Budgeting Help

How to Stay Within Your Budget: Monitor Your Budget Busters

Monitor Your Budget Busters

We originally published How to Stay Within Your Budget: Monitor Your Budget Busters on February 20, 2017, and have refreshed it for 2021.

It’s not that difficult to create a budget. What’s hard is sticking with it over time. One way to increase your success is to track what you spend. Unfortunately, very few people have the discipline to track every expense. The good news is that you don’t have to do this to be successful.

Most people don’t overspend on everything. Instead, there are usually a few items—let’s say clothing, dining out, or travel—that bust the budget. Monitoring and controlling these budget busters can help you reduce your spending without tedious bookkeeping.

How to Monitor Your Budget Busters

To stay within your budget, monitor your budget busters. You know what they are. Perhaps you go to your favorite clothing boutique and can’t say no to the latest seasonal fashions. Or you find it impossible to browse a bookstore or Amazon without stocking up on the latest bestsellers.

Indeed, it doesn’t help that online shopping has made it all too easy to spend more money without any effort at all. And the pandemic only exacerbated this trend. In fact, consumers spent $791.70 billion online with U.S. retailers in 2020, up 32.4% from 2019, according to Digital Commerce 360.

Though online spending is up in general, the things we overspend on are as individual as we are. Identifying the culprits is the first step to creating a spending plan that will work for you.

A Simple Process to Stay Within Your Budget

  1. Make a list of your budget busters – you know what they are.
  2. Tackle one at a time, or if you are extra motivated and organized, all at once.
  3. Track your spending by employing the techniques below.

The envelope system involves placing your monthly budgeted amount for each item into an envelope in cash. For example, label the envelopes “clothing cash,” “shoe cash,” and “dinner-out cash,” and stash them in your wallet. When the cash runs out, stop spending until the next month when you will refresh the cash.

You may be thinking, “There’s no way I’m going to carry that much cash around.” And of course, there are those airline miles to accrue! In that case, write down your budget busters in your day planner or on a piece of paper that you post somewhere visible. After each purchase, subtract what you spent from your budget. Stop buying when you reach your limit.

If you gave up your day planner years ago and lose every piece of paper you write on, try booting up your favorite tracking software. For example, PocketGuard and Mint.com let you upload transactions from your credit cards and checking accounts to keep track of your spending. Each month, log in to see if you were able to successfully stay within your budget.

Learning to Spend More Intentionally

Alternatively, you can find a trusted advisor or friend to “buddy up” with and help you stay on track. Accountability is a powerful motivator.

Finally, try monitoring your budget busters instead of every expense for a few months and see how it works for you. I think you’ll find that it’s an excellent behavior modification tool. Moreover, you’ll become increasingly aware of spending habits that aren’t in your best interest. Over time, you’re likely to find it much easier to stay disciplined and reach your financial goals.

Do you want to manage your money (and life!) better?

Download The Happiness Spreadsheet and learn how to align your spending with your values for greater happiness.

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Finding Your Style Can Save You Money

Finding Your Style Can Save You Money

This article was originally published July 23, 2015.

There was a time when men’s grooming and fashion were as complicated as women’s. But that time is long gone.

In fact, the average American spends $161 per month on clothes, with women spending 76% more than men annually, according to CreditDonkey. And a recent study by OnePoll for Groupon found that women spend an additional $313 each month on the rest of their appearance, on average. This amount of spending can do serious damage to your budget and keep you from meeting your financial goals.

Fortunately, it’s possible to start spending more prudently. First, review your spending habits and determine how much of your disposable income you can truly afford to spend on your appearance each month. Awareness is the first step towards developing better habits. Finding your style can also help.

Why You Have a Closet Full of Clothes but Nothing to Wear

Many women buy clothing that they seldom wear. It’s usually because the article of clothing did not suit them or fit their style. Maybe a well-meaning friend or salesperson insisted, “it looks fabulous on you!” Then you realize later it most decidedly does not.

It’s easy for a wardrobe to mushroom with such ill-advised purchases but still feel like you have nothing to wear. Finding your style can help you spend less, save more, and curate a wardrobe that feels more like you.

4 Tips for Finding Your Style

Style Tip #1: Identify the Pieces You Wear Most Often

Go through your closet and pull out the pieces that you wear over and over again. These will offer strong clues about how you like to look.  As you’re pulling out the items you love, set aside anything you haven’t worn in a year.

Style Tip #2: Look for Inspiration

Browse magazines and tear out pictures of outfits that appeal to you. Alternatively, you can pin photos on a Pinterest Board.

Style Tip #3: Revisit Your Routine

Your routine activities can provide clues about what to stop buying. For example, if you’re not going to many cocktail parties, you probably don’t need to own ten cocktail dresses! In other words, make sure your wardrobe fits your current lifestyle.

Style Tip #4: Hire a Professional Stylist

If you find it impossible to audit your closet yourself, hire an expert to help you. An experienced stylist or organizer can help take the emotion out of the equation and squelch your attempts to hold onto clothing that doesn’t work for you or your lifestyle.

You can also employ a stylist to help you shop. A good stylist will help you fine-tune your personal style, go shopping with you seasonally, and even find great items on sale for you.

Even though hiring help will cost you money, it will be well worth it in the end when you have a new, well-edited wardrobe. And once you have a better handle on your personal style, you’re likely to save time, energy, and money in the future.

Finding Your Style Has Multiple Benefits

Besides the cost savings, finding your personal style can have psychological and emotional benefits. When your appearance accurately reflects who you are inside, you may find you feel more confident and in control of your life.

If you’re looking for more tips on how to curb your shopping habit, check out: 25 Tips to Get Your Clothes Shopping Habit Under Control.

And for a fresh, inspiring approach to budgeting, download The Happiness Spreadsheet to create a spending plan that’s aligned with your values.

Finally, if Curtis Financial Planning can help you take control of your finances and secure your future, please schedule a call.

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25 Tips to Get Your Clothes Shopping Habit Under Control

25 Tips to Get Your Shopping Habit Under Control

We originally published this article on June 16, 2018.

If you’re like a lot of Americans, your spending habits may have changed during the Covid-19 pandemic. For many of us, staying at home meant spending less and saving more. And with nowhere to go, buying new clothes didn’t feel like a priority.

Now that the economy is reopening, you may feel the urge to make up for lost time—and potentially reignite your shopping habit. Before returning to old habits that are interfering with your financial goals, getting you into trouble with a significant other, causing you to rack up credit card debt, or simply making you feel bad about yourself, consider these strategies to get your clothes shopping habit under control.

First, Face Reality

Compare last year’s credit card and bank statements to 2019 and figure out how much money went to clothing and accessories each year. If your clothes budget decreased significantly over the last 12-15 months, you may not be able to reasonably maintain that level of spending post-pandemic. Instead, set a new goal to cut your 2019 clothes and accessories budget by 20%. (Trying to cut spending too much at first is a recipe for failure, so it’s best to do it in stages.)

Now that you have a new budget, you’ll need some strategies to stick to it.

Consider these tips to get your clothes shopping habit under control:

Notice that many of these tips are as much about the psychology of shopping as they are about the acquiring of new clothing, shoes, and accessories.

  1. Try very hard to intentionally schedule shopping trips instead of spontaneously dropping into your favorite stores just to “take a look at what is new.”
  2. Don’t shop when you are lonely, tired, frustrated, anxious or bored.
  3. Avoid shopping immediately after a setback or a major victory.
  4. When the adrenalin kicks in and you catch yourself in a shopping frenzy, leave the store before buying anything. Focus on centering yourself first.
  5. Don’t let friends, shop-owners or salespeople convince you that something looks great on you when you don’t think it does, or it’s just not your style.
  6. Decide what you need in your wardrobe and make a list. Take the list with you when you go shopping.
  7. Before you buy anything on sale, ask yourself whether you would buy it at full price.
  8. Think quality, not quantity. Not only will the item of clothing last longer, but you are likely to love it longer too.
  9. Stop rationalizing. You don’t need a whole new wardrobe because you got a new job or because you now work at home.
  10. Buy things you’re going to wear now, not for a far-off occasion or event that may never happen.
  11. Buy clothing for the way you live now, not for the way you wish you were living. (For example, buying a fancy dress when you never go to fancy parties.)
  12. Avoid buying one-off pieces of clothing that don’t go with anything in your wardrobe.
  13. Don’t buy clothing in the wrong size thinking you’ll lose weight or have it “taken in.” (Although, having a good tailor is worth its weight in gold.)
  14. Try shopping with cash, not credit cards. It’s easier to set limits.
  15. Limit the number of trendy items you buy to just a small percentage of your wardrobe.
  16. Think #10: everything you buy should be as close to a “10” as possible.
  17. Realize that a new dress, skirt, blouse, or jacket are not going to make you more beautiful or change your life.
  18. To help make better buying decisions, analyze your wardrobe to understand what your favorite go-to pieces are. What are the common themes?
  19. Home in on what colors and styles look best on you to limit choices.
  20. Instead of going shopping with girlfriends, do something else, like going for a hike, to a museum, or out to lunch.
  21. One-in, one-out rule. (If your wardrobe is very large, you may want to release two or two pieces for each that you buy.)
  22. Think like an economist and analyze cost per wear before buying.
  23. Track your clothing and accessories spending to hold yourself accountable.

Kick Your Shopping Habit, Once and for All

If you’re able to stick to your new budget for a few months, set a lower budget for the next month and see how it goes. Tracking your spending not only keeps you honest, but it will also show you if you tend to buy the same items over and over, which is very common. How many pairs of jeans or black tank tops does one need?

It may take several attempts to get your clothes shopping habit under control. But with each small victory, you will get stronger. Just think about all the time and money you will gain by not buying so many clothes and what else you can do with it to make your life better.

P.S. This post is written by someone who loves fashion and who continues to incorporate these tips into her own shopping habits. 🙂

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Life After Lockdown: Creating a Budget Post-Pandemic

Creating a Budget Post-Pandemic

For the past few weeks, I’ve been teaching a personal finance class at Mills College. The first class covered cash flow and budgeting, so I asked my students to create a budget for homework. To help them get started, I suggested reviewing their recent credit card and bank statements to estimate their discretionary spending habits. One of the students brought up a great point: “I wasn’t spending like I normally do during COVID, so the last 14 months may not be representative of my spending from now on.”

As it turns out, her statement is true for most of us. For example, 64% of Americans say their spending habits have changed since the pandemic started, according to a Bank of America survey of more than 2,500 adults. In addition, a separate Bank of America survey found that 46% of affluent Americans have been getting their financial lives in order during the last year and expect to reach key financial milestones sooner than their parents did. That means many of us not only changed how we spend our money, but we also developed more financial discipline during the pandemic.

Indeed, our spending will likely look different as the world reopens and life returns to normal. Of course, just how different depends on the person. It’s tempting to splurge on the things and experiences we missed most in lockdown (for instance, we finally have a reason to buy new clothes again!). However, I think it would be fantastic if some of us could maintain the money habits we developed when we had fewer options. Creating a budget that reflects those habits can be a great way to do that.

How the Pandemic Changed Our Spending Habits

Life in lockdown forced us to reevaluate many aspects of our daily lives. As our circumstances and priorities changed, so did our spending. Gyms and restaurants closed, and travel was all but nonexistent for the first part of the pandemic. So, where did our money go?

Self Magazine surveyed 1,300 Americans to find out how their spending habits changed during the pandemic. Of the female respondents, 62% said they used time in lockdown to cook more creatively and spent a lot more money on groceries as a result. In addition to our growing grocery budgets while at home, a CIT Bank survey conducted by The Harris Poll found that spending on food delivery was also up 25% during the pandemic. 

However, food wasn’t the only thing we spent more on in lockdown. According to data provided by budgeting app Mint last August, consumer spending on investments, pets, education, and home expenses was up significantly year over year.

While some of these trends may continue, others will naturally return to more normal levels in a post-pandemic world. It may be helpful to keep this in mind and adjust accordingly when creating a budget for the future.

Good Habits We Developed in Lockdown

Despite increased spending in certain categories during the pandemic, more than half of Americans said they spent less and saved more than usual overall, according to the same CIT Bank survey. Thanks to government stimulus and new spending habits, many people were able to save more and pay down debt.

Notably, CRS reported that credit card balances declined about $76 billion in the second quarter of 2020, the largest quarterly decline on record. In addition, data from Experian shows that on average, Americans’ credit scores increased and payment habits improved in 2020.

Yet good habits extended beyond those experiencing financial difficulties before the pandemic. Of more than 2,000 affluent adults (households with investable assets between $100,000 and $1 million) surveyed by Bank of America, 81% said they took the money they’d normally spend on entertainment, travel, and dining and set it aside for savings and emergency funds during the pandemic.

The Pandemic’s Impact on Women

These statistics certainly paint a rosy picture, and many of us have been fortunate enough to come out of the pandemic in similar or better financial shape than we started. Unfortunately, however, many women experienced unprecedented challenges during the pandemic, setting them back even further on their path to retirement.

For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported women’s unemployment has increased by 2.9% more than unemployment among men since the start of the pandemic. In addition, data from Washington University in St. Louis showed hours worked by mothers fell four to five times as much as hours worked by fathers. Many women had no choice but to leave the workforce to care for aging parents or children. Female participation in the workforce has not been this low since 1988, according to one NPR analysis.

It’s no secret that women have long been at a disadvantage when preparing for retirement. This is because we tend to invest less and hold more cash than men, contributing to our savings shortfall. However, the main driver behind this shortfall is our lower lifetime earnings due to gender pay gaps and caretaking responsibilities—a trend that only worsened amid the pandemic.

Morningstar reports that 55% of all jobs lost in 2020 (2.3 million jobs total) were lost by women. And 32% of women ages 25-44 say they’re not currently working due to childcare demands, compared to 12% of men in the same age group.

If you’re facing any of these challenges yourself, creating a budget for post-pandemic life might be the last thing on your mind. However, closing the retirement savings gap is more critical than ever. Even one small step in the right direction can help you take control of your financial future.

Creating a Budget for Your Future

My suggestion to the student who spoke up in my class was to look back to 2019 as a spending guide. You may find this advice helpful as you’re creating a budget for yourself post-pandemic. However, if you want to continue the good habits you developed during COVID or create new habits to better prepare yourself for the future, be sure to incorporate these changes into your new spending plan. Remember: small, consistent actions over time often lead to big results.

If you’d like to work with a fiduciary financial planner to help you feel better about your money and prepare for the future, please schedule a call to see if we’re a good fit. In addition, you can check out The Happiness Spreadsheet, a fresh, inspiring approach to budgeting that can help you maintain good money habits and develop new ones.

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5 Ways to Boost Your Financial Confidence

Boost Your Financial Confidence

In many aspects of life, confidence is key. But if there’s one category where that emotion is often lacking, it’s financial. Fortunately, April is National Financial Literacy Month. To celebrate, this month’s podcast episode features Jennifer Barrett, author of Think Like a Breadwinner. In addition, I’m sharing some tips of my own for how you can boost your financial confidence to shift your money mindset.

Five steps you can take right now to boost your financial confidence:

1. Face Your Finances

Regularly revisiting your budget, checking in on your accounts, and tracking your net worth are three tasks that any financial advisor would recommend. And for good reason. These tasks may seem simplistic, but they provide you with a solid financial foundation. Moreover, getting a routine down for the basics will also help boost your financial confidence when it comes to tackling larger tasks.

2. Educate Yourself

There is an incredible number of ways to improve your financial literacy. And with the rise of personal finance blogs, podcasts, books, and courses, it’s easier than ever to get your hands on the information you need.

For instance, Curtis Financial Planning’s website contains the Of Independent Means blog and the Financial Finesse podcast, as well as several free downloads and other resources. In addition, the Balance has compiled a handy list of the 10 best personal finance books of 2021.

3. Know Your Worth

Have you gone a year or more without a cost-of-living raise? Or have you recently changed positions, taken on more responsibilities, or spent time honing your skills? If so, it’s time to negotiate a higher salary. Indeed, growing the gap between your expenses and your income will boost your financial confidence. However, it can also help you meet many common financial goals.

Just be sure to do your research to find out how much others in your position are making. For example, websites like Glassdoor will give you the average salary for your position and location. In addition, you can add in your years of experience to get a more specific answer.

4. Set Financial Goals

Two common financial goals are putting together a budget or spending plan and paying down debt. These two tasks go hand-in-hand, and they’re vital for a healthy financial future. Other examples of financial goals include:

• Starting an emergency fund
• Saving for retirement
• Paying off your mortgage
• Funding a dream vacation

Setting financial goals offers a daily reminder of what matters more than emotional spending or convenience purchases. No matter your financial goals, facing your finances, increasing your knowledge, and knowing what you’re worth can help you get there.

5. Partner With a Financial Advisor

Nothing offers a bigger, better, or faster financial confidence boost than partnering with a knowledgeable financial advisor. To get started and cross one thing off your financial to-do list, download The Happiness Spreadsheet. This incredible free resource offers a unique approach to budgeting by aligning your spending plan with your values.

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Simple Truth #3: Contrary to Popular Opinion, You Were NOT Born to Shop

You Were Not Born to Shop

We originally published this article on February 20, 2010, and it remains one of our most popular blog posts to date. In the spirit of ongoing financial wellness, we thought we’d give it a refresh for 2021 as many of us adjust to new habits—including how we shop.

I’m a financial advisor. But I’m also a normal person just like you. I know how difficult it is to be an American and somehow not feel it’s our duty to shop.

Our economic and social systems are based on capitalism. Consequently, economists watch consumer spending like hawks, and no wonder—it fuels about two-thirds of total economic output in the United States. Talk about pressure!

This also puts a lot of pressure on you, the consumer. If no one buys our goods and services, then what happens to our economy?

Advertising Only Fuels Your Shopping Habit

The advertising industry is the perfect agent for promoting consumption. According to the ANA, advertising is linked to the bedrock principles that shaped our nation—free speech, competition, and individual choice—and is a driving force in fueling economic activity.

As such, advertisers have one role: to make us want us to consume. Their mission is to make products and services seem as enticing as possible, so we buy them whether we need them or not. Just watch a few episodes of Mad Men to learn the tricks of the trade.

And it’s almost impossible to escape from the influence of advertising unless you live like a hermit. Watch TV, drive down the freeway, listen to the radio, log on to a website, and you’re bombarded with advertising messages. No wonder we feel like we were born to shop!

Only You Are in Control of Your Shopping Habit

The problem is, economists and advertisers aren’t concerned about your personal bottom line. Just like you, they’re concerned about their jobs, their families, their standard of living, and their ability to retire comfortably.

Therefore, you need to adopt a “me vs. them” mentality when it comes to kicking your shopping habit. In other words, before you open your wallet to buy something, stop and think: Do I want “them” to have my money, or do I want “me” to have my money? The person on the other side of the cash register certainly doesn’t know if you can afford the item you are about to purchase—nor do they care.

Think of shopping as a psychological battleground—that’s how advertisers think of it.  Do you want to be the victor or the vanquished? Remember: you were not born to shop!

Don’t Be the Vanquished When It Comes to Your Personal Finances

Feeling vanquished about your personal finances isn’t a good thing.  It probably means you’re in debt, or you’re anxious about your future and feel stuck. Is all the “stuff” worth it? Probably not.

Excess stuff also clutters your environment. Coupled with your excess debt, this can ruin your credit score and your relationships.

Like anything psychological or emotional, it isn’t easy to change. But there are things you can do to take control of your spending. It’s time to denounce popular opinion, admit you were not born to shop, stop spending more than you earn, and live within your means.

First, Balance Your Budget

Using an excel spreadsheet, list all of your expenses categorized as follows:

  • Fixed and necessary expenses. These expenses are the same every month and/or are necessary to keep you housed, clothed, groomed, healthy, fed, and mobile.
  • Other committed expenses. These may include child-related expenses, pet care, fees to professionals, adult education, gym membership, insurance premiums, and debt payments.
  • Discretionary expenses. Includes vacations, dining out, entertainment, hobbies, electronics, gifts, home improvements, furnishings.
  • Auto-savings. Includes your retirement contributions and other savings.

Next, total the subtotals for each category to come up with your total monthly expenses. Then subtract this amount from your total monthly income. The outcome will either be a positive or a negative number.

If it’s a positive number, congratulations. You are living within your means. If you know you’re saving enough for retirement and other financial goals and have no debt to pay off, then you have some discretion as to how you use your money. However, if the outcome is negative, go back and rework your expenses until it comes out even or positive. Once your cash flow is neutral or positive, you now have a working budget.

Hint: You will have the most flexibility to adjust your discretionary spending, but you can also try and negotiate savings with service providers or increase deductibles on insurance policies to save on premiums. In addition, you should try to eliminate any high-interest credit card debt before adding to your discretionary spending account.  

Some Tips for Staying the Course

  1. Print out a copy of your budget. Post it somewhere that is visible to you regularly, so it stays top-of-mind.
  2. Track your spending. Mint.com is a free online tool that tracks all of your expenses, income, and savings. You can enter your budget, and Mint will send you an email any time you overspend on a budget item.
  3. Try the envelope system. Place your budgeted amount for discretionary items like clothing and food in an envelope in cash. When the cash is gone, you can’t spend on those items again until the next month.
  4. Leave your credit cards at home. Become more conscious that the money you spend is from a finite source. Try paying cash or using your ATM card whenever possible.
  5. Walk away. If you’re tempted to buy an item that you don’t really need, leave the store, walk around the block, and think about it. Nine times out of ten you won’t buy the item. Remember: It’s “me vs. them.” Who gets your money?
  6. Reward Yourself. Each month that you stay within budget, reward yourself in some small but significant way. For example, indulge in a nice lunch out, get a pedicure, or order a nice glass of wine with a meal.

Maybe You Were Not Born to Shop, But You Still Want To

After completing the budgeting exercise, you may find it’s impossible to balance your cash flow. Even though you realize you were not born to shop, you don’t want to live frugally, either. If this is the case for you, look at the income side instead. Can you ask for a raise at work? Find a higher-paying job?  Freelance?  Start a small business? Rent a room out? Sell belongings to raise cash?

Explore all avenues. Exercise your capitalist gene by thinking about all the ways you can produce goods and services for profit—for yourself!

Feel Happier While Spending Less

If you want to think differently about the relationship between your spending, your values, and your happiness, download The Happiness Spreadsheet. In addition to giving you a more inspiring approach to budgeting, our free eBook includes a number of resources you can use to get your shopping habit and spending under control.

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Budgeting For Happiness: Your New Spending Plan

New Spending Plan

Many women resist traditional budgeting because it feels so restrictive. Your new spending plan prioritizes what’s most important to you.

At the mention of the word “budget,” many people cringe. Like the word “diet,” it brings about a sense of dread, thoughts of deprivation, and the possibility of failure. Instead of focusing on the long-term rewards of effective budgeting, you start to focus on what you can’t have right now. When that deprivation mentality kicks in, it makes mindless shopping or impulse purchases harder to resist. But don’t fret; this mindset is fixable if you take a different approach with your spending plan.

The Psychology of Budgeting

There’s a psychological side to budgeting. It involves motivation, discipline, and often a bit of creativity. The idea of budgeting creates an emotional response in your brain, and it’s not always a good one. Creating and sticking to a budget can feel like yet another task on your already endless to-do list, not to mention the fact that this task also involves math, which most of us tend to avoid. But stick with me here because you do need a budget, just not the kind that fills you with an impending sense of doom. 

Why You Need a Budget 

As challenging as it can be, budgeting is a necessary not-so-evil. For starters, identifying where your money is going every month can help you find ways to cut back, increase your savings, and work toward your financial goals. A recent U.S. Bank study revealed that only 41% of Americans use a budget, even though it’s one of the most effective ways to keep track of our finances. 

It’s time to try a better way. Budgeting can help you improve your financial security, limit unaligned spending, and avoid debt and financial stress. It’s one of the quickest and easiest ways to increase your financial control and sense of financial fulfillment. 

What If There Were a Better Way? 

The key to better budgeting is to make it feel less like deprivation and more like prioritization. Understanding your core values, financial and otherwise, and aligning your spending with them can be very motivating. And when you feel more aligned, it tends to lead to greater fulfillment and better habits. 

Here are some suggestions for aligning your new budget spending plan with your values: 

  • Create a financial plan that emphasizes your goals, whether that’s early retirement, real estate investments, or that long-awaited vacation  
  • If you’re estimating costs, it’s always better to be conservative (i.e., overestimate rather than underestimate)
  • Link your spending to things that you value—this may require some self-reflection work, but it will be worth it 
  • Use visuals to maintain your motivation (pop pictures on the wall over your desk or create a vision board on Pinterest), and revisit your goals regularly  
  • Give yourself grace and a chance to rework the numbers or try again if you fall off track 

Your New Spending Plan

To implement these ideas in your own budget, download The Happiness Spreadsheet for a fresh, inspiring approach to budgeting that aligns your spending plan with your values.

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12 Simple Steps to Financial Success

12 Simple Steps to Financial Success

This article was originally published December 29, 2011. In the spirit of ongoing financial wellness, we thought we’d give 12 Simple Steps to Financial Success a refresh for 2021 and repost. Happy new year!

The new year is upon us, and January is always a good time to look towards the future and recommit to past personal finance goals or create new ones. Just in time to round out your new year’s resolutions, here are some simple steps all independent women can take for a more financially successful 2021.

12 Simple Steps to Financial Success This Year:

  1. Develop a habit of saving. It’s never too early or too late to start.
  2. Build a budget that aligns with your values. Think about what makes you happy and then allocate your money accordingly.
  3. Create a financial plan that reflects your most cherished goals. Think of it as a roadmap to happiness.
  4. Invest the maximum amount you can for retirement. You will need more money than you think.
  5. Build and maintain a diversified investment portfolio. Don’t worry about finding the “best” investment.
  6. Review your spending periodically to keep yourself on track. It’s the key to living within your means.
  7. When it comes to investing, avoid the crowd—and tips from well-meaning friends and relatives.
  8. Understand that volatility is a normal occurrence when investing in stocks. Keep a cool head and stick to your plan.
  9. Know what your money is doing. They say ignorance is bliss, but that’s not the case when it comes to your finances.
  10. Insurance protects you from the unexpected. It’s just smart to have the right coverage.
  11. Choose your advisors wisely: Find people you like, trust, and who will listen to you.
  12. Spend on the things and experiences that make you happy. They make life worth living!

Your New Year’s Challenge

Choose one of these 12 simple steps to financial success as your new year’s resolution for your finances and write a short (200–250 word) journal entry describing how you’ll put it into action. Studies show that just writing down your goals increases the likelihood that you’ll achieve them. Then, review your plan routinely throughout the year so your resolution is always front-of-mind.

If you’d like to work on any or all of these steps with a trusted financial partner, please get in touch. We are here to help!  

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Creating New Spending Habits After Shelter-In-Place

Cooking At Home

One of the most desired and, at the same time, hardest-to-do financial tasks is to create a budget and stick to it.

I know this from my personal experience and that of my clients. It is the rare person who enjoys purposefully creating spending limits – because that is what a budget does – it sets limits on spending. These limits are necessary to reach important savings goals like retiring or buying a house, but that doesn’t make them any more comfortable. What if there was an easier way to create new spending habits?

Why not take this rare opportunity to create new spending habits instead of going back to the old?

Admit it- you enjoy cooking more than you thought you did, and you can’t believe how much money you are saving by not eating out as much. You look in your closet and you are dismayed about how many clothes you own and don’t wear – and you don’t think you will need them after you no longer have to shelter-in-place. You’ve enjoyed neighborhood walks and Zoom Zumba classes much more than you ever liked going to the gym. If this is you – take the opportunity to build a new budget around this lifestyle. You don’t have to eliminate all past activities that you once enjoyed, but you may find it much easier to cut back now.

Want to make budgeting more fun? Download The Happiness Spreadsheet, a free tool that helps you create a budget you can live by!

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THE CARES ACT REVIEW PART V: Health Provisions

Photo by Ani Kolleshi on Unsplash

One of the objectives of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) is to help people get the care they need with fewer obstacles and less-in-person contact. It adds to the health provisions in a bill passed in March – the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).

The CARES ACT health provisions will be most beneficial to families with High Deductible Health Insurance plans (HDHPs) and health savings accounts (HSAs) or flexible spending accounts (FSAs), which are pre-tax savings accounts for healthcare expenses. However, Medicare Part D participants and anyone who gets a test for COVID-19 will benefit too.

EXPANDED USE OF HSAs
Temporary provision:
-Telehealth services used to be subject a deductible, now they are covered before a patient has met the plan deductible. Usual cost-sharing, such a co-pay, is still allowed. This provision will sunset in December 2020.

Permanent and retroactive to January 1, 2020 provisions:
-It’s now ok to buy over-the-counter medical products, such as OTC drugs and surgical masks, without a prescription and get reimbursed by an HSA. With the prior rules, effective since January 2011, a prescription was necessary for reimbursement.
-Certain menstrual care products such as tampons and pads are now reimbursable medical expenses.

PLANNING TIP: For individuals and families experiencing cash flow issues some of the existing HSA rules can help. For example, there are no time restrictions or deadlines for when you can reimburse yourself from your HSA. You can claim reimbursement for eligible items if you have proof of purchase as far back as when you first opened the account.

PLANNING TIP: While HSA can’t be used to cover your share of employer-provided medical insurance, they can be used by unemployed people to pay premiums on an independent policy or coverage through COBRA.

COVID-19 TESTING WITHOUT COST SHARING
The FFCRA mandates that private insurance companies and Medicare cover COVID-19 testing and a vaccine for free. The CARES Act extends free testing to any services or items provided during a medical visit that results in coronavirus testing. Medical visits can be in-person, a telehealth visit, an urgent care or emergency room visit. This benefit remains in effect only while there is a declared public health emergency. It’s not certain if self-administered tests (if and when available) will be covered.

The CARES ACT also clarifies that Medicaid must cover such tests regardless of whether they are authorized for emergency use by the FDA.


PRESCRIPTION SUPPLY BENEFIT

Medicare PART D recipients can order up to a 90 day supply of medications. Prior to the CARES Act passing, a PART D insurance plan had the option to relax their “refill too soon” restrictions but now they are required to do so. The change is designed so that all Part D enrollees can get an extended supply of medications during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

PLANNING TIP: Place orders of your medications for 90-day supplies to save trips to the pharmacy and the hassle of having to reorder in less time.

SOME OTHER HEALTH PROVISIONS
-Reauthorization of programs to strengthen rural community health, the Healthy Start program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
-Dollars to support domestic food assistance programs (breakfast and school lunch, SNAP, emergency food assistance.
-Funding for the Defense Production Act, Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, Disaster Relief Fund, FEMA, Indian Health Service, CDC, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, CMS, Public Health and Social Social Services Emergency Fund and others.

If you missed Part IV: Review of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) go here.
And, for a comprehensive article about HSAs, go here.

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Curtis Financial Planning