How to put a HALT to your spending when willpower starts to fade

Have you ever bought something and then the next day wondered what in the world you were thinking? While we may be able to exercise willpower in most circumstances, will power has limits. There are definitely times when our willpower is not nearly as strong. Learn to recognize the circumstances that drain your willpower, and HALT your spending

Hungry

Have you ever gone grocery shopping when you were hungry? You intended to buy two or three things that were on sale and some how you came home with two or three bag of groceries instead? When you are hungry, everything looks good. It’s pretty hard to say no to that bag of Oreos when you are hungry.

Angry

I had a friend many years ago who was upset and frustrated by some potential impending layoffs at his workplace, so he went out and bought a new truck to make himself feel better. OK. Let me get this straight. You might lose your job, so you just took on a bunch more debt to make yourself feel better??

When we are upset, scared, or angry we can often do things that are pretty irrational if we really stopped to think about it.

Lonely

Another time when you are vulnerable to making poor decisions is when you are feeling lonely. I fell victim to this myself a few times. I was 34 when I married my wife, and I don’t regret for a minute waiting until I found her. But there were many times in the years leading up to when I finally met my future wife that I found myself feeling very bummed out about being alone. More than once I medicated my loneliness with a trip to Best Buy to purchase some electronic item I thought would make me happy. The happiness was short-lived but the credit card scars lasted for many years.

Tired

Lastly, our willpower suffers when we are simply tired. It is Friday night and it’s been a long hard week at work. You don’t feel like cooking, so it’s easier to just go out to eat.

There is nothing wrong with doing that once in a while, but if you make a habit of it you can easily sink your budget. This might be the most dangerous of all of the threats to our will power. When you are tired, it is just very hard to say no.

Understanding when to HALT your spending

So what is the point? Never get hungry, angry, lonely, or tired? Of course, that’s not realistic.

What you can do is recognize when you are vulnerable. When you know you are really upset and you are tempted to go shopping to make yourself feel better, stop and think about your motives. The first step in keeping these emotions from wrecking your budget is understanding what impact they have.

While making that purchase may make you feel better for a little while, ultimately you are just trying to medicate a bigger issue. And if you have to rely on credit for your purchase, you may feel even worse when the bills start to come due.

What steps do you take to keep from letting negative emotions lead you to spending decisions you’ll later regret?

Best of the week – September 13, 2014

Here are some articles that caught my eye this week…

10 Ridiculous Supermarket Products You Can Make at Home 

There are exceptions but often times I look at some of these types of “recipes” and I question how much cost savings they provide, particularly when you add in the value of your time. I do believe though there can be health benefits, since you can control better what you are putting into the item when you make it. And many times homemade just tastes better than something that came from a box.

6 rules of shopping at warehouse stores

Our family shops regularly at BJ’s. We tried both BJ’s and Sam’s Club (we don’t have a Costco in the area). We chose BJ’s because it seemed they more often had packaging in smaller service sizes. We save a considerable amount of money through our membership, but the key is being a smart shopper. Some things are great deals and some things aren’t. It is important to understand what the average price for the item is in your area. Some things are considerably cheaper than what I could get elsewhere and sometimes the price is about the same.

Don’t Hide Behind My Rules. You Have One Priority.

Financial wellness is as much about attitudes and mindsets as it is about math. Our culture says that debt is normal. You will always have a car payment. No one can go to college without student loans. And on and on it goes. If you want a different life, though, than your broke friends, if you wish to have a sense of peace instead of fear and worry when it comes to financial matters, then you need to adopt a different way of looking at things.

8 Steps to Make the Most of Your 401(k)

A 401(K) is a great way to start saving for your retirement, particularly if your employer offers to match part of your contributions. If your boss called you into a meeting and told you that when you left, there would be a table outside the door with stacks of $20 bills - Go ahead and take a stack when you leave. How many of us would walk by the table and say,”that’s ok, I don’t really want it”? Yet that is effectively what a third of all workers do who have access to a company sponsored 401(k) with a match and yet choose not participate.

How We Sold Our Home Quickly In a Depressed Area

If you are trying to sell your home and you live in an area where prices are down, you might be surprised to know that simply cutting your price even farther might not be the most important thing you can do to get your home sold.

Top Ten Reasons to Buy Life Insurance

If you have a family you need to have life insurance to make sure they are taken care of in the event something happens to you.

 

How to find proper balance in our finances

In a very general sense, there are really only three things that you can do with money:

  • Spend It
  • Save It
  • Give It

If you are handling money in a healthy way, you should be doing at least a little bit of each of these. The problem occurs when we lack balance in our finances and any of these three areas get out of whack.balance in our finances

Spending

Spending is the most common place where we lose our balance. Some people struggle financially because of income issues or because of setbacks like a job loss or a significant medical situation, but if we are really honest with ourselves, most of us struggle simply because we spend money we don’t have.

As long as you are spending more money than you earn, you will never get ahead. The problem we face is the advent of credit cards makes spending more than you earn a little too easy. They can mask our overspending until we wake up one day in a hole that we find very difficult to climb out of.

Most financial sites focus on the problems caused by having your spending out of whack and much has been written. But while spending is where we often focus, we can also be just as unhealthy in the areas of Saving and Giving.

Saving

Almost no one would suggest that we shouldn’t save. We all know the benefits of saving for a rainy day or preparing for future large purchases or life events like college or retirement.

Saving is good and you should be doing it. But is there ever a time when saving is bad?

We should be savers but there is a line where saving and frugality can cross into miserliness.

Frugality to the extreme

If you have worked hard, you are living on a budget, you have a fully funded emergency fund and are saving for other future needs, there comes a time when it is ok to reward yourself with a little spending.

Sometimes when people have struggled to pay off their debts and build up their savings, they find it difficult to loosen up and make purchase. They have been working so hard to get ahead that it becomes difficult for them to spend.

The bottom line is if you are healthy financially and are making progress toward your savings goals there is nothing wrong with buying something you want. Just make sure it is in reason. If you want to trade in that old beater and move up in car a little and all your other finances are in order there is nothing wrong with that. But if trading up means buying a new Lamborghini, then, unless you are a millionaire, that would probably be a mistake. I exaggerate, but it really is about ratios.

Saving is good, but it’s ok to enjoy your hard work a little along the way.

Misplaced trust

There is another danger to saving.

If you are not careful, that savings nest egg can easily become where you place your trust.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21 NASB

Jesus spoke more about money than he did about heaven and hell combined. I believe the main reason for this is because money more than anything else in our lives has the ability to take the place of God.

Savings are good and in many places the Bible tells us it is wise to save. But, if we are not careful those savings can become our source of protection and provision.

You may begin to believe “I don’t need to trust God to care for me, because I have it covered with my bank account and my 401K.”  That is a dangerous place to be.

Giving

The third thing we can do with money is to give it away. There are few things that you can do with money that provide more joy than giving. As a Christian, I believe in tithing 10% to my local church and then giving after that as you feel led, but even something that is very good like giving can get out of balance.

Being too generous

I believe in giving. I believe it is part of managing well the things that God has given us. But that said, there can be times where it is possible to be too generous.

If you have a friend or family member who is constantly asking for money, you have to consider whether the gift is really helping or if you are simply continuing to enable behavior that is harming them. Giving a helping hand to a friend in need is loving; being an enabler of harmful behaviors is not.

Holding a closed fist

The opposite of this are those who have difficulty giving anything. They hold onto their money tightly as with a closed fist.

Whether it be motivated by greed or by fear, the root cause is often the same as those who are addicted to saving. It is a simple lack of trust that God will provide for our needs. “If I give money away, I might need it later, so I better keep it all just in case.”

It shows we have an unhealthy trust in money and also that we don’t really understand that we are simply managers of the resources that God has generously given us.

Keep all things in balance

The bottom line is all three of these items need to be a part of your financial world in moderation. How much largely depends on your income. If you are a single mom making $20,000 a year, simply giving a tithe to your local church may be a sacrifice. If on the other hand you are a millionaire, you might be able to easily give 25%, 50%, or more of your income and still be very healthy. The same ideas apply to spending and saving.

Best of the week – September 6, 2014

Here are some articles that caught my eye this week….

32 Clever Uses for Coffee Filters Other Than Making Coffee

Who knew a simple coffee filter could have so many creative uses???

Staying at Home with Your Kids When You Can Barely Afford It

Many families struggle with the conflicting desires to have a parent at home with the children vs. the need for that second income. It is a real challenge and usually requires some tough choices and sacrifices. There aren’t really right or wrong answers. It is really about desires and priorities.

Save Money by Avoiding Temptation

I used to go frequently to the mall food court for lunch. Many times I’d think to myself I have a few minutes, I’ll just walk around and “look”. Often that look turned into buy and I’d walk out with something I didn’t really need. If you are prone to impulse shopping or if you know there are certain stores that tempt you, be careful. It’s not that you can never frequent those places. Just be wise enough to know your tendencies and be on guard. Don’t allow your momentary desire for something good to keep you from your greater goal of something great.

Student Loan Forgiveness Programs Can Save You Thousands

If you have student loans depending on your profession there may be options to get some or all of the remaining balance forgiven. Just be careful you don’t get yourself trapped in a job that you don’t like for 5 or 10 years in order to get a reimbursement. It is advisable if you are eligible for one of these programs to make “extra payments” on your loan like you would if you were paying it off. But instead of sending the payments to the lender keep them in a separate savings account. That way if you complete the program and get the loan forgiveness, you’ll have a nice little bonus in that account, but if you get the job offer of a lifetime or need to move because of family reasons or a host of other things that might force you to change jobs, you won’t be trapped in the forgiveness program.

Using Social Security to Fund Long-term Care

If you are in your 60′s or older, long-term care insurance should be an important consideration. According to AARP, 35% of us will spend some time in a nursing home, with an average cost of more than $75,000 a year. An extended stay can easily crack and scramble that next egg you spent a lifetime building up. Since women often outlive men, the sad circumstance that often plays out is Grandpa gets sick and spends an extended time in the nursing home using up their retirement savings. Then grandma is left to live out her final days penniless. That’s not a place you want to be.

Clay’s Amazing Debt Free Journey

One of the things I have always loved about listening to the Dave Ramsey Show is the debt free calls. People call in to tell their story of how they became debt-free. When we were going through the process of paying off debts, I found those stories tremendously motivating. Recently, I heard the call below. It was one of the most inspiring and redemptive calls I ever remember. If Clay can make it back from where he was, you can do it too!!

September challenge: Budgeting one category at a time

A recent Gallup poll found that only 32% of those surveyed follow a detailed written budget. I would suspect that of those other two-thirds who don’t budget, many know they should be. But budgeting can be a little overwhelming when you first start.

Part of the problem is if we have not been tracking spending, we really have no idea of how much to allocate for some items. Some categories are easy. It isn’t too hard to figure out how much to budget for our mortgage or rent, but there are many other categories that aren’t nearly so obvious.

  • How much did you spend on groceries last month?
  • How much did it cost to keep gasoline in your vehicles?
  • What did you spend on eating out?

Categories like these can be a lot more difficult to evaluate.

You can’t improve what you don’t track

One solution to this is to track your spending. A good place to start is is to simply write down every penny you spend for a month or two.

But that can be a little daunting too. Do I really have to record everything I spend? Sounds like a lot of work. (Actually, it really isn’t compared to the freedom and benefit of knowing where your money is going.)

September challenge: pick a category

If you are one of those 68% that doesn’t currently budget and you don’t really know where to start, here is my September challenge to you.

Pick one category of spending. It can be any category. It could be food, a hobby, entertainment, etc.

You can define it as narrowly as you want. Preferably though, it should be a category where you have some control over what you spend.

Maybe it is groceries, maybe it’s eating out, maybe eating lunch out with the work friends, maybe it’s money spent on the vending machines at work. You can decide to be as specific as you want, but it should still be broad enough to be meaningful.

Now for the month of September track everything you spend in that category. Just make sure you are honest. No cheating. And since we are only doing one category you need to make sure you track every penny spent.

Making the effort worth it

At the end of the month total up how much you have spent. Multiply that by 12 to get an idea of how much you are spending a year.

Suppose you spent $150 on lunches with co-workers. That’s $1,800 a year! If you could cut that in half, that’s $900 a year that you could be using to pay down debt or add to your savings.

Now that you have that information, brainstorm 3 ideas you could try next month to reduce that expense.

They say the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. If you really want to make a change in your finances, you must have a plan. If the thought of budgeting is too overwhelming, try budgeting one category at a time.

What expense will you track this month?

The two letter word that can change your finances forever

Definition of discipline: Making yourself do something you really don’t want to do, in order to get a result you really want to get. – Andy Andrews

A recent study  by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling found that 61% of people don’t have a budget. While there are many reasons why people don’t budget – too busy, think they don’t make enough, don’t know where to start – I think at the heart of many people’s failure to budget is the simple fear that if they had a budget, then they could not have what they want.

Let’s face it; our society isn’t exactly very good at telling ourselves no. The credit industry has made it so easy that there is very little need to think about denying yourself. Whether it is credit cards or 90 days same as cash deals, the message is buy what you want now and worry about paying for it later.vision

The power of “No”

That little word “no” though is one of the keys to financial success. But, (and this is very important!) saying no does not mean you can’t have what you want. In fact, by saying no to less important things, you make sure you will be able to say yes to what really matters. It is really about prioritizing your money. And that’s all a budget really is.

The key to being able to say no is understanding what you want to say yes to.

What helps give us the ability to say no is knowing what is at stake and having a vision of what could be. If you aren’t connected to the larger vision, then in a moment, you cave and say yes to something you really ought to say no to. Remember that when you say no you are saying yes to something bigger and more significant.

So what do you really want? What are your goals? What matters most to you?

Maybe it’s travel. Maybe you wish you had a bigger house or a house in a better neighborhood. Maybe it’s a hobby that you really love to pursue. Maybe you dream of being able to quit your job and stay home with the kids.

Maybe if things are really tight, you just really want to make sure you can continue to provide food and shelter for your family or perhaps you dream of what it would be like to be debt free.

Spend some time thinking about those dreams. What is really most important to you?

Write them down

Once you have decided on what your goals are, write them down. There is power in written goals. Goals that are not written down are just wishes.

Put them where you will see them

Once you have written them down, keep them somewhere that you will see them. Post them on the refrigerator or the bathroom mirror. Tack them on the wall at work. Attach then to the visor in the car. Maybe put them in your wallet next to that plastic.

By having it somewhere you will see it, when you are tempted to spend money, you have a reminder of what you really want most.

Create your budget with your goals in mind

Now create that budge,t but think about those goals as you decide how you will spend your money.

I can have the super-sized cable package with 546 channels, but if I do that I can’t save for that vacation I really want to enjoy with my family. Maybe I could downsize, as I never watch 90% of those channels anyway, or maybe I could do away with cable all together.

I can plan to eat out with my buddies at the office each day. But if on the other hand I saved that $100 a month I am spending on lunches, I could retire someday with more than a half a millon dollars in savings.

I could buy a new car like my neighbor just did, but if I have a $450 car payment then I won’t be able to pay any extra on my credit cards and I’ll be in debt for years. Or I could squeeze a couple more years out of my current car, buckle down, and knock out that debt.

Keeping the greater vision in mind

Andy Andrews defines discipline as making yourself do something you really don’t want to do, in order to get a result you really want to get. That’s really at the heart of successful budgeting. It would be nice if we all made so much money that we could have anything we wanted, but for almost all of us that isn’t the case. And so we must make choices.

Understand that every time you say yes to a purchase, you are also saying no to something else you could be doing with that money. That doesn’t mean you should feel guilty any time you buy something. But by having that bigger picture vision of what you really desire, you have a framework for making sure you say yes to what matters most.

Using Checkout 51 to save money on your groceries

Probably one of the biggest variable categories and one of the areas with the most potential to save is food. Food can range from those who eat out almost every night to those with large gardens who may spend very little, with pretty much every data point between the extremes.

While we don’t do the extreme couponing that you see on TV, we do cut coupons for items we commonly buy. We shop a handful of stores for various items depending on where we typically get the best deal, and we try to stock up on items when we see a really good sale.

Recently, I came across one more way that you can save a few more bucks on your weekly grocery bill.

Checkout 51

Checkout 51 is an app that is available for both Android and iPhone. Here is how it works.checkout 51

Each week Checkout 51 posts a list of special deals. Usually there are 30-35 items with specific cash back offers. Most items offer cash back between $0.25 to 3 or 4 dollars, depending on the price of the item.

Simply do your normal shopping at your local grocery store but if you purchase one of the items on the list, save your receipt.

The app then works in conjunction with the phone on your smart phone. You simply tell it you want to upload the receipt. It launches your camera and allows you to easily take a picture of the receipt and preview the result. If your receipt is long it is very easy to piece together multiple pictures. Once you have a good picture of the receipt, you check off which cash back offers you are claiming and then upload the information.

When Checkout 51 receives the receipt, they send an e-mail promising to process your upload within 48 hours. In practice, I have found it rarely takes more than 3 or 4 hours. Once they have reviewed your receipt to verify the date and that it contains the items you claimed, they send another e-mail letting you know your claim has been processed and how much your account was credited.

Each Wednesday night at midnight they refresh the list of items with cash back available.

Once you have $20 accumulated in your account, Checkout 51 sends you a check with your savings.

That’s really all there is to it.

What I like about Checkout 51

It is easy. It probably takes me less than a minute to upload a new receipt. And I have never yet had an issue with the receipt being processed.

They usually have at least a couple generic produce cash back offers. I have seen offers for bananas, apples, tomatoes, and carrots in the time I have been using the service. Usually, coupons for fresh produce are rare, so it’s nice to find a way to save a little on these purchases.

There are no limitations on where you can shop. According to their website you can even use online purchases, though I haven’t tried that personally yet.

It is combined with other offers. On our most recent shopping trip, we had a 50 cents off coupon for a popular household cleaning product. Our store doubles coupons under a $1.00. Plus Checkout 51 had a $1.00 cash back offer. So the all in all we saved $2.00 on the purchase.

What I don’t like about Checkout 51

Really about the only negative I would site is that I wish they had a bigger selection of items. I am not sure how long they have been in business, but hopefully maybe their list of products will grow over time.

The other caution is one I would add with any kind of coupon. Make sure you are not tempted to buy items you wouldn’t have normally bought. If you buy a $5.00 item to get a $1.00 cash back, remember you didn’t “save” $1.00, you spend $4.00! It is great to save on things you would be buying anyway, just don’t fall into the trap of buying to get the extra “savings”.

Also Checkout 51 currently is only available for stores in the US and Canada. If you are elsewhere, you are out of luck.

A handy app

You aren’t going to get rich with Checkout 51. It isn’t likely to move the needle on your budget. But it really takes very little effort to upload the receipt and if I can save a few bucks here and there on things I would be buying anyway, then count me as a fan!

What savings apps do you find useful?

Understanding the difference between your credit report vs. your credit score

I have written previously about how you can go to http://www.annualcreditreport.com and get a free copy of your credit report from each of 3 major credit reporting agencies once per year. This is valuable and something you should be doing to make sure there are no errors or unexpected items.

This service only provides free access to your credit report. If you want to actually see your credit score, you must pay extra for that.

So what is the difference between your credit report and your credit score?

Your credit report vs. your credit score.

Be aware that your credit score and your credit report are two different things. Your credit report is a list of all of your reported creditors. This would include credit cards, mortgages, auto and personal loans, etc. Note it only includes items that are reported to the credit reporting agencies. So, if you have a line of credit at the local mom and pop hardware, it won’t appear there unless they report it. You credit report will include a list of accounts, your payment history, your current balances and credit limits, whether the account is in good standing or is delinquent, and personal information about you and your employment status.

Your credit score on the other hand is a number that is calculated based on the information on your credit report. It is an attempt to look at how you have used credit in the past along with your track record for repaying that credit and distilling that down to a numeric score.

Not a single score

What many people don’t realize though is you don’t really have a credit score. You have many credit scores. First, there are three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You might expect to see the same score generated from each, but in reality each will be a little different. If your credit reports are accurate across the three sites then those scores should be close but they won’t be identical. If one of them is significantly different from the others, then that probably means you have errors on your credit report.

But wait, it doesn’t stop there. The Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO) creates the formula that is used to distill that credit report down into a specific number. They update that formula from time to time. That formula is also available to mortgage and credit providers. Many banks do their own calculation based off the FICO formula. So if you apply for a mortgage or other credit, your lender may not go back to one of those three credit reporting agencies, they may be calculating their own score and that score could vary depending on which version of the FICO algorithm they use.

In addition to that, credit scores are often used by insurance companies to evaluate what rate you will be charged for things like auto insurance. Guess what? They have their own algorithms for evaluating your score, so that number will be slightly different too.

The bottom line is you don’t have a credit score. You have credit scores. However, if the information in your credit report is accurate, all of those scores should be similar. If most of your scores are in the good range, but you have one that is way out of whack and indicating poor credit, then there is probably an error somewhere that you should try to get corrected.

My disdain for the Great FICO

While I think it is important to understand credit reports and credit scores and how they can affect your financial picture, in truth I really hate the credit score and what it has become in our society.

Everything about your credit score is related to how successful you have been at borrowing money and paying it back. All of the factors considered relate to debt.

If I were evaluating whether or not to loan you money, looking at your current debts and your past track record of making payments would be relevant information. But a history of getting into and out of debt isn’t really a sign that you are financially healthy. In fact, it is probably more of an indication of financial instability.

And yet our society has come to accept that a high FICO score indicates you are doing great. I think that is just plain wrong. But because of the way debt has been normalized and thus the importance that has been placed on a credit score,  it is a factor that you must contend with as you navigate your financial world. As a result, knowing roughly your current credit score, and even more important, regularly reviewing your credit report are important parts of maintaining healthy finances. Just don’t make the mistake of borrowing money just so you can raise your credit score so you can later borrow more money.

Should I save for retirement or my children’s college?

As parents, sooner or later we are faced with the question, “should I be saving for retirement or my children’s college?”  This isn’t so bad if we are fortunate to have plenty of money, but what if things are a little tight? What if we have to choose between the two?should i save for retirement or my children's college

According to finaid.org, college tuition is increasing at a rate of about 8% per year and tuition is already incredibly expensive. We want our kids to have all they need to be successful in life which often includes a college degree. College loans, though, are an anchor around so many young people’s lives that we convince ourselves that we must save for our children’s education.

But on the flip side we see items on the news all the time warning that the days of 30 years and a gold watch and a pension are gone. Combine that with dire warnings about the future of Social Security and we are faced with the reality that we may be on our own to prepare and save for our retirement.

So what do we choose? Save for retirement and leave junior to fend for himself? Or save for college figuring we can worry about retirement later?

First things first

Before we even think about retirement or college savings, our first goal should be to get our finances on solid ground.

When you fly, the attendants always instruct you that in the event of an emergency to make sure your own oxygen mask is securely in place before you try to help someone else. In the same way, if we are drowning in debt and consistently spending more than we make, then we need to address those issues before worrying about college and retirement. Get on a budget. Get intense about paying off the debt. Use retirement and college as a motivation to sacrifice and get those debts knocked out as fast as possible. Then make sure you have a good emergency fund of at least 3-6 months of expenses or more.

Once you have that flow of oxygen established in your finances, you are then in a position to be able to think about other priorities.

 College or retirement?

While our children’s well-being pulls at our heart-strings and may make us feel guilty if we aren’t saving for college, the answer to this question is almost always, save for retirement first. You need to be saving about 15% of your income for retirement, then once that requirement is met you can save for college with what is left.

The only exception to this would be if you already have a large sum saved for retirement. If you feel you have sufficient retirement savings, then you might back off on the retirement savings some to save for college. If you feel you are in this category, I would highly recommend meeting with a good financial planner who can review your savings and your goals to make sure you are really on track.

What about paying for college?

So if the focus is on saving first for retirement then how will junior pay for college? The most important reason for saving for college only after your retirement is taken care of is that your children have options for paying for their schooling.

  • Go to a less expensive community college to get some general requirements out of the way.
  • Choose to attend a public in-state school as opposed to a much more expensive private institution.
  • Get a job. Some studies have shown that students who work part-time while in school actually get better grades than those who do not.
  • Apply for every scholarship you can find
  • Many companies pay part or all of the tuition expenses for employees seeking to gain a degree
  • Get a loan. I don’t recommend student loans. I think young people should do everything possible to avoid them, but it does remain true that there are loans available for college. You can’t take out a loan to fund your retirement.

Retirement savings must come first

While it is a noble goal to pay some or all of your children’s college expenses, the bottom line is that making sure you are able to support yourself in retirement has to take precedence.

You child has the option to work to pay for their degree. As you near retirement age you might not have that option. Health issues may prevent you from doing what you once did. While age discrimination is illegal, we know that it does still occur, and you may be limited in the jobs you can get when you are 70.

Finally, saving for retirement is so much easier if you get an early start.

Let’s say you start saving when you are 22 and have that first job out of college. Assuming only an 8% rate of return, by saving just $200 a month from age 22 to age 67 you’ll be able to retire with over a million dollars saved!!

Now let’s suppose you also got married at 22 and junior came along shortly thereafter. You want to be able to pay for college so you divert that $200 a month to a college savings program. If you waited until age 40 to start saving that $200 for retirement, you would only have $227,000 at retirement. To have that same million dollar retirement starting at age 40 you’d actually have to save $885 a month. The longer you wait to start the harder it is.

I believe in the value of a college education and I plan to help my son with his educational expenses. However, you must never allow guilt to shame you into prioritizing your child’s education over your long-term retirement savings. If you can do both, congratulations, but if you must choose, always err on the side of your retirement.

There are many options for paying for college. With the uncertain state of pensions and social security, it may be up to you to provide for your retirement years. Make sure you don’t short change yourself.

Are you tempted to prioritize saving for your children’s college over saving for retirement?

9 ways to make sure your budget is a failure (#9 might be the most common)

Tried budgeting but decided it might work for others but it just doesn’t work for you? Chances are you might have done one or more of these common mistakes that pretty well guarantee you will fail.budget failure

1. Don’t do one

OK, this one may be a little obvious, but the first way to ensure you will never successfully have a budget is to never even try.

A 2013 Gallup poll showed that more than 2/3′s of Americans do not live on a budget. I think if you asked most people, they would have at least a vague sense that they probably should be doing a budget. They probably would agree that a budget might help them achieve their financial goals faster. But the truth is most people don’t do it.

2. Don’t write it down

Some folks say they have a budget. Well sort of. I mean I kind of know in my head what my bills are each month. So that counts, right?

If you don’t have it written down, you don’t really have a budget. You’ll forget things and underestimate others. The only way to really take control of your financial situation is to have a written budget you follow each month. How you create it doesn’t matter. You can use software like Quicken, internet services like Mint or You Need A Budget, your own spreadsheet, or plain old paper and pencil.

3. Use the checkbook method

If there is still money available in my checking account, it must be ok to spend it. I am sorry to admit for many years this was my basic form of budget.

Parkinson’s Law says that work will expand to fill the amount of time you give it. The same principle holds true for your bank account. I couldn’t understand why I could never seem to make any progress on my goals, but my problem was when my budgetary decisions were based on how much money was left in my account there was always something that I needed to purchase.

By deciding at the beginning of the month exactly how you intend to spend every dollar that comes in for the month, you are really prioritizing your spending to make sure you are spending on what matters most to you. That doesn’t mean you can’t adjust as the month goes along. You will always have things come up that cause you to make adjustments, but by having that written plan you are able to make those adjustments based on your priorities and not by how much money you have left.

4. Try to create the perfect budget

Another mistake I made was trying to create a perfect budget for the entire year. There is no such thing as a perfect budget.

You have to do a new budget each month because each month is different. Sure somethings are constant like your mortgage or your phone bill perhaps, but every month has it’s quirks. School fees, birthdays,  magazine subscriptions, that new pair of shoes, you name it. Each month will be a little different. There is no one size fits all budget.

5. No emergency fund

You are doing good budgeting. You’ve made it through a couple months. Then one week the water heater fails, the alternator goes out in the car, and the dog needs some medicine from the vet. Suddenly your budget is shot and you give up.

Without an emergency fund, you will never have a successful budget. Life happens. Unexpected things occur (and usually at the worst possible time). An emergency fund allows you to smooth out those bumps in the road. Without it you will fail.

6. Don’t plan for irregular expenses

Irregular expenses can sink your budget. Items like real estate taxes, insurance, some utilities, Christmas, vacations, and the like can wreck your budget. This is another mistake that used to trip me up. I’d think I was doing well until I hit that month where the taxes or the home owner’s insurance were due and suddenly my budget was wrecked.

Irregular expenses shouldn’t come as a surprise. You know Christmas will be December 25th each year. You know when the real estate taxes or other bills come due. The key is to plan for it. If you plan to spend $1,200 on Christmas gifts, then set aside $100 each month and when December rolls around you’ll have the money you need. Same is true for all those other irregular pills.

7. Set unrealistic expectations

If you budgeted $100 to feed your family of 6 for the month, unless you have a really big garden, you are probably going to fail.

Budgets have to be about more than just making the numbers work. It has to be realistic. Sure you can save on coupons and shop sales, but you will spend a certain amount to put food on the table each month. If you don’t budget a realistic amount, your budget will always fail. This is true for many categories. Your budget needs to reflect what you will really spend. If your spending exceeds your income, you may need to make some adjustments, but the bottom line is what is written on the page needs to be realistic.

8. You and your spouse aren’t in agreement

If your spouse says “Sure dear, the budget looks great, now I’m just going to head over to Home Depot and spend all this week’s grocery money on that new tool I want”, your budget will never succeed.

If you are married, you and your spouse need to be in agreement about what you will spend. If you are pulling in opposite directions you will never succeed.

9. Don’t ever say no

Last, but perhaps most important, if you are unwilling to tell yourself “no” occasionally, you will always get to the end of the month and wonder where the money went.

Don’t misunderstand. I don’t mean to imply you can never have what you want if you live on a budget. In truth it is the opposite. A budget allows you to prioritize your spending so you can have what is most important to you. But unless you are Bill Gates or Donald Trump, you probably don’t have enough money to always get whatever you want. You have to learn to say no to the things that are less important, so that you can have the things that matter most to you.

What is keeping you from being able to budget your monthly income?