How Much Does a Wedding Cost?

The national average wedding cost is $33,931. To estimate how much you’ll spend, get quotes based on your wedding style, date and location.

 

Having a wedding isn’t as simple as saying “I do” — and it’s a lot more expensive.

The national average cost of a wedding is $33,931, according to The Knot’s 2018 Real Weddings Study.

Here’s what you should know about wedding costs and how to realistically estimate how much you’ll spend to take the plunge.

Know the average costs

These are the average price tags for common wedding expenses, minus the engagement ring, according to the 2018 Knot study:

2018-Wedding-Costs_Infographic

At the very least, you’ll need a marriage license. Application fees vary by state, county, city or other conditions. The standard license fee is $27.50 in New Orleans, $50 in Boston and $100 in Santa Barbara, California.

Don’t let the numbers fool you

The $33,931 average is steep — and that figure excludes the honeymoon. But remember that averages don’t tell the whole story. Experts point out that they can easily be skewed.

“One $1 million wedding can bring up the average of thousands of $10,000 weddings,” says Jessica Bishop, wedding expert and founder of the Budget Savvy Bride.

One $1 million wedding can bring up the average of thousands of $10,000 weddings.

JESSICA BISHOP, WEDDING EXPERT AND FOUNDER OF THE BUDGET SAVVY BRIDE

So treat this data as a benchmark, not an expectation. And you don’t have to spring for all the items on the list. For example, you might decide to skip favors and hook your smartphone up to a speaker system instead of hiring a band or DJ.

Pay attention to details

Even if you plan a wedding with all the bells and whistles, you can still lower costs by being flexible about certain factors:

  • Hired help. Asking a friend to bartend and making decorations yourself are cheaper than paying for professional services and premium packages.
  • Location. Where you get married matters, and not just for the venue. If you plan to tie the knot in a major metropolitan area, expect higher prices and increased competition for venues and other services.
  • Guest list size. Some venues have minimum and maximum guest requirements and are priced accordingly, and vendors might charge per head for food and drink. Head count affects expenses across the board, says Deborah Moody, executive director of the Association of Certified Professional Wedding Consultants. With 10 fewer guests on your list, Moody points out, you’d cut out at least one table: That’s 10 chairs, 10 place settings, 10 favors and one centerpiece right there that you’re not paying for. “By cutting your guest list by 10 or 20 people, you may actually save yourself $1,000,” Moody says.
  • Season. That sunny summer wedding probably comes with a trade-off: price. Ceremony sites, reception halls and photographers are known to offer lower rates during off-peak months, such as January or February.
  • Day of the week. Saturday is the most popular day for weddings, and high demand often comes with a higher price tag. You might be able to save by scheduling your big day on a Sunday or weekday — unless it coincides with a popular holiday.

Compare prices and services

Once you’ve picked the services you want, the best way to identify fair prices and approximate the total bill is to ask around. Talk to friends and family who’ve recently gone through the process, or consult a wedding planner. Get quotes from multiple vendors. Then choose the options you think are the best value.

Get quotes from multiple vendors and pay attention to what’s included in the fees.

As you shop around, pay attention to what’s included in the fees. Some venues provide tables, chairs, linens and audio equipment at no additional cost. Others charge extra or require you to rent these items from outside sources. Compare apples to apples as you evaluate costs.

Negotiate if necessary

If you find it necessary to negotiate, do it carefully and respectfully. “You don’t want to nickel-and-dime a professional person who has set their rates the way that they’ve set them for a reason,” Bishop says. She adds that vendors just starting out in the business usually charge less than those with more experience.

If you have a wedding planner, he or she should know what’s reasonable and where to find wiggle room, Moody says. “If you can find a place where they can do the wedding as well as the reception, then they should be willing to give you a break on the price,” she says.

You can also lower rates on your own. Consider asking vendors to cut back on what’s included in their packages. For example, ask the photographer to work a few hours instead of the whole day, or find out if the caterer can limit guests to one or two drinks instead of offering an open bar.

Anticipate extra costs

Even with careful planning, surprises are bound to pop up. Bishop suggests allowing for a 10% buffer to cover hidden fees, overages and add-ons, such as cake cutting and delivery fees, taxes and gratuities.

Add it all up

Don’t bow to pressure from relatives, friends, social media or spending reports. Your wedding spending should align with your income, regular expenses and other financial goals.

Once you’ve established a budget, decided the kind of wedding you want and begun to compare costs, plug in the numbers. Use our calculator to help you figure out what you’ll spend overall.

How to Make Money From Home

Generating income from home can take less than an hour each day or be a full-time job — it just depends on how much effort you want to put into it. Here are some ideas on how to make money in a way that fits your needs, skills and schedule.

Low effort, low reward

  • Sell your things. You know that bike you hardly ever ride? And that guitar you thought you’d learn to play? Or how about those toys and clothes your kid never used? Don’t wait for spring to do some cleaning — sell those items online. Use Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace for local sales, or sites like Amazon and eBay if you don’t mind shipping.
  • Take online surveys. The work is easy, but it takes a while to make even a few dollars. The sites are often more useful for earning gift cards than for cash. Read our surveys for money roundup to find out which sites might work for you.
  • Monetize your website. If you already have a blog or website, let it make some money for you. Programs like Google AdSense allow advertisers to bid for your ad space. It’s free and doesn’t have to add to your workload. Ads run on your blog and you make money when visitors click on them. You can also place a PayPal button on your site to allow readers to donate to you or to pay for any products you sell.

High effort, high reward

  • Freelance. If you have a skill that’s in demand, such as writing, web design, accounting or even data entry, you can get paid for freelancing your services. You can set a price for your labor and choose your clients. To get started, “go back to former employers and ask if they have any freelance work,” says Katherine Hutt, national spokesperson for the Better Business Bureau and former freelancer. If you don’t have any experience yet, Hutt suggests doing some volunteer work for a charity to build your portfolio.
  • Start your own small business. You get compliments all the time on the jewelry you create, and your family loved the scarves you made last Christmas. Let strangers love what you make, too, by turning that hobby into a small business. Build a website for your wares, or use a marketplace like Etsy to sell your creations.

Don’t bother

  • Work-at-home scams. Watch out for any job opportunity that promises high pay for low-effort work. “Businesses tend not to solicit employees on flyers on telephone poles or social media messages,” Hutt says. These offers are rarely legitimate, and they might end up losing you money. The Federal Trade Commission lists envelope stuffing, mystery shopping and certain types of multilevel marketing among common work-at-home scams.

No matter your approach to making money from home, be sure to include the extra income in your budget. Also, keep all of your documents and contact information for all the businesses you deal with in an easy-to-find place. In the event that something goes awry, you want to be as prepared as possible.

6 Ways to Get Free Money From the Government

State and federal programs grant money to help with heating bills, a down payment on a home and more.

Whoever said “nothing in life comes free” didn’t take into account government programs that help people pay for things like college, day care and a new home. Most of these programs are funded by taxes, so technically you pay something, but they’re as close as you’ll get to getting free money from the government.

1. Get help with utility bills

Need help paying your heating or phone bill? These programs may be able to help:

  • The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program helps low-income households cover heating and cooling costs. Grants are issued via states, which receive funding from the Department of Health and Human Services. Each state sets its own eligibility requirements, including income levels.
  • The Lifeline program offers discounted landline or cell phone service. Lifeline is an income-based program, so you must meet certain eligibility requirements.

2. Find money for child care

Day care is a major expense for many families. Annual costs for infant care range from just shy of $5,000 in Mississippi to more than $22,600 in Washington, D.C., according to the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on low- and middle-income workers.

The Child Care and Development Fund can help ease the burden for low-income families. Administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the fund gives states, territories and tribes money to distribute to families to help pay for child care. Grants are income-based and typically cover care for children under 13. Find the Child Care and Development Fund contact for your state.

3. Recover unclaimed money

This isn’t so much free money as it is money owed to you. It could be a long-forgotten deposit paid to a utility company, a lost savings bond, unclaimed life insurance benefits or an uncashed paycheck.

West Virginia doled out more than $12 million in unclaimed funds during fiscal year 2017.

These unclaimed funds are turned over to the state when the owner can’t be located, often due to a clerical error or companies having an old address on file. Visit unclaimed.org, a site affiliated with the National Association of State Treasurers, to find out if you have money waiting to be claimed.

During the 2017 fiscal year, West Virginia doled out more than $12 million in unclaimed funds. Maine returned more than $18 million and Florida returned more than $313 million — a record for both states.

4. Get down payment assistance

You want to buy a home but can’t afford a down payment. Enter state-based down payment assistance. These grants and loans help you cover the upfront costs of purchasing a home.

Grants and loans help you cover the upfront costs of purchasing a home.

In Nevada, for example, prospective homeowners can qualify for a grant of up to 5% of their mortgage to put toward a down payment and closing costs. District of Columbia residents can qualify for a down payment assistance loan of up to 3.5% of their mortgage. The loan needs to be repaid only if you sell, refinance or vacate the property within the first five years.

Help isn’t reserved for low-income borrowers. Nevada’s grant program is available to those with an annual income below $98,500. The D.C. program caps income eligibility at just over $132,000.

Visit FHA.com to find down payment assistance programs in your state.

5. Find tax credits for health insurance

The future of the Affordable Care Act is murky at best. But for now, the premium tax credits issued via the program are alive and well. Here’s how they work:

Individuals and families who buy coverage through the government’s health insurance marketplace (Healthcare.gov) can qualify for a credit toward their insurance premiums. The credit can be paid directly to your insurance provider, lowering your monthly payments, or paid out as a tax credit when you file your return.

6. Apply for college grants

College grants, like the federal Pell Grant, can make it easier to pay for college. Students who are eligible for the Pell Grant could get up to $6,095 for the 2018-19 award year. The exact amount awarded is based on factors that include financial need, the cost of attendance and enrollment status. Students can apply for the Pell Grant by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The application is also used to qualify for many state and institutional grants and scholarships.

Other federal grants for college include:

  • The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant
  • The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant
  • The Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant

You can also look for scholarships using the U.S. Department of Labor’s scholarship search tool.

10 Ways to Trick Yourself Into Saving Money

Saving money isn’t that hard. What’s hard is keeping money saved.

It’s too easy to cut expenses in one area only to spend more somewhere else. Sticking cash into savings won’t help if it comes right back out again. What you need are some ways to trick yourself into saving money that actually last. Such as:

1. Automate it

Willpower is overrated. Set up automatic transfers, and you likely won’t miss the money as it’s whisked from your paycheck to your retirement fund (for example) or from your checking account to savings.

2. Hide it

Part two of the out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach is to make sure you’re not regularly reminded that you have this money. Set up savings accounts at a separate institution from the one that has your checking account, so you’re not seeing your savings balance every time you log on. Sign up for paperless statements for retirement accounts, and then don’t check them more than once or twice a year. (But don’t ignore these accounts entirely — set up text or email alerts for any withdrawals or unusual activity so you can catch fraud.)

3. Name it

Labeling an account with its purpose can be a powerful deterrent to tapping the money for other uses. Online banks allow you to set up multiple sub-accounts at no extra cost, and each one can be given a name: vacation, property taxes, new car fund, holidays and so on. It’s a lot easier to dip into a nameless savings account than one that says “Dream Trip to Bora Bora.” The names make you think about what you’re really sacrificing when you spend the money thoughtlessly. You may not be able to rename your employer retirement fund, but you often can input nicknames for IRAs and other brokerage accounts. How about “Freedom Fund”?

4. Use an app

Digit analyzes your checking account transactions, then transfers money you won’t miss into a Digit savings account. Acorns does something similar but looks across all your accounts and invests the spare money. Bank of America has a program called Keep the Change that rounds up debit card purchases to the nearest dollar and transfers the change into your savings account.

5. Lock it up

You should keep at least $500 cash easily accessible for small emergencies. Beyond that, consider creating some barriers to accessing the money. Certificates of deposit can be a good option for savings accounts, since you pay a small penalty if you break into them early. If you’re tempted to cash in retirement funds, remember that taxes and penalties typically will equal 25% to 50% of any withdrawal.

6. Save your rewards

Use a cash-back rewards credit card for your expenses, pay the balance in full every month and regularly transfer the rewards to your savings account or IRA.

7. Divert it

Every time you cancel a subscription, disconnect a service or pay off a debt, divert that monthly payment into savings.

8. Bank your windfalls

Define a windfall broadly as any extra money that lands in your lap: rebates, bonuses, refunds (including your tax refund). Carve out 10% to spend any way you want and then save the rest.

9. Make it a game

Some people save every $5 or $10 bill that wanders into their wallets. Others stuff every $1 bill they get into a change jar at the end of the day. Every month, feed the green to your savings account.

10. Save your raise

Got a 3% raise? Boost your 401(k) or IRA contribution by at least 2%. You’ll get a little extra in your paycheck while putting most of your raise to work for your future.

Short-Term or Long-Term, Budget and Save for Your Goals

Learn the difference between these financial goals, as well as how to budget and save for them.

Short-term and long-term goals might seem self-explanatory, but some cases aren’t exactly clear-cut. Here are a few ways to identify your goals, plus budget and save for them accordingly.

What are short-term financial goals?

Short-term goals are your more immediate expenses. Although timelines vary, these are the things you’ll spend money on generally within a few months or years.

Short-term goal examples:

  • Emergency fund.
  • Payments toward rent, insurance or student loans.
  • Credit card debt payments.
  • Personal goods.
  • Travel.
  • Wedding.
  • Minor repairs and home improvements.

What are long-term goals?

Long-term goals are usually your big-picture costs. These goals may take several years or even decades to reach. Your distant goals typically involve more money and regular attention than short-term goals.

Long-term goal examples:

  • Retirement fund.
  • Paying off a mortgage.
  • Starting a business.
  • Saving for a child’s college tuition.

The gray area

There is often overlap between the two categories that can make things fuzzy. Medium- or mid-term goals fall between short-term and long-term goals and tend to take a few years to achieve.

Mid-term goal examples:

  • Buying a car.
  • Saving for a down payment.
  • Paying off debt.

Other goal periods can be tougher to estimate. For example, you might not need an emergency fund for several years, or you might need it right away. There’s no way to know when car repairs or medical bills will pop up. And the amount of time it takes to chip away at your debt depends on how much money you’re willing and able to contribute.

How to prioritize goals

Work your goals around your usual expenses, focusing on needs like food and shelter first.

You’ll likely have a combination of short- and long-term goals to balance. Work your goals around your usual expenses, focusing on needs like food and shelter first. Emergency and retirement funds are also high priority; contribute to these funds and pay off debt next. Then you can decide how to allocate the rest of your money toward your wants and other savings goals.

How to budget and save

Know where you stand before you start to budget and save for your goals. Determine how much money you can spend and save per month based on your income. Use the 50/30/20 budget calculator as a starting point. Set a timeline for your goals, then work toward them.

Try to cut back on purchasing things you don’t need and set the savings aside for your goals. You might spend (or save) some of this leftover amount immediately on short-term goals or to make a dent in your long-term goals.

Where to save

Find a safe place to store your nest egg until you need it. For short-term goals and your emergency fund, you’ll ideally want to keep your money in a place you can access it quickly and without penalty, like a savings account.

You may reach your long-term goals quicker by putting your cash into a savings account or certificate of deposit with a high interest rate, or by investing, especially if you don’t plan to use this money for at least five years — say you’re starting a college fund for your newborn. That way you’ll allow time to build up a positive return. For retirement funds, here’s how to choose between IRA and 401(k) accounts.

5 Steps for Tracking Your Expenses

Checking your account history and using an app can help you start tracking expenses.

First off, way to go. If you’re reading this, you’re taking a close look at your finances.

But while thinking about your monthly financial picture is a great start, it isn’t enough to actually wrangle your expenses. The next move is tracking your spending on a regular basis so you can get an accurate picture of where your money is going and where you’d like it to go instead.

Here’s how to get started tracking your monthly expenses.

1. Check your account statements

Pinpoint your money habits by taking inventory of all of your accounts, including your checking account and all credit cards you have. Looking at your accounts will help you identify where you’re spending.

Annamaria Lusardi, the Denit Trust chair of economics and accountancy at the George Washington University School of Business, recommends getting a sense for your monthly cash flow — what’s coming in and what’s going out.

2. Categorize your expenses

Start grouping your expenses. Some credit cards automatically tag your purchases in categories like department store or automotive. You could find that your morning Starbucks run is costing you a lot. Or maybe you’ll realize you’re paying for recurring subscription services that you could do without.

Your spending will consist of both fixed expenses and variable expenses. Fixed expenses are less likely to change from month to month. They include mortgage or rent, utilities, insurance and debt payments. You’ll have more room to adjust variable expenses like food, clothing and travel.

3. Use an app

Budgeting apps like You Need a Budget and Mint are designed for on-the-go money management, letting you allocate a certain amount of spendable income each month depending on what you’re taking in and what you’re paying out. These types of apps will work if you’re willing to log your purchases, put in the time and stick to your budget.

Depending on what you get out of it, a paid app may be worth the cost. You Need a Budget, for instance, is $83.99 a year (after a 34-day free trial), but it has appealing benefits, like its ability to sync transactions directly from your bank account and its option for live workshops with the company’s support team.

4. Explore other options

Not a fan of apps? A spreadsheet is another valuable money-tracking tool. You can find a variety of free budget templates online, and NerdWallet also offers an online budget worksheet.

You can find a variety of free budget templates online.

Or, if you have a more complex financial portfolio, you can buy software. Richard H. Serlin, adjunct professor of personal finance at the University of Arizona, recommends Quicken Premier, which lets you import your bank transactions and monitor your investments.

“This is just a much smarter, more effective, clear and organized way of keeping track of your spending, and pretty much all aspects of budgeting and financial investing, than trying to do it yourself with an Excel table or paper ledger,” he says. Quicken Premier regularly costs $74.99, but Quicken also offers a basic Starter edition for $34.99.

NERDWALLET MAKES MANAGING YOUR FINANCES EASY.

Keep track of your spending, credit score, and even find fresh ways to save.

5. Identify room for change

As you track, be ready to make adjustments. It’s worth your time to keep tabs on your monthly expenses because of what you’ll uncover. “Tracking expenses can be very valuable for finding out what’s really costing you, and what is not as bad as you thought,” Serlin says.

He also notes that lowering the “big fixed expenses” in your life, like the cost of housing, vehicles and utilities, can make a significant impact on your budget.

17 Weird and Wacky Ways to Save Up To $7,000 A Year

When times are tight, and that seems to be just about all of the time these days, it’s important to search for ways to stretch your dollars. While everyone seems to know the obvious money-saving strategies, like clipping coupons or online shopping instead of spending extra for gas and driving everywhere, there are plenty of other options to cut your costs. Some of you may have heard some ideas whispered in a back room at the office, but you may have never even imagined that people spend a lot of their time looking for new and even extreme ways to save their money!

1. Go dark

Cut your electric bill by going turning off the lights, television, and all other electronic devices once a week. Think it’s impossible for you to do? Well, then consider doing it for a designated timeframe—even just for a few hours once a week. Say, no electricity for 2 hours every day when you come home. Spend that time reading a book or doing a puzzle, even washing your car or taking a bath by candle light!

The average American family spends over $1,500 a year on electricity. Knocking out one full day a week could save as much as 1/7th ($215 annually) of your bill if you light a candle and enjoy some old-fashioned family time with your loved ones by playing board games, listening to a battery operated radio, or telling some ghost stories.

If you’re really an adventurer, do what my family did by creating a “Wattless Wednesday” each week during the summertime. We spent time sitting out in the backyard/patio having a “time with nature” and if you have a fireplace you can even enjoy gathering around it in winter! Any combination and variation of these will save you money.

2. Stockpile free condiments

You know it’s done all the time. Don’t spend money on ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, soy sauce, sweeteners and sugar, or any other condiments. Instead, collect packets when visiting at fast food restaurants. If you think it’s being dishonest, think again. They leave most of this stuff right out there for you to use. Do you see any sign saying just take one or two please? Grabbing just a few extra packets may not seem like you’re saving much but it really adds up over the course of a year. I estimate you can save over $50.

3. Flush using less water

Save a few dollars by flushing using less water in your toilet. Simply place a capped plastic jug filled and sealed tightly with some sand or rocks in the back of their toilet tank, making sure it doesn’t interfere with the flap in the center of the tank. It will displace enough water in the tank to save 10 or more gallons per day. Over an entire year that can mean savings of $100 on your annual water bill.

4. Buy used and second hand

Old is new again as that saying goes and “retro” looks are pretty hip these days. eBay and craigslist come quickly to mind but there are plenty of neighborhood thrift shops around too. You can even try the Salvation Army and Good Will who have some super bargains too. You can save up to 90% on clothing easily. Gently used or worn saves you $250 a year!

5. Loose and lost change

Check soda machines for loose change. I’m not kidding. Even the area around vending machines often reveals dropped coins or some forgotten change. You can also check the parking lot and car wash vacuum areas for dropped coins. I always find a few without any effort. It only requires you to look down for a few seconds! Those “free” pennies, dimes, nickels, and quarters can add up over time. If you just look down, you will find some.

Some folks have great success searching beaches and recreation areas with metal detectors to find valuables like coins, rings, and other jewelry. You can invest in a decent detector for under $100 and it will pay for itself with your findings.

6. Skip a meal once or twice a week

Yes, eating healthy is very important, but you must admit that sometimes you eat when you aren’t really hungry, more of a social thing with friends or family. If you try, you can eat 20 meals a week instead of 21 by simply eating a little later at night and then skipping breakfast one time and having lunch just a little early the next day. Whatever way you can do it, skipping one meal a week will save you 5-10% on your annual food costs. For us, that means a savings of about $300 a year from skipping just one meal per week!

7. Plan your driving to save on gas

Don’t run errands randomly anymore. Plan them out so you can make the best use of time and money. You will find that what took you all week to accomplish can be done in just a few days and save on car expenses too! Saving even ½ gallon of gas per week is over $75 a year.

8. Stop paying for your trash bags

Trash bags are pretty expensive and—wait for it—you just throw them in the trash, don’t you?

We use the plastic bags from all our shopping trips to line every trash can we have. They are free and as long as we have that option we will keep on using them to save. They fit perfectly and cost nada. Savings here can run as much as $50 a year.

9. Buy generics

This is really a no-brainer. Generic products are often the same as the brand names, even made in the same factories. Buying generic can save you as much as 50% on things like canned veggies or shampoos or aspirin. Be willing to at least try some and you will find that with most you can’t tell any differences from those “expensive” brands. If you find even just a few items, you can save numbers like $5 a week on just veggies alone which adds up to over $100 a year!

10. Cancel your subscriptions

Besides the expense of magazines and newspapers, there’s also the storage and trash/recycling issues. With access to just about everything online, why do you need to have magazines all over the house? If you must read them, your local library has plenty of those to look at, any time you choose. Cancelling a newspaper delivery alone can save you $100 a year easily.

11. Stop smoking

Smoking is very unhealthy, but besides that, it is outrageously expensive. Giving it up is being very smart. If you smoke just one pack a day (average cost per pack in the U.S. is over $7), quitting will save you over $2,500 per year. Use the same approach to alcohol and/or illegal drugs to be safe and save both your money and your health.

12. Have a “no spend” day

A no spend day is exactly what it sounds like. Pick a day and just spend no money. Typically, on average about $5 a day is spent on things that can be avoided with a little discipline. That means no bagel and coffee, no newspapers, and no candy from the machine down in the breakroom. Get a little creative, use some discipline, and save as much as $200 per year when you implement this strategy.

13. Reuse things

Plastic zip bags, paper bags and tin foil are all reusable with just a little effort. You may have to rinse them off, but it is well worth it. Those things sometimes are really lightly used and just get tossed without thought. Saving just one zip bag item a day means that you can save over 30 boxes of 10 per year, on average $2 each or $60 annually. Besides, it’s good for the planet.

14. Use energy efficient lightbulbs

Energy efficient bulbs have been around for years now but many people are such creatures of habit they are missing this opportunity to save some long-term money. Although they cost more initially than traditional bulbs, replacing just 5 old filament ones with these new ones will save you $75 a year. You may as well join the trend now and start saving sooner rather than later!

15. Leave your credit cards at home

When you are out for a walk downtown, riding your bike, taking the kids to soccer practice or watching the game, don’t carry your credit cards with you. If you simply carry a few dollars for an emergency, you won’t be tempted to spend money needlessly on things you come across in your outdoor adventures. Take a water bottle filled with cold tap water from home and you’ll save as much as $1-$2 every time you do or $50 a year!

16. Meatless Mondays

The biggest expense in your food budget is typically the meat as your source of protein. Try making one day “meatless” by using beans, eggs, nuts, and fruits in your meals to save. It’s healthy and offers a pleasant change of pace too. Pasta easily does it for us (sans meatballs of course!) and will save you about $250 per year.

17. Buy a reuseable water bottle

I wish I had been the guy who thought of selling water in a plastic bottle! Imagine how many bottles are sold each year and—wait for it—it’s water! FYI, I looked it up and sales last year just in the U.S. were over $2.5 billion!

If you spend $1, $2 or even up to $4 on a bottle for water, I have some land to sell you in the Sahara desert! Simply buy a decent reuseable water bottle and fill it at home with tap water and you will save hundreds (as much as $200 a year). If you don’t like the taste of your tap water, try a filter.

Bottom Line

Being creative and thinking outside of the box is not just a good idea, but it’s become a requirement in a world where things just keep getting more expensive every day. Some people go even further in altering their lifestyle to make ends meet, from “dumpster dives” to skipping on hygiene like bathing every other day and not washing your hair regularly. I hope that it doesn’t come to that with you and me and that my tips on “extreme” crazy ways to save won’t cause you total embarrassment! It may, however cause you to have an eyebrow raised when you try them!

Besides using coupons and budgeting as well as using money saving apps, what are you doing to go above and beyond to save money? Does the thought of taking sugar packs from McDonalds make you feel cheap or even like a thief? Do you see bargains and freebies around every corner and are you willing to look like a “cheapskate” if you do? What are some other weird and wacky ways you can think of to save?

Creating a Budget 101

1. Introduction: Budgeting Tips & Basics

If you struggle from debt or are looking to take control of your finances, there are a number of life changes and budgeting tips that can help solve your problems. Although it may seem hard to turn around a sinking ship, the following budgeting course can help teach you the skills you need to overcome your money troubles.

The first step is to start right away. If you’re ever going to get out of the hole, you have to stop digging right now. This means that you need to reduce all excess spending as soon as you can to avoid incurring new debt.

Also, you should begin to transition to a cash-only lifestyle. Using credit and debit cards can easily put you in an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. The more you use paper money, the less likely you will be to overspend.

As we proceed, remember that budgeting is an ongoing process. Staying disciplined can be hard, and you may stumble. If that happens, it’s important to get back up and try again, one day at a time. Budgets can be adjusted and there’s no goal you can’t reach with the right amount of practice.

2. Track Your Spending

Before you start creating a budget, you need to be aware of how much you spend. Track your spending over the next month and make notes of how much you spend on:

  •    Bills
  •    Loans
  •    Living expenses
  •    Entertainment funds
  •    Groceries
  •    Everyday purchases

The total of these expenses will be your total monthly spending. We also suggest that you continue to keep track of your expenses after you have made a budget to make sure you are sticking to your plan.

There are many ways you can track your spending. If you prefer pen and paper, you can keep track of all of your daily and monthly spending in a calendar or a notebook. You can also keep all of your receipts and sort them out at the end of the month.

You can also keep track of your spending online using your computer or an app on your phone. There are a variety of programs that can help you make a budget online and that assist with organizing, tracking, and cutting back on your spending.

However you choose to track your spending, it’s important that you track everything and stick with it. That means every $4.99 latte needs to be accounted for. If you’re going to plug your budget leaks, you need to know where every dollar is going.

While tracking your spending, categorize each bill or purchase into separate categories. For example, the categories listed in our budget worksheets include:

  •    Housing (mortgage payments, rent, property taxes)
  •    Utilities (gas, electricity, water, sewage)
  •    Automotive (gasoline, car payments, insurance, repairs, DMV registration)
  •    Loans (student, personal, financing loans)
  •    Amenities (internet, phone, monthly subscriptions)
  •    Medical (bills, insurance)
  •    Taxes (income)
  •    Entertainment (activities, gifts)
  •    Necessities (clothes, household products)
  •    Groceries (food, pet food, dining out)

Include as many categories as you need to cover all of your expenses. If you track your spending carefully, you may even learn new things about yourself.

Once you’ve tracked your expenses, you’ll have all the information you need to create a budget that is accurate and effective.

3. Calculate Your Take-Home Income

 

Once you know how much you spend a month, you should also calculate how much money you have coming in. For some, this can be easy — many of us typically have regular paychecks that come in the same amount every one or two weeks.

However, you should include every source of income you have, no matter how small. Do you rent a room in your home? Does anyone owe you? And what about your income taxes?

Every amount of money that comes in can be considered a source of income. And no matter where the income comes from, you should include it in your budget and apply it to your expenses, debt payments and goals.

 

4. Setting Financial Goals

After you’ve calculated your income and tracked your spending, it’s time to think about setting financial goals. Why are you thinking of creating a budget in the first place?

Some of the most common financial goals are eliminating your credit card balances and paying off debts. This can help with your credit history, your ability to qualify for loans in the future and your overall quality of life.

Another goal is to buy a home or car. If you are considering applying for a home or auto loan, you may need to begin saving for a down payment. A large down payment can result in a better interest rate, a lower monthly payment and more savings over time.

There are three types of financial goals you should consider:

  • Short-term financial goals
  • Medium range financial goals
  • Long-term financial goals

Short term goals are goals that can be reached within a year. Paying for a new television, computer or family vacation are all short-term goals that you could easily achieve in 12 months or less.

Medium range goals take up to 5 years to achieve. This could include paying off a credit card balance, a small personal loan or saving for a down payment on a car.

Long-term goals take 5 years or more to achieve. Saving for a college education or a new home are common long-term goals. Saving for retirement is an example of a goal you may be working towards for the rest of your life.

Once you’ve picked your goal, you’ll want to consider when you can complete it. This will give you a better understanding of how much money you will need to put aside every month. Then, add that amount to your monthly spending. You can categorize this expense as “Savings.”

5. Create a Budget

After you calculate your income and expenses, it is time to create a budget. This step includes balancing your budget and trimming off excess spending.

First, subtract your total monthly expenses (spending) from your total monthly income. If you are in a deficit (or negative), you will need to find areas to cut or reduce your expenses or increase your income.

Our budgeting charts divide expenses into two categories: necessary (needs) and discretionary (wants).

Discretionary expenses or wants are the first items you should look to cut if your budget doesn’t balance. This could include money spent on entertainment or monthly subscriptions (like streaming services and monthly food deliveries) that are not necessities.

Because no two situations are the same, it can be difficult to determine exactly how much money should be spent in every budget category. However, we do have a general idea of how your spending should break down:

  •       Housing = 35-45%
  •       Auto and transportation = 15-25%
  •       Monthly utilities = 8-15%
  •       Food expenses = 10-20%
  •       Medical expenses = 8-15%
  •       Clothing and necessities = 5-10%
  •       Savings = 5-10%
  •       Debt payments = 20%

Savings are a crucial part of your budget. You should strive to save as much as possible for emergencies, retirement and other goals. For now, set aside 5-10% of your budget to go straight to savings. Once you have repaid all of your debts, you should try to save as much as 20%.

Miscellaneous expenses including clothes and other necessities should be around 5%-10% of your budget every month. This is a big category for most people, so you’ll likely have to make some cuts here to balance your budget.

Up to 20% of your monthly budget should be set aside for credit card and other debt payments. This section does not include your auto loan or mortgage. If your debt payments are taking up more than 20%, you may have a problem that needs more serious help.