This is part two in a series on how to arrange your finances. If you haven’t already read part 1 to get off on the right track.
When you track your spending it will do a few things for you. It will help you determine where your money is really going each month. Many times we think we know how we are spending our money, but forget about little purchases we make along the way; nickle and diming your self, so to speak.
Secondly, you will actually spend your money more wisely. There is something about tracking spending that will make you think about purchases. It causes you to make more deliberate decisions when you are spending your money.
There are a couple of different ways to go about this. Feel free to use which ever one works for you. The importance is not in how you get it done but simply that you get it done.
I suggest signing up for mint.com or a similar service. This will import your records from your checking account and help you to categorize them appropriately. Although watch out, they are not always right, or the categories may be too broad.
Secondly, you can track your spending by hand. Keep receipts for everything you spend and write it all down. This way requires a bit more work on your end, but will help you more in controlling your spending, who wants to manually write down junk spending?
Once you have tracked your money for a month, you should have captured a majority of your spending and have a good idea of where you are starting from. It will make the following steps more easy and accurate.
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Putting all of this information in one place can be a little scary if you have never done the calculation before or are unsure of your current financial situation. The easiest way to conquer the fear of the unknown is to know it. Think of it this way, before your GPS will tell you which way to go it has to find your current location. This process is finding your current location so you can make the correct turns go forward.
There is information you need to know from each of your debt records
The total amount of money you owe on the debt.
The cost of borrowing the money. This is usually listed as “interest rate” or “APR” which stands for Annual percentage rate.
Monthly Minimum Payment
How much you have to pay each month to not be delinquent on your debt. Keep in mind making minimum payments only it will take up to 20 years to pay off a credit card.
You can use this handy Google doc if you like.
All of this information will become very important as we move forward in getting rid of our debts.
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A budget sounds scary (or boring), but it is just a tool used for making decisions on how to spend your money when your emotions are not running crazy. It is like a map on your journey to financial improvement. If you would like more details on why you need a budget check out this article.
If you haven’t go ahead and read it now. Now, the question is “how do I create a budget?” If you have never actually had a written budget before then figuring out how to create a budget can feel confusing, but it doesn’t have to be.
When I talk with people one on one I usually recommend one or two methods depending on the preference of the individual. I will talk through both here.
Having a budget down on paper, even digital paper is the first step in getting your personal finances under control. There is something about actually writing things down that acts as a commitment device. But, understand that a budget isn’t set in stone. Month to month things may vary and you will have to account for that. For the first few months you should keep a close eye on things and maybe make adjustments as needed. You may have forgotten about something that you will need to adjust for. This is not a “Set it and forget it” kind of thing.
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So you have just created your budget and you now you want to get started in paying off your debt, but you don’t think you have enough extra money to really make a difference. Well, this step is about finding ways to create some wiggle room in your budget. Doing this requires dedication and sacrifice.
Here are some ideas; your goal in this step is to try at least 5. The more effort you put into this step the faster it will be to pay off your debt.
1. Get more in your paycheck instead of in your refund. By using this IRS calculator you can find the real amount you should have withheld from your paycheck. Use the extra money to start paying off your debt.
2. Take the Chicken Challenge – The Chicken Challenge was coined by the Cord Killers Podcast. Call your cable company and tell them you want to cancel your cable. Worst case is you actually cancel it and live off netflix or hulu, more than likely they will cut your bill.
3. Take a look at your cell phone bill, look at other carriers like republic, or PCS wireless or any other smaller carriers that may give you a smaller bill each month.
4. Look over this list of 100+ ways to save money.
5. Get creative, if you are serious about getting your financial life under control then you may have to do things you have never done and make sacrifices you have never made to be successful.
6. Stop eating out for a month
7. Suspend any other subscriptions that are costing you money each month.
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Now that you have created a little wiggle room in your budget you can start making a move to get your debt paid off. We are going to use a popular method among personal finance writers, including Dave Ramsey. It is called the debt snowball because as you pay off debt you use the former payment for that debt to pay off your next debt gaining momentum as you roll down your freedom mountain.
Let’s look back at your debt records and set up your snowball. First you need to prioritize your debts in the order you will pay them off. There are two main schools of thought on this issue. Do you pay them off in the order that gives you a better emotional advantage or the better mathematical advantage.
If you pay off your highest interest rate debts first, mathematically you will pay less in interest, but it may be a long time until you clear that hurdle of paying off your first debt. If you pay off your smallest debt first you will get the emotional push of success but you will pay more in interest in the long run. Neither of these is the absolute right way. After all, if you are going to fail without the emotional push it doesn’t matter how much more money you can save by doing it the other way. Decide which way works best for you.
If you are a numbers nerd, like me, or just want to see a visual representation of how the snowball works then take a look at the template over at Vertex42. I was going to create my own but theirs is everything I would have wanted to create. They also have video instructions to help you along the way.
Continue to pay all of your minimum payments on all of your debts. Take the extra money in your budget and put it toward paying off your debt. Then when that first debt is paid off take all of that money (the minimum and extra) and apply it to the next payment. Given enough time you will pay off your debt.
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Pay attention to it for starters. The biggest mistake people make is to ignore the budget they have just put together. It is easy to assume that everything will take care of itself now that your monster spread sheet is put together or that you have set everything up on mint.com. But, alas, it simply isn’t that easy.
I will let you in on something, even if you used my budget template as I suggested, you forgot something on your budget. There is a bill that will come due that wasn’t part of your initial tracking period. That is OK. You will just need to adjust your budget now. Is it ok to change your budget? If it is intentional, absolutely. Budgets change, the problem arise when you simply overspend, without planning. You will need to adjust your budget several times until you have it to a good place and then you will, hopefully, get a raise or something else will change in your financial life that will require you to change or even rewrite your budget.
Understanding that your budget is a living document will help you not stress out when things come up that you require you to make adjustments.
You will need to make changes to your budget, it is inevitable. Make them carefully and deliberately, not during emotionally charged moments. Don’t sweat it, life changes, change with it.
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You have determined your goals.
You have Tracked your Spending.
Determined how to actually make payments on your debt and pay it off.
This part sucks. While it is definitely not a set it and forget it situation there may not be any big moves for a while. Now you are in the phase where you simply do what you know you need to do. That is not very exciting until you hit a milestone like paying something off. It is OK to set little rewards for your self when you pay off your first debt or give that extra charitable gift. These are awesome things and you should celebrate. If you are good with excel you can plot out what you will be doing a year or five years from now and that can give you something to look forward to in a big way.
Look back to the goals you set out in the beginning of this course. They will encourage you to push on when you don’t feel like you can go on any further. Find folks that can encourage you to keep pushing on in the right direction.
Keep a close watch on your budget and your plan early on and make sure you are going in the right direction. Find extra ways to make money, I will be talking about those shortly.
Send me any questions if you need help @thinksteward. #newyearbudget
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