budgeting in excel

How to Start Keeping a Monthly Household Budget

It is hard to live within your means.

There are always unexpected bills and purchases that come up each month that you cannot possibly plan for. Keeping a budget is a smart way to gain control of your money.

I have always had a hard time keeping track of my money and often paid bills late. It was because I was not organized and not because of the money. I had tried keeping budgets that I bought from the store. These were in booklet form and while I was gung-ho at first, I lost interest and then lost track of the book.

I work with excel spreadsheets all the time so I thought why not make my own electronic budget? I tweaked it over time and find that it really works. I have 4 main sections in my budget.

The first section is for housing.

Here is list: my 2 mortgages and the monthly payment for each. Then I subtotal those. The next section is for my monthly bills. I list the electric bill, water, gas, cable, credit card payments, car payments, etc. Then I subtotal that section.

The next section is for other bills.

Here I list gasoline for the car, school lunches, entertainment, doctor bills, etc. I subtotal this too.

The next section is for income.

I list the net income from my main job, my part-time job, any online income, and any child support. I subtotal this section and know exactly what money is coming in each month.

I then created a formula that subtracts my expenses from my total monthly income and I am left with either money to save or it tells me I spent over my monthly income.

As I pay each item I mark them paid. I created a column next to all expenses where I put “PD” to show it as paid. This tells me at a glance what is paid. For my credit cards, I put the due date too. With one glance at my budget, I know exactly where I stand.

At the bottom, I list each Credit Card, my car loan, and my mortgage info.

I list the total owed and how much credit I have left on each. This gives me a good look at my credit usage, which reflects in my credit score.

I created a tab in my Excel workbook for each month of the year. This way I can look back and see when I last paid my HOA or when my son last went to the Dentist.

I highly recommend creating a monthly budget in Excel.

If it helped me – it will certainly help you too. Just give it a try.

frugal thoughts

My Thoughts on Life, Money and Realities

There was an article that recently talked about why some people are always broke or have no money.

But there are some important realities of life and money issues about why some of us may just be short of money or broke many times.

Here are some personal views and essential information that will be helpful:

In the first case, many of us are diligent about where our money is spent and do know where it is going daily, weekly and monthly.

The reality is that we do not have enough.

And I am not just talking about “African Americans” like myself, but many other people as well.

Money and the problems associated with having and using it is not restricted to blacks or race. So even if we know where we spend our money, in reality, many of us genuinely need more.

We are not rich and may not qualify for the upper or middle-class status level by American standards. Whatever we earn just have to be spent. Sometimes all of it on what we know must be done and the little that remains on tiny things we want to do that are also essential to us.

Sometimes, we cannot focus our attention on yearly needs that are hard to accomplish.

For us to really plan for the year often requires a constant and reliable source of income.

In these uncertain times, for many of us, that is hard to achieve and to do. We know that if we drive our cars, for example, we must have car insurance because that is the law.

This is a yearly expense but many will pay their insurance company or agent quarterly. They prefer to economize and focus on their immediate required needs while they do drive than the year-long need, in this case.

Those with more income will just pay the insurance for the year, but that is not what everyone will do. So even though we know that we must plan and focus on yearly expenses or needs, to take it day-by-day or monthly seems to be the rational thing to do for many people.

Some people will really waste money every day on different things.

But what might be waste to one person is pleasure or entertainment to another.

I prefer, for example, to watch a sports game on cable than pay to attend the game at the arena or stadium. Some will spend cash on strong liquor for entertainment or pleasure, while to me that is just wasting money.

When we buy things without needing them or taking the time to make sure we buy the correct one or fresh quality item, we are indeed, facilitating the wasting of things and money when we throw them away as soon as we arrive home or to our destination with the items. So this point of wasting money on some items or unnecessary services must be seriously considered.

When it comes to spending, not all of us have weaknesses.

It is said, not by me, but from “everyday street talk,” that women will often waste money shopping for items they often never wear or use after they purchase them. Or, they may use that item only once.

Whether that constitutes a weakness may not be accurate to some people. The point though is that some of us will waste money because of a weakness we have. For example, we will have a budget and plan, but often drift too far from that when we are enticed by items or services that we may incorrectly perceive as necessary.

Sometimes, for example, we can wash our hair our selves or have a clean shave done at home using our own services. These may be necessary for some people but can become excessive if not taken into serious monitoring and consideration.

Can we save too much?

Yes, I believe we can if our saving is adversely affecting our needed expenses and causing us to go broke unnecessarily.

We all need to save for our children and our future. But saving too much is unwise. Some financial experts or advisers will tell us to always save at least 10% of our cash or salaries.

However, I do not believe in a universal approach to the saving issue. Each person, couple or family will have to decide, base on personal financial abilities and needs. Some may save 10% while other can save 33% each time, for example.

But what we must be careful about is saving what we cannot afford to save and in turn cause ourselves to go broke or have little or no money too soon after being paid a salary, for example.

Many people love people, friends, and families, in their own unique way.

They love to be with others, except when they need their own private personal space and time. But when being with someone is causing us to lose too much money too often, it becomes a serious issue that needs professional assistance to resolve.

A lady, for example, may live with her husband or “personal friend” who is just killing her purse and money with too many expenses.

While we must never assume, this point must never be overlooked in a relationship. We know that some people may remain in a relationship because of the social need for companionship.

But when that becomes unhealthy because of financial abuse of your wallet or purse, so to speak, we must get help or out of that relationship. Otherwise, we will risk ending up in the wrong unfortunate place, such as relying too much on friends or relative for a place to stay, or at a shelter broke and lonely.

So whatever our personal social relationship is, we must avoid being exploited financially because we can and will go broke.

Only the rich may not owe money to someone.

But sometimes even they owe big business partners in large business ventures that require long-term monitoring before real consistent flow of money or profit is realized.

However, we are to be careful not to let our debt make us broke.

We know that credit card payments, loan repayments and such alike are necessary. But when we spend too much of our money on those we will not be making realistic or rational decisions.

Our debt repayment must be kept under full control so we will not be allowed to have too little or nothing for our selves, families and social friendships. Paying our debt is a needed responsibility and must be done on time.

But to allow that to make us go broke, will only create undue stress and more problems for ourselves as we try to find money to accomplish other things. So here we must remember to keep things in proportion to need.

The above views and examples are just a few of the points concerning life, money and reality.

They are base on rational thinking and should be considered by everyone in need of monitoring their personal finances more responsibly. The information will be useful but is to be used in conjunction with professional advice from a person own financial adviser.

We all need money, to save and spend, but we also need to be more responsible about how much we spend, when, where, how and on what.

cooking dinner

Cooking Dinner when the Cupboards Are Bare

(Guys, really sorry for not adding images to this post, I’ll do it later)

We’ve all been through it:

it’s the day before payday, and there are only random staples spotting cupboards – No “real” food in sight.

Well, surprisingly your dinner masterpieces may be awaiting you in these shadowy recesses. I will be your guide on the quest of “What’s for Dinner?” and share past meals that my family has concocted during times like these.

First things first, look in your refrigerator and check what meats you have remaining.

I’ll work through the process with you (tomorrow is payday). If you have chicken breasts, a bag of chicken nuggets, or a pot roast you can make one of the recipes below!

Obviously, if you are vegetarian or vegan skip this step. You can make the same great dishes meat free!

Now, look for your staples: rice, pasta, etc. You may find some type of pasta.

Macaroni and Cheese even work! Just use the pasta and save the cheese packet for a later concoction.

Next look for sauces, these can include spaghetti sauce, ‘Cream of’ soups, wines, vinegar, Heinz, salsa, salad dressing.

Dig deep you’ll find soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, left-over gravy, Honey-Dijon mustard, beer, and mayonnaise.

Now granted you do not want to combine all of these into one sauce but any one of these or a combination can be mouth-watering.

Finally, find all your vegetables.

Canned, dried, frozen, fresh, it doesn’t matter, take a mental note of all of them. Green beans, corn, peas, tomatoes, mushrooms, olives, a bag of carrots or a bag of potatoes will keep you on the right track.

Now with the things I have listed above, there are a few plain old boring meals you could make. Not that I am knocking traditional meals, but it is so much more fun to answer the call of “Mom! There’s nothing to eat,” with a dish that looks and tastes like it came from a restaurant.

Now all you have to figure out is what goes together! Chicken coated with Honey-Dijon mustard, and grilled with a side of ranch baked potatoes; Heinz&Ranch Dressing Pot Roast; Pasta a la Pesto Chicken Nuggets; the possibilities are endless!

The main key here is having an idea of what goes together yet not abiding by rules.

Rules to disregard: Red wine vinegar only goes with red meats, salad dressing is only for salads, spaghetti sauce only goes with spaghetti noodles, dips are only for chips, mayo and mustard are only for sandwiches, corn and green beans don’t belong in Italian foods, waffles and pancakes cannot be substituted for bread, and spaghetti sauce has to be red.

One rule to abide by unless you know what you are doing or are following a recipe is do not mix meats! But the most important one is having fun with it!

The first recipe I am going to share uses chicken breasts, but pork chops, steaks or even no meat at all can be substituted.

Let’s go with something Italian.

Begin by coating the bottom of a cold frying pan with a quarter-inch layer of red wine vinegar, a quarter-cup Italian dressing, Italian seasonings, season salt, pepper, onions, and any type of garlic you can find (fresh is best, but powder works too).

Now heat the pan on high heat. Once it starts bubbling set your meat in to sear. After 1-2 minutes turn meat over, place the lid on the pan, and turn heat down to a medium simmer for approximately 20 minutes.

While that’s cooking decide what else you want to go with your new masterpiece. Start the water to boil for the pasta now while pulling out the olives, mushrooms, tomatoes and spaghetti sauce. Once the water is boiling pour the bag of pasta in, then pull the chicken out of the frying pan.

Pour the spaghetti sauce, tomatoes, mushrooms, and olives into the frying pan and stir well you may need to add some more red wine vinegar if it dried up. To the side cut the chicken breast into cubes then place back in the sauce. Strain the macaroni once it is done.

There are two ways to go about serving this dish and it is all personal preference. Dish up the noodles then pour the sauce on top like many do with spaghetti, or combine it all in one pan and stir until well mixed.

NOTE: If you are vegetarian or vegan follow all the same directions excluding the meat.

I have made this dish before when we were out of meat and it was still quite delicious. Just be sure to start with the cold pan, and heat up the seasonings and vinegar. Then once they are bubbling you jump straight to adding the spaghetti sauce, etc.

The longer the seasonings can simmer alone in the pan the better the finished sauce is.

At the beginning of this I promised you a couple of extra recipes so here they are only using items mentioned at the beginning of the article.

While you read these please keep in mind that none of these items are mandatory, and almost anything can be substituted with something else. Be Creative and Have Fun!

Honey-Dijon Chicken Breasts with Ranch Baked Potatoes

Ingredients:

  • Chicken Breasts (Pork Chops, Steaks, and Lamb Chops can be used also)
  • Honey-Dijon mustard
  • Potatoes
  • Ranch Dressing
  • Salt amp; Pepper
  • Optional: Butter, Sour Cream, Chives, Breadcrumbs

Cut potatoes into fourths. Set on a square of tin foil. Pour ranch dressing (optional: sour cream, chives, butter, season salt, pepper, seasonings) onto the potato. Loosely wrap in tin foil making sure edges are sealed.

Place potatoes on the grill

Smother meat in Dijon mustard (optional: sprinkle or roll in breadcrumbs)

Place on grill. In 10-20 minutes you should have a very tasty meal prepared.

Hein&Ranch Pot Roast

It is exactly what it sounds like. Find a plain recipe for a pot roast that calls for the roast carrots, potatoes, onions, etc. Pour a bunch of Heinz 57速 and Ranch Dressing or Chip Dip into the pot and cook away.

Pasta a la Pesto Chicken Nuggets (I have no idea if I said this right – I just thought it sounded neat)

Ingredients:

  • 1 bag frozen chicken nuggets (approx. 3-5 pieces per person)
  • 1 small jar pesto
  • Garlic
  • Spaghetti noodles
  • Italian seasoning
  • Olive oil
  • Olives

Set a pan of water to boil with a small amount of olive oil and Italian seasonings.

Stir-fry breaded chicken nuggets in frying pan until soft enough to cut. Cut all chicken nuggets into small squares (cube), place back in frying pan. Add a small amount of olive oil, pesto, garlic, Italian seasonings, and olives.

Strain noodles. Stir together in one pan, or serve like spaghetti.

I hope this article helps you in your journey from payday to payday during these tough times. Send me your favorite frugal recipes, please!

Personal Finance Terms

3 Personal Finance Terms You Should Know

April is Financial Literacy Month, a great time to consider your financial situation and to review some of the basics of personal finance.

You probably understand the importance of having good credit, paying down debt and the necessity of spending less than you earn.

However, it is important to understand some other financial concepts as well.

Here are three personal finance terms that you should know to get an even better grip on your financial situation.

1. Net worth.

If you want a measure of how your wealth is growing, you can use net worth.

To figure out your net worth, you first need to add up all of your assets.

This includes things of value that you have – things you can sell for cash.

Assets include property (including the market value of your home), cash, investments, and other similar items. After you have added up your assets, you add up your total liabilities.

These are obligations that you have, including credit card debt, medical bills and your mortgage balance.

Now, subtract your liabilities from your assets. What remains is your net worth.

You can use your net worth as a good way to measure the financial progress you are making.

2. Cash flow.

Understanding the concept of cash flow is vital if you want financial freedom.

Cash flow is a way of tracking your money as it moves through your own personal system of finances.

It illustrates where your money comes from (your income) and where it is spent (your expenses).

Cash flow also looks at the timing of expenses in relation to when you receive income.

Knowing when bills are due and how much money you have to cover them is important, and part of understanding your cash flow.

3. Asset allocation.

It is vital to understand where your assets are and how they are contributing to your long-term prosperity.

Asset allocation involves looking at different types of holdings and making sure they are spread out in a way that helps you reach your goals.

For example, your home might fall into the asset class of real estate.

Asset allocation also includes how much of your portfolio is in stocks, bonds or other investments.

Asset allocation requires that you consider risk and return, and whether or not your portfolio will help you beat inflation and build wealth at a rate that will help you live in comfort later on.

Have questions? Ask me in the comments section!

managing personal finance

Managing Your Personal Finances Like a Pro

It is one thing to find yourself in a precarious financial situation.

It is quite another to go bobsledding into the aforementioned situation.

Far too many Americans, this author included, find themselves in dire straits, not because of circumstances beyond their control, but rather circumstances that loudly announced their approach but were soundly ignored.

You would think that financial responsibility would be a common sense matter, namely, spend less than you earn, and always make sure to have a few dollars saved up for unforeseen circumstances.

But nooooo, all too often, we cave in to impulse buying, paying little attention to our credit balance, and before we know it, we are staring down a mountain of debt that would make even Sir Edmund Hillary shake in his boots.

Financial planners are famous for advising that we keep six to eight months’ worth of expenses in our savings.

I don’t know of ANYONE who keeps that kind of cash in reserve.

So we have to opt for Plan B, which is to head off potential problems before they can strike.

Good feelings don’t cut it.

How many times have you had a good feeling about a financial decision only to have it come back and bite you?

I certainly did, in the form of a timeshare bought nearly 20 years ago that I am still paying annual maintenance fees on to this day.

Take the time and do your homework and research before jumping in the pool with both feet.

Don’t trust advice…. most people giving you advice are selling something.

I’m in the process of buying a house and my agent tends to go along with what I say.

I find myself talking ME down from a given property or payment.

He has his best interests at heart and that is understandable.

Don’t fall for quick lines or sugary promises without figuring out whether or not it works for YOU.

Buy now… pay later.

With “no money down and no payments for a year” options out there, people are prone to jump on expensive items, assuming they will be in a position to pay for them in a year when the creditors come calling.

If the recent economy has proven anything, it is that nothing is forever. Your job could be gone tomorrow and you could still be looking for one when the note on that 60″ LCD TV comes due.

Don’t jump on bargains like this unless you are absolutely sure you can pay off the item before the interest rates kick in.

Be prepared for the worst.

Living paycheck to paycheck is the worst thing you can do because it leaves no cushion for the unexpected.

Always put a little aside each payday for emergencies. If you have to pull some of it out, replace it as soon as possible.

Creating this cushion may mean going without for a while, but when the bottom drops out, you’ll be glad you did.

When the worst does come, be ready to give up certain luxuries.

Cell phones, nice cars, etc, are very nice, but when times get tough, $10 cell phones are available at Wal-Mart and a $4000 sled will drive just as well as a Bentley when it comes to getting you where you want to go.

Learn the concept of being content.

As the song says, it’s not about getting what you want; it’s about wanting what you’ve got.

When you have mastered the art of being content, things such as impulse buys or reckless financial decisions will have no hold over you.

I remember seeing a woman on TV following the 2008 Presidential election, elatedly screaming that she would no longer have to worry about paying her mortgage or putting gas in her car.

I find myself wondering where that woman is today and if she harbors the same zest and zeal.

Putting faith in government programs to improve your financial situation is much like wishing the best of luck to the navigator of the TITANIC.

This country has survived bad government and bad Presidents through the will and ingenuity of the American people. Take charge of your financial future.

So listen to your gut, and learn to recognize the warning signs and red flags of financial ruin while there is still time to change course.

You’ll be surprised at just how much you are capable of doing well.