The week's best financial advice

Three top pieces of financial advice — from building the perfect budget to the "birthday industrial complex"

Splurging on a birthday party is fine once in a while.
(Image credit: iStock)

Here are three of the week's top pieces of financial advice, gathered from around the web:

Building the perfect budget

A budget that works doesn't have to be complicated, said Geoff Williams at US News. Start by writing down your take-home pay (what you make after taxes). Then, "pay yourself first" by subtracting savings for retirement, emergencies, and other goals. Next, deduct rent or mortgage payments, plus any other recurring expenses like utilities, food, and credit card payments. When estimating expenses, consider that most single Americans spend about 36 percent of their budget on housing, 12 percent on food, and another 16 percent on car payments, gas, and maintenance. If you're overshooting in a category, look for opportunities to save. To keep your budget on track, pretend that the money you've parceled out to different categories is already spent.

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The 'birthday industrial complex'

Parents, don't feel bad about dropping out of the birthday-party arms race, said Chris Taylor at Reuters. Today's most "over-the-top" kids' parties feature luxury venues, gourmet food, and professional DJs, but even a basic package at a chain restaurant can run several hundred dollars. Multiply by several children and the cost easily adds up. To save money, get creative. Sleepovers are a perennial favorite and don't come with a retail markup; the same goes for a potluck in the park. Another reason for big birthday bills is the temptation to invite every kid in class. "Succumbing to Chuck E. Cheese?" Keep it to 10 kids instead of 40. There's nothing wrong with an occasional blowout, like for a bar mitzvah or Sweet 16, but the big bash needn't be an annual event.

Money matters when love is gone

"Getting divorced has a significant impact on your finances — and some missteps can make it even more costly," said Kelli B. Grant at CNBC​. To limit the monetary pain of a divorce, move through the process deliberately with help from a financial adviser and accountant, as well as an attorney. Account for everything, not just current funds and noncash assets. That includes income earned before the divorce that will be distributed later, like bonuses and retirement contributions. To take emotion out of the equation, have any property professionally appraised. Take steps early to close any joint accounts and update beneficiary designations. If an ex-spouse remains designated as a beneficiary on a 401(k), for instance, it can trump what's written in a will. Finally, don't cash out retirement accounts to pay off joint debt or legal bills. The tax penalty is too steep.

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