Creating a Budget You Can Actually Stick With

Oct 20, 13 Creating a Budget You Can Actually Stick With

Budgeting is one of those things we all intend you start doing but never find time to get around to. I used to be like that. In fact, creating a budget for my family was my new years resolution 3 ears is a row! I kept putting it off for a couple of reasons, and I think they’re the same reasons that are holding other people back too. First off, I never ran out of money. I knew how much I had because every time I got money out of the ATM it told me how much I had left. Second, I thought budgeting meant tracking every expense and keeping every receipt. Sounds like more trouble than it’s worth. And back to point #1, if I wasn’t running out of money then why should I keep track of everything?

Well, it all caught up with me 3 years ago when we didn’t have enough money to take our family summer vacation. I’m still not exactly sure what happened that year but when it came time to book our trip the cash wasn’t there. We ended up on a budget camping trip instead of the tropical vacation I had been dreaming about. We had a great time, but I promised myself nothing like that would ever happen again.

Over the past 3 years I’ve learned a lot about developing a budget that’s simple enough to actually stick to. The more complicated it gets the more likely you are to drop it. So here they are, my top tips for developing and sticking to a family budget:

1. Figure out how much you earn
This should be easy. Grab your most recent pay stub and find out how much you took home after taxes and any retirement contributions. Determine how much you make each month. This will be the amount you have to work with when figuring out how much you can spend.

2. Determine how much you spend on necessities
How much do you spend each month on rent, utilities, car payments, or other fixed costs? Once you know how much the things you can’t live without cost you can figure out your discretionary income. This is where it gets interesting.

3. What are your priorities?
Notice I didn’t include food under point #2. Food is one of things that everyone values differently. If it’s important for you to eat healthy quality food, or try new restaurants, then you’ll most likely spend more on this category. However, you may value recreation more than eating. You obviously can’t live without food, but determining where things fit on your list of values will help you determine how much money to allocate to them. For my family, traveling is more important than eating out so we put more emphasis on saving for vacation than going to restaurants.

4. Pay yourself first
After figuring out how much your necessities cost you can start figuring out how much you have to spend on everything else. Since we prioritize travel, I set up an automatic transfer from our checking account to a savings account we set up just for vacations. I figured out how much our annual vacations will cost, and transfer some money into the savings account every month. That way we always have enough for our trips. This works great for us and can be used for whatever’s important to you.

5. Be held accountable
My wife and I check up one another to make sure we stick to our plan but what we’ve found most helpful is using an on-line budget app like Mint. There are a bunch of them out there, we just happen to like the way Mint works. What you do is enter your budget and the information from you credit cards, debit cards, saving or checking accounts, and it automatically tracks your spending. It knows how much you spent on food or golf or movies and will send you emails when you go over budget. It’s been great at keeping us in line these last few years.

There’s no one size fits all when it comes to creating your families budget. Experiment and try new things to find what works best for you. You’ll be glad you did.

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Plant the Perfect Vegetable Garden

Oct 19, 13 Plant the Perfect Vegetable Garden

There are more reasons to plant a vegetable garden than I can count. By growing our own food we can eat for cheaper and ensure our vegetables are organic and safe. Most people think starting a garden is tough but it’s actually quite easy. A little bit of planning and a few weekends of work is usually all that’s required to get started.

The first step is to determine how much space you have for your garden. I usually recommend container gardening because you have more control over the soil quality and you don’t have to tear up your yard. Most vegetables will need about 6 hours of sunlight a day so make sure you find areas that are well lit.

After figuring out how much space you have it’s time to figure out what types of vegetables you want to grow. This is usually one of the best parts because you get to spend time imagining all the amazing food you’ll be eating with your fresh veggies. If you know what type of vegetables are best for your environment that can help you decide what to plant. I recommend visiting your local home and garden shop to get some recommendations. They should be able to help you figure out the types of plants that do well during each season and and how to care for them.

While you’re at the garden store is the perfect time to buy your containers and soil. I recommend investing a little extra in the equipment you’ll be using to start your garden because you’ll be able to use it for years. While it may initially seem expensive remember all the money you’ll save by growing your own food.

After you set up your containers and fill them with soil it’s time to plant the seeds. When planning where you’ll plant each type of vegetable it’s a good idea to group like plants together. So if you have more than 1 type of lettuce plant put them close to one another and put the hardier veggies, like broccoli and carrots next to each other.

To plant the seeds dig a small well in the dirt about three inches deep and place a single seed in each hole. Loosely cover with dirt and repeat until you’ve planted all the seeds you have space for. Seeds should be planted 3-6 inches apart so make sure you don’t overcrowd the vegetable bed. After planting, water the vegetable plants 2 times a day, once in the morning and once at night, until you start to see small sprouts. Keep in mind that some plants grow faster than other so they may not start growing all at the same time.

After they begin sprouting you can limit watering to once every other day unless it gets too hot then you may need to water daily. Lettuces and tomatoes will grow quickly and you may be able to start eating them in less than two months after planting. Larger veggies, like broccoli or artichokes take more time.

A few months after planting your first garden is a good time to put down a layer of compost. The compost provides nutrients to the soil and will ensure it stays healthy and can support future gardens. Keep an eye out for aphids or other small insects that may be eating your plants. A great way to control them naturally is to introduce ladybugs to your garden. They will eat the harmful insects and help pollinate your plants. You can actually buy them at most garden stores or online for pretty cheap.

So I hope you’ll get out there and start growing your own veggies. It’s a great way to stay healthy and you’ll have a whole new appreciation for both farming and food.

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The Wonderful World of Books

Oct 18, 13 The Wonderful World of Books

The importance of encouraging children to read books cannot be stressed enough. The role that reading skills will play in the lives of children as they grow up is so invaluable that it would be a disservice not to give them this advantage.

Some of the benefits of reading books include nurturing a child’s sense of discovery as he gets introduced to different topics that ranges from the sciences to the arts. It also helps in the development and enhancement of his language skills. Reading also allows individuals to remain updated on the latest news about technological tools and devices.

While there are doubts about the advantage of using multi-media devices over books, these two resources share one thing in common – they require the individual to read the information. So it does not really matter if it comes in printed or digital form, a person still has to read the reference to know more about the topic, appreciate a story or get the answer to his question. The Internet has just made it possible to access a lot of information from different sources easily. This opens up another valuable skill that reading supports - the ability to analyze the material that you are reading and weigh its value based on other information that you come across.

Critical thinking is also enhanced by reading. Going through a new story or a book allows children to think about the material - which among the characters they like, why the events happened and how they want the story to end. And the great thing about all this is that as they read through more books, they’ll become more addicted to it. In time, they will view it as an enjoyable activity, something that they can turn to no matter how old they get.

Some of the popular authors of children’s books include C.S. Lewis who wrote The Chronicles of Narnia, Dr. Seuss for Green Eggs and Ham, E.B. White for Charlotte’s Web, and Beatrix Potter for The Tale of Peter Rabbit, to name a few. By introducing memorable characters through their stories, these authors have given children a great place to go to. In turn, thousands of readers have continued on to keep the characters alive over the years. These classics continue to be a great treat to new readers as they explore the magical world of talking animals and wondrous places.

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