The Budget: Your Financial Multi-Tool

As a forgotten Excel file on your desktop or a crinkled bit of graph paper buried beneath bills on your desk, your budget may not seem like much. But it’s worth more than its kilobytes of memory or weight in paper. It’s a high-performance multi-tool that helps you track your finances, establish goals, and achieve your financial dreams.

Two-thirds of Americans run their households without one. If you’re part of this majority, it’s time you discover why the budget is so important to your financial success, so let’s take a look at each of the household budget’s functions.

Your Financial Barometer

Maybe you have memories of your grandfather tapping the glass of his barometer to see where the needle points. He wasn’t being fussy. As a meteorological tool, the barometer predicts subtle changes in weather patterns by measuring the air pressure with some degree of accuracy.

When it registers a rise in air pressure, meteorologists (and grandfathers) can forecast fair weather in the near future. Low pressure, on the other hand, suggests rain and storms are on the way.

Your budget has similar predictive powers. When you keep track of your purchases, you can foresee the future of your finances.

Overspending is the low pressure of your budget. You may have enough savings set aside to accommodate a few days, weeks, or even months of spending more than you should, but unchecked spending promises unstable times ahead. If you spend more than you make, without making any changes, debt and online loans are in your future, and you’ll have to face these debts in loans and credit card charges very soon.

Most of us know we shouldn’t lease that new car or buy the most expensive iPhone when we don’t have the savings for it. But overspending doesn’t always come in the big, obvious packages. It can be those little purchases that, on their own, won’t do much damage, but taken together, impact your finances negatively.

As a financial barometer, your budget’s greatest success is revealing the subtle spending habits that don’t immediately lead to debt but that can limit your overall financial growth.

Let’s say you crave a pumpkin spice latte from time to time. On its own, a $5 latte won’t make a huge difference to your finances, but once you tally up several trips through the Starbucks drive-thru every month, your budget exposes the true cost of your caffeine addiction.

Your Financial Compass

A normal compass, with its magnetized needle, will always point north. It’s an invaluable tool for anyone who needs to navigate open waters or unblazed trails, as it indicates constant direction regardless of where you are or where you’re going. Mariners and hikers would never leave the safety of the marina or their camp without it.

Your budget gives you a similar sense of direction, and you should never manage your finances without one. Unfortunately, its needle doesn’t hold as true as its navigational counterpart.

Your desires — not the Earth’s magnetic field — set the pace. If you don’t prioritize saving, then your financial compass points towards spending cash on that new iPhone X instead of a retirement plan. If your financial ‘true north’ is saving more, then your compass points towards investment opportunities and specialty bank accounts.

A budget determines what your goals are by revealing where your financial needle points. The act of organizing your finances this way forces you to think about your ambitions in life. Whether your goal is to pay down debt or fund an extravagant holiday, your budget gives a sense of purpose to your spending and saving, so you have a better time of achieving your objectives.

Your Financial Map

A compass is at its most effective when paired with a map. Used together, these instruments will not only reveal where you are but where you want to go and how to get there.

Let’s return to the lattes. Once your budget reveals how much you spend on these drinks, you can determine if it helps or hinders your financial goals. By outlining these expenses, a budget can show you what you need to change if you expect to arrive where you want to be.

It doesn’t matter if it’s just $20 a month or something closer to $200. Your budget will bring it to your attention, and you can decide if you should avoid Starbucks and redirect the money into other purchases, bills, or investments. You can cut out the $200 entirely and invest it instead, or you could put it into a holiday fund. And if you miss the sweet taste of your favorite treat, you can always try making them from scratch.

It can also help you determine how to bridge any holes in your budget. Let’s say there are no Starbucks trips to cancel, but you’re expecting a pricey vet bill after your cat swallowed an elastic band. A budget shows you how much you’re missing. That sum can guide you as you look for a reliable source for online personal loans that advances exactly what you lack, so you don’t have to choose between Fluffy’s medical care and your finances.

As your finances’ barometer, compass, and map, a budget is an important tool guiding the way you spend money and achieve goals. It’s time you take advantage of the work it does. Take the time to work up a budget, and see how it can guide you away from debt and towards financial security.

Bush playgroups: outdoors and the early years

One of the latest playgroup initiatives to make waves in Australia involves the great outdoors. Bush playgroups not only encourage children to explore outdoor environments, but to share this experience with their parents and carers. Not only are early childhood educators now taking on the role of ecologists and nature conservationists in order to inspire their younger charges, community leaders and educational experts alike are extolling the value of extended outdoor educational settings. Nature based learning, as it is also referred to, is also growing in importance as an aspect of childcare courses in Melbourne and around the country, demonstrating the increasing value that this type of setting can offer children.

Children who are raised in smaller dwellings such as apartments, unit or townhouses benefit especially as it allows them to lead their play outside. This is often an activity that is foreign to many kids. Partly this is because they do not have the autonomy of a backyard at their house, but engage in quite supervised outdoor play at communal playgrounds or places that don’t necessarily encourage pure exploration.

Further to this, studies have shown that adults that spend more time outdoors as children are more likely to also do so when they grow up. This is good news for our waistlines and our general health as the incidental exercise that is gained by outdoor pottering alone is a great way to combat a sedentary lifestyle.

Many bush playgroups encourage parental interaction with other adults and it gives parents and carers a chance to play with, or observe, their children play in an environment that is completely new. Many parents also enjoy a return to the type of play they themselves engaged in when they were young, but is now restricted, a lot less common or even risky due to many factors of modern life.

The emphasis on freedom is core value of a lot of the nature play that occurs in an outdoor setting such as a bush playgroup. In fact, across several urban areas around Melbourne and Canberra especially, landscape architect designed ‘bush’ parks are beginning to spring up. These natural (and carefully structured) unstructured spaces with many fallen logs, tunnels, rocks and things to explore are popular amongst kids of many ages. Some authorities even envisage this as an introductory space to encourage families to seek out and explore the wider natural outdoors across Australia, whether bush, forests, mountain ranges and nature reserves. Learning to manage risk in a more controlled environment such as purpose built bushland is seen as a great way to helps kids and parents become comfortable with the variability of outdoor excursions.

Weather from all the seasons is also not a deterrent, but a key factor of a bush playground. Encouraging children to be outdoors in all conditions firstly builds their resilience to a variety of environments. It also provides them with opportunities to learn about and witness for themselves the changing seasons and the flora and fauna that evolves with them.

Finding a business to suit your lifestyle

Many people go into business for themselves in order to be their own boss and have more flexibility in their lifestyle. Unfortunately, many are then shocked when they end up working even longer hours and have excessive responsibilities in order to build and maintain a viable business venture. Therefore, before you decide to make the change to business ownership, it is a valuable exercise to carefully consider what you prioritise the most to inform your professional decisions.  This will help you to find your niche and enter the market with confidence.

You might choose to purchase an established business. This can be costly initially, but if you have done suitable due diligence you will also be purchasing a loyal client base and the reputation of the brand that you will soon own. An established business could be in retail, hospitality, financial services or any industry in-between.

Purchasing a newsagency for sale, for example, is a sound choice for someone who is a great all-round retailer. You will deal with a variety of suppliers as you stock a variety of products and it is a fantastic way to get to know and support the local community. Many news agencies have a Tattslotto capacity which can boost sales and cross-promotional opportunities, especially if you happen to sell a jackpot ticket. Some news agencies will also operate as Auspost outlets in order to provide a wider variety of services that may also attract business clients. Be aware that stocking the humble newspaper traditionally means some pretty early morning starts especially if you offer home delivery service, so be prepared to staff this accordingly if you can’t face getting up in the wee hours.

If you think that you might want to build something from the ground up, there are also a variety of options. In addition to logistics, such as where it will operate and before you buy a factory for sale, do some market research to identify, then profile your target customer. One way to do this is to define what ‘problem’ your business will be able to solve. By knowing what is currently frustrating customers or is a gap in the market, begin by articulating how your business can provide goods or services to fill this void. Many people may opt to undergo some market research, whether online or face to face, or you may take a more passive approach and read a lot of forums and investigate what’s trending online.

If you’re considering a start-up situation it can be a long road to get your business to the point of breaking even, let alone profit. Therefore, put in place plans as to how you will fund it and keep it running if things take a little longer than what you originally articulate in your business plan. For some people, it means remaining a side business until it takes off. This approach to risk management will give you some breathing room and hopefully prevent you launching to market without being adequately prepared.

Get Started on Your Project

Everyone has one. That project they’ve always wanted to get started, but there’s never time, and always something else to do. Whether it’s scrapbooking, writing a book or even starting your own business, they’re all projects it’s easy not to find time for, putting them off until one day you find you’ve missed your chance.

It’s time to seize the reins, take control and finally get around to the project you’ve always wanted to with this short guide.

How to Succeed

Before you can start, you need to know what finishing looks like: if you don’t have a clear end in mind, you’ll soon be disheartened, mired in the middle of a hobby that’s suddenly taking up all your time with no way out.

Decide what success will look like for you, and be realistic. If, given your other commitments, good progress looks like 1000 words a week of the book you want to write, set that as a goal. Shooting for the stars is all very well but if you don’t have a realistic chance of hitting them, set a more achieveable target. Nothing leeches away your motivation like regular failure.

Also decide what your failure conditions look like: if you need to put money into this project, set a budget and if it starts to run over, you need to bring things to a close.

Find Space

Set aside a space to work on your project. Whether that means having a spare room turned into an office you’re running your ebay store from, or simply a box of crafting materials kept by a favourite comfy chair, giving this project space will make it easier to work on: it will become part of your life and routine.

If you need more space than you can spare at home, it’s worth looking into storage firms. If you’re looking at self storage London companies often offer additional facilities like power outlets and meeting rooms to make them attractive to audiences beyond people storing excess furniture. This could be the solution you need to kickstart your project!

Be Ruthless

You need to regard project-time as an important commitment. Don’t allow yourself to cancel it because of invitations from friends or other calls on your time. You’ve decided that this is important so schedule your time in advance and stick to that schedule.

Using a calendar, digital or physical to plot out the time you’ve allotted to work on this project will help send a clear signal to friends and family members that you’re serious about this and not to be disturbed until you’ve succeeded!

Solar Panels: Great for you pocket and the environment

You may have seen the price of solar panels and winced at the sheer amount they can cost. We understand that they may not be for everyone, as the initial outlay can be quite high, but there is a huge range of costs that span from a slight reduction in reliance on your energy supplier to completely removing all need for one, even selling electricity back to the grid. Not only are they a great long term investment for your finances, but for the environment as well. As the world undergoes a complete overhaul of their energy generation infrastructure, every little helps. As a country and an entire planet, we are trying to reduce the amount of fossil fuels that we burn, and trying to increase our numbers in renewable generation. Read through this article and find out why your next investment should definitely be on solar panels.

Let’s talk prices

The make or break of any investment: the initial cost. How long will it take to see your initial ROI? Well here’s your answers.

The amount you spend on solar panels will all depend on a few variables. These include:

  • What percentage of your electricity usage do you want to generate?
  • How much space do you have on your roof?
  • How much electricity do you consume per year on average?
  • Do you need coverage for overnight/low light usage?
  • What is the peak live usage in your house?

If you are only wanting to remove a slight amount of your reliance on your energy supplier, then you won’t be looking at an absolutely giant investment. The benefit of doing it this way, too, is that you can gradually build up your arsenal of solar panels, spreading the outlay out over time. If, however, you are looking at completely removing your reliance on the national grid, you will definitely be looking at a quite sizeable sum.

Here’s the general pricing grid for a standard monocrystalline silicon solar panel system:

System sizeAnnual outputRoof spaceCost
1 kW850 kWh8 m2£2,500 – 3,200
2 kW1,700 kWh14 m2£3,200 – 4,800
3 kW2,550 kWh21 m2£4,000 – 7,000
4 kW3,400 kWh28 m2£6,000 – 8,000


How to choose a panel system

Scenario 1 – cheap option

In this scenario, you only want to remove a small portion of your energy supplier reliance by generating a little of your own electricity. In this case, you’ll most likely only need a 1kW system. Generally, this will give you an annual output of around 850kWh, which is 27.4% of the average electricity bill. If you are paying £500 for your electricity normally, this would mean that you save £137 per year, making your annual bill £363.

If you have given an initial outlay of £2,500 for your solar panel system, this would mean you would see your first ROI after 18 years. The following 18 years would give you £2,466 in return.

If you are only removing partial reliance on your energy supplier, you will still need to be connected to the national grid at all times. This is due to the fact that you will only be running a 1kW system. In real time, you will generally use more than this through your general appliances, especially if you have multi, high usage appliances switched on simultaneously.

Scenario 2 – expensive option

In this scenario, you want to remove complete reliance on your energy supplier by generating 100% of your electricity through solar panels. In this case you would most likely need a 4kW system. This will cost you around £6,500 and will give you around 3,400 kWh of electricity per year. This is around 110% of the average household consumption. Because you are completely disconnecting from the national electricity grid, you are going to have to prepare for times of low light, like through the night. In order to do this, you will need to purchase a storage battery that will store excess electricity for you to use in times of low light. For a 6 kWh battery, this will cost you around £2,800, which brings your initial investment up to around £9,300.

If your usage is 3,100 kWh of electricity, you’re probably wondering what you are going to be able to do with the other 300 kWh? Well, you can actually sell them back to the national grid through the Government’s ‘Feed-In Tariff’. For a 4kW system at ‘medium rate’ you are going to make 3.66p per kWh, which means you’d earn roughly £11 per year, which isn’t a great deal, but it all goes towards seeing your ROI that bit quicker.

As such, with all the above included, if you were paying £500 per year for your electricity before, with the 300 kWh sold back to the grid through the Feed-In Tariff, you would be saving £511 per year, which would mean a ROI after around 18 years, thereafter seeing £10,220 ROI in the following 20 years.

How to Find Good Deals Online

The internet has made it easier than ever to find the kind of bargains you used to have to spend hours rooting around malls and second-hand shops to discover. Here are some tips to help you get the most bang for your buck and dodge some of the tricks online retailers might try to play on you.

Let Your Cart Simmer

If you see something you like the look of on a website, stick it in your online shopping cart and then leave the site alone for a day or two. The website may register your interest in the product but also believe your delay in purchasing might mean you’re looking elsewhere for a better deal. With any luck, there’s a decent chance a promo code or voucher will show up in your inbox to try to make you follow through with the purchase.

Stay on Twitter

Twitter is stalked by some of the most voracious bargain hounds on the internet. To keep you main feed uncluttered, considering opening a second account to follow sharp-eyed users as they let the world know about the latest deals and flash sales. A flurry of specifically hashtagged tweets showing up together may mean that there’s a sale on the subject matter going down.

Barter In-Store

If you’re in a shop browsing for an item, particularly one of high value, see if you can manoeuvre into a conversation with the manager where you show him there’s a better deal online. It’s their job to hit sales targets and free bonus slots, so with a little tact and charm, you may find the shop prepared to give you a discount to match the list price.

Check Free Shipping

While free shipping is great, don’t automatically assume that you’ll be making a net saving on the cost of your purchase. Some places may charge for shipping but still have the product at a cheaper price to make a bigger overall saving.

Snuggle up to Your Favourite Brands

If you’ve got a brand you’ve always been crazy about, consider bookmarking it, adding them on social media and signing up to their mailing list and uk slots.That way you’ll be the first to hear about surprise sales both on and off the line, and might be the recipient of loyalty awards like coupons and discount codes.

Be Mindful of Your Surroundings

If you live in a fancy or well-off area, you may be hindering your chances at finding the best deals. Businesses will use online telemetry to find out your IP address and zip code, which could work against you if they flag your location up as being affluent. They may, therefore, increase the prices on their site when you visit that location. A permanent solution is to run your browsing through a VPN to confuse tracking software. Or a simpler solution might be to compare prices when browsing from work or at a friend’s house.

Clear Your Browser

Websites will track your attendance and browsing behaviour through cookie software installed in your computer’s cache. This can lead some companies, say an airline, to bump up prices if they see you shopping for the same destination flight over a sustained period, increasing the price to match what they see as the degree of need on your end. Similarly, prices may be lower for customers they view as browsing the site on an introductory basis to get their repeat custom. Either shop in a private browser session where surfing data gets wiped after you close the window, or simply clear your history in between shopping sessions.

When Should You Call an Interim Manager?

It’s not uncommon for businesses to run into problems they don’t have the institutional knowledge to solve. Sometimes this is a natural evolution that leads to a growth of the business and its operational capacity. The rise of the IT department is something that has happened within living memory. It required businesses to take a risk, employing full time staff who were specialists in a new field, and sinking resources into equipment and training. The result of this, however, was increased efficiency; better problem-solving capacity; and now it’s impossible to imagine any business of any size without an IT support team.

Similarly, absorbing new expertise is part of the growth of a business. Start-ups and small businesses often make do without full time HR staff. This works as long as you have a small number of employees and can extend them flexibility in return for commitment to a growing business. Once you start to grow, processing payroll can be too much for an overstretched founder to handle, quite apart from tracking holidays and staff sickness. It makes sense as a business grows to transition into having dedicated HR staff to handle that side of a business for you, and is part of the foundation for future expansion and success.

Sometimes, however, businesses face a problem that doesn’t justify taking on new full-time staff. A project failing or overrunning, or an urgent to break into a new market represents an acute need, rather than a chronic one.

It’s in situations like these, when you need a short term dose of additional knowledge and resources, that Interim Managers are a good idea for your business. Experienced in adapting to business needs quickly, they are a solution that’s available immediately, and provides practical support rather than the recommendations you would receive from a traditional consultant. If you have a failing project you need to turn around, an Interim Manager wouldn’t simply make recommendations about how to bring it under control, they would work closely with you and the project team as a project manager.

As long as you have a quantifiable aim in mind like increasing your revenue by a set amount, or facing a particular crisis, an Interim Manager is a good solution for your business. If you have more diffuse goals like broad improvement or simply ‘growth’ without figures attached to these aspirations it’s unlikely the practical skills of the Interim Manager can help.