With the new year, it's time for resolutions. Many people will be resolving to diet and exercise, to learn a language, or to read more often. But you might be resolving to be better with your finances. This is a complicated area that differs from person to person, but there are still a few guidelines that can help you with your new resolutions.
1. Start budgeting by recording what you spend within a month.
Use this time to take a step back and examine what you're spending where. You can wait a month or a pay period and record what you spend to get a baseline. Or you can pour over your past recents and bank records to see the big picture. This step will be very helpful when you start determining your personal budget. Knowing your fixed costs allow you to determine your discretionary spending limits.
2. Be prepared to adjust your budget within the first month or two.
This really goes for all kinds of resolutions. Most people set their sights a little too high and become discouraged when they're not reaching their goal. Don't expect an immediate, drastic change. Instead, ease into your new spending habits. Weaning yourself off of your old budget will allow for a much smoother transition. Setting more realistic and flexible expectations will also make it that much easier to stick to your new budget throughout the entire year.
3. Make room for unexpected bills or sudden changes in income.
However, not all costs remain the same. You might have an unexpected car repair or medical bill. You also could experience a change in your employment status. You never quite know what life is going to throw at you. This is why you should build in some financial padding if you're able. Having an emergency savings account will help you out in a pinch when an unexpected bill appears.
4. Plan for the holidays and other big events all year long.
While the unexpected really can't be planned for, there are some things you can anticipate. This includes the holiday season and other big events like family reunions. There's no reason these things should be a surprise to your finances. For Christmas, set aside as little as $10 or $20 a month and you'll have a built-in gift budget. Same goes for any other big events that you know are arriving. Make room in your budget to save specifically for these if you know you're going to be spending during those months.
5. The easiest budget is saving a set percentage of each check.
If you don't want to have to think too hard about your budget, decide on a set percentage and stick to it. There's a rule that you should save 10 percent of your check for retirement. There is also the popular 50/30/20 rule, which says that you should save 20 percent of your income. Figure out what percentage will work best for your income and stick with it. That money will add up more quickly than you think.
6. If you want more specific saving goals, try the envelope method.
If you're looking for a more specific budget, you can try the envelope method. This method involves you setting specific categories for every area of your life. A basic version would include rent, groceries and entertainment. You can break these down or add as many categories as you like. For each category, you set a specific spending amount you're allowed every month or every pay period. It's usually recommended that you do this budget all in cash, but it can definitely be done digitally or with pre-paid visa cards. This method can be very rigid but will definitely help you stay on track.
When you take out a loan for a car, charge something to your credit card, or get a personal line of credit, there is going to be an interest rate that applies to your loan.
A lot of different factors go into what you will be charged, including your own personal credit score. But even those with flawless credit still see a minimum charge that they can't get around. That all goes back to the Federal Funds Rate.
One thing consumers rarely realize is that all of our banks are lending money to each other every night. Banks are legally required to maintain a certain percentage of their deposits in non-interest-bearing accounts at the Federal Reserve to ensure they have enough money to cover any withdrawals that may unexpectedly come up. However, deposits can fluctuate and it's very common for some banks to exceed the requirement on certain days while some fall short. In cases like this, banks actually lend each other money to ensure they meet the minimum balance. It's a bit hard to imagine these multibillion-dollar financial institutions needing to borrow money to tide them over for a bit, but it happens every single night at the Federal Reserve. It's also a nice deal for those with balances above the reserve balance requirement to earn a bit of money with cash that would normally just be sitting there.
The Federal Reserve
The exact interest rate the banks will charge each other is a matter of negotiation between them, but the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) (the arm of the Federal Reserve that sets monetary policy) meets eight times a year to set a target rate. They evaluate a multitude of economic indicators including unemployment, inflation, and consumer confidence to decide the best rate to keep the country in business. The weighted average of all interest rates across these interbank loans is the effective federal funds rate.
This rate has a huge impact on the economy overall as well as your personal finances. The federal funds rate is essentially the cheapest money available to a bank and that feeds into all of the other loans they make. Banks will add a slight upcharge to the rate set by the Fed to determine what is the lowest interest that they will announce for their most creditworthy customers, also known as the prime rate. If you have a variable interest rate loan (very common with credit cards and some student loans), it's likely that the interest rate you pay is a set percentage on top of that prime rate that your lender is paying. That's why in times of low interest rates (it was set at 0% during the Great Recession), a lot of borrowers should go for fixed interest rate loans that won't increase. However, if the federal funds rate was relatively high (it went up to 20% in the early 1980's), a variable interest rate loan may be a better decision as you would be charged less interest should the rate drop without the need to refinance.
The federal funds rate also has a major impact on your investment portfolio. The stock market reacts very strongly to any changes in interest rates from the Federal Reserve, as a lower rate makes it cheaper for companies to borrow and reinvest while a higher rate may restrict capital and slow short-term growth. If you have a significant portion of your investments in equities, a small change in the federal funds rate can have a large impact on your net worth.
Whether you're leaving a job involuntarily, departing for something new, or just want to prepare for the unknown, it is smart to understand all your options regarding your 401k.
Frugal gifting often gets a bad reputation. However, this shopping method does not make you cheap — it makes you practical. Frugal gifts often avoid waste and overspending and can be just as meaningful (if not more so) as any other present.
With the National Retail Federation predicting each consumer this holiday season to spend upwards of $1,000 on holiday gifts amidst an economic recession —this year might be the perfect time to reconsider your spending budget. We've formulated the ultimate list of frugal gift-giving ideas to get you started.