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How to Write a Monthly Budget

July 10, 2016

According to Dave Ramsey, a person’s biggest wealth-building tool is their income, and the best way to harness its power is to create a monthly budget.

 

Updated April 10, 2020

 

Writing a budget is the first step — and possibly the most successful way — for a person to take control of their money, their finances, and pay off any outstanding bills (like student loans). In fact, most financial experts recommend that those who wish to save money for the future and any upcoming expenses, as well as pay down outstanding loans and bills, should create some type of a monthly budget. Most who find their way to this budgeted path will agree that writing and sticking to the budgeted plan can be painstaking — at first — but once it is in place, and they see the financial gains, it is well worth the initial trouble.

 

For those who are uneasy about writing a budget, are unsure where to start, or simply need a little push in the right direction, we are here to help. The following information is dedicated to helping first-time budget writers — with all levels of debt and income — find their ideal monthly budget. We hope it guides every reader toward financial freedom and independence!

 

How to Create a Simple Monthly Budget

Step 1: Calculate Total Income

Budgeters should begin their monthly budget process by figuring out how much they (and if applicable, a spouse or partner) bring home each month. Start by calculating the total take-home pay (after tax) for the household. This figure should include every ongoing source of income.

 

Step 2: List and Tally All Expenses

Step two involves calculating all regular bills (mortgage, utilities, student loans, credit cards, insurance, cell phones, etc.) and any irregular bills (quarterly payments like insurance) that are due the following month. The next step involves totaling what is generally spent on all other expenses: groceries, eating out, coffee, gas, entertainment, etc. Every dollar spent should be accounted for.

 

Step 3: Subtract Expenses from Income to Equal Zero

Subtracting total expenses from the total income will reveal how much each individual or household is (or is not) spending each month. Some financial experts suggest configuring this part of the budget to create something called a “zero-based budget,” where the total income minus all expenses (including any savings, loans, or investments) equals zero. This method ensures that money is told exactly “where” to go — into savings, towards paying down student loans, etc. — and therefore, cannot be spent in any other way. These free accounting forms and programs may help: Dave Ramsey’s Monthly Cash Flow Plan form or Dave Ramsey’s Irregular Income Planning form.

 

Step 4: Monitor and Track Expenses Each Month

Diligence and commitment are necessary elements of all financial budgets, and staying on track — and minding the original monthly budget — can be a hard task for even the most dedicated budget-master. To help those who are serious about their budget, or simply need a little extra accountability, special tracking tools, and apps exists to help users monitor and maintain their expenses. Here are some free options and community favorites:

  1. Write one down on pen and paper.
  2. Develop a personal Excel spreadsheet.
  3. The Envelope System. This system involves acknowledging and setting up categories in which a person usually overspends (eating out, clothes, groceries, etc.). Each month, money for these categories is cashed out (so money is not in the bank) and carried with the person in dedicated envelopes or clips. This enables each person to visually see how much money is being spent in each category, as well as how much money remains throughout the month.
  4. Dave Ramsey’s Every Dollar software and budget app is a quick and easy way to see what is planned for the budget, what has been spent, and what remains.
  5. Mint by Intuit is a well-known budgeting app that automatically tracks a user’s finances. Users simply enter basic financial information and the program tracks the rest. Other benefits include goal setting options and data that feeds into TurboTax at tax time.
  6. PearBudget is a really simple budgeting and expense tracking service. It contains common and customizable expense categories, is secure, and it is easy-to-use for first-time budgeters. Some may find it less automated than Mint, but users do get some extra goal setting and planning features. PearBudget costs $4.95 a month after a free, 30-day trial.
  7. Clarity Money is a free budgeting app that can also help you manage your finances and track your spending by recommending ways to lower your bills, manage your subscriptions, and get the best credit card deals.
  8. GnuCash is a fairly robust accounting software program that is both free and suitable for most operating systems — as well as home and small business use. Along with its ability to track income and spending, the software also tracks banking, investing, and retirement accounts.

 

Final Thoughts on the Monthly Budget

Saving money, paying down student loans, and getting out of debt takes time. With a plan and a dedicated budget, the journey can be much shorter and less stressful. When budgeting, it is also important to live reasonably and spend within — and possibly below — your means whenever possible. A generous cut-back on unnecessary and frivolous expenses is a necessary part of creating a budget, but remember that it is ok to live comfortably and have some fun every now and then. Just make sure some “fun money” is written into the budgeted plan so that these expenses do not hinder the main objective — getting out of debt and saving money.

 

Click for Tips on Cutting Your Budget

 


 

Please note that we are not affiliated, getting paid to mention, or specifically endorse any of these budgeting products or programs.

 

Notice About Third Party Websites: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – the bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.

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Woman getting her finances in order
2020-09-10
Using the COVID-19 Pandemic to Get Your Finances in Order

This has been a challenging year in many ways. Despite the challenges, however, many people are doing their best to make the most of a difficult situation by accomplishing goals during their time at home.   If you have some extra downtime, this could be the perfect opportunity to work toward your financial goals! If you're ready to get your finances in order, here are a few suggestions to get you started:  

Save for an emergency fund

There’s no way to avoid all of life’s accidents, but you can be prepared for them.
Saving for an emergency fund means intentionally setting aside a percentage of your income for necessary expenses in case of unexpected expenses.   Emergency funds are meant to cover absolute must-haves, like food and housing, rather than entertainment-based expenses like vacations and dining out. While it’s fantastic to save toward those things, too, you should first set aside money for your emergency fund, then focus on secondary expenses.   It’s common to save a $1,000 emergency fund at first, then to work toward an emergency fund totaling six months’ necessity expenses. Reaching a full emergency fund is an incredible accomplishment, and also means you can breathe a sigh of relief knowing you’ll be taken care of if the unexpected happens.  

Cut back on spending

Focus on eating at home

With almost half of the United States now working from home, it’s easier than ever to avoid the drive-thru at mealtime. If you’re working from home, this is the perfect time to practice cooking your meals. To take it a step further, you could even try meal prepping!   Preparing a meal at home costs, on average, about $4. Compared to the average cost of eating out at $13 per meal, food savings top $180 weekly if you’re eating three meals per day. Cutting back on the cost of dining out is a great way to lower your regular expenses and to get your finances in order.  

Save on travel expenses

Whether or not you’re working from home, travel options are limited as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Consolidating your errands into one trip and limiting unnecessary miles on your car are both great ways to save a little more during this time.   If you are working from home, what a fantastic opportunity for savings! Instead of spending the money that you’re saving on work travel elsewhere, consider making progress toward a specific financial goal or even adding to your emergency fund.  

Learn a few simple home repairs

If you find yourself with a lot of time on your hands, especially time at home, why not learn a few do-it-yourself repairs? Even if you don’t need to update your home right now, you could save a significant amount in the future by knowing how to make minor adjustments yourself.   From instructions on installing a faucet to fixing a broken drawer, the Home Depot has a number of DIY home project guides on their website to get you started. Best of all, the guides are free and offer step-by-step instructions for first-time fixes.  

Use your extra time wisely

Improve your credit score

Improving your credit score is a fantastic way to get your finances in order. Even though you can’t boost your credit score overnight, you can make a few smart money moves right now that will put you on the right track.   Paying your bills on time is the most effective way to keep your credit score high. While you have a little extra time at home, look to see if your bank offers an automatic bill pay option. Automatic bill pay is a phenomenal way to set up your payment schedule, then let it take care of itself. This is especially useful for regular monthly expenses like rent, mortgage, car and utility payments.   Even if you prefer to handle your payments manually, create a payment schedule by setting reminders for important dates. With This will help you to stay on top of important expenses, and you can enjoy the benefits of having a strong credit score.  

Make some extra cash

Boredom can be a catalyst for creativity. If you like to play the piano, consider making a little extra money by teaching beginner piano lessons. If you enjoy shopping, try bringing in some side income by delivering for Instacart, DoorDash or a similar service. Now could be the perfect time to turn your hobby or favorite activity into a side business.  

What to do if you’re struggling financially during the COVID-19 pandemic

Reach out to your lenders

The COVID-19 pandemic has, unfortunately, created financial hardship for many people worldwide. The U.S. unemployment rate hit an unparalleled high of 14.7% in April, leaving many families without the financial resources for necessities like rent and groceries.   If you find yourself in a difficult financial situation resulting from COVID-19, speak with your lenders and landlords to discuss a mutually beneficial solution. Many businesses have deferred monthly payments, and the federal government has suspended interest on student loans for the remainder of the year.   We understand how difficult it can be to navigate this time. If you’re an ELFI customer in need of assistance, our expert Personal Loan Advisors are available to discuss your financial situation.  

Prioritize the necessities

If the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted your financial situation, make the most of your income by temporarily limiting unnecessary spending. From eating at home when possible to enjoying free or cheap recreational activities, these short-term sacrifices may better your long-term financial health.   If you need a few ideas for a few at-home activities that are also budget-friendly, check out our list of ideas here.  

Check for forgotten expenses

If you’ve tried everything but your expenses still feel overwhelming, one way to get your finances in order is by making sure you've canceled all the monthly or automatic payments for services you no longer use.   Check your credit card bill to see if you’re making automatic payments on anything you may have forgotten. This can be everything from streaming services you no longer use to app renewals you're still being charged for. Even a few dollars each month can add up if you’re unwittingly paying for several unused services.   Additionally, take stock of your utility bills to see if your expenses have been slowly climbing. If your utility costs have grown significantly, discuss the expenses with your provider. If you can't come to a resolution, consider exploring other options to see what might be available!   Finally, student loan refinancing can be an effective way to lower the interest and extend the term on your current student loan payment. If you’d like to decrease the amount you’re paying each month, determine whether student loan refinancing might be the right fit for you.  
  Notice About Third Party Websites: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no­­­ control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – the bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.
Woman smiling at college graduation
2020-09-08
7 Actions to Take Before Your Grace Period Ends

Congratulations! You graduated from college and have hopefully settled into the start of your career. If it has been almost 6 months since your graduation, it’s most likely your student loan grace period is nearing the end if you have federal student loans. Are you prepared for when your grace period ends? Luckily we have some actions you can take to prepare.      If you have federal student loans, there is a six month grace period before you have to begin making payments after you graduate, leave school or drop below a half-time student. Not all federal student loans have a grace period. The loans that do include: direct subsidized and direct unsubsidized. PLUS loans for graduate school have a six month deferment period after graduation where payments are not required. Some private student loans also have a grace period but it may not be six months. Be sure to check with your lender to determine if any grace period exists.   

Actions to Take

Here are a few actions you should take before your grace period ends to ensure you are prepared.  

Determine Your Debts

  First, it’s important to understand the types of student loans you have. For example, do you have private or federal loans? If you have federal student loans, you’ll need to determine whether you have subsidized or unsubsidized loans. Subsidized loans mean the U.S. Department of Education will pay the interest on the loan during the grace period for most loans. (Note: If you have a direct subsidized loan that was disbursed between July 1, 2012, and July 1, 2014, you are responsible for the interest during the grace period.) If you have a Direct Unsubsidized loan you will always be responsible for the interest, even the interest accruing during the grace period. This means that if you don’t need the grace period you may want to think about at least paying the interest on the loan.    Be sure to take stock of your other debts, such as a car loan or credit card payments, and their minimum payments.  

Make a Budget

Determine a budget that includes your new student loan payment and all other debt payments. Once you determine your budget, start following it before your grace period ends. The money budgeted for your student loan can be put aside to use as an emergency fund. Or use the money you saved during the grace period to make a principal-only payment to get ahead on your repayment.    

Set Up Auto-Pay 

Another great action to take during your grace period is setting up auto-pay through your loan servicer. Setting up auto-pay will ensure your student loan payment is always made on time. Another great benefit of using the auto-pay feature is that federal student loans are given a 0.25% interest rate reduction. Some private student loan lenders also provide a discount for auto-pay so check with your lender if any discount is available.   

Establish a Debt Repayment Plan

Your grace period is a great time to establish a student loan debt repayment plan. A debt repayment plan will help you decide exactly how you will pay off your debts. There are two main types of student loan debt repayment plans, the snowball method, and the avalanche method. You have to decide which method would work better for your financial situation and motivation. Either method will be helpful if you have multiple student loans or other debts to pay off. Once you decide on your method, you will know how to allocate any extra money you have in your budget for debt repayment. When it comes time for your grace period to end you will be more than ready to start paying down your loans efficiently!   

Research Repayment Options

  1. If you have multiple student loans you can pay each loan, keeping track of each loan individually and their due dates. 
  2. Another option is to consolidate your federal loans into one loan. The average interest rate of the consolidated loans becomes the fixed interest rate on the new consolidated loan. This is consolidating your federal loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan through the U.S. Department of Education.  
  3. Refinance student loans. Once you start getting your finances in order you may realize your student loan payment is not going to fit in your budget or has a much higher interest rate then what is available now. That’s where refinancing your student loans can help. Refinancing your student loans means you will borrow a new private student loan to pay off any previous student loans (including federal and other private student loans). Refinancing can save you money because interest rates can be much lower than for federal loans. A lower interest rate means you are saving money in interest costs monthly and over the life of the loan. To find out how much you could save use our Student Loan Refinance Calculator.*
 

Learn About Borrower Protections and Programs

When you have federal student loans you are provided benefits that are not always provided by private student loan lenders. The grace period of your loans is a good time to find out about any federal borrower protections you may want to use in the future, such as deferment and forbearance for your loans. Also, if you work for a non-profit or government agency, your loans may qualify for forgiveness under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. During the grace period, it is helpful to learn about the requirements for the program so when your payments begin you can be sure they qualify under the specific rules of the program.    

Learn About the Repayment Plans

If you are shocked by what your monthly payment will be on the standard repayment plan, check into the other student loan repayment plans provided for by the U.S. Department of Education. Certain loans are eligible for an Income-Driven Repayment Plan, where your payment will be based on your income. Or you can elect to have your loans on the Graduated Repayment Plan that will extend your loan term to provide for a smaller monthly payment. However, keep in mind that you will end up paying more interest over the loan term.   

The Bottom Line

Taking these actions will help you be prepared for the end of your grace period. You are already a step ahead by thinking about this now. This preparation will start you off on a bright financial future knocking out your student loans. Good luck!  
  *Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.   Notice About Third Party Websites: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no­­­ control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – the bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.
Couple focused on buying insurance
2020-09-01
The Millennial’s Guide to Buying Insurance

On average, United States citizens report a 51% discrepancy between the life insurance coverage they have and the amount their families would need in the event of a tragedy. For millennials, this number is even greater, with only 10% reporting an adequate amount of life insurance. As millennials continue to grow up and start families, it’s important to understand both how to buy insurance and why insurance is necessary to protect loved ones.  

What is Insurance?

Insurance helps alleviate the risk of serious financial hardship in case of accidents or other unexpected events. If you own a high-dollar item like a home, car, boat or piece of jewelry, your insurance policy is in place to protect your monetary investment in case it is damaged, lost or destroyed.   Some types of insurance protect people rather than possessions. Medical insurance, for example, assists with the costs of illness prevention and treatment.   While ideally, you won’t experience a major loss that would require insurance, it’s impossible to predict when accidents may happen. With that in mind, insurance helps to protect your loved ones and valuables in case something unexpected occurs. Here are a few things to consider when buying insurance.  

3 Tips for Buying Insurance

1. Know what you need.

While it’s great to buy insurance at a competitive price, it’s more important to make sure your needs are met. For example, if you own a car, you’re required by law to purchase liability insurance coverage, which assists with the cost of damaging someone else’s property. If you have an accident, insurance saves you from footing the bill entirely out-of-pocket as long as the damages are covered under your policy.   You can also choose to buy additional insurance coverage. For example, collision coverage helps pay for damages to your own vehicle after an accident. This type of coverage is sometimes optional, but when buying insurance, consider whether paying the monthly premium might be less expensive than covering your vehicle damages out-of-pocket after an accident.  

2. Compare pricing from different carriers.

After you’ve determined the types and amounts of insurance you need to buy, take the time to compare plans from multiple carriers. You can do this through independent research, but it’s often easier to work with a third-party organization like SouthEast Insurance.   SouthEast Insurance works with more than 40 insurance carriers to find the best rates on coverage. They scout the best deals on more than 20 different types of insurance, from necessities like auto and home coverage to miscellaneous policies including pet and umbrella coverage.   The company aims to find you the best coverage at the best price, whether that means bundling products together or choosing individual carriers. Because they work directly with each carrier, their quotes are real, not estimates, and are personalized to your situation. After submitting a request, it normally takes about 10 to 15 minutes to receive a quote.   If you aren’t sure how to begin researching insurance policies, working with a company like this is a great way to narrow down your options without spending hours of unnecessary time and energy. The best part is, it doesn't cost anything to receive a quote from SouthEast Insurance, and there’s no pressure to buy!  

3. Cover all your bases when buying insurance.

At the very least, it’s important to invest in the necessities: home insurance, auto insurance, life insurance and health insurance. These help to cover your most valuable assets, as well as to ensure you and your family can receive medical attention when you need it.   Beyond the basics, however, you may want to consider a variety of insurance types. If you own a vehicle other than a car, like a boat or a motorcycle, you can have it covered. If you lease a space, renters insurance protects lost or damaged items in case of an event like fire or burglary. From earthquake insurance to wedding insurance, you can protect many of your major investments with various types of coverage.   Don’t just stop at the minimum when it comes to buying insurance coverage. Make sure to research what your policy does and doesn’t cover, and invest in additional protection if your current policy doesn’t include everything you’d like to insure.   Ultimately, buying insurance is about protecting the people you care about, as well as yourself. While we can’t predict accidents, we can be prepared for them. Once you’re covered, you can rest easy knowing your and your loved ones will be shielded from many types of financial stress, and that your most important belongings are safeguarded.  

Sources:

 
  Notice About Third Party Websites: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no­­­ control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – the bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.