If you have been following the 30 Steps of Financial Literacy Month you have a better view of your financial health. The steps give you the knowledge to improve your financial situation. I hope with the tips and ideas I have shared you will continue watching your spending habits and continue with the changes.

Just like with a diet, once you change your spending habits it will get easier and eventually be automatic.

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Nancy Kvamme

Change may be hard, but the payoff can be priceless. In addition to improving your financial situation, you may also find your money management skills can benefit other aspects of your life.
I hear many people say they have never been good with finances and money. In many cases that is because we had not been taught about money. There is more education on finances in the schools now.
Its similar to changing any other type of habit, it will take small steps and soon you will be on a better path.

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Nancy Kvamme

Managing your finances can be like putting together a puzzle; all the pieces need to fit in order to be rewarded with the “big picture.” Working with one or more of these financial professionals can help put the pieces in place.
A tax advisor can provide tax advice and assistance to consumers. They can help you to navigate tax laws, prepare complete and accurate returns, and develop a strategic tax plan.
If you are struggling with debt payments, credit counseling can help. You should contact a credit counseling agency at the first sign that your debts are becoming unmanageable.
Whether you are just out of college or entering retirement, most everyone can benefit from the help of a trusted financial advisor. Along with offering investment advice, financial planners may also be able to help by analyzing employee benefits, discovering insurance needs, and developing a system to manage cash flow. Financial planners can also help with estate planning and may have relationships other professionals, such as accountants or attorneys.
Lawyers can help consumers by preparing important legal documents such as a living trust. An attorney can also be very helpful if you need to consider bankruptcy or want to challenge a wage garnishment. Couples facing a complicated divorce can also benefit from an attorney’s advice.
Before working with any financial professional, be sure to check their credentials. Ask specific questions about their history and areas of expertise. Finally, be sure that you are comfortable with the advisors you choose; ideally, you will be financial partners for life.

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Nancy Kvamme

Over the past few days, some AreaVoices blogs were blocked by the anti spam software. Mine was one of the blogs blocked. You can catch up on the posts from the last few days at my other blog.

I have also started another blog focusing on resources and tips to teach kids about money.

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Nancy Kvamme

One of the largest expenses most families has is on groceries. By making small changes in the way you shop can help you reduce the amount you are spending on groceries.

One way to save money is to prepare a weekly menu of meals. When making your menu plan, try to make meals with items you already have on hand. Then make a list of the additional items you need to purchase. By limiting the number of trips to the store you save time and also limit the temptation of impulse purchases.

Like with other types of shopping, keep in mind if it is a want or need. When we were growing up on a farm, when we would go to town, we would get to pick out a candy bar. It grew into a habit, it was years after I moved away from home that I realized I would throw a candy bar in the cart, usually without really thinking about it. Also, things like chips, etc I used to throw in my cart without really thinking about it.
Making a few small steps can make a difference.

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Nancy Kvamme

The next step in getting your finances in order is to document your spending. If you have been tracking your expenses, record those expenses into different categories along with your fixed and periodic expenses. There are computer programs available to help you do this such as Quicken and Mint or some people use an Excel document.

Once you see how you are spending your money, you will be able to see if some expenses can be reduced and prevent impulse spending. This may seem time consuming but it is an important part of getting control of your finances. Like most other things, it will take awhile to get started but once you get a system in place it will get easier.

By putting your expenses into different categories, such as housing, groceries, clothing, utilities you have a better idea of how much to budget for the different areas.

Subtract your total expenses from your total income to see what you have left over. I will discuss in a future post how to balance your budget if your expenses exceed your income.

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Nancy Kvamme

I have been talking about budgeting and knowing what your fixed and variable expenses are. In addition to knowing what your monthly expenses are it is also important to budget for periodic expenses.

Periodic expenses are expenses that are not paid on a regular monthly basis. Some examples are holiday expenses, tax debt, auto registrations and insurance premiums and vacations.
Sometimes we know when these expenses will come up but still fail to plan for them. If you do not plan for them, you may end up using a credit card.

One idea to be prepared for periodic expenses is to open a savings account for them. Then make a list of the expenses you expect to come up for the next year and divide the total by 12. Then each month try to put that amount into the savings account.

Nancy Kvamme

Continuing through Financial Literacy Month the next step is to identify and document your fixed monthly expenses.

Fixed expenses are those that do not vary from month to month. Examples of fixed expenses include car payments and mortgage or rent payments. Fixed expenses are the most difficult to manipulate. There is a worksheet on the website to determine how much money per month you must dedicate to cover your fixed expenses.

Once you figure up your fixed expenses and deduct them from your income each month, then you know how much money you have left to spend on your variable expenses and other expenses.

That is why it is important to have a handle on your fixed expenses and keep track of how you spend your money on other things.

Nancy Kvamme

In the past few years there has been more resources becoming available to teach kids about money. Although it is not known yet if it helps to start teaching it earlier, it seems like it cannot do any harm.

I have volunteered for Junior Achievement the last two years. It is a fun and very rewarding experience. I just finished the sessions last week and it is surprising how you can bond with the students in only a few hours of time.
Today, I saw this article about Sesame Street and PNC Bank joining forces to provide videos, games and other materials to teach kids about finances.

The For Me, for You and for Later: First Steps to Spending, Sharing and Saving was developed to provide parents, caregivers and educators with resources to turn everyday experiences into financial teaching moments.

The free bilingual, multimedia kit includes a Parent and Caregiver Guide, a Children’s Activity Book, 3 Jar Labels, and an original Sesame Street DVD that features Elmo, Cookie Monster, and their Sesame Street friends as Elmo learns the basics of spending, saving, and sharing.

Kits are available for free at any PNC branch, or can be ordered over the phone at 1-877-PNC-GROW.
You can also download the following pieces from the kit here:
• The Parent and Caregiver Guide
• The Children’s Activity Book
• The 3 Jar Labels

Another organization providing resources is ND Jumpstart Coalition. It is free to register and they have a weekly email that consists of various resources.

Nancy Kvamme

In most cases, your financial health doesn’t depend on how much you earn, but how much you spend. Your fixed expenses will be the same each month and can’t be changed but you may be able to make changes to your variable expenses.

Many people do not pay attention to how they spend their money and do not realize how the small expenses add up. I was talking to a friend last night about this and she said her husband doesn’t like spending large amounts of money but doesn’t realize how small expenses can add up.

One way to identify variable expenses, keep track of all of the money you spend for at least a week, or you could try for a month. But even keeping track for a week can help you see where the money goes. A dollar here or there doesn’t seem like a big deal but if you spend enough of them, they can add up to a considerable amount.

When you track your spending this way, you may find things you can cut down on or cut out completely. It is easy to take out cash and if you don’t keep track of how you spend it, it can disappear quickly without realizing how much you are spending.

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Nancy Kvamme