Your Money: Online Help

When it comes to money, there is a plethora of information out there — both online and in real life. Online resources, in particular, can be valuable tools. They can help with both general information and specific tools such as mortgage and retirement calculators. You can even get advice when it comes to your specific needs.

General Information
The sites below can offer general information on financial topics, as well as articles on the latest money and business news. Each site offers different categories, depending on your informational needs. Keep in mind that unless you’re business- or financially-inclined, some of the terminology may be advanced, requiring additional research:

The great thing about these sites is that whether you’re looking for personal finance information or information for your business’s finances, resources are available. So no matter what your goals are, you can get the help and information you need.

Depending on your goal, you may be wondering what you have to do to meet your end result. Luckily there are many resources out there that suit exactly this purpose, whether it’s for a mortgage, retirement, auto loan or more. Click the links below for instant access:

These are just a few — there are many other calculators out there as well. If you’re looking for a specific type of calculator, you can also search for it using your favorite search engine.

Experts and other consumers can often help with specific questions or issues. To take advantage of this, check out money forums. These can either be general forums or specific forums that deal with the area of your money life that needs guidance. Below are some general money forums to get you started. You can also search for forums regarding a specific topic by heading to your favorite search engine and searching for forum: topic. (Obviously replace “topic” with the actual topic you’re searching for!)

Other Resources
In addition to websites and forums, there are other electronic tools that can offer help and inspiration. You can also check out podcasts, online magazines, apps, and more. Search your favorite electronic device to get ideas.

If you don’t know where to start, or need guidance with the basics, check out my own site-in-progress All About the Money for articles and links.


Your Money: Where Does the Money Go?

Whether you’re trying to save more or looking to pay down debt, knowing where your money is going can be helpful. And I’m not just talking about bills, though that is, of course, important. I’m talking about the little things and the not-so-little things that come up on a daily or random basis.

Without knowing where your money is going, it can be difficult to make effective changes to your habits and make progress in your saving or spending goals. By tracking your expenses you can properly plan and decide where to cut back so you have extra money to apply toward your debt or save for your goals.

To track your expenses, carry a notepad with you and record any money you spend — whether it’s 75 cents in a vending machine or a shopping spree at the mall. You  may be surprised at what you spend money on and how easily it disappears. Keep the log for a week, month or longer — however long it takes you to see the pattern and find ways to cut back. Maybe your downfall is clothes. Can you spend less? Shop elsewhere? Buy one blouse instead of two? Or maybe you stop at the vending machine a few times a week. Would it make more sense to buy in bulk at the store instead and bring your own snacks? Tracking your purchases can help you pick up on these quirks and guide you in ways to save.

Once you’ve found areas to cut back, take action. When you find yourself moving to spend that money, stop yourself and earmark that money toward your goal instead. Even 75 cents a few times a week adds up. And that can make a big dent in your debt or savings goal.

If while tracking your expenses you find yourself spending on unexpected expenses such as car repair bills, consider starting an emergency fund. Put a little money aside on a regular basis so that when an unexpected bill comes up you’re ready for it. As I said above, even a small amount adds up over time. And being able to plan for the saving can help make the expense more manageable than having to deal with a several-hundred-dollar bill all of a sudden.

While you’re at it, take a look at your bills and see what you’re spending on. You may be overspending on things you don’t use. Make that money work for you instead of wasting it. Your goals may be closer than you think.

Your Money: Get the Family Onboard

If you’re married and/or have children, chances are the changes you plan on making will affect your family. This holds true no matter what you’re tackling, but when it comes to money, the effects will be even more noticeable. Therefore it’s important to make sure your spouse and children are onboard with your changes. Why? A united front is a whole lot stronger than a house divided. And together your chances of success are much higher. So how do you go about doing this?

The first thing you’ll want to do is talk to your family. Let them know about the changes you’re considering, and why you think they’re important. Let them know you want their input, and that their feedback will be taken into consideration when you’re figuring out your course of action. This gets them involved, and makes them feel like they’re part of the team, instead of outsiders just watching the game.

Opening the lines of communication can also help in that you can get valuable ideas and insight you wouldn’t normally have gotten. Looking at things from others’ points of view can help you figure out which direction will be best for all of you in the long run. And getting this feedback early on will prevent backtracking later if you discover that your decisions negatively impact those around you.

Be Specific
When talking to your family, try to be as specific as possible. Rather than speaking abstractly about cutting down spending or bringing down debt, discuss what exactly needs to change. Will you be eating out less? Spending less on clothing?

The more specific your goals, the better. Not only will it help your family understand where you’re coming from and where you’re going, it will also give you a definite course of action, with a clear understanding of what you have to do to get there. And being specific in your course of action will let your family know what they have to do to be involved in the process.

Make It Fun
Making the experience interactive can bring the family together and unite you in your goals. To do this, make charts or goal thermometers to track your progress. Celebrate with small rewards when you reach milestones. Reward family members if they have a great idea or do something that brings your goals closer.

You can also get the family involved in activities that directly affect the goal. Have everyone clear out their closets to hold a tag sale. Who will make the most? Have a contest to see who can spend the least on school supplies or clothes. Encourage family members to make gifts instead of buy them — and reinforce how much more meaningful it is, in addition to saving money.

Get Creative
Show everyone how being frugal can really be about being creative. Rather than depriving yourself, you’re just finding different ways of doing things, and different ways of getting what you need or want:

  • Can’t afford that new gadget? How can you use what you have to do the same thing?
  • If something goes wrong in the house, learn how to fix it instead of hiring a professional. You can learn a valuable skill and save money at the same time.
  • For children, show them how they can use what they have and the free things around them to still have fun. Surf the internet to find craft ideas using household items.

Once these things become habit, you’ll see how much you’re actually learning and how much more valuable the entire experience has been. Instead of just dishing out money for something, you’re gaining skills and experiences that will last a lifetime.

Stay Positive
While it can be difficult to remain optimistic, the more hopeful and positive you can stay, the easier it will be for your family to stick with you. If you consider your actions a hardship, so will they. But if you look for the fun in it, and encourage them to do the same, then it will be easier for them to see how these changes are positive. And isn’t making your lives better what it’s all about?

Take Charge of Your Money

Ah, money. Depending on who you ask, it’s what makes the world go ’round or it’s the root of all evil. Either way, modern life depends on it, whether we like it or not. And if you’re really interested in having it be one of your life changes, you’re probably struggling somewhat. If you had tons of money to run through, you probably wouldn’t be worried about changing things!
For many of us, myself included, the biggest issue is the mountain of debt. For whatever reason we find ourselves in a position where we have just plain too many bills and not enough income. And it can be very disheartening to be dishing out payments, especially when a good portion of those payments consist of interest. I know I’ve been there. I’m still there. And it’ll probably be a while until I get out of it.
Now I won’t pretend to be a financial guru, because I’m far from it, but I’ve read enough financial mumbo jumbo to at least have an idea of what I should do. Between what I’ve read and what I’ve tried, I’ve got some tips that have helped me along the way. It’s slow going, but eventually you can get yourself into a better position.
Paying Bills
The first step is making sure all of your bills are paid, and paid on time. It doesn’t help to add late fees to the already-high amounts or mess up your credit by having things sent to collections.
One thing that I have found to work is to make a list of all my regular bills and about when they’re due. I have a spiral notebook with a sheet for each month’s bills. I have columns for the due date, the bill, how much is due, how much I paid, and when I paid it. I start the month with just the bills that are due that month. As I get statements in the mail, I add the due date and amount due to the appropriate columns. When I pay the bills, I fill in the appropriate columns for that, too. I can see at a glance what has been paid and what hasn’t been.
In addition to this, I’ve taken the idea one step further: I’ve come up with a game plan — a bill-paying schedule to make sure everything is getting paid on time. I have it all planned out for the whole year: when each bill is getting paid, based on how much we bring home each week. To do this, I compiled the statements from the past year or so and figured out when bills are usually due, how much they’re usually for, and how often they’re due. Some of this was already done when I made the monthly sheets. But by looking more in-depth at the statements, I was able to finagle things so I could determine when the bills would be paid, based on when they’re due and when we get paid.
These efforts have made it slightly less stressful when payday comes, because I don’t have to think about what I’m paying each week. I know that if I open my notebook and it says we’re paying the electric bill and the phone bill, that’s what we’re paying. And both will be on time. Easy peasy.
Saving Money
In an attempt to save (I say attempt because we haven’t gotten very far with it), I have a little money transferred to a savings account automatically each week. When I balance my checkbooks on payday, I record that transfer as if it were a bill being paid. It’s non-negotiable, because it’s automatic. It’s not much, but it provides a little bit of a cushion if something comes up.
This is about the only attempt to save we have going at the moment, because our expenses have been cut pretty far. But there are lots of little ways to spend less money that can help you save a little more. I’ve written a few articles about saving money, and I will share them in future posts. They may guide you in the right direction so you can get even closer to your goals.
Paying Off Debt
Once the bills are being paid on time, and a little money is getting put aside in savings, it’s time to tackle the debt. And there are a ton of resources out there to help you. Rather than rely on companies or solicitations that claim to help me pay off my debt, I prefer to listen to actual financial experts and keep things in my control. But you have to do what’s right for you. Just be careful — they’re not all legit.
From what I’ve read and heard, it seems to be the general consensus that you should cut back where you can, save about $1000 in an emergency fund while you’re paying just the minimum on the debts, then tackle the debt like crazy once you have that $1000 cushion. Once the debt’s paid off, focus on building up an emergency fund for 3-6 months’ worth of expenses so you don’t get back into that debt.
How you pay off the debt is up to you. Some gurus will say to pay off the smallest debt first. Some will say to pay off the highest interest debt first. Whatever makes you feel most productive is what you should do, as far as I’m concerned. The biggest thing to remember is that once a debt is paid off, you should take the payments that were being made on that debt and apply them to the next debt in your plan.
For those of us living paycheck-to-paycheck, it can be hard to pay any more than necessary, especially when we’ve already cut out pretty much all unnecessary expenses. But even those of us who are already beyond tight can find a little — like the $10 a week that gets transferred into my savings account. And then, of course, there’s always…
Making More Money
Once the expenses are cut as much as reasonably possible, the next step is to try to bring in supplemental income. For me, that came in the form of my writing: I self-published two novels and started selling those, plus I got a little residual income from some articles I wrote online. While neither of these is getting me rich any time soon, they help ease the burden a little. For you, you may be able to bring in a little extra in a variety of different ways:
  • Perhaps you have a hobby or talent that you can put to use.
  • Hire yourself out for mowing lawns or some other such thing.
  • Deliver newspapers.
  • Babysit.
Or, if you have a job outside the home:
  • See if you can pick up a few extra hours for supplemental income.
  • Ask for a raise.
  • See if you’re in line for any promotions.
  • Look for a higher-paying job in your field.
The possibilities are endless. And just a little extra a week or month can knock down that debt faster than any of your other efforts.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of ideas or ways to get yourself back on track. But once you’ve figured out what it is you have to change and how you’re going to get there, the rest is just staying motivated and not losing focus. And that, of course, will be covered in future posts.