Hole Numbers: Best ways to cut bloated budgets to help save

If you have a budget, that’s great. If you have a budget, and you use it, even better. And if you don’t have one, you should get one soon.

As in now.

Budgeting is the difference between those who can save and those who have no idea why they can’t amass dollar one in a savings account or even think about retirement on the simplest levels.

And even if you do have a budget, the success of it depends solely on if you actually follow it or if it’s more window dressing and dreaming than actual reality of your financial situation. Budgeting has to be specific, and to the last dollar where you don’t overlook anything, even the most inconsequential expenses.

And here’s one rule about budgeting that often is overlooked, for those who have it and use it properly: it’s a constantly changing entity.

That means you should be budgeting and adjusting and altering your budget when you have the opportunity or at least every so often to make sure you really are saving as much as possible. What the general public tends to overlook is a budget that is bloated in some ways or, at the very least, revisiting and revising what you’re paying for certain products or services.

For starters, you should be checking rates every year, whether you’re thinking about transferring debt or perhaps just questioning how much you’re paying for car insurance, home owners insurance or anything of that ilk. Some even make it a point to lower the interest rate on their home or are continually shopping for better rates on anything in their lives that is tied to a percentage point.

Beyond your interest rates or what you’re paying for your utilities and other bills, you can’t overlook things such as cable television, phone service, grocery bills and even something as arbitrary as a gym membership.

As for the membership, you might be able to cut your rate in half based on frequency and what you’re doing. Some facilities are as little as $10 per month, and if that suffice what you need, then why not switch?

Cable television is slowly being affected by streaming services that cost a fraction, such as Netflix, Hulu and Sling. And if you’re overpaying for data from a larger carrier, think smaller since most networks are basically the same. So if you’re not traveling to Japan for work, you might want to cut that bill in half and save on the extras, such as data plans you’re paying for when unlimited is the wave of the future.

No one is suggesting that budgeting is easy, but the hard part comes from those who ignore theirs once it’s written on paper. Instead, think about altering it and fine tuning it always, to further engage in your finances and save the kind of money that makes a difference.

Simple techniques: Why quick scan of budget could produce plenty of savings

The average budget is, well, average.

And by using the term “average,” you describe a budget exactly as the word itself would be defined.

Just OK.

Most of what holds back the average budget is the lack of attention to detail most put on it, specifically only focusing on the big ticket items, your car, house, school loan and other larger scale items and forgetting how small, incidental expenses are also costing you plenty of money.

But even beyond not accounting for your $2,000 per year coffee habit or the $5,000 you’re spending on lunch alone every day on your work break, you should really consider scanning your budget, taking the proverbial “fine tooth” comb and really finding even more ways to save on expenses and thus save money in the form of a savings account or nest egg for those unexpected costs.

When was the last time you perused your budget, really looked it over?

Did you happen to notice that elephant in the room in the form of your cable bill, costing you nearly $3,000 per year for television and internet? In today’s marketplace, you can get away with having entertainment of that same variety for a fraction of that cost. Traditional cable already is feeling tremendous pressure from streaming services, but if you take the time to do the research, you’ll find other alternatives to cable and satellite dish as well.

An extra $1,000 saved per year means another $20,000 if you decide to retire in 20 years. Simple math but yet such a hard time cutting that cable cord.

And when you’re done with saying so long to satellite or cable, you might want to take a look in your bedroom closet or wherever you keep your clothes. Now, this isn’t to suggest you should stop shopping altogether but rather rethink how you shop.

As much as you want to by the most perfect, pristine sweater in October just before the cold weather hits, consider buying clothes in the offseason months, and save that sweater buy for April and grab those shorts and tank tops in September. If you’re overly concerned with style, you can rest assured that doing this isn’t going to set you back fashion wise by more than a few mere months.

Your budget is only as good as the person running it, and that means making tough decisions. In the case of cutting the fat, that should be fairly easy when you consider what it is and how much you’re going to save.

Boost Mobile: How to get your credit score quickly moving in right direction

Your credit score is the life blood of not only how you’re viewed by lenders but also if you’re going to be afforded loans for things that you want and need: cars, schooling, house, etc.

So the question is quite simple: Is your credit score on life support?

To answer that question, you have to know what it is first, and foremost.

Knowing your score can give you a good idea of a starting point and ultimately where you want to go from there. Getting your score also allows you to make sure it’s accurate, as you wouldn’t be the first person to suffer from some sort of mistake that is not in your favor and thusly is dragging down that three digit number.

If all the information and debt is accurate, then it’s time to go to work on building that score back up again, and this time for good.

But if you’re fretting because you believe that your score and raising it is going to take considerable amount of time, you’re right.

And wrong.

You can start breathing life into your score by only doing a few simple things.

In addition to checking your score for accuracy, you also want to begin a better management system for your debt, specifically paying down current debt. To do that correctly in order to better manage your credit score, check your balance to credit limit ratio and start there.

That means if you have a current balance that is extremely close to your actual limit, you’ll want to focus on that right away, because if that is the case, creditors assume that you’re essentially “maxing out” all your available credit.

The flip side of that process is the thought that you want to close your unused credit cards, but that only hurts your chances of improving your score. Think about it, if you have credit cards with high balances that are right up your limit, then closing accounts that have zero balances on them is only going to make your debt utilization look worse.

Finally, if this pertains to you and how you pay bills, you want to immediately do one thing: stop paying your credit cards late. Every time you go beyond 30 days of unpaid balances, you will be sent to collections. Even late payments on credit cards are noted and will negatively affect your account and standing with your current lenders.

The best course of action is to pay at least the minimum payment just to avoid missing, since something is better than nothing pertains to this situation.

Your score might not be where you want it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t adjust slightly how you’re currently managing your debt to start climbing back to financial respectability.

Easily Found: How make obviously smart money moves

Sometimes, we make saving money much more complicated than it needs to be.

What tends to happen is a propensity to avoid money moves that we know are advisable and easy, and instead opt for the path of more resistance. Ironically, that path is perceived to be much easier when in actuality it causes quite the concern once it is executed.

Simply put, some money movies are really smart and very obvious but we still go against the proverbial grain in that regard.

Take for instance credit cards.

Why do we use them constantly when they were truly designed for only emergencies or something more practical like buying something online. If you’re buying online, you want to use a credit card for security purposes. We certainly get that mindset, but you can’t do that without knowing you can pay the bill within 30 days so as to not face any large interest charges.

Generally speaking, credit cards are bad news and only should be used as the absolute last means of paying for anything. The bigger misstep is using a credit card to pay a bill, charge a vacation or to buy groceries or other day to day items that you should be buying with just cash in your bank account (i.e. your own money).

Often living beyond your means is brought to the forefront of discussion points when you talk about money mistakes. The smart move is to buy modest when it comes to your two biggest purchases: house and car. What we tend to do is buy an expensive car or too much house, and that equates to higher payments, higher insurance payments and premiums and just more money spent in general, money that would do better in your bank account rather than being tied up in a $60,000 car that you don’t need or a half a million dollar house that is too big for just you. The mistake is buying and biting off more than you can chew just because you’re approved for a certain amount when that is only a best scenario to give you an idea of what you can afford, while some take it as the one and only number they have to hit.

Finally, you simply need to make retiring a priority and that means saving for it, especially if your company is practically handing you the easiest of paths to get from hard worker to secure retiree.

When a money decision seems like it’s a no brainer, chances are it is. Those are the ones you want to spot and react the right way, rather than fall victim to wasteful and wishful thinking financially.

Road Closed: Are you headed for financial disaster?

Money is always a unique element of your daily life in that you often fall into a comfort level, assuming that all is well when in actuality you’re headed in the wrong direction. In some cases, you’re teetering on the brink of breaking the bank wide open, and not in a good way.

That “comfort level” includes paying the minimum payment on all your credit accounts, yet still charging to the that same card, or continuing to live paycheck to paycheck and not being able to save money. Those are just a few of the pratfalls that could easily continue and thus lead you to financial ruin in a short amount of time.

The minimum payment, still opening up new lines of credit or charging to the same cards is a huge red flag when it comes to your finances being porous. If you’re paying $150 on a credit card and charging another $100, you’re ahead $50 but once you track the interest at about 10 to 15 percent, you’re breaking even ever month. That lineage hardly works toward lowering your debt and being able to save money in the process. Furthermore, some still open up more lines of credit and debt, even though they aren’t putting a dent in any other loans they have. You’re debt to income ratio starts to go from the wanted 70 to 30 ratio to more like 50 to 50, which is going to make getting a loan for the important things (home improvement, schooling, medical expenses, etc.) even more difficult.

You also can’t overlook not being able to pay your bills on time and being harassed by companies with past due notices and other warnings of that ilk, and you simply don’t do anything to stop the calls and just ignore the problem, hoping it will go away.

In actuality, taking on credit and debt head on is your best course of action, simply because a lot of debt collectors and companies will work with you on a settlement that will allow you to pay potentially half of that debt off just to settle it.

One of the worst parts of your finances and almost as bad as making minimum payments and yet still charging is borrowing money from the people you know, whether that’s your parents, cousins, aunts and uncles or just about anyone else you can think of that is considered family. Co workers often could even get in the mix, and doing this not only strains relationships but also could potentially lead to a complete dilution altogether, where you don’t speak to the party that loaned you the money.

Managing your finances the right way takes two things: eyes wide open and being able to realize when things are getting really bad.

Food for Thought: How to save money at restaurants

If you had to pick one spot, one location or one place of business or service you spend most of your extra income, what would you choose?
The shoppers of the world might select malls, department stores and other places that do an outstanding job marketing their clothing to you as if you can’t live without it. Others might opt for most of their disposable income finding its way right to your stomach.

And by that, you’re talking about the propensity to spend money eating out at restaurants, something that can account for thousands of dollars in money spent that you wish you could have back the moment that last bite or sip is taken.

The truth is most financial experts and advocates will tell you that you should eating out at all costs, and the numbers certainly suggest that. If you eat dinner out, just yourself, three times per week and the average check is $20, you’re likely to spend nearly $3,000 per year just on restaurant dining. When you add that to your grocery bill, you are essentially paying for food twice: the food in your fridge and the food you’re ordering in or taking out, for starters.

Now as much as you want to say so long to restaurant or fast food dining for good, that isn’t realistic, and those same experts that tell you to give eating out the boot are the ones that also will suggest that budgeting should be realistic.

So, now what?

You might want to think about limiting the amount of time you spend eating out at restaurants, but if you must eat out for lunch or dinner, then you certainly can do so with saving money in mind. There are plenty of ways to save money on food in restaurants, starting with promotional sites and other online forums that give you a special two for $20 or some other dining experience where the pricing is cut in half.

Even better is skipping the expensive drink or dessert, and instead focusing the meal itself. And, as much as you’re in the restaurant because you’re hungry, you’re also inclined to visit that spot for socialization as well. So if you’re just tagging along after work or with a group of friends, you might want to consider eating before you go. That way, you’re inclined to get a drink, small appetizer rather than break the bank on the dinner menu.

Eating out is convenient, but doesn’t have to be completely off limits due to its cost. It can be done without spending a small fortune if you’re making it part of your budget or doing so with frugality in mind.

Balancing Act: Why credit card balances sometimes make sense

Nothing is quite as deterring and crushing as credit card debt, more specifically trying to balance between having multiple cards and lines of credit and figuring out exactly how to get out from underneath all of it.

Financial experts argue back and forth for varying opinions on all of it. Some say you should take whatever savings you have and pay off all your debt or as much as possible, which leaves you without your emergency fund. Others suggest that you should use an inverted paying scale, so that you focus on the small debts first and then work your way up to the heavier hitters on your list.

That point is valid, but also you have to consider interest rates at some point, too.

The balance transfer is no different in that it has its good points and other times when doing it just make very little sense at all, if any.

For starters, the balance transfer only works primarily if you plan is to take that zero interest rate or low introductory rate and pay the entire balance off in the time suggested by the promotion. If your interest rate is 0, and you transfer $5,000 and that rate is good for 24 months, you should budget out payments that equate to a two year plan includes payment that allow you to pay off the entire amount. Anything short of that is going to leave you in a similar spot you were when you took the card out and transferred the balance: you’ll have money left to pay and the lower rate goes away and is replaced by the same larger interest rate you’ve just tried to get rid of previously.

You also, as part of your balance transfer, need to take into account that you’re not going to add more debt as well. Having a balance transfer from one card to the next doesn’t give you free reign to start charging again or racking up another balance on that now free and clear card. That free and clear card is a very good thing in that it actually helps your credit score, with the worst next step actually being closing the account altogether.

Closing a line of credit does count against your credit score, and your debt ceiling could be affected in a positive way seeing as how you have a card that has nothing on it in the way of owed money.

Balance transfers aren’t a fail safe in that you can identify it as an easy way to eliminate debt. It simply takes debt and makes it more manageable, as it is still up to you to see the entire process and payoff all the way through.

Tip-Jarred: How to save money without breaking sweat

From consolidation to cutting expenses, everyone is trying to save money.

Saving money is unique in a lot of ways, mostly because everyone wants to do it, few are good at it, and there really isn’t any way to get around the fact that having it is going to make your financial future brighter and, in turn, easier to manage.

And that goes for simple, day-to-day expenses or the much anticipated retirement.

Simply put, everything revolves around saving money.

And with good reason: you have to budget your money, make sure you’re spending less then you make (a fact lost on most of us) and that your planning of how, when and why your money is being put into play is constantly questioned and can change on a whim based on your financial need.

But why do you tend to make saving money so hard? Is it because we want things we can’t afford or don’t need (vacation, abundance of clothes, second homes, etc.) and we decide that we’d rather have them and borrow money we don’t have to ensure that these things are taking over and our financial goals of saving and securing retirement funds fall by the wayside?

The truth is we make money, saving it, more difficult then it needs. The truth of the matter is your budget and how you look at money needs to start with a stripped down budget and a not being afraid to cut as needed.

You can save money by doing one of the two things: cutting expenses or increasing income. Both can be done without much heartburn if you know where to look. The two biggest money pitfalls are food and unused goods or services. The food one is easy, as many eat out at restaurants for lunch or dinner on a weekly basis, yet we can still spend hundreds of dollars a week at the grocery store. Seems like we’re double dipping on that line item. Taking the time to meal prep and pack lunches is going to save you thousands each year.

As for the unused items, look around your house or consider the services you employ and never use. Gym and tanning spa memberships come to mind immediately, as well as things such as cell phones and cable television. Your phone and cable (with internet) is likely costing you upwards of $300 per month, when a Netflix account and a phone on a lesser, yet reliable network (Sprint, T Mobile, Boost, etc.) is all you’ll need to cut that previous bill in half.

Saving isn’t about working your fingers to the bone at five jobs but more about knowing your financial limitations and not being afraid to save when you least expected it.

Spend Undone: Bad spending hurts your debt situation

Do you know how to spend correctly?

Now, the definition of “correctly” is what get most of us in trouble when you’re talking about debt as some might deem that sports car a correct way of spending, while others think of more astute and more intelligent ways to spend their money, such as that pesky 401K contribution or setting aside five to 10 percent of every paycheck into their savings account.

Bad spending can be identified as what not to do with your money or habits that are going to lead to a lack of money saved or a financial standing filled with debt, among other money faux pas that could be in your not so distant future.

The first rule of thumb when it comes to spending is to actually know what you’re able to spend, and that starts with a budget you actually follow. Otherwise, you’ll be making the one mistake that the majority of people with a plethora of debt do: spend more than you actually make. That means quite simply if you spend $2,000 per month and make $1,700, you’re operating at a deficiency.

As obvious as that should seem, a good portion of the population resides with more than $20,000 in debt on average (per household). The reason most spend this way is because they live beyond their means, and budgeting is something that sounds good in theory, like when someone knows that their car payment is due “around” a certain date, but actually isn’t being practiced the way it should.

Bad spending could also be considered the kind of spending that is done with money that isn’t really even yours. That’s not to suggest theft by any means, but more along the lines of spending money on vacation and charging it on a credit card. Or using that same plastic to charge your way to a new work wardrobe or, even worse, using credit to pay your bills, a sign that again, budgeting isn’t your strong suit.

Debt is meant to be paid in an orderly fashion, so borrowing more to pay off debt is spending that is a totally neutral or lateral move. Now, if you want to lower an interest rate or consolidate so that you only have to pay one payment, so be it. But if you’re paying credit card debt with opening another credit card of the same ilk, you’re not going to get ahead any time soon.

So what exactly is “correct” spending? The kind of spending that allows you to have what you need and put the wants on hold or at least prioritized when you actually have the money.

Credit Guard: How to know when to use your credit card

One of the age old adages about money and how to spend it centers on credit cards, more specifically when to use them and when not to.

As much as we debate this topic, the answer is fairly clear cut when you consider credit cards, interest rates and duration, along with debt to income ration and having the ability to pay off what you borrow in a short amount of time.

Credit cards essentially are a short-term fix, something that you want to use as a last resort and only for emergency purposes. Ironically, you should be using your own money for emergencies from that savings account or proverbial nest egg, but that isn’t always an option since more than half of the population doesn’t have a savings account.

That said, credit cards can be used in a pinch, for car repairs, home fix ups or medical issues, things like being off work or braces for the kids all at the same time.

When using a credit card, you have to consider that the interest rates on most cards is high, particularly department store cards. You want to steer clear of using a credit card and not being able to pay it off within 30 days. The trick is learning how to manipulate those highly marketable store cards when they offer you a certain percentage off what you buy if you open a store card. That is best for you if you can get the money saved and pay off the balance as soon as the first (and only) bill comes in the mail.

As you would expect, you should never use credit cards for things that are whimsical in nature or that aren’t tangible. For example, you never use credit cards for such events as vacations or to buy concert tickets or really anything entertainment related (again, unless it’s to get free bonus miles or points and pay it off as soon as the bill arrives).

If you are thinking about home repair, think home equity or another means of financing that isn’t credit cards. Plenty of flooring, roofing companies or even bigger box stores offer you special financing for these types of updates and upgrades to your home, so paying 21 percent interest on a Visa card is asinine when you consider other alternatives make more sense.

Credit cards aren’t evil, until they’re used for all the wrong reasons and you end up spending not only what you intended to purchase but the interest that compounds on top of it all.