You Need A Budget!

Unless you’re independently wealthy, we all have a limited amount of money to go around each month. Without paying attention, you can easily run out of money before you run out of things you need to spend it on.

That’s where a budget comes in. For quite a long time, we used Microsoft Money or Quicken to keep track of what we had in our checking and savings accounts, but we never really did a budget.

I ended up creating a spreadsheet for us to track what we spent on groceries, eating out, fuel, and other things. We used this method for a while.

When Quicken recently decided to start making yearly updates, I decided it was time to start looking again at all my options. I wanted something that had the following features:

  • We could enter transactions on a mobile device and it would sync up with the desktop software.
  • It had to track both the budget and the amount in our accounts so we only had to enter a transaction in one place.
  • The budget amounts had to roll over from month to month. A lot of programs have a “budget”, but it resets at the beginning of each month back to $0.
  • I didn’t want to have to buy it again each year to get the latest features.

After some research, the product that best fit what we were looking for was You Need A Budget. It took a little while to make the conversion, but after using it for over 3 months I’ve been very happy with it. I’ll point out some of the highlights below:

  • Mobile Application – The mobile application is great. It doesn’t have all the features of the desktop software, but it downloads and syncs the budget and transactions so you can see them anywhere. When you enter in a transaction, it can track where you are using the phone GPS so the next time you enter a transaction in the same place, it will automatically fill out all the fields except for the amount.
  • Budget – The budget comes preloaded with some common categories, but you can add and delete them to meet your needs.
  • Online and Email Courses – Along with buying the software, you can enroll in a number of the classes they have to offer. Some of them are online and some are email courses where they send you new information each day to read through. These are includes at no additional cost.
  • Support – Got a question? Just send them an email. You can try emailing them before you buy the product to see how responsive they are. They also have forums where users can post questions and answers on how they use the software.
  • Backup and Syncing – The software uses DropBox to sync between different devices. This also means that you’ve always got a backup of your budget in the cloud if something happens.

While the software seems complicated, it’s actually very simple and flexible. The budget screen allows you to divide your money each month to the different categories. You’ve also got the account registers. When you enter a transaction into a budgeted account, you will pick the budget category the transaction goes against. The budget immediately updates to show the new amount available.

Everyone makes mistakes and overspends from time to time, and the software makes it very easy to move money from one budget category to another. If you can’t do that, it will simply reduce the money you have to budget next month to cover the overspending.

If you’re on the fence about doing a budget, or using software to manage it, they offer a 34 day trial to get you started. When you’re ready to buy you can get 10% off of You Need A Budget through this link: http://ynab.refr.cc/NG5M8W2 (Full Disclosure: I’ll earn $6 for the referral somehow if you use the link.)

Do you have a budget? How do you manage your budget? Do you have any question about how to use You Need A Budget? Let me know if the comments!

Is your bank or credit union for or against you?

Back around Christmas time I wrote a post about the holiday loan offered by our local credit union. I gave plenty of reasons at that time why you shouldn’t get one of these loans.

But then they came back to surprise me with a vacation loan advertised on their digital sign. Seriously? A loan to go on vacation? They advertise it by showing a beach and saying “it’s only a vacation loan away.” This is accompanied by a “spring into a home equity loan” ad. I’ve also seen one advertising their great rates on car loans.

You know what I haven’t seen? Anything about savings rates, investing, or getting into better financial shape. I had them advertise Financial Peace University once on their digital sign and it worked out great. That was until I got a call telling me they had to take it down because it was a conflict of interest because they wanted their members coming to them to discuss financial problems. Hmmm, maybe for consolidation loan?

All of this begs the question, is your bank or credit union for or against you? Do they have your best interest in mind when they offer you a product or service or are they just trying to maximize their shareholder value, pad their pockets, or make a quick buck?

Banks and credit unions make money when you borrow money and not so much you save it. They can be extremely giving when they’ve got incentive.

Keep this in mind the next time you’re bank or credit union has something new to offer you. Consider how they’ll end up coming out ahead in the end before accepting anything.

What crazy debt products have you seen offered? Do you have any stories about your bank or credit union where they helped you get ahead? Leave them in the comments below.

Photo by 401(K) 2013

IT’S HERE: Am I the Only One Who Hates My Job

Hardcover-Book-MockUp

After months of learning and writing, my eBook has finally arrived!

Who is this eBook for? It would be easy to say for everyone, but that’s not really true though. It is primarily focused on the struggle that many experience in their job and career. I’ve pulled from my own personal experiences as well as what I’ve learned from others. I’ve also provided information and resources that got me through some of the toughest work experiences I had.

Why talk about it here? Well, shameless promotion for one. Another reason is saving money is really only one side of the equation. The other side involves making money. I personally believe that you’ll be more successful in your career if you enjoy what you’re doing. While you can make a ton of money, the time you spend doing it seems like an empty vacuum if you hate it.

If any of that appeals to you, you feel like you’re in a job you hate, or you’re just interested in getting a peek into a portion of my life, you’re in luck. For a special introductory period, I’ve lowered the price of the eBook to $0.99 for one week. Check it out below!

Money saving tip of the week: For those who have Amazon Prime and a Kindle, you can download the eBook for free through the Amazon Lending Library!

Ebates: Earn cash back while shopping online

ebates

I’ve discussed the Google Chrome extension Honey in the past. It helps you find and test promotion codes on web sites when you check out to make sure you’re getting a great deal. They recently released a new version that really enhances how it works and can tell you about deals when you visit a site before reaching checkout.

Promotion codes are great, but cash back is better. That’s where Ebates comes in. With Ebates, you earn cash back when you shop at a ton of different online stores. Their site can also help you find promotional codes that you can use to get a discount while you’re shopping.

Seems too good to be true, right? How can they give you cash back for shopping online? Most online stores have a referral program. When you refer someone to a site using a unique code and they make a purchase, the online store will give the referer a portion of the amount spent. This is generally called an affiliate or partner program. Assuming this is how it all works, then Ebates simply gives you back some what they get and everyone is happy. The trick is you that you have to start  your shopping trip through the Ebates site or you won’t earn anything.

When it comes time to get your money, they can either mail you a check or deposit your money in your PayPal account. You can even refer friends and get a bonus for referring them when they’ve spent a certain amount.

So, friends, check it out and let them know that Adam sent you. You can start today by clicking here or any other Ebates link in this post. (All of the links use my referral ID.)

Let me know your experience with Ebates in the comments below. Have you found ways to save or make money without changing your habits? Let me know that below too.

COMING SOON: Am I the Only One… Who Hates My Job?

Hardcover-Book-MockUp

Some of you may not realize that this site along with a sister site, Man Seeking Purpose, were created during a confusing and troubling time in my career. I felt like everything else in my life was going well, but what I wanted to be doing for my life’s work was a mystery.

After doing a lot of soul-searching, I discovered that I wasn’t the only one who felt the way I did.  Those I knew who didn’t feel fulfilled or were troubled with their jobs all seemed to have varying degrees of unhappiness and were unhappy in different ways. There was one common theme among them. It was the sense of loneliness and hopelessness. They felt like they didn’t know what to do with their lives or that things would never change and they just had to accept it.

I decided to compile the range of emotions I experienced in my different positions, including the most difficult moments, add in what I knew others have experienced and create an e-book. Not only did I want to express how I’ve felt through my career, but I wanted to write something that others could relate to and hopefully help them through a similar difficult time in their career.

Keep your eyes open in the coming months. There is some final editing to be done before it hits the electronic shelves!

The Allowance Game – Teach your kids about money

Allowance Game

If you have kids, grandkids, or simply know of some kids you kind of like, then I’m sure you can agree that they need to learn that stuff costs money, and money isn’t unlimited. If you can teach them about money through real world experiences, like chores, that’s great. But kids have short attention spans, so sometimes using a game keeps their interest a little better.

I played The Allowance Game when I was younger, which seems like a long time ago now. Now that I’ve got kids of my own, we’ve inherited that same game to play with our kids. I’m going to be basing what I know about the game from the version we have that is from the 80’s (and possibly older). The rules have probably changed with inflation (something I don’t think Monopoly can claim).

The goal of the game is simple. The first to have $10 wins. Every person starts with $2. You roll the dice and move around the board, following the instructions on each space you land on. On some of the spaces you will get money for selling things, doing a job, or losing a tooth. On other spaces, you have to spend money to buy a record at a garage sale (I told you we had the old version), or get some ice cream.

Every time you pass “home” you get to collect your allowance (similar to Monopoly). Unlike Monopoly you don’t buy spaces. However, there are a couple of unique corners. One is the bank, where you can put in a dollar and then every time you land on the space, you earn interest. You can also purchase the skate rental square and then people have to pay you to rent skates when they land on that space. (The skate rental has been updated to a lemonade stand in the new version.)

As for the money aspect, the game has fake 1 and 5 dollar bills, along with plastic nickels, dimes, and quarters. They’re realistic enough that kids will know what they are and can relate them to the real thing.

So what will kids learn by playing this game?

  • How to make change for dollars.
  • How to count money.
  • Buying stuff costs money and money can run out.
  • Saving money can make you money (when you save it in the bank).
  • Starting a business is a good way to make money (such as with skate rental or a lemonade stand).

The Allowance Game isn’t meant to be difficult. You don’t have to read through a huge book of instructions to get started, which is great for kids who just want to get started. You can probably play through a few rounds in an hour too. If you want to teach a child about money, then check it out using the affiliate link below. It could make a great birthday gift!

Have you ever played The Allowance Game? Do you have any games that you play with your kids to teach them life lessons? Leave a comment below!

Cut the cord, fatten your wallet!

Cord Cutter

I’m sure by now you’ve heard the term cord cutter. It used to be reserved for those crazy people who lived on the fringe, pinched pennies, and had no life. That has changed significantly over the past couple of years as friends of mine have joined the ranks after telling me how they could never drop their subscription television for one reason or another.

I believe that this change has occurred due to the increase in great content outside of cable and satellite. Stores are carrying streaming media devices almost like they carry DVD and Blu-Ray players. Plus, many of the Blu-Ray and DVD players and televisions are now “smart”, which means they include most of the same content options as streaming media players.

If you’re looking for a way to cut some costs, dropping the cable or satellite might be a good option. Not only that, but you may actually enjoy your television viewing experience more. Below are some options and ideas for improving your experience and saving some money in the process.

  • If you already have a smart television, Blu-Ray, or DVD player then you’ve already got a good start. If you don’t have one or you don’t think your options are that great on the one you’ve got, check out Roku. It has over 1000 “channels” and is one of the most widely used streaming players available. There are others out there, but with the options available on the Roku and a starting price of $49.99, it’s hard to beat. Whatever you get, make sure it has the options you’re interested in.
  • Netflix has thousands of television shows and movies available when you want them and it only costs $7.99 a month.
  • Amazon Prime not only offers you free 2 day shipping on a ton of products and free books from their Kindle lending library, but you also get access to their library of free streaming titles. At $79 a year, that comes out to about $6.59 a month. Some of the titles are available on Netflix, but there are plenty of them that are not due to the different content licenses each company.
  • Hulu Plus provides you access to many current shows the day they after they air on television. It’s like a digital DVR replacement. The downside is that it even though you are paying for it, you still have to watch some advertisements. This will run you $7.99 a month as well, or if you use a PC and don’t mind waiting a little while longer to view shows, it can be free.
  • Crackle, PBS, PBS Kids, NASA, and more are available on the Roku for free and on other platforms as well. To browse the channel selection on the Roku, go to http://www.roku.com/now-playing.
  • To enjoy all of your local programming in full HD, get a digital antenna. Check out http://www.antennaweb.org to figure out what to look for based on where you live. I’ve found that unless you are close to television signals, getting one with a power booster will help you pick up signals that are further away.
  • If you’re ready to take cord cutting to the next level, check out the Channel Master DVR+. It allows you to find and record your favorite over the air shows with no monthly subscription cost. It’s the DVR for cord cutters.

Some of the biggest complaints that I hear about cord cutting is “what about sports?!?!” That’s completely understandable since it’s probably the biggest weakness with streaming content. The sports options are expanding though.

Besides saving money, one of the biggest benefits to cutting the cord is that your life doesn’t have to revolve around what time your favorite show is on. Gone are the days of having to get home by a certain time so you don’t miss a season finale. Controlling the content means you control your schedule. Isn’t that the way it should be?

Potential Savings: We cut the cord about 3 years ago and haven’t looked back. As for savings, Time Warner is currently offering 200+ channels with 3Mbps internet for $79.99 a month. We have 15Mbps internet for $34.99 a month. If you were to subscribe to all the services mentioned above (Hulu Plus, Netflix, and Amazon Prime), it would cost about $57.56 a month. That’s a total savings of over $22 a month or $269 a year.

Featured Image courtesy of Gualberto107 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Saving Money for Non-Budgeters

SavedPlus

Everyone wants to save money, but some people don’t have the discipline to “pay themselves first”. If you don’t balance your checkbook or put away a set amount of money with each paycheck, then SavedPlus might be a simple solution to help you save money without having to change your habits.

The way it works is simple. You choose a savings percentage between 5-20% that you want to save with every purchase you make. Then as you spend, that extra percentage gets moved from your checking to savings account. So, if you set your percentage to 10% and go to the grocery store and spend $75, an extra $7.50 will be moved to your savings account. You can change the percentage from the mobile app or web site whenever you’d like as well as check your account balances and set up goals.

To keep you from pulling too much from your checking, you can also set up a maximum transaction amount so that it doesn’t save an extra 5% of that new flat screen purchase as an example. In addition, you can choose to exclude single transactions if you want. To keep you from overdrawing your account, you can also set up a minimum balance for your checking account so that it stops transferring money if your balance gets too low.

In order to use this service, you give your checking and savings account information along with your debit and credit card info so it can catch all of your transactions and move the money from your checking to savings. How much does it cost to use this service? Nothing. It’s free. You don’t have to open any accounts with them since they use the accounts you already have.

For those of you who balance your checking account and keep close tabs on what you spend, this may not be for you. It would drive me crazy to try to keep track of the extra transactions. But for those who keep track of what is in their checking account by just looking at the balance occasionally, then this may be a perfect way to starting putting away some extra money for a rainy day or retirement.

For more information, you can check out their site, the FAQs, and the How It Works page.

Potential Savings: I haven’t personally used this service, but it seems to be getting some attention. According to their website, average users save $350 a month or $4200 a year. That’s quite a bit of coin for not having to change your habits.

How to Make Christmas Last All Year Long

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Loan 1Loan FeaturedLoan 3Loan 4If your holiday season is anything like ours, it usually involves putting up holiday decorations, trying to figure out what to get people, and running all over to our different Christmas obligations. It seems crazy at the time, but then the day after Christmas life kind of goes back to normal and it’s a little sad that it’s all over. Well, if you want to be reminded of Christmas all year long, I’ve got the perfect solution!

You can now walk on down to your friendly neighborhood banking institution and get a holiday loan. For the low, low interest rate of 12%, you can be reminded of the times you had and the things you bought during the Christmas season every month when you write your check to the bank or credit union.

Maybe you thought you just stepped into the twilight zone. This blog is still about saving money and getting a loan of any kind is NOT the best way to save for anything. Just about the time you would get this wonderful holiday loan paid off, it will be time for Christmas once again. Since you won’t have any money next year since you used it to pay back the loan, you’ll be stuck in the same situation next year. Never fear, holiday loan to the rescue!

I’ve got a better plan and it will work even if you haven’t been saving all year. Although it may require some…wait for it…SACRIFICE! If money is tight this year, try out the tips below.

  • Determine who you need to buy gifts for. Sorry, but this year, the postman, hairdresser, and the neighbor’s kids won’t be getting anything from you. You might even want to cut out nephews, nieces, cousins, brothers and sisters. If you have kids of your own, you’re siblings might welcome not having to purchase anything for them if you don’t purchase anything for their kids in exchange. Just tell them “instead of buying stuff for each other’s kids, why don’t you take the money and spend it on your kids since you probably know what they like better anyhow.”
  • Are you crafty? Ever heard of Pinterest? This could save you quite a bit and the gift will probably mean a lot more since you put your time into it.
  • Create a Christmas budget. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Just determine how much you can safely spend on Christmas this year without throwing your financial world into chaos or causing you to accrue debt. Then write down how you’ll divide that money between everyone on your list. This might be a good opportunity to find additional people you won’t be shopping for.
  • Don’t buy things for yourself when you see a deal! Pretty easy to say, not always as easy to do.
  • If things are really tight, just be honest with family and friends. They will most likely be understanding and may even be grateful that they don’t have to shop for you. You might even find that others are in the same situation, but were just afraid to say it. If nothing else, just going to Christmas events with family and friends is oftentimes all they’re really hoping for.
  • Start saving for next year! If you thought you could afford paying back that Christmas loan (which has a payment of a little over $106 a month), then you should be able to stash that money in a savings account so you’re ready for next year. You won’t just have $1200, but more like $1280. It might take some discipline, but if you can schedule it to come out of each paycheck, then you can make your discipline automatic.

The holiday season can be stressful enough as it is, don’t add to it by doing something you’ll regret the rest of the year.

Do you need an Ally?

Ally Bank Logo

We’ve been using an online bank for the majority of our banking for several years. We started with ING Direct until they were purchased by Capital One. We don’t really care for the large banks and figured they’d screw up a good thing, so we decided to switch to Ally Bank. We’ve been with them for a few years now and have no real complaints. Below are some of the reasons that we use Ally and online banks in general.

  • ATM Fee Refunds – With ING Direct, we had to use certain ATMs to not be charged a fee. With Ally, we can use whatever ATM we want, and they will issue us a refund for the fees we pay at the end of the month.
  • Paper Checks – We didn’t have a need for them that often, but they are handy to use occasionally. At the time ING Direct didn’t offer paper checks, but Ally did. Whenever you need more, you just let them know and they’ll send them to you at no charge.
  • Interest Rates – Face it, no one is paying great interest rates, but Ally is usually at or near the top. I’m not the type of person to go around and switch all my banking because someone else offers a .01% better rate. As long as we’re near the top, I’m okay with that.
  • Multiple Checking Accounts – At the time, we could only open one checking account with ING, but we wanted multiple. We like to put money from each paycheck into a “bills” account so that it can be pulled out automatically each month when it’s needed. In order to not go over the 6 withdrawal limit of a savings account, you have to use  a checking account. Plus, we got a debit card for the account and could use that with a lot of the places we pay each month. We also decided later to set up an account for myself and my wife. We keep our finances together for just about everything, but we also have our own little account that we use for our own personal spending. It’s our “no judgement” zone.
  • Tons of Savings Accounts – As far as I know, you can create as many as you want. You can create them for any savings goal you might have and then set up transfers so when you get paid, money is automatically transferred to your savings.
  • Instant Transfers – Did an emergency pop up that you need to take care of and need the money transferred fast? You can do it instantly from one account to another, even on the weekend.
  • Overdraft Protection Using Your Savings Account – You would never do this of course because you keep really good track of your checkbook. Let’s just say you were out and your car breaks down. You can’t transfer money from your savings to checking right then. If you tie a savings account to your checking account. When you pay the bill, Ally will transfer the necessary funds from the savings account to your checking account to cover the transfer. This saved us once when my wife lost her debit card for our shared account, and needed to purchase something. She simply used the one for her personal account and we took care of cleaning things up later.
  • Online Chat – If you’ve ever got a question, you can load up chat on Ally’s site and they can help you right away.
  • Online Bill Pay – Who doesn’t offer this? The nice thing about Ally’s is that they don’t take the money out of your account until the day the check is supposed to be delivered. That means you get a little extra time to earn some interest.

I will admit, they were little late to the mobile game. When their original mobile app came out, it wasn’t that impressive. It has improved over time and now allows for eDeposits where you can take a picture of a check and it deposits it into your account. This keeps us from having to run to a brick and mortar bank, deposit the check, and then transfer it up to the account we want it in.

I know there are some other online banks that have created fancy sites that show you a bunch of graphs and do automatic savings of one sort or another. Honestly though, I like to keep things simple and know exactly where our money is and where it’s headed. Ally has worked well for us and if you’re looking to dip your toes in the water of an online bank, give it a try. It might be a great place to put that emergency fund you’ve been working on.

(For what it’s worth, we have one account at a brick and mortar bank. We keep $5 in the account to keep it open. The only reason we have it is for those times we want to deposit cash or a check made out to one of our daughters. Once we make our deposit, we transfer the money almost immediately to Ally.)