Managing Your Money
Budget Check Up: Tax Time Is the Right Time
Every year, nearly 150 million households file their federal tax returns. For many, the process involves digging through shoe boxes or manila folders full of receipts; gathering mortgage, retirement, and investment account statements; and relying on computer software to take advantage of every tax break the code permits.
It seems a shame not to make the most of all that effort.
Tax preparation may be the only time of year many households gather all their financial information in one place. That makes it a perfect time to take a critical look at how much money is coming in and where it’s all going. In other words, give the household budget a check-up.
One method for doing a thorough budget check-up involves six steps.
- Create Some Categories. Start by dividing expenses into useful categories. Some possibilities: home, auto, food, household, debt, clothes, pets, entertainment, and charity. Don’t forget savings and investments. It also may be helpful to create subcategories. Housing, for example, can be divided into mortgage, taxes, insurance, utilities, and maintenance.
- Follow the Money. Go through all the receipts and statements gathered to prepare taxes and get a better understanding of where the money went last year. Track everything. Be as specific as possible; and don’t forget to account for the cost of a latte on the way to the office each day.
- Project Expenses Forward. Knowing how much was spent in each budget
category can provide a useful template for projecting expenses moving forward. Go through category by category. Are expenses likely to rise in the coming year? If so, by how much? The results of this projection will form the basis of a budget for the coming year.
- Determine Expected Income. Add together all sources of income. Make sure to use net income.
- Do the Math. It’s time for the moment of truth. Subtract projected expenses from expected income. If expenses exceed income, it may be necessary to consider changes. Prioritize categories and look to reduce those with the lowest importance until the budget is balanced.
- Stick to It. If it’s not in the budget, don’t spend it. If it’s an emergency, make adjustments elsewhere
Stop Wasting Money
Benjamin Franklin once said, “a penny saved is a penny earned.”¹ The modern upgrade to that observation might be that $100 not spent is more like $143.²
One way to find the money to meet your spending or saving needs is to examine your current spending habits and consider eliminating money wasters.
Top Money Wasters
- Bargain Shopping ... and its Expensive Cousin, Impulse Buying
Fire sales and impulse buying (such as buying products sold on infomercials) can be money wasters, made worse by how often items purchased this way sit idly in a closet or drawer.
- Unused Gym Memberships
At a monthly rate of $40-50, unused memberships can add up over time. Begin your fitness commitment inexpensively by walking or jogging; you can graduate to the gym once you know you’re going to stick with it.
- Cable and Cell
Call your provider and see if it’s possible to negotiate a new rate. Cell providers, who face stiff competition, may be responsive. Cable companies may be less so, especially if they are a single provider, but you can review your package and make sure you are not paying for service you don’t want.
- Paying for Water
Switching from an essentially free product to one that may cost up to $1.50 a day or more makes for real budget leak. Consider purchasing a reusable container and refilling it during the day.
- Gourmet Coffee
$2 or $3 a day may not seem like a lot of money, but when Americans step into a gourmet coffee shop, they may often buy more than just the coffee. Consider brewing your own coffee. It can be ready before you leave for work, and it’ll save you the wait in the drive-through line!
- Eating Out
Americans now spend more money dining out than they do at the grocery store.³ Consider the cost of going out to lunch twice a week. If you spent $10 each time, it would cost you $1,040 annually. While dining out may be one of life’s pleasures, it is often less about socialization and more about convenience. Twice a week may not seem like much, but over time it can add up.
1. Brainy Quote, September 2016
2.This is a hypothetical example that assumes a 30% tax rate. The example is used for illustrative purposes only. It is not representative of any specific tax rate or combination of tax rates.
3. Bloomberg, April 14, 2015
A Cheat Sheet for Sending Your Kid to College
College marks a great milestone in a child’s life. It may be the first time he or she will live away from home. Dropping off your child at college may be an experience loaded with emotions, so here are a few tips for a smoother transition.
Accept that the Parent-Child Dynamic Has Changed
Your child is always your child, and will need you as much as ever. However, parents need to understand that their role has transitioned from “supervisor” to “mentor.”
Make the Move Simple
Do not bring the moving van. Not only will it embarrass your child, but dorm rooms just aren’t that large. Bring only what’s appropriate.
Consider pre-ordering essentials (soap, bedding, shower caddy, etc.) for pick-up at a location by the school. This will save space whether your trip is by car or plane.
Don’t Leave “The Talk” to the Drop-off
While college represents a gateway to many wonderful experiences, parents will want to have a serious conversation about safety, responsible behavior, finances, and expectations about staying in touch.
Do not leave it for the drop-off. It is sure to sour the moment and may rush a conversation that deserves more time and mutual dialogue.
Time to Learn Financial Responsibility
Your child will need spending money. You may want to provide a debit card attached to an account that has a set sum for the full semester, or one that’s refreshed with monthly deposits. College is a perfect time to learn budgeting.
Take the Lead from Your Child
Let your child have the discretion to make decisions about what to bring. However important you think a dust skirt for the bed is, try to avoid fights. Let your child make a mistake. It’s the best way to learn.
Your child will likely send signals when it’s time for you to go. Listen to them. It’s time for him or her to begin connecting with new roommates. Expect that final “good-bye dinner” to be canceled since your child may prefer an impromptu introductory dinner with the new roommate.