Personal Finance 
6
comments

Finances in 55 Seconds: Create a Short-Term Savings Plan

StopwatchWe are often intimidated by financial projects. It seems like we should need hours to plan savings, or organize our finances. However, you might be surprised at what you can accomplish if you set aside some time to tackle one task. Too often we make things harder than they need to be. Creating a short-term savings plan is one of those projects that can quickly seem daunting.

Short-term savings, though, are important. It’s a good idea to have some small savings in a relatively liquid account. Short-term emergency savings can be used for items like unexpected car repairs, appliance repairs and other unexpected expenses that crop up. It’s not exactly the same thing as planning for months of unemployment, but it is way to give you a little extra padding that is accessible — and doesn’t require you to raid your long-term savings. This fund is usually between $1,000 and $3,000.

The best part: You can create your short-term savings plan in 55 seconds or less.

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 Frugal Living 
9
comments

Calculate Your Monthly Freedom Day

Pocket CalendarEvery year, the Tax Foundation points to a day in April and proclaims it Tax Freedom Day. It’s the day after which you have effectively earned enough to cover your tax liabilities for the year. For 2010, that day was April 9th. In 2009, it was April 8th. The idea is that, based on what you are projected to owe in taxes, every hour you work until that day goes towards funding that liability. It’s more a gimmick than anything else but it does underscore an important point, each month you experience your own “Freedom Day.”

Your personal Monthly Freedom Day is the day where you earned enough that month to cover your fixed monthly obligations like your rent or mortgage, your car loan or your student loans. Today, I’m going to help you calculate your Monthly Freedom Day.

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 Personal Finance 
15
comments

Don’t Change Yourself, Change Your Financial System

How old are you? Unless you’re under the age of 20 or 25, chances are you will not change.

I don’t care how much willpower you think you have, the vast majority of people will not change their habits once they’ve become an adult. This is why the government created rules to prevent cigarette companies from marketing to minors (Joe the Camel?).

In fact, your only chance of changing usually comes on the heels of a very “shocking” event. How many stories have you heard of people getting their finances on track because their brother’s house was foreclosed? How many people lose weight because their doctor warns of impending health problems? While I don’t wish a “shocking” event onto anyone, sometimes we all need one to get us back on course!

In the absence of a shock, what can you do to help your finances? Don’t try wholesale changes to yourself or the way you do things, change your financial “system” so that it works better with You. Below are a few ideas to help you do this.

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 Personal Finance 
14
comments

Why You Need A Budget

Not A Good BudgetWhen I was in college, I never had a budget. I didn’t keep a budget because most of my expenses were paid for in a lump sum at the beginning of the year. My room and board were all integrated into that payment, which made for a pretty simple financial life. The extent of my purchases were at the local bar or at the grocery store when I wanted something a little more interesting than what was available in the fraternity kitchen. I had little income, little expenses, and almost no need for a budget.

That all changed when I started working. Here I was, with a real salary, real expenses, and little by way of advice on how I was supposed to track anything. Fortunately my friend sent along an Excel spreadsheet she used to and that got me on my way. I quickly learned I was spending way too much on food, specifically a mediocre lunch in the cafeteria, and was able to adjust my spending to reflect what I wanted. I learned that having a budget is absolutely crucial.

This isn’t an article on how to budget, a topic I’ve written about extensively in the past, but more about why you need to keep and maintain a budget.

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 Personal Finance 
25
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Budgeting Is About Your System, Not Your Tools

Yesteryday, I wrote a post about zero based budgeting, a type of budget that forces you to assign each dollar of income to an expense category. I think it’s a very good way of budgeting but one that can be difficult for nonbudgeters (I think envelope budgeting is the best way, of the five budgeting systems I’ve discussed, for nonbudgeters to get their feet wet).

However, in writing about all these budgeting systems, many of which are very similar, the conclusion is that there is no right way to budget. There is only a way that gets you to financial independence, the way that works best for you and your situation. In reviewing all of these free budgeting tools, it all went back to the simple idea of spending less than you earn.

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 Personal Finance 
20
comments

How to Build a Zero-based Budget

Zero based budgetsA zero based budget is a budget where every dollar you earn is assigned to a category in your budget. Your income minus your expenses equals zero – zero based budget. The idea sounds very simple, and it is, but the real value in creating and following a zero-based budget is that it requires you to plan very deliberately ahead of time and track it very closely as you go through your month.

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 Personal Finance 
29
comments

Better Budgeting Software: YNAB or Quicken?

I recently received an email from Reader Donald asking if I could do a direct comparison between You Need A Budget (YNAB) and Quicken. Having recently used both to write a YNAB review and a Quicken 2010 review, I was familiar with both and could easily share my thoughts.

To add a little color to the discussion, which I hope you’ll join in on, is that Donald does his taxes using TurboTax and the potentially seamless integration of Quicken and TurboTax “hobbles” him from buying YNAB. Also, he has yet to take advantage of the 7-day free trial of YNAB (no email or registration required for the trial, you can download the application here). Finally, he does all his banking with a regional credit union in California and being able to pull banking records is an important feature.

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 Personal Finance 
14
comments

Money Manager from American Express

American ExpressWhen I reviewed the Chase Blueprint payment program, I said I believed that credit card companies were offering money management tools and payment systems to help keep defaults and late payments down. The best credit card customer is a regularly paying one, despite what mainstream media would have you think (that credit card companies love to ding people with fees and send them to the poorhouse). Even the most cynical of consumers would agree with me on that point!

Well, as it turns out, American Express also has series of tools that helps users get a better handle on their finances. It isn’t an alternative payment schedule like Chase Blueprint but more along the lines of an online budgeting tool, except it’s available only to American Express charge cardmembers (and it’s free).

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