10 Ways to Save on Groceries

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Food and household supplies are a large expenditure for most of us, yet the costs are somewhat variable.  This means it is a great place to save money in your budget.  How are you doing compared with the national averages?  The USDA publishes data on average food plans based on family size, ages of children, and four tiers of spending levels (thrifty, low-cost, moderate, and liberal).

Click here for the most recent data:

http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/FoodPlans/2014/CostofFoodMar2014.pdf

So where do you fall within the spending levels?  What could you do to improve?  Keep in mind the cheapest food prices may not be the best value if you have to spend your savings on healthcare.  Healthy choices should be considered an investment in your family’s health.  That said, the savings potential on this category is worth the extra attention it takes to save.

1.     Menu planning.  Plan dinners for the month to take the guesswork out of cooking.  Plan on “left-overs” for lunches either the original way you served the meal or “reworked” in sandwiches or salads.  Don’t forget to plan for quick week-day breakfasts and special big breakfasts on weekends.

2.    Grocery shopping.  You can’t cook what you don’t have in the house.  Check your supply of staples and make a large “stock-up” shopping trip once per month.  This is the one time I like to go to Aldi for lower prices on staples and produce in addition to my Kroger trip.  Stick with your list for fresh produce, fish, and dairy on your weekly “fill-in” trips. This type of plan will help eliminate those extra trips which tend to really add up.

3.    Coupons.  Match weekly specials to coupons for deep discounts.  To save time, check websites like www.couponmom.com to see the sale items at your store of choice matched with coupons in circulation for them.  They rank items by percentage savings.  Consider stocking up with a one to three month supply for deeply discounted items as most grocery items typically cycle sales with the best deals coming every three months.  Remember coupons are no bargain unless they bring the unit price below other brands.

4.    Pork.  Buy a pork loin when on sale for $1.99/lb. and have the butcher slice it into ¾” pork chops.  Repackage into the number of chops your family will eat at one meal and freeze.  Buy precooked half hams on sale and ask your butcher to slice thin for sandwiches.  The price is significantly less than deli meat and equally delicious.

5.  Snacks.  Purchase snacks such as crackers and pretzels in larger packages with the best unit price.  Then, package individual snacks into snack-sized zipper bags and keep in a basket in the pantry for lunches or afternoon snacks.  I use a popcorn popper to pop our own corn with coconut oil and a little salt for a high fiber, no preservative, snack about once per week.  Another of our family’s favorites for packaged-at-home snacks is Cheesy Ranch Chex Mix.

6.    Chicken Broth.  Make a Roasted Chicken once a month.  Serve roast chicken for one meal.  Use leftover meat for chicken salad, chicken tacos, homemade chicken soup or a casserole for another meal.  One chicken can yield two meals for a family of four and 8 cups of broth.  Feel free to double the recipe for a large family.

7.    Laundry Detergent. Save big by making your own.  There are many different recipes available that are easy and long-lasting.  About $10 in supplies lasts our family for about six months with some ingredients left over.  I use this one:   http://justalittlenutty.com/he-compatable-homemade-liquid-laundry-detergent/ and add Gain scent booster crystals for fragrance.

8.    Salad Dressings.  Make your own salad dressings to save money and get rid of undesirable ingredients in bottled ones.  Most are oil, vinegar, or mayonnaise based or some combination of the three.  Our family’s favorite is Honey Mustard for tossed salads and Red Wine Vinaigrette for salads with fruit and nuts with bacon and feta cheese optional.

9.     Manager’s Specials.  Kroger has a mark-down rack in the bakery where I buy the occasional loaf of French bread, croissants, or dinner rolls.  Pop them into your freezer and use within the month for freshness.  Also, look for markdowns in the meat case.  Beef roasts nearing expiration are great to stock your freezer or ask the butcher to grind them for ground beef.  I typically have roasts ground rather than using the “tubes” of ground meat even if the price is equal so that all my meat comes from the same cow.  It significantly reduces the odds of e. coli contamination and keeps the pink slime away.  Yuck!

10.Grow Your Own Produce.  Okay, I’m no big gardener.  BUT, it truly is easy to put a couple of tomato plants out in a pot on your porch or in a flower bed.  It’s not too late to pick up some vegetable plants and get them in the ground.  It can save you big not having to buy tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, herbs, or whatever you find yourself constantly making trips to the store for.

What are your family’s favorite ways to save on groceries?  I would love to hear your comments!

$aving $mart – Insurance

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When is the last time you reviewed your insurance bills?  If you answer was more than three years ago, it is time to haul out those policies and get a quote to compare rates.  Your existing agent may be able to meet competitor’s prices or it may be time to choose a new company.  After having been with the same company since our marriage, increasing rates and wind-damage claims being denied forced us to change last year.  Don’t forget to use those discounts for AAA, military service, good grades for students, multi-car discounts, and discounts for having homeowners and auto policies with the same company.

Homeowners Insurance – Review the coverage levels with current property values.  Could you rebuild your existing home for the amount of coverage you have currently?  Make sure you are comfortable with your liability coverage.  Could you save by increasing your deductibles?  Only use that option if you can comfortably put back the amount of your deductible in savings.

Auto Insurance – Review coverage levels.  Make sure your liability coverage is adequate.  Only consider dropping full coverage if a vehicle is paid off and low in resale value.  Does your provider offer discounts for paying annually or semi-annually?  If so, consider setting aside money in your own savings “escrow” account each month so that you can pay that way the next time it comes due.

Health Insurance – So much has changed with the Affordable Care Act in the last year. Many people have the option to obtain a modified premium whole life insurance quote.  Review your policies for any changes that have come along and compare prices if you purchase your own health insurance.

Disability Insurance – This is a policy that many people overlook.  Disability insurance can be invaluable in case a primary breadwinner becomes injured or ill.  It could make all the difference in whether or not your family can stay afloat. 

Life Insurance – Check out your coverage levels.  Does your next of kin know where these policies are kept? 

How have you and your family saved money on insurance?  I would love to hear your personal stories and experiences here.

10 Ways to Save on Utilities

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1.     Heating and Cooling.  “According to the EPA, a properly installed Energy Star air-conditioning unit can reduce your cooling costs by up to 20 percent.”[1]  Consider saving to replace units more than ten years old.  In climates where winter temperatures drop below freezing, consider choosing gas heat or wood-burning furnaces over electric heat pumps. 

2.   Use programmable thermostats to avoid heating and cooling your home when you are not there to enjoy it. 

3.     Consider adding insulation and/or replacement windows to realize savings on utilities and increase the comfort level in your home.

4.  Dress in layers in winter to keep your thermostat a couple of degrees lower.  Use ceiling fans in the main areas of the home to keep your thermostat a couple of degrees higher in summer. 

5.      Energy Audit.  Contact your local power company for a low-cost energy audit.  They will provide you with a detailed report of steps to make your home more energy-efficient.  Many times, the energy company will refund the cost of the study when you turn in receipts for implementing some of their suggestions.  Evaluate how long it will take to recoup the cost of each recommendation with the amount it will lower your utility bills to decide which to tackle first.

6.     Water.  Be aware of any warning signs for water leaks or running toilets and repair them promptly.  Limit your usage of hot water, particularly.  Heating the water seems to affect utility costs more than the water itself in our area.

7.     Appliances.  Replace appliances with Energy Star models when they begin to need frequent repairs.  Consider a high-efficiency water heater and washer and dryer as a higher priority since water heaters and clothes dryers are energy hogs. 

8.     Phone Service.  Carefully review your phone bills for both landlines and cell phones to see what services you are paying for and which ones you could live without.  Call the company to see if they have other service plans available that would save you money.  Check out the competition and see if your existing provider will match any specials to keep your business.

9.     Internet.  Check out internet service providers in your area to see if any new ones have come on the scene since you subscribed.  Review your bill and call the company to see if you are in the most economical plan for your family’s usage.

10.Cable TV.  Look at the amount you spend on cable or satellite in a year’s time.  Are you using it enough to warrant its cost?  Shop around and contact the company to see if you could get by with a lesser plan or if your current company would be willing to price-match promotional offers from other companies.  Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime are viable options for as little as $7.99/month.

      The US Department of Energy reports consumers spend as much as 6 to 12 percent of gross income on utilities.  For families making $50,000 per year, that is $3,000 to $6,000 annually.[i]  That amount of money justifies a look to see what you can save.  For more money-saving ideas, I highly recommend Steve and Annette Economides’ book, America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money.



[1] [1] Economides, Steve and Annette, America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money, 2007, p. 106.

Sources: US Department of Energy
                  America’s Cheapest Family


$pending $mart – Transportation

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When calculating your transportation budget for the month, be sure to include car payment if you have one, gasoline, vehicle insurance and maintenance costs along with any public transportation expenses.  These expenses should stay within 20% of your primary income, though you might be able to keep it down to 10% if you do not have a car payment.    

“New cars lose value the minute you drive them off the lot.”  Have you heard this saying before?  As true as this statement is, I believe used cars do the same.  As consumers have gotten savvy to the savings available from choosing used vs. new, the car dealerships have done the same.  Take a look at your local dealership lot and notice how many new cars are on their lot as compared to the number of used cars they are stocking.  You can bet they aren’t giving valuable lot space and overhead expenses to a category that is not making them big money. 

The “Cash for Clunkers” program of 2009 greatly reduced the supply of used cars, thereby driving up prices by increasing demand.  The best way to save on the purchase of a vehicle is to plan ahead by paying yourself a car payment before you need a replacement and by waiting as long as it is economically feasible to get something new or “new to you.”  Figure up the cost of ownership for any potential purchase by looking at purchase price plus any interest you will pay and divide it by the number of months you can expect this vehicle to last you.  (Note:  If you are buying used, the price will go down but the number of months it may last goes down also.)  This will help to look at these purchases through a long-term lens.

Steve and Annette Economides offer some great tips on buying used cars as well as budgeting for maintenance and car replacements in their book, Americas’ Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money.    

So you know your percentage, now what?

Under budget – Way to go!  Save the difference in what you are currently spending and the percentage you would be comfortable with if buying a new car is in your future.  This will speed along the process of getting to that down payment goal.

On budget – Congratulations!  Be sure to fund that maintenance account to prepare for costly repairs.

Over budget – Get down to business.  Consider all of your options to pay off your car loans and reduce insurance expenses and/or driving to lower fuel costs.

Your turn

What are some ways your family has used to save money on transportation?  Feel free to share below in this forum.

$pending $mart – Housing

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There are many different opinions on the percentage of income housing costs should account for in the family budget.  One thing experts agree on, however, is that housing costs encompass more than just mortgage costs for homeowners.  Families should include homeowners’ insurance, property taxes, and maintenance costs in the housing budget. 

Prior to 1981 when the mortgage industry was deregulated, would-be homeowners were required to put 20% down on a home purchase and qualify for a loan based on only one income.  This protected banks from loss in the event one spouse lost their job or left the workforce to raise children.  Consumers were also protected by usury laws that capped interest rates the banks could charge them. 

Now that banks can consider both incomes and charge rates commensurate with risk, they are much more willing to lend whatever amount consumers wish to borrow.  This has allowed families to dig a hole making them more and more likely to face foreclosure and bankruptcy.  HUD reports 12 million families spending more than 50% of household income on housing, renters and homeowners combined.  So what is left for food, clothing, transportation, and medical care?  Even a temporary job loss or illness forces them off the financial cliff all too often.

Banks may approve a mortgage for up to 30 – 35% of your pretax income (without regard for taxes, insurance, and maintenance).  The actual percentage must be considered along with all household debt.  However, financial guru Dave Ramsey recommends not borrowing more than 25% of after-tax earnings, putting at least 10% down, and only taking on a 15-year loan.   Regardless of the philosophy you embrace, borrowing what you are comfortable with rather than what you qualify for is clearly the wise choice.

Steve and Annette Economides recommend housing costs not exceeding 40% of the primary wage-earners take-home pay in their book, Americas’ Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money, including homeowners’ insurance, property taxes, and a detailed maintenance plan.  They recommend allocating 10% of the mortgage payment for monthly maintenance and maintaining an emergency fund equal to 1% of the value of your home for large repairs such as furnace, air conditioning, water heater, and roof replacements. 

America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money

CNN.com cites the median household income for 2012 at $51,017 (down nearly $5,000 inflation-adjusted from 1999).  Let’s assume the Smith family lives on this median income.  If the bank allows them to borrow with a payment equal to 30% of their income or $1,275 per month, they would qualify for a $254,397 loan.  Assuming monthly take-home pay of $2,884.95, the Economides approach would suggest taking out a mortgage for no more than $80,000 if they put down 20% to avoid additional insurance premiums of $35 to $60 per month. 

These calculations were made on total household income.  For my own calculations, I totaled up our family’s housing costs and divided them by our primary source of monthly take-home pay to calculate the percentage of our income allocated to housing costs.  It would be typical for our family to use secondary income to pay for major repairs.  We also look at improvements that would increase our home’s value as savings/investments when we have extra money as they increase our net worth by increasing the value of our assets. 

So you know your percentage, now what?

Under budget – Way to go!  Save the difference in what you are currently spending and the percentage you would be comfortable with if buying a new home is in your future.  This will speed along the process of getting to that down payment goal.

On budget – Congratulations!  Be sure to fund that maintenance account to prepare for costly replacements.

Over budget – Get down to business.  Consider all of your options to get these fixed costs under control to insulate your family from economic risks.  Look for ways to realize savings from the family’s secondary income, other budget categories, or the sale of other assets to pay down the balance of the loan below 80% of its value to eliminate the PMI requirement.  Then, consider saving an emergency fund that would help your family make payments for three to six months in the event of a job loss.  Selling a home that is more of a nightmare than the American Dream can be a sacrifice that pays off in the long term if you are overburdened with fixed housing expenses.

Next week, we will continue evaluating our spending categories on Finance Friday.

Step 1: Know Your Condition

Step 2: Dream Big

Step 3: Create a Family Spending Plan

Step 3: Create a Family Spending Plan

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Last week, I challenged you to “Dream Big” and make a list of your short-term and long-term financial goals in Step 2: Dream Big.  Early in our marriage, the dreams we had of building our dream home and for me to be able to stay at home with our children one day were the big motivations for us to start off on the right foot.  Today, our goals have shifted to building the wealth we will need for retirement and for educating our children.

A few years ago, we interviewed couples from our church who had been married 50 years or more when we began teaching a Young Couples Sunday School class to glean some wisdom.  One of the ladies we spoke with told us a piece of advice her mother taught her when she got married.  She said it was the husband’s job to provide for his family and the wife’s job to live on whatever amount the husband was able to provide.  Now, before you react, I realize this is not politically correct in these modern times of dual wage earners and women’s rights, but don’t miss the truth to this statement.  Making ends meet takes a balance of both earning enough income and managing it wisely. 

Being able to stay at home and raise a family was a dream for me when we got married, so we also committed to always live on one salary.  We would only live on the income my husband was able to provide albeit a new police officer’s fairly modest one and use my income to pay off debts and save to meet our goals.  Does that mean I don’t think women should work?  Of course not. 

Statistics show that consumer savings decline as wages and the availability of consumer credit increase.  The more the average family makes, the more debt they can service, and the more dependent the family becomes on both incomes.  In other words, we start off earning more than ever before to provide more for our families but end up with less in a snare we have set for ourselves coined “The Two-Income Trap”.

Harvard Law Bankruptcy Professor Elizabeth Warren and her daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi, MBA educated business consultant, wrote about this phenomenon in their book, “The Two-Income Trap, Why Middle Class Mothers & Fathers Are Going Broke (With Surprising Solutions That Will Change Our Children’s Futures).”  The problem with this way of life, according to them, is that we lose the safety net of that extra income when the primary breadwinner experiences job loss or disability by becoming dependent on two incomes.  Any unfortunate event such as divorce or death can also force the family into foreclosure or bankruptcy.

For us, the goal of building a new home motivated us to make some sacrifices for the first two years of our marriage.  Living on one salary meant that our house payment, car payment, all of our utilities, groceries, and household needs would only be met using that salary.  We did not eat out over once a month, and we did not buy clothing that first year with the exception of a $2 tank top that I remember buying on a clearance rack at Goody’s.  One other time, I needed work clothes for a job interview, so Brett worked a Friday night security job and gave me the $100 he earned to purchase something for it. 

Brett also served in the Kentucky National Guard at drills one weekend a month and for a two-week training period each summer.  One thing that we would always allow ourselves was a vacation each year with the money from his two-week training since he took paid days off from the police department and this gave us extra money.  Vacations have always been a reward for us for saving money each month, even when we just took a short trip in-state around our first anniversary to speed along our savings.

My entire salary went to pay off all of my premarital debt.  We had paid all of it off within the first ten months and moved on to pay off the Jeep.  After a year, I accepted a new job as the Internal Auditor at my hometown bank where I would continue working for the next eight and a half years.  Picking up steam from the accomplishment of paying off all debts except our mortgage, we set our sights on building a new home on the land that Brett had purchased shortly after being hired on the police department. 

As meddling well-wishers are prone to do, people began to ask us when we were going to have a baby.  My husband’s response was, “when we have $30,000 in the bank.”  That was the 20 percent down payment we would need to build our home and keep our mortgage payment low enough to pay from only his salary.  We did not want to count on the equity from our first home as a down payment as it was in an older neighborhood and may not sell quickly.  Working toward this goal together was incredibly team-building early in our marriage.  It felt great to be accomplishing these goals together. 

As our savings grew and we were on track to achieve our down-payment goal, we put our house on the market.  We were open to an offer we received to rent it on a rent-to-own basis and moved into an adorable log cabin we rented from our Sunday school teachers in July 1999.

We initially planned to build a home to start our family in and then grow to build a dream house in the future.  Brett had done some figuring and convinced me that we could afford to build our dream home first if we would wait on building a detached garage and finishing the basement, so we hired a contractor and got set to start.  We took a celebration trip out west before starting a family and broke ground on our home when we returned.

Now it is your turn to focus on those goals you wrote down last week.  What will you do to achieve them?  The best way to turn your dreams into reality is to tell your money who’s boss!  Create a spending plan by dividing your income into that from a primary source and any secondary income your family brings in.  If there is just one wage earner, consider regular wage earnings separately from overtime and bonuses, tax refunds, or any other extra money you receive.

Next, take a look at that list of debts you compiled in Step 1: Know Your Condition and plan your attack using your secondary income.

Step 3:  Create a Family Spending Plan

Giving – This one is in first place for good reason.  By practicing generosity, we take the focus away from our own problems and see how blessed we truly are.  Decide as a family what your goal is for giving, whether it is the Biblical teaching of 10% or another amount that you desire to give. 

You may be questioning my sanity right now when comparing your stack of bills to the paycheck you are trying to stretch.  If you aren’t where you want to be with giving today, I would encourage you to keep pressing forward to rid yourself of debt so that you don’t miss out on one of life’s greatest blessings.

Spending – Consider only that primary income when calculating your budget for regular living expenses.

  1. Housing – Your mortgage or rent payment is already determined.  Plug this number in your budget first.  Don’t forget to add a line item for Home Maintenance so you will be prepared when the furnace goes out or you find a water leak.  I like to include a Home Décor budget as well to replace those worn out towels and keep things up-to-date.  This limit keeps me from going crazy on all of those cute things I see for the home that I want every time I’m out.
  2. Transportation – Your car payment or amount you can expect to spend on maintenance and the average amount you spend on fuel.
  3. Utilities – Electricity, Water, Gas, Garbage Collection, Phone, Internet, Cable
  4. Taxes – Real Estate and Personal Property Taxes on your vehicles fall into this category.  Consider making deposits into a savings account you use only as your own “Escrow” for taxes and insurance that are paid annually even if your mortgage lender doesn’t provide this service.  Your income taxes should be automatically withheld unless you operate your own business.  If you fall into this category, be sure to withhold a sufficient percentage from each receipt.
  5. Insurance – Homeowners and Vehicle Insurance may be saved for with your taxes in the “Escrow” savings account I suggested.  You may need a separate line item for Health Insurance and Life/Disability Insurance if these are not provided by your employer.
  6. Groceries/Household Cleaning Products – Try to track your purchases from the big-box stores if you purchase other items there that should be in a different category.  Wal-Mart and Target can be a black hole in your checkbook all too easily.
  7. Clothing – Don’t forget to include your dry cleaning expenses here.
  8. Healthcare/Prescriptions – Include all of your regularly taken medications and enough to pay an insurance copay each month.  You may need to budget more in the months when your deductible has not yet been met.  Don’t forget to add the cost of cigarettes to your budget if you are a smoker.  This is a big expenditure that affects the wallet as well as the body.
  9. Grooming – Haircuts and makeup are necessities, so don’t forget to budget for them.
  10. Entertainment – This category includes movie tickets, ball game tickets, and anything else you do for fun.  Our family also counts meals out in this category as we eat most of our meals at home.
  11. Exercise/Sports/Lessons – Gym memberships, children’s lessons, etc.
  12. Gifts – You will want to budget for big gift-giving times like Christmas or special family birthdays.  Don’t forget to leave extra in your budget for graduations, weddings, and baby showers.
  13. Postage – I budget separately for postage because there have been times when I needed to send several packages as a military wife.  If this is not a big category for you, you may want to include it in the miscellaneous category.
  14. School Expenses – I’m sure I’m not the only one who seems to be dispensing cash like an ATM for all of the fundraisers, t-shirts and field trips those little beauties bring in.
  15. Pet – Vet bills and pet food can be budget-busters if you haven’t included them in your family’s plan.
  16. Miscellaneous – I usually include office supplies, printer cartridges, and anything else that I don’t want to give part of my other budgets to during the month.

Does your primary income cover the list you just made of regular monthly living expenses?  If not, don’t despair.  You are in the company of the vast majority of American families.  There is a better way to live, however.  For now, determine how much income you will need from other sources to meet budget each month and strive to live within the parameters you set for yourself.  Look for ways to cut expenses as you go, and don’t forget to celebrate each victory you achieve!

Saving/Debt Retirement

Try using your family’s secondary income to pay off all debts and to save for your family’s future.  If your family’s primary income does not cover regular living expenses, how much does the secondary wage earner need to contribute?  We always used my entire salary to attack one goal at a time to reach the financial goals we set for ourselves:

  • Pay off student loans and credit cards
  • Down payment on our new home
  • Buy furniture and a riding mower
  • Build a garage
  • Buy a car
  • Finish our basement
  • Pay off our home
  • Stay home with our kids

I can’t say enough about how rewarding it has been to accomplish each of these goals as a team.  My life verse is John 10:10, where Jesus says “10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.  Friends, the peace I feel of not worrying about tomorrow financially feels more like abundance to me than any new outfit or trinket or new car we passed up along the way to find it. 

Here are some ideas on what to purpose that second-income toward to find your own abundant life:

Child Care – Child care is the only expense in this category because it would not be necessary if there was a spouse at home.

Second Mortgage – We have always maintained a line of credit on our home to finance a limit of one goal at a time.  This is how we built our garage, bought a car, and finished our basement.  My entire income would then go to pay it off quickly. 

Student Loans – Do not even get me started on the student loan epidemic in this country.  Many of you are already in the government’s snares with student loan debt.  If you are considering taking on student loans to pay for your children’s college education, I would urge you to look for other alternatives like beginning their general education requirements at a local community college or working as an apprentice to determine what they really want to major in before using that valuable tuition money towards a career they turn out to hate.  Pay only what you are able to pay out-of-pocket.  Have the student be the one to apply for student loans and therefore assume responsibility for using this credit wisely as a last resort.  If they apply themselves and you are able, you can always help out with payments once they graduate.

Credit Cards and Consumer Credit – Consumer credit is your enemy!  If you owe a balance on your credit card that you are unable to pay off each month, determine today to cut them up and never charge another thing unless you can maintain a zero balance.   If you are in a place of financial discipline and can use credit cards wisely, consider a rewards card where you get cash back on gas, vacation stays, etc. on what you charge each month.  We use a rewards card for all of our gasoline, travel expenses, and the occasional home maintenance project but always pay it off when the bill comes in. 

Retirement Savings – Each wage earner must take advantage of employer-matching programs for retirement.  The earlier you start, the less you have to save.  Remember, these are pretax dollars.  That means your paycheck will shrink by slightly less than the amount you have deducted.

Dedicated savings for a down payment on a home, vehicle replacement, vacation, and education – You will be surprised how the temptation to buy “stuff” diminishes as your savings increases.  Someone asked me once if my husband buys me jewelry, and I replied that he would make me happier by leaving that money in the bank!

Long-Term Investments – Whether you contribute extra to your retirement account, invest in stocks and bonds, starting your own business, or invest in real estate, begin looking for ways to meet your family’s future needs.

Friends, my greatest desire is for you to find the contentment that the thief of debt comes to steal in our everyday lives and live the abundant life that Jesus offers by achieving your dreams as a family and gaining the freedom to bless others.  We will begin looking for ways to save in each of the budget categories we set up this week as Finance Fridays continue.

Financial Principles

Live on one salary even if you earn two.  

Always look at financial decisions through a long-term lens.

Budget

Step 2: Dream Big

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The challenge I issued last week was to “Know Your Condition.”  Now that you know where you are financially, it is time to shift focus to where you want to be.  It sounds a bit too obvious to ask what our financial goals are.  However, a goal is just a wish if we do not have a plan to achieve it.  Deciding what is important to you as an individual or as a couple is THE motivation for living a financially disciplined life. 

Rather than getting discouraged over your current condition, use it to fuel the fire to get serious about your goals for the future.  Set some time aside this week with your spouse (or with a friend whose advice you trust if you are single) to put pen to paper and get your goals in writing in the order you would like to tackle them.  Then, post them someplace where you will see them regularly.

Did you know God has plans for you as well?  Proverbs 16:3 says, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans.”  Here are some common examples to help you get started.

Short-Term Goals:

  • Pay off consumer debt
  • Pay off car loans
  • Create an emergency fund
  • Purchase a dependable car
  • Pay off student loans
  • Take a family vacation
  • Save a down payment for a home

Long-Term Goals:

  • Start a business
  • Pay off home
  • Pay for children’s college education
  • Purchase a vacation home
  • Invest
  • Retire

Next week, we will roll up our sleeves and create a plan to show our money who’s boss!  Come back ready to get down to business next week on Finance Friday.

Other Related Articles

Top Ten Ways to Get Stuck in the Two-Income Trap

Step 1: Know Your Condition

Financial Goals

Top Ten Ways to Get Stuck in the Two-Income Trap

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  1. Can’t decide on a career path?  That’s okay, just head to college and start taking classes for a couple of years until you decide what major to declare.  Don’t bother considering the likelihood of finding gainful employment in your chosen field once you graduate either.
  2. Saddle yourself with student loan debt so your payments require a second income for the ten years it takes you to pay them back.  Better yet, file for an extended repayment plan so you aren’t strapped for cash every month.
  3. Pay for expenses, entertainment, vacations, and Christmas on a credit card that you can’t pay off each month counting on future wage increases that are sure to come along once the economy regains its strength.  Consumer credit will be your safety net for all of the unexpected emergencies that Murphy’s Law dishes out.
  4. Take out a home mortgage using both incomes to qualify.  Go ahead and roll your short-term consumer debt into your 30-year mortgage to reduce your monthly payments while you can.
  5. Finance a newer used car on a five-year repayment plan when it may only last you that long.
  6. Pay someone to clean your house, wash your car, keep your kids, walk your dog, and mow your lawn since you won’t have time after all of the hours you have to spend on the job to pay your bills.
  7. Swing through the drive-thru to pick up a latte, have lunch with your coworkers at a local café, and order pizza out for dinner since your schedule is so busy.
  8. Spend every dollar you have left each month on some retail therapy because with this stress level, you’ve earned it!
  9. Use this year’s tax refund for a down payment on a motorcycle or boat because, hey, everyone needs a little fun sometimes.
  10. Don’t worry about retirement.  You’ll have time to think about that later.  Qualified fund managers on Wall Street are looking out for your best interest.

Uncle Sam thanks you for the income taxes he will collect from the inflated income you need just to stay afloat in today’s “Middle Class”.  Don’t be late sending those in.  He’s counting on your taxes to pay his debt payments.  After all, he knows all about balancing a budget.

Uncle Sam

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Step 1: Know Your Condition

Step 2: Dream Big

Step 1: Know Your Condition

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From the time I was a broke college student, I wanted very much to achieve the American Dream of home ownership and financial security for myself.  I was passionate enough about the topic to make Finance my college major with a Financial Planning specialty.  Once I graduated, much to my dismay, I learned that no one in their right mind wants to take financial advice from a 23-year old.  My career naturally progressed in banking since I was already working for an up-and-coming regional bank while I finished my degree.

Brett had waited to propose until the weekend after I graduated from college.  He knew me well enough to know that I would be more interested in being Becky Home Ec-ky than a student if we had tied the knot sooner.  We were married just three months after I graduated in August of 1997.

Here I was with my newly acquired knowledge, broke, with student loans and credit card debt, marrying a man who had always lived a very disciplined life where money was concerned.  For all of the teasing his friends dished out about his cheap habits, his ways gave me the “stick-to-it” my plans lacked.  For him, every decision we made was a financial one. 

Brett had saved a down payment for a new 1994 Jeep Cherokee when he was first hired as a new police officer and then saved a down payment for the land that we would build our dream home on in the future.  Once he paid off the land, he bought a modest home, taking in roommates to pay extra payments to reduce his debt.  He asked me how much I owed before we were married but I didn’t want to know.  I hadn’t sat down and actually added it all up.

When Brett and I set up our financial “housekeeping”, we made some basic decisions that have served us well ever since.  We decided early on to adopt these financial principles

  • Make all accounts joint, avoiding “mine” and “yours”.  This was a pretty good deal for me at the time.
  • Set financial goals together, prioritizing which ones to tackle first.  We would begin with paying off our debts and building a new home. 
  • Live on only one salary, using the second to achieve our goals.  For us, this decision was made so that I would be able to stay at home with our children one day.  Many people have no choice because of circumstances like:  injury or illness, loss of a job, children with special needs, divorce, death of a spouse. 

Then, I gritted my teeth and made a list of all of my pre-marital debts, including balances, monthly payments, and interest rates.  Facing your financial facts is an emotional process, but nothing will foster teamwork in your marriage like being honest and working toward a common goal together. 

If you want to achieve your financial goals, you absolutely must know the truth about where you stand today.  Whether you are just starting out as a new graduate or newly married couple, your finances need a major overhaul, or you are just looking to make some small changes for a big impact on your future, my challenge to you is this: 

Step 1:  Find out how much you owe and what you are spending every month. 

If you haven’t already, take out a notebook or create a simple spreadsheet for all of your family’s debts.  It should include columns for:

  • Creditor
  • Description
  • Current Balance
  • Interest Rate
  • Monthly payment

Family Debt Worksheet

Look back at what you have spent in the last month and assign it into spending categories.  Do the best you can.  If you have not kept sufficient records to determine where your money went, begin today to track your family’s spending for the next month.  You may use the Family Debt Worksheet for monthly debt payments and make a separate sheet for expenses breaking down spending into categories.  Typically, they are something like this:

  • Clothing/Dry Cleaning
  • Utilities
  • Entertainment/Meals Out
  • Exercise/Sports/Lessons
  • Gas
  • Gifts
  • Groceries/Household
  • Haircuts/Makeup
  • Healthcare/Prescriptions
  • Home Décor
  • Home Maintenance
  • Insurance-Homeowners’
  • Insurance-Vehicle
  • Miscellaneous
  • Pet
  • Phone/Cell/Internet
  • Postage
  • Taxes-Property
  • Taxes-Income (don’t list payroll deductions, only if you have to pay it out-of-pocket)
  • Taxes-Vehicle
  • Vehicle Maintenance

Family Monthly Spending

This is not just necessary for those who are just starting out.  It is always the place to start when things change in your life.  We have done another check recently to determine what we need to change to live on retirement income and how much income we will need to supplement that.  There is value to this anytime you want to test your financial health. 

Once you get a clearer picture of where things stand today and what goals you wish to work toward, we will work together to set financial goals, create a spending plan (looking for ways to save money as we go) and move on to finding the financial freedom that comes from having ENOUGH to meet your own needs and find the joy of giving to others.

Check back next week for Step 2 as Finance Fridays continue.   

Paycheck Clipart

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Step 2: Dream Big