Category: Budgeting

How to Include Some Guilt-Free Spending in Your Budget

by Phillip Warren

With so many of us dealing with the coronavirus pandemic (plus the financial fallout from it) and spending more time at home this year, there’s a very good chance your family budget looks different. Our own budget had some big adjustments (transportation costs went down to basically nothing) along with some minor changes (buying supplies and items around the house for projects).

Our money dates have had us reevaluate some things and redirect money to other expenses and savings. Besides making sure that you’re taking care of essential expenses and building up your financial cushion, you want to want to make sure you include another key area in your budget – some guilt-free spending in there as well.

Why Budgets Need to Include Some Guilt-Free Spending

First off what exactly is guilt-free spending? And why should families include it when planning out their budget. Basically, it covers the expenses that you enjoy. Every family has different ways they use that money. It could be travel, eating out together, adding another pair of shoes to your collection, or gadgets. With families having to deal with so many decisions and challenges, there has been an increasing awareness of having proper self-care as part of the routine. Families are now including that in their budgets.

The key part of keeping these expenses guilt-free is that they bring you joy without breaking the bank. These aren’t frivolous spending sprees. They can be meaningful purchases such as supplies for a hobby like painting that enriches your life. Second, these expenses are planned ahead of time and baked into your budget so you’re not taking on debt or upsetting your family’s cash flow.

Why Budgets Typically Fail

One of the reasons why I think having some fun money in your budget is a wise move is because it’ll help make your budget more sustainable. How? If I asked you what the point of a budget is, what would you say? Most tell me it’s to keep their spending in check.

It makes sense to believe that because for most families that’s what it’s about – restrictions. However, the best budgets I’ve seen are geared towards the direction of the money. I’ve interviewed families who have retired early or have knocked out a ton of debt and something they had in common was that their budgets reflected their priorities and circumstances.

Before they put pen to paper (or tap the app), they sat down and defined what goals they wanted to achieve. If you had to break down a budget the three key areas are basically:

  1. Paying your essential bills.
  2. Building long term financial stability.
  3. Have the money you can use now to enjoy.

Many times, the disagreements, arguments, and sometimes sabotage with budgets come from friction on finding a balance between spending money with long term stability and enjoying now. If you skew too much to saving up for the future, one or more of you in the family could start getting resentful. Financial infidelity or set back with keeping the budget can occur for many reasons, but some spouses say one reason is there’s absolutely no wiggle room in the budget for fun. If you’re only focused on the now when something comes up – hello 2020! – you’re left without a safety net.

For families with kids, that’s an additional source of stress they don’t need. I noticed that the families who hit their goals had found a way to balance things. They save towards their long term goals as well as set aside money to enjoy now. How? By redoing how they approached their budgets.

Easy Budget Framework to Use

Let’s go back to those three key goals of any budget – taking care of essentials, saving for the future, and spending on the present. Families looking to include all of these goals need a budget that can weave them together. If you’re just starting out with a budget and are still trying to figure out a framework, an easy foundational budget is the 50/20/30 budget. It divides up your money into those three key goals, with 50% going to necessary expenses, 20% towards financial stability and wealth, and 30% towards discretionary or fun money.

Feel free to adjust the percentages based on your circumstances, but for many families that three-bucket approach is easy enough to set up and it gives them enough wiggle room where there can enjoy some of their money now. Once you’ve created that budget, you can then take the next step – automating your money. We’ve done this for over a decade and it has been incredibly helpful. We have our bills automated every paycheck plus our savings and investments are scheduled monthly. With those necessary things taken care of first, we know whatever spending we do won’t harm our expenses.

Staying on Top of Your and Budget – The Easy Way

Now that you have a budget and you’re including some guilt-free spending, how do you make sure you’re staying on track? There are some wonderful options out there including money apps like Mint. You can stay on top of your money without losing your mind because the apps can pull that data from your accounts and give you an easy and clear way to see where your money is going. You can also use Mint to track your goals like paying down debt or saving up for a house. With that information in front of you can quickly and easily see how you’re doing anytime.

Another handy tool with Mint is how simple it is to set up alerts on certain spending. So if you have set aside $200 for your ‘fun’ account, Mint can notify you when your spending is getting close to your limit. It’s a more proactive and real-time way to manage your money without having to worry about every single penny.

Your Take on Budgets

As you can see, with a little planning you can be financially savvy and enjoy some fun now. I’d love to get your thoughts – how do you approach your budget? What are some must-have expenses in yours?

The post How to Include Some Guilt-Free Spending in Your Budget appeared first on MintLife Blog.


Source: mint.intuit.com

How to Make Better Financial Decisions

by Phillip Warren
Woman learning how to make better financial decisions

A key financial decision people struggle to make is how to allocate savings for multiple financial goals. Do you save for several goals at the same time or fund them one-by-one in a series of steps? Basically, there are two ways to approach financial goal-setting:

Concurrently: Saving for two or more financial goals at the same time.

Sequentially: Saving for one financial goal at a time in a series of steps.

Each method has its pros and cons. Here's how to decide which method is best for you.

Sequential goal-setting

Pros

You can focus intensely on one goal at a time and feel a sense of completion when each goal is achieved. It's also simpler to set up and manage single-goal savings than plans for multiple goals. You only need to set up and manage one account.

Cons

Compound interest is not retroactive. If it takes up to a decade to get around to long-term savings goals (e.g., funding a retirement savings plan), that's time that interest is not earned.

Concurrent goal-setting

Pros

Compound interest is not delayed on savings for goals that come later in life. The earlier money is set aside, the longer it can grow. Based on the Rule of 72, you can double a sum of money in nine years with an 8 percent average return. The earliest years of savings toward long-term goals are the most powerful ones.

Cons

Funding multiple financial goals is more complex than single-tasking. Income needs to be earmarked separately for each goal and often placed in different accounts. In addition, it will probably take longer to complete any one goal because savings is being placed in multiple locations.

Research findings

Working with Wise Bread to recruit respondents, I conducted a study of financial goal-setting decisions with four colleagues that was recently published in the Journal of Personal Finance. The target audience was young adults with 69 percent of the sample under age 45. Four key financial decisions were explored: financial goals, homeownership, retirement planning, and student loans.

Results indicated that many respondents were sequencing financial priorities, instead of funding them simultaneously, and delaying homeownership and retirement savings. Three-word phrases like “once I have…,", “after I [action],” and “as soon as…,” were noted frequently, indicating a hesitancy to fund certain financial goals until achieving others.

The top three financial goals reported by 1,538 respondents were saving for something, buying something, and reducing debt. About a third (32 percent) of the sample had outstanding student loan balances at the time of data collection and student loan debt had a major impact on respondents’ financial decisions. About three-quarters of the sample said loan debt affected both housing choices and retirement savings.

Actionable steps

Based on the findings from the study mentioned above, here are five ways to make better financial decisions.

1. Consider concurrent financial planning

Rethink the practice of completing financial goals one at a time. Concurrent goal-setting will maximize the awesome power of compound interest and prevent the frequently-reported survey result of having the completion date for one goal determine the start date to save for others.

2. Increase positive financial actions

Do more of anything positive that you're already doing to better your personal finances. For example, if you're saving 3 percent of your income in a SEP-IRA (if self-employed) or 401(k) or 403(b) employer retirement savings plan, decide to increase savings to 4 percent or 5 percent.

3. Decrease negative financial habits

Decide to stop (or at least reduce) costly actions that are counterproductive to building financial security. Everyone has their own culprits. Key criteria for consideration are potential cost savings, health impacts, and personal enjoyment.

4. Save something for retirement

Almost 40 percent of the respondents were saving nothing for retirement, which is sobering. The actions that people take (or do not take) today affect their future selves. Any savings is better than no savings and even modest amounts like $100 a month add up over time.

5. Run some financial calculations

Use an online calculator to set financial goals and make plans to achieve them. Planning increases people’s sense of control over their finances and motivation to save. Useful tools are available from FINRA and Practical Money Skills.

What's the best way to save money for financial goals? It depends. In the end, the most important thing is that you're taking positive action. Weigh the pros and cons of concurrent and sequential goal-setting strategies and personal preferences, and follow a regular savings strategy that works for you. Every small step matters!

Like this article? Pin it!

Want to know how to allocate savings for your financial goals? We’ve got the tips on how to make financial decisions so you can be confident in your personal finance! | #moneymatters #personalfinance #moneytips





Source: feeds.killeraces.com

Under the Influence: 40% of Americans Have Purchased Something Seen on Social Media

by Phillip Warren

Social media has wormed its way into most aspects of our lives. It’s how many adults make friends, find dates, and even build career networks. It’s a virtual portfolio of our personal and public selves, and of course many of us want to show our best online. Which presents the question — how do you influence others, and how do others influence you on social media?

More than a third of Americans admit that social media has influenced their spending habits and that they overspend to keep up with their friends’ fun. Meanwhile, 64 percent of Americans are wondering how their friends can afford the expensive trips and trends they’re sharing online.

Online shopping has seen significant gains since the start of quarantine in the U.S. Recent reports find that 40 percent of consumers have increased their online spending to some degree. Food is the most popular item bought online, and 31 percent of Americans say they’ve ordered takeout. Hygiene is the second most popular online purchase with 27 percent of Americans shopping disinfectants and other items online, followed by clothing at 26 percent. 

The feeling of needing to keep up with friends and perform on social media is at the core of many poor online spending decisions and can be detrimental to your financial health. A $30 concert ticket may not seem like much, but this builds a habit of overspending that can impact savings goals and unbalance your budget. 

We surveyed 1,500 people to learn more about social media spending and found:

  • 40 percent of Americans have made a purchase because of social media influence
  • A quarter of Americans have bought clothing or accessories, the most popular category, because of social media
  • Nearly 20 percent of Americans admit to judging others for sharing their purchases

40% of Americans Have Made a Purchase Influenced by Social Media

Bar graph displaying what products Americans are buying after seeing them on social media.

Our survey found that 40 percent of Americans admit to purchasing an item or experience after viewing something similar on social media. Clothing and accessories was the most popular category, with 24 percent of respondents sharing that they’ve shopped new looks on social media. 

This percentage drops significantly to just 12 percent buying beauty and health products — the second most popular category. Vacation experiences were the least influential category with just 5 percent of Americans planning a trip because of social media. 

Generation X (ages 35–44) is the most likely to purchase with social media influence. Forty-four percent of Gen X respondents say they’ve purchased something they saw online, with clothing and accessories keeping its popularity at 27 percent.

On the other hand, Baby Boomers (ages 65+) were the least likely to buy from social media at 31 percent, followed by Generation Z (ages 18–24) at 36 percent. Only 40 percent of Baby Boomers use social media, while 70+ percent of other age groups connect online. This is likely why fewer Baby Boomers shop with social media. 

Additionally, 46 percent of women have purchased something they saw on social media while only 34 percent of men had done the same. Both women and men prefer clothing, but men put more value in experienced-based purchases, like events and vacations, than women seem to. 

Clothing and Accessories Have the Most Influence

Clothing and accessories remained the top influencer across age and gender groups. Gen X women are the most interested in fashion with 38 percent buying clothing or accessories they saw shared on social media. Men were less interested in fashion than women, and Gen Z and Baby Boomers were the least interested with just 14 percent of men in each generation buying fashion trends from social media. 

The fashion industry has built a huge market around the ability to control messaging and increase accessibility through visual apps. A quick and easy example of this is the 847+ million posts under #fashion on Instagram. 

Even among fashion influencers, 42 percent shop directly through Instagram. The cycle of trending fashion grows as 86 percent of influencers purchase items they’ve seen other influencers wear, and are likely to then share the trend on their own account. 

Nearly 20% of Users Judge Others for Sharing Their Purchases Online

20% of users judge others for sharing their purchases, 64% wonder how their friends afford these purchases

While a large percentage of Americans admit to making purchases they see on social media, a fifth of respondents also admit to judging others for sharing their purchases online. Interestingly, younger generations were the most judgemental. Twenty-three percent of Gen Z users judged their peers’ purchases, while just 15 percent of those 55 and older judged others’ purchases. 

It seems men are the most likely to judge others for sharing what they buy. Twenty-seven percent of Gen Z men admit to judging others’ purchases, while just 19 percent of the youngest generation’s women do the same. 

Recent research suggests that there may be a direct tie between envy and conspicuous consumption on apps such as Instagram. Preliminary research suggests that many users believe others are posting their purchases to flaunt exclusivity, which builds envy and may support why so many users are quick to judge others. Those who reported high levels of envy were also more likely to consciously purchase items they had seen in an attempt to close the perceived wealth gap. 

Social media trends are here to stay, and marketers are taking advantage of the authenticity of influencer marketing. A third of Americans admit to spending more than they can afford to keep up with their friends, and social media envy plays a large part in this influence. The best way to stay financially secure is to commit to a budget. Apps like Mint can help you plan and stick to your larger savings goals and combat the habit to impulse buy.

View the Social Media Influences infographic

Sources: Charles Schwab | Intellifluence | HelpGuide | Harvard School of Public Health | Medium 

 

Methodology 

This study consisted of two survey questions conducted using Google Surveys. The sample consisted of no less than 1,500 completed responses per question. Post-stratification weighting has been applied to ensure an accurate and reliable representation of the total population. This survey ran during August 2020. 

The post Under the Influence: 40% of Americans Have Purchased Something Seen on Social Media appeared first on MintLife Blog.


Source: mint.intuit.com

What Is Budget Billing and Is It Right for You?

by Phillip Warren

Your utility bills likely make up a significant part of your monthly budget, so it’s important to keep a close eye on them. But while your rent or mortgage stays the same month to month, your utilities don’t.

Sweltering summer days and icy winter nights can lead to budget-blowing spikes in your utility bills, and no matter how hard you try to budget and plan, you can’t predict the total each month. Or can you?

Budget billing may offer the consistency you crave. Here, personal finance experts describe how budget billing works and explain who may benefit from it, empowering you to answer this question for yourself: Does budget billing save money?

What is budget billing? It's a service that averages your monthly utility charges to determine a set amount to pay each month.

What is budget billing and how does it work?

As you consider this option, your first question might be: What is budget billing? Budget billing is a service offered by some utility companies that provides a set monthly bill for services like gas or electricity.

How does budget billing work? To calculate your monthly budget billing amount, a utility company will look at your past usage, typically over the last year, and average it to determine your monthly charge, says Sara Rathner, financial author and credit cards expert at NerdWallet. This will give you a predictable bill to pay each month, rather than one that fluctuates.

Keep in mind that if you recently moved into your home, the charges used to calculate your budget billing amount may be based on the previous owners’ or renters’ usage, says Rathner. Your actual usage may end up being more or less than theirs.

Another point to remember on how budget billing works: While budget billing gives you a steady amount to pay each month, this amount can, and likely will, change over time. Some providers update bill amounts quarterly, some annually. There’s no universal timeline for these updates, so be sure to ask your utility provider about its specific process, says Lance Cothern, CPA and founder of personal finance blog Money Manifesto.

How does budget billing work? Utility companies determine the monthly charge by averaging your usage over the past year.

These changes are made to capture your actual usage, whether that usage has decreased (a mild summer allowed you to keep the AC off more often) or increased (a brutally cold winter forced you to blast the heat). Typically, you will be notified in advance of the change.

Now that you know how budget billing works, you may be wondering: Could it save me cash?

Does budget billing save money?

Not exactly.

“Budget billing won’t save you money; it just evens your bill out over time,” Cothern says.

How does budget billing work if you end up using less energy and overpay? You may be reimbursed for the amount you paid above your actual energy usage, or the amount overpaid will be applied to next year.

“Anyone who sticks to a strict, detailed monthly budget may prefer the predictability of budget billing.”

– Sara Rathner, credit cards expert at NerdWallet

How does budget billing work if you underpay? You’ll have to pay the extra amount to make up the difference. These payments or credits happen in addition to any adjustments your provider makes to your monthly bill if your usage changes over time, Cothern says.

What are the benefits of budget billing?

Overall, there’s a fairly straightforward answer to what budget billing is, and the benefits are clear, too. While it doesn’t save you money per se, it may allow you to more easily manage your monthly budget.

For example, if you know your monthly electricity bill will be $100, you can account for this expense in your budget and more precisely allocate funds into other expenses or savings.

“Anyone who sticks to a strict, detailed monthly budget may prefer the predictability of budget billing,” Rathner says. “You know exactly how much your utility bill will be each month and can plan your other spending around it.”

Combine budget billing with autopay and you can set and forget your utility bills, ensuring they’re paid on time and in full, making money management a lot simpler. This could also help you deal with financial stress.

What are the downsides of budget billing?

While budget billing has its pros, it also comes with cons. Does budget billing save you money? To help answer that question, consider the following:

  • You may face extra fees. Some utility companies charge a fee for budget billing. In Cothern’s view, this negates the benefit since there’s no reason to pay tacked-on fees for this service. It’s important to find out whether there are fees before signing up when you’re researching how budget billing works.
  • You may ignore your utility usage. Budget billing puts your monthly utility charges, as well as your actual usage, out of sight and out of mind. Without the threat of a higher bill or the reward of a lower one based on your energy habits, some people get complacent, Rathner says. They leave lights on or turn up the heat instead of grabbing a blanket. If this sounds like you, budget billing may actually cost you money in the long run.

“Always keep an eye on your monthly bill even though you pay a level amount for months at a time,” Cothern says. Most utility companies provide your usage information right on your bill.

If you're wondering "Does budget billing save money?" remember that you may be charged extra fees for the service.

If you can financially handle the seasonal swings of each bill, budget billing may not be much of a benefit for you, Cothern says. Paying the full amount also means you’re paying attention to the full amount, he says, which may motivate you to reduce your energy consumption. And that’s where the real opportunity to save money lies.

By considering potential fees and the impact on your energy usage, you’ll have a good sense of whether budget billing saves you money in the long run.

Make the most of how budget billing works with this hack

After scrutinizing how budget billing works, the potential downsides have led some financial pros, Cothern among them, to develop a new hack for paying utility bills.

You earned it.
Now earn more with it.

Online savings with no minimum balance.

Start Saving
Online
Savings

Discover Bank, Member FDIC

Instead of signing up for budget billing, open a savings account online specifically for utilities, Cothern suggests. You’ll also want to sign up for a rewards credit card, if you don’t have one already.

Next, grab your last 12 months of utility bills, total them up and divide by 12 to get your monthly average. You’ll then want to set up an automatic transfer of that amount from your checking account into the utility savings account each month.

When the utility bill comes, pay it with your rewards credit card and then pay that bill with the money in your savings. You reap the benefits of maintaining a consistent amount coming out of your budget, as well as credit card rewards and any interest earned on that money from your savings account.

Do your homework before signing up for budget billing

After weighing your options and considering your personal budgeting style, you may decide that budget billing is right for you.

Still asking, "How does budget billing work?" Read your utility company's program rules in detail to help answer any questions.

If that’s the case, it’s important to read your utility’s program rules in detail. Yes, that means digging into the fine print to understand how budget billing works at the specific company, Cothern says, because budget billing is a general term for a wide variety of utility company programs. Budget billing may be called something else, like flat billing or balanced billing, and it may carry different nuances and terms.

Before signing up for budget billing, Rathner suggests calling your provider and asking the following questions:

  • Are there startup or maintenance fees?
  • How is the monthly amount calculated? How often is it updated?
  • What happens if you overpay or underpay?
  • What happens when you move or end service?

With the answers to these questions, you’ll have a better idea of how budget billing works for your provider. Armed with that info, you can determine whether budget billing saves you money and make the call on whether enrolling is right for you.

Whether you opt for budget billing or not, small adjustments to your home can result in major savings on your energy bills. For starters, check out these four ways to save energy by going green.

Articles may contain information from third-parties. The inclusion of such information does not imply an affiliation with the bank or bank sponsorship, endorsement, or verification regarding the third-party or information.

The post What Is Budget Billing and Is It Right for You? appeared first on Discover Bank - Banking Topics Blog.


Source: discover.com