Erin Gobler

  • Should You Save For Retirement While Paying Off Debt?

    When Brandon and I got married, we had more than six figures of debt between the two of us. We both had student loans, and I was still paying off the credit card debt from my divorce.

    One of the very first things I did after our wedding day was sit down and make a list of all of our debts. I wanted to put together a debt payoff plan ASAP.

    One of the questions I struggled with was how much, if any, we should continue to put toward retirement while paying off debt.

    Working for the state government, I was required to put at least 6.5% of my income toward my retirement account, and the state would match it. But we also had Brandon’s retirement account to consider. Not to mention, once I left my job to run my business full-time just four months after the wedding, I was on my own for retirement savings.

    I’m not the only one to have struggled with this decision — it’s one of the most common questions I see from those trying to figure out their finances. And considering some personal finance experts still teach that you shouldn’t put a dollar until retirement until you’re debt-free, it’s understandably confusing.

    In this article, I’m going to lay out a few basic guidelines for you to follow when figuring out how to save for retirement while paying off debt. But ultimately, everyone’s situation looks different, and you have to do what’s right for you.

     

    Should You Save For Retirement While Paying Off Debt?

    There are affiliate links in this post, meaning I may make a small commission at no additional cost to you. For more information, see my full disclosure policy here.

     

    Contribute enough to get your employer match

    Many employers offer to match up to a particular percentage of your income that you contribute to a company 401(k) plan. For example, your employer might say they’ll match the first 3% or 6% of your salary that you contribute.

    This match is free money and could equate to hundreds — or more likely thousands — of dollars per year.

    Not only is your employer match essentially a 100% return on your investment, but it’s also a part of your total compensation. Turning this match down is essentially asking your employer to reduce your annual pay.

    If your employer offers a 401(k) match, make this your first priority. Depending on the type and interest rate of your debt, contribute just enough to get the employer match. You can always increase it later when your debt situation is different.

     

    Pay off high-interest debt

    The interest rate on credit cards is brutal. For young people, it can often be anywhere from 20% to 25%. Interest this high makes it incredibly hard to pay off debt. You find that each month, most of your money is going toward interest, and barely any of it is going toward the principal balance.

    And it’s not just credit cards with high interest. I’ve seen plenty of student loans, car loans, and personal loans with interest rates above 10%.

    If you have high-interest debt (which I’d consider anything above 6 or 7 percent), prioritize that before increasing your retirement savings. With more money available in your monthly budget, you can pay well above the minimum payment and pay it down a lot faster than you otherwise would have.

    The reason to prioritize these debts above saving and investing is that the interest rate on them is higher than the rate of return you’re likely to get in your retirement account. If your retirement account is seeing an 8% return rate and your debt has an interest rate of 20%, you really aren’t making money — you’re losing money.

    Read More: How to Pay Off Credit Card Debt Fast

     

    Consider the interest rate of your debt

    Once your high-interest debt is gone, you’re probably left with student loans, car loans, or a mortgage with rates of anywhere from 3% to 6%.

    Once you get to this point, it’s a good idea to increase the amount you’re contributing to your retirement accounts.

    Why?

    Because, at this point, the rate of return you can get on your investments is likely higher than the interest rate you’re paying on your debt. If your retirement account sees an average 8% return and your student loans have a 4% interest rate, you’re making more on your investments than you’re losing on loan interest.

    For each individual debt, consider the interest rate. Is it higher or lower than the average stock market return (which has been about 10% annually over the past century)?

    Another reason to save for retirement if you can — retirement accounts are tax-advantaged. Depending on the type of account, this means that you either aren’t paying taxes on the money you contribute or you contribute money post-tax and then won’t pay taxes when you withdraw it. 

    Read More: Debt Snowball vs. Debt Avalanche: Which Debt Payoff Strategy is Right For You?

    I do want to acknowledge that there’s an emotional component to paying off debt. Regardless of the interest rate on your debt, it may be weighing on you too much to prioritize investing, and that’s okay.

    Personal finance isn’t always about doing the thing that will get you the best return in the long run. Sometimes it’s about doing the thing that will bring you the most happiness and peace of mind.

     

    How to save for retirement while paying off debt

    So you’ve decided that you want to contribute to retirement while paying off debt. Great! But where do you start?

    First, sit down and look at your monthly budget. After you account for your monthly bills, how much is left? Once you know how much money you have to work with, treat both your retirement savings and your debt payoff as a line item in your monthly budget.

    Deciding how much to contribute to each is up to you. But there are a few tools I recommend to find some guidance in this area:

    • Undebt.it: This debt payoff tool allows you to add all of your debt accounts, and then it helps to design a debt payoff plan for you. It helps determine which order to prioritize your debts in, and then shows you how quickly you can be debt-free depending on the amount you put toward debt each month.
    • Personal Capital Retirement Planner: There are plenty of retirement calculators out there, but this one is my favorite. You input information such as your annual income, current retirement savings, age, and desired income during retirement. Then it tells you whether you’re on track to reaching your retirement goals and how much you should contribute each month to get there.

     

    Final Thoughts

    One of the reasons it’s so hard to find the perfect personal finance advice is finances are just that — personal. What works for someone else may not exactly work for you, and vice versa.

    That’s why it helps to look for general guidelines, and then you can adapt them to fit your specific situation.

    Debt and retirement, in particular, are some of the more stressful financial topics we all face. You want to make sure you’re putting enough money toward each, while still having money in your budget to enjoy your life.

    Trust me, I understand the struggle!

    I talk to so many people who want to know if they should pay off debt or save for retirement. And as you can see, you can do both!

  • 11 Ways to Stick to a Budget Every Month

    I used to blow my budget almost every month. I’m not proud to admit it, but I’m guessing plenty of other people can relate.

    While I had the best of intentions, I was making a lot of mistakes with my budget. I wasn’t being realistic, I wasn’t planning ahead, and I wasn’t leaving any room in the budget for fun.

    And let’s be honest — budgets like that just don’t work. When you restrict yourself or create a budget that doesn’t fit your life, it’s nearly impossible to stick to it.

    Over the years, I’ve learned plenty of tricks on how to stick to a budget every month. Picking up just a few of these budgeting tips can seriously transform your finances!

     

    11 Ways to Stick to Your Budget Every Month

    There are affiliate links in this post, meaning I may make a small commission at no additional cost to you. For more information, see my full disclosure policy here.

     

    Be realistic

    One of the biggest mistakes that people make when they set up their budget is that they simply aren’t realistic. They budget based on what they’d like to spend in a perfect world rather than what they’ll really be able to spend.

    People can get a little over-ambitious when it comes to their budget — trust me, I’ve been there! I would set an eating-out budget, and then my husband and I would go way over it every month.

    Finally, we sat down and admitted that the amount we were budgeting wasn’t realistic. We love eating out, and it’s something that we value. Our budget can and should reflect that.

    If you find that you have a hard time sticking to your monthly budget, go through and see if there are any categories where you aren’t being fully honest with yourself.

     

    Budget differently for every month

    People I talk to about this topic are almost always surprised to hear that their budgets should look different every month.

    Traditional budgeting apps like Mint give the impression that a budget is a set-it-and-forget-it tool. You create it once, and then you’re supposed to stick to it every month.

    But the fact is, no two months are the same. And as a result, no two monthly budgets should look the same.

    At the start of each month, sit down and look at the month ahead. What’s on your calendar? Look for special events, holidays, birthdays, etc., that might mean you’ll be spending a little extra money in one spending category. Then you can figure out where you can cut back this month to make up for it. 

     

    Use sinking funds

    You know those pesky expenses that you don’t budget for because they don’t come up every month? But then, when they do come up, they totally break your budget? It’s okay, we’ve all been there! I used to go over budget nearly every month because of an unforeseen expense that, honestly, I should have foreseen. 

    That’s where sinking funds come in. Sinking funds are a way of saving up for annual expenses all year long. Let’s say you spend $600 every year at Christmas. Instead of trying to find room for $600 in your December budget, you can set aside $50 per month all year long.

    You can use sinking funds for tons of different expenses, including:

    • Holidays
    • Birthdays
    • Vehicle registration
    • Car repairs
    • Medical expenses
    • Pet expenses
    • Association dues
    • Home repairs
    • Tuition
    • Annual subscriptions

     

    Budget fun money

    So many people avoid budgeting because they think it’s restrictive and prevents them from spending their money on things they enjoy.

    But that doesn’t have to be the case!

    Rather than looking at my budget as restrictive, I look at it as incredibly freeing. I can spend money on my hobbies without the slightest bit of guilt because I know I’ve budgeted for them.

    If there’s something that brings you joy and you enjoy spending money on, make room for it in the budget!

    You can even budget for spontaneous purchases. If you know that you and your partner love a last-minute Sunday brunch, set aside money every month for exactly that.

     

    Schedule your purchases in advance

    Impulse purchases can kill your budget faster than just about anything else. An easy way around that is to schedule your purchases in advance.

    Let’s say you’re at the store and you see an outfit that you absolutely must have. You can totally buy the outfit, but don’t buy it on the spot. Instead, go home and look at the budget. 

    Do you have room in your clothing spending category for this month? If not, schedule the purchase for next month.

    Even if you know you have the money in the budget, going home and scheduling the purchase for a future date is still a good idea since it prevents you from impulse purchasing. It forces you to really make thoughtful purchases.

     

    Identify your spending triggers and avoid them

    We all have our unique spending triggers. For some people, it’s sale emails in their inboxes. For others, it’s their favorite influencer rocking a new outfit or accessory on Instagram. Chances are, you know what your biggest triggers are.

    Once you know what your triggers are, you can work on avoiding them. Examples might include:

    • Unsubscribing from store emails
    • Unfollowing people on social media who make you want to spend money
    • Removing your credit card information from your favorite store’s website

     

    Use a zero-based budget

    The premise of a zero-based budget is that you give every dollar a job and budget down to zero.

    Let’s say you bring home $4,000 per month. You wouldn’t just budget for your monthly bills and then leave the rest as spending money. Instead, you’d decide exactly how much you plan to put toward discretionary spending, saving, and your debt payoff plan.

    Using a zero-based budget can help you stick to your budget because there simply isn’t extra money to work with. You’ve already allocated your excess money to debt or savings, so you can’t afford to impulse spend on food or clothes.

    The budgeting app You Need a Budget is hands-down the best app out there for zero-based budgeting!

     

    Plan your meals ahead of time

    I used to never meal plan. Instead, I’d head to the grocery store every week and just stock up on foods I liked. But then I’d either end up throwing food away at the end of the week, or I wouldn’t have enough for every meal and I’d end up eating out.

    Planning your meals ahead of time ensures that:

    • You only buy what you need
    • You’ve accounted for every meal
    • You can estimate the budget ahead of time

     

    Pay yourself first

    It’s easy to tell yourself that you’ll transfer whatever money you have left at the end of each month to savings. But inevitably, the end of the month rolls around, and there’s nothing else.

    That’s where the concept of paying yourself first comes in. When you pay yourself first, you decide how much you want to save each month. Then, you transfer that money to savings as soon as you get paid. And you only have what’s left over to spend the rest of the month.

    Paying yourself first can be used for literally any financial goal, including building your emergency fund, saving for a specific purchase, or paying off debt.

     

    Track your expenses

    I’m embarrassed to say that I was in my mid-twenties before I ever tracked my expenses. My partner at the time and I made a decent amount of money but never seemed to have any left. Finally, I decided to start tracking where our money was going.

    If I’m being honest, I was a little horrified. I couldn’t believe how much we were spending on takeout each month!

    Once I knew where my money was going, I could decide where I wanted my money to be going instead. And tracking my expenses throughout the month helps me to make sure I’m sticking to my plan.

    I use the budgeting app You Need a Budget to track my expenses throughout the month.

     

    Figure out your “worth-it” expenses

    One trick I recommend to people is to keep a spreadsheet of their expenses and then go through it later and decide whether each expense was worth it to them. In other words, are they glad they made that purchase, and would they make it again?

    A really good example of this comes into play with eating out. My husband and I love eating out, and our date nights are sacred to us. They’re always a worth-it expense.

    But we really don’t eat at chain restaurants or fast food often. So when we impulsively grab a quick dinner because we don’t feel like cooking, it’s less likely to feel worth it. I remember that when we’re feeling the urge to spend, it helps us to save unless it’s a worth-it expense.

    You can use this tool for so many things. Another example for me is makeup. I don’t wear makeup every day, and I’m fine with the drugstore stuff. Therefore, expensive makeup just wouldn’t be worth it for me. But there are plenty of other areas in my budget where I’m happy to splurge for the nicer stuff. For example, I will never pass on seeing my favorite bands in concert, no matter the cost of the tickets.

     

    Final Thoughts

    We’ve all gone over budget — don’t beat yourself up over it! There are plenty of easy tricks that you can start implementing in your budget and your life to help you stick to a budget every month (or at least almost every month).

  • What is a High-Yield Savings Account (and Why You Need One)

    I haven’t always been good at saving. I’ve always kept a savings account at my regular bank, but admittedly, I didn’t put much money into it.

    I always said I’d transfer whatever money I had left at the end of each month. But whenever the end of the month rolled around, there was nothing left.

    When I finally decided to turn my finances around, one of the first things I did was build a small emergency fund.

    But then the problem was that I had a large sum of money sitting in the bank, earning next to nothing in interest. So I finally got around to opening a high-yield savings account, meaning my money is making even more money.

    Are you going to get rich using a high-yield savings account? Definitely not. But they’re an excellent first step for anyone who wants to maximize their savings and earn a bit of extra money each month without any additional work.

     

    What is a High Yield Savings Account (And Why You Need One)

     

    What is a high-yield savings account?

    A high-yield savings account (HYSA) is just like any other type of savings account, except it pays a much higher return.

    The savings account at your regular bank pays you interest each month. But in most cases, it’s a few cents per month. Not really anything to get excited about. But the rates on high-yield savings accounts can be significantly larger.

    Consider this: the rate on a typical savings account is about 0.05%. The rate on a high-yield savings account is usually at least 0.50%. And when interest rates are higher, it can be 2.0% or higher. So the rate on a high-yield savings account is 20x to 40x the rate on a traditional savings account.

     

    How do high-yield savings accounts work?

    High-yield savings accounts use compound interest, meaning you earn interest each month, and then that money gets added to your principal. 

    Your interest rate is known as your APY (annual percentage yield). But most of these accounts pay monthly.

    Imagine that you have your $10,000 emergency fund in your savings account with an interest rate of 1.0%. 

    In the first month, you’d earn $8.30 in interest. The next month, you’d earn interest on the full $10,008.30. It doesn’t sound like it makes a big difference, and it’s definitely not enough to get rich. But after one year, you’d earn about $100.46 in interest. 

    And when interest rates are higher and your savings account has a return of 2.0% or more, you would have earned $201.84 in your first year.

     

    What should you use a high-yield savings account for?

    A high-yield savings account is not an investment. If you’re looking for an investment opportunity to grow your wealth, a savings account isn’t a replacement for a brokerage account.

    It’s also not the best place for money that you expect to need soon. It can take a few days to transfer money from your high-yield savings account to your checking account. For money you use regularly, it might be better kept in a savings account at your normal bank or in your checking account.

    Here are some good uses for your high-yield savings account:

    • Your emergency fund. This is my favorite. It’s just a big chunk of money sitting in the bank not getting touched. By putting it in a high-yield savings account, I can earn a little money on it each month. And here’s a tip for you: Every month when my emergency fund earns interest, I put that money toward one of my other financial goals. 
    • Financial goals less than 3-5 years out. The stock market can be a great way to save for financial goals, but not short-term financial goals. The market can be volatile, and the last thing you want is to have your brokerage account take a nosedive right before you plan to use that house downpayment fund. As a result, use a savings account for goals less than 3-5 years out. Brandon and I want to buy a house in the next couple of years, so we’re using our Ally savings account to save.

     

    Is my money safe in a high-yield savings account?

    As I mentioned earlier, a high-yield savings account is not an investment account. And it doesn’t come with the same risks as investing. In other words, there’s no chance of your account balance decreasing unless you actually take money out.

    As long as the bank you choose is federally insured (it should say if it is on the website), your money is insured by the FDIC up to $250,000 per person across all of your accounts.

     

    What to look for in a high-yield savings account

    INTEREST RATE

    The interest rate should be one of the biggest factors you consider when choosing the right savings account. After all, that’s the whole point, right?

    The interest rate you can get is going to vary by bank. Right now (November 2020), the good ones are anywhere from 0.50% to 1.0%.

    Keep in mind that they can change. When I signed up for my Ally account, the interest rate was 2.0%. Right now, it’s 0.60%.

    When the Fed lowers interest rates, rates go down across the board — including in high-yield savings accounts. When interest rates increase again, you can bet that the rates on these savings accounts will also increase.

    And if you sign up for an account and the rate suddenly goes down, don’t panic. If one bank is lowering its rate, chances are the rest are too.

    Edit: This post was originally written in 2020 when interest rates were at historically low amounts. At the end of 2022, when interest rates are higher, the rates in HYSAs are nearing 3%.

     

    EXTRA FEATURES

    Before signing up for a high-yield savings account, read up on what special features the bank offers. For example, Ally Bank offers a bucket feature. You can create individual buckets within your savings account for different things you’re saving for. I have one bucket for my emergency fund and one for my future house downpayment. 

     

    ACCESS TO YOUR MONEY

    Obviously, you want to be able to get ahold of your money when you need it. And I’ve seen many people who prefer to keep their money in a savings account at the same bank as their checking account so they can do instant transfers.

    While I agree that you should make sure you can easily transfer money from your savings account, I actually like the idea of having it at a different bank.

    I use my high-yield savings account for my emergency fund. If I need to transfer money, it takes 2-4 days to hit my checking account. This means that I can’t impulsively spend that money. But 2-4 days is still short enough that if I lose my income and need to live off my emergency fund, I’ll have it in my checking account in time.

     

    FEES

    Anytime you’re going to sign up for a financial product, you should find out what fees come attached to it. None of the best high-yield savings accounts I’ve seen have fees. So if the one you’re looking at does, run the other way.

     

    Which is the best high-yield savings account?

    There are so many high-yield savings accounts to choose from, and there really isn’t one that’s better than all the rest. It’s all about finding one that feels good to you.

    My favorite savings account is Ally (<< that’s not an affiliate link, I just really love their product). I really love the buckets features. I can visually break up my financial goals without having to open multiple savings accounts.

    I also use a Capital One high-yield savings account for my business — it’s where I keep my tax money until it’s time to send it to the IRS.

    A few other popular options are:

    • Marcus by Goldman Sachs
    • Citibank
    • SoFi

     

    Final Thoughts

    A high-yield savings account is a great way to earn a little extra cash on the money you’d be putting into savings anyway. It’s the perfect place to store your emergency fund or the money you’re saving for a big financial goal.

  • Financial Tips for Newlyweds: 5 Things to Do After Getting Married

    Brandon and I had a four-month engagement before our wedding for no other reason than that once we decided to get married, we just wanted to be married. 

    Wedding planning is one of the most exciting times of someone’s life.  And needless to say, planning your dream wedding in four months takes a lot of planning and preparation.

    And the planning isn’t over once the way day is over. Instead, you move from the wedding planning checklist to the newlywed financial checklist.

    Unfortunately, many people go into marriage without thinking of the financial implications. There’s far more to marriage and finances than we can discuss in one article, we can at least cover the basics.

    If you’re a newlywed or plan to get married soon, make sure to do these five financial tips for newlyweds.

     

    Financial Tips for Newlyweds - 5 Things to Do After Getting Married

     

    Decide how you’ll manage your newlywed finances together

    There’s no right or wrong way to manage your finances as a married couple. What really matters is that you come up with a system that works for you and that you have open communication about money. Here are a few different methods you can use to manage your money together.

    • Joint finances: You and your partner go all-in and combine your bank accounts. With this money management style, the two of you have joint checking and savings accounts. All money flows into and out of the same accounts.
    • Separate accounts: You and your partner each maintain your own bank accounts. You decide together how you’ll split expenses and who will be responsible for covering each bill.
    • Joint and separate accounts: You and your partner have a joint checking bank account where your income flows into and expenses flow out of. You also each maintain a separate checking account for personal spending.

    Read More: The Best Budgeting Apps for Couples to Manage Money Together

     

    Update your insurance coverages and beneficiaries

    One of the first things you’ll want to do after getting married is to update your insurance policies and beneficiaries. You want to make sure that if an emergency happens, you’re both prepared.

    • Life insurance: If you don’t currently have life insurance, now is a good time to set one up. While no one wants to think about the worst-case scenario, you don’t want to leave your partner unprepared if something happens to you. If you already have life insurance, be sure you both update your name and beneficiary as necessary.
    • Health insurance: If one of you will be joining the other’s health insurance policy, check with your employer to figure out what paperwork they’ll need to make that happen. If you each have health insurance through your employer, you can look at the policies and see who has a better or most cost-effective policy.
    • Car insurance: While your car insurance cover might be easy to overlook after you get married, this one is important! If you don’t already have a joint policy, now is a good time to set one up. If you do have a joint policy, be sure to update your name and marital status. When I got married, my insurance premium went down considerably!

     

    Update your financial accounts

    After you get married, you and your partner might decide to combine your finances and have joint bank accounts. You might also decide to add one another as authorized users on your credit cards. Even if you choose to maintain separate accounts, you can still update the beneficiary on your accounts. 

    Your checking, savings, retirement, and investment accounts can have beneficiaries listed so that if something happens to you, the money in the accounts will go to your spouse. 

     

    Create an estate plan

    No one enjoys talking about one of you dying right after you’ve gotten married, but it’s a necessary discussion. It’s important that both of you have an estate plan in place so that if something happens, there’s a clear plan for your assets.

    One question to ask yourself when estate planning is: how can we simplify the process in the event that one of us passes away? As someone who has been the executor of an estate, I can’t emphasize enough just how important this is.

    Estate planning is even more important if you have children, either with your current partner or from a previous relationship. In that case, you’ll want to set up guardianship for your child(ren) in case something happens to you, as well as make sure they’ll be taken care of financially.

    You may want to consult an attorney to help establish a will or trust, medical directive, and power of attorney. They can help you determine what steps you can put in place to protect each other and other loved ones.

     

    Set joint financial goals

    Now that you’re married, it’s time to set some joint financial goals together. While many of the financial tips for newlyweds on this list are serious and, frankly, a little depressing, this one is actually fun!

    Setting financial goals together is all about dreaming about and making a plan for your future. Sit down together and do some brainstorming about what you want your life to look like one, five, ten, and even twenty years from now. Where do you want to live? Do you want to travel? Buy a home? Start a business? Retire early? Will you have children?

    Once you have that vision, write down all of the goals you would have to reach to get there. While some of these goals may seem a long way off, now is the time to start preparing your finances for them!

    Read my entire guide on how to set financial goals to help you get started.

     

    Final Thoughts

    Getting married is an exciting time. Allow yourself to be swept up in it for a while! But make sure that once you tie the knot, you take time to complete these financial tips for newlyweds.

  • How to Pay Off Credit Card Debt Fast

    I know first-hand how financially and emotionally draining credit card debt can be.

    The interest rates on credit cards are insanely high, making it hard to make real progress paying while it off. But they are also all kinds of crazy feelings that credit card debt brings up.

    Guilt from having gotten yourself into debt.

    Resentment at whatever outside factors led to you going into debt.

    Fear that you’ll never pay off the debt.

    Trust me, I’ve been there and I’ve felt all of those feelings. But I’ve also learned how to overcome the roadblocks that keep us in debt, and so in this article, I’m teaching you how to finally pay off your credit card debt and how to do it fast. 

     

    How to Pay Off Credit Card Debt Fast

    There are affiliate links in this post, meaning I may make a small commission at no additional cost to you. For more information, see my full disclosure policy here.

     

    Pay more than the minimum payment

    Have you ever rationalized paying just the minimum payment on your credit card because that’s all you “had to” pay? Or told yourself it wasn’t a big deal because it was such a small amount every month?

    Credit card debt can be deceiving. It seems like it’s not a big problem because the monthly payments are so low.

    But here’s the catch — the minimum payments are low because credit card companies want you to stay in debt.

    Every month that you don’t pay off your balance in full, they get to charge you interest. That’s how they keep making money off you.

    I’m going to let you in on an eye-opening fact.

    If you have $5,000 in credit card debt with a 22% interest rate (fairly standard for millennials) — you wanna know how long it’s going to take you to pay it off?

    23 years.

    Yes, you read that right. $5,000 will take you just over 23 years to pay off. And the even scarier number?

    You’ll pay over $8,500 in interest.

    Now that you understand how important it is to get this debt paid off fast, you’re ready to dive into the rest of the tips.

    Read More: How We’re Planning to Pay Off Six Figures of Debt

     

    Focus on one debt at a time

    When I get new clients that have credit card debt, they’ve usually tried to tackle their credit card debt before. They know they need to make more than the minimum payment, so they pay a little extra to each card every month.

    Here’s the problem with that strategy: you’re paying each card off slightly faster than you would have, but aren’t really gaining any momentum.

    Rather than spreading your extra cash over all of your debts, focus on one and go all in. 

    Now you might be asking yourself — how do you decide which debt to focus on first?

     

    DEBT SNOWBALL VS. DEBT AVALANCHE

    The two most popular debt payoff methods are the debt snowball and the debt avalanche.

    Debt snowball

    With the debt snowball, you make the minimum payment on all of your debts except the one with the smallest balance. You put any extra money each month toward that debt.

    Once you pay off the smallest debt, you take all the money you were putting toward it and instead put it toward your next smallest debt. Do that until you’ve snowballed into one giant monthly payment you can pay toward your biggest debt

     

    Debt avalanche

    The debt avalanche is similar to the debt snowball. But instead of paying off your debts smallest to largest, you first focus on the debt with the highest interest rate and slowly work your way toward the small interest rate.

    While the debt snowball gives you emotional victories when you pay off your smallest debts, the debt avalanche will actually save you the most money, since you’re tackling that high interest first.

     

    Use a balance transfer to lower your interest

    I’m going to be upfront and tell you that there are some mixed reviews in the personal finance world when it comes to balance transfers. Let me tell you where I stand.

    I’m a huge fan of balance transfers.

    A balance transfer is when you open a new credit card and then transfer the balance of an old credit card to the new one. 

    These are a useful tool because when you open a new card, you typically get 12-18 months interest-free. This can help you to pay off your credit card debt much faster.

    The reason that some personal finance experts recommend against balance transfers is that they act as an enabler. People transfer their balance, but then continue making the minimum payment.

    With my money coaching clients, that’s simply not allowed. We use these cards as a tool to help you pay off your debt way faster because your money isn’t going toward interest. 

    If you’re going to use a balance transfer card, you have to commit. Commit to making more than the minimum payment so you can pay the card off before the interest kicks in.

    Interested in learning more? I have an entire guide about balance transfers and how to do one. Additionally, here are my favorite balance transfer cards for paying off credit card debt:

    • Chase Freedom Unlimited: This is hands-down my favorite all-purpose credit card. It comes with higher cash back than you’ll find on many other cards, along with extra rewards on bonus categories. Plus, it offers 0% for 15 months on balance transfers.
    • Capital One Quicksilver: This was my very first credit card, and it’s one I still have in my wallet. In addition to the cash back rewards it offers, you’ll get 0% for 15 months on all balance transfers.
    • Discover It Cash Back: This card is another one I’ve had for years, and it offers elevated cash back on certain bonus categories. Plus, you’ll get 0% for 14 months on all balance transfers.

     

    Try a debt consolidation loan

    A debt consolidation loan is when you borrow money from a financial institution (typically in the form of a personal loan) to pay off your credit cards. Then, rather than making several monthly payments to several credit cards, you have just one monthly payment.

    I think debt consolidation loans can be a useful tool for people who have a lot of credit card debt and either can’t get a balance transfer card big enough to pay it all off or who know they won’t be able to pay the debt off within the next year or two.

    Debt consolidation loans come with fairly high interest rates, so they aren’t my first choice. But if a balance transfer card doesn’t work for your situation, then this type of loan can help you save money and pay your debt off faster.

     

    Figure out where you can cut costs

    I’ve got some news that you probably aren’t going to like. Finding the right tools, like balance transfer cards and debt consolidation loans, isn’t going to get your credit card debt paid off.

    What’s actually going to do the trick is putting more money toward your debt. And in most cases, that requires cutting back on some expenses.

    You might think you’ve done everything you can to cut back and that there’s nowhere else that you can save. And that might be mostly true, but here are a few other ideas to consider:

    • Start a budget. Far too many people don’t have a budget to help them organize their money. If you don’t have one, start one. If you do have one, review it and see where you’re spending a lot of money that you could spend less. 
    • Negotiate your bills. For most of us, it doesn’t occur to us to negotiate our monthly bills. But you totally can! And better yet, an app like Trim can do it on your behalf.
    • Use cash-back apps. There are plenty of apps out there that give you cash back for purchases you make online and in-store. My favorites are Rakuten for online purchases and Ibotta and Fetch Rewards for in-store purchases.

    Read More: 17 Ways to Save Money on a Tight Budget

     

    Increase your income

    There are only two ways to make more room in your budget: cut your expenses or increase your income. And you and I both know we can only cut our expenses so much. But there’s no cap on how much you can earn.

    There are so many ways to increase your income. Some of my favorites include:

    • Become a freelancer. While working full-time, I was also making thousands of dollars per month as a freelance writer. It finally allowed me to quit my job, and I still freelance write alongside my money coaching business. You can freelance doing just about any type of job!
    • Join the gig economy. Apps like Uber, Doordash, Rover, etc. allow you to perform tasks for other people and get paid. You can do it whenever you have time in your schedule.
    • Get a second job. When Brandon and I were saving for our RV, he worked a few nights per week as a bartender after working at his full-time job. He was able to save a ton during that time!

    Check out lots of more ideas on how to make an extra $1,000 per month.

     

    What to do after you pay off your debt

    Up until now, we’ve been talking about how to pay off credit card debt. But what happens when you’ve paid it all off?

    I’d love to tell you that you’re home free, but that’s not necessarily the case. Many people pay off their credit card debt, only to get themselves right back in it. And on top of that, there’s some bad advice out there about credit cards, so I want to set the records straight.

     

    KEEP YOUR CREDIT CARDS

    If you follow Dave Ramsey, he’s going to tell you to cut up your credit cards and close your accounts. He’ll try to convince you that’s the only way to be financially free.

    He’s wrong.

    We’ll talk more about how (and why) you can use credit cards responsibly, but right now, I’m just going to tell you to keep the accounts open.

    Your credit score is based on a handful of factors, including your credit utilization and your age of credit. By closing your credit accounts, you’re getting rid of your available credit (aka screwing up your credit utilization). You’re also destroying your age of credit.

    Both of these things can lower your credit score. And if you ever plan to get a loan, a credit card, an apartment, etc., you’ll need your credit score.

    It’s easy for Dave Ramsey to tell you that you don’t need a credit score because you should buy everything in cash. Dave Ramsey is rich and can buy everything in cash. If you’re not likewise rich, this is bad advice.

     

    CONFRONT THE ISSUES THAT GOT YOU INTO CREDIT CARD DEBT

    There are many reasons people get into credit card debt. Maybe a financial emergency popped up, like unforeseen car repairs or medical bills. Or maybe you have a problem with impulse spending or emotional shopping.

    In my case, it was a couple of factors. I had just gotten divorced, and my ex-husband got basically all the money and stuff. He also made more money than I did. I had to charge a lot on credit cards to get a new apartment and buy new stuff.

    But I also struggled with emotional spending. While we were still married, I would shop to avoid being at home. And after the divorce, I would shop to distract myself from the anxiety I was feeling.

    Now, it’s unlikely I will find myself in that situation again. My current marriage is pretty freaking awesome. But now I know I need to be more prepared for financial emergencies, so I keep a large emergency fund.

    The emotional shopping was a little different. I couldn’t just pay off the debt and ignore the problem. Otherwise, it would have kept happening over and over again.

    Instead, I had to find a way to deal with my emotions other than shopping.

    Really try to get to the core of why you got into credit card debt. Once you know that, you can put safety nets in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

    Read More: How to Reduce Impulse Buying Once and For All

     

    USE CREDIT CARDS TO YOUR ADVANTAGE

    I think credit cards are awesome for so many reasons. First, I love that using a credit card builds my credit score. And having a good credit score allows me to get better deals on loans.

    I also love credit card rewards. My husband and I use both cashback and travel rewards cards. We have a strategy behind how we use them, and we love getting a little free money in our bank account or saving money on travel.

    Finally, I love the perks that come with credit cards. They include:

    • Fraud protection. If someone uses your credit card, you can dispute the charge, and your credit card company won’t make you pay it. This also works if you genuinely buy something but then the seller doesn’t deliver on a promise.
    • Free credit monitoring. Credit card companies keep you up-to-date on your credit score and let you know if anything new was added to your credit report.
    • Random discounts. Depending on what credit card you use, there’s a chance the company may partner with other companies to get you discounts on random stuff.

     

    HOW TO USE CREDIT CARDS RESPONSIBLY

    You know that you should use credit cards responsibly, but you’re probably wondering what that actually looks like.

    1. Only spend money you already have. People tend to get into a cycle where they put everything on a credit and then pay it off the following month. The problem is that they’re usually using next month’s income to pay this month’s bills. Instead, only spend money that’s actually in your checking account already.
    2. Stay below 30% of your credit limit. Your credit utilization is a big part of determining your credit score. If you use more than 30% of your credit limit, it’ll negatively impact your score.
    3. Pay your balance in full every month. Never carry a balance over. There are myths out there that it only boosts your credit score if you carry a balance. This is incorrect.

     

    Final Thoughts

    When you’re stuck in credit card debt, it feels like you’ll never get out. But I promise you, that’s not true. Using the tips in this post, you can start making major progress on paying off your credit card debt.

  • How to Set Financial Goals

    Have you ever told yourself that you were going to get your finances in order but then struggled to make any meaningful changes? I hear it from readers and friends all the time.

    “I don’t know where to start.”

    “I know I should be setting goals, but I just don’t know what goals to set.”

    “I try to save money, but I feel like I never have anything left at the end of the month.”

    If any of these sound like you, then this post is for you. I’m sharing why it’s important to set financial goals and how to set financial goals you can actually achieve.

     

     

    Why it’s important to set financial goals

    Have you ever decided to start saving money just because you felt like you were supposed to? You tell yourself, “Well, I know I’m supposed to be saving, so I guess I’ll start putting the money I have left at the end of each month into my savings account.”

    Most often, what happens is that you don’t have anything left at the end of the month, and you don’t end up saving money.

    Why?

    Because there’s no purpose behind your saving. When you’ve set an intentional goal that you’re excited to reach, you can create a plan to save for it. But when you’re saving just for the sake of purpose, it’s hard to get excited about it. 

    Setting financial goals pushes you to get super clear on what you want out of life and then come up with a plan to get there. 

     

    How to set financial goals

    ENVISION YOUR FUTURE

    I see many of my readers setting arbitrary financial goals because they feel like they should. They open a credit card or start saving for a home without really having any intention behind it, all because some personal finance “expert” told them that they should open a credit card or start saving for a home.

    When I help people to set financial goals, I do an exercise where they envision their future. What do you see when you envision your life one year from now? Two years? Five years? Ten years?

    Once you have that vision in your mind, consider what financial goals you need to reach to make it happen. What’s standing in between you and your dream life?

    Brandon and I envision financial freedom in our future and being able to spend our money on things that bring us joy. We got married with a combined six figures of debt standing between us and that vision. As a result, we had plenty of purpose behind our goal.

    The bottom line: Don’t just set goals because you feel like you should. Have purpose and intention behind them.

     

    IDENTIFY YOUR CURRENT SITUATION

    Imagine you’re going on a road trip with a friend. What’s the first thing you do? You type your destination into the GPS. And the GPS can give you step-by-step directions based on where you’re starting from. But with no starting point, the GPS won’t work as planned.

    Goal setting is no different. If you want to map out a route to get to your final goal, you’ll first need to identify where you’re starting from.

    Let’s say your big financial goal is to pay off your debt. In order to make a plan and know when you’ll accomplish your goal, you need to know where you’re starting. In this case, that includes things like making a list of your debts, including the lender, the amount owed, and the interest rate.

    Or maybe you want to save an emergency fund of $10K. Figure out how much you currently have saved to know what your starting point is.

     

    SET SMART GOALS

    I’m sure you’re familiar with the concept of SMART goals. But this is important, so let’s talk about how this concept relates to financial goals. Smart goals are:

    • Specific: The more specific your goals, the better. Don’t just set a goal of earning money from a side hustle. Set a goal of earning $1,000 per month from your side hustle within the first year (for example).
    • Measurable: The progress of this goal can easily be tracked. $1,000 per month is very specific — you’ll know for sure if you’ve reached it or not, as well as if you’re on track to reach it. And once you know how much you want to make per month, you know what your daily and weekly goals should be.
    • Attainable: While setting your goals high is awesome, make sure it’s something you can actually accomplish. I’m all for setting huge goals — to a limit. Consider what will be required of you to complete this goal, and carefully consider whether you have that to give.
    • Relevant: Make sure your goal is in harmony with your core values and where you see yourself in the future. If your dream life includes you working from home on your own business, then setting a goal of $1,000 in the first year is awesome because it’s moving you in the right direction, not the wrong one.
    • Time-bound: Don’t make the time frame for reaching your goal open-ended. We tend to take as long as we’re allowed to accomplish a task. If your goals are completely open-ended, they may never seem urgent enough to get to. As you can see, we set a time frame of one year for the goal we’re using as an example.

     

    BREAK YOUR GOALS DOWN INTO SMALL, ACTIONABLE TASKS

    When you look at your big goal at one big task on your to-do list, chances are you’ll pass right on over it to something a little more achievable. After all, a goal like paying off debt or saving a large amount of money isn’t going to happen quickly.

    When I’m going after a big goal, I like to start by breaking the goal down into as small of actionable tasks as I can. Break it down into small enough tasks that you can do in one sitting.

    Suppose you’re making a plan to pay off six figures of debt. You can’t just throw that on your to-do list and hope you get to it. But you might plan tasks such as:

    • Make a list of all your debts
    • Call your credit company and ask for a lower interest rate
    • Set up autopay for more than the minimum payment on one of your debts

     

    MAKE A PLAN TO REACH YOUR GOALS

    Once you’ve broken your goal down into as many small actionable steps as you can, it’s time to make a plan to accomplish them. That typically looks like putting those tasks on your calendar.

    Let’s go back to our debt payoff example. Maybe you’ll set aside half an hour tomorrow to make a list of all your debts, including lender and interest rate. 

    Then next week, you’ll set aside some time to call each credit card company. While you’re doing that, you’ll hop onto your account and setup your auto pay.

    I don’t know about you, but I’m far likely to accomplish a task when it’s actually on my calendar. Otherwise, it’s just me constantly making mental notes to do something later without ever actually remembering to do it when I have time. 

     

    CREATE ACCOUNTABILITY

    One reason that so many people struggle to stick to their goals is that they don’t have any accountability. They get really excited about a goal when they first set it, but then the motivation starts to wane.

    So how do we go about creating accountability? Here are some ways to do just that:

    • Write down your goal. Seriously, this is a step that most people skip. And studies show that just writing down your goal makes you more likely to reach it.
    • Share your goal. When Brandon and I started saving for our RV, we told everyone — even before we had saved a dime. But everyone in our lives knowing about our goal kept us motivated.
    • Track your progress. Remember that SMART goals are measurable, meaning you can measure their progress. Find a way to do this using a notebook, journal, spreadsheet, etc.
    • Hire a money coach. If you’re struggling to create accountability on your own, hire a coach! One of the benefits of a money coach is that you’ve always got someone in your corner, encouraging you and pushing you.

     

    CREATE HELPFUL HABITS

    One of the things that makes reaching any goal easier is having habits in place that help move you toward your goal. 

    In the case of financial goals, I find that a lot of people ignore their finances or fear opening their bank accounts. A good habit to adopt would be setting aside time on your calendar at least once per week to check in on your accounts and update your budget, whether you use a spreadsheet, budgeting app, etc.

    You could also work on implementing habits that don’t seem related to your goal but will help move you in the right direction. Let’s say you’re working to save for the downpayment on a house, but are finding that you don’t have much money left at the end of each month.

    In that case, you might decide that you’ll meal plan and prep your lunches and dinners each week to prevent you from impulsively ordering takeout because you don’t feel like cooking.

     

    6 tips for reaching your financial goals

    START A BUDGET

    I see a lot of personal finance experts talk about how they can teach you to save money without a budget. But here’s the thing — every one of those people teaches some method of tracking your spending. And they just call it something other than a budget.

    There’s no way around it. The best way to make progress on your finances is to figure out where every dollar is going and to start intentionally deciding where you want your dollars to go from now on. 

    One of the first things I recommend you do when making changes in their finances is designing a create a monthly budget to help you get closer to your goals.

     

    CHANGE YOUR MONEY MINDSET

    For many people, it’s actually their mindset that holds them back from reaching their financial goals. People struggle with limiting beliefs, telling themselves they’ll never be able to reach their goals because they’ve tried and failed before.

    Anytime you’re getting your finances in order or chasing a big financial goal, I recommend making money mindset work a part of the process.

     

    MAKE TEMPORARY LIFESTYLE CHANGES

    One of the biggest struggles of setting financial goals is coming to terms with the fact that you might have to cut back in other areas in order to get there. Rather than thinking of those changes as permanent, consider temporary lifestyle changes you can make.

    Let’s say you’re working to pay off debt, and you know you could eat out less to make room in your budget. Rather than permanently cutting your eating out budget, decide that you’ll cut your eating out budget by 50% until you’re debt free.

    Or maybe you get biweekly manicures, and you decide that until your emergency fund is fully funded, you’ll get manicures half as often.

     

    SPEND ACCORDING TO YOUR VALUES

    I tell my readers all the time that they don’t have to stop spending on the things they love to pay off debt or reach their financial goals. And while they can spend their money on anything, they can’t spend it on everything.

    Rather than letting your impulses guide your spending, let your values guide you. Decide on a few things that are really worthwhile expenses to you. What expenses are worth putting off your debt-free date or your goal for a bit longer?

    Brandon and I love eating out and we love live music. We could cut those out completely and pay off our debt a lot faster. We also could have stayed in an apartment instead of buying an RV to travel full time. But we decided that those expenses really align with our values, and so they’re worth putting a bit less money toward our debt-free goal. 

     

    FIND A MOTIVATING WAY TO TRACK YOUR GOALS

    I find that having some sort of goal tracker front and center is the best way to boost your motivation. 

    When Brandon and I started saving for our RV, we put a whiteboard in the kitchen where we tracked our progress. Every day we would see it, and it would be a small reminder. There are plenty of creative and visually appealing goal and debt payoff trackers you can use to help you stay the course.

     

    TREAT YOURSELF FOR MILESTONES

    Going all-in on your goals can be exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. While you might feel super motivated in the beginning, that excitement can start to wane.

    Rather than letting your lack of motivation completely throw you off from your goal, set small milestones where you’ll treat yourself. Decide that for every $1,000 in your savings account, you’ll have a date night or whatever feels like a treat to you. Make these treats big enough that you keep you motivated but small enough that they don’t throw you off track from your goal.

     

    Financial goal examples

    Not sure what financial goals to set? No problem! Here’s a list of great ideas for financial goals to set this year:

    • Build an emergency fund
    • Pay off debt
    • Start saving for retirement
    • Save for a house downpayment
    • Renovate your home
    • Plan a vacation
    • Start a business
    • Save for a child’s college education
    • Pay off your mortgage
    • Reach financial independence

     

    Final Thoughts

    Sitting down to set a new financial goal seems like just about the most daunting thing ever. I get it. I felt it when Brandon and I set the goal of paying off six figures of debt early and when we decided to save up to buy an RV to travel.

    But by setting goals that truly align with your dream life and breaking them into manageable pieces, you can totally do this.

  • How to Get One Month Ahead on Your Budget

    For my first seven years out of college, I got paid on the first day of each month. It made budgeting ridiculously easy. I could pay all of my bills right away, and then I knew how much I had available to spend the rest of the month.

    Then Brandon and I got married and combined our finances, and suddenly budgeting was a little more complicated. Brandon got paid twice a month, meaning we had to time his paychecks to our bills.

    Not too long after that, I quit my job to run my business full-time. And unlike my government job, self-employment doesn’t come with the same consistency, such as a paycheck once a month.

    I knew I had to figure out a different budgeting system before leaving my full-time job.

    Then I learned the concept of getting one month ahead in your budget (aka spending last month’s income). This system has completely changed the way I budget and has eliminated so much of the stress I used to have around my finances!

     

    How to Get One Month Ahead on Your Budget

    There are affiliate links in this post, meaning I may make a small commission at no additional cost to you. For more information, see my full disclosure policy here.

     

    What does it mean to get one month ahead in your budget?

    Most people budget each month with the income they’ll get that month. For example, someone would pay all of their November bills with the income they’ll earn in November.

    Getting one month ahead in your budget means you’re always living off of last month’s income. So instead of paying November’s bills with November’s income, you’d pay November’s bills with October’s income. Then you’d use your November income to pay your December bills, and so on.

     

    The benefits of getting one month ahead in your budget

    YOU DON’T HAVE TO TIME YOUR BILLS WITH YOUR PAYCHECK

    For people who get paid biweekly or twice per month, budgeting can be a huge hassle. You have to make sure that for each of your bills, you’ll have the money in your paycheck to cover it.

    Let’s say you get paid on the 1st and the 15th of each month. But what if most of your bills are due in the first half of the month? You’ve barely got enough to cover your bills, and then you’re pinching pennies and waiting to buy groceries until your next paycheck comes in.

    When you budget a month ahead, all of the money is in your bank account on the first of the month, so you don’t have to worry about when exactly each of your bills is due.

     

    IT SERVES AS A SMALL EMERGENCY FUND

    You probably already know that saving up an emergency fund is critical to getting ahead with your finances. The general rule of thumb is to save 3-6 months of expenses, but the minimum you should have is one month’s worth.

    When you’re budgeting one month ahead, you’ve already got that small emergency fund built into your budget. If any emergencies happen, you know you’re covered for at least the next month.

     

    IT ENSURES YOU’RE ONLY SPENDING MONEY YOU ALREADY HAVE

    Many people get into a pattern where they put all of their expenses onto a credit card and then use their income from the following month to pay off their credit card. 

    The problem with this is that you’re spending money you haven’t even earned yet. First, it’s just not a good habit to get into. Second, if you lose your job and don’t have the income you expected, you may not be able to pay for those purchases at all. Rather than always being one month ahead on bills, you’re always one month behind.

    When you budget one month ahead, you know you’re only spending money you already have.

     

    IT REDUCES FINANCIAL STRESS

    I can say from personal experience that my financial stress decreased in a big way when I started using this budgeting system. I didn’t have to monitor my budget quite as closely. 

    It’s also been a life-saver as Brandon and I have been traveling full-time. First, we have to pay for many of our RV park reservations ahead of time. If we weren’t ahead on our budget, we wouldn’t be able to do that.

    It’s also helped us to navigate through the small emergencies that have popped up since we’ve been on the road, such as having to replace all of our RV tires or buy a new car while on the road.

    Edit: Now that we’re done traveling and we own a home, budgeting one month ahead is just as beneficial! This budgeting style definitely isn’t just for those in unique circumstances.

     

    How do you get a month ahead?

    STEP 1: CREATE YOUR MONTHLY BUDGET

    The first step to getting one month ahead is to create a monthly budget. For this system to work, you need to know exactly how much you’re spending each month and where your money is going!

    Here’s how to create your budget:

    1. Determine your monthly income
    2. Make a list of your monthly fixed expenses
    3. Track your spending for the past 3-6 months to determine your variable expenses
    4. Decide on spending goals (use how much you’ve been spending to figure out how much you WANT to be spending)
    5. Don’t forget to make room for debt payoff and savings goals!
    6. Make sure your spending is less than your income

     

    STEP 2: ROLL EXTRA MONEY OVER TO THE NEXT MONTH

    Ideally, you won’t be spending exactly as much as you earn each month — there should be some left over. Then, you can start using that extra each month to build your one-month buffer.

    The idea is that every month, your buffer will get a little bit bigger until you’ve saved enough for the entire month of expenses.

    Let’s say you have $3,000 per month of income. You currently spend or save $2,750 each month, which leaves you with $250 left over. You can put that $250 toward the following month’s budget. A month later, you can roll over another $250 for a total buffer of $500. Each month, the buffer will grow a bit until it reaches enough to cover your entire budget.

     

    What if you’re living paycheck to paycheck?

    This budgeting system is even more beneficial for people living paycheck to paycheck, for whom any financial emergency would throw them off.

    Unfortunately, living paycheck to paycheck makes it especially hard to get one month ahead on bills. Here are a few ways you can start saving money, even if you’re on a tight budget:

    • Use cashback apps like Fetch, Ibotta, and Rakuten. These tools allow you to earn a little extra money on purchases you’re already making.
    • Negotiate your monthly bills. You can try negotiating bills such as your car insurance and internet to reduce your monthly payments.
    • Pick up a side hustle. When you’re living paycheck to paycheck, every little bit helps!
    • Sell stuff on Facebook Marketplace. You’d be surprised how much you can make by selling clothes or household items you aren’t using.

     

    STEP 3: USE ANY CASH WINDFALLS TO BUILD YOUR BUFFER

    In addition to using the extra money in your budget to build your one-month buffer, you can use any cash windfalls you have. Common examples include:

    • Tax returns
    • Gifts
    • Extra paychecks (if you get paid every other week, then two months of the year you’ll get three paychecks instead of three)
    • Side hustle income

     

    STEP 4: BUDGET USING LAST MONTH’S INCOME

    Once you save the full month of expenses, you’ll start using this to budget for each month’s expenses. Rather than creating your budget using the amount you’ll earn in the current month, you’ll use the amount you earned last month.

    This budgeting system is really great for self-employed people. With irregular income, it can be hard to know how much to budget. But with this system, you’re budgeting with last month’s income.

    It’s also worth noting that you aren’t limited to just getting one month ahead. There have been times when my income was less certain, so I budgeted two months ahead for added security.

     

    BONUS TIP: USE A BUDGETING APP TO HELP YOU GET ONE MONTH AHEAD WITH YOUR BUDGET

    Tracking your finances when you budget one month ahead can be tricky because you can’t just spend what you have in your bank account. Because of that, I recommend using a budgeting tool to help you stay on track. The budgeting app You Need a Budget is specifically designed to help you budget this way.

    In fact, YNAB is how I first learned about this concept of budgeting one month ahead. I could talk more about the many ways this budgeting app has improved my finances, but I’ll save that for another article.

     

    Getting one month ahead while paying off debt

    One of the most common questions I get from people is about whether they should prioritize saving or paying off debt. The answer is both…sort of.

    If you don’t have any sort of emergency fund in place, then saving one month’s worth of expenses should be your first priority. Once you’ve got that in place, you can start putting extra money toward debt using either the debt snowball or debt avalanche.

    Of course, everyone has a different comfort level and financial situation. If you have a job where you’re at higher risk of losing your income or you have a family who depends on your income, it may be worth pulling back on debt payoff to build your emergency fund even larger.

    And don’t forget that while you’re paying off debt, you can still save for other financial goals!

     

    Final Thoughts

    I’m not exaggerating when I say that getting one month ahead with my budget has totally changed my finances. Not only does it create a lot of peace of mind, but the financial habits I learned getting there changed everything. I credit those habits with us being able to travel the country for a year, buy a home, save for a baby, and pay off large amounts of debt.

  • 8 Hacks to Boost Your Credit Score Quickly

    In the summer of 2020, Brandon and I bought an RV, sold most of our belongings, and hit the road to travel full-time. It’s been amazing, but we hit a few bumps in the road.

    Most notably, our car started on fire. Yes, you read that right. It literally started on fire.

    As you can imagine, there wasn’t much that could be done to salvage it, and we had to replace it quickly.

    When this happened, I started to panic a little. You see, my husband and I have both had our fair share of financial hiccups along the way, and we’ve both had times when our credit scores weren’t very good. I immediately started to worry about whether we’d be able to get a car loan.

    This worry came out of habit after years of worrying about money. In reality, Brandon and I have worked hard to be in the financial situation we are in today. All of that work not only allowed us to get a loan to replace our car, but our good credit scores also allowed us to get a good interest rate, so we wouldn’t be throwing away a ton of money on interest while we paid off the loan as quickly as possible.

    Like Brandon and I, many people find themselves at points in their lives where their credit score is suffering. And just like we did, you are 100% capable of increasing your credit score and making your financial life a heck of a lot easier.

    In this article, you’ll learn what a credit score is, why it matters, and how to start boosting yours quickly.

     

     

    What is a credit score?

    A credit score is a three-digit number that represents your creditworthiness (aka how likely you are to pay your bills on time). It’s based on the information on your credit report, which is compiled by three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and Transunion.

    You can think of your credit report as your report card and your credit score as the grade you receive. Credit scores range from 300-850 and are considered either poor, fair, good, very good, or excellent. The higher your credit score, the better.

     

    Why is a credit score important?

    Your credit score tells lenders how risky of a borrower you are. In other words, they use the number to decide how likely you are to pay them back when you borrow money.

    Your credit score has a huge impact on your finances. It can affect things like:

    • Whether you can borrow money. If lenders see you as too much of a risk, you may not be able to get a credit card, car loan, mortgage, etc.
    • Your interest rates. Even if you can get a loan, those with lower credit scores will end up with much higher interest rates. A good score can save you thousands of dollars.
    • Your ability to get an apartment. When you fill out an apartment application, your credit score is one of the factors the landlord considers. A poor credit score can prevent you from getting an apartment. 
    • Your job. Potential employers can access part of your credit report. They might use this information to make a hiring decision, especially if you’re applying for a job where you’ll have access to company or customer money.
    • Your insurance rates. Studies have connected credit scores to driving records. Because someone with a low credit score is a greater risk for insurance companies, your premiums will probably be higher. 

     

    How do I check my credit score?

    Federal law says that everyone can get a copy of their full credit report from each of the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) at least once per year by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com.

    That being said, your full credit report doesn’t actually include your credit score.

    Luckily, it’s not that difficult to get your credit score from other sources. First, you can use a free credit scoring site like Credit Karma or Experian. Depending on your credit card company, they may also provide you with a free credit score.

    It’s important to note that there are multiple types of credit scores, including FICO and VantageScore. Experian reports your FICO score, while services like Credit Karma report your VantageScore. The two different major types of credit scores are the reason why the credit score you see may not be the same as what a lender sees.

     

    What is a good credit score?

    Credit scores range from 300-850 and break down like this:

    • 300-579: Poor
    • 580-669: Fair
    • 670-739: Good
    • 740-799: Very Good
    • 800-850: Excellent

    850 is a perfect credit score. The good news is that you don’t need a perfect score to get the perks that come with good credit. Those with a score of 800 or above will have access to the best rates on the market. 

    If you have a very good score, meaning 740-799, you still have plenty of advantages going for you. You probably won’t struggle to get a loan, and you’ll have access to better-than-average rates.

     

    How can I raise my credit score quickly?

    If your credit score isn’t quite where you’d like it to be, you don’t need to panic. Your credit score is an ever-evolving number. And by making a few changes to your finances, you can start to see your score consistently increase.

     

    1. PAY YOUR BILLS ON TIME

    Paying your bills on time is one of the easiest things you can do to consistently improve your credit score. 

    When you fail to pay a bill on time, the company you owe money to reports it to the credit bureaus. It then shows up on your credit report and damages your credit score. 

    Be sure you’re paying your bills on time, and catch up as quickly as possible on any bills you’re currently behind on. 

     

    2. PAY OFF DEBT

    Your credit utilization, meaning the percentage of your available credit that you’re using, is one of the biggest factors going into calculating your credit score. 

    The lower your utilization, the better. And anything above 30% can damage your credit score. If you’re using more than 30% of your available credit, try to pay some off to get that number below 30%.

     

    3. INCREASE YOUR CREDIT LIMITS

    Paying off debt isn’t the only way to improve your credit utilization. You can also try to increase your credit limits.

    Most credit card companies have a form on their website you can use to request a credit limit increase. I find that calling their customer service line is more effective. There’s something about talking to an actual person that seems to get the job done better.

     

    4. USE YOUR CREDIT CARDS RESPONSIBLY

    Your credit score tells lenders whether or not you use credit responsibly. So the best way to show them that you do is to — you guessed it — use your current credit responsibly.

    A few rules of thumb for credit cards include paying off your full balance each month (not just making the minimum payment), and keeping your total usage below 30% at any given time.

     

    5. KEEP YOUR OLD CREDIT CARDS OPEN

    We know that your credit utilization is important for your credit score. So is your age of credit, meaning the average number of years you’ve had each credit account. The longer your average age of credit, the better. 

    I have lots of people ask me if they should close old credit cards. But keeping them open actually helps improve both your credit utilization and your average age of credit!

     

    6. BECOME AN AUTHORIZED USER

    Opening a new credit card can be great and all, but it doesn’t check all the boxes to increase your credit score. It increases your credit utilization but shortens your average age of credit and goes on your credit report as a hard inquiry.

    But becoming an authorized user on someone else’s credit card can check all the boxes.

    • It reduces your credit utilization, assuming the credit card is under 30% of the limit
    • It increases your age of credit, because you get credit for the full life of the credit card
    • It doesn’t appear as a hard inquiry on your credit report

    I can tell you from personal experience that this one does the trick. My husband had a far lower credit limit than I did, meaning his credit utilization was higher when he used his credit cards. 

    We added him as an authorized user on my cards, and his credit score immediately shot up!

     

    7. AVOID APPLYING FOR NEW CREDIT

    Applying for new credit can hurt your credit in a few ways. First, it shows up on your credit report as a new hard inquiry, which can slightly decrease your score. This will stay on your credit report for two years.

    Opening new credit also decreases your average age of credit, which can drop your credit score.

     

    8. DISPUTE ERRORS ON YOUR CREDIT REPORT

    Data from the Federal Trade Commission shows that about one in five people has errors on their credit reports. This could look like a debt showing up as delinquent when it isn’t or a debt that isn’t yours at all showing up on your credit report. 

    Sometimes it’s simply a mistake on the part of a lender, but it could also be something more sinister like identity theft.

    Unfortunately, you have to be proactive about removing these errors from your credit report. No one else is going to do it for you. 

    This is why it’s important to check your credit report at least once per year. You can spot any errors right away, and dispute them with the credit bureaus.

     

    How long does it take to increase your credit score?

    Turning your credit around isn’t an instant process. You can’t start paying your bills on time or pay off some debt and expect your score to shoot up instantly.

    The good news is, however, that you can start boosting that number fairly quickly. Some things work faster than others.

    If you have a low credit utilization or short credit history, having someone add you as an authorized user to their credit card can boost your credit score a lot in just a few months. Similarly, paying off a bunch of credit card debt can make a big difference quickly.

    Other things will take longer to recover from. Delinquencies — aka missed payments — stay on your credit report for seven years. Bankruptcies stick around for ten years. If you have either of these, it’s just a matter of waiting for them to fall off, while making other positive changes in the process.

     

    Final Thoughts

    Your credit score is one of the most important numbers when it comes to your finances. It can be the determining factor when it comes to the loans, interest rates, and apartments you can get.

    While many people struggle with a low credit score at one point or another, there are plenty of changes you can make to start improving your score.

  • How to Manage Your Money as a Couple

    This weekend marks one year of marriage for Brandon and me. One year of sharing a last name and one year of sharing a bank account.

    It probably doesn’t surprise you to know that Brandon and I talked about how we’d manage our money as a married couple long before we actually were a married couple. Just as we talked about our future goals and plans, we also talked about our future finances.

    When couples decide to spend their lives together, the discussion of how they’ll manage their money together is often an afterthought. Most people don’t find it quite exciting as the other big talks.

    But it’s actually one of the most important conversations you’ll have.

    In this post, you’ll learn about the different ways you and your partner can manage your money together as a couple, along with the pros and cons of each method. Plus, I’ll share a few bonus tips at the end for tackling finances in your marriage.

     

    How to Manage Your Money as a Couple

     

    Joint vs. separate finances for couples

    One of the biggest financial topics you and your partner will have to tackle after getting married is deciding how you’ll organize your finances. Will you combine all of your bank accounts and have joint finances? Or would you rather keep things separate?

     

    MANAGE YOUR MONEY WITH JOINT ACCOUNTS

    The first way that you and your partner can manage your joint finances is to go all-in and combine all of your bank accounts. With this money management style, the two of you have joint checking and savings accounts. All money flows into and out of the same accounts. 

    This is the method Brandon and I decided to go with when we got married, and a year later, we have no regrets. However, that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone.

    • Pros: I find this to be the easiest way to manage money as a couple. There’s no arguing about who owes who money or worrying about which account a specific bill comes out of. Everything comes into and goes out of the same account. You’re tackling all of your expenses as a team. What’s yours is mine, and what’s mine is yours.
    • Cons: If there’s a huge income discrepancy, this method could lead to conflict. There can be discomfort and resentment on both sides if one of you makes most of the money. It also might make one or both of you feel like the other is checking up on you. You’ve worked hard for your money and want to be able to spend it how you like. Joint finances = joint decisions. Joint finances may also not work if one of you has children from a previous relationship that you’re financially responsible for.

     

    MANAGE YOUR MONEY WITH SEPARATE ACCOUNTS

    Another method you can use to manage your finances is to maintain fully separate accounts. This is how all couples start out. When you begin dating someone, you each have your own finances. And often, this is the case for years, even when you’re living together.

    This method has some more logistical pain points to work out. First, you have to decide how the bills will be divided up. 

    Will you each pay 50% of the expenses, or will you each pay a share that is proportional to your income? Let’s say you make a combined $100,000 per year. One of you makes $40,000, or 40%, while the other makes $60,000, or 60%.

    You could decide to split the bills 50/50. But you could instead have the person making 40% of the income pay 40% of the bills, and the person making 60% of the income pay 60% of the bills.

    Another question to answer is how you’ll actually pay for everything. Will one person pay for everything, and the other pay them back for their share each month? Or will each partner be responsible for paying certain bills?

    You’ll also want to decide how you’ll handle shared financial goals. Will you each be responsible for saving up half of the amount, or will one of you save more? Will you keep the money for these goals in a separate savings account, or will you open a joint savings account for specific goals?

    • Pros: Each partner maintains their independence and doesn’t have to feel as if they’re answering to anyone else for their spending habits or priorities. Plus, neither of you has to be responsible for the other’s debts if you don’t want to. Each of you pays for the debt that you brought into the relationship.
    • Cons: This method might prevent you from ever fully feeling like a financial team. This is especially true if one of you would prefer joint finances, but the other is dead set on separate. Another disadvantage of this system is that it’s just logistically a lot of work. When bills aren’t being paid out of a joint account, you have to decide who will be in charge of paying for what. Finally, this method may cause conflict if one of you significantly outearns the other or one stays home to care for children. One partner will could up with lots of spending money while the other is struggling to make ends meet.

     

    MANAGE YOUR MONEY WITH BOTH JOINT AND SEPARATE ACCOUNTS

    The final method of managing money with your partner is a bit of a hybrid of the two previous methods and involves having both joint and separate bank accounts. I love that this strategy gives you the best of both worlds.

    First, you’d have a joint checking account that you use to pay your bills. This is likely where your paychecks are deposited each month. You’d also have joint savings accounts for any financial goals you’re saving for together.

    But in addition to the joint bank accounts, you would each have your own individual checking an/or savings accounts as well. It’s this account that you’d use for any personal spending money. You and your partner can decide ahead of time how much spending money you’ll each get per month and then transfer it into these accounts. 

    • Pros: This method has the advantages of both of the others. It’s easy to share expenses because all bills are being paid out of the same account. You and your partner are approaching your finances as a team. But you each still have the independence that comes with your own spending money.
    • Cons: A potential downside with this system could occur if one partner makes a lot of money while the other only makes enough to cover their portion of the bills. Depending on how you fund the personal spending accounts, you could end up with a situation where one partner has spending money but not the other.

     

    Tips for managing your money as a couple

    DECIDE WHO MANAGES WHAT

    Financial decisions should be made 50/50 with your partner, but it’s likely that one of you will be doing more of the hands-on managing of the money. 

    Brandon and I are both active participants when it comes to our money, but I’m the one who keeps up with the budget throughout the week and handles all of the bill-paying. 

    In your relationship, you can decide to divvy up the financial tasks in a way unique to your relationship — The important thing is that it’s clear who is responsible for what tasks. This helps to ensure nothing slips through the cracks.

     

    TALK OPENLY ABOUT YOUR FINANCES

    Honesty is important in all areas of your relationship. But this advice especially applies to your finances. And even though you may not both be tackling all of the financial tasks, it’s still important to talk about your finances openly. 

    Fighting about money is one of the leading causes of divorce, largely as a result of financial infidelity. Talking about money isn’t a cure-all for everything in your marriage. But you can bet that not talking about money is an easy way to make things go south quickly.

    My favorite way to keep communication open is by having regular money dates. This is how Brandon and I have our money conversations.

     

    MAKE A GAME PLAN FOR YOUR DEBT

    These days, most millennial couples say “I do” with one or both partners bringing some debt into the relationship. Debt can be a huge emotional burden on couples. I know that for Brandon and me, making a debt payoff plan took a lot of pressure off our marriage. 

    When you get married, one of the first things you should do is figure out a plan to tackle your debt together. However, the plan might look different for every couple.

    You have a few different options to do this. Many couples treat debt as a joint bill after they get married, while others each pay off their own debts. 

     

    SET SHARED FINANCIAL GOALS

    I think having financial goals is the absolute best way to make progress with your money, whether you’re single or sharing your finances with someone else.

    It’s easy to get stuck in a rut with your finances. You make decent money and pay all of your bills on time but don’t really feel like you’re accomplishing anything. This is what happens when you don’t set financial goals!

    Unless you have a goal in mind, you can’t create a game plan to get there. And without a game plan, you’re unlikely to ever start saving.

    If you and your partner want to start making real progress in your finances, sit down and set some goals together. Dream about what you want your life to look like one, five, ten, or even twenty years from now, and figure out what you need to do to make that happen.

     

    SET CLEAR GROUND RULES

    Regardless of how you decide to manage your joint finances, it’s important to set clear ground rules and boundaries. It’s important that you make financial decisions together while each still maintaining some semblance of independence. It can be a tough line to walk, and every couple has to figure out exactly how to do it for themselves.

    One common ground rule people set is about how much each partner can spend on a single item before consulting the other. For example, you and your spouse might decide you can spend up to $100 on a single item without consulting the other. But if the price tag is more than $100, then you’ll talk to your partner about it first.

     

    Final Thoughts

    Deciding to spend your life with someone is a big decision. You’re working through the process of merging every other area of your life. And at the same time, you have to figure out how you’re going to manage your finances as a couple. 

    There’s no one-size-fits-all approach — each couple has to decide what works best for them and their relationship. Any method can work as long as you’re both on the same team and keep the lines of communication open.

  • How to Pay Off Debt Faster with a Balance Transfer

    When my ex-husband and I got divorced, I found myself completely starting over financially. I didn’t have anything in savings, and I had to rely on credit cards to get my fresh start.

    When I signed up for my credit card, I got a promotional offer of one year with 0% interest. I was so sure I’d be able to pay it off in time.

    Fast forward twelve months, and I was still carrying a balance. And when I saw what my monthly interest charge was, I was horrified. I knew right away I had to figure out an alternative solution.

    That’s where balance transfers come in. After doing some research, I decided that applying for a balance transfer card would be the best way to aggressively pay down my debt without losing money to interest.

    One of the most common questions I get from readers is whether a balance transfer is a good option to help pay off debt faster.

    Considering most American households are carrying some sort of credit card debt, it’s not really a surprise that I get this question often.

    In this article, I’m sharing what a balance transfer is, how it can impact your finances, and how to decide if it’s the right choice for you.

     

    How to Pay Off Debt Faster with a Balance Transfer

    There are affiliate links in this post, meaning I may make a small commission at no additional cost to you. For more information, see my full disclosure policy here.

     

    How does a balance transfer work?

    A balance transfer is when you transfer the balance of an existing credit card to a new credit card. In other words, you’re using a credit card to pay off your credit card debt.

    The reason these transactions are so popular is that many credit card companies offer a 0% promotional period on new balance transfers. 

    Let’s say you’ve got $5,000 in credit card debt with an interest rate upwards of 20%. By using a balance transfer, you can move that $5,000 to a new credit card and pay 0% interest for the first 12-18 months.

    This move can save you money in interest, and help you to pay off your credit card debt faster than you otherwise would have.

     

    Is it a good idea to do a balance transfer?

    Balance transfers can be an amazing tool for anyone working to pay down credit card debt. Here are a few perks:

    • Save money on interest. 0% credit card interest can save you SO much money. Let’s say you have $2,500 of credit card debt with 24% interest (not at all uncommon these days). If you pay your card off in 12 months, you’ll pay over $300 in interest. If you do a balance transfer and pay 0% interest, you’ll save yourself hundreds of dollars.
    • Pay off your debt faster. One of the reasons credit card debt is so hard to pay off is that a huge chunk of your monthly payments go toward interest. You’re often barely making a dent in your balance. By getting rid of interest for a while, all of your money goes toward the principal and you’ll pay off your debt WAY faster.

     

    Is there a downside to balance transfers?

    Balance transfers can be a great way to buy yourself some time while you pay off your credit card debt. But there are some downsides to consider as well.

    • Expect to pay some fees with your balance transfer. It’ll vary depending on the card you choose, but the fees are typically 3-5% of the total balance you’re transferring. Usually, this small fee is worth it, but it’s best to run the numbers for your specific situation.
    • Balance transfer offers aren’t available to everyone. Cards with 0% balance transfers are primarily available to those with good or excellent credit. The best offers will be reserved for those with excellent credit.
    • If you haven’t addressed the issues that caused you to go into credit card debt in the first place, I wouldn’t recommend a balance transfer. You may find yourself going into even more debt as a result of the extra credit available to you.

     

    Do balance transfers affect your credit score?

    Balance transfers can definitely impact your credit score, but it’s difficult to say what the effect will be for any one person. 

    First, applying for a credit card places a hard inquiry on your credit report. This can result in a slight drop in your score.

    Next, opening a new credit card will shorten your average length of credit. The longer your credit history the better. So lowering your average may cause your score to drop.

    Finally, opening a new credit card will increase the total amount of credit available to you. As long as you don’t rack up more credit card debt, your credit utilization (aka the percentage of your total credit you’re using) will go down. As a result, your credit score can increase.

    Keep in mind that if you struggle with impulse spending, especially when it comes to credit cards, then opening a new card can seriously hurt your credit in the long run. Only open a card if you feel confident you won’t take on more debt.

     

    How to do a balance transfer

    Ready to start the balance transfer process and pay off your credit card debt faster? Here are the steps to follow:

    1. Check your credit. 0% balance transfer cards are reserved for people with good or excellent credit. You may not want to apply and have a hard inquiry in your credit report if you won’t qualify.
    2. Choose the right card for you. There are plenty of balance transfer cards on the market, and each one comes with its own perks. Do some research and decide which card best fits your needs.
    3. Decide how much to transfer. Once you’re approved for your balance transfer, it’s time to decide how much to transfer. It’ll depend heavily on how much credit you’re approved for. You can’t transfer more credit than your new credit card company is willing to extend to you.
    4. Make a debt payoff plan. When it comes to balance transfer deals, it’s ALL about the follow-through. Transferring your balance to a new card is only worth it if you’re going to use this opportunity to pay down your debt. You can use a tool such as Undebt.It to help you plan your debt payoff.

    As you’re working your way through the balance transfer process, remember one very important thing: the balance transfer is not immediate. It can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks for your transfer to go through.

    While you wait for the deal to close, you still have to make your normal monthly payments to your old credit card company. Failing to do so can have a huge negative effect on your credit score!

     

    The best balance transfer credit cards

    A quick Google search will help you find plenty of credit cards specifically tailored at balance transfers to help you pay off credit card debt faster. I’ve got some personal experience with balance transfer cards, so I’m sharing a few of my favorite balance transfer cards on the market:

    • Chase Freedom Unlimited: This is hands-down my favorite all-purpose credit card. It comes with higher cash back than you’ll find on many other cards, along with extra rewards on bonus categories. Plus, it offers 0% for 15 months on balance transfers.
    • Capital One Quicksilver: This was my very first credit card, and it’s one I still have in my wallet. In addition to the cash back rewards it offers, you’ll get 0% for 15 months on all balance transfers.
    • Discover It Cash Back: This card is another one I’ve had for years, and it offers elevated cash back on certain bonus categories. Plus, you’ll get 0% for 14 months on all balance transfers.

     

    Final Thoughts

    Credit card debt is a huge struggle for so many Americans today. Often we open a credit card with the best of intentions, but impulse spending or a financial emergency causes us to go into credit card debt.

    The good news is that a balance transfer can be an amazing tool to help you pay off your debt faster without wasting a ton of money on interest.