One of the most, if not the most, important financial building blocks is to know the state of your finances (as stated in Proverbs 27:23). The best way to accomplish this is with a monthly budget. Always prepare your budget the month before, so March’s budget should be prepared sometime in February. The budget doesn’t have to be fancy, and it does not even have to be prepared on a spreadsheet. It can be done on a simple piece of notebook paper.
LET’S START A BUDGET
There are two main features of a monthly budget: listing out all of your monthly expenses and all of the paychecks that you receive.
o The first step is to list all of your “net” income that you will receive in a month. This is the amount that you actually receive on your paycheck (after taxes, 401K contributions, and health insurance are withheld).
- If you own your own business, this would be the amount you pay yourself after setting aside a portion for income tax
o The second step is to list all of your expected expenses in the next month. Include things like:
- Car Tags
- Oil Changes/Repairs
o Most paychecks and expenses are the same amount from month to month, so go ahead and write in dollar amounts for each one. You can look at last month’s payments to get a good idea of what next month’s payments will be.
o We cannot know the future, but we can prepare for unseen circumstances. We need to establish a small emergency fund at this point to keep us from going further into debt. A good starting point is to save up $1,000 for emergencies.
o Just a reminder – this money is not for vacations, or even Christmas and birthday gifts. An emergency would be a tree falling through your roof and you have to pay a $1,000 deductible to get the roof repaired.
o Also, make sure all your tax returns are current. You want to calculate your withholdings so that you do NOT get a refund. That means all your money is working toward your goals and not sitting in an account waiting for you to file your return once a year.
Everybody knows that they need to pay off their debt, but it’s easy to be overwhelmed and not know where to start. Similar to making a monthly budget, the best thing to do is list out your debts on a sheet of paper. Include all credit cards, car payments, and bank loans, but do not include your house. Even if you still owe payments on your mortgage, the house is considered an asset, not debt, so don’t include it in this step.
o Organize the debts, smallest to largest.
o The goal is to pay them all off, but you’ll do it one at a time. Use any extra income from your monthly budget to attack the smallest debt first.
o Make an extra payment on this bill each month until it is paid off. For all remaining debts, keep making minimum payments.
o When this first debt is paid off, move to the next one on your list and begin making extra payments on that one.
o This process is called a “debt snowball,” so don’t be discouraged if paying off that first debt takes longer than you wanted. Just like a snowball, the payments will make a bigger and bigger impact over time. Even paying an extra $50 a month on one credit card will get you to your goal, especially if you’re disciplined about keeping to your budget and not adding anything new to the debt.
After all of the debt has been eliminated, you now want to revisit your emergency fund. Everybody needs to have six months of living expenses saved for emergencies.
o Where do we find our living expenses? From our budget!
o If you spend $1000 each month on rent, utilities, groceries, etc., then you want at least $6,000 in a savings account.
The “debt snowball” method also works for starting your emergency fund. A little bit over time goes a long way!
o If you have been spending $100 from each paycheck to pay down your debt, start putting that money in a savings account. You’re already used to not spending that $100, so your monthly budget doesn’t change.
o You’ll also notice that your living expenses are decreasing as we pay off our debts. That’s a good thing!
After we have our fully funded emergency fund, then we can begin saving toward retirement. The goal is to save at least 15% of our household “gross” income. Gross income is the amount of money in each paycheck before taxes are withheld.
o When your company tells you that your salary is $40,000 a year, this is your gross income.
o If you make $10/hour and you work 40 hours a week, then your gross income is $400 a week.
For example: Mary makes $40,000 per year and her husband makes $55,000 per year. Their household gross income is $95,000 a year, so they need to save $14,250 each year for retirement.
o Mary would save $6,000 per year, and her husband would save $8,250 per year.
o As they both receive increases in their salary (through annual raises and promotions), they would increase the amount saved for retirement each year.
INSURANCE OF LIFE
When reviewing financial plans, I often see households that are extremely under insured on life insurance. Life insurance ensures that your family is provided for, even if you pass away unexpectedly. This is especially important for households with one working parent, since it insures against losing the only paycheck that pays all of monthly expenses.
o I always recommend taking out term life insurance, and the best amount is 10 times your gross income. I also prefer 30-year terms, but there are other options that might better suit your needs.
o In our example above, Mary would need a $400,000 term life policy. Her husband would need $550,000 in term life insurance.
While we are on insurance, make sure you have the following polices in place:
o Disability Insurance. Make sure that you have a long-term “own occupation” policy – I never recommend taking out an “any occupation” disability policy.
o Health Insurance. If you have a high deductible plan, you can add an “HSA” (Health Savings Account) to the plan for smaller expenses.
o Home/Renters Insurance. Make sure you have at least 80% of the value of your home insured, and that your policy includes replacement value. It’s equally important to make sure that you aren’t over insured!
o Automobile Insurance. Don’t take out cheap automobile insurance. “The General” is not a good idea when you have a claim.
o Vision and Dental insurance.
o College Savings. Each state has its own 529 plan that anybody can set up and contribute to, and I generally recommend Alaska’s plan. Make sure you have the options in the 529 to select the investments, although you will need financial guidance in this area. Don’t be afraid to seek guidance – these are common accounts that any financial advisor will be able to help with.
LEAVING A LEGACY
Once you have your life in order – no debts, kids educated, home paid off, retirement fixed – it allows you to do something with your life that might have only been a dream before – GIVE! To the world this sounds silly, but giving back is the ultimate financial goal. You have been giving your whole life, and even your budget, for it, but now you can really give. You can give like you have never given before. This is the legacy portion of financial success. When you get to this point in your finances, you have truly succeeded financially!
Leave a legacy for your children. Children, in most families, get left out on financial discussions, and then they grow up and don’t know how to handle their own finances. Why? Because that’s the way we have always done it.
Don’t be that person. Teach your children financial responsibility. Teach them that “debt” is bad. Teach them how to budget and pay their bills. Teach them how to save. Most importantly, though, (since it’s the ultimate financial goal) teach them how to give. Money is talked about in the Bible more than any other subject. That’s because our God (who loves us more than anything) wants us to follow His Word on financial responsibility. Share these lessons with your children. Teach them God’s way for handling their finances.
I hope the article helps you to set up a budget, plan an emergency fund, pay down your debt, insure yourself against any possible problems in life, and leave a legacy of financial building blocks. The advice given in this article was provided by Paul Windham. He is certified public accountant, certified financial planner and personal financial specialist, and he owns and operates Windham Financial Group PC.
If you need more advice, please contact Windham Financial Group PC at the following website http://wfgpc.com/meet_our_team.php .