The Secret Budget Sauce: Your Automatic Hidden Bonus

The Secret Budget Sauce: Your Automatic Hidden Bonus

A chef figurine shown sampling sauce, illustrating how an automatic hidden bonus can serve as your secret budget sauce.
Photo by Alexas_Fotos, CC0 1.0 license

Culinary sauces are the foodie’s spice of life. Whether in the form of a homemade cranberry sauce, a mouth-watering BBQ glaze, or some pain-inflicting fire juice, every King or Queen of the Kitchen has a secret concoction that only they can make. A sauce that transforms a simple dish into something people talk about for days.

If you’ve been following this Master Your Money series from the beginning, you’ve been busy whipping up your own custom money management system. And perhaps without even realizing it, you may have created an automatic hidden bonus for yourself in the process.

We’re not talking mere chump change, but nearly 10% of your annual income. So prepare to savor the results of your hard work, because it’s time to take a look at this secret sauce that can transform your budget into something truly special. Continue Reading

Dancing On Ice: Designing Your Cash Flow Choreography

Dancing On Ice: Designing Your Cash Flow Choreography

An olympic couple figure skating, illustrating the need for choreography in the cash flow of every monthly budget.
Photo by WikimediaImages, CC0 1.0 license / modified from original

I come from a highly competitive family. We have trophies for winners of annual board game tournaments and football pools. Engraved plaques for golf scramble champs.

It goes without saying that we also have a fondness for the Olympics – a gathering of the world’s finest athletes to compete for the right to be labeled the best on earth. It was while watching the figure skating competitions during the Winter Olympics earlier this year that I was inspired with the idea for this post.

Even a perfectly balanced budget is of little use without the proper cash flow choreography. Today we’re reviewing how to keep your monthly income and expenses in sync like a perfectly choreographed performance on the ice. Continue Reading

Flee The Robber Barons: Avoiding Exorbitant Bank Fees

Flee The Robber Barons: Avoiding Exorbitant Bank Fees

The battlements of a foreboding castle silhouetted against the sky, comparing the onerous bank fees charged by some institutions to the nefarious behavior of medieval robber barons.
Photo by MondejarFoto, CC0 1.0 license

In early medieval history, some feudal landowners turned their hand to lowbrow tactics to supplement their income. Their insidious acts ranged from merely charging excess tolls to highway robbery and even kidnapping for ransom. Such scoundrels gave rise to the term “Robber Baron“.

While unfortunate, you may think that this tale of highway banditry perpetrated hundreds of years ago doesn’t concern you. But I’m here to tell you that it does.

Because there’s a modern-day robber baron afoot, masquerading as your friendly bank. Exorbitant bank fees are the new highway robbery. And if you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself being relieved of your hard-earned cash faster than a waylaid medieval merchant. Continue Reading

Life At The Zoo: Your Ticket To Stress-Free Spending

Life At The Zoo: Your Ticket To Stress-Free Spending

A red panda bear sprawled out on a tree limb, illustrating the power paying yourself first has to deliver stress-free spending.
Photo by borkertd, CC0 1.0 license

Paying bills isn’t the most fulfilling feeling in the world. And buying necessities like grocery staples doesn’t exactly provide any ultimate feeling of satisfaction or reward.

But when you decide to treat yourself by indulging your taste buds, buying that item in support of your favorite hobby, or splurging on your favorite vice, you expect to obtain a feeling of fulfillment, satisfaction, or reward.

However, the typical joy of discretionary spending can be quickly sapped by the stress of financial uncertainty, fear, guilt, shame, regret, or worry. With this in mind, today we’re taking a look at how you can ensure your spending is as stress-free as a well-fed animal in the zoo. Continue Reading

A Tactic From The High Seas: How To Combat Overspending

A Tactic From The High Seas: How To Combat Overspending

A fleet of warships from the Age of Sail, illustrating a way to combat overspending through the use of naval tactics.
Photo by skeeze, CC0 1.0 license

I’ve always been fascinated by naval history, particularly accounts of naval warfare. As an adolescent, I remember binge-reading virtually every naval military history book contained in the archives of our local library.

I found the exploits of Sir Francis Drake, a 16th-century English privateer commissioned to harass Spanish merchant trade in the Caribbean, particularly fascinating.

By this point in the Master Your Money series, you should have a rock-solid money management system and budget in place. But like a poorly-tied sailor’s knot, all the work you’ve done thus far can be easily undone by overspending.

Today we’re turning back the clock to the Age of Sail to review a naval practice you can adopt to combat overspending and keep your budget out of the briny deep. Continue Reading

The Art Of Compromise: Reconciling Wildly Different Spending Habits

The Art Of Compromise: Reconciling Wildly Different Spending Habits

Two pigeons silhouetted on a roofline with their backs to one another, symbolizing a marital disagreement over spending habits.
Argue” by jiunn kang too , CC BY-SA 2.0 license

Finding and maintaining your balance on the save vs. spend tightrope can be difficult if you share your finances with a spouse or significant other. Particularly if the two of you possess differing views or attitudes about money.

One of the great mysteries of life is that all of us are born as either natural savers or spenders. And while some birds of a feather may fly together, the old “opposites attract” idiom is proof enough that this isn’t always the case.

If the spending habits of your significant other ruffle your feathers, read on to learn how Mrs. FFP (a spender) and I (a saver) managed to reconcile our wildly different spending habits as newlyweds. Continue Reading

A High Stakes Balancing Act: Mastering The Save vs. Spend Tightrope

A High Stakes Balancing Act: Mastering The Save vs. Spend Tightrope

A tightrope walker high in the air, illustrating the high stakes of striking the right balance between savings goals and discretionary spending in your budget.
Get The Balance Right” by Marquette LaForest, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0 license

How much of your discretionary income should you save? And how much of it is okay to spend on splurges and guilty pleasures?

These are loaded questions, and one-size-fits-all formulas aren’t the answer. These questions can only be answered by you, and you alone. Your unique personality, financial goals, and income level are all contributing factors.

Properly weighting your saving and discretionary spending is a balancing act with high stakes. Lean too far towards spending, and you put your financial freedom at risk. But save too aggressively, and you may find yourself chafing under a budget that feels restrictive rather than freeing.

This article will help you find your footing on the save vs spend tightrope. Continue Reading

Super Mushrooms: Powering Up With Mint Savings Goals

Super Mushrooms: Powering Up With Mint Savings Goals

A cluster of orange mushrooms, representing the similarities between the effects of Super Mushrooms on Mario and the effects of savings goals on your finances.
Photo by Phil59 , CC0 1.0 license

Today we’re going all the way back to 1985 to take a lesson from the most iconic video game in history – Nintendo’s original Super Mario Bros.

We just finished examining how to build a savings goal ladder rung-by-rung which will enable you to reach the finer things in life. But before you can put this ladder to use, you need to know a few tips and tricks regarding how to manage the impact of Mint savings goals on your monthly budget.

If budgeting in Mint was a video game, think of this article as your guide to beating the savings goal level. By the end, you’ll be capable of using Mint savings goals to power up your finances just like Mario powers up with Super Mushrooms. Continue Reading

Reach The Finer Things In Life: Build Your Ladder To Financial Freedom

Reach The Finer Things In Life: Build Your Ladder To Financial Freedom

A ladder in an apple orchard, indicating the need to construct a ladder from savings goals to reach some of the finer things in life.
Photo by lumix2004, CC0 1.0 license

If you’ve ever had the privilege of picking fruit fresh from the tree, you know that the biggest and tastiest morsels are often located in the very upper-most, hardest-to-reach branches.

While frustrating, this should come as no great surprise given the abundance of fresh air and sunlight available at the top of each tree. Reaching this fruit requires both determination and, in most cases, a ladder. But the juicy reward makes the effort expended well worth it.

Just like grade-A fruit, financial freedom doesn’t always come easy. Obtaining it requires both intentionality and the right tools. With this in mind, today we’re reviewing how to build a savings goal ladder rung-by-rung that will enable you to obtain financial freedom and reach the finer things in life. Continue Reading

The Debt-Free Derby: Debt Snowball vs. Debt Avalanche

The Debt-Free Derby: Debt Snowball vs. Debt Avalanche

Two racehorses neck-and-neck on the track, illustrating the tight race between the Debt Snowball and the Debt Avalanche to be first to the debt-free finish line.
Churchill Downs” by Jeff Kubina, CC BY-SA 2.0 license

In the last article, we used the story of the American ’49er and the greatest mining boomtown in U.S. history to discover how you can strike it rich by mining your debt.

By the end of that article, you should have been able to identify the size of your personal debt mother lode as well as the potential income and wealth concealed within each of the individual loans on your debt claim.

But in order to calculate how much of these riches you can actually recover, you need to decide which debt reduction method you’ll put your money on and ride to the debt-free finish line.

Today we’re taking a definitive look at the top two thoroughbreds in the debt-free derby to determine which is the better mount for your financial racetrack – Debt Snowball or Debt Avalanche. Continue Reading

Strike It Rich By Mining Your Debt: There’s Gold In Them Thar Loans!

Strike It Rich By Mining Your Debt: There’s Gold In Them Thar Loans!

A mining cart on rails, illustrating the potential wealth made possible by mining your debt with extra payments.
1 Ton Mining Cart” by Niall Kennedy, CC BY-NC 2.0 license

The topic of debt usually gets pretty rough treatment in the personal finance blogging community. And for good reason – if not handled with care, it can be as dangerous as a short-fused stick o’ dynamite.

But if you’re already in debt and your money situation feels as cramped as a claustrophobic miner trapped deep underground, you’re already acutely aware of how dangerous debt can be. So let’s pivot and instead explore a far more encouraging aspect of debt – it’s hidden wealth potential.

Yep, you read that right. If you’re in debt you are sitting on a potential mother lode of riches. So without further ado, let’s stake out your debt claim and discover how you can strike it rich by mining your debt. Continue Reading

A Financial Freedom Shopping List: Your Savings Goal Price Tags

A Financial Freedom Shopping List: Your Savings Goal Price Tags

Jeans with price tags hanging on a retail clothes rack, illustrating the need to make a list of your savings goals and check the price tags on each.
Photo by jarmoluk, CC0 1.0 license / Modified from original

The almighty price tag is everywhere – fast food drive-throughs, restaurant fold-out menus, catalogs, grocery aisles, clothes racks, and online product listings.

Price tags come in all shapes, sizes, and colors and influence our shopping behavior in many ways. Similarly, the price tag of your financial freedom should influence the saving and spending decisions in your monthly budget.

With this in mind, today we’re exploring how to check the price tags of the individual items on your financial freedom shopping list.

Continue Reading
Beat Murphy’s Law With… The Classic Car Emergency Fund Model

Beat Murphy’s Law With… The Classic Car Emergency Fund Model

A 1930's-era classic car, illustrating how to beat Murphy's Law by modeling an emergency fund after a classic car.
Photo by sl3p3r, CC0 1.0 license

Murphy’s Law – Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. We all know this old adage. And I’d wager that most of us have lived it and can lustily vouch for its accuracy.

The insurance industry is predicated almost entirely on this concept. There are at least 95 policy types that exist – life, health, home, auto, motorcycle, boat, accidental death and dismemberment(!?!), travel, liability, flood, kidnapping, alien abduction… the list goes on.

And while hopefully your chances of being dismembered or abducted by aliens are excruciatingly low, just remember that Murphy is still out there.

So the question becomes, how do you Murphy-proof your finances? I submit that you can do so by copying a design element dating back to the early days of “the motorcar”. Continue Reading

Gimme Hands: The Power Of Being Selfish… With Yourself

Gimme Hands: The Power Of Being Selfish… With Yourself

Power lines trailing into the distance, illustrating the power of delayed gratification.
Learning to be selfish with yourself can power you all the way to financial freedom.
Manitoba Powerlines” by Matt Wiebe, CC BY 2.0 license

Selfishness is typically not a trait to be pursued, developed, or cultivated. But when it comes to your financial freedom, all of that conventional moral wisdom goes right out the window.

Now don’t throw the baby out with the bath water – I’m not talking about being selfish when it comes to the way you treat OTHERS. I’m referring only to the importance of cultivating selfishness in your future self when it comes to its dealings with your current self.

If you are still aghast that I would suggest such a thing, it may help for you to think of this concept in the much more palatable light of delayed gratification. Continue Reading

Become Your Own CFO: Calculating Your Monthly Net Profit

Become Your Own CFO: Calculating Your Monthly Net Profit

A photo of the Manhattan skyline,, illustrating that the net profit of your monthly budget is just as important to your success as net profit is to the success of every Fortune 500 company.
Net profit is as important to the success of your monthly budget as it is to every Fortune 500 company.
Photo by FrankWinkler, CC0 1.0 license

Have you ever daydreamed of what it would be like to run a large business? Of being an executive high roller in a high-rise? If so, you’re in luck, because your household has an immediate opening for a Chief Financial Officer. And you just happen to be the most qualified candidate to fill it.

The job requirements of a CFO are varied. They can include ultimate responsibility for everything from crafting budgets to managing cash flow and optimizing tax liability.

These facets all have an impact on the bottom line of every business. But there’s one metric that trumps all others when it comes to determining business success or failure – net profit. Continue Reading

Beat The Blitz: Avoid The Unexpected Bill Scramble Drill

Beat The Blitz: Avoid The Unexpected Bill Scramble Drill

A quarterback on the run being chased by a menacing defensive lineman, illustrating how unexpected bills can put your finances on the run.
Irregular, forgotten bills have you and your finances on the run?
Photo by Penn State / Patrick Mansell, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license

You open up your mailbox and there it is – that forgotten annual bill for your auto insurance, home insurance, or property taxes. You open it with trepidation and baited breath, wondering the extent of the damage. Your heart sinks as you realize the amount due will throw your entire finances off-balance for several months.

Sure, those Christmas gift-giving and annual vacation memories were great. But now that the credit card bill funding those memories has arrived, it’s time to pony up and pay the piper.

Do your irregular bills have you on the run? If so, it’s time to dive deep into the budgeting playbook and shore up your protection so you can avoid the unexpected bill scramble drill for good. Continue Reading

Cover Your Budgeting Bases: Position Yourself To Win With Money

Cover Your Budgeting Bases: Position Yourself To Win With Money

A baseball infielder making a play at the bag on a diving base-runner, illustrating the need to cover your budgeting bases in order to win with money.
A savvy infielder covering his base well, positioned to win at the bag.
Photo by KeithJJ, CC0 1.0 license

Budget, budgets, and budgeting. If you read those words and picture something akin to handcuffs, a ball and chain, or an experience about as enjoyable as plucking a nasal hair, you’re not alone. These words possess a negative connotation in the minds of many.

Based on your own past experience or perhaps someone else’s horror story, you might even believe that budgeting and the concept of financial freedom are diametrically opposed to one another.

But the relationship of budgeting to financial freedom isn’t that of a necessary evil, or even a means to an end. Done right, budgeting actually serves as the key to removing those handcuffs you’re envisioning, along with that ball and chain. Continue Reading

Laying Your Financial Foundation: A Guide To Mint Transactions

Laying Your Financial Foundation: A Guide To Mint Transactions

A photo of brick and mortar at a jobsite, illustrating how Mint Transactions constitute the bricks in your financial foundation.
Photo by alexeddy1010, CC0 1.0 license

Understand where your money is going. Align your spending with your values. Make your financial goals a reality. Obtain the freedom to live the life you’ve always wanted.

A highly-optimized and easy-to-implement financial plan can deliver on all of the above. And if you’ve been following the Master Your Money series from the beginning, you’re on track to create just that.

In this article we’ll walk through how to use Mint transactions to lay the foundation upon which you will build the money management system that can power you to financial freedom. So grab your trowel, and let’s get started!

Continue Reading
De-stress, Save $130,000, & Preserve The Planet With Online Bill Pay

De-stress, Save $130,000, & Preserve The Planet With Online Bill Pay

Close-up of a carpet of three-leafed clover, illustrating the three primary benefits of online bill pay.
Photo by Higher-TJ, CC0 1.0 license

A rich, uninterrupted carpet of bright green clover is one of the more pleasing sights to the eye of this veteran wildlife food plotter.

But the above photo represents more than just a nice visual. The typical three-leaf clover is also a perfect symbol of the three primary advantages of online bill pay.

Let’s take an up-close look at how this basic functionality can take the stress out of bill payment, save you some serious cash, and preserve our planet, all at the same time.

Continue Reading
Mint To The Rescue: Your Bill Pay Safety Net

Mint To The Rescue: Your Bill Pay Safety Net

A NYC fire engine streaking down a street with lights ablaze, en route to a call. The photo illustrates how Mint is standing by to come to your bill pay rescue.
A NYC fire engine with lights ablaze, streaking down a street en route to a call.
FDNY Fire Truck” by Ciaran McHugh, CC BY 2.0 license

Bills – one of the most critical aspects of any money management plan. No, I’m not referring to the type that have Benjamin Franklin, Andrew Jackson, or George Washington on their face.

I’m talking about the type that list your name, account number, balance, and due date. The kind that tie your stomach up in knots, increase your blood pressure, and result in late fees if you don’t pay them on time.

It’s time to put those possibilities in the rear-view mirror and eliminate your bill-related stress for good. Today I’m going to show you how Mint is standing by to come to your rescue with a bill pay safety net which will help prevent you from ever forgetting to pay a bill again. Continue Reading