5 Financial Tips to Take Action On

5 Financial Tips to Take Action On

 

The clock struck midnight, the calendar turned to a new year and you may have even toasted with a glass of champagne. All of these are signals of the new year and most people rejoice because it’s time for some changes.

As we begin to fill the calendar pages of the year, think about what are your financial resolutions or financial goals? If you are struggling, don’t worry I have complied 5 financial tips to act on that will help with your personal finances every year.

Tip 1: Determine your Numbers, aka Calculate your Net Worth

When it comes to your personal finances, you need to know where you stand financially. If you are running a race, you need to know where the starting line is to get started so it is the same with your finances. Net worth can sound a little intimidating but it really isn’t. Basically, it’s a list of your assets (what you own) minus a list of your liabilities (what you owe). It is very important to know this number and at least review it yearly but I would go a step further and review it on a quarterly basis.  Examples of assets are your home, your car’s value, bank accounts balances, retirement accounts balance and stock values, etc. Liabilities are what you owe (simply put: all of your debt) to include: amount owed on mortgage, credit card debt, car loan debt, student loan debt, medical debt, etc. In the end, everyone aims to have a positive net worth.

Remember: Assets (what you own) – Liabilities (what you owe) = Net Worth

Tip 2: Check Your Credit Reports for Free and Review it in Detail.

There are 3 credit reporting bureaus: Experian, Equifax and Transunion. You are able to get a free credit report from all 3 by visiting: www.annualcreditreport.com. Your credit report will be free but if you want your credit score then you will have to pay additional for it. If you haven’t pulled your credit report in over a year, I would suggest pulling all 3 at once to comb over it for any errors or incorrect inaccurate information. Another option is to pull them periodically throughout the year. That would look like pulling one now (example: Experian), then 4 months later pull another (example: Equifax), then pull the final credit bureau report 4 months later (example: Transunion). This will allow you to view your credit reports throughout the year. If you choose to do this, please make a note on your calendar or in your phone to alert you when to pull them. Once you have your credit report there are 3 Things to look out for:

Fraudulent accounts

Incorrect account information

Incorrect personal information

If any of these are found – immediately follow the steps to contact the credit bureau and dispute the incorrect information.

Tip 3: Create S.M.A.R.T Financial Goals

With the information gathered from your net worth statement and credit report(s) its time to make some goals. Not just goals that sound good but actual goals that you plan to work to achieve. Achieving your financial goals could range from increasing your credit score to paying off debt or saving more money. Setting S.M.A.R.T goals is a popular practice that works like this:

S is for Specific – Make your goal specific. Be as specific as possible.

M is for Measurable – How will you measure and evaluate your goals?

A is for Achievable – Can you actually achieve this goal?

R is for Relevant – How is this goal relevant to you?

T – is for Time Bound – Tie this goal to a certain time. Example: 3 Months, 6 months, etc.

For example saving $1000 for a beginner emergency fund:

Specific: I will save $1000 by April 31st.

Measurable: I will save $350 in February, $350 in March and $300 in April.

Achievable: I will achieve this goal by creating a realistic budget and sticking to it, working overtime and minimizing my expenses in the areas of eating out and excess clothing shopping. All of my extra money will go towards my emergency savings account goal.

Relevant: I need to establish an emergency fund of at least $1000 in case of an emergency, this will prevent me from using my credit card and racking up additional credit card debt.

Time Bound: I will achieve this goal within 3 months.

Tip 4: Get an Accountability Partner

This is something a lot of people probably don’t consider but having an accountability partner is a great addition to your financial goals. You aren’t the only one with financial goals so call in some help with a friend, partner, spouse or even an online friend to hold each other accountable. This person will hold you to your goals and be a support system when you possibly feel like giving up. Lastly, an accountability partner could also push you to do more and achieve more.

Tip 5: Set Monthly Money Dates with Yourself.

At least once a month, have a standing date with yourself to review your finances and set up your budget or spending plan for the following month. Your money date shouldn’t be stressful and doesn’t have to take hours. A money date can be as short as thirty minutes. For example, set aside time on the first Sunday of the month to create your budget, review past spending, comb over bank transactions, view debt progress or review debt accumulated over the past month. Having this information in front of you will help determine what changes you need to make the following month or what you should possibly keep doing. This is also a time where you will review your progress on the S.M.A.R.T goals you set and perhaps a time to check in with your accountability partner to let them know your current successes or struggles.

To recap, Here are 5 financial tips to act on:

  1. Determine your net worth. (Assets – Liabilities = Net Worth)
  2. Check your credit report(s). (Access for free at www.annualcreditreport.com)
  3. Create S.M.A.R.T financial goals for 2019 (Smart, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time Bound)
  4. Get an Accountability Partner (Call in a friend for some support)
  5. Set a Monthly Money Date with Yourself (At least once a month for 30 minutes)

Let me know in the comments, if you are already doing any of these or which one will you take action on first? Feel free to also share a goal with me.

Also, if you need an extra nudge to make your personal finances a priority, check out this post:

Permission Granted

 

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One Helpful Thing You Should Do While Paying off Debt

There are numerous articles online that have advice on ways to pay off debt including how to cut back on spending and a multitude of side hustle ideas to make more money while on your journey. You definitely won’t run out of ideas and tips to get you to the mighty goal of being debt free. However, I want to add a helpful aid during your journey which is helping me and has helped others. That one thing that has motivated me during my debt free journey is a visual aid.  Visual aids have been used for as long as I can remember especially in classrooms to help with learning.

A visual aid is used to supplement words with pictures, charts, graphs or other graphics to convey a specific message. 

In this blog post, I will discuss the visual aid that I am currently using to track my progress out of student loan debt and also my discussion with Amanda from DebtfreeinSunnyCA who also believes that using a visual aid while getting out of debt keeps you motivated. Let me add, a visual isn’t restricted to paying off debt, it can also be used to save money. 

I have used a few different visual aids before settling on my current one. Past visual aids include a thermometer that I colored in as I paid off each debt and an excel spreadsheet where I listed all my debts and then highlighted each one as they were paid off. Both are still viable visual aid options. Lastly, I settled with framing a poster sized graphic complete with stenciled in graduation caps where each cap represents $1000 in student loan debt. I created the graphic with a poster board from a local Dollar General Store, a frame from Hobby Lobby, a few Happy Planner stickers from Michael’s stores and a stencil purchased here. My goal was to create something that was very visible but also fun to color in. Once the graphic is fully completed, I will have paid off $64,000 in student loan debt. Here is the final product:

Graduating Out of Debt Tracker

I discovered Amanda from DebtfreeinSunnyCA on Instagram and noticed that she also used a visual aid during her journey out of debt. Amanda made a visual in a bullet journal to track her progress out of $133,763 of debt. Her and her husband paid off this amount of debt in 3 years and 7 months. (Wow!) 

Here is our interview:

Sugar and Money: Amanda, thank you so much for agreeing to share your visual and some of your debt free story with me today. So, let’s dive right in with a few questions. First, tell me a little about yourself and your journey:

Amanda: I’m Amanda Williams and I’m the owner of Debt Free in Sunny CA! I started sharing my debt free journey on Instagram 3 years ago. My goal was to stay motivated and find other like-minded people. Since there weren’t a lot of people sharing their journey back then, I created #debtfreecommunity to make it easier to find people who are getting out of debt. My mission is to show people that living a debt free life is possible by sharing tips and providing motivation. 

Sugar and Money: You knew your goal of debt freedom so what prompted you to create a visual aid while paying off debt:

Amanda: Ya know when you get really into something to where you’re borderline obsessed? That’s how I was at the beginning of my debt free journey. I had a coloring chart that came with the Financial Peace University (FPU) kit, but I didn’t get to color in it often. A small payment was a speck compared to the amount of debt I had. I wanted a way to celebrate each payment, so I looked to Pinterest and Instagram for inspiration on creating my own debt free tracker.

Takeaway: A visual aid can help you in celebrating those small wins to keep you motivated.

Sugar and Money: How did your visual aid motivate you? How did it feel to see the progress?

Amanda: The visual I created was a bullet journal page with lines drawn to create boxes. Each box was worth $240, so every time I made a payment in that amount, I would get to color in a box. Every payday I would get so excited to color in more boxes and see the page fill up. I used a different color of the rainbow for each debt. My favorite part was taking pictures of my tracker and looking back months later to see how far I had come. It’s an amazing feeling to go from being terrified and thinking how you’re going to pay your debt off to putting in the work and seeing your progress.

Takeaway: Take pictures of your progress of your visual aid so you can reflect on the progression of reaching your goal. Also, you have to put in the work to pay off debt.

DebtfreeinSunnyCa Visual Aid for Tracking Debt Payoff

Sugar and Money: Tell me again, how much debt did you and your husband pay off?

Amanda: My husband and I paid off $133,763 in 3 years and 7 months. We also cash flowed our wedding during that time.

Takeaway: That’s a lot of debt to tackle but they did it and so can you! 

Sugar and Money: Would you recommend that other people use a visual aid and why?

Amanda: Yes! Getting out of debt is not an easy task. You need something to look forward to, track your progress, and keep it in your face as a reminder of the goal you set for yourself. Visual aids do exactly that and they are fun! There are so many different ways to track your progress. Coloring, paper chains, and moving coins/marbles over from one jar to another are a few ideas. Plus, you’ll want the memories later on.

Takeaway: Create a visual and don’t be afraid to get creative. Feel free to look to pinterest for ideas also. There are numerous ways to create a visual aid to track your progress.

Sugar and Money: We are wrapping up, anything else that you would like to add about using a visual aid or where you are currently on your financial journey?

Amanda: Once you’ve completed your debt free or savings tracker, laminate it and keep it as a memory. It brings me so much joy looking at mine and all my paid off notices. (Amanda printed out and laminated every paid off letter from her student loan company) I think you’ll feel the same way.   Here’s the debt free tracker I made and used during our debt free journey. I counted up how many boxes were on the page and then did the math to figure out how much each square was worth. I left a row empty for boxes for interest, but it ended up not being enough. Word of advice: only color in principal balance. It makes it a lot easier unless your interest rate is low.

I created a debt free tracker printable that will be available when my online store opens on February 6th, my three year Instagram anniversary. You can sign up for my email list to get a discount and early access here: Debtfreeinsunnyca.com/subscribe.  Thank you for the opportunity to be featured!

DebtfreeinSunnyCa Debt Free Progress Tracker available online on February 6th.

Sugar and Money: And Thank you for chatting with me! I really appreciate it. 

Takeaway: Get on Amanda’s mailing list at www.debtfreeinsunnyca.com/subscribe if you would like to get a discount on the debt tracker pictured above and you can find Amanda via her blog at www.debtfreeinsunnyca.com and she is very active on Instagram @debtfreeinsunnyca so follow her for inspiration.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, I recommend that you use a visual aid to track your progress while paying off debt or even saving up for specific goals. Goals outside of paying off debt can include: 3-6 month emergency fund, vacation fund, house down payment or maybe even buying a house in full. The options are endless but a great visual aid will keep you motivated as you make progress on your journey. You will enjoy seeing the visual progression towards reaching your goal. As you create your visual aid or download one off the internet  here are a few tips in closing: Clearly define your goal and how progress will be tracked, make it colorful and make it fun!

Let me know any thoughts in the comments…Did you like the interview with Amanda? Would you like to see more interviews? Do you plan to create a visual aid to track whatever financial goal you are striving toward? Do you already use a visual? Let me know below and also please share this blog with anyone that it may inspire. Can’t wait to hear from you!

 

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How to Pay off Thousands of Credit Card Debt

pay off credit card debt

In this post, I am going to break down exactly how I paid off thousands of dollars in credit card debt in six easy steps. Actually, I paid off $20,000 in credit card debt. Yes, once upon a time, not long ago – I was saddled with $20,000 in credit card debt. The total balance was paid off between the years 2014 – 2016. I had a mix of credit cards including store cards with balances of a few hundred dollars up to thousands of dollars on my Visa, Mastercard and Discover cards. Ultimately, I took 6 steps to finally get out of credit card debt:

1st Step: Got fed up with making credit card payments.

Simply put, month in and month out I got tired of making numerous payments to the credit card companies. It became exhausting to keep up with who I owed, how much I owed, due dates, etc. So, I made my mind up that I was tired of making those payments and decided to get out of credit card debt once and for all. I wanted the bills and payments to stop so my mindset became set to being just plain tired of being in credit card debt. So, I created a plan to get out of credit card debt for once and for all.

“Do you know what you can do with your money when you don’t have any payments? Anything you want!”

2nd Step: Stopped charging items on my credit cards.

If I didn’t have the cash to purchase something then I simply went without. Afterall, you cannot get out of debt while doing the same thing that got you in debt.

3nd Step: Created a payment plan using the debt snowball.

I had recently read, “Total Money Makeover” by Dave Ramsey and was definitely inspired to get out of debt. Therefore, I listed out all of my credit card accounts from the smallest account balance to the largest account balance with a plan to pay them off using the debt snowball which I had learned about from Dave Ramsey’s book.

“Debt snowball is a method of debt repayment in which the debtor lists each of his/her debts from smallest to largest (not including the mortgage), then devotes extra money each month to paying off the smallest debt first while making only minimum monthly payments on all of the other debts.” – Investopedia

4th Step: Reviewed my income and expenses to determine did I have an income problem or a spending problem with the amount of debt that I had.

At this point, I’ve had credit cards since the age of 18 and honestly couldn’t remember if there was ever a time that they were all 100% paid off at the same time.  I pulled a month of my paystubs from work, 2 months of my most recent bank account statements and a couple of highlighters and starting marking 2 main areas: Food and shopping. Those were the two areas that I figured I could back on first.  What I realized was that there was room to cut back in the areas of food and shopping but I definitely had an income issue. I simply wasn’t making enough money to cover all of my bills and have enough for food, gas, etc.

Check out this post:

How to Create a Budget in 6 Easy Steps

5th  Step: Realized that I needed to make more money.

Since I had an income issue, I picked up a part time job. In fact, it was a retail job and I even created a spreadsheet to track my paychecks from my part time job to make sure that the money was tracked as it came in and then paid toward debt to work my set debt snowball. However, my part time didn’t offer that my many hours which equated to income and I admit, I was shopping at the store so my checks really didn’t make a huge difference since I was spending my paychecks back in the store. (Note: Please don’t work at a place to earn money where you will also be tempted to shop/spend.)

5B: Personally, I still needed to make more money because the part time job wasn’t cutting it so I went after a promotion at work and got it. That is when the snowball really got traction. Getting the promotion, did take some work and even took moving out of state but the increase was worth it. (Let me note, If you have a spending problem, then you will need to cut back on your shopping.)

From there, I was able to work my snowball and pay off each debt one by one from smallest debt balance to highest debt balance.

Step 6: (Optional Step) Completed a balance transfer.

One of my credit cards had an offer for a balance transfer. I used that offer to transfer a higher interest credit card to a very low interest credit card with the plan to pay the card off before the balance transfer rate expired. It proved to be a good way to save on interest while paying off my $20,000 in credit card debt. I know this isn’t a perferred option for some people but if you are committed to not getting back in credit card debt and you are  committed to paying off your credit cards for good, this could be a good tool to use to save on interest fees while paying off your debt.

In conclusion: To pay off your credit debt, it will take a few steps but it can be done. Steps include: Getting fed up with credit card debt, no longer changing items on credit cards, listing out all debt/balances using the snowball method (however, you could also use the avalanche method), determine do you have an income problem or a spending problem and fixing that specified problem, considering a balance transfer option and then lastly, work that payoff plan you created and stick to your plan until all of your credit cards are paid off. Please remember that by believing that you can pay off your credit card debt, you are halfway there!

So let me know of any questions you have? Do you believe that you can pay off your credit card debt? How long do you think it will take to pay off your credit cards in full?

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How to Create a Budget in 6 Easy Steps

Budget

Creating a budget in 6 easy steps is the perfect way to know the ins and outs of your money. You will be able to see your income and expenses to know exactly where your money is going. A budget will keep you from wondering where your money went. A budget will also tell your money where to go. So, let’s dive in…

Step #1: Grab your desired tools to make your first budget. I recommend a pen, paper and a calculator – Or if you are fancy, feel free to create an excel spreadsheet and build in the necessary formulas or create a digital budget online with an app like Mint or EveryDollar.

However, I always recommend to manually write out your first budget because there is just something about putting pen to paper and making the necessary subtractions, additions, doodles, etc. This is how you really FEEL the numbers and the process.

Step #2: Start with A Goal! At the top of your sheet of paper/budget write out your goal for creating this budget.

Examples of Goals: Determine where every dollar of my income is going. Find any money leaks because I feel like I make enough money but still come up short before the end of the month. Determine how much I am actually spending on shopping, eating out, etc. Find an area I can cut back on so I can save more money, cash flow a vacation or pay more money toward my personal debt.

Now it is time for the numbers

written budget

Step #3 List out all of your Income (All sources: Paychecks, business income, side hustles, etc.)

If you have inconsistent income take the average of 3 months and use that as your income.

Example: In the last 3 months your income was: $2000 (month one), $1000 (month two) and $1500 (month three). To find the average you will add up all of the income and then divide by how many months there are. So, $4500 (sum of all numbers) / 3 (amount of numbers or months) = $1500. $1500 would be the average and therefore use that amount as your average monthly income to budget off of. If during the month you are budgeting for  your income is higher than your average then the additional income can be applied toward your goal or rolled into next month. This is great way to handle additional income since your income is inconsistent and you based your budget off of a lower number.

Step #4 List and add up all your monthly necessary expenses then subtract them from your income

Non-Discretionary expenses are the expenses that are absolutely due each month: Housing, Electricity, Water, Sewer, Trash, Insurance (life, car, medical, long term disability, etc. – if these aren’t deducted from your paycheck)

Other necessities to include:

Gas/fuel/ transportation costs

Childcare/Afterschool

Grocery/food

Pay your future self fund – because you need to save for your future self – so pay yourself just like you pay a bill

Debt Minimums: Credit Card(s)/Personal Loans/Car Loan/Student Loans/Medical debt, etc. (It would be great if this number was zero)

Stop here and see what you are left with…circle or highlight that amount

Take a moment and look at what amount of money you have left after covering your non-discretionary expenses because everything in the next step are expenses that are discretionary and are what you have control of. This is an area in your budget where you can possibly eliminate items or reduce amounts spent in this area.

Step #5 List and add up all of your discretionary expenses and then subtract them from the last number you calculated.

Discretionary expenses are flexible and sometimes optional. This is where you can find money to help you achieve your financial goals like growing your savings account, adding to retirement, putting more money toward debt, etc.

Entertainment categories like dining out

Gifts

Vacations

Personal care (hair care/styling, manicure, pedicure, waxing, grooming)

Clothes

Cable

Subscriptions and Memberships

Step #6 Clap for yourself because you have successfully created your very own budget.

Fingers crossed your budget ends in the “black” with a positive number meaning you have some money left over. If you end up in the “red” with a negative number then you have some more work to do. Time to think about… can you cut out an expense, cancel a subscription, reduce spending in a certain area, pick up overtime or pick up a side hustle to put you in the “black” because you don’t want to come up short.

“Tell Your Money Exactly Where to Go and You’ll Not Wonder Where It Went”

Conclusion:

Have a goal for your monthly budget then get to work by adding up your income and subtracting your expenses from your income.

Good News – you got a positive number so you have money left to attack your goal.

Bad News – you have a negative number so you will need to revisit your expenses and see where you can cut back because if you have a short fall, either something isn’t going to get paid or you may end up going into debt to make ends meet. Another awesome option is to make more money. Especially if you don’t want to cut back or you simply can’t cut back anymore so you will have to bring in more income to cover the gap.

And now the best part! Stick to the budget you created so you will know where your money is going and then start to smash your financial goals! I know the word budget has a negative connotation but it is truly the only way that you will know where all of your money is going.

Thank You and Please comment with your thoughts surrounding budgets. Do you create one? Why or Why not? Do you have any questions about making a budget?

 

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How to Cash Flow a Major Purchase

Cash flow, money, cash

Everyone’s idea of a major purchase is different based on their income, cash flow, spending habits, etc. Major purchases can be $100, $500, $1000, $5000 and the amounts keep going up. Before making any major purchase, I always advise to sleep on it and give it at least one day. So, walk out of the store, maybe take a picture of it to refer back to or close out the internet browser. Because you will be surprised that sometimes by walking away, you realize that you don’t really want/need the item and you almost made an expensive impulse purchase.

Below I will walk through 5 steps to cash flowing a major purchase instead of creating debt to purchase it.

1st: Can you cash flow this purchase outside of your allocated emergency saving fund with your regular income? If so, easy peasy – make your purchase with cash/debit card. Don’t use a credit card because of the easy monthly payments or 0% financing.

2nd: Determine the purchase amount and set a goal (timeframe) to make the purchase. For example, you want to purchase a $1200 item in the next 12 months.

3rd: Start saving for your major purchase. Save in a bank account separate from your main bank account. Out of sight, out of mind. Bonus points if you can specifically label the account. Example: 2019 Vacation, Dream Wedding, House Downpayment, New Cell Phone, etc. Then set up automatic deposits to the established account and also add any monetary gifts from your birthday, Christmas, etc. to help you reach your goal faster.

4th: Be patient, time will pass and soon you will reach your goal without going into debt or making monthly payments on it. Patience is a must, otherwise being impatient could cause you to go into debt to have it right now.

5th. Finally- Once the allocated time has passed, proudly make your purchase (if you still want it 😊) and another bonus (5b) – attempt to negotiate the price. Everything is negotiable and if you are told, “No” I am sure it isn’t the first time you were told No and it won’t be the last. Also, what if they do lower the price and you spend lower than the amount you saved! Jackpot!

Feel free to stop right here unless you want to hear how I recently did this.

Recently, I made a major purchase:

Apple, MacBookPro, Openbox

Recently, I purchased an Open Box MacBook Pro for $1217.09 (out the door), which I’ve been planning to purchase for at least a year. The money was saved using a specific bank account via Capital One 360 labeled, “New Mac Computer”. Once I reached my savings goal of $1600 to cash flow my purchase, it was time to make the purchase. However, I still charged my computer on a credit card! GASP! Stay tuned to see why 😊

Thankfully the need for a new computer wasn’t immediate because my current Dell computer still worked. Granted it was slow at times and always updating but it still worked so that allowed me some time to save the money. (I found that when I’m not pressured or have an immediate need for an item I make wiser financial decisions.)

Being patient and taking time to decide on my purchase was a plus so I could decide which Apple computer I wanted. I was stuck between the MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air.

Since, I budgeted to spend $1500 on the computer, I saved $1600 to cover the cost and taxes with a plan to purchase within a year. Example: $1600 saved over 12 months is $133.33 a month/$61.54 every 2 weeks/$30.77 every week. To make the plan automatic and easy, I set up an automatic draft of $40 every week to this account. I also deposited any gifts to this account (birthday, Christmas, etc) Note: You could also save cash in a cash envelope but I am not a big advocate for keeping large sums of cash in my home but that’s totally up to you.

Tick. Tock. Those months started to pass by and my new computer account started to grow. I waited until Best Buy had a sale and went in the store to purchase it. Then, I noticed that they an Open Box MacBook Pro in Excellent Certified Condition (Which took another $65 off the sale price) and I also asked to see if they could do any better on the open box price and the manager surprisingly took an additional 5% off! So bonus points for negotiating a lower price! The total with taxes came up to $1267.09 and I had a $50 gift card so I ended up paying $1217.09.

So, Why did I purchase my computer with a credit card?

Prior to making my purchase, I did some research and realized that if I purchased my computer with my Citi Card, Citi would extend the 1 year standard warranty to 3 years. So that is why I purchased the computer with my credit card but paid the card off a few days later after I transferred the money from my Capital One 360 to my Main Bank Account. However, I don’t encourage using credit cards unless you know you can and will pay the balance off in full when the statement arrives or even before it arrives.

Biggest Lesson:

Be patient because the time will pass, you’ll meet your goal and you’ll proudly make your purchase knowing that you are cash flowing it without creating additional debt or having a balance looming over your head.

Let me know of any comments or questions.

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