Posts Tagged ‘budgeting’

3 Tips for Maintaining Your Resolution

January 3, 2012

Happy 2012!

Research shows that 40 to 50 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. If you’re among them (I am!) then I bet yours had something to do with either money, career or health. In that spirit, I thought I would share a few tidbits on maintaining those resolutions.

Money/Shopping Believe me, I completely understand the adage, “The clothes make the (wo)man.” With The Magnificent Mile out my office window, it’s easy to be drawn in by the beautiful clothes and sales promotions. But most people (myself included) simply can’t afford to go clothes shopping on a regular basis. And when it comes to the latest trends, you don’t need to go all-out with a new wardrobe in order to look in style.

If you’re trying to trim your clothing budget this year, follow this favorite tip among wardrobe stylists: stock your closet with high-quality basics then use your clothing budget to update with one or two trendy items each season. For example, a scarf in the season’s color or a flattering dress that you can wear for a client meeting, networking event and an evening out will make you feel brand new without feeling broke.

Career Perhaps one of your goals for 2012 is to figure out your career path and make changes where needed. No matter where you are on the career spectrum, it’s always good to have choices. And by choices I mean that you don’t feel stuck in your job because you can’t afford to make a change. If that’s you, it’s time to get started on that rainy day fund.

Research shows that the reason people don’t save is because they don’t think they can afford to – “saving” means putting away big chunks of money, and they figure they’ll start that when everything else settles down. Guess what, it doesn’t. The key is to start small.

I save 5% of my income to cushion me in times of slow business. If you have a regular paycheck, start with $25 per pay, then tack on $5 to that amount each month. Before you know it, you’ll be saving $100 per paycheck and you’ll have a nice cushion built up for that day you decide to leave your job to start a business, go back to school or try a new industry.

Health To me, good health is an investment in itself. Barring an unforeseen illness, many of the diseases that bog down Americans like high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes are preventable by maintaining healthy habits. Investing time and maybe a little money while you’re still healthy will pay dividends for years to come.

If your resolution has to do with losing weight, don’t forget the other aspects of maintaining your health. Make time for your annual check-ups and even if you fall off the wagon with your diet or exercise plan, keep trying to get that exercise in. Even a 30 minute walk will reduce your risk of many heart-related ailments. Also, try skipping the chips at the deli – you’ll save a little bit of money AND you’ll contribute to your health, saving you money in the long-term on health-related expenses.

Above all, join me in celebrating a chance to start another year anew. I wish each of you a ridiculous abundance of happiness, health and prosperity in 2012! Please share your resolutions in the comments below.

 

Kelley C. Long, CPA is the owner of KCL Financial Coaching, a member of the National CPA Financial Literacy Commission and a tax accountant. She moonlights as a BodyPump instructor and believes that the true meaning of financial security is having choices in life. Learn more about her at www.kclmoneycoach.com.

 

Advertisements

Tax Time = Tuneup Time

March 28, 2011

This recent article by NY Times writer Ron Lieber is a great reminder that tax time is a great time to check in with your complete financial picture and make some tweaks to keep you on track. It’s also a great time to organize your filing and get rid of financial clutter!

In short, the article suggests the following steps as long as you’re digging into your financial records. I’ve added my own tips to the steps as well as the author’s advice.

1. 401k checkup: First, rebalance your funds. As mutual fund values change, so does the allocation of your 401k account. It’s important to go in at LEAST annually (I recommend twice a year and help clients do the same) to reset to your target allocation.

While you’re in there, liquidate any company stock that you have accumulated. Many employers give their match in company stock, but it is risky to hang onto this. If things go south with your company, you could be out of a job AND see your 401k value go in the tanker. Diversify away from having all your eggs in that basket.

What about those old 401k accounts from former employers? If they’re still sitting in the company’s plan, this is a good time to consolidate those accounts into a rollover IRA, where your options will be greater and you’ll save on administrative fees. Not sure how to do this? Guess what else I help my clients do…

2. Saving for the Medium Term: We’ve all heard the rhetoric about saving for retirement and the benefit of saving early, and who hasn’t heard of the absolutely-necessary emergency fund? But what about the other things in the medium term, like vacations, large purchases, home maintenance or other big-money items that probably don’t fit into your day-to-day budget but that you’d like to eventually buy? Get started today by setting up a separate savings account for each goal, then make your savings automatic. Fifty bucks out of each paycheck probably won’t be missed, but it can add up quickly toward that week in Nantucket or new tires on your car. ING Direct lets you set up subaccounts and they offer great rates, compared to what you might get down the street at your bank branch.

3. Automatic Donations: If you’re charitably minded but often put off writing those checks till the end of the year, consider dividing your donation by 12 and setting up automatic monthly donations to ease the burden on your end-of-year budget. And no matter when you are giving money to charity, make sure you’re either writing a check or using a debit or credit card to provide an accurate record of the donation for your tax return. The IRS no longer allows the “I put ten bucks in the offering plate at church,” deduction. You gotta prove it.

If you’re an American Express cardholder, Lieber recommends their Members Give program, which lets you set up automatic donations or you can even use Member Rewards to make your gifts. I’m all about credit card rewards as long as they’re not incurred by debt you’re going to carry from month-to-month!

Taking these little steps should only take about an extra hour as long as you have all your financial information out, and it can make a tremendous difference in your financial health going forward, so just do it! You’ll be glad you did when you begin to reap the rewards of sound financial management.

Kelley C. Long, CPA is a Chicago-based financial coach who believes you shouldn’t have to have a million bucks to receive personalized financial advice. Check her out at www.kelleyclong.com.

Grocery Shopping Tips

January 18, 2011

One of the changes I am working to make permanent in 2011 is to plan ahead with meals and increase my cooking at home, both to prevent mindless nibbling as well as save us a little bit of money on the food budget. I’m also hoping this helps me shed a few of the fifteen pounds I managed to pack on through 2010!

Tuna casserole for grown-ups!


Inspired by my new Jessica Seinfeld cookbook (thanks, Mom!), I’ve done pretty well so far. And Sweet Pea has even expanded his pallet a little to try some new things! But when I look at how the grocery bill has ballooned, I have to think twice about how I’m going about my weekly food shopping.

To that end, I’d like to share some food savings tips from the August, 2010 issue of O Magazine . I hope they help you too with your financial resolutions today and throughout the year!

Fish and seafood: Frozen fish is a great way to save, as much of the “fresh” fish at the grocery has already been frozen (the label will tell you this). If you want to splurge, wild Alaskan salmon is worth the money and is certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.

Baking ingredients: Skip the name-brand sugar — you can’t tell the difference between the much less expensive store-brand. But when it comes to vanilla extract, experts say it is worth the extra money to buy the real deal.

Cookware: Cookie sheets and stock pots don’t require any fancy materials or coatings, so go ahead and buy the cheapest on the shelf. But don’t scrimp on a good skillet that you’ll use for things like searing or sautéing. You’ll appreciate the even distribution of heat offered by a high quality pan.

Liquor: I know this one from personal experience: if you’re going to mix vodka with anything (even olive juice, like my favorite cocktail), no need to buy the good stuff. Vodka is like tofu — it adopts whatever flavor you add to it. Save your money for a delicious bottle of single malt scotch!

Spices and herbs: Most name brand spices don’t offer anything different than generic brands, so go ahead and cheap out there. And when it comes to buying fresh versus dried, Alejandra Ramos advices that the only time you REALLY need to use fresh is when the recipe calls for basil and parsley.

Organics: The rule of thumb for buying organic produce is that if it’s sweet, go organic. But if it is a fruit or veggie with a thicker skin like onions, bananas or avocados, you’re safe from pesticides anyway.

Olive oil: If you’re going to cook with it, regular olive oil will do just fine. And if you’re making a dressing, you can mix two-thirds cheapie with one-third fancy and still enjoy great flavor. If you’re drizzling over food though, go for the good stuff.

Fruits and veggies: If a vegetable is out of season, buy frozen without losing a lot of the nutrients. Not sure what’s in season? Check out Eat the Seasons, a website updated weekly with what IS in season. Brussels sprouts, anyone?

Cheese: I saved the best for last, one of my diet staples. The only time you ever really need to go high-end on cheese is when you’re doing a cheese plate or fondue. Otherwise, go economy when serving with crackers, in meals, salads or even when grating over food.

I hope you’ve found some information to help with your next trip to the local market. Anything I missed? What grocery store tidbits can you offer? Anyone care to disagree with any of the above?

Kelley C. Long is a Chicago-based financial coach who believes you shouldn’t have to have a million bucks to receive personalized financial advice. Check her out at www.kelleyclong.com.

Kids & Money: It’s Never Too Early to Get Started

January 4, 2011

 

By the time many of us learn how to deal with money, we are into our thirties and facing a mountain of credit card debt. And while we can’t totally blame our parents for our own poor financial management, it wouldn’t hurt to stop and think what kind of message you might be sending your kids about money.

Do you cave easily when your babies want you to buy something while shopping at Target? Is receiving a special treat something that your child appreciates or expects? When your teenager runs out of money, do you replenish her supply without consequence? What do you think will happen when she “grows up” and is on her own?

The thing is, it is never too early to start raising financially aware and responsible kids. And I don’t mean you need to teach them to be tight wads or that you shouldn’t indulge them – that’s part of the reason you work so hard. But do your whole family a favor and make sure they at least learn the basics of money in a practical way.

My heart warmed last week when I saw a young child helping his mom at the grocery ask, “Can we get this yogurt?” His mom asked how much it was, and when he answered, she offered him a choice, “Well, that’s a little more expensive than the yogurt we usually get. If you want to get that, then we can’t get the granola you want.”

Not only was mom teaching about trade-offs and budgeting, she was protecting her family’s financial position by not blowing the grocery bill to buy premium treats. Yay, mom!

So how can you save your kids from suffering financial duress in their later years while still feeling like you’re giving them the life you want to give them? First, if you are giving an allowance, tie it to some household responsibilities.

Depending on age, that can be as simple as helping put clean clothes away and light cleaning to mowing the lawn and taking the trash out. When I was young, my jobs included emptying the dryer and emptying the dishwasher. My brother was in charge of the garbage and the lawn. As we aged, so increased our responsibilities.

Beyond giving an allowance, help your kids with the management of their money. I once heard of a parent who kept track of his son’s allowance on a notecard, and each payment was divided into three categories: spending, saving and charity. When the son wanted to spend money, he asked dad what the number was, and if there wasn’t enough, he had to wait. Dad added interest to the savings category, helping show how savings can grow.

And when they came across a charitable opportunity like a Salvation Army bell-ringer or a nun collecting money for a school, the son learned how great it feels to give to a good cause.

The bottom line is, if your kids grow up without any exposure to what it is like to delay spending or consider a pricetag, you could be setting them up for a lot of financial pain down the road. Start today and give your kids the gift of financial peace and savvy.

Kelley C. Long is a Chicago-based financial coach who believes you shouldn’t have to have a million bucks to receive personalized financial advice. Check her out at www.kelleyclong.com.

It’s Not Rocket Science – Achieving Goals

December 7, 2010

As we prepare to wrap up another year, many people will once again be setting goals for the year ahead – count me among those people. If financial goals are among your resolutions, then the next logical question is, “How do you get there?” Read on for the answer.

First of all, don’t forget to be realistic when actually setting financial goals. You don’t have to shoot for the moon to make a difference in your finances. And remember that your goal doesn’t have to be about amassing large amounts of money. It can be as simple as putting a little cushion in place for splurge purchases.

Once you’ve set your goal, the first thing you want to do is write it down and post it where you’ll see it frequently. Is your goal to pay off your credit cards? How about a sticky note that says, “Debt-free = stress-free,” stuck to your credit card. The next time you are tempted to stray, you’ll have a solid reminder to make you think twice. If your goal is saving for something great like a tropical vacation, get out that beautiful photo of the beach and tape it to your computer monitor for motivation.

But beyond setting the goal, how do you get there? Once you’ve established a dollar-amount, break it down into time increments. Let’s continue with the credit card debt example.

Say your balance is $2,000 (which is closer to what the everyday American carries than the scary $8,000+ average often cited) and you’d like it gone in a year. Divided by 12, that’s about $167 per month needed to reach your goal. (I know this calculation doesn’t take interest into account, but I’m trying to keep it simple)

So how do you find an extra $170 or so in your monthly budget? There are some great tips in this blog post by my friend Andy, or you could try the standard ideas like packing your lunch, scaling back from a latte to a drip coffee with lots of milk, or cutting back on entertainment spending by ordering the drink special when out with friends instead of your expensive favorite cocktail.

Most important to achieving any financial goal is to make it automatic. Your credit card minimum payment may only be $75, but in your head, it must become $170 until the balance is $0.

If your goal is to save some money, set up an automatic transfer to your savings account each time you get paid. Just like you don’t miss a mortgage payment because it’s automatically withdrawn each month, you’ll find it much easier to save when it happens without your having to click a button each month.

Setting and achieving financial goals is not rocket science, and even the most strapped of us can make them happen. Keep it simple, be gentle with yourself if you get off track and celebrate the little victories.

Now it’s your turn: What are your goals for 2011? Mine include saving some splurge money for our tropical vacation in March and investing in continuing education to keep me sharp on personal finance topics. Please share your goals and any additional tips you have for getting there below in the comments.

Kelley C. Long is a Chicago-based financial coach who believes you shouldn’t have to have a million bucks to receive personalized financial advice. Check her out at www.kelleyclong.com.

Three Tips for Smart Shopping This Holiday Season

November 23, 2010

I don’t know about you, but those years that I’ve been crazy enough to get up before dawn on Black Friday and wait in line for the doorbuster deals have also been the years that I’ve returned home with the greatest haul … for myself!

Throughout most of the year, I’m able to stave off the temptation to overspend on myself by avoiding casual strolls through Target or Ann Taylor. But this time of year, the siren song of big box stores and malls is at its peak. At some point, I’m going to have to hit the stores and face my temptress. On her territory.

So how to avoid being your own Santa during the time of year that the deals are the best and stores are pulling out all the stops to get you to buy, buy, buy? Try these tips and see if they don’t help you resist the pull of “To: Me, Love: Me” gifts.

Take a list: Much like going to the grocery store, it is much easier to stay within your budget if you make a list before hitting the mall and then stick to it. Map out your shopping trip ahead of time so that you don’t find yourself accidentally wandering into the handbag department at Macy’s when you should be shopping for your father. Shopping with a purpose saves time and money.

Take a friend: Join forces with another budget-minded friend and make a pact to keep each other from indulging. When you see your gal pal heading for the register with the centerpiece bowl you saw her admiring, kindly divert her path and remind her that she should simply add it to her wish list, then move to the next gift on your list.

Take your pick I’ve never been a fan of going cold turkey on anything, except for when my parents quit smoking five summers ago. But going cold turkey on shopping for fun is just like trying to give up chocolate for extended periods of time. It might work in the short term, but one day you’ll probably just snap and do more damage than if you’d allowed yourself a Fun Size Snickers bar each afternoon.

Same goes for shopping. Before you head out to the stores, pick one thing you really want and need, then make that part of your shopping mission. Is your scarf collection lacking the latest chunky cowl-neck beauty? Time to find one! Knowing you are allowed one treat will make it easier to resist those little, “Oh, that’s so cute! And the price!” voices that threaten to ruin your budget resolve.

Above all, remember the point behind all of this shopping madness – to show our love for family and friends by selecting that perfect something to remind them of our fondness when we can’t be there in person to show them. Embrace the joy of granting someone else’s wish and you’ll find the desire to find the next cool thing for you is a dimmed by how fulfilling it is to simply give.

 

Kelley C. Long is a Chicago-based financial coach who believes you shouldn’t have to have a million bucks to receive personalized financial advice. Check her out at www.kelleyclong.com.

November is the Best Time to Buy

November 9, 2010

When it comes to saving money and shopping for bargains, it’s a no-brainer that there are certain times of year that are better than others to shop for seasonal items. For example, you’re probably not going to score a smokin’ deal on a pair of winter boots in November. Best wait until after Christmas, when prices are slashed to make room for spring fashions.

Winter boots
Looking for a deluxe gas grill for your summer barbecues? You’ll pay top dollar in May. Waiting til August may limit the selection, but you could save up to half off the retail price and still celebrate Labor Day with deliciously grilled delights!

But did you know that there are better times of year to shop for non-seasonal items as well? I was delighted to learn this, and with a little advance planning or postponement of projects, it’s possible to save a bundle by being aware of the calendar.

November, it turns out, is the best time of year to buy kitchen appliances and power tools. So if you’re planning to while away the cold winter months with a home improvement project, prepare ahead of time and take advantage of the deals on sanders, power saws and even those stainless steel appliances you’ve been coveting.

See you at Home Depot!


Kelley C. Long is a Chicago-based financial coach who believes you shouldn’t have to have a million bucks to receive personal financial advice. Check her out at www.kelleyclong.com.

Budget: NOT a 4-letter word

April 26, 2010

What does the word “budget” mean to you? Do you cringe when you hear it, thinking of an end to spontaneous dinners at your favorite restaurants and a new habit of packing your lunch? No more cute shoes and Starbucks runs? If so, then you are like most people! But to me and in my financial coaching practice, budget means nothing more than an on-paper look at where your money is going.

Most of my clients come to me with needs including debt-reduction advice and help with saving more money. They’ve done the basic budgeting in their head and know there is extra money somewhere to put away, but they struggle to find it. The thing is, when they add up all the “fixed” stuff like rent/mortgage, utilities, car payment, other loans, childcare, etc, and compare that number with the amount of money coming in, a lot of people are sad and discouraged to see what “should” be leftover.

More often than not, the process usually stalls out there with feelings of poor willpower and negative self-talk. It is at this point that I remind clients they aren’t counting the other little things that are also needs in our everyday lifestyle. Haircuts, oil changes, personal care items, house cleaning, gas money, and yes, food. Most people do have an amount of money each month that they could put toward debt reduction or savings without really feeling a pinch to their accustomed lifestyle, but it isn’t as much as it initially appears.

So once you have all the predictable bills down that won’t go away without major changes, take a look at the other things you’re spending on. You will probably be pleasantly surprised to learn that even when you factor in such indulgences as date night at Nada or your daily stop at Coffee Emporium, you will still be able to find that little bit of extra money.

And even if it is only $50 per month, if you make saving it automatic through payroll deduction or auto-transfer from your bank, you will be surprised at how quickly you will see a difference. Then as you acquire little windfalls like tax refunds, a raise at work or some other bonus, you will be more inclined to put some of that money toward your goal, getting you there even quicker. So enjoy your gastronomic pleasures, knowing that you can still stick to a budget and achieve your financial goals.

A version of this article was published in Cincy Chic on April 26, 2010