Posts Tagged ‘disposable income’

Living within your means: Avoiding life’s spending traps

April 29, 2010

Just before the economic decline that began in the last quarter of 2007, the average personal savings as a percentage of disposable personal income for households in the United States hovered just below 1%.  Over two years later, despite high unemployment, the percentage remains seemingly unchanged.  Credit card debt.  Recession.  Real estate meltdown.  What relief do we have in the face of a steady stream of economic gloom?  We can start by setting aside money for future expenses as well as keeping in mind a number of spending traps.

What does it take to live within your means and avoid life's spending traps? Awareness of your financial situation, making sound financial decisions, and discipline to follow through with a carefully made budget are a good start.Paying off debt is much harder than taking it on

We dislike being confronted with this reality until the monthly statement arrives in the mail or their inbox.  While credit cards serve a useful purpose when used carefully and with responsible planning, we cannot forget how much they can afford to pay back.  Easy access to our money with debit cards and ATM machines do not help matters, but we can take a proactive step and setup a text message alert with our bank that notifies us of our account balance before making a purchase.

The allure of home equity loans

We like the fact that home equity loans are tax-deductible and that we can use the money to pay off a large debt like a credit card.  If we do not intend on using that credit card ever again, using a home equity loan would make sense.  However, if we fall into the trap of using our newly paid-off credit card and resume our spending habits, we would have the loan AND the credit card to pay off.

Spending unexpected income in your mind

Did you or your spouse already spend the extra money in your minds?  For example, you want to remodel the kitchen, whereas your spouse wants to take the family to Hawaii.  Before the money arrives, deduct any taxes from it, then work with the remainder.

Creating a “complete” budget

Does your budget include spending on food, housing, and transportation?  Yes, as it should.  However, is it complete?  No, especially if you excluded occasional expenses such as taxes, gifts, insurance, car repairs and family vacations.  How can you include occasional expenses practically in your budget?  Estimate how much these expenses will come to on an annual basis, then divide that figure by 12, allowing you to set aside enough money each month.

Budgets are a mutual agreement

You and your spouse are agreeing not only on the “complete” budget, but also on allowances for each of you to spend money on what is important to you or them.  Drawing up a budget that excludes these allowances would cause resentment and cause one to spend the money in other ways.

So what does it take to live within your means?  Awareness of your financial situation, making sound financial decisions, and discipline to follow through with a carefully made budget come to mind.  Understanding that using credit cards produces debt straightaway whereas spending cash is merely a reduction in assets would be a significant step away from falling into a spending trap.  You can borrow money against your home to pay off a debt, but make sure you never create that debt again, lest you have two payments, the original debt and the second mortgage, to make every month.  Finally, creating a complete budget that includes spending on regular and intermittent expenses, as well as allowances for you and your spouse, will help you both live within your means and be better prepared for life’s spending traps.

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Francis M. Unson

Money Challenge: Can you take control of your assets in seven days?

March 10, 2010

"Your Money", an occasional blog about money and financeHow do you achieve financial security?

If you said, “Winning the lottery”, there is a gain of financial security that will cost you your privacy, but the latter is beyond the scope of this blog.  Furthermore, waiting for that “inheritance from my [still alive] grandfather” does not solve your financial troubles now.  In order to gain financial security, you must live beneath your means so that you can pay off debts and start saving.  Easier said than done?  If you follow the steps in the seven-day plan I describe towards taking control of your money, you will be surprised, and all it takes is 20 minutes a day for one week.  If you have arrived at your child’s school half an hour early so you can get a parking spot, you’ve waited at least 20 minutes, so instead of Tweeting, updating your Facebook status, or checking into foursquare and ousting the mom parked behind you as mayor of your child’s school for the umpteenth time, let’s get started already!

Day 1 – Organize Your Financial Records
Just how did you get yourself in a financial hole?  The personal reasons do not matter, but a number of other factors do, particularly how much you earn and where it goes.  Gather the following records so you can make the first calculations:

  • Recent pay stub – Shows how much you bring in from work
  • Latest tax return – How much you receive from investments and other sources of income
  • Checkbook and most recent printed or online bank statements – Tells you where you are spending most of your money
  • Current credit card bills – Explains how much additional money you spend that your paycheck does not cover

Day 2 – Figure Out Where Your Money Goes
With your financial statements in hand, you can now prepare a summary of your monthly expenses.  List all of your expenses, even down to your daily lattes from Starbucks, and map out where your cash goes.  Use a journal or download a budget tracking app for your iPhone and keep track of your purchases.  You may find that you waste money, and lots of it, but we are here to fix that.

Day 3 – Categorize Your Expenses
Split your expenses into one of three categories:

  • Regular payments such as mortgage, utilities, car payments, car/homeowners/life insurance, etc.
  • Occasional expenses with some room for reduction such as food, clothing, or transportation.
  • Expenses you can do away with entirely such as eating out at restaurants, going to concerts, buying lottery tickets, etc.

The last two categories provide you with the most opportunities for cutting back.

Day 4 – Devise a Plan for Living Beneath Your Means
Reduce your monthly expenses so that you spend less than you take in.  For example, if you decide to add $500 a month towards paying off your credit card balance, you must cut $500 a month in expenses at the bare minimum.  Make a list of the expenses you are eliminating and how much you hope to save.

Day 5 – Develop a Debt-Reduction Strategy
With the extra money you are saving, begin paying off your debts, starting with your high-interest credit card bills.  Work out a realistic target date for when you want each debt to be paid off completely.  Setting lofty or ambitious dates will set yourself up for failure.

Day 6 – Establish a Savings Plan
Start saving while reducing your debts.  While this move is financially counter-intuitive, especially when paying off credit card debt at 20% interest while saving money at 4% or 5%, it is a psychological boost for yourself to be saving any money.  Furthermore, any savings put away now will come in handy if an illness or job loss occurs unexpectedly.

Day 7 – Start an Automatic Investment Plan
Saving now and investing in the future are two activities that people wish they had done only when it is too late.  Working from that perspective, doing the following is a crucial step towards learning from experience.
Call your bank, credit union, or mutual fund company and arrange an automatic investment plan, committing $50 to $100 (or more) from your paycheck each month towards an investment account.  The money invested can become the basis of your retirement portfolio or your child’s college fund.

Whether the economy is in decline or rising, being in control of your assets will help you achieve financial security, and it all begins with a plan.

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Francis M. Unson