Showing posts with label money management. Show all posts
Showing posts with label money management. Show all posts

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Poverty To Riches Is Easy

One of the least understood aspect of financial planning is that almost everyone can be well off just by following simple principles of money management.

I am not talking about attaining Warren Buffett's wealth. Most people are likely to be in this situation of starting from poverty, get a good education, good career and end up financially sound. It is doable, a little bit of luck but more of being disciplined.

You must be willing to spend less than what you earn over a long period of time. It explains how a person earning more than $30,000 a year can retire comfortably while another guy earning $1 million a year can retire broke.

That's really good news for all of us because cutting expenses/living below your means is much easier and more controllable than trying to increase your income.

However, once you generate excess cash by living below your means, you need to invest that surplus wisely to maximize its growth.

You don't have to be an accountant or receive an inheritance from your rich daddy.
All you need is the willingness to begin and learn. A commitment and perseverance to regular, small investments, like $50 or $100 a month, can be the start of a million-dollar retirement account.

The earlier you start, the easier it will be and the more money you'll actually accumulate. But if you're like me and put off investing until later in life, you still have the ability to achieve your goals. The idea is to start, but start now.

Time is best friend in compounding your wealth, ie. to multiply your savings over and over again to turn the little savings into a massive portfolio.

So the path to prosperity is quite simple:

1. Spend less than you earn.

2. Invest your surplus to make your money grow.

3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 for many, many years.

Isn't the path from poverty to riches easy?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Ask the Experts: Kids and Money

Bank of Dad blogger Dan Kadlec joins Jill Schlesinger and Jack Otter to discuss raising financially-savvy kids.

I find it intriguing when he explains that poker is a great financial tool. Sure, mastering poker means learning risk management and statistical analysis but I won't take the risk of using poker to educate my kid about money management. I can't say I will be proud if he turns out to be a professional gambler.

In any case, it is great to get new ideas from other parents. Bringing money into conversations with kids is never the easiest task. Either they are plain not interested or they don't yet appreciate your intentions. And schools aren't doing enough about teaching personal finance.

No matter how difficult it is , parents have to try their best to jumpstart their kids' financial literacy. What have you done to educate your kids? Will you use poker as a tool?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Money Mangement As You Approach Retirement

A key element to successful money management is to live within our means. That is easier said than done in our culture of instant gratification. Fulfiling our basic needs is taken for granted and we desire luxurious comforts before we have saved enough money to afford them.

For those who are apporoaching retirement, it may seem that you have finally established yourself financially and deserve some indulgence. But your retirement needs (like medical cost, insurance, vacation, entertainment, etc) may have been underestimated and there are still outstanding debts to pay off.

Money Mangement As You Approach Retirement
To ensure a comfortable standard of living during retirement, mastering money management is essential.

Paying off the past

To live within your means, you need to implement responsible money management by paying past debts first. As an example, your children’s college bills are still outstanding. If you used PLUS loans (federally sponsored education loans for parents), you have standard, graudated, extended or consolidated repayment options to choose from.

You probably want to pay off the loans as soon as possible. It is better to live debt-free during retirement, as you no longer have employment income to offset expenses.

Avoid Credit Card Debts

It is of the utmost importance now, with retirement approaching, to avoid credit card debt. Whatever you purchase, make sure you can afford it and that it does not take away from your retirement savings.

Staying Smart and Rational

As you approach retirement, your kids will have finished their education, moved out and started their career, so they are financially independent. For the first time in many years, you may be responsible for just your spouse and yourself.

With this money freed up, you have more funds to meet your retirement needs. However, you need to stay smart and rational to prevent falling prey to get-rich scams, impulse buying, stock market exuberance, or other folly ventures.

Watch Expenses And Invest in the future

I believe most people should have accumulated a comfortable retirement nest in the few years prior to retirement.

It is easy to succumb to an extravagant lifestyle with surplus cash lying around, but spending recklessly now means you could outlive your retirement funds. That is not to say you can't indulge occasionally (like buying gifts, fine dining, or a vacation) during retirement if basic living expenses are well taken care of.

Investing in the future (on a conservative note) is also necessary, not so much for capital gain but to protect your purchasing power. The effects of Federal Reserve money printing will be felt keenly in the next few years, thus inflation is a threat to your wealth.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Managing Surplus Money In The Short Term

If you have been saving since the start of this recession and are relatively debt free, I believe you should have hit the target of amassing an emergency fund of at least three months and with spare cash available for investment too.

While a three-months emergency fund is barely enough if the economic recession worsens, I know a lot of people are already getting antsy about having so much of their savings lying stagnant, especially with all the talk of green shoots and the spectacular stock market rally since March.

Managing Surplus Money In The Short Term
To be sure, risk appetite has increased and people want to earn more but somehow I still feel the stock market run-up looks pretty suspect.

For those who are hell-bent on higher yields, there are actually many ways to go about it. For quick gains, small-cap emerging market stocks have the potential to be multi-baggers and are extremely attractive.

The more adventurous can open a margin account whereby the brokerage usually lend double your principal amount for investment. Besides trading in stocks, you can also wade into more complex highly "leveraged" ETFs which can magnify by about 2-3 times the movement of the underlying index which they track on a daily basis.

Needless to say, the above approaches are volatile and speculative. It is exciting to make lots of money with leverage but equally heart-wrenching when the market moves in the other direction.

But that is not to say that 100% cash is good for our retirement portfolio. Inflation will eat away our wealth. Since the creation of the Federal Reserve, our purchasing power in US dollars has been whittled down by 96%. How is that for wealth building?

And with all the quantitative easing implemented by the Federal Reserve, inflation may yet go into overdrive and set us back further from our retirement goals.

As risks and rewards are correlated, we should take on prudent risk and seek higher returns by investing in bonds and equities, provided our emergency fund is not compromised. A minimum of 2-3 year time frame is appropriate for our investments so you must not touch the money for living expenses or emergencies.

It will not serve much purpose to turnover our stocks constantly as transaction costs will render the investment meangingless. Just look at Warren Buffett, he does not build his wealth from trading. Instead, he chooses his battles carefully, and let time compound his wealth.

Currently, the false sense of security in the stock market may lull us into placing more money into equities than we can aford, thus if and when the stock market falls by more than 50%, a lot of people will get into severe financial difficulties again.

I know it feels terrible to have our savings earning a paltry 1% to 2% in a money-market account or short-term CD while our friends make huge killings in the stock market, but on the flip side, ask yourself if you can accept that your savings is wiped out by 30-50% because you bought investments that could not hold their value over the long run.

I definitely don't encourage people to invest all their idle cash in this current economic climate. For me, I still prefer the traditional savings vehicles like money-market funds, savings accounts and CDs.

What do you guys think?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Tips To Curb Impulse Buying

How do we curb impulse buying? You know what I mean, buying less crap. But we don't say impulse buying without a reason. Human beings are irrational when faced with choices.

Just ask my wife when she goes on her weekly therapy of window shopping. She has been kinder to my wallet and credit cards ever since we got serious about balancing our family budget but she still fall prey to impulse buying occasionally.

Tips To Curb Impulse Buying
Needless to say, my money management goals for the month is busted when I looked at her shopping bills after returning from those once-in-a-lifetime Sales.

To be frank, I am frustrated by impulse buying but I don't believe in shouting or banging tables to resolve money conflicts. Such activities are unproductive and will only cause a happy family to split up.

Instead, I sit down with her, review our household budget and explain what sacrifices we have to make to offset this sudden expense. I also reiterate the importance of a joint effort in achieving our financial goals. There will be "punishments" for breaking our family budget too.

Now, precaution is certainly better than cure. Rather than antagonize over the impulse purchases, fighting the urge in the first place will save all the trouble. Here are some tips we have used to prevent impulse buying.

You may have heard these cliched tips before and though they are not the most inspiring, I assure you they go a long way towards curbing our age old habits.

1. Define what you need before you shop. Go into the store with a specific goal so that you never get tempted by instant gratifications.

2. Go home and wait a day before returning to buy. After rationalizing the purchase, you may not want to make the return trip back to store. Just think of the gas bills.

3. Do not shop when you are depressed, lonely, hungry, angry, worried, tired, etc. You will be most vulnerable to impulse buying and the momentary high will result in weeks of regret and penny pinching.

4. Comparison shop for the best price rather than buy the item on impulse when you first see it.

5. Think of a punishment if you burst the budget or use the credit card again(for example, there will be no vacations and you will have to cook and do the dishes for an entire month).

6. Appreciate the simple things in life. Treasure what we have, inclduing the used stuff. We already have enough junk in our house and should be giving them out to charity instead of buying more.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Carnival of Money Management #1

Welcome to the 1st edition of the Carnival of Money Management.

I want to give my thanks to everyone who is contributing to making this carnival a success! I would appreciate it if anyone who is featured in the carnival links back to this post.

If you want to submit an article for next week's edition, the submission form is here. Looking forward to more quality articles for my next carnival.

1. Jim DeSantis presents 3 Reasons That Can Cause Your Family Budget To Fail posted at Free Family Budgeting, saying, "Money is the only tool you have to secure your future and the future of your family and to live a good life today."

2. David presents 25 Debt Reduction Tips For Your Immediate Action Plan at Money Ning, saying, "Avoiding debt is an advice that most don’t appreciate enough until we are swamped with bills and obligations."

3. Leave Debt Behind presents Are You Responsible for Your Deceased Parents Debt?, saying, "The only time a person is responsible for a debt is when it was incurred due to a joint account or when a child is the co-signer on a loan taken by a parent."

4. Debt Free Destiny presents Why Repairing Your Credit Makes Sense and Saves You Money, saying, " It is important when you hit a financial rut and your credit score is negatively affected that you work towards getting back on track."

5. PFCreditCards presents The Credit Card Debate, saying, "Love it or hate it, credit cards are apart of our society."

6. Joe Caterisano presents Budgeting Tips posted at Penny Pinching saying, "Compulsive spending is nothing but a destructive mindset. There is no such thing as will power."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Letting Kids Earn Their Allowances

In our modern society, it is embarrassing that we consistently churn out graduates and ph.Ds by the truck loads who can drone for hours on their topics of specialisation but are utterly helpless in balancing their check book.

Letting Kids Earn Their Allowances
They don't know the difference between asset and liability and have little worries about excessive debts so long as their earnings increase every year. Their confidence stem from a mentality of entitlement - since they are so well-qualified, good jobs must be lining up for them.
Unfortunately, the world don't owe them a living. And globalisation will drive home this point further.

To prepare our kids for competitive future, I cannot stress enough about financial literacy, without which one cannot learn and develop financial responsibility and discipline. I don't have a high education, as compared to kids these days, but I thank my parents for giving me money lessons early in my life.

I feel that one of the best ways to inculcate a proper work ethic ("work equals pay") in our children is to give them the opportunity to earn pocket money from jobs that go beyond cleaning up after themselves or fulfilling family responsibilities.

From what I've noticed, kids actually get interested in money at a young age, and a parent can use that interest to teach basic concepts, including math. Giving your kids pocket money when they stretch out their hands actually cultivates an undesirable habit of taking things for granted. It is difficult to wean off even when the kids entered adulthood.

Parents are at fault for doting too much on their kids and employing maids to do their kids' bidding. They prefer their kids to play computer games, watch TV or chat online instead of doing constructive work around the house, for fear that the kids tire themselves out or suffer injuries. Well, if my dad has his way, he will say this: "Stop being so f*cking precious."

Now, that is a bit rough but I grew up fine. That is why I insist that kids must be given opportunities to earn their allowances early. Besides helping out with household chores, they can provide services to neighbors such as babysitting, painting, lawn-moving and yard work, etc. It is just a matter of getting creative.

Once they start to earn money through their own effort, they can learn to handle the money. At that stage, it's a good idea to teach them how to control expenses (entertainment, food, transportation, etc.) and save their spare money in change jars.

In addition, you can teach them to think about their desired stuff (computer games, ipod, shoes, etc) and how long it will take to accumulate enough money to buy them. This will reinforce the value of time as well as money to your kids.

I am not an ardent fan of capitalism but it is indeniable that money makes the world go round and kids need to learn how to use money responsibly. Financial lessons should begin at home and if we don't teach our kids (who else will?), their future money woes become our problems too.

If you have never considered getting your kids to earn their allowances, start off today by getting them to make their own beds, tidy their bedrooms, clean up the dining table and wash the toilets occasionally.

As parents, we also have to practice what we preach and demonstrate our responsibility in handling money. Setting the right examples will build a sturdy foundation for our kids to follow.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Teach Our Kids About Money Management

Teach Our Kids About Money ManagementOur education system has enabled our kids to be proficient in topics like maths and science but when it comes to financial education, I will say they are clueless and even illiterate.

It is not their fault as our education has neglected the importance of budgeting skills and the practical concepts behind assets, liabilities and cash flow. The idea is simple: you must have more assets than liabilities to increase your wealth.

These are the bread and butter issues facing a corporation but equally applicable and essential to managing our personal finance. As they say, "What is left is not right, and what is right has none left." This is what happens when a company's balance sheet or our personal finance go awry.

Is it a deliberate attempt by our education ministry to deprive our kids of finance curriculum in schools or just a blind spot? Does our government actually prefer us to cede control of our finances to the greedy financial institutions?

Regardless of the reasons, I feel a lot of problems facing our kids and heavy indebted nation stem from finance illiteracy and irresponsible spending habits. Hell, I think our House Representatives, senators, or regulators don't know much about basic finance either, not to mention complex financial jargon. Just look at their inadequacy when questioning the fat cats on Wall Street.

Maybe the government should take a leaf from Sand Creek High School which is teaching its seniors the street smarts of managing money.

I am also glad that financial literacy competitions like MoneySKILL Mania (hosted at the University at Buffalo with M&T Bank), are open to high school kids.

Globalization has made the world more competitive (jobs are not easy to come by) and the least we parents can do, is to impart money management skills to our kids, not to leave them an inheritance, which most likely will be squandered away.

I always believe that people who make a lot of money but never learn how to handle it simply end up in more debt than the people who have less money.

What do your guys think about our education system? Has it prepared our kids to handle their personal finances? Please share your thoughts here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

One-stop Money Management Using Online Tools

Technology has improved by leaps and bounds. I used to log into different banks or credit card companies to check my balances and settle outstanding bills.

Today, web services like Green Sherpa, Rudder, Finicity, Mint, Wesabe, Yodlee and Thrive offer one-stop account tracking where transactions are categorized (sometimes automatically) so that you know where the money is going.

One-stop Money Management Using Online ToolsThe tools help you achieve your financial goals based on downloaded history and projections for expenses and income (say, a major vacation or a fat bonus check). Advice is also provided to implement a budget and tackle money problems.

Some of these services charge a monthly fee (while others are supported by referrals and ads), so you have to assess if it is worth paying to keep track of your financial situation.

I noticed a lot of tech-savy teens catching on to this trend and shunning established software like Intuit's Quicken and Microsoft's Money. They are usually new to money management and love the convenience from account aggregation, meaning information from multiple online accounts are combined to create a full picture of their finances.

More importantly, these teens are comfortable giving a third-party service access to their online account information.

I am wary about revealing my personal information and financial status online. Even sharing it with my spouse or a trusted financial planner through that third-party service gives me the creeps.

What do you think of using online services for money management?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

20 Money Saving tips To Fight The Recession

20 Money Saving tips To Fight The RecessionOn Friday, the government announced that the United States lost 651,000 jobs in February, bringing the number of layoffs since the start of the recession to 4.4 million. The Labor Department also revealed February's unemployment rate at 8.1%, the highest level in 25 years.

The scary thing is that the US recession has not yet hit bottom, so things can get very much worse in the coming weeks. How do we continue to save money amid this recession of epic proportions? Can we still dream about enjoying financial freedom with our loved ones?

The answer is yes. Our level of financial contentment depends on our mindset. It is not what we have, but what we enjoy which constitutes our abundance.

While the harsh environment means my family is not able to save as much money (due to lesser income), I learn to be more creative and explore ways to make our money work harder. I have also lowered my expectations of "abundance."

To fight this recession, here are 20 money saving tips which can be easily implemented:

1. Visit discount stores as the norm rather than exception. You can save big bucks on branded goods, be it clothing, food, house appliances, etc. especially with coupons in tow.

2. Cook at home and forget about eating out. Occasionally, cook for your friends or plan a potluck party. They will invite you to their homes for meals in return.

3. Keep a change jar and empty your coins into it; you'll be surprised how much you accumulate when you count them in a month's time.

4. Used items are not worthless. From my experience of buying and selling on eBay, I must say that there is a huge market for used items. Often, used books, music and videos are sold in great condition, so it is value for money for buyers. And if you take care of the items, you can even sell them back when you am done.

Beware of fraudulent transactions though - it can waste much of your time and money, so study each seller's track record carefully before you buy!

5. Buy a fixer-upper. It is more economical to find a house in a good location with ugly paint, broken windows, torn carpet, etc. and then renovating it. When the housing market recovers, your initial investment of a few thousand dollars on renovation can increase the value of your home by $15k to $30k.

6. Rent movies. A movie night at home runs you a fourth of the price of two theater tickets. Older flicks are often cheaper than new releases – and may contain less questionable content. (Bonus tip: Don't let late fees drain your savings!)

7. Remove cable services. I have no time for 300 channels when I finish work and do my daily rounds of answering emails and blogging. It is better to save yourself $300 to 400 a year by simply "cutting the cord."

8. Purchase a second hand car. A reliable used car with low mileage costs thousands less than a new one; insurance costs less too. Eopinions offer great feedback from buyers on nearly every make and model.

9. Don't neglect to exercise. A lot of people are stressed out by this recession and exercising can alleviate some of the pent-up frustrations. By all means, sign up for a gym, but make sure you fully utilize the equipment.

I know a lot of people go to the gym for the first few weeks after signing up but then find excuses to slack off while continuing to pay the gym fees. You must maintain the discipline, else forget about the gym altogether. Just buy a $10 exercise video, purchase used equipment or join a running club.

10. Pay off your mortgage loan faster. Go for a mortgage accelerator plan whereby you make half a house payment every two weeks rather than paying in full once a month. You'll accelerate your equity, save tens of thousands of dollars in interests, and pay off your mortgage years ahead of schedule.

11. Split a meal. Many restaurants pile on the food. Save by sharing, or making a second meal from your leftovers.

12. Don't get excited about sales. If you've filled your closet with wrong-sized, wrong-colored, wrong-flavored items you'll never use, you've flushed money down the drain. Shop carefully: a "sale" isn't always a "good deal."

13. Do not be enticed by attractive credit cards offers. Unless you are out to impress a girl, just keep one credit card in your wallet and pay off the balance monthly. You'll save on interest fees and avoid buying things you can't afford.

14. Limit the liquor. The dire consequences of drink-driving aside, alcohol is just plain expensive. Especially in clubs where the pretty ladies just encourage to go on a binge. In some states, insurance rates can skyrocket based on a person's alcohol intake.

15. Pack your meals for work. Why spend $6 a day for lunch? You can bring leftovers or a sandwich for next to nothing! And bring along a bottle of water or fruit juice. Buying drinks from cafes or restaurants defeats the purpose of saving money from packing lunch.

16. Adjust your latte dosage from daily to weekly. Do the math: 260 weekdays a year x $4 for a cuppa of coffee = $1040. Instead, set up a coffee pot at work and have coworkers chip in for beans.

17. Prepare a shopping list. Clever in-store advertising begs you to impulse buy. Your only hope is to remember what you came for. (Bonus tip: Don't shop for groceries when you're hungry!)

18. Ponder prescriptions. Buy the generic brand of your medication. Even better, purchase prescriptions by mail. You'll get several months' worth at once and save on co-pays.

19. Care for your car. Paying too much for gas and repairs? Experts provide fuel-efficient driving and maintenance tips at Fuel Economy.

20. Learn to do-it-yourself. If you spent weekends lazing on the couch watching football or rented videos, why not pick up home improvement skills? You can save thousands of dollars on your home by learning to landscape, redecorate, and do your own plumbing.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Big Dreams On A Small Family Budget?

Is it possible to have big dreams on a small family budget? I am not talking about charmed couples who stay in mansions and jetting off on romantic vacations to Europe every weekend.

For most married couples, their first few years are usually marked by cramped rental apartment and eating instant noodles or cheese burgers while struggling to pay their bills.

Isn't our marriage supposd to be the culmination of sweet love and courtship? But yet it seems that every dime is paying off the past or saving for the future.

Indeed, living debt-free during the "just married" moments is an immense challenge. However, we can still be financially secure by prioritizing our spending based on the three C's below:

Big Dreams On A Small Family Budget?

1. Consider what matters most

Examine your activties and consider what really matters. Then explore how to have fun without breaking the piggy-bank. As an example, why do you go to the movies? If you love the atmosphere, plot or special effects, then attend an off-peak (cheaper) show. Else, just rent a DVD or borrow it from the library.

2. Cherish the simple things in life

When your neighbors are are driving a new car or buying big screen TVs, it's tempting to reach for our credit cards and improve our living standards too. Americans love instant gratification and keeping up with the Jones.

In this recession, I am humbled to learn that our wealth is actually illusory. It is the simple things in life which ought to be cherished. We should thank God for our hot showers, clean water, food on the table and cosy homes, instead of focusing on our neighbor's latest toys.

Try it out and you will be more contented with your marriage rather than lament about the meagre family budget.

3. Commit to God what's His

The Israelites gave to God the first 10 percent of everything they harvested as they trusted Him to provide the rest. The New Testament remind us that all we have is God's.

The lessons is to give generously and spend wisely. When we invest our time and money in Him, we further appreciate God's abundant provision on earth and learn to share without thinking about rewards.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Clashing Over Money In A Marriage

Appearances can be deceiving. Recently, my cousin told me that he has filed for divorce from his spouse. That is sad as he had a happy marriage, at least that was the impression we get whenever they attend family functions.

He told me that their numerous conflicts over financial issues got out of hand. To be sure, he is not alone in citing money problems for marital strife. Sometimes, arguing about money on a regular basis could be due to other issues being unresolved.

Clashing Over Money In A Marriage
These core issues will haunt the marriage without a satisfactory solution. My own experience is that managing a marriage requires effort, it is a merger of two people with different habits and personalities. Thus, whenever there are disputes, open communication, understanding and patience are required.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself before the situation gets ugly:

1. Is there a communication breakdown?

Don't let your spouse second guess your thoughts, desires and preferences. Communicate effectively as guessing often leads to misunderstanding, and subsequently hurt feelings and even resentment.

Choosing the right timing is half the battle won. If either of of you are already upset or angry, communicating about finances is usually futile as your negative emotions spillover which usually lead to harsh exchanges of words. You should broach sensitive issues in a way that is comfortable for both of you.

Try writing down your concerns first before lashing out in an emotional manner. Be clear about what you need from your spouse - is it paying for a big ticket item, planning a family budget or balancing the check book? Set a positive tone and good results will follow.

2. Are you hurt or resentful?

Sometimes, it's easier to argue about money than to admit our hurt feelings. We may have unknowingly hurt our spouse, but because they bottled it up, we are unaware of our insensitive actions.

The result is that the hurt continues and the other party vent their resentment by over-reacting to every issues. Instead of letting such negative emotions hinder your relationship, gather the courage to deal with the hurt.

Bring it out in the open in a healthy way. Do it before tackling money issues. That way you'll be able to discuss your finances without the extra burden of emotional baggage.

3. Are you afraid of money facts?

Are you afraid to talk about money because you don't want your spouse to discover that you spent money foolishly, didn’t pay the bill when you were supposed to, or have kept other financial secrets?

Trust has to be established in a marriage before sensitive and important issues like finances can be addressed properly. However dishonesty destroys trust. As they say, once bitten twice shy; when trust is destroyed, your spouse will not rely on you for future decisions, which can leave you feeling upset, and the cycle repeats itself.

Never make a significant financial decision without talking to your spouse. If you've been hiding something, the real issue is not about finances, it's about being honest.

In order to lay a smooth foundation in marriage for you to build your financial future, try communicating in a clear and loving manner, getting rid of emotional baggage and embracing honesty today.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Money Management: Cooking At Home

Money Management: Cooking At Home
Once in a while, I take my family out for dinners at restaurants. My wife can take a well deserved break, and we spend some quality time together without thinking too hard about our finances.

And no, we don't go for Michelin restaurants where they serve exquisite dishes like foie gras or Kobe beef.

But it has been nearly a year since I stepped into any restaurant. This recession has really tightened our belts and cooking at home has proven to be an effective way to save money. If nothing else, you are already spared from all the tips and expensive drinks.

A lot of people don't realize that the secret to solving money woes lies in the kitchen. While value meal deals costing $2 and cheap upsizes in fast food restaurants make prepared food look expensive, the truth is that eating in is always better for your budget and health.

An Indian curry meal with ingredients and rice may cost $20, but don't forget that we can easily extract four portions from that $20, with extra ingredients left over in the cupboard. The next time I cook an Indian dish, it will be "free," so purchasing ingredients are definitely better investments than eating out.

And on days with special sales, we can even squeeze in fruits or fruit juice from the $20 food budget, which makes the meal more nutritious.

If you are ready to step into the kitchen, here are some tips to prepare you for your home cooking:

1. Focus on healthy dishes for meals

Try to avoid popping cakes or cookies into the ovens every day. To eat in a healthy and frugal manner, we should first take care of our core nutritional needs for breakfasts, lunches and suppers.

If the fridge is already stocked with a few days of food, then celebrate by cooking something special, brownies or muffins, say.

2. Never Do Without Eggs

Eggs are the "great equalizer" for those who are pinching their pennies. While eggs are way up in price, they're still great value for money. Eggs contain high level of proteins but go easy on the egg yolk which contains chlorestorol.

Try to fit in eggs for one night a week eggs. It could be supper or breakfast. Trade off making omelettes, scrambled eggs, fried eggs, frittatas, more. We keep our kitchen well-stocked with eggs as they are just so many ways of cooking it and they blend well with any ingredients.

3. Don't Get Confused By Long Lists of Ingredients

Getting a recipe book will be cheaper than ordering pizzas, provided you don't cook gourmet meals.

Choose a basic cookbook to begin — for example, Australian Women’s Weekly range, or you could even try this bestseller: 4 Ingredients by Kim McCosker and Rachael Bermingham.

There are more than 340 recipes using four or less ingredients. This is now our kitchen bible, just imagine how much money and time we save by focusing only on four ingredients?

4. Extract all the value

Whenever we cook, there will always be leftovers or by-products. Say, when we cook bacon, we save the fat in a jar in the fridge - it adds great flavor to stews and eggs. Another example is leeks. After whipping up a delicious plate of leeks with braised meat, we save the unused green parts to make our soup of the day.

On another day, we may have roasted chicken for dinner, and for supper, we just dump the carcass into a pot with sliced onion, celery, carrots or potatoes to make chicken stock. If everybody is feeling full, then just save the carcass for another day. Place it in a freezer bag and freeze for cooking on the weekend.

5. Eat for free

Get one more meal from what's on hand. It might well be an odd meal, it might even not be that tasty. But it's 'free' because if we shop and refill the fridge before all those odd bits are gone, chances are, they'll go to waste.

There are more money management tips but for now, take the first step and try out home cooking for a week and see if your family finances improve.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Weekly Coupons Tips #1

Weekly Coupons Tips #1
My family use coupons aggressively and I consider it the best thing since sliced bread when it comes to saving money. We save nearly $1,500 a year using coupons. To the rich people, that’s chump change; but to me, it’s a pretty good amount.

Though I often tout the advantages of coupons to friends and relatives, I find that they do not share the same fervor. I guess they are feeling embarrassment about using coupons.

Well, I am not and don't look like Donald Trump, so I have no qualms about using coupons. Please people, the companies made coupons available for us to use, we are not acting like thieves or cheating anybody.

If I am given a choice of having to pay full price for every items or being called a cheap stake, I will gladly accept the latter any day.

For those who are just starting out on their coupon adventures, there are a few things to take note in order to maximize your savings.

I suggest that you cultivate a habit of being organized early. Our family adopts a meticulous method of placing our coupons in envelopes which are organized by category. Once a month, we go through our coupon organizers to check for expired coupons.

If you think we are being fanatical and this is all too much trouble, just imagine these tiny slips of paper as money and you will think differently. Every coupon you need but can’t easily locate is cash slipping through your fingers.

To make the most of your coupon savings:

1. Look for double-coupon deals.

2. Sniff around for coupons of items that are already on sale or discounted.

3. Coupons are not the be-all, end-all; sometimes store brands can still be cheaper, so having a basic understanding of prices will put you in good stead.

4. Don’t disrupt your shopping list jsut because of the manufacturer’s coupons. You may end up buying unnecessary items... so what if they are cheap!

Instead, plan your regular shopping list first, and then go to your coupon wallet and see whether you have current coupons for the items you’re buying.

5. When shopping online, look for online coupon codes to save on either purchase price or on shipping/handling charges.

Just type the name of the site you’re shopping at and coupons into your favorite search engine to see what you find.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Create A Household Budget To Improve Money Management

Create A Household Budget To Improve Family Money Management
Are you often short of funds soon after collecting your pay? Does it feel like you pay and pay but yet you are nowhere near clearing your credit card debt?

Most likely, you do not have a household budget.

Ok, so what is a household budget and how does one make a budget?

To put it simply, a household budget is a money plan for you to organize and achieve your financial goals. If you are constantly out of the money and your household debts are mounting, you need to pen down a budget right away.

As parents, we have the responsibility of allocating the family’s funds and making sure there is enough to go around. If we cannot exhibit financial discipline, then it is almost impossible to impart the right money values to our children.

Below are some steps which you can adopt in formulating a practical household budget.

1. Sit down with your spouse and plan a household budget together. List down what your joint financial goals are…long term and short term.

2. Cut family overhead to the bare minimum. Do you really need the $500 romantic dinner every week and expensive coffee at Starbucks? "Keeping up with the Joneses" is not cool if the quality lifestyle is built on debts.

3. Make reasonable allocations for food, clothing, shelter, utilities and insurance. A household budget is not a financial starvation diet where you deprive yourself of basic needs.

4. Allow yourself some pampering in the household budget. This will be for your entertainment, relaxation, recreation, vacations and gifts.

Working hard all year round and not taking appropriate breaks to re-energize or buying gifts to reward yourself is too taxing. Frankly, not the kind of household family budget which I will adopt and I try hard to preach what I do.

5. If you have spare cash for investments, allocate them according to short term and retirement needs.

If you want to get organized, there are many online budget forms available. Just use any search engine and type in “free budget forms.”

I use a simple Excel spreadsheet and then check monthly how and what I did as compared to my plan. For a more detailed budget, you may want to try MS Money which can even give you your personal financial statement and analysis.

On a final note, remember that any successful household budget will require you to consider savings first before any spending. Remember “Pay now, enjoy later.” Even a small amount saved will edge you closer to your long term financial goals.

There are two major ways to increase savings. One is to actually save and scrimp on available funds, and the other is to increase your income.

Which method do you think is easier to save money?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Five Tips To Save $100 Every Month

Everybody is struggling to get by in this recession. Saving money seems like mission impossible when you are virtually depending on credit to make ends meet.

Nevertheless, if you get creative, it is always possible to eke out $100 to put into your savings account. Just try the six tips below, it may even be posible to save up to $200 for those who are disciplined!

1. Go For Recreation Rather Than Entertainment

Movies, concerts and theme parks are expensive in good times and a waste of money in bad times. They only last for a few hours or at most one day.

If you adjust your lifestyle to recreational activities such as hiking, camping, skiing, beachcombing, cycling, etc, you are on your way to better fitness and saving more money.

2. Visit the Library

The library is a good way to save money. Nobody will chase you out for spending hours in a peaceful place to read the books, surf the net, check your email, or even watch DVD movies.

You can also tap into fee-for-service databases for genealogy research. Before buying the latest book, check out the library shelves first. With most paperback books retailing at $5 - $25 and hardcover books selling at $20 - $35, you can save money easily.

3. Give The Mall A Miss

For shopping fanatics, this is hard to do. If you salivate over the latest fad items (designer handbags, cool electronic items, interior decor, etc.), your credit card statement will be a nightmare.

Give the mall a miss and cut down on discretionary items. Branded goods are prestigious but if you want to save money, they should be the first to go.

4. Shop Outer Aisles Of Grocery Stores

Ok, so you have avoided all the glitzy mall and have decided to shop at your neighborhood grocery store. Well, there is also some trick to saving money there.

Produce, dairy, meats tend to be placed on the outer aisles with all the junk food and processed products in the center aisles. Avoid as many of those inner aisles as possible and you’ll see both your waistline and expenditures drop.

5. Skip Pizza Deliveries, Lattes, And Gourmet

We’ve heard that speech before but we also know that life is meant to be lived and enjoyed. So as Ben Franklin advised, use moderation in all things even moderation. So don’t deny yourself too many treats or you’ll simply forgo the idea of saving money at once.

How about buying two lattes and only one pizza delivery per week for a savings of about $40? Start a rotation of items which break the budget and don’t give them up all at once but instead just buy some on occasion as a treat instead of making them a weekly ritual.

6. Set Savings Goals and be Smart!

When it comes to achieving your saving money goals, be SMART --- Make goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and can be accomplished on a timed basis. It’s your money so have some fun with the money management process and above all, be creative!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Debt Advice: Throw Everything You Can At Your Debts

If you are striving to achieve financial freedom but getting nowhere, I suggest you review your debts and start eradicating bad money habits first. Else, any personal financial planning will be futile.

The first step of debt reduction is to be organized and then make a plan or budget to eliminate your debt. Spend the next few months, year, or couple of years living on as little as you can until you are debt free.

Cut out any unnecessary expenses including cable, cell phone (or use a pay as you go phone), excessive eating and going out, etc. If you live in a house that is more than you need, rent out a room, or downgrade to something that will save you money.

Find a way to cut down on your grocery bill by using coupons and buying store brand. Another great way to speed up the debt reduction process is to get a part time job. Make as much extra money as you can. If it’s near the holidays, you are in luck because many department stores hire extra help for the holiday season.

If you can’t get a part time job, offer your skills to other people such as fixing things, baby-sitting, etc.

Throwing everything you can at your debts may sound extreme, but when you get it paid off, you will feel so much better. You will feel less stressed from money collectors harassing you in the middle of the night.

Don’t bother with debt consolidation, just pay off all the debts. Pay off the credit cards with the highest interest rate first. If you can, transfer your balances to the credit card with the lowest interest rate.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Join The Snowflakes Revolution

The Snowflake Revolution is a collection of blogs that discuss the principles and practices of snowflaking.

Snowflaking is the concept of using small amounts of savings or earnings above and beyond our normal budget to meet our financial goals. A spinoff of the Ramsey Snowball concept, this can be used for debt reduction but it also goes beyond debt to savings, investing, and more.

If you have a blog related to the snowflaking theme, be it to debt, savings, investments, or anything else, you can join the revolution!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Family Money Management Involves Agreement

Are you entrenched in debts or surviving on payday loans? You should start on a household budget soon, if you don't want creditors banging down your door. For that budget to work, your household members have to be in total agreement.

family money management

Money conflicts happen when you are a frugalisit while your spouse loves shopping and racking up credit card debts. Creating a household budget is meaningless as it won't work, instead there will only be nasty quarrels and fights.

Before you get a household budget going, here are some steps which you can implement.

1. Discuss Money Management Objectives

Take a seat at the kitchen table and get a piece of paper ready. Make a list of long-term money management objectives that both of you agree upon.

It can be getting out of debt, contributing to a college fund for the kids, or bulking up on a retirement fund. Alternatively, you may want to save up for seminars, courses, training which could raise your earnings power.

2. Start Working On The Household Budget

Once you tabled the objectives, start working on the household budget. Decide how much you need to save monthly to meet your objectives. Then, subtract this from your monthly income to see how much you have left over to spend.

Next, subtract your “secured” debt. Typically, this would be your mortgage payments, car payments, or any loans secured by an asset such as your house or vehicle.

The last part is to analyze your other expenses and unsecured debts. For example, your clothing, transportation, food, membership fees, spa treatments, credit card debts -- as these are the usual areas where you can make cuts.

Once again, reach a consensus on where those reductions can be made. If your spouse loves fashion; clothing and shoes are her lifeblood. You know the rest of the story when she is not happy with the way you broach this sensitive topic.

3. Find A Compromise

Compromise on the household budget as it is unlikely that you achieve your objectives straightaway. Arrive at a spending limit which your spouse agrees is fair, even if it is some way off your desired figure. Then, look for another category where you can make cuts to get your final household budget number down to where it needs to be.

4. Make Fortnightly Reviews

Sit down with your spouse twice a month to review your household budget to see if the goals are achievable. You will find that you're under in some categories and over in others. Don't worry about making adjustments at this time. Just make notes as to where you need to buck up.

5. Be Flexible And Make Adjustments

After the first two months, you should know where you've been spending more than you budgeted and where you've spent less. The two of you can then discuss what adjustments you need to make. There should not much arguments since the objectives are agreed and the household budget created together.

The important thing is to keep the discussions from becoming accusatory. If one of you has been the “household budget breaker,” it's better to ask “it looks like we've got a problem here, what to you think we can we do to fix it?” then to say, “you really screwed up this time.”

What can you do if you or your spouse just can't control his or her spending and keeps busting the household budget, month after month? Unfortunately that's an issue that probably needs the work of a good marriage counselor.