Sticking to the budget is HARD

Sticking to the budget is HARD

That is all.

My only saving grace this week is that I have no money in my easy to access checking account. I spent it all. I can not spend what I  do not have.

Being honest with ourselves is important. Sometimes sticking to those numbers and being faithful is HARD.

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Budgeting 101: IT IS SCARY, BUT IT MUST BE DONE!!!!

Budgeting 101: IT IS SCARY, BUT IT MUST BE DONE!!!!

I love that a lot of my friends are brilliant and well-educated women. Girls Rock!

Image result for smart girls rock

When I first started thinking about personal finance, I asked my girlfriends if they had a budget. The popular answer was “kind of.”  Some said they felt that a budget was useless because in most cases we hardly stick to it because life happens. Indeed, life happens.

It also occurred to me that while every personal finance blogger tells people to have a budget very few actually do something like budgeting 101 or budgeting for dummies to give the average person like me a real sense of how budgeting works or should be done. In this post, I attempt to do just that.

What is a monthly household budget?

I was raised by a trader. My mom crossed the border between Zimbabwe and South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and occasionally Mozambique selling different crafts from Zimbabwe. In fact, I was once nearly stolen on the train when she took me to South Africa as a baby. I bring this up because most people in my life have been employed informally. Back when the Zimbabwean economy worked traders could plan their lives send kids (me) to good schools, live middle-class lives and pay their bills. All over the world, the middle class is feeling a little bit of a pinch. The cost of essential commodities is rising faster than people’s salaries, and this makes it a little bit harder to plan for the immediate future, and the long term is often left out of the equation.

Your monthly budget is a plan or a road map for your finances.

Step 1. (HOW MUCH MONEY DO I HAVE)

Be honest with yourself in terms of your income. How much money do you earn per month? If you have a regular job how much are you taking home after the government takes its share and all your other deductions? If you are self-employed, you may want to calculate an average from the last 6 months. Or as my mother would do – make a budget based on your two lowest earnings over the previous 6 months. Unless you have a fancy high paying job in the tech industry your monthly paycheck will likely stay the same for at least a year – the economy – right!

Step 2. (WISH LIST)

What are the things that you need to live from month to month? Primary needs vary from person to person, but generally, these include (not necessarily in this order):

Household Expenses
Mortgage/Rent
Car loan
Car insurance
House insurance
Life insurance
Childcare
Parental Care
Remittances if different from PC
Charitable giving and tithing
Gas/electricity
Telephone
Cable
Internet
Food
Gas/electricity
Pet supplies
Healthcare
Entertainment
Gifts
Clothing
Security
Tuition (it helps to divide the annual cost by 12)
Travel (this is a HUGE cost in our house)
Other

 

The best way to figure out how much you spend is to go over your past bills. Try to be as honest with yourself as you can.

I always try to start off the year with a budget breakdown. I am changing jobs, so this is a perfect time to redo the budget and think over my finances. This is a rough draft and a lot more complicated because we do not know for sure yet what our final income will look like and the actual expenses, but this should give you a general idea of how we are thinking about things. I also call this my dump it in all list. We start out by listing all the major expenses (after tax) then we will adjust as we go forward. We are trying to budget about 80% of our combined income – we assume that the real costs will be higher so we will adjust the income portion accordingly. The income from my businesses is pretty set, so there is no wiggle room there.

 

Step 3: DO THE MATH

Plug in the numbers – before you worry about what financial experts say about proportionality just go ahead and do the math to see where you are. Especially on your basic needs. Doing this will help you readjust as needed for long term planning. Your budget can be very fancy, but I like to keep mine simple. This is an easy to use template from mint.com

Monthly Budget Template
Monthly income for the month of: _January 2020___________
Item Amount proportion
Salary 1000
Spouse’s salary 1000
Dividends
Interest
Investments
Reimbursements
Other 0
Total 2000
Monthly expenses for the month of: ___________
Item Amount
Mortgage/Rent 400 20%
Car loan
Car insurance
House insurance
Life insurance
Childcare
Charity
Gas/electricity
Telephone
Cable
Internet
Food 200 10%
Gas/electricity
Pet supplies
Healthcare
Entertainment
Gifts
Clothing
Other 0
Total 600
Income vs. Expenses
Item Amount
Monthly income 2000
Monthly expenses 600
Difference 1400

 

 

The first time you do this, you may find out that your actual budget is more than 120% of your income. I have done this too- but I find that the visualization really helps.

Ideally, you want to balance out your budget so that you are spending between 30 &35% of your gross income (pretax) on housing, 15-20% on transportation, 20-20% on food and less than 15% of your income should be going to debt. It is also recommended that you save at least 5% of your income but if you can save 20% including retirement and health care contributions that will be really good. But remember, aggressively saving should only happen when you have paid off your debt.

 

 

 

Here is an example of our budget for the next phase of our lives. I prefer using excel and color coding the budget.

MONTHLY INCOME EXPENDITURES
Account Proportion post-tax (net)  income of 80% net of both spouses Proportion of pre-tax (gross) income
household Fixed
Rent 31% 23%
Cellphone Bill 1% 1%
car payment (60-month finance) 6% 4%
Health care (co-payments, Yoga and Biking) 3% 2%
parental care (child care for others) 15% 11%
Monthly Groceries 6% 4%
car and renters  insurance 2% 2%
Utilities (electricity and water) 1% 1%
PRE-TAX CONTRIBUTIONS  
health insurance  (pre-tax) 6%
dental (PRE-TAX) 1%
vision (PRE-TAX) 0%
Uncle Sam 15%
Retirement contributions 403 or 401k  (PRE-TAX) 6%
POST-TAX SAVINGS    
Amex Savings (long- and short-term goals minus EF) 16% 12%
Acorns Roth plus tiaa Roth (investment for dummies) 3% 2%
Emergency fund monthly contributions 2% 1%
MEH ESSENTIALS    
cable and internet 1% 1%
Car fuel (transportation) 1% 1%
charitable giving 1% 1%
Eating out and entertainment 1% 1%
Clothes and other fun shopping 1% 1%
Travel (non-reimbursable) 1% 1%
Laundry 0% 0%
FAMILY SUPPORT    
Remittances- tuition for niece and nephew 1% 1%
Remittances family 1 1% 1%
Remittances Family 2 1% 1%
FAMILY FUND (contributions for funerals, health, weddings, etc.) 1% 1%
Debt free 🙂 0% 0%
100%
TOTAL MONTHLY EXPENSES as a proportion of net and gross 98% 68%
Source Percentage of post-tax income
BOA standing
Account left over from month to month.
Spouse 1 salary after significant deductions (health care) 61%
Spouse 2 portion of salary after deductions (only 33% of income) 33%
business 1 income 4%
business 2 income 2%
Note: this is based on just 83% of our combined income. We are hoping to adjust our expenses to live on only one income in the future. Our actual tax bill to Uncle Sam is 21% this is lower because of some minor adjustments we are working on. We also recently discovered that we underbudgeted travel last year so we will need to clean that up. We are paying more on our car note to try and pay it off sooner -the actual bill is just 3% of our gross income. Although we have met our emergency fund goals, we want to keep growing it with hopes of increasing our family fund contributions as well as our charitable giving.

 

Just adding the colorful version here because it is so pretty 

 

Step 4. TEAMWORK 

Clean up the budget. If you have a partner the assumption here is that you are working together or as is the case in most unions one person will build the budget skeleton, then the team will sit down to clean it up and adjust numbers. I will also write an entire post on how to have the money talk with your spouse and partner. If you are living in a volatile economy,  try very hard to plan with inflation in mind or change some of your money to a more stable currency to give you some peace of mind. If this is not possible, please share some tips and strategies, you have used to stay on track.

Step 5. CASH ONLY

Avoid using your credit card or loans to fill in the gaps. Access to credit can create a false sense of stability. Most financial gurus advise against using credit cards for this very reason. Use cash (checking account, mobile money, etc.) as much you can.

If you do use your credit card, schedule auto payments for the beginning of each month. I like to use credit because I get points, but I am also vigilant about paying off expenses each month. Credit cards are a trap that you should really try to avoid.

Do not budget with someone else in mind- for example, some will say Uncle X always sends money. This is a bad habit. Unless you have some reason to believe that uncle X will show up, do not burden someone else.

Step 6. NO MONEY FOR FUNSIES -JUST KIDDING- NO SERIOUSLY, NO MONEY FOR FUNSIES

Cut out non-essentials and live maybe 10-20%below your means. If you cannot afford to pay cash for something, then you do not need it. If an expenditure is causing you sleepless nights, ask yourself if it is worth the stress and increase in your health care costs. If you cannot afford your car or house or house help service, you DO NOT NEED IT! If your kid’s tuition is a constant conversation in the family group, then you are probably sending your kid to a school that is out of your $ range.

 

Step 7: STICK TO THE BUDGET

Stick to the budget – I will devote a lot of time in the blog discussing some strategies for sticking to the budget drawing on my personal failures and successes. Please share your tips as well. I want to learn from you.

ADVANTAGES OF making  A BUDGET and sticking to it

You are probably asking yourself – why bother? I think about my financial health as being closely tied to mental and physical health. If you sometimes stay up late crunching numbers, then you want to do this so that you can sleep better, but we can also just list out the reasons here

  1. Know what you need to be happy – this is great for negotiating your salary. After I finished my doctorate, I was offered a consulting job at a big firm. I was super excited and too scared to negotiate, so I accepted the first salary they gave me. The salary looked great on paper, but I was not going to be able to live in expensive Washington DC on those numbers. Now, when I get a job offer, I always try to negotiate for a salary at least 20-30% above my needs or current salary. Moving is expensive, and it is often the case that the cities with great jobs tend to cost a lot more
  2. REDUCE EMERGENCIES-I really believe that there are very few real emergencies. Everything else can be planned for. Your car breaking down should not make you bankrupt because ideally, you have an emergency fund to pull from. Child Care should not give you sleepless nights because while pregnancy can be a surprise, the arrival of the baby is not. Include health care costs in your budget early on. Having conversations with mom and dad about their health care will also reduce “emergencies” in the future. Funerals can be an emergency, but weddings are really not the same as children’s tuition, graduation, baby showers, and birthday parties.
  3. Saying NO- It is a lot easier to say no to unwelcome money requests when your money is budgeted for. In future posts, we will discuss long and short-term financial planning. It is a lot harder to say no to people we love when we have what I call idle – unaccountedfor money.

 

DISCLAIMER: MoneyProfessor is my personal blog. I provide general information – not professional or financial advice. Opinions and representations on are my own. I am not providing financial advice or legal advice on my blog. I am only providing general information. You should consult a professional before making any financial or legal decisions.

You should have a savings account- LIKE YESTERDAY!

You should have a savings account- LIKE YESTERDAY!

You need to start saving now !!!!!

Do you have a piggy bank

As I was researching for this post, I got into a rabbit hole reading about payday loans. I did not think these were legal in the United States. We have the system of chimbadzo in Zimbabwe (very high interest -short term loans- APR over 30%). It turns out in the U.S. similar loans are legal, and they are a money pit. For example, if you are in a bind and borrow $100, they will want between $100 and $130 in a week the interest will double each week you are unable to pay. One guy borrowed $2400 in a few months he owed $4000. It is crazy!

don’t get scammed

What struck is me is that we often assume that people needing these loans are the working poor, low financial literacy, irresponsible, etc. but that is not necessarily true. I read a lot of horror stories on reddit. Reddit is like the craigslist of knowledge for savvy millennials. It was, after all, founded by Serena William’s husband. If educated people with somewhat stable jobs are struggling financially to the extent of needing these predatory loans, it means the working class, the poor and honestly all of us are at risk of ending up in these money pits.

Money is an uncomfortable subject, and yet it is so important. I finally submitted the revisions to my article on money in politics – even politicians do not want to talk about how much they are spending to get elected. It is an uncomfortable subject- I get it. Dear friend, let us find ways to plan so that we can be prepared for the various challenges ahead.

Saving is a lifestyle habit that should start very early on. However, it is never too late to learn new tricks. You’ve got this!

I am going to discuss some strategies that I have learned or read about to get me on the path to saving.

Whatever stage you are in life, you need a healthy savings account. I know the thought of saving can be scary. Everyone, IS  talking about a 6-month emergency saving when you are just trying to have $150 saved. SCARY! Baby steps!

Stage 0: No savings account

  1. Start very small. Challenge yourself to set aside just $20 a month for three months then double that to $40. As an undergrad, I saved $50-$100 from my small paycheck every month. By the time graduation came, I had enough saved to invite family to my graduation and cover three months of rent ($500/month) in DC for my unpaid internship.
  2. Open a high yield savings account
    1. These accounts will give you at least 2% interest. In South Africa, these accounts would give you about 7% interest but no point getting jealous hahaha. If you are in SA, please tell me you have taken advantage of these generous rates. 2-3% is quite common in most developed countries. Banks are stingy- it irks me that they will charge you 14% for a loan and give 0% for your savings.
    2. Which ones- I hate to endorse any products, but I can say look for accounts that do not require a minimum balance even a $100 minimum balance. No Fees! Banks are already making money from your money – they do not need to charge you a fee for this. I am looking at you Bank of America. I use American Express but I am pretty sure there are better options online these days.
  3. Direct deposit: The best way to save is to do it when you still have money
    1. You can ask HR to split your paycheck into multiple payments to your checking and savings. You can tell them how much to put in each account. Nearly every HR department will do this.
    2. Solo Set up auto savings from your checking to savings – as I mentioned before I used to transfer $27 each week from my checking to savings. This is my fun money now. It also saved me this month because I forgot that faculty housing you pay rent at the end of the month not in advance like most rental situations. I had a rude awakening- thanks to this fun fund we did not have to deep into a savings account.
  4. Essential steps towards financial health that I think about
    1. Create a budget and stick to it
    2. Write down your financial goals -even lofty ones
    3. Save at least $1,000 for an emergency fund
    4. Pay off debt (ALL DEBT-) except your mortgage –
    5. Invest

 

 

Should  I RENT OR BUY?????

Should I RENT OR BUY?????

 

Let me start by saying the cheesiest thing- the choice comes down to what do you need and what can you afford?

My husband and I get asked a lot if we have bought a house and the answer- which also applies to many frequented questions is NO. Although we have been married five years and we have been officially out of school for a while, we have not yet bought a home. Several factors influence our decision-making process. Hopefully, this post will help you if you are debating similar issues.

One of the things people say a lot is that renting is wasting money. It is not – you get a place to live in. You can waste money in either situation; if you rent or buy a home that is way beyond your means or bigger than you need (McMansion ALERT). Having a place to stay that is within your budget and financial goals is not wasting money-it is a blessing.

Some questions to ponder before you make a decision

  1. How much can I afford to pay for my living situation? If you can only afford to spend $500 a month for the roof over your head, then you may not be ready to purchase a home.
  2. Do I have consumer and or student debt? If you have a lot of debt, you may not want to buy a house and add a mortgage to your debt bill –
  3. Do I have a solid emergency fund? The experts suggest 4-6 month’s worth of living expenses saved in an easy to access high yield savings account before making major investments. Fellow millennials and baby cousins in Generation Z- please trust me when I say emergencies happen. You need an emergency FUND.
  4. If I were to buy a home, could I afford a decent down payment to avoid paying PMI and other protections? You can probably take advantage of many first-time buyer deals and put just 5% down, but some financial experts say it is always better to have at least 10-20% down payment saved. If you don’t use it all for the downpayment you may need it for closing costs and moving expenses.
  5. Do I have money set aside for home ownership related expenses that can occur as soon as I move in? These can include flooding basement, failing AC or heating system, leaking roof, etc. Things happen. Unless you are getting a brand new home chances are that it will have some issues.
  6. Could I comfortably pay my mortgage if I lost my job? This is important.
  7. Do I plan to live in this home for at least five years? If you are still moving jobs buying a home may be risky – if you are unable to find a renter, you may find yourself paying a mortgage for an empty house. If you find a terrible renter, you may still pay your mortgage plus rent at your new place.
  8. The cost of buying a home is more than the cost of a mortgage and down payment. You will need to pay taxes, homeowners insurance, fix things, mow your lawn, keep up with neighbors and their gardens – heating a home is also kinda expensive.
  9. Owning a home is also fantastic – you can paint the house fun colors, and you do not need permission to drill the walls.
  10. A home purchase can be a worthwhile long-term investment, especially if it is in an area where home values appreciate.

At the end of the day, do not feel pressured to rent or own a house. Your bank account will tell you what you can afford. The heart might lead you astray.

 

P.S. I am not a certified financial advisor this is just my fun blog

 

 

How Often Should You Check your Account Balances$$

How Often Should You Check your Account Balances$$

You Should Check Your Balances $ Regularly

How often do you check your account balances (credit card, checking, and savings)? For most people, the truth is never because checking the balance can be anxiety wrecking. One of my friends told me that she gets the same sinking feeling in her tummy when she logs into her account as when she goes to the dentist. It can be scary, but like going to a dentist checking our account balances is important.

It can feel like so

How often should you check your balances? Ideally, at least twice a week but as with everything take baby steps until you feel comfortable and maybe you will check your accounts daily. You should also floss daily, but you know…

Advantages of checking your account balances on the regular

  1. Confirm that all transactions are correct. It is possible to get overcharged because service providers are human and make mistakes too.
  2. Catch ERRORS!- AT&T is notorious for small charges like $13.99 that can go one for years. Look over your accounts and make sure you are not paying for a service you are not getting. The good news is that if you report the charge, you may even get a refund
  3. Avoid overdrafts or spending more than you can pay off on your credit card. Most people probably go over their budget because they innocently assume that they have enough funds. Overdrafts are costly, so avoid them.
  4. Catch FRAUD– You want to know if Joe Stealmoney in Georgia charged $300 for new the Michael Kors bag on your account. If you don’t know the story go to twitter and search #michaelkors
  5. Stay on top of your balance– Know how much money you have in your account. Know how much you have spent on your credit card

Log on to your BANK or Mobile Balance NOW-

This is the goal