Hope for your financial life and beyond

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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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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How Do You Respond to the I Need A Vacation Voice?

I need a vacation.

i need a vacationHow many times have you said that?

When work has become a drag…

When school has you worn down…

When family life has become monotonous…

When you’re just plain bored.

In all those situations I’ve found myself daydreaming and saying internally, I need a vacation. Get me on the next flight outta here!”

The question is – how will you respond to that little voice inside that cries I need a vacation so often?

Reactions to the I Need a Vacation Voice

Depending on your personality you may react in one of these ways:

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Technology Is Revealing One Big Flaw That Crushes Our Finances

The world is changing rapidly. It’s moving so fast sometimes it feels like your head is spinning faster than the earth on its axis. You wake up one day and say, “Whoa…what happened? How did we get here?”

technologyThe tough part is when we get the sense we are falling behind the times. It’s as though we are hamsters in a wheel – continually running but never catching up.

This rapid change and our pursuit to keep up is nowhere more evident than with technology. And while it has helped create a great standard of living for us I’m afraid it’s revealing one big flaw we’ve yet to conquer.

A Technological Revolution

I think technology is awesome! It has literally shaped the world, perhaps no more so than in the past 150 years. Just think about the inventions since 1850 that have altered life:

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How to Enjoy a Life of Guilt Free Spending

guilt freeI would love to enjoy a guilt free life when it comes to spending money. Ever heard the same voice rattling around in your head that I’ve heard in mine. It usually says something like, “Why did you spend that money? That was stupid! You know you shouldn’t have done that.”

When that thought occurs it’s typical to spend the rest of the day kicking yourself and feeling like you’ve done something wrong. That same night might be spent seeking forgiveness from your spouse, while the rest of the month you struggle to figure out how to make the budget cover for your spending decision.

Guilt is powerful. But have you ever stopped to consider why?

6 Possible Origins of Our Guilt

Why do we get so wrapped up with guilt when it comes to spending money?

I think the root of guilt can be traced to several factors, some of which may have started long ago in our childhood.

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Would You Use Cheap Toilet Paper For a Penny?

Would you save money by buying ultra cheap toilet paper? I had an encounter recently at the grocery store that led me to consider it.

Several weeks ago I’m in the checkout line waiting to pay for my groceries. As I’m loading the items onto the conveyer belt a sweet, older lady steps in line behind me. She had only a few items in her hand to purchase so I immediately felt bad that she would have to wait for me – because I had a fully loaded shopping cart.

cheap toilet paperShe began to comment on the size of my haul to which I’ve come to have a standard reply – “Yeah, it takes a lot when you are shopping to feed six.” But then she began to analyze my purchases. Evidently I’d done really well that week, as she was excited to see fresh fruits and vegetables in my cart and the assortment of buy-one-get-one products I snagged.

Then she asked me if I’d got “the penny item” on sale that day. I had a vague recollection of seeing somewhere along the way that my store promoted a penny item but I’d never paid attention to it. I don’t usually coupon so stuff like that is never on my radar.

So I told her, “No, I missed that” to which she proceeded to tell me that it was a four-pack of toilet paper. Not only that but she would go get me one if I wanted it.

Oh boy…what to do?

Should I Let Her Get the Cheap Toilet Paper?

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