Budgeting 101

The hardest part of any budget is getting started. Gather your income and bills and just dive in!

Whether you are a spender or a saver, one of the scariest words in the English language is the word BUDGET. Where do you start? Is it hard to make one? What’s it really meant to accomplish? More importantly, how do you stick to a budget?

First, take a deep breath and know that there is nothing scarier than not knowing what happens to all your money. Your budget is just a tool to help you determine where your money goes. It’s that simple.  

The best way to get started is to work on one month at a time.

Before you begin

Choose your tools – You need to decide if you want your budget to be digital, say in a budgeting app or an Excel spreadsheet, or if you’re going old school with paper and pen. There’s no right answer to this. Some people prefer the pretty graphs and automated math features found in an app. Others find it grounding to sit down with a piece of paper and a calculator.

Gather documentation – To make an effective budget, you must know how much you make and how much you spend. So take the time to gather up all your bills including utilities, rent or mortgage, car payments, insurances, daycare bills, tuition payments, and anything else you pay. Do you have things that you pay less than monthly? You’ll need to plan for annual property taxes or quarterly car insurance too.

Getting Started

Make a list – Make a list of every bill you will pay this month, estimate the cost and add it all up. Now add up your income and take a long, hard look at how much money is left after you pay your bills.

Non-bills –  What else do you buy each month? You will need groceries and gas for the car. Do you have a gym membership? What about clothes, movies, eating out and other fun purchases?  Don’t forget about birthdays, vacations and holiday gifts. Make a list of everything you spend money on. Are there big purchases that you need to save for every month? Do you even know how much you spend on these things? Look back through your credit card and bank statements to get an honest feel for how much you’re really spending on these extras

Pay yourself –Saving money is important so don’t forget to save for retirement and emergencies. Most Americans are woefully unprepared for even a $500 emergency but tucking away a little each pay will help you be ready.

Add it up – Take a moment to add up all these bills, discretionary spending and saving. How does it look? Is your spending outpacing your income? Are you incurring credit card debt for clothes, dining out and vacations? This can be a sobering moment in the budgeting process and will determine your next steps.

The reckoning – How do you feel about what you’ve learned so far? Did you realize you were spending so much on food? Do you see room for cutting expenses? Are you pleased with where you are? For most first time budgeters, there is something shocking about this complete snapshot of their spending habits. Once you reach this point in the process, it may be time to go back and start making some edits.

Working the puzzle – Most Americans are living at or above their means. If this is the case for you, building an effective budget will be like working a puzzle. You may need to look at cutting some costs to make that puzzle fit together more easily.

Looking ahead – If you have large quarterly or annual expenses to plan for, it’s smart to look ahead and consider the best ways to do that. Often, the easiest thing is to budget a little every month and then use automatic transfers from your checking to savings so that you’re not bearing the burden all at once.

Every month – You will need a budget for every month. Eventually, you may find that it’s easy to simply copy last month’s budget with some small changes while other months require more work. It’s often most effective to budget an entire quarter at once so that you get a broader view of your needs.

The Hard Part

The hardest part to any budget is sticking to it. It’s easy to get carried away on vacation or to forget all about it when the kids need shoes. That’s why it’s important to check in with your budget before making purchases and to make needed adjustments. Remember, your budget isn’t carved in stone. It’s a living, breathing document that is most effective when it’s kept updated and when it’s used.

Are you ready to get started with a budget that will put your money to work for you? There’s no better time to start than today!

Teach Your Children To Save

Full coins in a jar. Saving money. Growing concept.Save money for children and future.

Every spring, our bankers go into local schools to talk with youngsters about saving money. It’s part of a national effort called Teach Children To Save, led by the American Bankers Association. While we can’t go into classrooms this year, we are working to reach out to students in other ways.

With young kids, we talk about why someone might need a bank, why money is safe when kept in a bank, and the importance of saving money. Here’s some food for thought for you to help your kids develop money saving skills and understand the difference between needs and wants.

  • Make saving visual. Piggy banks are wonderful but a clear jar will allow your child to see their savings grow. If your child has a passbook savings account, help them keep their passbook current or even have them draw a chart so they can see their money grow.
  • Help your child see that things cost money. Don’t just tell your child that a toy costs $10. Help them make the connection between that cost and their money by helping them count out their money and show them how their savings decreases.
  • Talk about the difference between needs and wants. We need food, shelter, and clothes. That means we need shoes to wear but we don’t need Nikes. We want Nikes but could wear something cheaper. We need to buy food for dinner but junk food like Oreos are a want.
  • Make them buy some of their own wants so that they can see how hard it is to save money. Use this process to show them opportunity cost. “If you buy this toy, you won’t have enough money to buy a video game later.”
  • Give them savings goals. When they’re small, those goals might be to save for a special toy or game. As they age, those goals can be built on and will mature to save for a car or college.

Saving money is a habit best formed in youth – even if all they have to save is spare change or chore money. The will to save money is like a muscle that gets stronger with use. Developing good childhood habits will serve them well for a lifetime.

 

Things to Buy: After Christmas Edition

If it feels like you have done nothing but spend, spend, spend this month you are not alone. Sale opportunities began well before Thanksgiving this year and there has been no shortage of opportunities to find great prices online, in big box stores, in small businesses and everywhere in between.

So it may feel like a good time to curb spending and give your debit card a break. But have you thought about how much money you can save later by taking advantage of after Christmas sales now?

Woman with Shopping BagsWinter Clothing– While there have been many sales on winter clothes and accessories this season, the prices will be slashed immediately after Christmas. Retailers will want to move those items quickly to make room for spring apparel.

Fitness Gear – Millions of Americans resolve each year to lose weight or to get healthy. That means January is the peak season to buy fitness equipment, accessories and even gym memberships. That treadmill you’ve been wanting will be a great price throughout the month of January.

Furniture and Mattresses – Furniture manufacturers release new models in February so stores make room for the new by deeply discounting these big ticket items in January. If your couch is starting to wear or it’s time to replace your bed, this really is the time to buy.

Christmas Items – Who can forget the most deeply discounted items of all? Christmas items. Christmas cards, wrapping paper, bows, gift boxes, stationary, table linens, holiday china, candles, lights, trees, decorations …..it’s a veritable buffet of items that will keep until next year for just pennies on the dollar. Stock up now to save money next December!

Electronics – New models of electronics are introduced every January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. That means that retailers begin to discount this current model in February. If you don’t mind buying last year’s tv, laptop or digital camera, you can usually snag a deal just by waiting until February.

Anything in Christmas Packaging – Many companies sell items that are not all that Christmassy in holiday packaging. Dish soap, paper towels, hand soap, candy, baking sheets, silicone spatulas, baking supplies, Ziploc bags, school supplies, body wash, perfume and more often come in holiday packages or gift sets. At fifty to seventy-five percent off, it’s a great time to stock up on items you use every day!