How to Track Your Spending

Earlier this month we tackled how to build a budget. For those of you who tried a budget for the first time, how has it been going? Budgeting is a skill that can take a while to perfect, so if you feel like you way overspent in one category while underspending in another, don't get discouraged - just look at the month of data you now have, and move forward with greater clarity in the months to come!

Once you have a budget (the amount you're planning to spend in each category, as well as amounts you'd like to give away, save, or invest), you need to figure out a system for tracking it (since that's the key to following it!). The good news is that there are many ways to do this, and almost certainly one that will be a good fit for you! I'm going to run down a few of my favorites today, but would love to hear from y'all in the comments.

A custom Google Doc | This is the system I use, and warning: it might seem a little insane on first glance. But if you use very little cash, don't mind a little upkeep, and LOVE data, it might be the right fit for you! The basic premise is that the amount in your budget accrues each day, which is a neat way of feeling like your budget is growing, not shrinking!

The envelope system | Dave Ramsey fans will be very familiar with this one! It's perfect for people who are worried about overspending, because almost everything is paid for in cash, and once the cash in each category's envelope is gone, it's gone. You can read more about this strategy on the Dave Ramsey site, and read about our friend Nancy Ray's envelope system experience here.

The EveryDollar app | EveryDollar is an online budget app created by the Dave Ramsey team and is basically a digital version of the envelope system. I haven't used it personally, but my sister is a recent convert who is loving it, and our Marketing Director Amber also uses it (see her PowerSheets above)! The app is free for 15 days then $99 for a year.

You Need a Budget | Another online budget app with rave reviews is You Need a Budget, or YNAB. I love that not only do they have a great tool for tracking your spending, but it's guided by a strong personal finance philosophy based on four rules (give every dollar a job, embrace your true expenses, roll with the punches, and age your money). YNAB is free for 34 days, then $50 for a year. | Mint promises to bring everything from budgeting to bills together - your financial life, in one place that's easy to understand. Mint has been around for awhile, and seems to be the most polarizing of the sites I've listed here - people either love it or hate it. When I used it for a few months, I felt like I was going in more often than I'd like to correct its auto-categorization. Mint is free.

I'd love to hear: Have you found a system of expense tracking that works for you? What do you use?

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How to Build a Budget

Personal finance goals and questions come up so often in the PowerSheets Facebook Group that Jess and I thought it was high time we added a bit of this content into the blog schedule! And, lucky me, I'm the one who gets to write to you about it! (No, really: lucky me. I am extremely passionate about financial freedom, both in my own life and helping to equip others, so there is almost nothing else I'd rather write about!) To start, I thought I'd share a little bit about how to build a budget.

I have followed a written budget for eleven years now, and I can confidently say that it is the number one reason I feel at peace with my finances. I don’t worry about whether or not we’ll have enough money to pay our mortgage or insurance bill every month; I know we will. The headspace this surety frees up allows me to focus on my dreams and keeps me on track to reach my lifetime financial goals. There are few things better than that!

If the word budget sounds scary, shake off that fear and listen to this: a budget is not about denying yourself and cutting out everything fun, it's about making a plan. Dave Ramsey likes to say that budgeting is “telling your money where to go.” I like that image. A budget helps me be purposeful about how I spend and save instead of just closing my eyes and hoping. While there are many ways to track a budget (which we can chat about later!), building a budget is pretty standard. It’s all about two things — income and expenses — which make up your cash flow.


1. Calculate your monthly net income (your gross income minus taxes). For most of us, this is simply our paycheck.

2. Add up all of your fixed expenses. Fixed expenses are difficult or impossible to change and are the same (or roughly the same) every month: rent, utilities, your electric bill, student loans, car loan(s), auto insurance, health insurance, etc.

3. Calculate your monthly contribution to your financial goals. Like the experts say, pay yourself first. Put money into an emergency fund, reduce debt with extra payments, save for a down payment, save for retirement, and/or feed an investment account. If it’s a priority for you, include charitable giving in this step. Whatever you do, do not skip this step! Treat your savings like any other budget line item, not as something optional if there’s money left over.

4. Add up all of your variable expenses. Like the name implies, these are things that are not externally set, so you could, for example, cut back here if you wanted to move faster toward your goals. Examples include groceries, dining out, clothing, entertainment, gifts, travel, gas, personal care, etc.

5. Put it all together. When you subtract your fixed expenses, your contributions to your financial goals, and your variable expenses from your net income, there are three possible outcomes: you’ll either have a surplus, you’ll break even, or you’ll have a deficit. If you come out with a surplus, you can either save more or spend more (assuming you’re already saving the recommended amounts!). If you break even, perfect! If you have a deficit, it’s time to take another look at your figures (most likely your variable expenses), and adjust numbers until you’re in the clear. By the time your budget is finished, you'll have a plan in hand, ready to be followed to financial freedom!

Easy to understand, a bit harder to follow in practice :) Your homework: walk through these steps, and start calculating! If you’ve never made a budget before and are unsure how much to allocate for certain categories, I’d suggest looking back through last month’s expenses (maybe on a credit or debit card statement) and estimating from there. It might take a few months to get the balance across categories just right.

For more, here's another post I wrote about what we take into consideration when making our yearly budget.

I'd love to hear any questions you might have about making a budget, or if there are other personal finance topics you'd like to chat about more!

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We’re hiring at Cultivate and Southern Weddings!

Our small but mighty team is growing, friends! As many of you know, our company houses two brands: Cultivate What Matters and Southern Weddings. Both brands exist to help you cultivate what matters, right where you are, whether that's your relationship, an intentional wedding day, a thriving business, or a joyful life. We are a unique company! Each team member contributes to both the Southern Weddings and Cultivate operations. And now, we're looking for a new team member who loves the heart of both brands and can help us take our work to the next level.

We are committed to finding the right person (or persons!) and tailoring their responsibilities in a way that suits them and our growing business. That being said, here is what we're looking for:

The person most fit for this position:
- Is a good writer
- Has strong copy editing skills
- Has a strong knowledge of our brand and heart for our mission
- Has a strong personal aesthetic and exquisite taste
- Has a passion for PEOPLE - including brides, moms, students, and business owners!
- Has extraordinary people skills (email and in person)
- Has some knowledge of/experience in the wedding industry
- Has a joyful spirit and thrives on “situation solving”

This person's tasks may include:
- Customer service correspondence via social media and email
- Writing blog posts, newsletters, magazine features, and social posts for both SW and CWM
- Copy editing all sorts of content across both brands
- Back-end content and marketing support: loading photos, formatting posts, product sourcing, vendor communication, tracking campaigns, etc.
- Online shop and fulfillment assistance: correspondence, boxing, stickering, assembling, etc.

We are looking for someone excited to jump in and tackle any and every task with excitement and flexibility!

We are open to candidates who can commit to either part-time or full-time employment, with preference given to those who can work in our Chapel Hill, NC office.

If you are excited about this opportunity, please click here to fill out our job application. Applications will close Friday, March 3.

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How To Set Goals with Your Significant Other

Happy Valentine's Day, friends! In light of this love-filled holiday, I wanted to share a few of my best tips for setting goals with your significant other. Setting goals with my husband John has been one of the sweetest and most fruitful parts of my life, and I wish the same for you!

  • Explain why goal setting has worked for you. If your significant other isn't fully on board right away, explain why goal setting matters to you, what excites you about it, and the difference it has made in your life. Give tangible examples.
  • Play it cool. Introduce the idea of goal setting gently. Don't bust out eight different colored pens and our couples guide and a supplemental notebook and your calendar and ask for a three-hour block of his day all at the same time. If you think sitting down for a large chunk of time isn't in the cards, try incorporating some prompts from the guide into your normal conversation. I find John and I have our best uninterrupted conversation on our evening walks, so if it were me, I'd just choose one prompt per day, then jot some notes down in the guide once we were back home.
  • Make it fun. If your significant other is on board for a meeting of the minds, make your time for dreaming and planning fun. We like to go out to dinner for our big once a year "life audit" and goal setting session. We choose a restaurant with a quiet atmosphere that lends itself to a leisurely dinner. (Bonus points for choosing a spot you don’t go to often, so it feels like more of a special occasion!) You certainly could have your celebration dinner at home, but I find that it’s easier to concentrate, have a deeper conversation, and get into dreaming mode when I’m out of my normal environment. If it's feasible for you, a weekend getaway would be even better (but certainly not required)!
  • Stay flexible. Remember that goal setting together doesn't have to look the same as goal setting apart. I'm most likely to get frustrated when I set up rigid expectations around our goal setting evenings, expecting them to fit into a perfect little box because I'M the one who suggested this goal setting idea, anyway. My husband, however, usually has his own thoughts about how the evening should go, and they're often better than mine! Stay loose and open, and the time will more rewarding and productive for everyone.
  • Say thank you. If your significant other goes out of his way to set goals with you, especially if doing so is out of his comfort zone, a heartfelt thank you is in order (and will make it more likely he'll agree to another session!). Go out of your way to reciprocate in his own love language.
  • Celebrate your progress. A hallmark of the PowerSheets and our couples guide is that you don't just set goals and forget about them. Post them up in your home, return to them regularly, and when there's progress to celebrate, do so with abundance! Make your favorite meal for dinner, go out for ice cream, go to the beach for the day, take the afternoon off of work and go to a movie - whatever is meaningful and fun for the two of you, do it.

Tomorrow is the last day to add code LOVEBIRDS for free shipping on your Couples Companion Mini Guide! I'd love to hear: how do you set goals with your significant other? If you don't, what has stopped you in the past?

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Our Favorite Things – January

Today's the last day of January! We're here to celebrate the progress that's been made, and to share a few of the things that have helped us cultivate joy, make progress on our goals, and live more purposeful days this month. We'd love for you to share what has helped you in your PowerSheets progress, too - just drop a note in the comments!

  1. Our PowerSheets, of course! Have you done your prep work for February yet? If not, set aside some time in the next few days! (Don't have PowerSheets? Preorder a set here, and then get started for the next few months with Lara's free goal setting series.)
  2. Our whole team has a pair of soft cotton pajamas from LAKE, and they're pretty much all we wear to sleep these days! They're on the spendier side, but sometimes you need to treat yo'self :)
  3. In a crowded market, our friend Lindsay Letters still managed to create a beautiful product that truly stands out. If you've loved Lindsay's style for as long as we have, you'll love getting the chance to add your own color to her letters in her new coloring book, Sweeter Than Honey!
  4. Nicole is a big fan of this no-knead bread recipe. Perfect for keeping you busy on cold winter days, and as an unconventional Valentine's Day present for friends!
  5. Do any of your 2017 goals involve learning something new? From creative writing to cooking to sewing to photography, if you want to learn about, Skillshare probably has a class to teach you about it. They're all taught by experts, and they often run specials (like three months of unlimited class time for just $.99!).
  6. Lara and I both got FitBits at the beginning of the year (mine is an Alta and I think hers is a Charge 2), and our office has never been the same! The circle of open space around our central table has been newly dubbed "the track" :) We are both loving the reminders to get up and move!
  7. For those hoping to spend more intentional time with their kids or significant others, might we recommend going low-tech? These beautiful playing cards are perfect for dreary winter days, and will spruce up your next game of Rummy or Go Fish.
  8. For those trying out Whole30 or who just want to eat a bit healthier in the new year, I highly recommend trying this roasted butternut squash soup. Just a few ingredients, easy to make, and SO delicious!!

Tell us: what "things" are helping you make progress on your goals this month? We'd love to hear so we can add them to our lists!

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