How to Budget Groceries: 11 Easy Tips

Have you ever sat down to go over your budget only to find out that you’ve outrageously overspent on food? Local, organic, artisan goods and trendy new restaurant outings with friends make it easy to do. With food being the second highest household expense behind mortgage or rent, our food choices have a huge impact on our budget. Using this monthly budget calculator can also help guide how to budget for food. 

You may be surprised to find out that the most nutrient-dense foods are often the most budget-friendly. It’s not only possible, but fun and easy to eat nourishing, delicious food while still sticking to your budget. Here are 11 ways to help you learn how to budget groceries.

1. Track Current Spending

Before you figure out what you should be spending on food, it’s important to figure out what you are spending on food. Keep grocery store receipts to get a realistic picture of your current spending habits. If you feel inclined, create a spreadsheet to break down your spending by category, including beverages, produce, etc. Once you’ve done this, you can get an idea of where to trim down spending.

2. Allocate a Percentage of Your Income

How much each household spends on food varies based on income level and how many people need to be fed. Consider using a grocery calculator if you’re not sure where to start. While people spent about 30 percent of their income on food in 1950, this percentage has dropped to 9–12 today. Consider allocating 10 percent of your income to food as a starting point, and increase from there if necessary.

3. Avoid Eating Out

This is the least fun tip, we promise. Eating out is a quick and easy way to ruin your food budget. If you’re actively dating or enjoy going out to eat with friends, be sure to factor restaurants into your food budget — and strictly adhere to your limit. Coffee drinkers, consider making your favorite concoctions at home.

4. Plan Your Meals

It’s much easier to stick to a budget when you have a plan. Plus, having a purpose for each grocery item you buy will ensure nothing goes to waste or just sits in your pantry unused. Don’t be afraid of simple salads or meatless Mondays. Not every meal has to be a gourmet, grandiose experience.

5. Keep a Fridge Grocery List

Keep a magnetized grocery list on your fridge so that you can replace items as needed. This ensures you’re buying food you know you’ll eat because you’re already used to buying it. Sticking to a list in the grocery store is an effective way to keep yourself accountable and not spend money on processed or pricey items — there’s no need to take a stroll down the candy aisle if it’s not on the list.

6. Eat Before You Go to the Store

If your mother gave you this advice growing up, she was onto something: according to a survey, shoppers spend an average of 64 percent more when hungry. Sticking to a budget is all about eliminating temptations, so plan to eat beforehand to eliminate tantalizing foods that will cause you to go over-budget.

7. Be Careful with Coupons

50 percent off ketchup is a great deal — unless you don’t need ketchup. Beware of coupons that claim you’ll “save” money. If the item isn’t on your list, you’re not saving at all, but rather spending on something you don’t truly need. This discretion is key to saving money at the grocery store.

8. Embrace the Bulk Section

Not only is the bulk section of your grocery store great for cheap, filling staples, but it’s also the perfect way to discover new foods and bring variety into your diet. Take the time to compare the price of buying pre-packaged goods versus bulk — it’s almost always cheaper to buy in bulk, plus eliminating unnecessary packaging is good for the planet.

Bonus: a diet rich in unprocessed, whole plant foods provides virtually every nutrient, ensuring optimal health and keeping you from spending an excess amount on healthcare costs.

9. Bring Lunch to Work

Picture this: you’re trying to stick to a strict food budget, and one day at work you realize it’s lunchtime and you’re hungry. But alas, you forgot to pack a lunch. All the meal planning and smart shopping in the world won’t solve the work-lunch-dilemma. Brown-bagging your lunch is key to ensuring your food budget is successful. Plus, it can be fun! Think mason jar salads and Thai curry bowls.

10. Love Your Leftovers

Would you ever consider throwing $640 cash into the trash? This is what the average American household does every year — only instead of cash, it’s $640 worth of food that’s wasted. With millions of undernourished people around the globe, throwing away food not only hurts our budget but is a waste of the world’s resources. Tossing food is no joke. Eat your leftovers.

11. Freeze Foods That Are Going Bad

To avoid wasting food, freeze things that look like they’re about to go bad. Fruit that’s past its prime can be frozen and used in smoothies. Make double batches of soups, sauces, and baked goods so you’ll always have an alternative to ordering takeout when you don’t feel like cooking.

Sticking to a food budget takes planning and discipline. While it may not seem fun at first, you’ll likely find that you enjoy cooking and trying a variety of new foods you wouldn’t have thought to use before. Being resourceful and cooking healthfully is a skill that will benefit your wallet and waistline for years to come.

 

Sources: Turbo | Fool | Forbes | Medical Daily | GO Banking Rates | Value Penguin

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5 Neglected Expenses That Can Ruin Your Vacation Budget

Vacation Budget

5 Neglected Expenses That Can Ruin Your Vacation Budget

With the weather warming up, summer vacation isn’t too far away. If you haven’t already, it’s time to start a vacation budget and account for everything you’ll be paying for that week.

After all, you don’t want to have to cut your relaxation time short because you forgot that you actually have to pay for gas.

But there are other financial surprises too, ones that perhaps you don’t think very much about when sitting down to create your budget. Here are a few that maybe you have not taken into account just yet, but absolutely need to.

Let Mint.com help you create the perfect vacation budget. Click here to get started!

Parking

Despite free public parking not being a popular idea among money-hungry companies for a while now, a lot of us still forget that we have to pay for the damn thing. This may be a few bucks or a few dozen bucks, but either way you can’t forget it when budgeting for your vacation.

Do the research to find out the charges for each place you’re staying or going to. Going to see a ball game? How much does the park charge to park? Going to take the train into the city? How much do they charge and, if need be, how much does valet parking cost?

Add those up, and you might be surprised how much not actively driving your car can run you.

Wi-Fi

These days, Wi-Fi is just about everywhere, and just about everydiv uses it. While the airport Wi-Fi might be free, the hotel you stay in might want a few bucks extra for use of their signal. This is especially true in nice, upscale hotels, where Wi-Fi access could run you $10-$20 a day.

So either annoy your family by checking into some rinky-dink motel, where Wi-Fi is free but everything is roach-ridden and moth-eaten, or factor in the money necessary for Junior to use his iPad on the coziest bed he’s ever slept on.

The Food Bill

Even though it’s part of our daily lives, many people don’t think about food when punching out their budget. And if they do, they vastly underestimate how much stomach fuel actually costs.

This goes for vacations as well. You should find out what restaurants in the area typically charge, so you don’t get blindsided by the high cost of steak. If you’ve rented out a house with a kitchen and fridge, take some time to deduce how much you and your family spend on food at home.

Then, take that total and add a bit more to the food budget. It’s vacation time, after all, and for many, relaxing and unwinding means more burgers and s’mores than during a regular workweek.

Checked Bag Fees

If there’s one thing all travelers can agree is pure evil, airlines charging people to check in their bags has be it. Some airlines, such as Southwest, will let customers get away with some checked bags for free, but expect to fork over $25 or more for each additional one.

Checked bag fees need to be part of your budget every time, because it’s never, ever going away. Airlines make too much money off of it to abandon it simply because we don’t like it.

Either pack minimally, ensuring that you can get away with nothing but carry-ons and maybe one or two checked bags, or put a couple hundred bucks aside in the budget for the over packers in your family.

Vacation Budget Plan

Spontaneous Activities

There was an episode of Full House where Danny Tanner attempted to script the family’s Hawaiian vacation to the letter — every activity planned ahead of time, strict time limits on said activities, and naturally every penny accounted for.

This almost never happens. Vacations aren’t nearly that organized, and you will have some unpredictable moments, not to mention costs that you didn’t see coming. Maybe your children see an ad for horse riding trails and immediately start begging you to let them ride the horsies.

Sadly, horsies aren’t cheap, but this is a vacation, so why not let them indulge?

The trick is to not indulge too much. Don’t do everything that sounds fun, because the inevitable overdraft charges on your bank account won’t be very fun. Leave enough room in your budget for unplanned, spontaneous activities, and stick to that window as closely as you can.

This way, you and your family will have a great, fun vacation, and you won’t still be paying for it months and months later.

Mint.com can help create a complete vacation budget just for you and your family. Click here to sign up and start!

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Expert Interview with Tiffany Aliche of The Budgetnista on Financial Planning

Financial Eduation is important for everybody regardless of their demographic, and yet it is frequently overlooked by both the young and those who are just trying to get get by.

Tiffany Aliche is passionate about financial planning, and shares that passion, as well as a lifetime of information and practice, on her blog, The Budgetnista.

Tiffany took a moment to tell us about The Budgetnista, how anyone can benefit from sound financial education, and how that education can enrich your life.

Can you briefly describe The Budgetnista for people who aren’t familiar with the site? How did you get started? What differentiates you from the other financial blogs out there?

The Budgetnista is an award-winning financial education firm established in 2008. We specialize in the delivery of financial literacy through seminars, workshops, curricula and trainings. The Budgetnista has been a brand ambassador and spokesperson for a number of organizations, and has served as the personal finance education expert for City National Bank.

I’m happy to say that I’m quickly becoming America’s favorite financial educator. I authored the #1 Amazon bestseller, The One Week Budget and created the LIVE RICHER Challenge.

My love for financial education began at at home. I grew up in a financially-literate household, receiving weekly financial lessons from my CFO father. These lessons paired with my fun personality helped me create a fun, financial blog that resonates with thousands of women.

Who is your regular audience? What are some specific challenges they face, and how do they inform the things that you write about?

The Budgetnista’s audience is women aged 25-45. Their biggest financial issues are debt management, credit, and budgeting. When writing my blog, I focus on offering step-by-step guidance for these specific financial issues. In addition to women needing assistance, they also need encouragement. I try to not only be a source of information, but a source of inspiration as well.

What are some of the financial services The Budgetnista offers? Who is likely to utilize your services?

The financial services offered by The Budgetnista are keynotes, workshops and seminars on the following personal finance topics: money mindset, budgeting, savings, debt and credit. Many colleges, non-profits, and corporate entities utilize these services.

Each year, The Budgetnista also offers the LIVE RICHER Challenge; a FREE, online financial challenge created by The Budgetnista to help 10,000 women achieve seven specific financial goals in 36 days.

Your motto is “Live richer. To create a measurable lifestyle shift, through financial education.” First of all, can you briefly define financial education, and relate why it is so important? Secondly, how much of a noticeable shift has there been in your own lifestyle since you implemented this education?

Financial education through The Budgetnista provides participants with the tools they need to make sound financial decisions. It is essential because it grants people the power of choice, not just with their finances, but in other aspects of their lives as well.

In my own life, I’ve seen the power of financial education first hand. After a devastating job loss during the recession, I was able to create a business (The Budgetnista) and design the life I always dreamed of.

In the long version of your bio, you’ve written, “By beginning to educate yourself, you’ve taken the first step towards financial empowerment.” How does that information translate into daily life? If this is the first step, what’s the next?

Education is the first step on your financial journey. The next step is to take action. Once you know how to manage your money – budget, save, reduce debt, and fix credit – you can use these skills to navigate your daily life.

One of the goals of The Budgetnista is to give someone a clearer understanding of how to more skillfully manage their money. What are a few basic tips people can use to get started?

Here are The Budgetnista’s top 3 tips to get started on managing your money.

  • 3) Open a Bills Account: This is a FREE checking account (if possible), where you allocate your bill money each month. Separating your funds will help you to avoid “accidentally” spending money designated for bills.
  • 2) Give and get an allowance: I bet you never thought you’d get one again. After creating your budget, decide which items you can pay for with cash each month and add the amounts up; then divide the total by four. That’s how much your new weekly allowance is. If you take weekly cash allowances, it will help to curb your spending. Also, give yourself a CASH allowance when shopping and leave the cards at home. This way when the cash is done, so are you.
  • 1) Automate: By taking out the “flawed” human element (aka you), you’re more likely to stick to your budget. I’ve automated EVERYTHING; payments, bills, saving, investing, even giving to charity.

You recently wrote a blog post about how to start planning for retirement now. First of all, why is this important? Secondly, does it seem like this is something that young adults are neglecting?

Retirement is critical for anyone who wants to maintain their lifestyle after they stop working. Many young adults neglect this because there is a disconnect between their present self and their future self.

You also recently wrote about a budget trip to Jamaica you get to take. What are some fun things that you’ve gotten to do simply by getting your finances in order?

My favorite thing to do, as a result of getting my finances in order, is travel. In the past few years, I’ve been to 16 different countries. Learning to master my money has given me the freedom to actively design and live my life.

You’ve talked about how to make a budget for people who don’t have a regular paycheck. What were some of the basics of that article, and do you feel this is a reflection of the changing economy we’re living in, and if so, how?

Budgeting on an irregular income can be difficult. Here are some tricks to help you.

  • Calculate your Financial Baseline: Your financial baseline is how much your life costs you each month without the bells and whistles.
  • Be Like the Squirrel: Squirrels are super-smart savers. When acorns are plentiful, they work their hardest and gather as many as possible. Squirrel away your money when times are good, and live off of your stash when things aren’t.
  • Pay Yourself: Once you identify how much you spend each month, pay it to yourself from your business/savings account. Your clients/income provider should “pay” your savings account, then you pay yourself a regular income from the money that sits in that account.
  • Live by Percentages: Those that receive a regular paycheck can live by exact amounts; but for those of us with irregular incomes, we have to live by percentages. Allocate a percentage of your income to different categories: bills, savings, investing, spending, etc.
  • Separate to See: The best way to gauge how close you are to achieving your financial goals is to house your money in different bank accounts.
  • Systemize: Automate everything: transfers, bills, saving, giving and investing.

You’ve also offered some travel tips for traveling on a budget. What are some ways people can save while they’re traveling? How possible is it to have fun on the cheap?

My top 3 Budgetnista travel tips are:

  • Be flexible: Sometimes travel deals spring up on sites. The more flexible you are about your travel destination and timeframe, the more likely you’ll be able to take advantage of those deals.
  • The right sites: My favorite deal sites are: theflightdeal.com, jetradar.com, europeandestinations.com and airfarwatchdog.com
  • When to book: The best day to book a domestic flight is Tuesday at 3pm (this is when the sales hit). The cheapest day to fly domestically is Wednesday.

Financial education is not a one-off event; it is an ongoing process that requires practice to perfect. For more education and inspiration, like The Budgetnista on Facebook , connect on LinkedIn, follow her on Twitter, and subscribe to The Budgetnista YouTube Channel.

The post Expert Interview with Tiffany Aliche of The Budgetnista on Financial Planning appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Your Guide to Budgeting for Healthcare Costs

Adults often feel the pressure to act responsibly with everything related to their well-being and their wallets. And nothing says “adulting” quite like budgeting for medical expenses. It’s easy to think that health insurance will cover the majority of medical-related costs and thus can be overlooked in your budget—a copay here, a deductible there… all can be handled without much ado, right?

Not so fast. Medical expenses should be a top budgeting priority, with out-of-pocket costs on the rise and the always-present risk that an unexpected medical expense could put a ding in your spending plans. Consider this: On average, healthcare costs account for about 8 percent of annual household spending, or nearly 7 percent of pretax income, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even if your health insurance kicks in to cover an expense, your budget for healthcare costs still needs to include your premiums (AKA the amount you pay for your health plan).

How do I budget for healthcare costs, you ask? Fair question. This can sound like a lot. To better plan for healthcare costs, consider these five steps:

1. Determine your total healthcare budget

When budgeting for medical expenses, it may be helpful to bucket your healthcare costs into three categories:

  • Fixed Premium: This is the set amount you pay for your health insurance. If you get health insurance through work, this expense may be deducted automatically from your paycheck.
  • Routine: These are your anticipated healthcare costs, even if they fluctuate. Think your copay for your annual checkup or the cost of a regular prescription.
  • Unexpected: These costs can be difficult to predict, like an unplanned trip to the emergency room or an urgent medical procedure.

The easiest way to plan for healthcare costs is to review how much you spent on medical expenses last year.

When it comes to planning for healthcare costs, your medical and spending history is key. “The best place to start in determining how much to budget for healthcare costs is to look at how much you actually spent on healthcare previously,” suggests CPA and personal finance blogger Logan Allec.

You can start by reviewing all of your receipts from your insurance company and healthcare providers and going through your bank and credit card statements to flag any healthcare costs you paid out of pocket over the past year, Allec says. (If you didn’t save all of last year’s receipts, don’t stress. You can contact your insurance and healthcare providers for documentation.) The final number you come up with is a good start for determining your annual fixed and routine healthcare expenses. (Those unexpected curveballs mentioned earlier? See tip 3.)

When budgeting for healthcare costs, Allec also says to anticipate if you’ll have any extra costs this year that you didn’t encounter last year. For example, are you scheduling a surgical procedure or expecting a child? Make sure you understand how much you will have to pay out of pocket by reviewing exactly what your insurance covers annually, and factor that into your plan for healthcare costs.

Make sure your budget for healthcare costs includes any extra expenses you may not have encountered last year.

2. Put your health at the top of your priority list

Once you’ve estimated your annual healthcare costs, consider how you prioritize them against your other essential expenses, says Todd Christensen, blogger and financial educator from Money Fit.

As a guide, Christensen says that healthcare expenses should fall between necessities like your mortgage or rent, taxes, food, transportation and phone. “If you have a hard time paying for prescriptions but make monthly payments to your cell phone provider, then you have prioritized your personal communications over your health,” he adds.

From budgeting for your insurance premiums to preparing for doctor visits and ordering prescriptions, think of paying for healthcare expenses as a “need” instead of a “want,” Christensen says. By adjusting your mindset to give your health the significance it deserves, budgeting for medical expenses will become second nature.

3. Set up an emergency fund

Remember those unexpected healthcare costs that are tricky to plan for? When creating a budget for healthcare costs, Christensen suggests creating an emergency fund. An emergency fund is an account that is set aside to help cover an unexpected financial or medical emergency, such as a procedure or medication that is not fully covered by your insurance plan.

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Experts typically recommend saving at least three to six months of living expenses in your emergency fund so you can pay for unexpected expenses without having to take on debt or dip into savings earmarked for other financial goals. But, according to Christensen, if you’re starting an emergency fund from scratch, it’s best to start small and focus on a goal that’s attainable for you.

“Initially, the amount is less important than the commitment to just do it,” Christensen says. Managing the account, however, does require some discipline. For example, going on a 10-day wellness retreat, however therapeutic the massage sessions may seem, probably does not qualify as an emergency.

On average, healthcare costs account for about 8 percent of annual household spending, or nearly 7 percent of pretax income.

– The Bureau of Labor Statistics

4. Take advantage of health savings accounts

In addition to your emergency fund, there are also special health savings accounts—funded by you or your employer—that can help you cover your health expenses and plan for healthcare costs. Here are three common health savings tools to consider:

  • A Health Savings Account (HSA) can be for you if you’re enrolled in a high-deductible health insurance plan (HDHP), which is a plan that offers lower premiums in exchange for a higher deductible. An HSA lets you put money away on a pre-tax basis for eligible healthcare expenses, including certain dental work, eyeglasses and prescriptions. Contributions can come from you, your employer, a relative—anyone who wants to fund the account. Also, the funds roll over from year to year with an HSA, which makes it a great long-term tool for budgeting for medical expenses. Note there is an annual limit for how much you can contribute.
  • Whereas an HSA can be funded by you and your employer, a Health Reimbursement Arrangement or a Health Reimbursement Account (HRA), is funded solely by your employer, and funds can be spent on predetermined medical expenses. What’s left over in the account can be rolled over to the next year. If you leave the company, however, you can’t take the funds with you.
  • With a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), you can have a certain amount of money taken from your paycheck, pre-taxed, and deposited into an account that’s used for qualified healthcare expenses. Both you and your employer may contribute to this plan, with a maximum contribution allowed by law. Unlike the accounts above, FSAs don’t generally roll over at the end of each year. Check with your employer for your plan’s specifics.

5. Evaluate health insurance choices carefully

To budget for healthcare costs effectively, consumer finance leader Trae Bodge suggests you take the time to evaluate your health insurance options to find the best plan for you and your family. For each plan, you’ll want to carefully consider the type of plan (are your preferred doctors, hospitals and pharmacies covered?), as well as the cost of premiums, deductibles, copays and prescriptions. Your health history may also be an important factor when considering different coverage options.

“If family members go to the doctor frequently or have multiple prescriptions, it may be better for your budget to opt for a more expensive plan, given the coverage provided,” Bodge says.

If you’re an entrepreneur or self-employed, you can shop the Health Insurance Marketplace at healthcare.gov. But also look at comparable plans directly through insurance providers to better budget for healthcare costs, Bodge says. You might be able to save by choosing a smaller insurance company over a larger one or by signing up directly with the provider, Bodge adds.

Plan for healthcare costs today

When it comes to budgeting for medical expenses, a little planning today can go a long way toward providing for a more financially secure tomorrow. With a healthcare budget firmly in place, you’ll be better empowered to make decisions that are good for your health—and your wallet.

The post Your Guide to Budgeting for Healthcare Costs appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.

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