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A Free Year of PearBudget for Furloughed Government Employees

Hey, Charlie here. I grew up in Washington DC, with one parent who’s worked for the US Government for longer than I’ve been alive (first the National Park Service, then the Smithsonian). I have a ton of respect for the work that federal employees do, and how they’re usually the ones who get the real work done while political appointees come through and “swoop and poop”.

An event like the Trump Shutdown has real impacts on real people, and even if backpay comes down the road, the economics of running a home gets a lot more complicated when paychecks don’t come through. I want to help.

In order to help out government employees, then, I have an announcement! Through the end of the furlough, I’m happy to comp a year’s worth of Pearbudget to any of the 800,000 federal government employees who have been affected by the shutdown. Once you create a PearBudget account, email me directly (charlie@pearbudget.com) and just let me know ① what you do with the government, ② the email address for the account I’m comping, and ③ your favorite National Park or National Forest. I’ll hook you up. Thank you for the work you do.

(For anyone worrying if this violates ethics codes of conduct for government employees, it doesn’t: offers made to all government employees are exempt from the “no gifts” rules. You’re golden.)

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Why Your Emergency Fund Should Be (A Little) Hard to Reach

Apparently, 40% of Americans don’t have enough in savings to cover a $400 medical emergency. While I hope you’ve got more saved than that, that’s a great first goal if you’re looking to improve your finances. Most financial advisors recommend starting off with a $1,000 emergency fund, and then slowly building that up to cover 3–4 months’ worth of living expenses.

If you don’t have a place where you can set that money aside and know it’s safe, it’s easy for whatever you’ve saved to get sucked back into your everyday spending.

The best kind of emergency fund is one that’s easy to put money into, that’s available when you need it, and that’s just hard enough to get to that you don’t think of it in your day-to-day mental calculation of “what do I have available this month?”

And one great way to make your emergency fund just a little harder to get to is to put it somewhere “out of sight, out of mind”: think about creating a savings account that’s expressly for emergencies, at a bank you don’t normally go to or interact with.

  • If, like me, you’ve been thinking about creating an account at a local Credit Union to see what it’s like having an account there, an “emergency account” could be a great way to dip your toes in the Credit Union water. (I hear it’s nice.)
  • Or you can create a “money market account” with Vanguard, Fidelity, or whomever holds your retirement funds. (This would be separate from your retirement account, but — psychologically — you might be less likely to draw from it since it’s housed near your retirement funds.) If you don’t yet have a retirement account, and are kind of intimidated about that, creating a money market account at Vanguard (or wherever) is a great way to break the ice there. (We don’t post affiliate links here; this info at Vanguard on money market accounts is just for information in case the idea’s new to you.)
  • If you set up a new emergency account at a bank or credit union where you already have your main checking/savings account, try setting up an automatic transfer of a small amount each month from your main account, so you can slowly build it up over time. You can probably set it to transfer the day after your paychecks normally deposit, if they get deposited on a regular schedule.

One other thing you can do to help remind yourself to only put money into the emergency account: If your online bank allows you to rename your accounts, give your emergency savings account a name like “DO NOT TOUCH” or “BREAK IF EMERGENCY” or something similar. Or, to remind yourself of the amount you’re trying to save, put that amount in the title of the account itself: “EMERGENCY – 1K”. Then, if you’ve set aside $600 into that account and find you need to scrounge together some money for a small, non-emergency bill, you’ll be less likely to pull that money out.

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Sparking Joy

The other night, like many of you, we were looking for something to watch on Netflix. We stumbled on Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. The Lifechanging Magic book was a hit in our house when it first came out, so we decided to give it a go.

The show wasn’t bad (though it seemed to me like the family in the first episode hired a cleaning crew to sweep through before Marie and her translator came over?), and it got me thinking about “things that spark joy”.

If you aren’t familiar with Marie Kondo and her approach, it’s essentially this:

  1. For different “groups” of things (clothes, books, etc.), pull everything you own together and put it in a single pile.
  2. Go through the pile, and consider each thing, with the following question: “Does this spark joy?”
  3. If it ‘sparks joy’, fold it and put it into your drawer / closet / shelf. If it doesn’t, thank it for its service to you / the world, and send it on its way (thrift store, trash, etc.)

We then went through our clothing and “Marie Kondo’d” it. I don’t have a ton of clothes, so it didn’t take long, but, again, it made me think about things in my life that “spark joy”. This time, though, I thought about financial things.

We all have subscriptions, recurring costs, and other regular bills that have been in our lives for a while. Are they sparking joy? It might be time for an audit.

How to “tidy up” your financial life:

  1. Visit your PearBudget account, or the “transactions” page for your bank account or credit cards.
  2. Look for numbers that come up month after month, with the same amount: $9.99, $14.99, or other specific amounts for your cell phones or cable bills.
  3. Jot them down on a single piece of paper.
  4. For each one, ask yourself if that expense is “earning its keep” (or, if you like, “sparking joy”). Do you still use Hulu AND Netflix AND HBO? Maybe! Maybe not! Perhaps you can cut back on one of those services. Or maybe you’re already paying for Amazon Prime and you should try using just that for a bit.
  5. On your piece of paper, write down either “Yes!”, “Cancel!”, or “Cut back!”. Don’t feel foolish if you have a number of things on your list that you’ve let linger. They served you in the past. Be proud that you’re finding them now.
  6. Once you have your list of things to cut (or cut back on), reach out to the services (either online or phone) and take care of them.
  7. (You can also set up a recurring expense in PearBudget for the ones you want to keep!)

It’s too easy for recurring expenses to just become part of the background noise of our finances. I’d recommend doing a ten-minute run-through to see what you can free yourself from, so you have more time and money for the things in your life that really do spark joy.

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Starting your new year!

Hello PearBudget friends!

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, we don’t blog all that often, but we did want to make sure that everyone had the chance to set up their budget for the new year. This page, available at the link below, will walk you through setting goals for the amounts you’d like to set aside for each of your irregular categories during 2018. It’ll also allow you to choose whether or not to carry your 2018 balances into 2019. If you’d like to start with $0 balances for 2019, just make sure all of the checkboxes are unchecked.

https://pearbudget.com/set_up_2019

Once you set up those options, PearBudget will recommend new amounts for you to set aside for your irregular categories. You’ll need to tweak those yourself in your January budget, and then they will carry over from month to month from there.

Happy New Year!

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Budgeting with Love: Part 4, Budget Weariness

All throughout this month, I’ve been posting budgeting tips for you and your spouse or significant other.  Last week, I included some tips about eliminating debt. This week, I’m talking about ways to decrease budget weariness.

Many couples (and people!) run into budget weariness after being on a budget for a while.  To help alleviate this, I highly recommend having 3 extra categories in your budget. First, I recommend having a grace category. The grace category gives you a built in cushion for when unexpected expenses come up in a month. This is especially helpful for a while when you are first starting to budget and are still adding categories to your budget. The other two categories I recommend are splurge categories—one for each of you. Even if money is tight, there is usually something that you can allot to those categories.  The beauty of these categories is that it allows you to spend money on things your spouse doesn’t necessarily want/need/see a reason to spend money on without having to feel guilty.

Another way to alleviate budget/financial weariness is to try some frugal but fun activities. These will vary widely based on your interests but could include things like walking, reading library books, attending free or inexpensive concerts (such as on a college campus or outdoors), free movie rentals (Redbox is always releasing codes for free movies, or get them from your local library), visiting a museum (our local art museum has free admission), visit your local or state parks, or anything else that you find enjoyable that doesn’t have a high price tag.  Doing something like this can give you a chance to recharge your batteries and lessen the stress you might be feeling.

Photo by: dbgg1979

Photo by: dbgg1979

This brings us to the end of our series on budgeting with love. I hope it has been an encouragement and a help to you! And, if you have any final thoughts, I’d love to hear them in the comments.

Other posts in the Budgeting with Love series:

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Budgeting with Love: Part 3, Eliminating Debt

Every Thursday during the month of February, I’m posting budgeting tips for you and your spouse or significant other.  Last week, I shared tips for setting and achieving financial goals. This week’s tips are devoted to helping you to get out of debt.

First, let’s talk about the biggest thing that has helped us not fight about money during our marriage: Getting out of consumer debt. We still have a mortgage, but eliminating credit card debt and car loans has made a world of difference. No matter your financial state, working towards being debt-free is definitely a goal worth striving for.

Photo by: Dan Simpson

Photo by: Dan Simpson

But what if you are barely making ends meet? How do you work on eliminating debt or building some savings if you can barely pay your bills each month? Well, there is lots of advice out there on how to reduce your spending in different areas, but what it came down to for us was the reality that we needed to make more money. As a result, after 7 years of marriage, I couldn’t even begin to name the number of side jobs we’ve taken on. At one point, I think I was working at least 6 of them at once. Crystal, of Money Saving Mom, has lots of great ideas for earning income on the side.  I think I’ve personally done at least 5 things on that list, and all of them helped add to our income at various levels. You can try as many ideas as you have the time and energy for, and I promise you can find something that will work for you.

Next week will be our last week of this series, and I’ll share some final tips for alleviating budget weariness. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you in the comments with your thoughts on ways to eliminate debt.

Other posts in the Budgeting with Love series:

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Budgeting with Love: Part 2, Setting Goals

During the month of February, I’m sharing budgeting tips for you and your spouse or significant other.  Last week, we focused on a few budgeting-specific tips. This week, I’m including tips about how to set and achieve financial goals.

After you’ve begun budgeting your money, and you have an idea where it is going, it’s time to decide where you want it to go instead. We try to sit down every 6 months and examine where we’d like any extra monthly income to go. (Paying off debt? Retirement? HSA? Christmas budget? Vacation to Cancun?)  Even if we only had just a few dollars left at the end of the month, we made sure that we had goals for where we wanted that money to go.  Setting goals that you are both in agreement with helps you to stick to your budget, because you know that if you do, you’ll be working towards those goals and you’ll reap the benefit (Being debt-free, having money to retire, being able to pay medical expenses, having money to buy Christmas presents, treating yourself to a fabulous vacation, or whatever you’ve chosen).

Another tip is to write down your financial goals. If your lives are like mine, they can often be busy and hectic, and in a month, you may have no idea what the goals you set the last time you talked were. So, I highly recommend taking written notes (digitally or on paper), and keeping them someplace safe where you can come back to them. This applies to long-term and short-term goals both.  And of course, keep records of when you achieved your goals to celebrate!

In many relationships, it makes sense to have one person be the one to pay most of the bills and track the spending for the family. If you’re that person, then you need to make sure you keep the other person in the loop, in order to stick to your monthly budget. We’re pretty informal about this—I tell my husband when we’re out of money in our budget categories, and he stops spending money that month!  But, I know other couples do this in a more formalized way. Kristen over at The Frugal Girl writes her husband a monthly money e-mail, which I think is a great idea. Depending on your situation, a weekly update might be a better choice.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions in the comments!  Next week, we’ll be looking at tips for eliminating debt.

Other posts in the Budgeting with Love series:

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Budgeting with Love: Part 1, Budgeting

In honor of February, the month of love, this month on the PearBudget blog we’re going to focus on budgeting tips for you and your spouse or significant other.  Each Thursday, I’ll share a few things that have helped us along on our budgeting journey.

The first and most important financial thing we’ve done is create a budget. Of course, if you’re reading this, there’s a large chance that you’ve already made a budget. No matter how much money you make, if you have no idea where it is going, then you’ll never meet your financial goals. When we first got married, we spent a few months just tracking our spending. When we looked at the results, we were shocked at some of the amounts we had spent. (I think we were single-handedly keeping the restaurants in town in business!)

To help track where your money is going, it is really important to keep close tabs on it. One habit that we implemented early in our marriage was keeping every receipt from every purchase in one central location until we entered it into our budget and reconciled it with any credit card or bank statements.  We just use a little white bin from the dollar store for this purpose, but I love the statue that Charlie and Sarah use. Whether you have a solution as unique as theirs or as cheap as ours doesn’t matter, as long as you keep those receipts in one central place. Otherwise, receipts will float around the house, and you’ll have no idea if they have made it into your budget.

Our Lady of Constant Procrastination

Our Lady of Eternal Procrastination

Another tip to help you stay on budget is to avoid spending large amounts of money without taking time to think it through.  There are all kinds of situations with large amounts of money involved where there is a false sense of urgency.  But, really, the door-to-door salesman selling a Kirby vacuum isn’t the last person on earth selling an expensive vacuum.  And that amazing sale at the local furniture store? Yeah, they’ll have another one. Even with smaller purchases, it’s a really great idea to wait a week or two or even a month or two to make sure you’re spending your money wisely on that item.

I hope these tips are helpful to you, and I’ve got many more to come this month. Next week, we’ll be discussing financial goals. Feel free to ask questions or share tips in the comments!

Other posts in the Budgeting with Love series:

 

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Free Tax Prep Software from the IRS

Hoo, boy. Tax season’s coming up.

tax papers

Photo by Ed Mitchell

Good news, though: If you make under $57,000 a year (that’s after you take out retirement contributions, HSA contributions, and so on), you can get tax prep software (normally $30 – $60) for free, through the IRS! All the info on the program is online: Free File: Do Your Federal Taxes for Free.

Um … have fun?!

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A Sly Way to Enter Dates in PearBudget

Of course you know how to type in the month, date, and year of a receipt, or to choose the correct date by using the drop-down calendar. But did you know that PearBudget has a super-fast shortcut for entering a receipt from the current month?

It’s true! Say it happens to be Monday, January 14th, 2013, and I want to enter a receipt from grocery shopping that I did last Friday, the 11th. All I need to do is enter the number 11 into the date field, and PearBudget will know that I mean 01/11/13.

Did You Know Date Entry Blog Post
Hooray for saving time! Now go enter some receipts!

If that didn’t answer your question, get in touch with us by e-mail, at help@pearbudget.com.