Archive for personal budget

How To Plan For Unexpected Expenses

It’s just a matter of time before it happens. The transmission blows on your car right around the time your daughter needs braces and your washing machine decides to call it quits. All of these are unexpected expenses and something we need to deal with throughout life. My recent personal example is my heat pump dying and my van windshield needing to be replaced.

Being prepared as much as you can is your best bet when life throws you a financial curve ball.
Do your best to anticipate upcoming expenses. If you’re driving an older car, or your dishwasher has seen its better days, start saving up to replace the item. You may also want to start keeping an eye out for good deals on the replacement.

An even better strategy is to have an emergency savings fund. Set up a savings account and add to it monthly. Use it only for completely unexpected expenses. I’m a fan of the Dave Ramsey baby step of saving $1000 as a starter emergency fund ($500 if your income is below the poverty line). Make sure you know what’s in the account. And once you have to take money out of it replace it as quickly as possible.

This brings us to a good point. Here’s how to recover quickly after that purchase. Go over your budget (you have one of those, right?) and see if you can temporarily cut back on some things. Stop ordering pizza every Friday night and make your own at home. Skip a night out on the town and watch a couple of movies on Netflix (or Red Box, if you must) instead of going to the theater.

Use the money you’re not spending for the next few months to refill your emergency fund. For an extra boost, work a few hours of overtime (if possible; sometimes my boss can find a few extra hours the following week after I ask), do a few freelance projects, or temporarily pick up a part time job to get back on track fast.

But what do you do when the expense comes up before you had a chance to set up the emergency fund? Take a deep breath and assess the situation. Can you make do without the item for a little while? Just long enough to scrape together the funds to repair or replace it. If it’s the dishwasher, that’s easy. You can wash dishes by hand for a little while. If it’s the fridge or the car you rely on to get you to work each day, that’s a different story.

If you need the item that broke, evaluate if it would be less expensive to repair than replace. Even if it isn’t the perfect solution, it may get you to work until you can save up for a different car. Shuffle your money around and if there is no other option charge it to the credit card and get to work. Your one and only goal right now is to pay off that expense. If you stick every penny of discretionary income in, it won’t take you long.

Once your bills and credit cards are paid off, do what you can to get a larger emergency fund set up. Because you know something else will break down the road.

Put Your Savings On Autopilot

Putting a little money away for a rainy day isn’t always easy. You may have some good intentions, but at the end of the day, there just isn’t any money left. Somehow whatever you make is spent before you make it to the next paycheck. Guilty as charged.

Start by making a personal budget. Take a look at what you bring in each month. Next, write down your fixed expenses. These are things like rent, car payments, utilities, etc. Figure out how much you need each month for groceries and other essentials. This is your bare-bones budget. It’s good to know what you need to get by each month.

Next it’s time for a little bit of math. Start with what you bring in each month and subtract all your core expenses. What you’re left with is your discretionary income. This will pay for entertainment, clothes, getting your nails done, etc. And from here on out, part of that discretionary income will go into a savings account. I decided to use an online account at Capital One 360. I’m currently working on getting my Dave Ramsey $1000 emergency fund. I have so little wiggle room right now that it’s taking me a while to get there! Though I’m working on increasing that!

Pick a number you’re comfortable with. Maybe that’s just $5 per month to start with, maybe it’s $500. Put it in your budget and treat it like any other bill. It won’t take you long to get into the habit of setting aside that money for savings.

It can help maintain motivation if there’s a goal behind the savings. For me, my current goal is to finish my $1000 Dave Ramsey baby step 1. I started by getting to $500 as quickly as possible, plateaued there for a while, and I’m now pushing for $1000. It may take a while, but I’ll make it! My reason for upping the amount is that my heat pump has stopped working and I’m afraid of what it might be. It’s still under warranty so I hope my portion won’t be too bad! Luckily, the furnace still works and we have a fireplace so I’m not in a panic to get someone out immediately.

To make it even more hands-off, talk to your bank about setting up a separate savings account. Then set up an auto-deposit to have the savings transferred to the new account as soon as your pay check comes in each month. If you don’t see it, you’ll never miss it and your savings will run on autopilot.

Don’t forget to audit your savings from time to time. Take another look at your budget. Can you increase your savings a little more? Another great way to boost that savings account is to take any extra money – thinks like birthday cash, tax refund, bonuses, etc. – and put them straight into the savings account. Again, you likely won’t even miss the money, but it will help you build up your savings quickly.

Make sure your savings are sitting in an interest-bearing account. Since you won’t be touching this money unless it’s a dire emergency, you should be able to earn at least a little interest. Talk to your banker about your best options and start putting your savings on autopilot.

One last tip: Talk to your employer about matching 401K funds, if offered. You may be able to get a contribution from the company you work for towards your retirement savings account.

What’s your savings goal? Why? Let me know in the comments; we can commiserate!

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