Are you making this major budgeting mistake?

How to Make a Personal Budget

Though year-end bonuses are by no means a given, they're becoming a more popular practice across a wide range of industries. According to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago-based global outplacement company, almost 80% of employers give out annual bonuses, and while most aren't the epic payouts you hear about coming out of Wall Street, they give their lucky recipients a reason to celebrate nonetheless. Still, while getting a bonus is certainly a good thing, there's a danger in relying on that bonus year after year.

Don't count your bonus in your budget

There's a reason they call that year-end payout a bonus -- much of the time, it's by no means guaranteed. Though some bonuses are based on individual performance, many are based on company success (if your company does well, you do well). There's also a third category of bonus that's a hybrid of both. While the individual performance model conceivably gives you the greatest control over your financial fate, most bonuses are precarious by nature.

Take the individual performance bonus. You might think you're doing a great job, and you may even have some data to back up that claim. But if another employee outperforms you, you may not get the number you're hoping for. Bonuses that are based heavily on company performance are even more tenuous. All it takes is one bad year or a better competing product on the market to make your bonus go from sizable to virtually non-existent. This is why it's always best to regard your bonus as extra money you weren't counting on in the first place. What this also means is that you shouldn't factor your bonus into your monthly budget, but rather plan your expenses based on your salary alone.

Let's say you've received a $6,000 bonus for the past three years. Going into the following year, you might be tempted to go the optimistic route and pad your budget by $500 a month, thinking you'll receive the equivalent in a lump sum at the end of the year. But what happens if December rolls around, and your bonus winds up being a big, fat nothing? Suddenly, you've overspent throughout the year (or, worse yet, racked up debt) and now have no way to make up for it.

Also check out 20 unusual ways to make a quick buck:

20 unusual ways to make quick money
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20 unusual ways to make quick money

Dog-sitting, babysitting, or house-sitting

These jobs are always in high demand, and the best part: you can name your price and create your own schedule! Post an ad on craigslist, or use your friends' and family's connections to get your name out there. 

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Rent out your space 

List your apartment on Airbnb or another rental site, and make some easy cash by staying at a friends and renting out your place for the weekend.

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Share your space

Just as you can rent out your full apartment or house, you can also post a free room (or even just your couch!) on sites like Craigslist or Airbnb. This way you can split your living expenses -- and maybe even make a new friend!

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Sell your body parts

Now here's a weird one: Donate your hair, breast milk, or even plasma for a profit. According to Grifols, if you're healthy and weigh above 110 pounds, you can earn up to $200 a month donating your plasma to life-saving medicine. 

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Sign up to participate in medical tests and clinical trials. 

Universities constantly need volunteers to test new medicines and treatments -- and because the pool of willing participants is limited, there is typically a large compensation for being a guinea pig. 

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Participate in a focus group

Companies and organizations will pay you to join a focus group. These can be conducted in person, online, or via phone. You will most likely be reimbursed in cash or gift cards -- plus, you often get to test out fun new products! 

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Take online surveys

Similar to focus groups, you can get paid to give your time and insights on an online questionairre. Plus, you can do this from the comfort of your couch. 

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Bank on your sperm

Although we don't necessarily recommend this option, there is a very high demand for healthy sperm donors. Keep in mind some of the obvious drawbacks, but sperm donation is non-invasive and highly compensated. 

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Crowdfund your dreams

Crowdfunding allows you to raise monetary contributions from a large group of people who want to support your venture. Post your project or idea on a crowdfund site, like, and see the cash pile up.

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Become a tutor

If you're qualified, post an ad online or on a community board to tutor children on their school courses or for the upcoming SATs.

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Get a part-time job

Capitalize your free time (on the weekends or after work hours) by working a part-time job. A bartender, waiter, or Uber driver are all great options for an additional source of income -- and great tips! 

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Resell tickets

Take this suggestion at your own risk: If you're staying within legal limits, buy tickets low and sell high as an effective way to source additional money. (Just make sure to check your state and local laws first!)

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You can sell anything on the internet these days... including your companionship! Get paid to go on a platonic outing for a few hours and enjoy your afternoon with a new friend. 

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Rent out your parking spot

Make sure to check with your landlord first, but if you have the option to park your own car further away, lend or share your parking space or driveway for the hour, day, or even month! 

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Keep a coin jar 

This one takes patience before a big pay out, but keep a spare jar or drawer for loose change that you usually toss anyway. It will keep it all in one place -- and those quarters do add up! 

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Make something to sell 

If you have a knack for arts & crafts, create jewelry or other handmade gifts to sell on sites filled with other thrifty vendors like Etsy

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Sell items online

This effective strategy requires low effort with a high return. Post photos of your used or non-used items on sites like eBay or Craigslist, and let the bidding begin! 

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Have a yard sale

Sell clutter you've been meaning to get rid of right in your front yard. This simple tactic is convenient, and guarantees a wad of cash right to your pocket.  

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Return past purchases

This tip may seem obvious, but is often overlooked: Take your recently-purchased items that are laying around back to the store for either store credit or a full refund. 

Recycle scrap metal and cans

Collect cans and scrap metal out your own garbage, basement, and street and bring to your local recycler to exchange your findings for money.  

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A better way to use your bonus

If you take your bonus out of the equation when creating your monthly budget at the beginning of the year, you'll be putting yourself in a much safer financial position. Plus, if you don't pre-spend your bonus on living expenses throughout the year, you'll have more opportunities to put your bonus to good use.

Imagine you get a $6,000 bonus, and rather than use it to pay for a more expensive apartment or vehicle, you save and invest it for the future. With a stock-centric portfolio, you stand a good chance at generating an average yearly return of 8%. Leave that $6,000 alone, and after 30 years, you'll have a balance of roughly $60,000.

Another smart way to spend your bonus? Use it to pay off debt, which will save you money in the long run. Let's say you happen to owe $6,000 on a credit card that's charging you 12% interest each year to carry that balance. If it takes you three years to pay off that debt, you'll wind up losing almost $1,200 to interest charges. On the other hand, if you apply that bonus to your outstanding balance and pay it off in one fell swoop, you'll save yourself the $1,200 you otherwise would've wasted.

If you do insist on using your bonus to buy yourself a more comfortable lifestyle in the short term, your best bet is to collect your payout in December, bank it, and withdraw from that balance each month until it runs out. So, if you receive $6,000 at the end of the year, make sure it's there in your savings account before you sign that lease that increases your rent by $500 a month. Don't make the mistake of blowing it all in January and then overspending throughout the year in the hopes of a similar payout come the following December. You never know what might cause a bonus not to come through, and counting on money you don't yet have could mean setting yourself up for failure.

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RELATED: 10 tips for saving money when dining out:

Tips for saving money when dining out
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Tips for saving money when dining out

Find deals online

If you're unsure of where you want to go, browse sites for online deals. You'll find new places to dine at for a discounted price: win-win! If you do have a particular place in mind, always check their website before you make a reservation. You never know what coupons or special online deals you'll find!

Opt for lunch instead of dinner

Most restaurants have a different menu for lunch hours, which usually include smaller portions and cheaper prices. Also, you're less likely to be tempted to go for that cocktail or glass of wine in the middle of the day, which will save you bucks on your bill. If you don't have a preference of which meal you want to dine out for, lunch is usually your better bet. 

Make an appetizer your entrée

Most restaurants list entrées at steeper prices than appetizers, and often times the portion sizes aren't that much bigger. In fact, appetizers can be just as satisfying. You can also order one or two side dishes and enjoy those as your main meal.

Snack beforehand

Nosh on something light from your kitchen that won't completely spoil your appetite. This way, you'll be less tempted to order larger portions or appetizers which can make your bill much more expensive. 

Take home leftovers

If you don't finish your meal, take home what you didn't eat and eat it the next day for lunch or dinner. You can also order an entrée with the intention to eat half and bring the rest back home--it will cost you more initially, but dividing the cost in half between two meals will save you money in the end.

Split an entrée

If there's something on the menu you really want but the price is way too high, ask if portion sizes are big enough to be shared. You'll end up cutting the price in half.

Find a BYOB restaurant 

If you're planning on drinking alcohol while dining out, places that allow you to bring your own are an easy way to save. You won't get overcharged for drinks that the restaurant serves, and you can spend as much money as you want beforehand when purchasing it. 

Skip alcohol altogether 

A glass (or two) will cost you, especially since restaurants can charge however much they want per drink. Opting to not order alcohol in addition to your food is a big money saver.

Check social media

Many restaurants will offer deals for interacting with them on social media. Something as simple as "liking" their page, "mentioning" them on Instagram or Twitter, or even sharing a post of theirs can result in big discounts.

Ask for separate checks

If you're out to eat with a big group of people, you can end up overpaying when you split the check evenly. Ordering separate checks ensures that everyone pays for exactly what they ordered, instead of having to pick up the bill for someone else's expensive entrée. 


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