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Ask The Expert: Managing Budget and Debt

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Are you curious about the best way to manage your money, whether or not you have debt? Do you know the difference between “good” and “bad” debt? Our expert, Martin Booker will share the three most important numbers to know when it comes to managing your budget and debt. Martin will also discuss strategies for budgeting and how to maintain a lifestyle with less debt.


Join us now thru Monday, April 27th!


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Re: Share Your Tips, Suggestions, and Advice on Managing Debt

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Would it be smarter to get a personal at a low rate to consolidate credit card balances?

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AARP Expert

Re: Ask The Expert: Managing Budget and Debt

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Based on the lifestyle changes due to the shelter-in-place orders, many of us are experiencing adjustments to our finances. For some, there has been an unfortunate reduction or loss of income while others are still working but seeing a rise or reduction in certain expenses. What have you experienced and how are you managing at this time? Provide your best tips based on what you've done so far and I will share tips, tricks and resources all week as well. 


Let's have fun conversation about budgeting and debt! 

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Re: Ask The Expert: Managing Budget and Debt

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Your budget is the foundation of money management. Having a budget will allow you to be knowledgeable of exactly how much money you make, spend and have remaining. There are multiple ways to bring awareness to cash flow. Here are two of methods:


Spending trackers- There are companies that will track you’re spending by linking to your bank account. These companies will take what you’ve spent and categorize it to make you aware of how much money you’re spending on groceries, eating out, transportation and more. The benefit to these trackers is that you can get an accurate snapshot of how much money you’re spending. Once you’re aware, you can make adjustments if you believe that you’re overspending in certain areas. Some banks and credit unions offer these trackers. This is a good place to start if you’re interested in an automated way to track your spending through your debit card purchases. If your bank or credit union does not offer this service, third party apps will offer this service but be sure to fully understand their security measures before providing access to your banking records. If you decide to use a tracker, be sure to stay active with your spending tracker and make the necessary adjustments based on the results. The tracker will only be helpful if you are engaged in the process.


Budgeting applications- There are many forms and styles to budgeting. You can use an electronic application, spreadsheet or paper and pen. You can also have a monthly, weekly or daily budget. Some people prefer to budget for the entire household or create a budget for only their expenses. While there are so many options and ways to budget, what’s most important for you in choosing is to find the budget that is most comfortable and effective for you. Usually your lifestyle can dictate the type of budget you need. For example, if you prefer technology and creating formulas to do the math for you, a spreadsheet might work, but if you prefer to write out the number and do the math, pen and paper may be your preferred method. Another thing to consider is your income schedule to decide if you need a monthly, weekly or daily budget. If you receive all of your money once a month, you can consider a monthly budget, but if you have a side hustle, you may want a weekly or daily budget in order to budget all of your expenses based on when you receive income.


What’s great about a budget is the ability to determine your spending before you receive your income. With a budget, you get to decide how much you’ll spend on eating out, transportation, etc. and then make adjustments to your lifestyle to meet your budget. So instead of following what you spent, you take the lead in setting your spending. Budgets can be made for weeks or months in advance and then adjusted as your finances change. For example, if you are seeing a decrease in transportation cost right now, you can adjust your budget to account for the times. Now you will be able to make decisions on how to use the extra funds. If you decide to budget, be sure to plan ahead. You want to know your potential numbers for the future and adjust in real time when necessary.


If you choose to track your spending or budget your income and expenses in advance, your most important step is to be active. Make adjustments to the numbers when needed and make adjustments to your lifestyle when the numbers aren’t working in your favor. Also, keep testing different software, budget methods and more until you find your right fit. We are different in many ways so finding the right tool may take time. Feel free to try out this home budget calculator


Let us know which methods you use or have used in the past to effectively manage your money.

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Re: Ask The Expert: Managing Budget and Debt

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When budgeting, keep the following things in mind:


- Budgeting will make you fully aware of your income, expenses and the difference.

- The larger the difference between your income and expenses, the more money you have  to meet short and long term goals

- Budgeting before you spend your money will allow you to guide your income

- When you have variable income, round down on your projected income for budget planning 

- When you have variable expenses, round up on your projected expenses for budget planning

- A budget is a living document. Numbers will change so stay active during the budgeting process

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Re: Ask The Expert: Managing Budget and Debt

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Here are a few tips about the three most important numbers to know when budgeting are the following:


Income- List all of your income from all sources. Be sure to include sporadic and variable income as well when you budget. When creating your budget, it is better to round down on your variable income in order to prevent a deficit. For example, if your take home pay is between $489 and $515 a week, you may want to set your projected income at $480 and adjust the income line on pay day. Your income is what you will use to fund your current lifestyle and reach your goals.


Expenses- Include all expenses in your budget. It is easy to forget about expenses such as self-care expenses or gratuity that you pay but as much as you can estimate these expenses, the more accurate your budget will become. It’s important to round up on your expenses if it is a variable expense. By doing so, you can prevent a deficit in your budget when you make payments. For example, if a utility can range between $40 and $55, you may want to set it in your budget at $60 and adjust your budget when you make the payment.


The difference- This is the balance remaining after subtracting your expenses from your income. The difference is that amount of money that you are able to use to payoff more debt, give or increase your savings. The more that you can increase your income and/or lower expenses the larger the difference. When you determine how you will use the difference, you can determine how soon you can reach that goal by knowing your difference. Any time that there is a deficit when subtracting your expenses from your income, you have two choices. You can either increase your income or decrease your expenses in order to break even or have excess.


After creating your budget, become familiar with your numbers. If you have a significant difference between your income and your expenses, create some important goals to reach such as increasing retirement savings, paying off debt or saving money for a child’s college. When you know these three numbers, you will be more aware of your finances which can lead to better money management.

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Re: Ask The Expert: Managing Budget and Debt

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Has anyone seen an increase or decrease in debt during this time? 

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Re: Ask The Expert: Managing Budget and Debt

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During the uncertainty of COVID-19, many people are concerned about their finances or continuing to pay off their current debt. One thing to consider when it comes to debt during these uncertain times is should you accelerate debt payoff. Right now, there is uncertainty about the future of jobs and companies across America.


As you consider how to manage your money right now, one important thing to prioritize is liquid savings. If you have not saved an emergency fund (3 months of your expenses if you’re in a double income household or 6 months of your expenses if you’re in a single income household), then you may want to take measures to increase your savings now.


Here are some ways to do so:


-Reach out to your financial planner to discuss where you can make changes to increase your liquid savings


-Contact your mortgage lender or leasing office to discuss options for payment deferral


-Take advantage of the Student loan payment deferral


-Pay only the minimum balances on debt and move excess money to savings


-Reach out to companies where you make payments and ask about COVID-19 relief


-Save money from expenses that have been lowered such as transportation cost


When asking for a deferral or deciding to defer in order to save money, be sure to understand the terms of your deferral before you make a decision. Ask the following questions when contacting a representative:


-When will payments begin again?


-What are my options for payback after the deferment?


-Will you report missed payments to the credit bureau during this deferral?


-What will happen to any interest that I owe during a payment deferral?


Be as informed as possible so that you in a better situation after we make it through these uncertain times.

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Re: Ask The Expert: Managing Budget and Debt

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Spending trackers and budgets are nice things to have, but what are those things really telling you?  Suppose you have a pet and lets say your annual budget is $900 for pet care.  

So, what if you find out your $200 over budget every year for 3 years?  Do you buy cheaper, less nutritious food?  Spend less on pet toys?  Perhaps it's time to put the animal up for adoption?  Lets say your pet gets hurt and requires surgery at a cost of $1000.  What do you do now?  

Financial tools are nice things to have, but we make decisions with emotion, year after year.

So we'll go on loving our pets, are budgets will suffer, and our trackers will tell us what we already know.


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Re: Ask The Expert: Managing Budget and Debt

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Hello Michael (@Michael2021), 


Thank you for responding and this is a good point that you make. 


Your budget is used to proactively guide how much you will spend per category and the hard work is sticking to your budget after you make it. As you engage your budget in real time, you're able to make adjustments based on your spending habits. 


To use your example, if I am overspending on pet care, then I can look at my entire budget and find another place to cut expenses. The beauty of budgeting is that you get to see a full picture of your spending. So, when you realize that pet care will cost more than expected, you can find something that isn't as important and cut cost in that area. If there is nowhere to cut cost, then you’re aware of how much additional money you will need to make to fund your lifestyle.


Your point also speaks to the importance of an active budget and having a purpose for managing money well. Being able to make adjustments week to week or month to month will contribute to healthy finances over time. For example, if I notice that my utility bill continues to rise each month, I can now seek a solution to lower the bill or make an adjustment in my budget elsewhere to continue to cover this expense. You will be aware of the higher expense and make the adjustments faster with an active budget. Also, your budget can account for emergency savings in order to handle unexcepted expenses as well. 


While a lot of us are emotional spenders, the answer to managing that habit is clear goals and boundaries. If I have a reason to combat my emotional spending than I will. So having goals such as lowering debt in order to have a more comfortable retirement or adding more money towards savings will help stay on track. The way to win against our impulses and habits are with, purpose, boundaries and a plan (or budget).


When trying to take control of unexepected expenses, AARP Money Map is a great tool to use. Checkout AARP Money at

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