Guide to Dealing with Your Teenager’s Challenges

As most parents know, raising a teenager can be a challenge. In a landscape riddled with social and emotional landmines, unprovoked outbursts, irrational thinking, and a bevy of new and possibly harmful experiences ahead, it’s no wonder that many parents feel overwhelmed when it comes to providing guidance for their teenage son or daughter.

But as any good parent knows, in order to better raise your growing child, you need to grow along with them. That means switching up your parenting and discipline strategies, learning to give your teenager a bit more independence, and, most importantly, actively developing patience and an understanding of their issues.

Before getting into the techniques and strategies you can use to make dealing with your teenager’s challenges easier, it’s important to understand a bit of background on the changes they’re going through.

Understanding Developmental Changes in Teenagers

As with any developmental period, the more you know about what your teenager is going through internally, the better equipped you’ll be to help them overcome the obstacles of this particularly difficult stage of growth.

When it comes to physical changes in the body, the teenage years are especially bumpy. Puberty, the physical maturation of a child, usually begins around the ages of 10 to 14 for girls and 12 to 16 for boys. It’s during this stage that their sexual organs, as well as their secondary sexual characteristics, begin to develop. For girls, that means the growth of breasts and body hair along with the widening of hips. Boys will experience a deepening voice, increased body and facial hair, and broadening of shoulders.

For many teenagers, these rapid and noticeable changes can be a great source of embarrassment. Both early and late bloomers might find themselves insecure about how different they now look from their peers, and they may even be subjected to teasing and bullying at school because of it.

Beyond that, teenagers will usually experience quick bursts of intense growth, sometimes shooting up several inches in just a few months. With such a short period of time to get used to their new body, many teenagers will feel clumsy and uncoordinated while they adjust, leading to even more insecurity.

While the hardships that come with these observable changes might be difficult for your child to get used to, some of the biggest changes actually occur in the mind. Although your teenager might be taller than you and appear to be almost an adult, the truth is the human brain isn’t fully developed until the age of about 25.

For adults over that age, most of our decisions are based on the thought processes controlled by the frontal cortex, a region dedicated to rational thinking and predicting the consequences of our actions. For teenagers, however, their frontal cortex is still in the developmental phases. As a result, teens tend to react to situations with their amygdala, an almond-sized structure in the brain that’s responsible for immediate reactions like fear and aggression.

What does that mean for teenagers? In addition to the raging hormones and social pressures that these years bring, your teenager is also stuck making decisions using an emotional brain rather than a rational one.

The takeaway from this is that your teen son or daughter is experiencing a flurry of new emotions, impulses, desires, and insecurities during this period. Consequently, their actions and reactions might seem a bit over-the-top to you. But if you make an effort to be especially patient with them and try to connect as much as possible, you and your teenager will both be happier because of it.

A great resource for finding out more about your teenager’s intellectual and emotional development is the National Institute of Mental Health’s publication The Teen Brain: Still Under Construction.

Bonding with Your Teenager

One of the great challenges of parenting during these years is finding a way to maintain a connection with your teenager. This can be especially difficult as it was likely just a few years ago that your son or daughter was a happy little kid that wanted nothing more than to have your undivided attention. However, if you maintain a good, respectful relationship and an open line of communication as they grow up, it can make things easier through the teenage years.

But between the fierce new independence, the social groups that they just won’t stop talking about, and their unwillingness to communicate as much with you, it can be tough to actually have a conversation with your teenager. With a little patience and persistence, however, connecting with your teen can help them to overcome their obstacles and help you to better understand what’s going through their head.

One of the best ways of opening up your lines of communication is by finding a common ground with your teen. It could mean a love of cooking or action movies, an interest in sports or theater, camping, or even just a hobby like video games or knitting. The key here is to find something that you can do together. Finding a way to create more face-time with your teenager can do wonders for your relationship. It will give them more opportunities to open up about issues that might be on their minds.

If your teen does decide to open up to you about an issue, it’s important that you listen to them without offering advice or judgement. Unless they specifically ask for your two cents, or they are in a particularly dangerous or inappropriate situation, your teenager is most likely just looking for someone to listen to them or is trying to include you in their life. If you criticize them, they might not be so willing to open up in the future. Asking helpful questions or offering them food for thought may help them come to healthy conclusions to issues they are dealing with, on their own.

Another tip for communicating is to be fully present in the moment. While you might be tempted to check emails or read the newspaper during family breakfast or dinner, this is actually the best time to check in with your teenager about what’s going on in their life. Try to make these gatherings as distraction-free as possible (e.g. no phones, TV, or magazines). Choose to be fully committed to family time.

One of the best tips for communicating with your teen son or daughter is get used to (and get over) being rejected. Teenagers are always trying to assert their independence and, as a result, will typically recoil from their parents as much as they can. Even though your son or daughter might seem distant and indifferent, every child needs to feel loved. Simply making the effort to be available to them lets them know you care.

If you need advice on how to talk to your teenager or want to learn more about what they might be going through, feel free to call the National Parent Helpline at 1-855-4A PARENT (1-855-427-2736) or head over to the Teen Health & Wellness organization’s website where you can find a variety of resources to help you understand issues such as bullying, school violence, and sexuality.

Disciplining Your Teenager

As every parent knows, no matter how strong your bond might be, you’ll eventually have to discipline your teenager. Some people find this aspect of parenting to be especially difficult during the teen years either because their son or daughter is particularly defiant, or the parent is being too lax in order to get on their good side. Either way, your role as a parent is to protect your teenager (within reason) and ensure respectful obedience.

In order to do that, you must create rules and structure for your teenager to follow. Curfews, bedtimes, electronic device regulations, chores, and academic expectations are all ways that you can add structure to your teen’s life and help keep them from neglecting their duties. As long as these rules are within reason (e.g. no 7 o’clock bedtimes) and are communicated, it is your responsibility to stick to the punishment associated with not following them.

When it comes time to discipline them for not obeying the rules of the house, there are two crucial tips for dealing with the aftermath: keep your cool and give them some space. Just as you likely won’t be able to make the best decisions when you’re upset, your teenager might just need to rethink their actions once they have a clearer head. Both of these strategies will ensure that both you and your teenager don’t make the situation worse by entering into an emotionally charged debate. If coming home after curfew (without a really good reason) means not going out the following weekend, stick to that rule and follow through. You are likely to have less pushback and can avoid a debate if the rules and consequences have been established. Knowing there are consequences to bad decisions will hopefully steer your teenager toward making good decisions.

Beyond simple obedience, the structure you create will also give your teenager something they can rely on. In a world of chaotic feelings and social relationships that change from hour to hour, having the stability of dinner at 6:30p.m. or family night every Tuesday can mean the world to a teen.

Where to Seek Help

Parenting can be tough job. And if you are raising a family by yourself, the burden can be even heavier. But when your teenager begins to exhibit especially troubling behaviors like heavy alcohol and drug use, violent actions at home or at school, or threatening physical harm to others, it may be time to seek professional help.

That’s why it’s important for you to realize that there are options to help you manage an especially troublesome child. In addition to the helplines referenced above (the National Parent Helpline at 1-855-4A PARENT (1-855-427-2736) or the Teen Health & Wellness organization’s website), parents can also choose to seek professional family counseling.

Doing so will not only give you an objective perspective on your troublesome teenager’s actions, it can also help facilitate communication between family members and give you access to expert advice from a qualified professional. A good place to start is GoodTherapy.org, where you can use their counselor locator to find help near you.

Parents can also choose to use residential programs that will house your teenager over an extended period of time. Boarding schools, summer programs, and short retreats can all give your difficult teen the professional help they just might need. Have a look at P.U.R.E. (Parents Universal Resource Experts) for more information on these programs.

Anyone looking to find more information on the topic can use the search terms “teenager advice for parents,” “raising teens help,” or “teenager behavior tips.”

DISCLAIMER: This guide is provided only for informational purposes and is not intended to be a substitute for legal or other professional advice. This guide does not contain nor is it intended to provide legal or other professional advice for any specific situation and readers should not take action or refrain from taking action, based only on the information provided in this guide. Goldberg & Osborne has attempted to provide accurate and current information in this guide, but cannot and does not guarantee that the information is accurate, complete, or up to date. This guide may contain links and/or search terms that will lead to external websites as a convenience to the reader, but Goldberg & Osborne is not responsible for the content or operation of any website other than its own website. The presence of a link or a search term does not imply and is not an endorsement by Goldberg & Osborne of the website provider or the information contained on any linked website or on any website contained in search results from a search term provided in the guide.

Guide to Dealing with a Challenging Toddler

Every parent knows the frustration and feelings of helplessness that can come from an unruly child throwing a tantrum in public. The resulting punching, biting, inconsolable crying, and screaming can leave you with no other choice than to head home for a long time out.

And while many mothers and fathers will experience the embarrassment that can come from this situation at least a couple of times in their child’s formative years, some toddlers can be a bit harder to handle than others. After all, every child is different.

Equipping yourself with the knowledge of what causes these outbursts and how to effectively handle them is the best way to not only manage your child’s raucous personality, but also enrich their personal development at the same time.

What Happened to My Happy Baby?

This is a common question among couples new to parenting. Your giggling, cuddly, adorable baby has somehow transformed into a self-centered, moody, over-emotional bundle of frustration. So, what happened?

The stage of development that your once-delightful toddler is now experiencing is fraught with new emotions, thoughts, and desires that your child has never felt before. Guilt, pride, embarrassment, and independence are all new to your toddler around this age and, as such, are difficult for them to understand and to control.

Beyond that, your child’s ability to communicate through language is still in its early stages. Imagine the frustration that would come from not knowing how to describe what’s bothering you, let alone what you need to fix it. This is the problem your toddler faces every single day.

As a parent, it’s up to you to understand these limitations and create reasonable expectations for what your toddler can and can’t handle. Surprisingly, many parents don’t know what their toddlers are actually capable of developmentally. For example, a national poll conducted by the parenting organization ZERO TO THREE found that the majority of parents expected a degree of self-control in their toddler “one to two years earlier than brain science indicates is possible.”

Knowing what toddlers are developmentally capable of is the foundation for being able to deal with your challenging toddler’s frustrations before they become full-blown tantrums. Take a look at the resource below to become better acquainted with what kinds of emotions and thought processes a child can have at different ages.

For parents who think their child might be behind developmentally, it is crucial to familiarize yourselves with the warning signs of Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDDs) and speech/language/hearing disorders. The earlier you are able to detect a problem, the better equipped you’ll be to deal with it effectively and find your child the help he or she needs. Take a look at the resources below for more information.

Helping Your Child Understand Their New Emotions

Having to deal with a variety of complex, new emotions for the first time is one of the main reasons your toddler may be acting out. What you can do as a parent is help them understand these new feelings by making a conscious effort to communicate with them about these emotions.

One of the best ways to do this is by making the feelings and emotions of daily activities a topic of discussion. For instance, if you are reading your toddler a bedtime story, point out the different feelings that some of the main characters might be going through. It’s especially important to give these feelings a name like “sad”, “angry”, “worried”, and “excited”. Doing so will not only give your toddler a specific word for certain emotions, it’ll also help them tie these words to real world examples by seeing them played out in the story.

Also remember to be empathetic when your child is having an especially hard time. Tantrums often result from an inability to fully express emotions. As such, acknowledging your child’s feelings and letting them know you truly understand what they are going through can help diffuse a potentially stressful situation. Teaching your child just how to communicate his or her feelings with specific names of emotions can make it easier for you to empathize and solve whatever problem they may be facing.

Another strategy that can help your toddler to understand his or her emotions a bit better is helping to build up their empathy for others. This one takes a bit of work, as children at this age have a hard time conceptualizing anything outside of their own wants and needs, but if you start talking to them about how their actions emotionally affect others, they’ll better understand their own feelings as well.

Help Them Assert Their Independence

When your child becomes a toddler, they will typically be more concerned with doing things themselves. When that independence is constrained, however, they may react by throwing a tantrum.

You can foster healthy development in your child by letting them do things on their own. Of course, this applies only to reasonable tasks like pouring juice or watering the garden—but the more you let them engage in activities on their own, the better adapted they’ll be to handle unfamiliar situations calmly. Be sure to stay close by, as they may look for your help if they get overwhelmed.

Another way to help them assert their independence is by letting them choose how to perform daily activities like what to eat for lunch or what they would like to wear to preschool. Be careful though—giving them free reign when it comes to every choice can be a disaster. Instead, give them options (e.g. “do you want hot dogs, macaroni, or potatoes for lunch?”). This will keep their choices realistic and give them a sense of control as well.

Also, if your toddler asks to do something that simply isn’t a good idea, give them an alternative option. So rather than telling your three-year-old he can’t hold his baby sister, tell him he can sit on the couch and cuddle with her instead.

Disciplining Your Challenging Toddler

Figuring out how to discipline your child is one of parenting’s great stressors. Putting your foot down and controlling the behavior of a person you love can be incredibly difficult. But no matter how much it may hurt you to do so, disciplining your toddler is crucial in order to stop bad behavior and foster healthy development.

Outlined below are a few things that you can do to ensure your spirited child gets the most out of your disciplinary strategies.

  • Be Specific – Be sure to tell your toddler exactly why they are being disciplined, what rules they broke, and what they should do in the future differently.
  • Use Non-physical Discipline Techniques – Time outs can be used with a limit of about 1 minute per year of age. Also, if a toddler is abusing a privilege (throwing toys in anger), you can take the privilege away for a period of time.
  • Don’t Cave! – You’ve heard it before: “children crave boundaries.” And it’s true. Sticking to these boundaries is the best way to show your child you are serious about his or her limitations.
  • Don’t Lose Your Cool – Try not to respond to your toddler’s heightened emotional state with anger or frustration. Doing so might make their tantrum even worse.
  • Follow Through with Consequences – Don’t tell your toddler that they won’t get to go to the park if they continue behaving badly, if you don’t intend to follow through. Otherwise, they won’t take you seriously and learn about the consequences for their actions.
  • Reinforce Good Behavior – One of the most important discipline tips—be sure to tell your toddler when they are acting mature and helpful as much as you can.

Be Smart About What Situations to Put Your Toddler In

Being realistic in terms of what types of situations your toddler can handle is one of the best ways to limit their temper tantrums. Walking through a crowded mall, for example, might make it harder for your child to keep it together than a quiet grocery store.

If you do have to bring your challenging child to a place where he or she is likely to act up, prepare them for the situation beforehand and remind them of the rules. Just like all people, your toddler will react better to an unfamiliar situation if he knows what’s coming.

It’s also important to realize that when your toddler acts out, he might be reacting to a more long-term situational change rather than an immediate one. Moving to a new home, having or adopting another child, dealing with a sick family member, and other big changes around the house can affect the way your child acts elsewhere. In these situations, empathizing and encouraging communication with your little one is especially important.

Finding More Information

If you are having a particularly hard time with your troublesome toddler, you can find more information by conducting an online search for terms such as “parental support toddler,” “preschool parent help,” or “disciplining toddlers.”

Alternatively, you can call either of these hotlines for direct help:

Many local communities also host parenting workshops where you can learn even more skills and strategies for dealing with particularly difficult children. You can find these by using the resources below.

DISCLAIMER: This guide is provided only for informational purposes and is not intended to be a substitute for legal or other professional advice. This guide does not contain nor is it intended to provide legal or other professional advice for any specific situation and readers should not take action or refrain from taking action, based only on the information provided in this guide. Goldberg & Osborne has attempted to provide accurate and current information in this guide, but cannot and does not guarantee that the information is accurate, complete, or up to date. This guide may contain links and/or search terms that will lead to external websites as a convenience to the reader, but Goldberg & Osborne is not responsible for the content or operation of any website other than its own website. The presence of a link or a search term does not imply and is not an endorsement by Goldberg & Osborne of the website provider or the information contained on any linked website or on any website contained in search results from a search term provided in the guide.

Guide to Getting Out of Debt

Beyond simply having your finances constrained, being in debt is also an enormous source of stress for many individuals. In fact, a recent survey showed that more than half of workers today and an alarming 64% of millennials are battling financial stresses. If you are living with debt, the best time to start getting out of it is now.

Paying off your debt may seem like an insurmountable task right now, but as with most things, developing and sticking to a carefully crafted plan can help you overcome almost any obstacle.

Getting Out of Debt

While a large percentage of the population may be in debt, not everyone knows exactly how to get out of it. Follow the steps below and you’ll be well on your way to being debt-free.

Steps to Getting Out of Debt

  1. List It All Out: This first step is crucial. In order to pull yourself out of debt, you need to know exactly how much you owe and where you owe it. Take the time to physically list out debts, balances, interest rates, and minimum payments either on a piece of paper or an Excel document. The more precise you are, the better.

Be sure to use the three free annual credit reports (TransUnion, Equifax, Experian) to make sure you don’t have any outstanding cards or bills that you may have forgotten about.

  1. Pay It Off Right: Once you’ve listed out all of your debts and determined your total debt, figure out which cards and debts need to be paid off first by looking for the highest interest rates. You may be tempted to pay off debts that hold the lowest balances, but doing so is simply taking funds away from balances that are costing you more in interest payments.

Be sure to keep paying minimum payments on your other debts so that they remain current.  You want to avoid late fees.

  1. Set Goals: This step often goes overlooked. Setting financial goals helps you to gauge your progress, identify difficulties and problems, and also serves as a mental reward that will keep you going. Goals such as paying off a card every two months, cutting your debt in half, or to simply stop using credit altogether, are all up to you. What’s important is that it’ll give you structure with achievable goals that you can celebrate as you conquer each one.
  1. Create a Budget: Budgeting is key to bringing yourself out of debt. Find as many ways as possible to save money: coupons, loyalty cards, weekly allowances, eating at home, etc. If you map out exactly how much money to spend and how much to put towards your debt, you’ll soon start to notice a steady decrease in your bills. You will also identify how much money you have left after paying bills, and determine the best way to utilize that money to achieve your goals instead of spending it without much thought.
  1. Sell the Toys: If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to sell all the expensive items in your home that you simply don’t need. It may be hard to part with your jet-skis and your fancy new car that you’re still paying down, but becoming debt free can take a significant lifestyle change. You may have to re-think your priorities — would you rather keep the car or drop the debt?
  1. Keep At It: Sticking to a budget and putting your hard-earned cash towards paying off your debt can be mentally and emotionally taxing. You’ll likely not be able to live the way you did before, and you certainly won’t be able to spend as freely.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t reward yourself every now and then. In fact, doing so is essential. Go out for dinner one evening, see a show, or order a pizza. Treating yourself (with moderation) can help you stick to your budget and ensure you don’t fall off the bandwagon and start spending again.

A Note on Debt Collectors

If your debts become past-due, they may be sent to a collection agency or debt collector. Many of these agencies specialize in pursuing overdue payments in exchange for a fee or a percentage of the total owed debt.

While dealing with a collection agency may be a necessary part of getting out of debt, it is important to know your rights and which debt collector practices are in fact illegal. This list from USA.gov will help you recognize when a collection agency is engaging in illegal tactics.

According to USA.gov, a debt collector may not:

  • Contact you at inconvenient times, for example, before 8 AM or after 9 PM, unless you agree to it.
  • Communicate with you at work if you tell the debt collector your employer disapproves.
  • Contact you after you send a letter to the collector telling them to stop, except to notify you if the creditor or collector plans to take a specific action.
  • Communicate with your friends, relatives, employer, or others except to find out where you live or work.
  • Harass you with repeated phone calls, profane language, or threats to harm you.
  • Make any false claim or statement that you will be arrested.
  • Threaten to have money deducted from your paycheck or to sue you, unless the collection agency or creditor intends to do so and it is legal.

If you would like to file a complaint about a debt collector, contact the agencies listed below for more information:

Tips & Tricks

  • Know Your Institutions: Many credit card companies and banks will have higher interest rates for a variety of things. Late payments, cash advances, overdrafts, and balance transfers all commonly come with either an increase in interest rates or a flat cash fee. Knowing the ins and outs of your specific bank or creditor can help you avoid letting these hidden fees pile up.
  • Transfer Balances: Balance transfers can result in fees for doing so, but they might also allow you to move debt from a high interest card over to a low interest one to save money overall. Be sure to read the fine print as a low APR might only last for a few months before it jumps up even higher than your last card, leaving you even worse off than before.
  • Emergency Fund: You may want to make it a priority to build up an emergency fund while you are paying off your debt. While it may be tricky to navigate just how much should go towards one rather than the other, doing so could prevent sinking even deeper into debt if an emergency occurs. Having cash on hand will keep you from borrowing from credit. Even starting with $1,000 in your savings account will help you in many emergencies, such as car repairs, unexpected doctor visits, trips for family emergencies, etc.
  • Windfall Money: Birthday check, tax refund, or lottery winnings coming your way? It’ll take some self-discipline, but be sure to put that money towards paying off your debt. Just because some extra cash in your wallet wasn’t expected doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be used to pay the bills. Stay strong and stick to the plan. The freedom of being debt free will make all the sacrifices worth it.
  • Extra Income: Whether it be asking for a raise at work, finding another job, or getting a second job (like Uber, Upwork, or a part time job), bringing in extra income each month can really help you to put a sizable dent in your debt.
  • Negotiate a Better Rate: It is possible to get your credit card company to lower your APR just by asking them. Customers with a strong payment history are likely to get better results but, if you are looking to negotiate your rate, the tips found online at The Simple Dollar may help you get better results.

Getting Professional Help

If, after changing your behaviors and following the steps above, you are still having trouble climbing out of debt, you may want to contact a professional credit counseling service.

These agencies will be able to take an in-depth look at your finances and spending habits to give you an objective and expert opinion on your options. Here are a few resources to help you find these services:

Accredited Credit Counseling Services

These services may also advise you to use debt consolidation, debt settlement, or perhaps even file for bankruptcy. Before choosing any of these options, however, it is crucial that you first speak with a professional. Improperly using debt consolidation, settlement, or bankruptcy can lead to even more problems down the line. An expert opinion will help you fully realize the risks involved.

Debt Consolidation

Debt consolidation is a way to refinance your current debts. Debt consolidation entails taking out one large loan to pay off your debts. As a result, instead of putting your money towards many small monthly payments, you’ll be paying off one single loan.

While it may sound appealing to combine all of your debts into one single payment, the truth is that debt consolidation generally should be viewed as a last resort. Many times, debt consolidators will offer low monthly payments, making it seem like you end up paying less. But these low payments are typically spread out over a longer period of time.

So, while you may be making lower monthly payments, you actually end up paying more because you are in debt even longer.

Debt Settlement

Debt settlement is a way of negotiating with creditors and, for many, is only used if payment through traditional means is determined to be unlikely. In exchange for forgiving the entire amount of a debt, the creditor agrees to accept only a portion of the overall amount in one lump sum.

Think of it as a way for creditors to cut their losses: instead of squeezing out small payments each month over multiple years, they can instead accept a large portion of the total debt all at once, allowing them to move on and put their company resources to use somewhere else.

Debt settlement may require you to set aside a certain amount of money into a separate savings account for 36 months before beginning the debt settlement proceedings. As such, making these necessary payments may be difficult for some and, as a result, might make debt settlement unrealistic.

What’s more, your creditors are under no obligation to accept the terms of the settlement, so engage in this practice at your own risk.

Filing for Bankruptcy

Bankruptcy is, for many, a last resort. While it can offer a fresh start in terms of debt and financial security, it also can have many drawbacks like a severely reduced credit score.

What’s more, bankruptcy does not eliminate all kinds of debt. Some debt, known as priority debts, will remain in place even after declaring bankruptcy. A few examples of these debts are income tax, alimony, death or personal injury claims from driving under the influence, and more.

It is crucial to know what’s at stake before filing bankruptcy. Be sure to use the professional counseling services listed above before deciding to file bankruptcy. Also, consider consulting an attorney for additional information and guidance.

Resources

To find more information on how to get out of debt, use the search terms “debt guide”, “debt relief”, and “personal debt” or utilize the resources below.

Federal Resources

Federally Accredited Credit Counseling

Where to File a Complaint Against a Debt Collector

DISCLAIMER: This guide is provided only for informational purposes and is not intended to be a substitute for legal or other professional advice. This guide does not contain nor is it intended to provide legal or other professional advice for any specific situation and readers should not take action or refrain from taking action, based only on the information provided in this guide. Goldberg & Osborne has attempted to provide accurate and current information in this guide, but cannot and does not guarantee that the information is accurate, complete, or up to date. This guide may contain links and/or search terms that will lead to external websites as a convenience to the reader, but Goldberg & Osborne is not responsible for the content or operation of any website other than its own website. The presence of a link or a search term does not imply and is not an endorsement by Goldberg & Osborne of the website provider or the information contained on any linked website or on any website contained in search results from a search term provided in the guide.

Guide to Living on a Budget

Learning to live on a budget is an essential part of saving money, paying off debt, attaining financial freedom, and dealing with emergency financial setbacks. The better able you are to create and stick to your budget, the more likely your financial success will be.

Why Budget?

While many people consider budgeting to be the result of a sudden need for extra cash from an unforeseen expense, the truth is effective budgeting should be a standard practice regardless of your financial situation.

Though it can take some getting used to, committing yourself to a budget can come with a host of benefits that aren’t just money-based. According to the financial experts at The Balance, living on a budget can improve your life in a number of ways:

  • Acts as a roadmap. A budget requires knowing where each and every dollar in your account goes. Once you have a good idea of where your money is being spent, you can make a conscious effort of what goals to aim for (e.g. $10,000 in savings, $3000 vacation fund, etc.).
  • Reveals waste. One of the best things about a budget is that it helps you identify where you DON’T want your money to go. You’ll realize that small, unnecessary purchases tend to add up pretty quickly.
  • Aligns priorities. Having a mapped-out budget can make sure everyone in your household is on the same page. If you want to save for a remodeling job but your partner is more focused on retirement, creating a budget will help bring those differences to your attention.
  • Builds new habits. For many, maintaining good spending habits is the hardest part of a budget, but it’s also the most important. These habits can then be continued when money isn’t as tight, leading to even more financial freedom down the road.
  • Reduces stress. Following a proper budget lets you rest assured that you’ll have enough money when it comes time to pay the bills. It can also give you the funds you need to eliminate monthly debt and build your credit at the same time.
  • Plans for the unknown. A budget can help you build up your emergency funds.

These are just a few benefits of creating and committing to a well-made budget. For most people, the choice to start budgeting comes down to being able to pay the bills, saving more money, reducing or eliminating debt, and feeling less stressed financially.

Whatever your reason, taking the steps to start budgeting your hard-earned money is a choice you likely won’t regret.

Budgeting Basics: Tracking Your Expenses

The first step in creating any budget is finding out where you spend your money in a given time period. Most people craft their budget based on monthly spending due to the fact that many expenses (e.g. utilities, rent, subscriptions, etc.) tend to be billed at a monthly rate. This makes it easy to line up your monthly income with your monthly expenses.

Once you have a full list of your monthly expenses, organize them into categories like food, clothing, rent, utilities, insurance, and so on. Certain budgeting apps (listed below) can make this process a cinch. Now that you have all of your expenses grouped into categories, you can begin to figure out where you’d like to change your spending habits with your current income.

Tips & Tricks

  • Have a wide scope. It’s worth taking into consideration that some regular expenses may occur less frequently. Federal and state taxes, for example, generally are only handled once a year but can be a troublesome expense depending on your situation. Take advantage of free online income tax calculators, like this one from H&R Block, to have a better idea of what to expect come tax time, so that you can have enough taxes withheld from your paycheck and avoid a large tax bill when you file your taxes. Other examples may be car repair or maintenance expenses (tires, brakes, etc.) and possible medical bills.
  • Be precise. When figuring out your monthly spending, it is very important to be as accurate as possible rather than generalizing. If, for example, you buy your daily coffee for $2.42, don’t round that number down to $2. It might seem like such a small amount once but when you multiply that $0.42 by five days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, that adds up to over $100 dollars of unaccounted expenses a year.
  • Use technology. While a simple pen and paper are really all you need to track your monthly spending, one of the best ways to do so is actually by using a budgeting app. These apps are great for a variety of reasons:
    • They let you categorize and keep track of your expenses down to the penny.
    • Most will give you a visual representation (pie charts, bar graphs, etc.) of where you put your money each month.
    • The majority can help keep you accountable with reminders.
    • Many will allow you to set savings goals and track your progress as well.

Many of these can be downloaded for free or for less than $5 and, when you consider the time and hassle they’ll save, are well worth it. See the bottom of this guide for a list of some of the best budgeting apps out there, along with links to both their Apple and Android store pages.

Budgeting Basics: Setting Limits

Once you have a handle on where you are spending your money each month you can start the process of deciding which areas need to change. It’s at this point in the budgeting process that many people realize that they are spending much more on unnecessary purchases than they thought they were. Cutting these costs is a great place to start, especially if you have a goal in mind such as getting out of debt, or increasing your savings.

Begin by going through each category and deciding which are essentials, wants, and can-do-withouts. Here are some examples to get you started:

  • Essentials: Rent, utilities, transportation, food, etc.
  • Wants: Internet and cable, streaming services (Netflix, Hulu, etc.), movies, eating out, etc.
  • Can-Do-Withouts: Daily purchase of coffee drinks, alcohol and tobacco, gum, afternoon snacks, etc.

The point here is to figure out what you can reduce or eliminate from your monthly spending entirely. Most of the time the easiest expenses to get rid of are the daily snack and drink purchases. By making simple behavioral changes like bringing coffee from home or packing a snack rather than buying one from the cafeteria can save you more than you’d think.

Now that you’ve trimmed the fat a bit, it’s time to figure out if the amount you are spending on each category aligns with the suggestions of economists and financial experts.

Dave Ramsey, the widely-known “financial guru”, created a budget breakdown that will help you determine what amount of your monthly income should be going into each category.

  • Dave Ramsey’s Budget Breakdown (% of Monthly Income)
    • Housing: 25-35%
    • Utilities: 5-10%
    • Transportation: 10-15%
    • Healthcare: 5-10%
    • Food: 5-15%
    • Investments/Savings: 5-10%
    • Debt Payments: 5-10%
    • Charitable Giving: 5-15%
    • Entertainment: 5-9%
    • Personal: 2-7%

Another common budgeting guideline for many financial experts is known as the 50/20/30 rule. This guideline is a bit more “rule-of-thumb” in that it provides a more generalized approach, grouping spending into only three categories. According to the financial planners at LearnVest, it goes like this:

  • 50/20/30 Rule
    • 50% of your take-home pay should be on Fixed Costs like rent, utilities, car payments as well as subscription services like Netflix.
    • 20% should be dedicated to your Financial Goals like paying off debt, saving for retirement, and building up an emergency fund.
    • 30% can go towards Flexible Spending including day-to-day expenses that tend to vary month over month (groceries, entertainment, hobbies, etc.)

Both of these guidelines are great places to start when creating your budget.

Tips & Tricks

  • Prioritize paying off debt. This should be one of the main goals of your budgeting process. The sooner you pay off debt, the less interest you will pay, lowering your overall expenses in the end.
  • Plan for the unknown. Be sure to leave a little padding for unknown expenses like trips to the doctor, school supplies, vet bills, and car and home repairs. Otherwise you may not have the funds you need when you least expect it.
  • Make it communal. Make the creation of a budget something that everyone in your family can get involved in. By allowing it to be a group effort, you’ll be able to get an idea of what goals your family members have in mind so that you can start saving accordingly.

Doing so will also give you the chance to communicate your expectations for sticking to the budget and make saving money more of a community goal rather than just the goal of one person.

  • Make it personal. While both of the 50/20/30 rule and Dave Ramsey’s guidelines are great jumping off points in crafting your unique budget, it’s important to remember that they are simply guidelines. Instead of following one or the other, take time to think about what your personal goals are for your budget.

Are you saving to pay off debt, to grow your retirement, or simply want some extra cash for fun activities? Then, change up the percentages above to cater to these goals.

Meeting Your Goals

While preparing a realistic, comprehensive budget is the foundation for getting your budgeting journey started, it’s really only half the battle. The main problem that many people run into is sticking to the guidelines that they created. There are a number of reasons why sticking to a budget is so hard, but two tend to stand out more than the rest: financial fatigue and a lack of flexibility.

Financial fatigue is a term used to describe the feeling when all the hard work you’ve put into crafting a budget, pinching pennies, and not giving into impulse buying doesn’t seem to be getting you to where you want to be fast enough.  One of the main causes for financial fatigue is checking on your goals too often.

For example, if you start a diet and weigh yourself every single day, you’re likely to become disheartened at your progress because the weight loss is so small from day to day. In the same way, looking at your savings account too often can make it seem like you aren’t making any financial headway.

If, however, you still aren’t seeing much of a change in your bank account after a long time of budgeting, don’t be afraid to be flexible with your budget. Come back to it every now and then to re-examine what kinds of purchases you are making, where you think you could spend less, and whether your goals are still the same. Your budget should be constantly evolving.

Tips & Tricks

  • Shop smart. When it comes to shopping be sure to take advantage of coupons, customer loyalty programs, buying in bulk, and seeking out low cost recipes. Also, be sure to eat at home as much as possible. Consumers spent $3008 on eating out in 2015 compared to $4,015 spent eating at home. So, eating out adds up fast and is something that can be reduced. When it comes to apparel shopping, put money into accessories so you can mix and match rather than purchasing completely new outfits.
  • Seek out free entertainment. Exercise clubs, libraries (with books AND movies) podcasts, free events at your local community center or campus can all be great ways to cut back on costs. Look for festivals or local events happening in your area by searching online for “events in (your city) in (month)”. The results will provide you with websites with lists of things happening near you.
  • Use cash. Instead of making all your purchases with a card, consider using cash instead. Having a physical form of currency can make it easier to see how much you’re spending as well as knowing how much you have left.

Finding More Information

Anyone looking to find more information on budgeting advice, financial goals, and investment strategies can use the online search terms “budgeting tips and advice”, “personal budget tips and advice”, and “personal finances tips and advice”.

You can also find a list of resources below that include a wealth of additional information.

Resources

Budgeting Apps:

More Information:

Financial Tools and Education from Dave Ramsey

Financial Tools and Education from Money Management International

Financial Tools and Education from American Consumer Credit Counseling

DISCLAIMER: This guide is provided only for informational purposes and is not intended to be a substitute for legal or other professional advice. This guide does not contain nor is it intended to provide legal or other professional advice for any specific situation and readers should not take action or refrain from taking action, based only on the information provided in this guide. Goldberg & Osborne has attempted to provide accurate and current information in this guide, but cannot and does not guarantee that the information is accurate, complete, or up to date. This guide may contain links and/or search terms that will lead to external websites as a convenience to the reader, but Goldberg & Osborne is not responsible for the content or operation of any website other than its own website. The presence of a link or a search term does not imply and is not an endorsement by Goldberg & Osborne of the website provider or the information contained on any linked website or on any website contained in search results from a search term provided in the guide.

South Phoenix Personal Injury Open House: Free Food and Legal Advice

Goldberg & Osborne are opening the doors at their South Phoenix, Arizona location to offer free injury legal advice and free food for the South Mountain community.

Attending the open house and representing Goldberg & Osborne are South Phoenix personal injury lawyer Lindsay Bautista and the firm’s managing partner, John Osborne. Both will be available to answer a wide range of personal injury legal questions in a laid back setting.

The Goldberg & Osborne South Phoenix open house will take place on Saturday, April 29th, 2017 from 10 am to 2 pm. The office is located in South Mountain Village on the north side of E. Baseline Rd, just east of Central Avenue.

Goldberg & Osborne
26 E Baseline Rd
Phoenix, AZ 85042
(602) 808-6350