Hope for your financial life and beyond

6 Signs You Are Living Above Your Means

Let’s face it. We live in a fast paced, consumer friendly, debt-driven society. Spending money has never been easier.

That might be why more than 60% of Americans deal with credit card debt on a daily basis. Access to credit has never been more available to the general public. Unfortunately, it is a main reason why living paycheck-to-paycheck is an unfortunate reality for nearly half of Americans.

However, that reality doesn’t have to be inevitable. Your situation can improve with some quick refinements to your spending habits. I’ve done it before and so can you. You don’t have to live above your means.

It does come down to a simple choice. But first you must be able to recognize that you have a problem. With that in mind, here are a few warning signs you may want to look out for when you’re worried you’re not living within your means.

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6 Ways a Monthly Budget Brings Freedom, Not Bondage

Here is a little test for yourself. When I mention the word budget do you think of the word “freedom” or do you think of the words “constraint” or “bondage.” The word you choose probably identifies your basic attitude about having a monthly budget.

budgetI love budgeting! I know some people think that’s crazy. For them, budgets bring to mind images of people in straitjackets, unable to move. The household budget acts as a restrictive torture device, in most cases forced on them by someone who thinks they know how to manage money better. Budgets can make people feel confined and boxed in.

I’ve been there.

I love to spend money as much as the next person. At one point in my life, I felt like a budget wouldn’t help me accomplish any financial goal. I knew for sure it wouldn’t make me feel good because I couldn’t buy the things I wanted. Budgets seemed difficult to piece together and I frankly didn’t have the time (or want to take the time) to figure it out.

Fortunately, I came around by doing some soul searching and through the gentle prodding of someone close to me – my wife. Eventually, I agreed to give budgeting a three-month trial run.

That decision changed my life. Not only that, it changed our lives. And the best part was, we received something I never thought a budget could possibly produce: Freedom.

In just a few short months I realized budgets produce freedom, not bondage. Here are six ways they can bring the same freedom to you.

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6 Special Reasons Why I Love Having a Travel Budget

travel budgetI love having a travel budget! For my wife and I it was a priority from the beginning of our marriage. We both went on family vacations growing up and wanted to carry on that tradition with our kids. And never was that ideal more driven home than on a hot, summer afternoon at a tourist beach in St. Maarten.

This is no ordinary beach though. It’s Maho Beach, situated just yards away from Princess Juliana International Airport. Oddly enough, people don’t come to this beach for the beach. They come to watch the planes land.

It’s 1:00 pm in the afternoon and dozens of tourists are standing on the beach looking out over the water. The chalkboard at the nearby restaurant lists the daily landing times. As we looked, right on schedule a tiny speck appeared out over the water.

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How to Avoid Getting Ripped Off From Service Industry “Professionals”

Have you ever needed to hire a service industry professional for advice, a project or repair? Chances are we have all been there. Why? Because taxes need completing. Cars break down. Computers need fixing. Home air conditioning systems go bad.

You may be among those fortunate enough to know how to do these things on your own. Or at least you know a little about how these things work. The vast majority of the public does not know how to fix a car or computer. We don’t know why AC units malfunction. We rely on industry professionals who are trained to handle such projects or repairs.

service industry Most service industry professionals are hard working and credible people. They are not looking to take advantage of people. They just want to make a living by doing an honest day’s work.

However, we all know that not all service industry professionals fall into this category. In fact, we need to put quotation marks around some service industry workers when we call them “professionals.” They may be experts at their chosen career. But they are also experts at another thing – conning people out of their money. So they don’t exhibit the kinds of qualities we would all want in someone who was truly professional at their job. Here is a case in point.

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Visa Debit Card Safety: What You Need to Know

My daughter just reached an financial milestone the other week when she opened her first checking account several weeks ago. However, she’s even more excited that, along with the checking account, came a Visa debit card. Yep, her first piece of plastic.

Visa debit cardOf course she will have to learn how to use it responsibly. That’s because debit cards act like cash. All transactions post to your checking account register. In other words, when you buy an item with a debit card, the money is immediately withdrawn from your account to complete the purchase.

The advantages here should be obvious. Debit cards force you to budget your money. They force you to keep track of how much money you have left to spend. Credit cards don’t do that. The credit limit is the limitation placed on the account. But once you’ve hit that limit, many people have already spent more on the card than they actually have. That’s what makes credit cards so dangerous.

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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 Ultimate Guide on How to Make the Best Monthly Budget

I’ve written a lot over the years on how to make a monthly budget. It’s really been important to me because creating and successfully living on a budget turned our life around. My wife and I would not be where we are financially had we not admitted the problem and took the time to learn how to budget.

Today I’ve decided to pull all my knowledge about doing a monthly budget into one post. And I’ll tell you right now, it’s going to be a long one. But it’s going to be really helpful. If you are new to budgeting, struggling with budgeting or a veteran at budgeting you’ll learn something from this post that you can apply right away.

To help with organization, I’ve divided the post into several segments. Here is what you can expect to find:

  • monthly budgetWhat are budgets?
  • The real reason you need a monthly budget
  • Why people resist budgets
  • The one tip that started our success
  • The basics expenses of a monthly budget
  • What percentage to spend in each budget category
  • How to make your monthly budget zero-based
  • What to do with the left over budget money
  • Why your monthly budget isn’t working
  • Three helpful strategies for spending
  • Budgeting resources that work

With that as our outline, let’s get started.

What is a Budget?

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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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