Four Steps to Creating a Financial Plan You Can Stick To

A financial plan shows you what you need to do in order to pay your bills and meet financial goals. Without a plan, you may spend too much on nonessentials, such as eating out or new gadgets, leaving you without enough money for bills or rent at the end of the month. Consider creating and following a plan that prioritizes bills and savings while limiting extra spending. This plan will help you figure out exactly how much money you need to set aside to reach your goals, such as paying off credit card debt or saving for a new car.

Ready to create a plan of your own? Here’s what you need to do.

Set Your Goals

Before you begin, you should have a total of your essential monthly expenses: rent or mortgage, bills, food, clothing, and so on. Once you have this information, total your take-home earnings for the month. Then, you can begin to work on your goals.

A good time frame for your plan is six months: enough time to make progress, but short enough that you can realistically predict your financial circumstances. Think about your current and future expenses over the next few months. One goal might be to open a savings account and create an emergency fund if you don’t already have money set aside to cover living expenses for a set period.

Another goal may be to pay off debt. Let’s say you have high balances on two credit cards and a student loan. For six months, you can set a goal of paying one-fourth of the total you owe on the highest-interest credit card while continuing to make minimum payments on the other two debts.

Consider setting up an automatic transfer to a savings account to help you stick to your goals. You don’t have to use automatic transfers in your financial plan, but it’s convenient to set up and makes following through easier.

Crunch the Numbers

Once you have your goals in mind, you need to figure out what to do to reach them. For example, if you’re planning to buy a car, your goal may be to save up enough money for a down payment. To save $1,200 over six months, you must set aside about $200 a month.

Take a look at your current income and expenses to make sure your plan is doable. You may need to increase your income, if possible, by working extra hours or getting a part-time job. You may need to cut back on spending, for instance, by bringing lunch to work or canceling your streaming music subscription.

Always keep in mind that it’s okay to adjust a goal if you realize you won’t be able to meet it within six months.

Plan for Setbacks

The next step is to plan for setbacks. Don’t give up on your plan when something goes wrong. Instead, have alternate ideas ready to help you get back on track. For example, if your hours are suddenly cut at work and your monthly income turns out to be lower than you were counting on, plan on borrowing DVDs from a library instead of going to the movies.

Setbacks are a normal part of pursuing goals, so it’s best to expect them and be prepared.

Evaluate Your Progress

After you create your plan, put it into action. Look back at it every month to check your progress. Adjust the numbers accordingly, and make any necessary changes. Reviewing your goals and observing success will motivate you to keep working toward them.

Improving your finances without a financial plan is like taking a road trip without a map. You’ll go further with a plan to guide you.

Four Spectacular Museums in Georgia

From the internationally renowned World of Coca-Cola to the High Museum of Art and the Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta is home to some of the most notable attractions in the state.

But what you may not know is that there are ample opportunities outside of the city to discover unique attractions and educational museums in Georgia, where you can reap the benefits of lower ticket prices, beautiful scenery, and fewer crowds.

Next time you’re looking for a weekend adventure, check out these four museums and attractions located throughout Georgia.

1. Georgia Sports Hall of Fame

Location: Macon, Georgia

Macon’s 43,000-square-foot hall of fame is the largest state sports museum in the country, commemorating the history of Georgia-based athletics. Given the size of the museum and the caliber of athletes honored, this is a great stop for sports fans and history buffs alike. While you’re there, be sure to stop by the 200-plus-person theater to see the exposed steel trellises modeled after those used for Ponce de Leon Park, long-time home to the former Atlanta Crackers’ baseball team.

2. Telfair Museums

Location: Savannah, Georgia

Founded in 1883 by Mary Telfair, a prominent Savannah philanthropist, Telfair Museums is one of the oldest art museums, not only in Georgia but in the entire South. Telfair left her home and all of its furnishings to the Georgia Historical Society with instructions to open it up to the public. Since then, the museum has expanded significantly and now consists of three separate buildings full of art.

3. Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History

Location: Augusta, Georgia

An inductee into the Georgia Women of Achievement, Miss Lucy Craft Laney was an iconic and influential educational leader who started a school, established the first African American kindergarten in the United States, and founded the first nursing school for African Americans in the United States. Many years after her death, her house was restored and preserved as a local museum. You’ll be led through both permanent and rotating exhibits by a guide well versed in local African American history. Don’t miss the beautiful butterfly gardens.

4. Boyhood Home of Woodrow Wilson

Location: Augusta, Georgia

The Boyhood Home of President Woodrow Wilson is an educational historical site and museum honoring the twenty-eighth President of the United States. The home has been carefully preserved and filled with both original and restored furnishings. Open three days a week, volunteer docents give tours that delve into Wilson’s childhood, life in Georgia during the Civil War, and the widespread impact of the Battle of Atlanta, one of the most significant events of the time period.

These four museums in Georgia offer an educational experience and a chance to learn more about the long history of the Peach State in a variety of ways.

How to Battle Traffic in Atlanta without Going Insane

Despite all of Atlanta’s perks, its oft-loathed traffic emits an exhaust cloud of dread to commuters and visitors alike. But the automotive logjam isn’t unbeatable. Consider the following tips, tricks, and suggestions for dealing with traffic in Atlanta.

Take Alternate Routes

Rush hour traffic on I-285 remains one of the most hated experiences on Atlanta roadways. Consider the following back-road alternatives during peak hours.

  • A total of 5 two-lane roads, Mt. Vernon Road, Dunwood Club Drive, Winters Chapel Road, Oakcliff Road, and Northcrest Road, run almost parallel to I-285 between Dunwoody and Doraville. Although they can also get crowded, they provide a swift escape if you hit them at the right time.
  • Although it’s also known as H.E. Holmes Drive, James Jackson Parkway, and South Cobb Drive, the entire stretch is called Highway 280. Need to travel from I-20 to Marietta, but the west side I-285 looks horrific? This alternate route runs alongside 285.
  • If I-285 gets jammed on either side of town, some recommend taking I-75/85 through Atlanta. Although folks often flock here when trouble arises on I-285, this downtown connector can be quicker than some surface streets.

Check Traffic Reports

WSB Radio, available on 95.5 FM and on 750 AM, continues to be one of the more popular ways for Atlanta commuters to score up-to-the-minute traffic details, including twenty-four-hour traffic information, incident reports, and approximate trip times.

Georgia 511 is also a wealth of information, either through the website or mobile app, which is the official traffic application of the Georgia Department of Transportation. Be sure to pull over or pass your phone to a passenger when you check for traffic updates.

Entertain Your Ears

If you’re alone, the time spent in traffic may be an opportunity to escape the stress of the day through music, audio books, or podcasts. Independent station AM 1690 has an eclectic playlist that runs the gamut from classical to country to vintage soul to early rock. Among its shows, Mike Holbrook’s Radio Free Radio rises to the top. Special guests, including outlaw country icon Billy Joe Shaver, have been known to drop in.

The Atlanta-based daily talk show Comcastro, hosted by Maximüs Groves, puts the spotlight on a variety of professionals in and around the Big Peach. Politicians, scientists, filmmakers, comedians, and a many others talk shop during their respective interviews. Topics range from comic book writing to the art of crowd funding.

Wait Out Traffic

If you can’t stand sitting in the car any longer, Atlanta offers many opportunities to wait out traffic doing something fun. Slingshot Entertainment has 130,000 square feet of action, including high-powered indoor go-kart racing, a swanky fourteen-lane bowling lounge, American Ninja Warrior–style obstacle courses for grown-ups and tots, and an on-site restaurant.

Golfers who are getting antsy waiting in their vehicle, can duck off of a gridlocked 400 and experience Topgolf Alpharetta, a competitive driving range with targets.

If you’re stuck on 285 with impatient kids at rush hour, the Disney Store at Perimeter Mall may be the swankiest of its kind in town, with interactive bells and whistles, and ‘toons on the big screen.

While it can be tough dealing with traffic in Atlanta, indulging in entertaining activities, strategically using traffic reports, and taking alternate routes can help you beat the bottleneck.

Beyond the Repayment Calculator: What You Need to Know about Debt

Remarkably, 80 percent of Americans are carrying around a loan balance, according to Pew Trusts. Of those carrying debt, particularly those with student debt, about 7 million (17 percent) are in default, meaning they haven’t sent in a payment in an entire year, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Chances are you’re one of the millions suffering from a large amount of student debt. Fortunately, there are tools as your disposal. From using a repayment calculator to looking for warning signs, you can find ways to manage your loans.

No Debt About It

First, get smart about your situation. Sit down and record exactly how much, and to whom, you owe. Include a snapshot of how much you earn and spend each month so you can see where you might find wiggle room.

Next, determine your debt-to-income ratio. To find this number, first add up your monthly debt payments. Then divide that amount by your monthly income. Use your gross income—the total before taxes and deductions are subracted—rather than your net income. Your debt-to-income ratio should be at or below 10 percent without including a mortgage, according to the Department of Labor. If you include a mortgage, that ratio can rise to 36 percent and still be healthy.

You can use an online repayment calculator to help you determine how long it will take you to pay off your debt, either when you’re first starting to pay back or if you considering different repayment options.

Avoid Pitfalls

It’s important to determine if you have a problem with debt. The Department of Labor lists red flags to help you identify trouble early on. For example, are you using a new loan to make payments on other loans? Other pitfalls to consider include fielding calls from creditors, maxing out limits on credit cards, and paying only the minimum amount due on bills.

If these things are happening in your life, it’s a signal to step up your efforts. If you don’t take these flags seriously, they could compound, making it harder to dig yourself out.

Going Old School

School debt tends to be in a category of its own. It’s a “good debt” that often goes bad, as described by the U.S. Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. It’s also unique in the way you can stay on top of it. The Department of Education has a number of student debt resources, including payment plans, advice, a repayment calculator, and even loan forgiveness information.

If getting completely out of student debt seems overwhelming to you, focus on achieving a healthy debt ratio first. Once you do, you’ll be able to shift your focus from the past to the future. People commonly assume debt is bad, but that’s not always true. As with many good things in life, debt is a tool that is often misused. The trick is to stay on top of your loans so they work for you, not against you.