessively in the summer, and reduces your overall cook time.  Save money on energy and eat sooner?  Win-Win, if you ask me.
  5. Evaluate your Telephone, Television and Internet costs. Make sure you are not paying for services you do not use regularly.  Consider reducing your packages.
  6. Make sure your home is properly insulated and check weather stripping. You do not want to let your air out, and outdoor air in, regardless of the season.  Ensuring windows and doors are properly sealed increases your efficiency.
  7. Limit the time you spend in the shower. The more water you use, the more you spend, so keep it reasonable.
  8. Clean and replace filters regularly. If clogged, dirty, or old, the furnace will work harder (using more energy) to produce the same effect.
  9. Keep lighting fixtures clean. If your fixtures are dirty, your lights are going to appear dimmer, so you may be inclined to increase your wattage, burning more electricity to achieve the same result.

What are some things I’ve missed?  What do you do to conserve?  Share your thoughts below.

Wednesday’s Wisdom: Retirement or College Fund?

Have you ever become overwhelmed at the thought that you are supposed to be saving for your own retirement, and then realized that you technically should be saving for your children’s college expenses, too?

Sometimes, different situations arise that cause you to not be able to save for either one, let alone both.  So, in the event that you can only afford to save for one, how do you make that choice?  Your children are always number one in your life, so it seems selfish to save for your retirement in place of their college, right?  Well, here are some reasons why you should place your needs in front of their own in this instance.  It’s okay if you do not agree, but it is my hope that it will make the decision a little easier to handle.

You spend your adult life taking care of and providing for your children.  You can only work so hard for so long before you have to let your children take care of themselves and focus on yourself again.  Yes, you may be able to (if it exists as an option when you are eligible to retire or receive) get benefits like Social Security.  However, not only is this not usually enough to live on in the first place; it should never be what you rely on anyway.

Your children will better be able to put themselves through college than you will be able to put yourself through retirement.  Your children will be youthful, and working a job to support themselves and their families.  Of course, any college savings you can pull off will help, but it’s not going to prevent them from going all together.  What I mean is that they will be able to afford to put themselves through school because they will be able to work; whereas if you do not have money saved toward retirement, you are less likely to be able to work to earn money to help yourself survive–because the essence of retirement is that you are done working, because you have done enough of it…retiring from your career should never mean that you have to work a less demanding job to compensate for having quit your career.  This is easier for people who are still physically able to work; but you may reach a point where you cannot even do that.  In providing for yourself in that manner, it will assist your children in not having to worry about you; so in a sense, you’re doing more for your children in the long run.

There are loans for higher education, but not retirement.  Your children can get loans to ensure their attendance to college, and deal with paying them back after they have the higher earning potential that college helped them to get.  Yes, they may have trouble paying off the loans; but, you cannot borrow money to live on if you cannot pay it back, you know?

Retirement funds need to last longer. You need more money saved for retirement than college, just because retirement funds are meant to take care of your life the way working does now.  College expenses will cease after a few years, and likely never add up to what you need for retirement anyway.

If you cannot decide which one to focus on, or feel that this reasoning is faulty; compromise and save the amount you planned on anyway.  If you can only afford $50 a month in savings toward one or the other; look at as $25 in each fund.  Then, whatever money you have saved can be used for whatever purpose you see the most appropriate.

What are your thoughts?  Am I wrong in my logic?  Do I sound selfish?  Share your opinions below.

Grocery Bargains – Food Staple: Eggs

400 Best-Ever Budget Recipes: How to create fuss-free, economical and delicious dishes, with fabulous recipes shown step-by-step in 1300 beautiful photographs; ... low-cost dishes for all the family that

There are five main items that I include in my big monthly shopping trip that help to stretch our food budget. With a family of seven I need to cut all the corners I can. About 30 minutes away from us is a store called Cash n Carry that has restaurant supplies in bulk available to the public, no member fees. I go there once a month for main staples. You could go to a Costco or Sam’s Club too.

(This post got longer and longer as I added more ways that we use these staples and a favorite recipe for each one. So I’ve divided this into 5 posts.)

Grocery Bargain: Eggs

Eggs are a good source of protein, which is very important in a healthy diet, especially if you have growing kids. Here are some of the things we do with them:
Breakfast burritos
Skillet breakfast
French toast
Omelet
Frittata
Boiled eggs: snack, deviled eggs, egg salad, diced on a salad
Pan eggs: scrambled, fried egg sandwich
Custard for dessert or snack
Quiche
We also add egg to fried rice, meatloaf and casseroles

One of our favorite budget and time saving egg recipes, perfect for this time of year:

Easy Crustless Pumpkin Pie
1 can Libby’s Pumpkin Pie mix
6 Eggs
1 cup 1% Milk

Mix ingredients and pour into a casserole dish (no need for grease or non-stick spray). Bake for 60 min. at 325 degrees. Knife inserted in the middle should come out clean. Let cool 30 min. before serving.
Makes ten 1/2 cup servings.

What are some of the ways you use eggs to help stretch your budget?

Grocery Bargains – Food Staple: Rice

400 Best-Ever Budget Recipes: How to create fuss-free, economical and delicious dishes, with fabulous recipes shown step-by-step in 1300 beautiful photographs; ... low-cost dishes for all the family that

There are five main items that I include in my big monthly shopping trip that help to stretch our food budget. With a family of seven I need to cut all the corners I can. About 30 minutes away from us is a store called Cash n Carry that has restaurant supplies in bulk available to the public, no member fees. I go there once a month for main staples. You could go to a Costco or Sam’s Club too.

(This post got longer and longer as I added more ways that we use these staples and a favorite recipe for each one. So I’ve divided this into 5 posts.)

Grocery Bargain: Rice

Black & Decker 20-Cup Rice Cooker - Stainless Steel (RC866)Rice is a good filler that helps me stretch recipes and meals. It doesn’t take much to be very filling. We buy Jasmine or Calrose rice in large 10 lb bags for less than $1 a pound. We usually pre-cook rice in the rice cooker before using it in a recipe. I have to say our rice cooker was one of the best investments we made for our kitchen and has saved us time and money over the years.

Here are some of the ways we use rice:
Spanish rice (the basic kind with a can of Mexican stewed tomatoes, served as a side dish)
Spanish rice (add meat, beans, corn, wrap in tortillia with cheese and sour cream)
Plain rice side dish
Rice made with a can of soup for flavor (creme of chicken with hebs, cream of brocoli, cheese soup, creme of mushroom, etc.)
Rice with stir fry or teriyaki
Chop Soupy (A family recipe grandma calls chop sui but I renamed because it’s watery like a soup. It has rice, stew meat, soy sauce, vinegar, chopped veggies, and sesame seeds.)
Rice casserole (meat, veg, soup)
Beans and rice
Rice pudding