How to Save Big Bucks by Brown-Bagging Your Lunch

Did you know that choosing to bring your own lunch to work each day can save up to $3,000 a year? Each takeout lunch can easily cost $12 more than a homemade meal. If you’d put that money into an index fund and contribute to it for 25 years, you can save $500,000! 

Unfortunately, too many people end up buying out each workday because they don’t realize how much it costs them, or they simply fail to plan ahead. Others may think it would be too much of a hassle to shop for, prep and bring along lunch from home.

You can use this handy calculator to determine how much you can personally save each year just by brown-bagging it to work each day. And, if you find the idea of prepping lunch five days a week a bit overwhelming, you can choose to bring lunch from home on specific days of the week. 

Here are some hacks for brown-bagging it to work with all the savings and none of the hassle. 

Plan your menu and shop for it early

Don’t get stuck staring at the contents of your fridge and wondering what to take to work seven minutes before you need to leave in the morning.  Plan your lunch menu early in the week and add whatever you’ll need to your grocery list. To save even more, shop the sales and the seasons, and then base your lunch menu around those items. 

Marathon-prep at the beginning of the week

The thought of prepping lunch at the end of a long workday when all you want to do is veg out on the couch can be daunting. Instead, hold a marathon session at the beginning of the week to do as much labor-intensive lunch prep as you can. Slice and dice all your veggies for the week, split dressing into small containers, cook your pastas, wash fruit and tackle any other prep that can be done in advance. This way, you’ll only need to grab what you need each day from the fridge instead of facing an entire meal to prep and package. 

Partner up

It’s never easy to be the odd one out, and if you set yourself up to be the only one pulling out a homemade lunch while the rest of the office packs out to pick up lunch or orders in, you can end up giving up and joining the crowd. Try to find a like-minded partner to brown-bag it with you on the days you choose to bring lunch from home. Eat your lunches together; the companionship will make it easier for both of you to stick to your convictions.

Love your leftovers

Save even more money, and make lunch prep easier, by bringing dinner leftovers with you for lunch. You can repurpose a leftover protein to serve as a salad-topper or sandwich-stuffer, bring along a container of soup to warm up in the office microwave, or beef up your work lunch with some leftover rice, quinoa or another side dish. 

Brown-bagging it to work when everyone else is ordering takeout isn’t easy, but by using the tips outlined here, you can save a boatload of money on work lunch without the hassle. 

Your Turn: Do you bring lunch to work each day? Share your tips with us in the comments. 

How to Celebrate Memorial Day on a Budget

Celebrating Memorial Day can cost a pretty penny, but there’s no need to spend lavishly to have an epic holiday weekend. Here’s how to celebrate Memorial Day on a budget.

1. Hit the beach

Get out to the shore at the first opportunity! The beach can provide hours of relaxation and fun for the entire family at little or no cost, depending on your location. Stock up on some inexpensive patriotic-patterned towels to make the day feel a little more festive. 

2. Attend a local event

There’s no need to travel far for a fun Memorial Day outing. Check out local online forums and newspapers to see what’s happening in your town. You’ll likely find a carnival, parade, concert and/or street fair that’ll give you some Memorial Day fun at no cost. As a bonus, local activities that do charge an entrance fee will often donate all proceeds to charity, so you’ll be paying it forward all day long.

3. Host a potluck

If you’ll be hosting this Memorial Day, make it a potluck party. Ask each guest to bring one dish for a complete dinner that won’t cost anyone a lot of money. As a bonus, the menu is a lot more fun when it’s varied and prepared by lots of different cooks.

4. Go easy on the decor

No need to blow a ton of money on making your Memorial Day celebration look festive. Spruce up the place with some red, white and blue balloons from the dollar store, find some patriotic banners like these and deck the tables with inexpensive and on-theme tablecloths, too.

5. Make a signature drink

Instead of setting up a full bar, make one signature drink for the night. Festive and fitting for the celebration, this comes out a lot cheaper than springing for a full-blown bar. You can find some great ideas for your signature Memorial Day drink here.

6. Look for coupons

Don’t go anywhere without first checking if you must pay full price. You can pick up some great discounts on restaurant meals, entertainment venues and more at web sites like Groupon.com. If you are a member of AARP or AAA, check to see if you can enjoy some additional exclusive discounts as well.

7. Host a DIY sports event

For a fun and frugal alternative to the traditional Memorial Day BBQ, invite family and friends over to your place, or meet up at a park, for a day of sports and games. You can play flag football, soccer, have a tug-of-war competition or even drum up a full game of baseball. You can set up some light drinks and snacks, or ask your guests to bring their own for a truly cost-free day.

8. Visit historical sites

What better way to spend Memorial Day than checking out historical attractions? Lots of historical sites, like the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania, host free events in honor of the three-day holiday. This event, along with other similar events across the U.S., are a great way to honor the courageous men and women who have served and lost their lives for our country.

9. Rent a boat

Enjoy a day out on the water at little cost by renting a boat from a nearby boat rental service or a private owner. Small boats, like kayaks and canoes, can cost as little as $30 for a few hours of use. Speed boats and pontoons will be pricier, but can also hold more people to share the cost. Bring along some snacks and drinks and good music for a fantastic day of water fun.

10. Participate in a race

Joining a race can be an enjoyable and healthy way to spend your Memorial Day. Participating in a race can cost you as little as $50. As a bonus, lots of Memorial Day races donate all proceeds to organizations that help soldiers pay for expenses that are not covered under military benefits. You’ll be supporting our servicepeople while stretching those muscles!

Memorial Day is always great fun, but it doesn’t need to cost a great deal of money. Use these tips to enjoy a memorable holiday weekend on a budget.

Your Turn: What are your low-cost plans for Memorial Day? Share them with us in the comments.

What to Buy and What to Skip in April

The days are getting longer and warmer, and that means summer is just around the corner! Though April is a mid-season month without any major shopping holidays, you can still score some great deals. There are also many items you’ll want to put on your waitlist until prices drop in another month or so. We’ve got all the info for you so you can shop smart! Here’s what to buy and what to skip in April. 

Buy: Cruise tickets

If you’re looking to get away from it all, April is a great time to book that springtime or summer cruise. You can find deals on cruise tickets to Bermuda, Europe and other exotic locations this month. Take action and score the vacation of a lifetime at a discounted price.

Skip: Mattresses

Unless your mattress is giving you unbearable back pain, you’re best off waiting until Memorial Day when deep discounts make purchasing a new mattress easier on your wallet.

Buy: Car parts and accessories

If you need new wipers, tires, brakes or another car part or accessory, this is the month to pick them up! April is National Car Care Month, so auto parts stores and service centers will be running promotions. If your car needs servicing, or even just a tune-up, you can get this done for less this month, too. 

Skip: Grills and patio furniture

Spring is just getting underway, and all things outdoors are still retailing at full price. If you can wait until Memorial Day sale events happen, you can upgrade your grill and deck out your patio in the finest gear for a lot less money. If you wait even longer, until July or August, you’ll potentially find even steeper discounts. 

Buy: Secondhand treasures

Spring-cleaning season means crowds of people are clearing out the clutter in their closets and around their homes. Many of these treasures may end up in secondhand stores or get sold at garage sales around the neighborhood. If you’re looking for already-loved clothing to spruce up your wardrobe, or gently-used furniture to replace your outdated pieces, April can be a great time to pick up priceless pre-owned treasures. Hit the secondhand stores early in the week for the best pickings, as they tend to get the most donations over the weekend when people do their cleaning.

Skip: Vacuums 

April might be time for deep-cleaning, but that doesn’t mean cleaning gear is discounted this month. Unless you’re desperate for a new machine, you’re better off waiting until vacuums go on sale during Black Friday sale events. 

Buy: Tax day giveaways

Filing taxes can be a headache at best, and downright painful at worst. Retailers want to make April 15th a little easier on the wallet for consumers, so many of them will run special promotions and events on this day. Look for giveaways, freebies, deep discounts on goods and more when tax day rolls around.

Skip: Refrigerators

If your fridge seems to be on its way out and you’re in the market for a new one, it’s best to hold off a bit on this purchase if you can. Retailers will soon be rolling out new models, and if you can wait until Memorial Day, you can find a new fridge in last year’s model at a fantastic price. 

Buy: Mother’s Day gifts

It’s never too early to think about making mom happy! And if you buy your Mother’s Day gifts in April, including jewelry and chocolate, you can save a bundle, too. 

Skip: Baby gear

Like all products that are upgraded annually, baby gear sees its biggest discounts when new models are rolled out, in January and February. This includes cribs, strollers, car seats, highchairs and more. 

Buy: Cookware

April is the unofficial kickoff of wedding season, when cookware becomes a popular gift. In a bid to attract customers, retailers offer steep discounts on pots and other cookware this month. Round out your own collection of cookware, or start stocking up on wedding gifts for less.

Tax day notwithstanding, April can be a time of fantastic finds and springtime memory making. Have a wonderful, bargain-filled month!  

Your Turn: Have you picked up any great deals this month? Tell us about it in the comments. 

Money Magic: An Economist’s Secrets to More Money, Less Risk, and a Better

Title: Money Magic: An Economist’s Secrets to More Money, Less Risk, and a Better Life 

Author: Laurence Kotlikoff

Hardcover: 320 pages

Publisher: Little, Brown Spark

Publishing date: Jan. 4, 2022

Who is this book for? 

  • Anyone struggling with making financial choices
  • Readers of any age or stage who are looking for the magic path toward financial independence 

What’s inside this book?

  • A framework for a happier and safer financial life 
  • Practical tips for enhancing your standard of living and achieving financial independence 
  • Spellbinding money tricks culled from economic research 

4 lessons you’ll learn from this book:  

  1. How to transform your financial thinking
  2. How to choose a career that will enable you to maximize your lifetime earnings
  3. How to buy a superior education for less and graduate debt-free
  4. Why you may want to cash out your IRA to pay off your mortgage

4 questions this book will answer for you:  

  1. What are the financial ramifications of delaying retirement?
  2. How can I lower my average lifetime tax bracket? 
  3. Does financial planning need to be a tiresome chore?
  4. How can economics and advanced computation help me improve my financial health?

What people are saying about this book: 

“Fact-filled, wisdom-filled, Money Magic is quite probably the best financial advice book ever written.  You can read it for Laurence Kotlikoff’s sage advice, which tells how to manage your finances for a happier, better life.  You can also read it for fun: there is a laugh on almost every page.  You should read it for both.” ―George Akerlof

“Money Magic is a delightful book. With wit and wisdom, Kotlikoff delivers rich economic insights, concrete advice, and hard-nosed, yet soft-hearted guidance on financial planning, all well-grounded in the science of finance.  It will change your financial thinking and improve your financial life. Wherever in the lifecycle, beginning student to beginning retiree, the reader is in for a treat: Bon Appetit!” ―Robert C Merton 

“Full of invaluable guidance, this is a must-read for anyone concerned about their financial future.”―Publisher Weekly

“The best personal finance book you’ll read this year.” ―Terry Savage

“Laurence Kotlikoff, the provocative Boston University economics professor and Social Security expert, has written an excellent new book, Money Magic: An Economist’s Secrets to More Money, Less Risk, and a Better Life In it, he offers counterintuitive and surprising personal finance tips regardless of your age.”―Kerry Hannon

Your Turn: What did you think of Money Magic? Share your opinion in the comments. 

Step 3 of 12 to Financial Wellness: Pay Down Debt

You’ve tracked your spending, designed a budget for your monthly expenses, and you’re well on your way to financial wellness. In this next step, you’ll create a plan for paying down your existing debt.

Consumer debt can be one of the biggest challenges to realizing good financial wellness. Credit card companies design their business model in a way that makes it easy to get stuck paying off debt for years. With some intentional action and commitment, reaching true financial wellness and being financially independent is possible. At the very least, seek to be on track for paying it off shortly. 

Below, we’ve outlined how to pay down debt in five simple steps, along with three debt-paying strategies to avoid. 

  1. Organize your debt

Before you get started, determine how much debt you must pay off. List every credit card you own that has an outstanding balance and jot down the amount owed to each. Next, list the interest rate of each card. Do this for any other fixed installment loan debt you have as well. These numbers will help you build a debt-payoff plan in the next two steps. 

You can also add up the amounts owed on each account to reach your total outstanding debt amount.

  1. Choose your debt-crushing method

There are two main approaches people utilize for getting rid of their debts: 

  • The snowball method involves paying off your smallest debt first, and then moving to the next-smallest debt until all debts have been paid off. 
  • The avalanche method involves getting rid of the debt that has the highest interest rate first and moving on to the debt with the next-highest rate until all debts are paid off. 

Each method has advantages and drawbacks. The snowball method provides frequent motivation as debts are paid off sooner, but it may involve paying more overall interest on the debt. The avalanche method, on the other hand, generally saves the borrower a significant amount they pay in interest, but it can take a while to generate results.

Choose the method that makes the most sense for your personal and financial circumstances.

  1. Maximize your payments

Once you’ve chosen your debt-crushing method, it’s time to find ways to maximize your monthly credit card payments. You can do this by trimming your spending in one budget category and channeling that money toward paying down your debt. You can also find ways to pad your pocket with extra cash for your payments, such as freelancing for hire or selling your creations on a platform, like Etsy, if you’re the crafty type.

Once you’ve determined how much you can afford to pay each month, you can create a debt-payoff plan using the systems you’ve reached in Step 1. 

  1. Consider a debt consolidation loan

For some consumers, the most challenging part of paying down debt is managing multiple payments across several credit card accounts. With several monthly debt payments to make, it can be complicated to remember them all. It can also feel like the monthly payments are only going toward interest.

A debt consolidation loan can change all that. When you consolidate debts to one low-interest loan, it’s a lot easier to manage the monthly payments. Plus, the savings on interest payments can be significant, especially if the new loan has a low interest rate. 

If this approach sounds favorable, consider taking out a personal loan from Advantage One Credit Union. The loan will provide you with the funds you need to pay off your credit card bills and leave you with a single, low-interest monthly payment. 

  1. Negotiate with your creditors

Many credit card companies are willing to lower your interest rate once you prove you are serious about paying down debt. After kicking off your debt payment plan, it’s worthwhile to contact each credit card company to discuss your options. At the very least, see if you can get the company behind the first debt on your list to lower your rate. 

3 Debt-Crushing strategies to avoid

As you work toward paying down your debt, beware of these debt-crushing strategies, which may do more harm than good: 

  • Debt settlement. Debt settlement services offer to lower your interest rates and boost your credit score in a short amount of time – for a fee. Unfortunately, though, many of these companies are fronts for scammers and should be avoided. Do note, though, that there are legitimate debt settlement companies, so do your research well if you are thinking of using one.
  • 401(k) loans. It’s rarely a good idea to borrow from the future you. Withdrawing funds from your 401(k) to pay down debt can mean getting hit with all sorts of penalties, fees and taxes. 
  • Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC). Borrowing against your home means putting yourself at risk of losing your home.  

Regardless of the strategy you choose, or the methods you use for paying off your debt, commit to not adding more charges onto your card while paying it down. Paying off a large amount of debt will take time and willpower, but living debt-free is key to financial wellness. Best of luck on your debt-crushing journey! 

Your Turn: Have you successfully paid down a significant amount of debt? Tell us about it in the comments. 

The Best Way to Spend Your Paycheck

Everyone loves payday, but too many employees don’t know how to allocate their paycheck in a way that best serves their financial needs. Use the tips outlined below to learn how to manage your paycheck responsibly. 

1. Automatically deduct contributions

Your first step in managing your paycheck is making sure you are deducting the optimal amounts. Your employer will likely deduct funds for your health care plan and taxes, but you can determine how much tax is withheld by changing a few elections on your W-4. If you receive too large a tax refund for the prior year, or you’re stuck with a big bill when you file, consider adjusting the amount withheld on your W-4. Also, be sure to take full advantage of any employer-matching offers for your retirement funds — don’t give up free money! 

2. Budget for necessities 

After your contributions are deducted from your paycheck, you’ll be left with your take-home pay, or net income. You’ll use this money for covering expenses until the next payday, so it’s best to budget first for necessities, such as your mortgage or rent payments, utility bills, insurance premiums, etc. You can use the “envelope system” to actually put cash away for necessities or set up a detailed old-fashioned budget, which prioritizes your needs. You can also choose to use the “50/30/20 budget” that sets aside 50% of your income for needs. 

  1. Budget for wants

Once you’ve set aside money for your needs, you can use some of the remaining funds for wants, or discretionary expenses. This can include entertainment costs, dining out and clothing, in addition to what you really need. Here, too, you can put away the cash you need for a spending category into an actual envelope, mark down the amount you can spend in that category on a paper or in an app budget, or simply keep in mind that 30% of your paycheck can be spent on these expenses. 

  1. Pay yourself 

Now that you’ve taken care of your needs and wants until the next paycheck, it’s time to think about the future. Put a percentage of the remaining funds into savings, including IRAs, college saving plans, CDs, investments, emergency funds and the like. Use your predetermined amounts, or 20% of your take-home pay, if using the 50/30/20 budget. If you have any outstanding consumer debt, be sure to pay toward it as well. 

  1. Don’t feel forced to spend it all

Many people mistakenly think they need to spend all of their paycheck before the next one arrives. If you’re left with extra money at the end of the month, there’s no need to waste it. You can beef up your savings, get ahead of your debt or stash some cash away for an expensive time of year, like the holiday season. 

Learning how to wisely manage a paycheck can take some time, but once you’ve got the hang of it, it will be easy and almost happen by itself. 

Your Turn: Do you have any tips on paycheck management? Share them with us in the comments.

What to Buy and What to Skip in February

Are you looking to snag some bargain buys this month? We’ve got you covered! We’ve done the legwork so you don’t have to, researching items that get marked down in February, and those that’ll see steep discounts in the coming months so you’re better off putting them on hold for now. 

Here’s what to buy and what to skip this February. 

Buy: TVs

Whether you’re a diehard football fan or you are a binger of the latest streaming seasons or movies, you can pick up a fantastic deal on big-screen TVs in February. TVs tend to go on sale in the beginning of the year, but it’s not until the middle of February that home entertainment systems see their lowest prices. These sales often continue through President’s Day and may even run until the end of the month. 

Skip: Flowers

Flowers might have their big day in the middle of February, but that doesn’t mean fresh blooms are discounted this month. In fact, you’re better off skipping the flowers in February and finding another way to show your sweetheart how much they mean to you.

Buy: Winter gear 

In the world of retail, “Old Man Winter” is well on the way out when the calendar hits February. To make room for the spring stock, stores will generously mark down winter gear this month. You can snag a great deal on all kinds of winter stuff in February. Prices on sporting equipment, like skis and snowboards, can be slashed by up to 30%, while winter clothing may be discounted as much as 80%!  You’ve still got a nice chunk of winter to enjoy the goods, or you can store them for next year’s cold-weather season. 

Skip: Electronics

Aside from TVs, you’ll want to skip pretty much all major electronic purchases vthis month. Computers, smartphones, gaming consoles and other electronic items are full price right now. You’re better off purchasing these items during Black Friday sales in November. If you can’t wait that long, you can also pick up great deals on electronics during “Black Friday in July” events.

Buy: Furniture

You can pick up some beautiful new furniture at great prices during Presidents Day sales, which can run for a full week or two. Be sure to check out prices at several stores before splurging on a big-ticket item, since prices on furniture can vary tremendously between retailers.

Skip: Fitness equipment and gym memberships

Fitness equipment and gym memberships are usually at their lowest in January to attract the hordes of people seeking to get fit in the New Year. By February, these markdowns on workout gear and promotional offers on gym memberships are gone – and you likely won’t see them again until the warmer weather sets in and people take their workouts outside. 

Buy:  Tax software

Tax season is underway, and that means tax software companies are looking to attract customers with super specials on their products. Score a great price on tax software in February to make this tedious task super-easy and smooth. 

Skip: Patio furniture

It’s tempting to upgrade your outdoor furniture as soon as a hint of warmer weather arrives, but February is only the start of the spring season. Prices will still be high and will only start to see discounts during Memorial Day sale events. For the best deals on outdoor furniture, wait until September, when retailers need to clear out the season’s inventory to make room for next year’s updated selection. 

Buy: Jewelry

During the second half of February, prices on jewelry plunge up to 80%. You can snag a great deal on a beautiful ring, bracelet, necklace or pair of earrings during post-holiday sales. Hold onto your bargain-priced jewel buys until Mother’s Day, your love partner’s birthday or your shared anniversary. 

Use our tips to learn what to buy and what to skip for the best deals this February. 

 Your Turn: Did you pick up a great deal in February? Tell us about it in the comments. 

All You Need to Know About Taking Out a Home Loan in 2022

The real estate market has shifted tremendously since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, as we approach the two-year mark since COVID-19 reached the U.S., the market continues to adjust to the changing economic environment, rising inflation and fluctuating demand. If you’re looking to take out a home loan in the near future, it’s important to learn about the current market trends and what you can expect in the coming months. Here’s what you need to know about taking out a home loan in 2022.

Market trends

Experts are predicting a somewhat cooler real estate market in 2022. Here’s what to expect among some of the different factors in the market. 

  • Supply and demand. 2021 was the year of frenzied bidding wars, as the supply of homes on the market fell well below the heightened demand. Despite these conditions, home sales were up by 44% in 2021 compared to 2020, according to Realtor.com. Looking forward, experts expect the demand to remain high in 2022, but they also anticipate the supply of available homes to inch closer to the demand as more new-construction homes hit the market. In addition, the trickle-down effect of the end of the government’s moratorium on foreclosures will likely increase the supply of available homes on the market. 
  • Home prices. In 2021, the average price of homes rose to an estimated 14.75%. According to the National Association of Realtors, home prices will continue to increase in 2022, but at a far more modest rate of just 2.8%. Fannie Mae projects a 7.4% increase, while mortgage bankers expect home prices to rise 5.1%. 
  • Mortgage rates. Mortgage rates remained at historic lows in 2021, with the average 30-year fixed-rate hovering around 3% at the end of the year. Economists expect mortgage rates to increase in 2022, but to continue to remain relatively low. The National Association of Realtors claims that mortgage rates will increase to 3.7% in the first quarter of 2022, while Fannie Mae anticipates the 30-year fixed mortgage to average 3.3% throughout the year.

Tips for buying a house in 2022

If you plan on buying a house in 2022, here’s how to make the most out of your search:

  • Get pre-approved. It’s always a good idea to get preapproved for a mortgage before you start your search. It’s even more important in a sizzling real estate market like the one buyers are facing today. A preapproval gives you a leg up on bidding wars, shows potential sellers that you’re serious about buying and helps you keep your search within parameters you can afford. 
  • Shop around for a mortgage. While mortgage rates are still relatively low, each lender sets their own rates and closing costs. Shopping around before choosing a mortgage lender can save you money in the short term and long term. 
  • Use a local real estate agent. In a tight housing market, it’s important to use an agent who knows the area well and can give you a realistic picture of what you can expect to pay for the home you want. 
  • Prioritize carefully. Every homebuyer has a wish list of features they’d love to have in their new home and neighborhood. But, when supply is limited, absolute must-haves need to be chosen carefully. Narrow your list as much as possible before beginning your search, as it will help you to avoid disappointment later on. 

Keep these tips and considerations in mind as you begin your quest for the perfect new home. A little “pre-home” work can help make a big difference in the enjoyment of your home and your overall financial health for years to come!  [If you’re entering the market for a new home, we can help! Advantage One Credit Union offers home loans for qualifying members that feature competitive interest rates, an efficient and smooth application process, and the personalized service you’ve come to expect. Call, click or stop by today to get started.] 

Your Turn: Have you recently taken out a home loan? Tell us about it in the comments.

Step 2 of 12 to Financial Wellness: Creating a Budget

Now that you’ve tracked your spending and kept a careful record of where your money goes over the course of a month, you’re ready to move onto the next step of financial wellness: creating a budget. Budgets play a crucial role in promoting financial awareness, which then helps to facilitate more responsible money choices. This discipline will benefit you individually, as well as all who are part of your household. 

Let’s get started by taking a look at how to create a budget and review some popular budgeting systems and how they work. . 

Create a budget in 5 easy steps

  • Track your spending and income. This includes all your financial documents, such as your account statements, bills and pay stubs. [If you’ve followed Step 1, you’ve already completed this step–nice work getting ahead of the game!]
  • Tally up your totals. Calculate the totals of your monthly expenses and all your streams of income. If your income exceeds your expenses, you’re in a good place. However, if your expenses exceed your income, or the numbers are too close for comfort, you’ll need to trim some discretionary expenses to make it through the month without falling into debt if an unforeseen big expense happens. 
  • List your needs. Your needs include anything that is essential for living and basic functions, such as rent or mortgage payments, savings, food and clothing. Needs always take priority in a budget. As you list each need, write down its corresponding cost. Sum up the total of your needs when you’ve finished. 
  • List your wants. This includes anything that is not essential for living, like entertainment costs, brand-name clothing and eating out. Here, too, note the monthly cost of each item on your list and add up the total when you’re done. 
  • Assign dollar amounts to your expenses. Open a new spreadsheet and copy your list of expenses, starting with fixed-cost needs, then non fixed-cost needs, and finally, your wants. Assign an appropriate dollar amount for each of these costs, making sure the total does not exceed your estimated total for monthly expenses. 
  • Review and tweak as necessary. You will likely need to adjust the amounts in each expense category at least once a year to keep your budget relevant. Likewise, you will hopefully be able to increase the amounts in the income column as you move upward in your career path or find additional income streams. 

Budgeting systems

While every kind of budget involves tracking expenses and committing to a maximum spending amount each month, there is a wide range of budgeting systems to fit every kind of personality and money management style. 

The traditional budget doesn’t involve much more work than the steps described above. After working out a number for every expense category, you’ll simply need to track your spending throughout the month to ensure you’re sticking to the plan. You can use a spreadsheet for this purpose, or utilize one of the popular budgeting apps, like Mint or YNAB, and do it digitally. 

The money-envelope system works similarly. However, instead of simply committing to sticking to your spending amounts for each expense category, you’ll withdraw the amount you plan to spend on all non-fixed expenses in cash at the start of the month. Divide the cash into separate envelopes, using one for each of these expenses. Then, withdraw cash from the appropriate envelope when making a purchase in that category. There’s no way to blow your budget with this system; when the money in the “Dining out” envelope runs dry, that’s all for this month!

The 50/30/20 budget is simpler, but requires more discipline. Set aside 50 percent of your budget for your needs, 30 percent for wants and the remaining 20 percent for savings. Of course, you’ll need to make sure your income and expenses will work with this kind of budget. Does 50 percent of your income cover your needs? If yes, this budget allows for more individual choices each month and less accounting and tracking of expenses. 

A well-designed budget can provide its creator with a sense of financial security and freedom. When you stick to a budget, you’ll always know you have enough to get through the month and save for the future. Start budgeting today!

Your Turn: Do you stick to a strict monthly budget? Share your best budgeting tips with us in the comments. 

How Can I Save on Super Bowl Sunday?

Q: I’m looking forward to hosting a big party on Super Bowl Sunday and possibly watching my favorite team celebrate their major victory,  but I don’t want to blow my budget on this party. How can I save on hosting a Super Bowl party?

A: Super Bowl parties are always great fun to host, but they can cost a pretty penny. To help cut the costs, we’ve compiled some hosting hacks so you can pull off the party of a lifetime without breaking your budget. 

Don’t fumble the decor

You want to set the mood for your party, but that doesn’t mean you need to drop a ton of cash on decor. Keep it simple with free printables of your team’s logo from sites like Pinterest, and choose party goods in your team colors instead of springing for branded items. Use any football gear you have at home, like jerseys, helmets and actual balls, to give your home a festive feel. If you’re still stuck for ideas or items, hit the dollar stores to score some fun football-themed party goods for just a few bucks. 

Tackle the food together

Just because you’re the one offering your home for the party doesn’t mean you need to handle all the food provisions yourself. You can go potluck and have everyone bring one dish, order takeout and split the bill with all the guests or set up a spreadsheet with all the menu items and have each guest choose one to bring, filling in their job as they choose so everyone knows who’s bringing what and every job gets done. 

Skip the Super Bowl platters

In general, the more niche a product is, the more it’s going to cost – and Super Bowl party food is no exception.  Fast-food chains and grocery stores will aggressively advertise their “game day platters” ahead of Super Bowl Sunday, but these are rarely worth the cost.  Instead, make your own for a fraction of the price and just a few minutes of work.  You can slap together some extra-long hero sandwiches, cut them up and arrange them on a large plate for an easy sub platter.  For your health-conscious guests, slice up everyone’s favorite veggies and add a dip or two for a fresh veggie platter at half the cost you’d pay at the grocery.

Choose the party cut

If you’re making a pizza party, you can still save on costs by knowing what to ask for when you place your order. But first, consider going partially homemade by picking up some frozen pies at a great price in stores like Costco or ALDI. Besides the savings, you’ll have your home smelling awesome just by popping some pies in the oven. 

If you want it hot-from-the-pizza-store fresh, maximize the rewards and coupons that are available at chains like Papa John’s, Domino’s and Pizza Hut. To get even more bang for your buck, use this hack: Ask for the “party cut” on your pizza instead of the traditional triangles. The smaller squares help guests choose portion sizes they’ll actually eat instead of leaving half-eaten slices on their plates. 

Consider your lineup

Don’t just set your buffet with an eye toward what is most aesthetically pleasing. Also consider your budget and place the more affordable items at the head of the line. These are typically grabbed first, and putting them front and center, with the pricier stuff in the back, will help to ensure you don’t run out of any buffet item too quickly or blow your budget on one pricey food. 

Let’s play … bingo!

Let’s face it; not everyone at a Super Bowl party is all that crazy about football. Some are just there as their more sports-inclined partner’s plus-one. Some might show up just because they consider you a friend, and you’re the host. Prepare some games to help keep the party fun for those who aren’t that interested in the game on the screen. You can download Super Bowl bingo cards here, or set up some old-fashioned board games in a quiet corner.

Super Bowl parties don’t have to defeat your budget. Use the tips outlined above to keep costs down while throwing a party that’s truly fit for champions. 

Your Turn: How do you save on costs when hosting a Super Bowl party? Share your best tips and tricks in the comments.