Archives For Budgeting

One of the most important financial lessons that I have learned in the past few years is the importance of living below your means. If you are unfamiliar with this term, it simply means to spend less than you earn. In today’s culture and the numerous everyday expenses that come up (like insurance, rent, food, transportation, etc.), it can seem almost impossible to stay within your budget.

I know from personal experience that this can be difficult. My wife and I live in one of the most expensive regions in the United States. We make very modest salaries while both of us also go to graduate school.  Despite the apparent difficulty of living on less money than you earn, it isn’t impossible.

How My Family Lives Below Our Means

As I mentioned, my wife and I live in a region of the U.S. with one of the highest costs of living. If I were to tell you how much we pay for rent (for a 1 bedroom apartment without laundry or a dishwasher), you would probably faint. In fact, when we moved here so that I could pursue my graduate studies at a seminary, I nearly did the same thing. Considering that my wife and I had just graduated from college with little or no professional experience in the workforce, I knew it was going to be difficult to earn enough money to pay all of the bills.

Even though the primary purpose was for me to go to graduate school, I knew that in order to make ends meet, I would have to work part-time to help with the expenses. I ended up getting a part-time job on campus for 30 hours a week. This meant that I would have go to school part-time and extend my degree 1 year. While extending my degree an extra year was not my favorite thing in the world, it meant that I could graduate without any college debt.

We ended up both securing jobs and finding as cheap of an apartment as possible. My wife’s job was horrible (she was a street canvasser who was force to work regardless of whether it was raining, snowing, or over 100 degrees outside), but it ended up having some nice benefits that helped us through this time. Even with both of us working, we were forced to bring lunches to work, eat out only 1x per month, and limit our entertainment options.

What Living Below Your Means Offers You

It takes a lot of work to begin spending less than you earn, but living below your means offers you a lot of benefits. Here are some of the basic things it gives you:

  • Ability to Save: One of the most basic ideas is that if you are spending less than you earn, you will have extra money to save for the future. This is important because we all experience “rainy days” and need to have some sort of emergency fund to protect us from a financial disaster.
  • Financial Freedom: Living below your means allows you some financial freedom. Because you are not strapped for cash and have some cushion, it means you can pursue things that seem really important to you without having to worry about not paying all of your bills. This is especially important because some people feel tied to a corporate job that is doing more harm to the world than good. Spending less money than you earn allows you the personal freedom to resist these oppressive systems without worrying about having food on your table.
  • Ability to Give Freely: One of the most important things, in my opinion, is the ability to give to those in need. If you are living paycheck to paycheck, you aren’t in a great shape to give to those in need. By limiting your spending, this frees you up to contribute towards making this world a better place.

Living below your means is important because it not only takes away the stress of paying your bills, but allows you the freedom to follow your dreams and help others. If you constantly struggle with giving generously, as I have in the past, it might be time to reconsider where you are spending your money.

Budgeting Is Not Complicated

Corey —  January 25, 2012 — 3 Comments

Does the thought of budgeting make you shudder? Do you think you need complex formulas or advanced software to create a good budget? Don’t worry! There’s nothing mysterious about writing down your income and expenses to see where your money is going. Once you understand the three simple parts of a budget, you won’t have any problem creating your own.

Income

The first section of a good budget should be your income. Include all sources of income that you can use for giving, saving, and spending. It helps to have three columns for your information: one to give it a name, another for the average monthly amount, and a third for the yearly amount. You’ll use this same format for your expenses as well. If your income is irregular, figure out what it usually is for a year and then divide by 12 to get an average monthly amount. List all sources of income you can think of. Anything you leave out is likely to be spent without a good purpose.

Expenses

This is where you’ll list everything you spend your money on. The best budgets track giving, savings, and taxes in addition to the typical household expenses. You’ll also want to make sure every dollar is used for some purpose and there is nothing left (positive or negative) when you subtract your expenses from your income.

It’s easiest to start with your fixed expenses – the ones that don’t change (at all or by very much) from month to month. This usually includes rent/mortgage payments, insurance payments, some utilities, and debt payments among other things. You’ll usually be able to figure these out with little effort just by checking your bills or bank account for the past month or so.

Figuring out your taxes can take a little more effort, but it’s easy if you use a tax software program and good calculator. I like to use Dinkytown.net’s U.S. 1040 Tax Calculator for federal taxes. State and local taxes are usually straightforward and based off your federal AGI (adjusted gross income). Social Security and Medicare taxes are generally 7.65% of your income (or 15.3% if you’re self-employed) until you get over $110,100 (in 2012). After that you’ll pay only the 1.45% for Medicare taxes (or 2.9% if you’re self-employed). Recent legislation has reduced the employee’s portion of these taxes by 2.0% to 5.65% (or 13.3% if you’re self-employed), but this is currently a temporary cut through February 2012.

When you’ve determined your savings goals, it’s a good idea to place those in your budget as well. You’ll want to do the same with your giving – whatever you have decided in your heart to give, put it in your budget.

I left the variable expenses for last because they typically require the most work. These are the things like groceries, gasoline, some utilities, personal expenses, entertainment expenses, gifts, and other items that can vary from month to month. You might have to track your spending on these things for a couple months to get a good feel for how much you typically spend. Whenever you spend money on something in these categories, write it down or keep the receipt. Then figure out how much you spend on average each month for each item. These are also the items you’ll really need to watch when you’re trying to stick to your budget.

Finally, don’t forget to include irregular items like car repairs, some insurance premiums, taxes and fees, and medical expenses. Plan on setting aside a certain amount every month for these items even if you don’t need the money that month. This will help you make sure you have money available for those expenses and get you away from living paycheck to paycheck. Also, don’t forget those pre-tax deductions your employer is taking out of your paychecks. It’s good to know where every dollar of your money is going so you can be sure you’re managing it well.

What’s Left Over (…or Still Needed)

If you’ve given every dollar a purpose and are spending less than you earn, you shouldn’t have anything left over when you subtract your expenses from your income. If you find you have a lot left over, give it away or save it for a specific goal. If you need more to make ends meet, look at how you can increase your income or decrease your expenses. Don’t use credit cards or loans as a fix for your budget problems!

Get Started Today!

If you don’t have a budget already, right now is a great time to start putting one together. You’re not going to create a perfect budget today, but it’ll get better over time. You don’t need fancy software or websites to make your budget. Use pencil and paper or a simple Excel spreadsheet. I use a Google Docs spreadsheet myself.

You’ll find some detractors of budgets in the personal finance world. They say this because so many people find it difficult to stick to a budget. Now that’s a different issue from creating a budget, and I’ll address it in a future post. I’ll be the first to admit that sticking to a budget is not easy.

But just going through the process of writing down all of your income and all of your expenses can be a major eye-opener. Don’t worry so much about sticking to the budget at this point. I’ll give you some tips on that later. What you do need to realize is that this process is valuable – even if you fail to stick to the budget!

Whatever methods you decide to use, make your budget your own. Don’t worry about whether you’re doing it the “right way” – just do it! Once you have control over your spending and a thorough knowledge of where your money is going, you’ll be able to manage all aspects of your personal finances much better. Feel free to share your budgeting tips in the comments!

There are thousands and thousands of people out there living lives of quiet, screaming desperation who work long, hard hours, at jobs they hate, to enable them to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.

- Nigel Marsh


Buying Things to Impress People

Is Renting Throwing Away Money?

Corey —  December 20, 2010 — 6 Comments

Rent or Buy - Your Choice!       I recently had a friend comment that renting is “throwing away money”. This is a common misconception because home ownership has been touted as the best path to building wealth and a great decision for everyone. But the truth is that renting isn’t really as bad as some would have you think. In fact, it can be the best choice for many people – it all depends on your situation.

       But specifically, I want to look at the idea that paying rent is just throwing away money. The unspoken assumption in that idea is that once you buy a home you’re no longer throwing away money. This simply isn’t true. Here are five ways you throw away money when you buy a home.

1. Mortgage Interest

       Assuming you get a mortgage when you buy a house, like most everybody does, you’re going to have mortgage payments to make. Part of those payments will go toward the principal (what you paid for the house minus your down payment) and part will go toward interest.

       The part of your mortgage payment that goes toward interest is just as much “throwing away money” as rent payments are. It’s money you’ll never get back and does nothing to improve your net worth. And on an average 30 year mortgage, it’s going to take you about 16 years before you’re paying more toward your principal than you are toward interest.

       Granted, this isn’t as big of an issue later in your mortgage and it doesn’t matter at all once it’s paid off. But don’t underestimate just how much money you’re going to be throwing away on mortgage interest – especially at the beginning.

       And while we’re on the topic of mortgage interest, let me just add that the mortgage interest tax deduction isn’t as good as you think

2. Homeowner’s Insurance

       Homeowner’s insurance can cost anywhere from about $600 a year to $1,200 a year or more. By comparison, my renter’s insurance policy costs about $110 per year and it’s some pretty good coverage. So you’re looking at an additional $500 to $1,100 or more in insurance premiums because you’re covering the entire value of the home. (Renter’s insurance is mostly just for liability and contents of the home.)

       Part of the money that’s “thrown away” in rent goes toward the insurance coverage the landlord buys for the home. So make sure you take this into account when comparing the difference between renting and owning.

3. Property Taxes

       Own a home? Be ready for your property taxes, which can be anywhere from 0.25% of the value of your home up to 3% or more. The national average was around 1% the last time I looked. So for a $150,000 to $200,000 home, you’re talking $1,500 to $2,000 a year in property taxes.

       Renters don’t pay separate property taxes on the home they’re renting. Those taxes come out of the rent they pay, but renters never see a separate bill for property taxes owed.

       And no, you can’t refuse to pay your property taxes. Do so and you can say goodbye to your home.

4. Home Maintenance and Repairs

       As a homeowner, you’re completely responsible for all maintenance and repairs on your home. These costs are going to vary quite a bit based on each situation, but I’d say a reasonable estimate would be about 1-2% of your home’s value each year. So for our $150,000 to $200,000 home, we’re talking about another $1,500 to $4,000 a year in costs. Maybe you could get away with less, but you’re looking at a minimum of $500 to $1,000 per year.

       Renters? Yeah, they don’t have to deal with these costs. They’re the responsibility of the landlord. And while you could have a landlord that doesn’t take care of the property, it’s pretty easy to move somewhere else. Which brings me to…

5. Higher Costs for Moving

       Moving tends to be much more of a hassle for homeowners than renters. It can take some time to sell a home – time you may or may not have before you need to move or start paying on your next mortgage. On top of that, you’ve got costs associated with selling that come out of your final price (commissions, inspections, and sometimes closing costs if you’re in a real hurry). Some of these costs can be reduced by doing it yourself (for sell by owner) but then you’re looking at more time and effort on your part (and you’ll still want to get a real estate attorney).

       Renters have it pretty easy here. Assuming you’re at the end of your lease, it’s no big deal to find another place and move. And if you’re not at the end of your lease, it’s probably going to cost you less to break the lease than it would cost a homeowner to sell their house.

Repeat after me: “Renting is not always throwing away money.”

       It should be clear that there are plenty of ways to throw away money if you own a home – enough ways to make it worse than renting. That’s the case for me, at least, and that’s why I plan to rent for quite a while longer. I’d need a phenomenal deal to make buying a better choice than renting at this point. And it may be the case for you as well. The least you could do is take some time to play with a rent vs. buy calculator and see how the numbers work out for you.

       I should add that I didn’t even discuss the fact that many people tend to overbuy when they become homeowners. And did I mention the desire to remodel, upgrade, paint, redecorate, landscape, and on and on and on? Home ownership isn’t quite the great financial asset many make it out to be.

(photo credit: Phil Sexton on Flickr)

This post was included in the Carnival of Personal Finance.

This post was included in the Festival of Frugality.

       Poverty has been on my mind for some time now. What is poverty? How do we measure it? How do you overcome it? How do you live in it? Each of these questions (and more) warrants a post or several posts of its own. But that last one is what I want to talk about today.

       I’ve been wondering what it would look like if my wife, Michelle, and I had to live in poverty. What would we have to give up? What would we spend our money on? What would life look like living in poverty?


Poor Family from the 1940s
 

Defining Poverty

       In this case, I’m going to define poverty according to the 2009 U.S. federal poverty level guidelines. For two people, the poverty level is $14,570/year. This level applies regardless of where you live in the U.S., which doesn’t make much sense to me since the cost of living varies so much by location. But perhaps the areas with a higher-than-average cost of living adjusts the poverty level guidelines for their assistance programs. That’s something I’ll have to look at in another post!

       I could use a different measure for poverty – a global measure, for instance. But the disparity between the global poverty level guidelines and the U.S. poverty level guidelines is extreme. Based on a $2/day/person poverty guideline (World Bank threshold), we’d be looking at $1,460 or 1/10 of the income for the U.S. poverty level. I can tell you right now that would mean giving up everything except food. No shelter, no transportation, no clothing purchases – absolutely nothing but food…and not much of that.

       So for this article, I’m going to use the federal guideline of $14,570/year which is pre-tax. I’m not going to include food stamps, federal/state health coverage, or tax refunds (namely, the Earned Income Credit). Some studies have shown that the poverty level income would be 30-40% higher if such benefits were included, but I’m going to stick to the $14,570 number for the sake of simplicity.

What Would Our Spending Look Like?

       If our annual income were $14,570, our monthly income would be just over $1,214. Here’s what I think our monthly budget would look like. Some of these numbers are based on actual expenses now and some are based on what I estimated after making changes to our lifestyle. I’m assuming we keep our current jobs.

Category Amount
Income $1,214.17
   
Giving $130.00
Saving $106.70
State & Local Taxes $39.46
Health Insurance $76.93
Rent $400.00
Renter’s Insurance $11.08
Groceries $150.00
Utilities $120.00
Auto (Gas, Maint., & Ins.) $130.00
Other (Household & Personal) $50.00
   
Total Expenses $1,214.17


What We’d Have to Give Up

       So the next question is how would this differ from our current lifestyle? Well, first we’d have to move. We’d have to find a place for 2/3 of the rent we’re paying now, and it would need to be closer to Michelle’s job to cut down on gasoline costs. A different place would also likely cut down on our utilities. This would be a major change since we’d have to move away from our family, friends, and church but not very far – just far enough to make it inconvenient but doable. We’d also likely be living in someone’s basement or sharing a place with another family for rent that cheap.

       We’d have to give up the excellent health insurance we have through Michelle’s work and buy a no-frills $10,000 deductible plan that doesn’t cover office visits or prescriptions. It would only cover serious catastrophes like cancer. In contrast, our current insurance has a very low deductible ($150/$300, I think?) and covers office visits and prescriptions for a low co-pay. We’d also be giving up our dental insurance, though I’m not sure that’s much of a deal anyway.

       Speaking of insurance, we’d have to decrease the coverage on our auto insurance to the state minimum levels and increase the deductible on Michelle’s car to $2,500. We’d also have to think about selling my car but that wouldn’t be completely necessary. Decreasing the coverage limits could expose us to some serious risks if we were to have an accident – likely resulting in bankruptcy if it’s a major accident.

       I don’t mind that we’d be paying less in taxes. But our giving would have to go down and that wouldn’t be so great. We’d have to make some tough choices there. All of our saving would most likely be short-term savings to cover the deductibles for our insurance policies.

       We’d have to spend less on groceries but not much less than we currently spend. I don’t imagine there would be any problems there. We’d just have to limit our meat intake and replace it with beans instead and shop a little more carefully. Eating out would be out of the question. We’d also need to cut our household and personal spending in half.

       Beyond that, we’d have no cell phones, no Internet connection, and no TV (that last one’s not any different from now, but I’m just saying). We wouldn’t be able to pay my student loans unless we gave up saving or giving (or some of both), but forbearance or an income dependent plan would be an option at that point. We’d have no money for entertainment or travel of any kind, and every dollar would need to be meticulously tracked and spent with care. As it is now, I don’t track what we spend our ATM withdrawals on completely so that would have to change.

       So while it wouldn’t be easy or “fun” to live on this budget, it would be possible. But we’d have no chance of saving anything for retirement, buying a house if we wanted to do that, or doing anything that required money outside of this budget. (That means no more sewing or jewelry making for Michelle. My hobbies don’t really require any money right now I think.)

Living Off Uncle Sam (or You, Rather)

       I didn’t include government benefits in that budget, but if I had things would have worked out quite a bit better. Between Section 8 housing, tax refunds, food stamps, health coverage from Pennsylvania, and utility assistance programs I think we could live at pretty much the same standard we currently enjoy. (Except for the housing part…that would likely be a major decline.)

       These benefits would probably comprise at least 25-40% of our budget in this scenario. At that rate, we could probably afford cell phones, an Internet connection, auto insurance at our current coverage, our normal household and personal spending, my student loans, and even some entertainment. Or we could choose to save that money, invest in ourselves (to increase our income), or give to people in more need than ourselves.

Possible But Not Enjoyable

       I’m not making light of this scenario. I’m certain it would still be stressful and emotionally draining, but it wouldn’t be impossible to live this way. (Though I’m having difficulty convincing Michelle of this. :))

       I think the reason I can say this is because Michelle and I are pretty content. We don’t have to have the latest gadgets or fashions. We are naturally frugal people who don’t enjoy spending tons of money. We have low-key hobbies, can entertain ourselves, and know how to cook. We’re also disciplined enough to say no to ourselves on the non-essentials. All these factors combine to make it easier for us to live on less than most people in America. (I don’t say this to boast but to simply point out facts. Many people get sucked into the culture and go with the flow without question. Neither Michelle nor I have ever been ones to follow the crowd.)

       I’m thankful we’re in a situation where we don’t have to make these choices. God has blessed us with all that we need and then some. But I struggled with creating a sample budget for this scenario, and I now have a slight understanding some of the choices people are forced to make when they’re living on so little. I say slight understanding because I don’t think you can truly comprehend what it’s like to live on that kind of income until you’ve done it.

Your Thoughts

       Do you think you could live at the federal poverty level? What would have to change for you? What would you have to give up? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

       I pulled this out of our mail the other day:


PA Lottery Coupons


       Seriously? Someone at the Pennsylvania Lottery must be playing a joke. Big Savings? Let me get this straight. You’re going to use a coupon to buy a lottery ticket, and that’s going to bring you big savings? Let’s think about this just a bit.

What Are Your Chances of Winning?

       Let’s use the September coupon for our example. This coupon gives you one $2 Mega Millions with MegaPlier ticket for free if you buy one $2 Powerball with Power Play ticket. Basically, this is just one set of numbers because a regular ticket costs $1 for one play and the Power Play (or MegaPlier) doubles the cost of the ticket.

       The Pennsylvania Lottery’s website says your overall chances of winning a prize with a Powerball ticket are 1 in 35.11.

       We can figure out your chances for winning any of the specific prizes with some simple math. If your chances of winning a prize are 1 in 35.11, that means you have a 2.8482% chance ((1/35.11)*100) of winning every time you play Powerball. (Not very good, huh?) Basically, you can only expect to win something once out of every 35 tickets you buy. But that doesn’t tell us how much the ticket is really worth because your prize can range from $3 to $14,000,000 (or $6 to $14,000,000 if you buy the Power Play option) given the current jackpot. To figure out the value of your ticket, we’ll need to do a little more math.

What’s Your Ticket Really Worth?

       By using the odds given for each specific prize level, we can figure out the average prize for a winning ticket. Overall, you have a 2.8482% chance to win on any given ticket. You can use the same process to figure out your chances of winning a given prize. For example, the Pennsylvania Lottery website says you have a 1 in 61.73 chance of winning the lowest prize of $3. That’s a 1.61996% chance ((1/61.73)*100) of winning $3 on any given ticket. Since you have a 2.8482% chance of winning any prize, you’d expect a little more than half of your winning tickets to have a $3 prize. (The math is simple: 1.61996/2.8482 = 0.568766 * 100 = 56.8766%.)

       Continuing this process for each prize level, we can figure out your chances of winning a specific prize any time you have a winning ticket. This table shows those chances for a regular Powerball winning ticket.

Match Prize Chance of Winning This Prize on a Winning Ticket
5 Numbers + Powerball Jackpot (currently $14,000,000) 0.000018%
5 Numbers $200,000 0.0006833%
4 Numbers + Powerball $10,000 0.0048552%
4 Numbers $100 0.1845%
3 Numbers + Powerball $100 0.2573%
3 Numbers $7 9.7787%
2 Numbers + Powerball $7 4.4604%
1 Number + Powerball $4 28.4363%
Powerball Only $3 56.8772%



       Now we can figure out the value of a winning ticket simply by multiplying the prize by your chance of getting that prize on any given winner. Doing that tells us that the average winning ticket for regular Powerball is worth $7.65 ($8.65 – $1.00 for playing). Adding the Power Play to the mix changes the prize values, so the average winning ticket for Powerball plus Power Play is worth $24.04 ($26.04 – $2 for playing). (And technically, it would be worth a little less than that because there’s always the chance you might have to split the jackpot with someone else. But I don’t feel like finding the stats on that or doing the math.)

       That leads us to the next question. If the average winning ticket is worth $7.65 (or $24.04 for Power Play), then what is the average ticket worth? You only have a 2.8482% chance of winning that $7.65 (or $24.04). We need to take into account the cost of your losing tickets, which you’ll have 97.1518% of the time. Remember, you have to buy 35.11 tickets before you can expect to have a winning ticket (based on the odds). That leaves you with 34.11 losing tickets. If you’re playing regular Powerball, you’ll need to spend (that is, lose) $34.11 to win $7.65. If you’re playing Powerball with Power Play, you’re looking at a cost of $68.22 to win $24.04.

       Our last bit of math will tell us the average value of any given ticket. Let’s check regular Powerball first. On average, you’ll spend $34.11 to win $7.65 leaving you with an overall loss of $26.46. Divide that by the total number of tickets you had to buy (35.11) and you’ll find that the average regular Powerball ticket is worth -$0.75. To put it another way, instead of buying a $1 Powerball ticket you might as well throw three quarters in the trash. (Oh wait, I forgot…the Pennsylvania lottery benefits older residents – every day. So maybe you should just donate the three quarters instead.)

       What about Powerball plus Power Play? It certainly looks like a more attractive value proposition at first glance since the average winning ticket is worth so much more. On average, you’ll spend $68.22 to win $24.04 leaving you with an overall loss of $44.18. So that means the average Powerball plus Power Play ticket is worth -$1.26. This time, instead of donating three quarters rather than buy a Powerball plus Power Play ticket you should donate five quarters! In terms of absolute dollars, you lose more with Power Play but the % loss is better than regular Powerball. (In regular Powerball, you lose 75% of your money forever. With Power Play, it’s “only” 63%. Granted, it starts looking a little better when the jackpot is very large, but your chances of splitting the prize increase as more people buy tickets. This means the lottery is always going to be a losing bet.)

       Let’s put this all into a little perspective. Buying a Powerball lottery ticket would be the equivalent of getting a $10,000 gift, going out into your back yard, and then proceeding to burn $7,500 of it for “fun”. Big Fun – according to the Pennsylvania Lottery.

You Want Big Savings? I’ll Show You Big Savings.

       I’m not going to take the time to prove that the lottery (in any form) is a waste of your money. You can simply look at the July 2009 – June 2010 annual income and expense report from the Pennsylvania Lottery to see that they only end up paying out about 61% of their total sales to winners. Talk about a great business! I’d take a 30% net profit margin any day. (The other 9% goes to other expenses.)

       Looking at those numbers from the other end, we see that lottery players as a whole are buying something with a guaranteed return of -39%! You want big savings? Here’s a thought. Stop paying the poor people’s tax.

Don’t play the lottery!


       This is the final article in a ten part series on how to get out of debt. If you haven’t already, you should check out the previous articles:


Step 10 – Don’t Get Trapped Again!

       You’ve finally paid off the debts that have been dragging you down. You’ve topped off your emergency fund so you don’t have to rely on credit cards when things go wrong. You feel like you can rest easy. But your journey isn’t quite over.

       It’s taken a lot of work to get here. The last thing you want to do is go back to the patterns that got you into debt in the first place! I’ll be the first to congratulate you for reaching your goal, but the true measure of your success will be your ability to continue using the skills you’ve learned in this process. If you get back into overspending and not preparing for emergencies, you’ll have to do this all over again. I don’t think you want to go there.

       So to make sure you don’t get trapped by debt again, let’s take a few moments to consider what you’ll need to do to retain this success. My hope is that the process of paying off your debt has changed your habits so that you’ll maintain them for the rest of your life. But you’ll have to keep your eyes open so you never fall into the pits of debt again.

  • Limit Your Use of Debt – Debt can be useful for some situations, but using a credit card because you don’t have the money isn’t one of them. Limit your use of debt so that you only consider it as an option when it is wise. Buying a home, getting an education, or starting/expanding a business can be good reasons for using debt (but not always). There may be times when debt appears to be your only option, but make sure it’s your choice of last resort and that you absolutely need whatever it is you’re paying for.
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  • Continue to Track and Optimize Your Spending – The single best way to make sure you prevent overspending is to keep an eye on what you’re spending and review it regularly. The simple action of tracking your spending will naturally lead you to spend less because you’re consciously thinking about every dollar that leaves your hands. You can also use the information you collect to find the areas where you can cut back on things that aren’t important to you.
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  • Look for Ways to Earn More – If you’ve been in debt for a while, it’s likely you’re a bit behind on saving for retirement and other financial goals. To catch up you not only need to decrease your spending but you also need to increase your earnings. Combining those strategies will leave you with the money you need to save and reach your goals. Advance your career, earn some money on the side, or start your own business – there are many ways to increase your income.
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  • Keep Your Emergency Fund Stocked Up – If you have to use your emergency fund, be sure to replenish those savings as soon as possible so you’ll be ready for the next Murphy’s Law event. Also, don’t look at that money as your “spend on anything” fund. It’s there for a purpose. Only use it for that purpose!
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  • Have a Plan and Save for the Future – You got into debt because you didn’t have a plan. Fail to make a plan now and you’ll probably end up in debt again. Make a plan, choose your goals, and figure out how you’ll get there. Save for those goals so you won’t be tempted to use debt on a whim.
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  • Learn to Find Contentment – Finally, seek contentment in all things. Comparing ourselves to others, wanting what “they” have, and not being happy with our situation all lead us to living beyond our means. And living beyond our means leads to debt. Discover what’s truly important in your life, eliminate what isn’t, and set your own standards for success and happiness rather than letting others do it for you.



       That’s it for this series! As I mentioned in the last part of this series, my plan is to combine these ten steps with some valuable resources to help make getting out of debt achievable and easier. Make sure you’ve signed up for free updates to Provident Planning so you don’t miss out when I release this invaluable package! If you’ve signed up for free updates, you’ll be sure to see it as soon as it’s available.

       Have you gotten out of debt and stayed out of debt? How did you do it? What has been key to your success? Let me know in the comments below!