6 Ways to Prioritize Your Budget

Budget

For some people, putting away enough money to go on a vacation is the ultimate luxury. For others, dining out once a week or getting a monthly pedicure is a real treat. Whatever your lifestyle, it’s important to understand how to get the most from your money so you can live comfortably and within your means.

To achieve your financial goals without sacrificing your lifestyle, follow these tips:

Determine essential expenses

The first step in creating a budget is to determine your nonnegotiable or fixed expenses such as rent, car payments and utilities. You also can choose to put things like gas and groceries in this category. Add up these expenses, and subtract the total from your monthly income. The remaining amount is what’s available for discretionary spending: joining a gym, entertainment, shopping, travel and dining out.

Keep track

Many personal finance and budgeting tools are mobile, and allow you to track where your money is going. You can make smart financial decisions such as whether or not to join that after work happy hour. Budgeting is flexible. You can always shift your priorities, saving some of those wants and needs for next month.

Keep an emergency fund

You never know when your car might break down, when you’ll need to take time off from work for family issues or your AC will begin to leak. It’s important to be prepared for life’s unexpected turns by having an emergency fund to tap. If you have three to six months of expenses saved up, you can avoid taking on debt. If you don’t have a fund, start saving now. When something goes wrong, and it will, you won’t have to reach for your credit card or take out a loan to cover the cost.

Dine in

No matter how you feel about food, one thing is for sure – you have to eat. There are plenty of ways to think smarter about what you spend on food. Eating out often costs more than cooking at home, so even if you hate cooking, it pays – literally – to do some reading up on easy, fast recipes. You’ll avoid the temptation of calling for takeout seven days a week. Consider making large batches of your favorite recipes over the weekend. Then, bring smaller lunch portions to work the next week.

Evaluate your housing costs

If you’re paying for digs that are beyond your means, it might be worth finding a roommate to reduce your living expenses. Carefully furnishing and maintaining your home also can cut expenses. Opt for used furniture and appliances instead of new items. Take the time to clean and refurbish them yourself. Extend that do-it-yourself attitude toward maintenance, too. You can solve many household problems without hiring an expensive contractor.

Be reasonable

Don’t plan a budget you will never be able to keep. Just like with a diet or an exercise program, it’s important to be realistic. If you’ve never been able to stick to a savings plan, or are a compulsive spender, don’t expect this to change overnight. Instead, start by setting small goals so you can build the confidence to tackle bigger changes down the road. It’s a marathon, not a sprint!

Above all, know that budgeting doesn’t have to be about deprivation. If you follow these tips, you can easily create a livable budget that will help you achieve financial peace of mind.

By Holly Perez, U.S. News & World Report

http://money.msn.com/how-to-budget/6-ways-to-prioritize-your-budget

10 Habits to Get Rich

Good-Habits

As a financial advisor, I have occasionally found myself feeling envious of certain clients. Not because of their wealth — but because they were disciplined and determined enough to do all the right things that enabled them to accumulate their wealth and, in many cases, retire early. Despite my expertise, I, like a lot of people, sometimes struggle not to do the wrong things that make being rich, let alone retiring at all, a pipe dream.

Financially responsible and successful people don’t build their wealth by accident — or overnight. Becoming rich takes serious willpower and long-term vision. You have to be able to keep your eye on the prize of financial freedom, be willing to sacrifice your present wants for the sake of your future and develop good habits to win. Here are 10 habits you can start putting into practice now.

1. Start Early

As the old saying goes: The early bird catches the worm… or, in this case, gets to retire in style. The sooner you put your money to work, the more time it has to grow. Earning a paycheck, whether you are self-employed or work for a company, means the opportunity to contribute to an IRA, which you should seize ASAP. If you’re fortunate enough to get a job with a company that offers a matching contribution to their retirement plan, you need to make it a priority to enroll in the plan as soon as you are eligible. It can be the difference between retiring early and never retiring.

Think about this: If you invested $10,000 and left it to grow for 40 years, assuming an average return per year of 8 percent, you would end up with over $217,000. But if you waited 10 years and invested $20,000 — twice as much — you would only end up with just over $200,000.

Whatever your situation might be, saving and investing money today is better than waiting until tomorrow. Start now.

2. Automate

You can be your own worst enemy when it comes to financial success. It’s all too easy to procrastinate and neglect what needs to be done and, in the meantime, give in to temptation and spend more than you should. It’s the perfect recipe for not becoming rich.

The best way to protect yourself from yourself is to automate your savings. That means setting up recurring transfers on a regular basis from your checking account to your savings and investment accounts (or setting up auto deduction from your paycheck to your employer-sponsored retirement plan). This way, you force yourself to avoid bad money habits and save what you would likely otherwise spend. If you haven’t already, set aside 15 minutes on your calendar now to do it. Not later, now. Your rich future self will thank you.

3. Maximize Contributions

When it comes to retirement account contributions, you’ve probably been told to start small and then try to increase the amount by at least 1 percent every year until you max out. If you’ve been procrastinating, then yes, even a small starting contribution is better than none. The problem is that small efforts can lead to small results. If you want to be rich, you have to save like you mean it. And that means contributing the max amount allowed from the get-go (and at least as much as your employer will match in your 401(k)).

This is especially true if you are starting to save later in life and need to play catch up. You might worry that maxing out your contributions will squeeze your cash flow too tightly, but it is easier to get in the habit of spending less if you don’t have that extra to money to spend in the first place. It’s much harder to increasingly scale back your budget year after year to accommodate for increasing contributions.

4. Never Carry Credit Card Balances

Revolving, high-interest debt is one of the biggest threats to your financial freedom. It can seriously drag you down, costing you thousands in unnecessary fees and interest charges — and prevent you from saving more. If you ever want to be rich, you have to ditch the bad habit of carrying credit card balances, along with the minimum payment mentality.

Instead, you need to learn how to use credit wisely, rather than as a crutch, and commit to paying off your balances in full each month. Smart credit card holders know and practice the tricks to maximize rewards, points, discounts and monthly cash flow without getting in over their head. Of course, living within your means is key to your success.

5. Live Like You’re Poor

Have you ever met someone who is unassuming and modest and then were surprised to later learn that they are actually rolling in dough? I had an older client who was stuck in 1983: he wore ugly brown suits and running shoes, drove a beat-up baby blue Volvo station wagon and lived in the same modest house he bought 40 years ago. Turns out, this man was an uber-successful entrepreneur and multimillionaire — and even richer because of his humble habits.

Millionaires are all around us, and many of them are probably not who you would think. This is because they smartly live below their means and save their money rather than showcase it. Of course, it’s easy to live below your means when you have millions, but even if you have far less, getting into the habit of spending minimally now will help you have a lot more later. The trick is adopting a “less is more” mentality and sticking with it, even when your income and net worth increase in the future.

6. Avoid Temptation

The temptation to live large and beyond our means is all around us: TV, magazines, friends, family, colleagues, “the Joneses.” It is nearly impossible to escape the pressure to spend, spend and then spend some more. The problem is that overspending often leads to debt accumulation, undersaving and long-term financial insecurity.

Force yourself to avoid negative financial influences as much as possible. That means going cold turkey: Avoid malls, unsubscribe from all those retail emails and don’t sign up for new ones and say “no” to invitations that you know will cost you.

Then, replace these temptations with things that motivate you.

7. Be Goal-Oriented

Goals inspire us, motivate us and give us purpose. Many of us have common goals, such as paying off debt, buying a house and retiring by a certain age. Maybe you have another goal of starting your own business or buying a second home. Unfortunately, goals are easily overshadowed by the daily stresses of life and all too often forgotten and neglected. When goals are just fleeting thoughts in your mind, they lose their meaning and influence over your behavior. This leads to bad financial habits, and your dream of becoming rich stays just that — a dream.

To make it a reality, stay focused on your goals by committing the time to think about them, prioritize them and assign a target saving amount to each of them if possible. Then you should display your goals in places where you can be reminded on a regular basis, which will keep you accountable and help you stay on track.

8. Get Educated

Successful investors take the time to study key financial concepts, learn the dos and don’ts and stay abreast of current trends. They take advantage of opportunities to strengthen and expand their understanding and expose themselves to financial information on a daily basis. Take a cue from them and subscribe to The Wall Street Journal, watch CNBC, pick up Fortune or SmartMoney instead of a gossip magazine and follow financial experts on Twitter. Become a devoted student of money, and you can master the science of getting rich.

Be careful not to overwhelm yourself, and only follow advice from credible sources, so you don’t fall victim to progress paralysis or unsuitable and potentially dangerous investments.

9. Diversify Your Portfolio

Successful investors also know not to put all of their money eggs in one basket — or two baskets, for that matter. They spread their wealth across a variety of investments, from stocks, mutual funds, ETFs and bonds, to real estate, collectibles and startups. A diversified portfolio means that you can potentially take advantage of multiple sources of growth and protect yourself from financial ruin if one of your investments bombs.

An easy way to achieve diversification is to invest in an asset allocation fund, such as a target-date fund or “life strategy” fund that is based on your risk tolerance. And if you don’t have the means to buy property outright, you can explore investing in real estate mutual funds, ETFs or investment trusts (REITs), which can even offer steady income in some cases. Learn more about crowdfunding, which now gives the average investor the ability to support startup companies. Just be careful not to concentrate your money too heavily in any one investment.

10. Spend Money to Make Money

It’s true that there’s a price to pay for wealth, but unless you’re Warren Buffett, it is not gambling — and losing — on stock picking. Impulse, naivety and emotions, particularly greed and fear, can seriously hinder your chances of being rich if you let them. The best way to protect yourself and get a step up on your financial goals is to first invest in a team of financial professionals. This means hiring a qualified and experienced financial advisor, accountant and in complex cases, an estate planner. Yes, working with pros will cost you, and you can still do some DIY investing, but their objectivity, expertise, personalized guidance and ongoing monitoring can be well worth it (and relieve you of the huge burden of figuring it all out on your own).

Make sure that you interview several candidates so you can find pros you trust, feel comfortable with and whose approach is a good fit for your situation. And even if you work with an advisor, make sure that you’re still involved and aware of where your money is going — and why.

By: Jocelyn Black Hodes

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/10-habits-to-get-rich-161444413.html

Crumbs Bake Shop, Inc. Closes All Stores

Pic 2

Crumbs Bake Shop, Inc. announced it has closed all of its store locations. Recently the company reported a steep decline in sales, resulting in $4 million in losses.

The New York City-based company was founded by a husband-and-wife team, Jason and Mia Bauer in 2003 with one shop on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. A shell company bought Crumbs in 2011 and took it public that June, during the height of the gourmet-cupcake boom. Crumbs made its mark selling 4-inch, frosting-laden cupcakes in flavors such as cookie dough, girl scouts thin mints, caramel macchiato and red velvet cheesecake, costing generally $3.50 to $4.50 each. A single cupcake can top 600 calories.

Since then, its financial outlook has grown bleak amid several years of losses, a dwindling cash supply, and a food craze that is petering out. In March, Crumbs said it closed nine underperforming stores during the last three months of 2013, shut six at the start of 2014 and had more closures on the way.

The company had warned in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission this past May that it “may be forced to curtail or cease its activities” if its operations didn’t generate enough cash flow.

Crumbs said all employees were notified Monday that it would be closing all of its stores at the end of the business day. A representative for Crumbs couldn’t immediately say how many workers were affected or how many stores it had remaining on its last day. As of the end of last year, Crumbs listed about 165 full-time employees and about 655 part-time hourly employees working in its stores. According to the company’s website, Crumbs currently has 48 stores in 10 states and the District of Columbia.

“Regrettably Crumbs has been forced to cease operations and is immediately attending to the dislocation of its devoted employees while it evaluates its limited remaining options,” the company said in a statement. Those options could include Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation, a spokeswoman for Crumbs said.