Hope for your financial life and beyond

Always Plan a Budget Around These 5 Expenses First

The first time I sat down to plan a budget with my wife, we didn’t know where to start. There were literally dozens of expense categories popping into our head at once. The whole process seemed a bit overwhelming.

plan a budgetAt some point it dawned on us that we needed some clarity about the process. We needed to narrow the field and focus on certain priorities in the budget. By doing that, it became obvious what areas of the budget we needed to focus on first.

What we found was that there are five fundamental expenditures to focus on when you plan a budget. Without them, any person would have a difficult time surviving. Coincidentally, these categories will also be some of the most expensive budget items each month. Those two reasons alone – basic survival and cost – should justify why it’s important to start with them when you plan a budget each month.

Five Basic Categories When You Plan a Budget

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Is Reliability, Price or Features Most Important When Buying a Car?

What do you look for when buying a car? The reason I ask is that we are on the verge of doing just that. Our two-year lease experiment with an electric car is coming to an end. We will not be renewing the lease and are looking at buying a car sometime in the next month.

buying a carWe have been tossing several models back and forth and have made a trip to our local Carmax to check them out. All we know at this point is that we won’t be buying a brand new car, won’t be buying a black car (have one already) and won’t be buying another Suburban (that’s the one we have already).

But we are open to most anything else, provided it fits our family needs. And that is where the big question lies when it comes to buying a car? What is our biggest need?

Do we need to worry about price? Do we need to focus on the new car features? What about reliability? Can we handle a car that might need a few repairs along the way?

Best case scenario is that we find a vehicle where we are satisfied in all those categories. To me though, one of these stands out above the rest. It’s the first thing I’ll look at as we work through buying a car.

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The Best Home Renovation Projects That Hold Their Value

home renovation projectsIt’s the depths of winter but spring will be here before you know it. With that your thoughts might be turning to that home renovation project you’ve been waiting for. Now’s the time to get the final plans and cost in place so when the weather turns nice you can hit the ground running.

A home renovation isn’t simply painting a room or putting down new carpet. Those things are nice to do and are needed from time to time. When I say home renovation I’m referring to big projects…ones for which you might want to call in a contractor. For the most part these are projects that are going to cost thousands of dollars, maybe even reach into 6 figures.

With that much money at stake it’s important to do your research ahead of time. One of the big issues is how much return you can expect to receive on your home renovation investment. You don’t want to dump $20,000 into a project only to see it’s value dwindle to nothing.

We’ve been thinking recently about finishing our basement. We could add several additional rooms of living space there along with perhaps a bathroom. We know it would add value to our home life (giving us more personal space) and add value to the home itself. But how much money to put into it is the real question. What could we expect to get back in value if we ever sell our home?

With that in mind, check out this infographic from Contractor Quotes. It shows the typical cost of each major home renovation and what you can expect to recoup in cost when you sell your home.

Home Renovation Projects That Increase a Home’s Value

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How to Beat Any Salesman and Save Money This Year

Don’t you hate it when you leave a store thinking the salesman got the best of you…that he or she was able to talk you into something you really didn’t want? Or worse yet that the salesman literally deceived you with false information about the product? It’s frustrating to feel or learn later that the salesman didn’t help you make the best decision possible.

salesmanThis happens in all retail establishments where a salesman is engaged in selling a product. Think furniture, appliances, car lots and even insurances. These types of jobs are heavily commission driven, meaning the salesman earns money (part or all of his salary) on the sale of a product. This arrangement can put them in a tough spot – looking to make the most money possible vs. helping the consumer find the best deal.

Don’t get me wrong here – I love a good salesman. And there are some really good ones out there who have the customer’s needs in mind. Those are the ones you hope to find.

But if you run across a bad one (and you will) there is a way to beat them. It is possible to make sure you ALWAYS get the best possible deal based on your needs.

And it all starts with what you do ahead of time – before you even walk into the store. I learned this recently while shopping for a new television.

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10 Last Minute Gift Ideas For Him This Christmas

Do you have trouble shopping for that special guy in your life? Let’s face it, men are tough to shop for. It’s not easy to crack our code and find out what we’d really like to receive as a gift.

last minute gift ideas for himWaiting until the last minute to shop of course adds even more pressure. You’ll probably panic and end up buying him some socks. Not that we wouldn’t appreciate it – we’ll love any gift we get (or at least pretend to love it). In the interests of helping my men-fellows though, here are some last minute gift ideas for him that we’d appreciate even more.

Last Minute Gift Ideas For Him

Of course you know your man best. Some of these last minute gift ideas for him may not work. Additionally, you may have financial limitations that prevent these purchases. But I’m pretty sure, if you can afford it, he’ll absolutely love these items:

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5 Money Saving Questions to Ask Before Buying Christmas Gifts

My wife and I never go shopping for Christmas gifts on Black Friday. I don’t care how good the deals are the crowds are just too much for us. We are more Cyber Monday or wait until the last minute type of people.

christmas giftsBuying Christmas gifts is always fun for us though because we love to spend money on the people we care about. It’s become even better recently since we’ve learned how to save money throughout the year to spend at Christmas. Now all of our Christmas gifts are paid for in cash and we never see a credit card bill come January.

While we all get excited about spending money on the people we love, it can get seriously out of hand. What happens in December can have short and long-term financial consequences if you don’t keep your spending on Christmas gifts in check. So before you make any purchases this year here are five simple questions you should ask yourself as you buy Christmas gifts for those special people in your life.

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When to Avoid Zero Percent Financing Offers On Cars

At some point we’ve all run across an advertisement on TV from a car dealer pitching some form of incentive. Manufacturer incentives are special offers designed to entice you to buy a car. Overall they have been found to be very effective in drawing consumers to car lots.

zero percent financingThese deals usually come in the form of rebates (cash back) or a low annual percentage rate (APR). The APR is the amount of interest on the loan that you will pay during the year. Of course lowering the interest rate reduces your monthly payment. The lowest APR a manufacturer could offer would be zero percent, which means you pay no interest on the car loan.

Zero percent financing on a car sounds like too good a deal to ignore. Who should pass up free money, right? However, you may want to think twice before signing on the dotted line. There are several reasons these deals could be bad for the consumer.

The Story on Zero Percent Financing

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Customer Service Training Ideas: No Comments on How Much Food I Buy

I love good customer service. When you find a store that consistently provides it for you it’s a thing of beauty. It’s obvious their employees have been through customer service training because they consistently focus on it day in and day out. I find it really makes shopping at their establishment enjoyable.

grocery cart with healthy foodOn the other hand bad customer service turns me off. What’s frustrating is when it happens at stores I frequent because of a) their location, b) their superior products or c) their prices. I intentionally go to these stores for one of those reasons and to shop elsewhere would be inconvenient. So I’m forced to endure the annoying service at times because those other reasons win out.

I took over the majority of the shopping last fall when I quit my job to be a stay at home dad. In the past year I’ve noticed some of the worst people at customer service are the ones I have the most contact with: the checkout clerks. The ones who have me riled up right now are those I find at the grocery store.

“Yes, I Know My Cart Is Full”

It’s a constant chore to manage the food budget, especially for large families. We have four kids so with six mouths to feed each week I’m buying a lot of food. It doesn’t matter how much I plan or try to cut back, my grocery cart is always full – or overflowing – by the time I roll into the checkout line.

And oh, you should see the looks I get.

But the worst part is the comments.

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How to Prioritize What’s Important When You Make a Budget

I remember the first time my wife and I really tried to make a budget. So many expenses were coming to mind it was difficult to prioritize which ones were most important. We messed up many things in that first month’s budget and felt really frustrated at our efforts.

make a budgetIt didn’t deter us however from trying again…and again…and again. We found that after several months of trial and error certain expenses always drifted to the surface first. It was apparent that we were drawn to some expenditures more readily than others because they represented fundamental needs for our family each month.

So what expenses go first when you make a budget? Then how do you determine what comes next? Today I’m going to outline our five-step thought process as we make a budget each month. Hopefully it will give you some direction as you try to figure out how your hard earned dollars will be allocated.

Process to Make a Budget

When you begin the process of putting a budget together, start with the highest priorities and work your way down. It should look something like this:

Budget Priority #1 – Necessities Above All

Put simply, you have to survive. Nothing else can happen in the budget before your basic needs are taken care of.

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How An Expensive Camera Purchase Ended Up Being Worth Every Penny

Like you I enjoy summer vacations and think travel should be a part of any budget. Actually vacations at any time are great. We just end up taking most of ours during the summer as a reward for my wife making it through the busy tax season. Come the first of June we are (she is) ready to head somewhere.

This summer we had our sights set on a brand new destination – Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. We’ve done Disney before and the beach and the cruise ship – all multiple times. So, with the kids getting older, we wanted to venture into new territory – places with new scenery and new adventures to create new memories.

We knew heading out West (from Georgia) would be expensive. Plane flights for six, rental car for 10 days, hotels, meals, activities…you can see this is adding up quickly. We also knew though the West would provide incredible scenic views – mountains, rivers, wildlife – all of which we would want to capture. However, all we had to use were the cameras on our iPhones and an older Canon PowerShot Elph 110HS.

There is nothing wrong with either of those for capturing basic pictures. But neither of them would do for bringing out the most vibrant color in images nor for when distance from an object or its movement is a factor in the quality of the photo.

So as part of our vacation budget, we saved to make a camera purchase. The one we chose was pricey but as you will see it was worth every penny.

Pictures Are Worth a Thousand Words

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The Ultimate Safety Tip For Using Your Visa Debit Card

One of the many complaints I hear about using a Visa debit card for transactions is that they are not as safe as a credit card. Credit card transactions give consumers protection to dispute charges, thereby ensuring a thief does not wipe out their entire bank account. Since debit cards pull the money from the bank account at the time of purchase they are more open to fraud, or so the thinking goes.

visa debit cardMostly the safety issue with a Visa debit card results from the use of a PIN – a personal identification number. In theory the PIN serves as an extra barrier of security in that you must enter it before completing a transaction. However, the problem comes when someone unknowingly steals your PIN. If someone had your debit card number and your PIN they could use your debit card for transactions and empty your account.

Stealing your PIN is easier than you think too. The transaction terminals at most businesses and ATMs are wide open. That person standing behind you or even the cashier could easily sneak a peak at the code you are punching in. If those wandering eyes are also able to see/get your debit card number they’d have all the information they need.

So you really need to keep your PIN a secret. Memorize it and never keep it with you.

Don’t let the cashier enter in your PIN. Don’t give it out over the phone. Never share it with anyone over the phone, online…not even at your bank or financial institution!

But there is even a better option than just keeping it secret. This practice will make sure you have all the protection you need.

The #1 Safety Tip For Using a Visa Debit Card

The ultimate safety tip for using your debit card is this…

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