Tag Archives: balanced budget

Are you at risk for high blood pressure?

high blood pressure heart family geneticsBoth of my parents take medication to lower their blood pressure. My brother also takes blood pressure medicine. At 43 years old, my numbers are currently normal, but I do worry about hypertension.

How much does my genetic make-up have to do with it? Or, does my lifestyle have the biggest impact on my blood pressure? Before we get into the risk factors, I think we need to answer a few other important questions.

What is high blood pressure?
Your blood pressure is high if you have readings that are consistently above 140 over 90 for several weeks. You can also have high blood pressure if just one of those numbers is high over a period of time.

What does it matter if you have high blood pressure?
Higher blood pressure puts a strain on your heart and blood vessels. This additional strain can increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke. High blood pressure can also cause kidney disease, and is linked to some forms of dementia.

What are the signs of high blood pressure?
There typically aren’t any signs or symptoms of high blood pressure. The only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to have your readings taken. One high reading does not necessarily mean your blood pressure is high. Many things can affect your pressures throughout the day. You may also get stressed about going to the doctor, which may increase your reading. You need to have your blood pressure checked over time and see if it remains high.

What causes high blood pressure?
For most people, there isn’t a single cause for their high blood pressure. It’s not certain what causes high blood pressure, but it seems to be most often brought on by a combination of your lifestyle as well as other factors that you can’t control.

Here are some of the key risk factors for high blood pressure:

The risk of high blood pressure increases as you age. Men 45 years of age and older have an increased risk of hypertension. Women are more likely to develop high blood pressure at about 55 years old, or after menopause.

Family history
Genetics is a strong risk factor for high blood pressure. Hypertension tends to run in families. However, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, such as good eating habits and keep off extra weight, can help prolong the time you spend without the disease.

People from African-Caribbean and South Asian decent tend to be at a greater risk for high blood pressure. African Americans also have increased rates of hypertension, can develop the condition earlier in life, and often have more serious complications than Caucasians.

Being overweight
Being overweight or obese creates an extra strain on your heart. Your blood pressure can rise with the more extra pounds you put on. More blood is circulated through your body and adds more pressure to your artery walls. Maintaining a healthy weight can help prevent high blood pressure.

Physically inactive
Without regular exercise to keep your heart strong, it has to pump harder to circulate your blood and puts extra stress on your arteries. Lack of physical activity also goes hand in hand with becoming overweight.

Unhealthy diet
Having too much fat and sugar in your diet can contribute to weight gain and increase your chances of high blood pressure. Eating a healthy diet with protein, fiber and plenty of fruits and vegetables can even help lower blood pressure.

Too much salt
A high sodium diet can raise your blood pressure. When you eat too much salt, your body retains fluid which can increase blood pressure. Keep your salt intake to a minimum.

Using tobacco
Smoking or chewing tobacco raises your blood pressure temporarily. However, the chemicals in tobacco can also damage the lining in your artery walls. Your arteries can narrow and raise your blood pressure.

Overindulging in alcohol
Drinking too much alcohol can also increase your risk of hypertension. Over time, it damages your heart. Limiting yourself to one glass of alcohol a day if you’re a woman and two glasses a day if you’re a man can help you avoid high blood pressure.

So, while my age and my family genetics may be going against me, it seems that I can help lower my chances of developing high blood pressure by living a more balanced lifestyle. By exercising, eating right and maintaining a healthy weight, I may be able to keep high blood pressure at bay. That’s all the more reason to live a balanced life!

Tips to achieving a balanced budget

balanced budgetWho wants to live on a budget? I sure didn’t. When I was in my 20s and newly married, I bought what I wanted when I wanted it. Then, I realized that I was spending more money than my husband and I made each month. That approach can quickly become a downward spiral into debt, stress and financial disaster.

We’ve all heard the sayings: Money doesn’t grow on trees. Money can’t buy happiness. Money is the root of all evil. A fool and his money are soon parted.

Yet, money is an integral and necessary part of our lives. The modern world revolves on money. While our ancestors may have been self-sufficient or bartered for goods and services, today’s currency is cash or credit.

Ask yourself: Are you being controlled by the need to have and spend money, or do you control your financial situation to create a more secure future?

After letting money control me when I was younger, I decided that I wanted to live within my means, save more for retirement and emergencies, and create a healthy relationship with money. To do that, I needed to create a budget. I have just recently updated my budget to meet my family’s goals and plans for 2013.

Here are some tips to setting up a monthly budget so that you can achieve financial balance and live a more balanced life overall:

Determine your income
How much is your net or take-home pay each month, including wages and bonuses? This figure also includes any taxable interest or investment income that can be used to pay bills or apply to retirement plans. This total is your monthly income to use as your starting point.

Track your spending
Write down everything you have spent for at least a month. If you can track several months, that is even better. Use your checking account statements, credit card bills, etc. to determine your spending patterns. Your list should include housing, utilities, healthcare, transportation, insurance, groceries, eating out, childcare, clothing, personal care, entertainment and more. This online budget worksheet covers most of the typical expenditures. When I used the worksheet, I wrote in a few categories that were unique to our family.

Define your basic needs
What do you need for basic living expenses? This list would include your house payment and related expenses, utility bills, car payments, fuel, healthcare, insurance (home, auto, life), groceries, etc. This number should be 50% or less of your monthly budget.

Set your wants
This category includes all the things you don’t necessarily need, but do help make life more enjoyable. Your wants might include entertainment (watching a movie, attending a ball game, going to an amusement park), personal care (haircuts, pedicures, massages), pet supplies, travel, and clothing that’s beyond the basics. This number should be 30% or less of your entire monthly spending.

Save automatically
It’s a good rule to put at least 10 to 20% of your earnings toward savings. If you can automatically deposit a certain amount into your savings account each month, that’s even better. You should also contribute longer-term to an IRA or 401(k) account to save for retirement. It’s also a good idea to set aside up to six-months worth of living expenses as an emergency fund. That way you have a cushion if you or your spouse lose your job, or if you have unexpected expenses.

Use cash
Once you have set the amounts for spending, saving and investing, now it’s time to put those goals to the test. Using cash instead of relying on credit cards is a good way to keep your spending in check. It’s too easy to pull out a credit or debit card to pay for the extra things you want. Before you know it, you have racked up a hefty credit card bill. If you get out a set amount of cash to cover extra expenses each month, you can keep a closer eye on your spending and help curtail unnecessary purchases.

Pay down debt
If you have outstanding credit card debt, it’s important to work toward paying it off. When you make only the minimum payments, you are paying high interest rates and it’s difficult to pay down the debt. Make it a point to pay off the credit cards just like you would a home mortgage or car loan. Ideally, you can eliminate that debt completely. Should you use a credit card, treat it like a temporary loan and pay it off in full each month.

Maybe you don’t have any credit card debt. In that case, make extra principal payments on your mortgage or car loan. The sooner you pay down those debts, the less interest you pay and the more money you have available to save or spend on other things.

Give back
Be sure to include gifts to your church or your favorite charities in your budget. By adding it to your budget you are showing that giving back is an important part of your life.

By setting up a budget, you take control of your money instead of letting your money control you. If you slip up from time to time, it’s okay. Your budget gives you a guideline to help you get back on track and continue on the path to meeting your goals. A balanced budget is a key step to achieving a balanced life. For more tips on financial planning and living your life in balance, check out the book A Completely Balanced Life.

How a budget can help you create balance

balanced budgetEvery January, I panic over the amount of money I spent for Christmas. I start looking at the bills coming due and our monthly income, and I panic even more.

After a more careful review of 2012, I know that we have over spent and could live more frugally and responsibly. Why does it matter?

First, we can live without some of the things we buy. We don’t need all the “stuff.” Second, I have noticed that my kids seem to feel a sense of entitlement. If they want something, we should just go out and buy it for them. It would be good for them to understand the importance of living within a budget.

In addition, if our finances are out of balance, we will feel out of balance. It can affect relationships, stress levels and sleep habits. Here are a few more reasons to establish a budget, balance your finances and live a balanced life:

Uncover waste
When you create a budget, you see – in black and white – where your money is going. For example, without a detailed account of your spending, it’s easy to ignore how much money you are paying for meals at restaurants and on take-out. After working on my budget, I was shocked to see how much we spend on fuel (gasoline and diesel) in a month. I know I have to do a certain amount of driving, but it makes me think about planning my trips and grouping my errands together.

Reduce stress
As the person who pays the bills, I know when our funds are tight for a particular month. It stresses me out. I lose sleep at night. By having a budget in place, I can be more prepared for the bills and unexpected expenses that come up. I won’t be guessing if we have enough money for a large purchase, or if we need to wait a few months. And I will know that we have the money available to pay all the bills.

Guide spending
Your budget can help you see where you can reduce spending on extras you may not need. At the same time, you may be able to put more funds toward eliminating debt and into savings.

Eliminate debt
There is good debt, and then there is bad debt. How can debt be good? Your home mortgage is a good debt because you are building equity in real estate, which has value. Your car loan is good debt if your loan payment is reasonable. Credit cards are considered bad debt. If you have outstanding credit card balances, creating a budget can help you pay off these debts. You may also be able to put extra funds toward mortgage or car payments to pay down the loan principal and reduce the amount you pay in interest.

Set priorities
A budget helps you get a big picture view of your finances. Your spouse may have different financial goals than you do. You may want to reduce debt, and your spouse may want to save for a vacation. By seeing your budget on paper, you can discuss the priorities you each have and find a way to align your priorities with your budget.

Build new habits
By working within a budget, you can develop new spending habits. You may think about that pair of new shoes or – in my husband’s case – new power tool before you buy it. With the big picture in mind, you realize that your budget plan is more important than these items.

Grow savings
Savings can include your emergency fund or the money you invest for retirement. If you think about saving from every dollar earned, it becomes easier to put the concept of savings in perspective and increase the amount you set aside. You can add your emergency fund and retirement contributions to your budget and make them as important as the house payment and the electric bill.

Give back
Making donations to your church or a favorite charity should also be a part of your financial plans. If you add it to the budget, then it is top of mind and is included in your monthly finances. You’ll feel good knowing that you are improving your financial situation and helping others.

Now that you know WHY it’s important to establish a household budget, next week we will write about HOW to create a budget. Do you have other reasons for living within a budget? Do you have tips for making a budget? Let us know!