The March Money Diet

I set strict budgets in my home using spreadsheets, shopping sales, using coupons. There are still times that I manage to blow past my limit without even realizing what is happening, despite my best intentions. Like many people, I find myself spending more then I intend to.

Then I found the January Money Diet- this is to help with saving money after overspending through the holidays and thought why do I have to wait until January to do this? I want to start in March.

I am determined to get back on track with my spending as soon as possible – that’s why I’m deeming March a no-spend month.

Monthly Money challenge: Start a Spending Detox
Spending money on clutter and stuff you just don t need is effecting many. I want to start the month strong by taking a break from spending money on unnecessary things and focusing on my financial goals.

As it turns out, I am not alone in my mindset. Thousands of people each year participate in the Money Diet, a 30 day money-saving challenge. During the month (mine is March), you only spend money on essentials like food, and you focus on living well without unnecessary spending.
The Rules of the Month
There are some expenses I simply cannot get rid of (no matter how much I may like to), including rent, utilities, and home internet. Those expenses are non-negotiable, but I plan on cutting in other areas.

Gas for the car is a must, and groceries, too. But the grocery budget will be reduced by about 50 percent. I will eliminate the sweets and snacks we love, and the convenient ready-made meals. I plan on doing a lot more from-scratch cooking during the month, stretching my grocery budget further.

Clothes, dinners out, and trips to the movies are all eliminated. Indeed, I’ll be taking trips to the park with the kids, watching movies I already own, and attending community events.

This is a significant change for me, but it will be effective. When I sat down and did the math, I estimated that I will save about $500 in extraneous spending. That money can go a long way in helping build my savings back up.
Results to Expect
A no-spend month is more than just a way to save some money; it’s a detox that helps reset your mindset. After overindulging and overspending on a regular basis, it can help to readjust your approach to money.

You can significantly change your financial outlook in just 30 days. While we think we can save $500, the results over time are more significant. That money bolsters our emergency fund, which means we’ll rely less on credit cards if a crisis pops up. By saving money, we’re less likely to end up in debt.

After we get used to spending less and living without so many extras, we can make do on a smaller income. That means we can save even more after the 30-day challenge is over. One simple month of not spending can compound to have long-lasting effects.
Make it a game
There’s no doubt about it: Going a whole month without spending money is tough. The best way to make it doable is to make it fun.

My family and I have a competition of who can come up with the best free event ideas, the tastiest cheap dinners, and the most innovative do-it-yourself solutions. The only prize is bragging rights, but we’re all innately competitive people.

Turning a no-spend challenge into a game makes it more fun and less of a strain. If your family is struggling to get through, try different ways to make it fun for you.

How to Create Your First Budget

There are many milestones of being an adult. Signing your own lease for the first time, being able to rent a car, having someone call you ma’am.
But being an adult also means being responsible for your own finances. Like many things, you can’t have a successful financial future if you don’t plan for it. The best way to do that? Create a budget.
Creating a budget can seem daunting, but it just requires a series of steps. See below for help on creating your first budget.
######
Track your expenses######
Before you can start a budget full of limits, you need to know how much you’re spending right now. Take two or three months to spend normally and track your transactions in Mint.
Fixed expenses like rent, insurance and utilities will be easier to monitor than variable expenses, such as groceries, entertainment and travel, which will fluctuate month-to-month.
You should also write down what your income is. That amount will be the same every month for many people, but if you work hourly, on commission or are self-employed, tracking your income for a few months will give you a good idea of how much you take take in each month.
######
Write down your main goals######
Make a list of what you want to save for. Is there a friend’s wedding in Ireland in six months? Write that down. Do you want to buy a house in two years? Put it on the list.
Then, do some research on how much each of those goals will cost and write that amount down as well. Once you have the goal, the amount you need to save and when you want to achieve that goal, you can figure out how much you need to save per month to make it happen.
######
List your debts######
Once you have your goals, income and expenses figured out, it’s time to write down everyone’s least favorite part of budgeting: your debt. Write down what you owe, what the interest rate is, how many months you have left and what your monthly payment is.
While you have to pay the minimum each month, you also have two strategies to choose from when it comes to paying off debt early.
You can choose to pay off the debt with the highest interest rate first. This will save you the most on how much total interest you pay each month.
Another popular method is to pay off your debts in order from smallest balance to largest balance. This will help you knock out your debts faster and make you feel like you’re making more progress toward your debt.
######
Start a retirement plan######
One of the most important parts of budgeting is making room for a retirement plan. Ask your HR department if your employer offers a retirement plan and if you are eligible. Many 401k plans also have free matching funds so make sure to put in enough to receive the matching.
You can also start a retirement fund on your own if your company doesn’t offer one. Many people recommend investing in index funds through an IRA or individual retirement account. Robo advisors such as Betterment and Wealthfront can create personalized retirement plans based on your age and other factors.
General recommendations say you should contribute between 10-15% of your salary toward your nest egg.
######
Put it all together######
Create a spreadsheet and add up how much you spend each month, what you should save for your goals, how much you should put away for retirement and how much debt you owe. If those numbers add up and are less than what you earn, you’re golden.
But for many people, that amount is greater than what they earn. That’s when they have to make sacrifices and changes to their budget. Maybe they need to move to a new apartment and save on rent or eat out less. Maybe you should postpone your goal of buying a house or take a break from traveling until you pay off that credit card.
The key is to make sure you don’t spend more than you earn and have a little bit extra each month just in case.
 
_Zina Kumok is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. A former reporter, she has covered murder trials, the Final Four and everything in between. She has been featured in Lifehacker, DailyWorth and Time. Read about how she paid off $28,000 worth of student loans in three years at Debt Free After Three.**

5 Tips on How to Negotiate an Entry-Level Salary

Now that you’ve crushed it with your cover letter, blown everyone away with your resume, and aced your interview, it’s time to do what half of all new hires never even attempt: negotiate your salary.
If you’re a recent graduate hunting for work or a twentysomething switching careers, the thought of telling a potential employer how much you want to be paid probably makes you feel a little uncomfortable. But negotiating your entry-level salary could be one of the most important conversations of your professional life, and it can actually be a lot less intimidating if you’re prepared.
Start a new entry-level job earning the paycheck you deserve with these five salary negotiation tips.
######
1. Identify your ask.######
Before entering into any negotiation, you’ve got to know what you want. Ask for a salary that’s too high, and you won’t be taken seriously. Too low, and you’re leaving money on the table. To find the sweet spot, get advice from friends in the industry or any job recruiters you might know.
Also check out sites like Salary.com and PayScale.com to learn what pros in your area are actually earning. You’ll end up with a range of results, and, if you’re confident in your abilities, assume you’re worth an amount on the higher end. Just be realistic about the number you land on, because if you don’t believe you’re worth what you’re asking for, neither will the person you’re negotiating with.
######
2. Be prepared to brag.######
Before talking about your salary, make a bulleted list of your qualifications and previous accomplishments. Highlight anything that increased sales, reduced costs, or streamlined processes for former employers, and include any unique skills that could give you an edge compared to other candidates.
If you’ve never actually held a full-time job before, jot down any notable internship projects or relevant experience you’ve acquired from extracurricular activities. The idea is to impress your potential employer by letting her know everything you’ve done that makes you qualified to fill the position.
Stand in front of a mirror (or with some patient friends) and rehearse your spiel until it’s perfect. When you’re finally sitting down with the decision maker, hand her a copy of your list and draw attention to whichever items are most relevant to the position you hope to fill.
3. Act like you’ve been there before.######
If this is your first time negotiating, keep that under wraps. It’s normal to feel nervous, but stay confident by remembering you’ve made it this far for a reason. Give the impression that you’re an experienced negotiator by acting like one. You don’t need to be some Don Corleone, making offers your would-be boss can’t refuse, but it helps to maintain good eye contact, a positive attitude and a firm tone of voice.
If you’re sending a salary negotiation email, be sure to express your enthusiasm for the company and the position. In either case, it’s a good idea to fire away with any insightful questions you might have—just be sure not to over-communicate. If you find yourself talking too much, shut the front door and wait for your interviewer to make the next move.
######
4. Don’t be first to mention money.######
When it comes to talking numbers, don’t be the one who brings up the topic, and never mention the salary you’d settle for. If you’re repeatedly asked to state the figure you had in mind, ask for 10 percent more than the number you settled on. This provides a solid buffer if and when your hopeful boss tries to talk you down. It’s also a good rule of thumb to request for a precise figure, rather than a nice round number. This is merely a psychological tactic, but it seems to work. In the case that your interviewer suggests an initial salary along the lines of what you had in mind, calmly restate the number then bite your tongue. More often than not, this approach results in increased offers.
######
5. Stand your ground.######
If the amount your interviewer offers isn’t quite what you had in mind, don’t get ruffled. Keep your emotions in check, don’t take anything personally and repeat the reasons why you’re the best candidate for the job.
If your potential boss simply won’t budge, find out if there’s flexibility as far as benefits are concerned. If you can’t afford to pass up this opportunity, ask what you can do to increase your compensation in the near future. Set a date to revisit the topic and ask your new employer to put it on her calendar. And if, in the end, you’re just not feeling the offer, don’t be afraid to turn it down. It’s better to hold out for the pay you want than accept an amount you’re not able to live on.
You owe it to yourself to negotiate for every penny you’re worth. This is especially true considering that many companies calculate raises and pensions based on an employee’s initial salary. So start your career with confidence and earn what you deserve. Good luck in your negotiation.
 

Transitioning Your Finances to Life After College

Just graduated from college? Congratulations! You’ve made it to one of the major milestones in life, and you’re looking at a world of possibility.
So how do you make the most of starting this new, post-university phase of life? One of the most important things to understand as you transition from college student to real world, on-your-own adulting is how to start managing your money so you can not only pay all your expenses, but also start saving and build wealth.
######
Create Your Own Systems######
Have you ever heard of engineering your environment to successfully build a new habit? Just like you might make a morning workout habit stick faster if you lay out your gym clothes the night before, you can take actions to set up systems that make building good financial habits easier.
In terms of your finances, engineering your environment means taking steps like:

Building and using a budget
Tracking your spending
Automating bills and other transactions, like monthly student loan payments
Automating transfers to savings

Using a budget creates a framework within which you can use your money. Tracking your spending makes you more aware of how you’re using your money within that budget. And automating transfers between your checking and savings accounts makes it easy
You can use a number of tools to help you develop and stick with a money management environment that works for you. For example, a tool like Mint provides a comprehensive overview of nearly every aspect of your finances — from your budget and spending to your credit score and investments — which makes it a great place to start.
Another app to consider is Digit, which makes small automated transfers from your checking into your savings. If you’d rather get a jumpstart on investing, try Acorns too. Acorns works in much the same way as Digit, but instead of putting small amounts of money into a savings account, the app invests the money for you.
Remember that there’s no right or wrong way to set up budgets, track spending, or create automated savings plan. What’s important is recognizing the need for a structure, and developing one that works for you.
######
Manage Your Money When You Make More######
After graduation when you start your career in earnest, you’ll likely make more money than you did back in your college days. This is great for you, but it can also cause some financial problems if you don’t think ahead. In other words: mo’ money, mo’ problems
The biggest pitfall of earning more is succumbing to lifestyle inflation. This happens when you spend more as you earn more. Essentially, you build a spending habit — not a savings habit. And this is a problem because it’s extremely difficult to cut back your spending once you’ve adjusted to a certain level of luxury or lifestyle.
If you avoid lifestyle inflation from the very beginning and make saving at least 10% of your income a priority, you’ll always find it easier to save money no matter how much you make. You don’t have to start off saving 10% right away, but it’s a great goal to work toward as your income increases.
You should also take advantage of a full-time job with all the benefits it comes with as you start your career. Don’t wait to open a 401(k) or other employer-sponsored retirement plan if any are available to you. If your company offers to match your contributions, put in at least enough to get the full match. That’s free money!
If you don’t have access to an employer-sponsored retirement account, you can still save as soon as you start working. Open a Roth IRA and save what you can. And remember, as you earn more, contribute more to retirement (instead of getting caught up in spending more).
######
Continue Your (Financial) Education######
You may have just graduated from college, but don’t let learning end here. The best way to set yourself up for financial success in life is to continually seek to learn more about your money. Ask questions and seek answers. Do research. Get multiple opinions and consider different perspectives.
There are more resources available to you than ever before. In addition to personal finance, money management, or investing books that you can buy, tons of information about these subjects is available for free on blogs and podcasts. While most bloggers are sharing from personal experience, there’s a lot that you can learn from what other people have tried — and if nothing else, tuning into the conversation can keep you inspired and motivated to reach your own financial goals.
Staying interested and involved in your finances will help you better manage your money on a day-to-day basis and for the long-term. No one will care more about your cash than you do, and continuing to learn is without a doubt a prerequisite for building wealth.
 
Kali Hawlk is a freelance writer and the co-founder of Off The Rails, a free mentorship platform for creative women. She’s passionate about helping others do more with their money, their work, and their lives. Get in touch by tweeting @KaliHawlk.

Guest Post: Using Mint to Pay Down $14,000 in Credit Card Debt

Our guest blogger, Kathryn Bradt, is one-half of the duo behind the Dames in Debt blog. The Dames are sisters working off their combined $250,000 worth of student loans and consumer debt while keeping it real about the struggles of being twenty-somethings in expensive cities with limited funds.
 
Credit cards…love them or hate them, these little pieces of plastic (now featuring the “new” technology that is a slow-as-molasses electronic chip) are a frequent part of our daily lives. With the exception of food truck purchases, I can’t remember the last real transaction I made in cash, and with the advent of credit card rewards programs, I can’t remember the last time I used my debit card instead of my credit card.That is, until December 26, 2015, when I officially kicked off my “You desperately need to stop paying $150 in interest each month” credit card repayment plan.
######
How I Got into Debt######
I didn’t get into credit card debt because of a lot of frivolous spending. Sure, there were a couple major clothes purchases that were probably unnecessary (or wholly unnecessary), but most of my debt was accrued paying for living expenses.
Over three years of law school and a summer of studying for the bar exam, I put nearly all of my living expenses onto that sad Visa whenever my student loan refund ran out – about 9 months’ worth of living expenses.
How much debt does 9 months of living expenses, a couple clothing splurges, a lot of stress-induced fast-food, and a 14.9% APR interest rate total? $14,055.92. Ouch.
After passing the bar in October 2015, I found a full-time lawyer job as an Assistant Public Defender (my dream job!), and I knew it was time to end my relationship with credit card debt.
######
Setting Up a Plan with Mint######
Being a longtime Mint user, I knew I could use the Goals feature to help me pay off this debt. In the past, I’d set many savings goals and had great success with them, so I figured a debt repayment goal would be just as helpful.
Since my account was linked, Mint easily tallied the debt total, interest rate, and the minimum payment – and actually showed me that if I continued to make only minimum payments, I would end up spending 18.5 years in debt and $23,000 in interest. Super depressing.
After accepting my new job, I tweaked my Mint budget to account for my new income, updated my savings goals (emergency fund, anyone?), and established my new fiscally-responsible “fun” and eating out funds. After doing this, I saw that I had enough left over to make monthly payments that were 4x bigger than the minimum payment!
With my payment calculated and my goal set, I automated my monthly payments, and BOOM! I’m going to be credit card debt free by July 2017.
######
Making Progress######
With Mint, I’ve been able to create a plan that’s doable. I was able to see what it would take to pay off my debt in 12 months versus 24 months, and I think it’s important to see those differences and what you would be giving up to get there, or spend in interest, as the case may be.
I picked a payment that I know I can make each month, but also gives me room to maybe add some extra money here and there. And the best part? Each time I make one of those extra payments, Mint automatically updates my goal completion date for me.
Life’s looking up now that I have my credit card debt under control. As a public interest attorney (read: not the kind of lawyer that makes six figures), I have made peace with my student loans hanging around a bit longer, but that credit card debt? It needed to go.
Now, I’m on a 15-month journey to high-interest-debt-freedom, and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve got big plans for that money once I’m done paying off the credit card…retirement savings!
######
Quick Tips######
If you’ve got a lot of credit card debt, there are definitely some things I recommend doing to fast-track your debt repayment. Here are some tips to get you started:

Track _all _of your transactions with Mint and make sure they are categorized correctly. The trend charts will really show you where you can (and must!) spend less money in order to pay down your debt.
Add a monthly budget to cover your interest payment each month, that way you can account for how much of your monthly payment is really going to paying down your debt.
Stop using credit cards to float cash! Seriously. Learn to live within your means. If you just can’t make it work, then it’s time to pick up another job. I kept my part-time jobs for the first few months of having my new, full-time job to help transition my finances.
Make your monthly payments (or automate!) the day after your paycheck deposits, that way you don’t have the opportunity to spend that money on something other than debt.
When making more room in your budget to contribute to your debt, start with your take-out food budget and monthly memberships (gym, cable, phone, massages, etc.). These are the easiest to lower or eliminate without feeling like you can’t have any fun.
It never hurts to call your credit card company and ask about lowering your interest rate. My company lowered mine 0.9% to an even 14.0% APR – all because I called and asked them about it! Every little bit helps when paying down high-interest debt.

 

Kathryn Bradt is an Assistant Public Defender in Richmond, VA. When not in the courtroom, she writes about personal finance, life, and her addiction to procedural cop dramas as the East Coast Dame. Representing both coasts of the United States of Indebtedness, the Dames blog about millennial budgeting, saving money without feeling deprived, and how to live first-class on coach funds.