Make EveryDollar Count

Has this ever happened to you? You’ve managed to make it to the week of your next payday. You think you have just enough money left in your account to get by until Friday… and then you remember that a coworker’s birthday is Thursday, and you’ve committed to bringing cupcakes. You opt to buy grocery store cupcakes because they’re cheaper than the local bakery but while you’re in the store, you pick up a couple of frozen meals because they’re on sale. Your small bank account just got smaller, but it’s Wednesday and you’ll be fine. And then, when you arrive home, the air conditioning isn’t work. You check your saving account, only to remember that you used $250 last month for a last-minute vacation and you barely have $120 remaining. You can’t be without air conditioning – it’s 94-degrees outside! – so when you call for a service appointment, you ask if they take credit. It’s your only option.

So maybe that scenario is a bit extreme. It may not happen often, but it certainly happens. We fail to plan appropriately, or we think that using our savings will be okay because we can rebuild it in the upcoming months. Not following a budget can really put us in a bind.

Did you know that more than half of people in the United States live paycheck-to-paycheck? That means over 50% of us are at risk of experiencing the above scenario at any given time. Scary, isn’t it?

I want to introduce you to a great tool that helps me stay on budget. It was created by Dave Ramsey, a financial guru whose methods have proven affective for nearly everyone who has followed them. It is very user friendly, and best of all… FREE!

Meet EveryDollar®

EveryDollar

EveryDollar.com is a website that tracks your monthly income, projected expenses, and actual money spent in order to give every dollar a name. In other words, you make every dollar count. This method is what Dave calls based on zero-based budgeting. If every dollar has a purpose, then we can start to gain control of every dollar that we spend. It may seem like a silly idea at first, but once you use this method for a couple of months, you will see just how much control you have over how much you spend, and what you spend it on!

When you first register with EveryDollar.com, you will be asked to create a username and password. You’ll also be asked to answer a few simple questions to establish your account. You will be given the option to upgrade your membership from FREE to EveryDollar Plus. This is a $99 service that includes the option to link to your bank accounts and credit cards. That way, your data is automatically entered instead of you having to enter each cost yourself. There is a free 15-day trial but I haven’t upgraded yet. The free membership works for me. Here is a comparison of what you receive with each membership.

Membership

Once you have registered, you can begin using EveryDollar.com immediately. Select the month that you’re budgeting, then follow the prompts to enter your monthly salary (what your actual take-home pay is) and the expenses that you know are monthly, i.e.; mortgage, insurance, car payment, etc.

Sept Income

Food

Once you have entered all of your expected expenses, don’t forget to consider overlooked expenses. Birthdays, doctor appointments, pest control, and gym memberships are just a few of the things we frequently do not consider when planning a monthly budget.

As you enter expenses, you will notice that the website will keep count of your balance for you. It will be just below your income tab, listed as $ Left To Budget.

Left to Budget

Your goal is to get this to $0… which means you are making every dollar count. When you’ve succeeded, you’ll get a green checkmark like this:

EveryDollar Budget

You will also have a breakdown of expenses by category, so that you can make sure you’re not spending too  much money in one place. I love this feature so that I can stay on track with the budgeting percentage plan that Dave’s daughter, Rachel Cruze, shared on her website about two years ago.

rachel

percentage

Once all of your planned monthly expenses have been entered, you can use EveryDollar.com or the available smartphone app to track your actual expenses. The budget tool will maintain transactions throughout each month.

app

In addition to the tool giving you control over every dollar each month, Ramsey has created another feature within EveryDollar.com that is great for planning ahead… Debt-Free Baby Steps. The baby steps are listed in overview, with additional information and helpful tips to focus on and achieving each goal. The first step is a $1000 Emergency Fund.

Step One

You’ll notice that the Emergency Fund tab is part of your planned monthly expenses. Be sure to put back money each month, in whatever amount that you can, to work toward this first baby step. Once you have saved $1000, you can reallocate the money that you were using toward that goal to your second baby step.

Baby Step Two is taking control of your Debt Snowball. Check out Dave’s website to learn his recommendations for knocking out debt. This isn’t something that will happen overnight, so go into this stage with patience and perserverance. It will be so rewarding when you finally complete this step and move onto Baby Step Three.

BabySteps

I sit down at the end of every month and use this website to make sure things are in order for the next month. I love the feeling of control when it comes to my money. I use the smartphone app to enter transactions in real time (something I haven’t been doing since banking went online and I stopped using a check registry years ago) so that I can truly account for every dollar that I spend. Most of all, I love knowing that I have an emergency fund, have control of my debt, and am working toward completing Baby Step Three.

Although I have cut back on buying things that I don’t necessarily need, I haven’t stopped buying things. I have been able to take vacations that were already paid for, pay cash for Christmas gifts for my family, and occasionally treat myself to massages and pedicures. If you’d like to stop living paycheck-to-paycheck, and gain control over every dollar that you make, I highly recommend EveryDollar.com.

“A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.”
― Dave Ramsey

 

I was not compensated for this post, and it contains no affiliate links. All opinions are my own and not influenced in any way.

Debt Management: Step Three

Dave Ramsey is a talented financial adviser, who learned his lesson the hard way. Once a real estate mogul, Dave lost everything and had to file bankruptcy. You may know his name from Financial Peace University classes. FPU is a program that he created to help teach effective budgeting and saving methods. He has helped millions of people become debt-free in a short matter of time. These classes are usually offered in various settings throughout the United States, for around $100. The course fee includes a workbook, a DVD webisode series, and access to Dave himself via email. He was able to bounce back… and now he offers simple, money-saving advice to help those of us who are currently in debt too.

If you’re leery to spend money for FPU classes right now, I have found a great area of Dave’s website that offers a snippit of his plan for free! The Budget Lite form allows you to plug in your income, and it automatically calculates how much money should be going to certain bills. This tool is a great guide to follow when you sit down to pay your upcoming bills.

Our example below shows an average monthly income of $2000. You will see that each section displays (in green) the percentage of your income allotted for specific areas, as well as a monetary value based off of the percentage. You can customize the percentages to best fit your budget, although the default percentages are recommended by Dave. You can share the form in an email or on your blog for others to play around with, thanks to a SHARE IT button on the bottom of the tool. You can also opt to sign up for a free trial of the full software. Check out Budget Lite by clicking here.

For in-depth assistance on becoming debt-free, consider visiting Mr. Ramsey’s website My Total Money Makeover. Here, you can track your goals, learn about the debt snowball, receive 24-hour support, and even listen to The Dave Ramsey Show. The investment that you make will pay for itself in a matter of months, as most families who participate in Dave’s Financial Peace University pays off $5,300 in debt and saves $2,700 in the first 90 days.

However, if you’re like me… using the free tools available on Dave’s website will be pretty helpful too. Don’t be afraid to click around on his site to read valuable tips and helpful hints, such as focusing on paying off loans/credit cards that have the highest interest rates first. This reduces the amount of interest that you will have to pay! There are several free tools available in the Take A Tour section.

Although I have never participated in any of his classes myself, I have received an array of useful information just by searching the web for Dave Ramsey advice. Aside from Dave’s website, many participants have blogged about their own personal success stories. If you’re ready to be debt-free, Dave may be the guy for you!

Debt Management: Step Two

Kiss Those Credit Cards Goodbye!

I know it will be hard. Trust me… I have been there. I was literally drowning in credit card debt. And the “cushion” of a credit limit that I had grown accustomed to having was not an easy thing to let go.

As drastic as it sounds, it is necessary to give them up. Credit cards are a big source of debt in the United States. Did you know that our country’s debt from credit cards alone totals $793.1 Billion? That is a household average of $54,000. The worst part of credit card debt is that we, as consumers, have very little to show from our spending. Can you account for every dollar that you have charged onto your card? I can’t.

I thought that having a credit card, and paying the minimum payment monthly, would somehow help my credit score. The more purchases I made, the more I was rewarded with increased credit limits and flashier platinum cards. I even started getting more card offers, until I had a wallet full of plastic. I considered myself lucky to have that many cards, and proudly wrote a check each month for the minimum payment to multiple banks. It seemed as though I had it all together; I was managing my debt.

Then, one month when I opened my credit card statement, I found a notice inside. The bank had been purchased by another, and to secure all outstanding unsecured loans (including credit cards), the APR of the card would be increased. The monthly interest rate grew to a percentage that made my minimum payment considerably more than I could afford. I panicked. What was I going to do?

I learned the hard way that I didn’t have credit cards, they had me. I was stuck, with little wiggle room to get out of this disaster I had created. Luckily, I was referred to a company that offered credit counseling. There are many agencies out there to help manage your credit card debt. Research them fully before you decide which agency is best for you. This particular agency worked on my behalf, so it did not negatively affect my credit score by using them. They took my debt information, negotiated new interest rates for me, and set up a plan that worked with my budget. I made one monthly payment to the consolidation company and they distributed my payment to the three cards. Within three years, I had paid off all of my credit card debt.

I was not allowed to have or open new credit cards during those three years. They worked with me to develop different spending habits, as well as ways to establish a saving account. In my next article on debt, I will cover these plans with you. Otherwise, you can easily fall back into the credit card traps again.

I do not regret giving up my credit cards. I have more financial freedom now than I ever had with them, and my credit score is actually higher too. If you are ready to get out of debt, consider giving up your credit cards and contacting a credit management agency today!

Debt Management: Step One

Admitting You Have a Problem

Did your happy holidays leave you drowning in debt? You’re not alone. Many Americans spent well over their budgets this year to ensure their families had a plentiful feast at Thanksgiving, the merriest of Christmases, and a grand celebration to bid farewell to 2012. Now that the dust has settled from all of the fun, you’re faced with a pile of bills. Maybe your New Year’s resolution is to get a handle on your finances. It is one of my biggest goals for 2013.

Proverbs 22:7 reads, …and the borrower is slave to the lender. It seems a little harsh, but think about it. I know my paycheck is often spent before it is even earned, thanks to debt. I have felt obligated to work overtime, just to ensure that I have “spending money” after all of my bills are paid. No wonder so many of us dread going to work. We are literally working off our debts.

The problem, however, isn’t just in our past debt. It is that many of us do not know how to manage it. So, as we work hard to get that paycheck… we are continuing to spend money carelessly. How many times have you paid your last $100 towards a minimum credit card payment, leaving your checking account bare, only to turn around in the same week and charge $150 back on your card until the next payday. It’s a vicious cycle. One we have to gain control of, or it will always control us.

Our first step in debt management is admitting that we have fallen into this cycle; that we are actually slaves to our debt. I am guilty. I used to think as long as I was paying my monthly payments on time, there wasn’t a problem with having a little debt. Obviously I see now that I was wrong! Admitting the problem certainly feels like a blow to our pride. Fight past that! We are here to focus on the future and gaining control of our finances. Do not be ashamed to manage your debt.

In the upcoming weeks of this journey together, I hope to provide you with some helpful hints, useful information, and a lot of motivation. Some suggestions will be easy to make, while others will leave you struggling. Regardless of the size of your debt, making changes to your spending habits probably won’t come easy. But I can guarantee that it will all be worth it. Are you up for the challenge? Let’s admit it, move forward, and become debt-free this year!

Trash to Treasure and Shopping Strategies

I love to shop. No I’m not a fashonista but I love finding good deals. I realize the amount of money I used to spend on gifts, clothes, and just necessities like appliances is not the same amount of money that I have now. So I’ve obviously had to make some changes.

Cutting back: There are many areas that I have just had to scale back in such as presents for the kids in my life. I try to only buy things that are on really good sales and then will stock pile things in present box till the up coming holiday or birthday. I shop outlet malls, thrift stores, and even an occasional yard sale as well. I also keep a list in an ongoing notebook as to what I have for each person for Christmas, so I know what I have for who. (I’ve got a big family so there is a lot to cover).

Craigslist or even sites like Facebook can help you find items for much less. Before I moved I needed a refrigerator, and I happened to mention it on Facebook. Well it turns out someone from my church had one for sale, I saved a ton of money rather than buying it new and it was a purchase from someone that I knew which made me feel more comfortable than dealing with strangers.

Also take advantage of sites like Groupon and Living Social. My family does all sorts of activities at very discounted rates. We have done everything from make our own Christmas wreathes, ghost tours walks, bowling, painting, and all sorts of other classes.

Couponing is an amazing tool. I and many of my friends get all sorts of deals with online coupons and from the papers. If you check your local ads and flyers and see when they are being tripled or doubled you can stretch those coupon dollars even further. This is another time you can use blogs and social media sites, where people have done all the research for you. There are sites that cover all the weekly sales papers, so you can see what’s on sale where, there are sites that offer freebees so that you can receive free samples in the mail, there are sites that you can print coupons from etc. etc. you need to look and see what’s out there that fits your lifestyle the best and what can be the most economical use of your time.

Sometimes you don’t get what you want, you get what you need. I set out for the décor in my new house to be shabby chic meets the Hampton’s meets Martha Stewart. Blah blah blah.. Moral of the story is that Martha Stewart Doesn’t Live Here! A lot of the furniture in my home has been repurposed multiple times. I just bought slip covers for couches that probably could have been thrown out, but they were put in a less used sitting area and completely serve there purpose.

I also make use of great stores like the Habitat Restore. I had in mind that I wanted an old farmhouse table for my dining area. Retail stores sell tables that look old for over $1000.00 bucks. I bought an old shop table at the Habitat Store for $45.00 cleaned and restained it and I think it looks great. The chairs for that table I got for a buck a piece at a business that was getting rid of some old stuff. Those I painted, and they look great.  also got a bed frame at the habitat store it was cheaper and nicer than the one I saw which was almost just like it at the retail furniture store.

I hit some really cool yard sales when we were on vacation this summer and bought some interesting pieces like an old gym locker and some industrial cabinets. I made the industrial cabinets into a night stand beside my bed , and another stack of the cabinets are an end table in my living room, they ended up being perfect for storing DVD‘s. So basically what I am saying is sometimes you have to think past what you see in a magazine, sometimes someone else’s trash really can be your treasure, and imagination and the willingness to put a little elbow grease into things go a long way towards cutting that budget.

Be willing to shop around, we get so accustomed to doing all of our shopping in the big box stores that we don’t remember to check out discount stores. It really doesn’t matter what brand of things you buy, generics taste the same and serve the same function. I buy a lot of things from discount stores, like snacks to pack in lunches, produce, bath mats, sheets, etc. You just have to be willing to shop around. Dented can stores can surprise you, they often sell toiletries or pet food at much cheaper prices.

There are also other ways besides traditional shopping to save money. Bartering can be done with friends or family for items that you have and they may need, this can be done with food from your garden, eggs if you have chickens, skills such as sewing, mechanical, or carpentry. There are even opportunities for bartering online.

Unfortunately we think everything is disposable. Stop and think before you throw things out and run to the store for something new. Is that something you can repair, or can it be repurposed into something different, if not can it be recycled.

Good luck with your budget and finding those deals. They are out there…you just have to be willing to look!

Written by Kara Cody