- 1 13 Money Bloggers Dish On How Much Of A Buffer You Should Have In Your Checking Account
- 2 How Many Credit Cards Should I Have Until It’s Too Many?
- 3 If you want to lose (or gain) weight and improve your body composition, then you need to know how many calories to eat. And this article will show you.
- 3.0.1 A Simple and Accurate Calorie (and Macronutrient) Calculator
- 3.0.2 The Bottom Line on How Many Calories You Should Eat
- 3.0.3 What’s your take on how many calories you should be eating? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
13 Money Bloggers Dish On How Much Of A Buffer You Should Have In Your Checking Account
I have no idea what a good buffer is to keep in my checking account.
And I really wanted to know what that number should be.
I was going to do some research and come up with something to write about on a checking account buffer.
Then, I realized there is no one right answer, which is why I didn’t already know it!
So, I went ahead and asked some of my favorite people to share what they think should be kept in a checking account.
- Related: The 5 Personal Finance Books Everyone Should Read
In an email, I asked 13 finance bloggers the following simple question:
- “How much of a buffer should you have in your checking account?”
Here’s what they said (in the order I received each response)…
“I believe everyone should have a buffer of $500 in their checking account. This buffer is like a mini-emergency fund. It prevents you from overdrafting your account and sleep better at night knowing you’re covered if your budgeted categories go over your estimated amounts. This means at any given time you will have $500 in your checking.”
“I usually recommend about one month of net pay as a buffer in your checking account. I’d rather see the excess moved to a savings account earning 1% at a bank.”
“I like to keep one month’s worth of living expenses in my personal checking account and a separate one month business expense buffer in my business checking account. I check in on both accounts multiple times per week to see if I need to add or withdraw from either based on new payments, costs or unexpected circumstances.”
“Depending on the season of life you’re in, the amount of buffer will depend, but for me, a good rule of thumb is to keep 5-10% of my monthly take home pay as a buffer. Again, it’ll depend on your budget and the season of life you’re in as to the exact dollar amount you keep, but the important thing is to keep a buffer because budget mistakes can and do happen.”
“Each person is going to have a different buffer in their checking account. Buffers should be defined by one’s financial goals, monthly expenses, and level of acceptable risk they care to take. While my buffer is two months of recurring expenses, someone else might to leave all their available cash in their checking account for liquidity.”
“My husband and I have nearly all of our bills set up on auto pay, so we always make sure to have enough in our checking account to cover all of those bills plus an extra $200 just to be safe. This may not seem like much of a cushion, but at our bank we’ve opted in to their Free Savings Transfer overdraft protection option. We’ve never actually had to use it, but if we were to overdraw on our checking account, that money would simply pull from our savings account, interest and fee free!”
“I always love having a cool $1,000 in my checking as a buffer. That usually covers most of the mistakes I’d make in any given month, and those times where I REALLY goof up and go through an extra $1,000, well, I deserve to get pinged by some fees! ;)”
“I may be a bit strange for saying this, but for my personal checking account I don’t have a buffer. My strategy with my checking account is that every two weeks I give myself a certain amount of money for personal spending, and when I run out, I run out, and it’s on me to check how much money I have in there daily so I don’t go into overdraft. It’s a mental game I’ve played for years to help me stay on budget and not overspend, and it works for me. However, for my joint checking account that I share with my husband, we usually have a buffer of $500 since we have a few automatic bills that come out of there.”
“I think having around one to two months of expenses in your checking account is usually a good amount. You don’t want to have too much in your checking account because then you may feel free to spend too much of it. You also don’t want to have too little because you don’t want to over-withdraw and pay penalties or fees either. With all of this being said, you should still have an emergency fund on top of this as well.”
“Ideally, you want your bank account buffer to be an amount that you’re comfortable with. If you know you track spending to the penny, then a couple hundred extra dollars could do. However, if you need a little more cushion, aim for one week of your take home pay with a maximum of two weeks as a buffer.”
“Since we use a zero-sum budget, we start each month with exactly how much cash we need for bills and fluctuating expenses. Ideally, we’ll spend our checking account down to zero by the end of the month. The reason we don’t leave “extra” cash in our checking account is because we believe in accounting for each dollar we spend. Instead, we leave extra cash in our savings account to cover emergencies or unplanned expenses. Typically we’ll have a few thousand dollars in cash in savings at any given time.”
“I keep a buffer of approximately $100 in my checking account every month. I prefer to keep the majority of my savings in my high yield savings account, and keeping a smaller buffer helps prevent unnecessary spending!”
“I have two main checking accounts. One for bills and one for day-to-day spending. I come pretty close to zeroing out on day-to-day spend each month (zero-sum budgeting mentality), but I like to keep one to two months worth of bill payments in the checking account dedicating to paying rent, utilities, Internet, health insurance and my cell phone bill. The buffer also helps ease my mind during months when my variable income from freelancing takes a dip or it’s taking a long time for outstanding payments to arrive.”
So, after reading all of these suggestions, it seems like I will make my decision based on my own circumstances. (No surprise here!)
Right now, I’m most like Holly (number 11 above) – I spend down to almost zero every month and keep my cash savings account linked for back-up.
But sometimes things come up that aren’t emergencies, they just weren’t planned for and I want more of a buffer.
So, I’m going to start keeping $1k as a buffer in my checking account. I think I just need to train myself that this is strictly a buffer and I shouldn’t spend it down!
What about you? Thoughts on all these opinions? How much do you keep as a buffer in your checking account?
How Many Credit Cards Should I Have Until It’s Too Many?
I was having lunch with a buddy of mine when he whipped out his foot long man wallet to pay the bill. “Whoah!” I said. “Where do you keep that thing?”
“In my man bag, of course!” he replied with pride. Todd lifted up his soft leather Bally bag that probably cost a thousand dollars. “Have a touch,” he said as he tossed it over. Todd’s bag was as supple as a baby’s bum.
The reason why Todd’s wallet is so big is because he has 10 credit cards all nicely color coordinated from top to bottom. The most prestigious cards – the black ones of course – were at the top. But as I looked closer at his collection, every credit card of his said “Preferred,” “Platinum” or “Elite.”
One could call Todd a credit card connoisseur. “I’ve got a card for every purpose,” told mentioned proudly. “Never leave home unprepared!”
Despite what is probably hundreds of thousands in credit at his disposal, Todd still rents a one bedroom apartment and has less than $80,000 his 401(k) at 35 years old because he’s spending all his money! In fact, he admitted to having around $18,000 in revolving credit card debt spread across seven cards. At least he’s got a nice BMW 650i coupe on lease for $899 a month.
So I got to thinking, maybe the reason why Todd has so little assets for a man making six figures a year is because of temptation from all his credit cards. When there are no cookies in front of me, I never eat desert. As soon as you put out a tray of gooey white chocolate chip cookies at my disposal, it’s game over!
Some people are completely against credit cards because they’ve gotten themselves into debt troubles before. Alcoholics should not hang around in bars. By only using a debit card or cash, such anti-credit card users help minimize themselves from relapsing into debt. I commend their cold turkey approach, but it’s not for me.
I recommend everyone have at least one credit card to build their credit score, use as an emergency, borrow money for free for 30 days, earn rewards points, and minimize the pain of losing cash when you lose your wallet. The question is, how many credit cards is ideal for optimal financial health. Let’s discuss!
The most credit cards I ever had was between the ages of 22-24 when I had five. I thought it was so smart to open up new credit cards with 12+ month long 0% introductory APR rates, pay the minimum for the full term and then transfer the balance to another 0% APR credit card. Borrowing money for free is always a splendid thing to do when you are young, poor, and have a lot of time on your hands.
Unfortunately, there’s a point where the “spend more, save more” mentality runs out. Notably when it becomes absolutely backwards to keep spending just because the interest rate is cheap. More than anything it felt annoying to always have a revolving balance so I decided to quit with my credit card shenanigans and just focus on better spending habits.
From 2001 to 2013 I only had two main credit cards: 1) my American Express corporate card and a 2) Citibank ThankYou credit card because I’ve been a long time banking client. The reason why I only had two credit cards was both physical and mental. On the physical front, I can’t stand having a thick wallet. The wallet is always in my right butt pocket for all you pickpockets out there and it’s uncomfortable to sit down when things are uneven. The second reason for having only two credit cards is due to record keeping.
By only having one personal card, I was able to comfortably keep track of all my expenses online and make sure I was not going over budget. For example, if I had a $2,000 a month credit card budget, I didn’t have to stay on top of numerous credit card balances. My expenses for the month were essentially my credit card bill + the amount of cash withdrawn from my checking account. Having one credit card made it much easier to SAVE money.
Now that I have a third credit card to earn points for travel, I’ve got to be a little more diligent about my spending. With a 0% introductory APR, 40,000 bonus points, and the first year’s fee waived, I’m reminded of the times when I had multiple credit cards once again. Now I’m tempted to take advantage of new credit card offers with bonus points. It feels a little like going into relapse!
Just imagine, if I can earn 40,000 rewards points just by signing up and use a credit card to buy a $100,000 Range Rover to earn a total of 240,000 points, why wouldn’t I? That’s five or six round-trip flights from San Francisco to Hawaii. Unfortunately, car dealerships usually only allow for a maximum of $3,000 to be charged due to fees they have to pay which cuts into their margins.
Average credit card interest rate by card type 2017
I’m a big advocate of less is more when it comes to credit cards. Let me explain why I recommend keeping the number of credit cards you have to three or less.
1) The Temptation To Spend More The More Credit Cards You Have. If you have a budget of $1,000 a month to spend on your credit card(s), it’s much easier to limit spending on one card compared to limiting spending with five cards. Your mind automatically starts thinking about the various custom rewards points for each card and you charge accordingly just a little more than you should. If you charge even $100 more on average between your five credit cards, you’ve gone 5% over budget for the month. Compound the over budget amount over the year and just like that you’ve got $1,200 more in credit card expenses or debt that needs to be paid off. We can’t help but think of each credit card as one powerful spending tool with its own APR rate, fantastic benefits, and multi-thousand dollar credit limits.
Derivative Explanation: I threw a potluck at my house for 20 confirmed guests one year. One of my good friends said she’d make enough spaghetti for 20 people. I told her to just make full portions enough for five people. She looked at me stubbornly and said, “Well what about the other 15 guests?” I proceeded to explain to her that if all 20 guests made enough full-size portions for 20 people we’d have enough to feed 400 people! She didn’t get it and insisted to bring massive pots of sauce and pasta. At the end of the party, she had to lug both massive pots still full of pasta and sauce home. The lesson here is that we get confused with how much we can spend the more spending vehicles we have.
2) Incremental Rewards Diminish. Unless you are a billionaire, you only have so much money to spend a month. Let’s say your budget is $3,000 a month and you go from one rewards credit card to three rewards credit cards: one for travel, one for entertainment, and another for online shopping. You must now calculate the incremental rewards you’ll earn, given you would have received rewards if you put everything on your one and only credit card anyway. Once you calculate the incremental rewards received, you realize the benefits aren’t that much at all since you are not spending 3X more by have 3X more cards. And if you are spending above your $3,000 budget that’s no good either.
Derivative Explanation: One friend started bragging about how his investment portfolio was up 18% in 2013. That’s a great return for anyone, but guess what? The S&P 500 index is up 18% as well! In other words, my friend created no alpha. All the time he spend researching and picking stocks was a waste since he could have just bought the S&P 500 ETF SPY and kicked back all year. To maximize your rewards from each card you’ve got to meticulously deploy your usage. Otherwise, you’re weighing down your finances with distractions. Real investors create alpha. Otherwise, you’re just a saver. Read: Are You A Real Investor If You Create No Alpha?)
3) Higher Chance Of Getting Into Debt. Credit cards have the highest interest rates for mass consumer lending other than payday loans. With the 10-year interest rate at 3%, the average credit card interest rate is roughly 15%. A 5X spread is enormous! No wonder why millions of credit cards are issued annually. When you have more temptation to spend with more credit cards in your wallet, you will inevitably increase your chance of accumulating credit card debt. Just like how we don’t bring alcoholics to bars, we shouldn’t arm consumers who have a proclivity to overindulge on anything with more credit cards. Undisciplined spending and high interest rates compounded over time have a devastating effect on your wealth. (Read: The Reality Of How People Get Into Debt – It Just Creeps Up!)
Derivative Explanation: There’s a great study that showed a 30% increase in spending per customer once McDonald’s started accepting credit cards. One frugal friend I know went from buying two $1 McDoubles for lunch twice a week in cash to buying two $4 Filet O’Fish sandwiches and a large Coke three times a week for the next two years. He no longer plays singles because he went from a svelte 165 lbs to 200 lbs and admitted he’s got revolving credit card debt attributed to his fast food addiction.
4) Burden On Your Credit Score. We learned in my article on how to get a 800 credit score or higher that the Amount Owed accounts for 30% of your credit score calculation, while New Credit accounts for 10% of your credit score calculation. Nobody knows exactly how many credit cards is too many, but one can imagine that after five credit cards, opening up another credit card at the margin will likely hurt your credit score, or at least not help your credit score. Sure there are plenty of examples of people who have eight credit cards and still have good credit scores. But perhaps they would have even better credit scores if they only had three credit cards.
Derivative Explanation: After three gin and tonics, I’m feeling good. After 10 gin and tonics, please dial 911 and pump my stomach before I die.
Applying for multiple credit cards all the time is an unhealthy use of time. It’s like the person who always focuses on the emergency fund and not on ways to make more money. They never take their personal finances higher because they’re focused on kindergarten basics.
Everyone should have at least one rewards card given the benefits of travel insurance, rewards points, ease of use, and free interest for 30 days. My Citicard of nine years is now gathering dust given I want double points on everything with my Barclaycard. If I didn’t have a business, I wouldn’t have a third credit card. I understand the allure of credit card churning for benefits. Just be careful not to churn so much that your credit score gets busted up and you’re caught in a negative debt cycle.
Spend your efforts instead on building passive income streams and making more money. If you don’t have a highly addictive personality, one to three credit cards is the ideal number for optimal financial health!
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Are you on the right retirement path? There is no rewind button.
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How many retirement accounts can you have? Earlier this week a reader asked me this same question, and I promised a response.
The specific question regarded owning both Traditional and Roth IRAs, and whether or not having an employee sponsored 401(k) plan would affect her eligibility for those accounts. The answer is yes, you can have both types of IRAs, and no, your 401(k) plan doesn’t affect your eligibility to contribute to an IRA. Here are some more detailed answers:
Yes. You can own both a Roth and Traditional IRA, and you can contribute to both in the same tax year. The important thing to remember is that you cannot contribute more than the maximum contribution limit across all IRA accounts in any given tax year. (More information comparing Roth vs Traditional IRAs). Depending on your income level, the max IRA contribution limit is $5,500 ($6,500 if you are over 50). There can also be steep fees to pay for withdrawing from your Roth IRA too early, learn more about Roth IRA withdrawal rules here.
Yes, you can open multiple IRA accounts and they can be held with multiple companies. Again, remember not to contribute more than the contribution limit across all IRA accounts in a given tax year. You can also have one IRA account with multiple investments within the account. This makes it easier to diversify your retirement holdings and maintain easier control over your account administration. Here are tips for maximizing your IRA contributions each year.
Yes. A 401(k) plan is an employer sponsored retirement plan. When you leave your job, you have to make decisions regarding your old 401(k) plan. You will need to decide whether to leave the assets in place (if allowed by your former plan’s rules), roll over the assets into an IRA, roll the assets into a new 401(k) plan, withdraw the assets in a lump sum, or transfer the assets into a qualified annuity.
For more detailed information, read about your options for your 401(k) when leaving your job. Just like with the IRAs you cannot exceed the maximum contribution for your employer sponsored accounts across all accounts. This means you want to be careful not to exceed the max 401k contribution limits if you change jobs within a calendar year. Be sure to take previous contributions into account when setting your deferred contribution at the new employer.
There are many other retirement plans out there including SEP-IRAs, SIMPLE IRAs, solo 401(k) plans, annuities, and more. As a general rule of thumb, you can have multiple accounts for these as well. Keep in mind there may be eligibility, contribution, and income requirements associated with these types of accounts, so you should do a little more research before opening new accounts. Here is a little help to get you started: comparing 401(k) plans and IRAs.
What Happens when I have an Employer sponsored plan and an IRA?
When you are investing in both employer sponsored and individual retirement account the tax system treats them like two different buckets of money. So you can put the maximum amount toward your employer sponsored accounts and the maximum amount toward your personal IRAs without running into any tax man problems. Just like I mentioned above, make sure you are not going over your limits on any accounts that are part of the same bucket of money. If you do, you will lose the tax benefit on whatever you put in over the contribution limit.
Fewer accounts is usually easier to manage. For most people, consolidating retirement accounts is the best plan because it is easier to manage asset allocation, fees, withdrawals, taxes, paperwork, account questions, and transferring assets to beneficiaries. Many people choose to manage their accounts with a well known fund companies such as Vanguard, Fidelity, T. Rowe Price, or with discount brokers such as TD Ameritrade, E*TRADE, or TradeKing.
There can be advantages of owning multiple retirement accounts, however. A good example of this would be if you had a 401(k) plan that had investment funds or low management fees that you couldn’t match elsewhere. If your current investment is better than what you can get somewhere else, there is no need to consolidate it just to reduce a small amount of paperwork.
I currently have a Roth IRA (with several different funds in it), two 401(k) plans, and an account with the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) (government version of a 401(k)). I could roll my old 401(k) plan into my new one, but I haven’t decided whether or not to do that yet. I can also roll over my TSP account into a 401(k) plan or IRA, but there is a special provision that allows military members who receive tax free combat pay to contribute tax free funds to their TSP account. TSP contributions are normally pre-tax contributions and are taxed upon withdrawal, but the portion of the contributions I made while in a tax free zone can be withdrawn tax free as well. I would lose the tax free withdrawals if I transferred my TSP funds into a different account.
Note: Please keep in mind, this is general information. There may be other factors that affect how much you can contribute or which accounts you may be eligible for. Some of these factors include income level, type of employment, employer sponsored retirement plans and more.
If you want to lose (or gain) weight and improve your body composition, then you need to know how many calories to eat. And this article will show you.
The fact that you clicked into this article tells me some important things about you.
It tells me that you’re looking for real information on dieting.
It tells me that you know, or at least suspect, that caloric intake matters, regardless of how “clean” your diet is.
I’d even wager that you know or have heard of the basic principles of energy balance and how it drives weight loss and weight gain.
You just need someone to connect all the dots for you.
And that’s exactly what I’m going to do in this article.
By the end you’re going to know more than just how many calories to eat to lose or gain weight.
You’re going to know how to use those calories to do more than change the number on the scale–you’re going to learn how to optimize your body composition.
If that has you nodding your head, then keep reading.
A Simple and Accurate Calorie (and Macronutrient) Calculator
I’m going to start this article with the calculator in case you’re already familiar with the most important aspects of dieting (energy balance and macronutrient breakdown) and so you can get back to it easily and quickly in the future.
And if you need a bit of help understanding the calculator and how to use it to create meal plans that actually work, then keep reading!
Imagine someone tells you that he wants to drive across the country without paying attention to his gas tank.
He plans on stopping for gas whenever he feels like stopping and pumping as much as he feels like pumping.
How would you respond?
I don’t know about you but I would probably laugh and ask how the hell he came up with such an inane idea.
Imagine you did the same and he snapped back with one of the following replies:
- “I hate feeling like a slave to the oppressive fuel meter. I should be able to drive as far as I want before refueling and pump as much as I want before driving again!”
- “I read this book that said you don’t have to watch your fuel if you use organic, gluten-free, low-carb, non-GMO, #blessed gasoline. It doesn’t clog your engine like other gasolines and burns more efficiently.”
Again, I don’t know about you, but this would be me:
And I would calmly gather up my toys and go play with someone else.
When someone says he wants to lose or gain weight without paying attention to his calories…or says that caloric intake and expenditure have nothing to do with it…he’s being just as stupid.
Is it possible to lose or gain weight without counting calories?
Is it likely to work well over the long term?
The bottom line is calorie planing and tracking is the most reliable and effective way to lose fat and build muscle.
And if that statement has specters of starvation dieting and food deprivation flashing before you…
I’m not talking about starving or depriving yourself.
I’m talking about freeing yourself.
I’m talking about getting the body you want eating foods you actually like.
I’m talking about guaranteed progress toward your goals each and every week.
No more hoping that you can make it happen. Knowing.
And yes, it all starts with calories.
Well, actually, with how the calories you eat relate to the calories you burn…otherwise known as energy balance.
Energy balance refers to the relationship between the amount of energy you eat and the amount you burn.
Think of it like your body’s energy checking account.
- If you eat more energy than you burn, you’re in a positive energy balance.
- If you eat less than you burn, you’re in a negative energy balance.
This energy that you eat and burn is measured in calories.
And when we’re talking food and metabolism, a calorie is the amount of energy required to heat one kilogram of water one degree Celsius.
Thus, foods with a lot of calories (fatty foods, for instance) contain a lot of potential energy and foods with a fewer calories (green beans) contain less.
Now, the unsexy truth that many people just don’t want to hear is this:
Meaningful weight loss requires eating less energy than you expend and meaningful weight gain requires eating more.
This isn’t news, either. After a century of metabolic research and anecdotal evidence, there’s no room left for argument.
Energy balance dictates weight loss and gain, not food choices or eating schedule or any other factor.
Thus, in this sense, a calorie is a calorie, and if you eat too much of the “cleanest” foods in the world, you’ll gain weight.
Maintain a calorie deficit while following a “gas station diet” of the most nutritionally bankrupt crap you can find, however, and you’ll lose weight.
This is why Professor Mark Haub was able to lose 27 pounds on a diet of protein shakes, Twinkies, Doritos, Oreos, and Little Debbie snacks.
He simply ate fewer crappy calories than his body burned and, as the first law of thermodynamics dictates, this resulted in a reduction in total fat mass.
Now, that doesn’t mean that you should try to do the same thing.
When the goal is to lose fat and not muscle, you need to consider more than “calories in versus calories out.”
When it comes to improving body composition, a calorie is not a calorie.
Eating like Professor Haub did in his experiment won’t cut it.
When you want to build muscle and lose fat (or minimize fat gain), your food choices matter.
Well, not the specific foods per se, but how they break down macronutritionally.
You see, people say they want to lose or gain “weight,” but that’s not what they mean. The goal is never to just lose or gain weight–it’s to lose fat and not muscle and gain muscle and not fat.
And when that’s the goal, some types of calories are now much more important than others.
For example, one gram of protein contains the about the same number of calories as one gram of carbohydrate (
4), but is far more important for building muscle and losing fat.
Now, what I’m getting at here is the “If It Fits Your Macros” style of dieting, which is built upon the idea that getting your “macros” right is just as important as getting your calories right.
A macronutrient is any of the nutritional components of the diet that are required in relatively large amounts: protein, carbohydrate, fat, and minerals such as calcium, zinc, iron, magnesium, and phosphorous.
(Most people think of “macros” as just protein, carbohydrate, and fat, but technically it includes the macrominerals as well.)
When it comes to diet and meal planning, the macronutrients you pay most attention to are protein, carbohydrate, and fat.
Let’s take a quick look at each.
The calories you get from protein are, in many ways, far more important for your body composition than those you get from carbohydrate and fat.
There are several reasons for this:
High-protein dieting is even more important for people that exercise regularly because their body needs more for recovery and repair.
I will give simple protein recommendations below but if you want to know more about how much protein you should eat and why, check out this article.
If you don’t know whom to believe in the “carbohydrate wars,” I understand.
It’s easy to get lost in the crosscurrent of debate, namecalling, and general hysterics.
What it boils down to is this:
Many “experts” say that low-carb dieting is the only reliable way to get lean and muscular…and people like me say the opposite–that a higher-carb diet is probably going to suit your needs better.
In fact, here’s my position:
If you’re healthy and physically active, and especially if you lift weights regularly, you’re probably going to do best with more carbs, not less.
That advice applies to both building muscle and losing fat, as well. High-carb dieting offers many benefits for both.
Again, I’m going to provide simple recommendations for carbohydrate intake in this article but if you want to know more, check out this article.
One of the many ways to sell products and ideas is to be contrarian.
When everyone is leaning left, lean right and people will take notice.
Well, not so long ago, low-fat dieting was the undisputed champion of weight loss nutrition.
“Eat fat and get fat” was the mainstream mantra.
Well, with everyone leaning left, it was only time before smart marketers started leaning right.
And we now see the fruits of their labors: mainstream diet “gurus” praising dietary fat as “slimming” and vilifying carbs as “fattening”–the real culprit behind our ever-expanding waistlines.
Well, the truth is all forms of dietary extremism are inherently and inevitably flawed.
Black and white, binary thinking is easy on the ol’ grey matter but isn’t conducive to good decision making.
And especially when we’re talking diet.
You see, there is no “One True Diet” that is best for everyone under any and all circumstances.
There are non-negotiable fundamentals like energy balance that must be observed and there are flexible guidelines that can be molded to fit personal needs. And dietary fat intake is one of those malleable factors.
You see, there’s no denying that dietary fats play a vital role in the body.
They’re used in processes related to cell maintenance, hormone production, insulin sensitivity, and more.
This is why the Institute of Medicine recommends that dietary fat should comprise 20 to 35% of an adult’s daily calories.
That said, those percentages were worked out for the average sedentary person, who often eats quite a bit less than someone that exercises regularly (and especially if that person has a lot of muscle).
For example, a 190-pound sedentary male with a normal amount of lean mass would burn around 2,000 calories per day.
Based on that, the IoM’s research says he would need 45 to 80 grams of fat per day. That makes sense.
Now, I weigh about 190 pounds…but I also have a lot more muscle than the average person and I exercise about 6 hours per week.
Thus, my body burns about 3,000 calories per day and if I were to blindly apply the IoM’s research to that number, my recommended fat intake would skyrocket to 65 to 115 grams per day.
But does my body really need that much more dietary fat simply because I’m muscular and burn a lot of energy through regular exercise?
Based on the research I’ve seen, if dietary fat comprises 20 to 35% of your basal metabolic rate (around 0.3 grams per pound of fat-free mass), you’ll be fine.
Now that you understand the fundamentals of proper dieting (energy balance and macronutrient breakdown), let’s talk about how to determine how much you should be eating.
Well, it revolves around how much energy you’re burning every day, which is referred to as your “total daily energy expenditure,” or “TDEE.”
Once you have a good handle on your TDEE, you can adjust your caloric intake down or up to lose or gain weight respectively.
Your TDEE is comprised of your basal metabolic rate (BMR) plus additional energy burned through physical activity and the food you eat.
Let’s review each of these points separately.
1. Your basal metabolic rate is the amount of energy your body burns at rest.
It’s the minimum amount of energy it costs to stay alive.
2. When you move your body, it costs energy.
No matter how large or small or long or short an activity is, it burns energy.
3. When you eat food, it costs energy to digest and absorb.
This is known as the thermic effect of food, or TEF.
Research shows that TEF accounts for about 10% of total daily energy expenditure, with amounts varying based on the macronutrient composition of your diet.
So…when you sum the energy your body burns to stay alive (BMR) and the energy burned through physical activity and digesting and absorbing food…you arrive at your TDEE.
And if that sounds complicated, don’t worry. It’s not. You don’t have to dust off your college algebra or take an Excel tutorial.
Metabolic researchers have already done all the heavy lifting for us and boiled it down to simple arithmetic.
The first step in calculating your TDEE is calculating your BMR.
There are several equations for that but I recommend the Katch-McArdle variant, which looks like this:
(where LBM is the lean body mass in kg)
The reason I recommend the Katch-McArdle over other formulas such as the Harris-Benedict or Mifflin-St Jeor is it accounts for differences in body composition.
This matters because muscle is metabolically active whereas body fat isn’t.
That is, two people can weigh the same but if one has a lot more muscle, his basal metabolic rate will be quite different.
Once you have your BMR, you need to account for the additional energy expenditure as noted above.
Instead of tracking every step you take and noting readouts from cardio machines (they’re inaccurate anyway), the Katch-McArdle equation includes multipliers that you can apply to your BMR based on your general activity level.
This will give you a good starting point for determining how many calories you should eat, and then you can adjust based on how your body actually responds.
(And here’s how you do that when you’re wanting to lose weight. Here’s how to do it when you’re wanting to gain weight.)
Now, here are the standard Katch-McArdle multipliers:
1.2 = sedentary (little or no exercise)
1.375 = light activity (light exercise/sports 1 to 3 days per week)
1.55 = moderate activity (moderate exercise/sports 3 to 5 days per week)
1.725 = very active (hard exercise/sports 6 to 7 days per week)
1.9 = extra active (very hard exercise/sports 6 to 7 days per week and physical job)
There’s something you need to know about activity multipliers, though:
They will probably overestimate the actual amount of energy you’re burning.
I don’t have any research to directly back that statement up but I’ve worked with thousands of people and consistently found it to be the case. It’s also common knowledge among experienced bodybuilders.
Simply put, if you use the above multipliers, you’ll probably place yourself in too small of a calorie deficit when cutting (resulting in less-than-optimal fat loss) and too large of a surplus when bulking (resulting in more-than-optimal fat gain).
This is why I recommend you just use lower activity multipliers when calculating your TDEE.
Here’s how I do it:
1.1 = sedentary (little or no exercise)
1.2 = light activity (light exercise/sports 1 to 3 days per week)
1.35 = moderate activity (moderate exercise/sports 3 to 5 days per week)
1.45 = very active (hard exercise/sports 6 to 7 days per week)
1.6 to 1.8 = extra active (very hard exercise/sports 6 to 7 days per week and physical job)
Those multipliers should give you a more accurate starting point, and they are what are built into the calculator below.
Then, as noted above, you adjust intake based on how your body actually responds.
We finally arrive at the most likely reason you’re reading this article:
You want to know how much you should eat to lose weight.
Well, you now know that you’re going to need to eat less energy than you burn, but how much less?
That is, how large of a calorie deficit should you use?
Well, different people would answer this differently.
Some fitness folk advocate a “slow cutting” approach where you use a mild calorie deficit (5 to 10%, generally) to whittle down fat stores over the course of months.
The common reasons for this approach are preventing muscle loss, being able to eat more food, and not having to do as much exercise.
Well, while I think a “slow cut” can make sense for some people, I don’t recommend it for most.
In fact, I think most people should do the opposite:
They should be aggressive in their fat loss and do everything they can to lose it as quickly as possible (without suffering or sacrificing muscle).
I explain a bit more about my rationale behind this approach here, but for the purpose of this article, let’s review the Cliff Notes.
Aggressive fat loss generally boils down to doing three things:
If you eat too little, you’ll inevitably lose muscle and generally feel like shit.
This is one of the reasons why “crash dieting” is so unhealthy.
But how large of a deficit is too large?
And how do things change for athletic types following a high-protein diet, as opposed to untrained, obese individuals eating too little protein?
Well, a study conducted by scientists at the University of Jyväskylä provides valuable insights.
The study involved national- and international-level track and field jumpers and sprinters with low levels of body fat (at or below 10%).
The researchers spit them into two dietary groups: a 300-calorie deficit (about 12% below their total daily energy expenditure) and 750-calorie deficit (about 25% below TDEE).
Both groups ate a high-protein diet.
And the results?
After 4 weeks, the athletes utilizing a 300-calorie deficit lost very little fat and muscle while the group utilizing a 750-calorie deficit lost, on average, about 4 pounds of fat and very little muscle.
These findings are also in line with what I’ve experienced working with thousands of people
When combined with a high-protein diet and reasonable workout schedule, a calorie deficit of 20 to 25% allows for rapid fat loss without any negative side effects.
Unfortunately, the bulk of mainstream weight loss advice is a one-way street to skinny fat.
Here’s what I’m talking about:
- Do excessive amounts of steady-state cardio.
- If you do any resistance training, make sure it’s high rep with light weights.
- Do long (2+ hour) workouts.
- Exercise 6 to 7 days per week at maximum intensity each day.
What do you get when you combine all this nonsense with very low-calorie dieting and food restrictions?
- You’re going to be tired.
- You’re going to be hungry.
- You’re going to dread your workouts.
- You’re going to have sensual daydreams about carbs.
Instead, you want to follow the strategy I outline in this article:
Do several hours of heavy resistance training and no more than 1.2 to 2 hours of HIIT cardio each week.
“Fat burning pills” are one of the most controversial supplements on the market, and for good reason:
Most (but not all) are junk and some are downright dangerous.
You see, when it comes to pills and powders to help you lose weight, I have good and bad news for you.
Let’s start with the bad:
No amount of weight loss pills and powders are going to make you lean.
If you’re trying to lose fat, pill popping, even to excess, is not going to be enough.
There just aren’t any safe, natural “fat burning” compounds powerful enough to, all on their own, cause meaningful weight reduction.
Now the good news:
If you know how to drive fat loss with proper dieting and exercise, certain supplements can accelerate the process.
Based on my experience with my own body and having worked with thousands of people, I feel comfortable saying that a proper fat loss supplementation routine can increase fat loss by about 30 to 50% with little-to-no side effects.
That is, if you can lose 1 pound of fat per week through proper diet and exercise (and you can), you can lose 1.3 to 1.5 pounds of fat per week by adding the right supplements into the mix.
Another big benefit of taking the right fat loss supplements is they are particularly effective for reducing stubborn fat, which is usually belly fat for us guys and hip and thigh fat for girls.
You can learn more about which fat loss supplements I recommend and why here.
If your goal is rapid fat loss, I have a few tips for you:
- Set your protein intake to 1 to 1.2 grams per pound of body weight.
If you’re very overweight (a man with 25%+ body fat or a woman with 30%+), I recommend you set your protein intake at 40% of your total calories.
- If you exercise regularly and don’t have any medical conditions, set your fat intake to 0.2 to 0.25 grams per pound of body weight.
This gives your body what it needs for basic health purposes and leaves plenty of calories for carbs.
Eating a lot of carbs does not make you fat (overeating does) nor does it hinder fat loss (overeating does).
Keeping your carb intake high is going to help you in many ways: better workouts, better meal plans, better mood and energy levels, and more.
Experience it for yourself and you’ll never look back.
- If you’re sedentary, though, or have a medical condition like diabetes, then you’ll probably do better with fewer carbs.
If you’re sedentary, about 25% of daily calories from carbohydrate should be plenty.
If you have a relevant medical condition, check with your doctor as to your “carbohydrate ceiling.”
I’ve seen a lot of variation here.
When you want to lose weight, you eat less energy than you burn.
And when you want to gain weight, you eat more.
A calorie surplus is crucial to maximizing muscle growth, but a large surplus is counter-productive because it results in too much fat gain.
*That’s why I recommend a *mild calorie surplus of about 10% for “bulking.”
That is, eat about 110% of your TDEE every day and you’ll be giving your body everything it needs to build muscle without piling on the fat.
If your goal is maximum muscle growth, then you’ll want to set your macros up a little differently.
Before we get to that, though, you should also know that you only want to “bulk” if your body fat percentage is in the right range.
For guys, this is about 10%. For girls, about 20%.
You can learn more about why here.
With that in place, here’s how I recommend you set up your bulking diet:
- Set your protein to 1 gram per pound of body weight.
- Set your fat to 0.3 to 0.4 grams per pound of body weight.
This leaves a large amount of calories for your carbs.
We’ve touched on quite a bit so before I move on to the macro calculator, I think a recap will help.
- The most important aspect of dieting is energy in versus energy out (energy balance).
An energy deficit results in weight loss and a surplus in weight gain.
- Next in importance is how those calories break down into protein, carbs, and fats.
You want to eat enough protein and tailor your carbohydrate and fat intake to your circumstances and goals.
- Last in importance is the actual foods providing the calories and macronutrients.
The reason to eat “clean” foods is not to help with weight loss or gain but to provide the body with vital micronutrients.
This supports and preserves health.
Thus, an overall strategy emerges:
Calculate your caloric intake, break it down into “macros,” and build a meal plan that provides the majority (80%+) of those calories and macros from nutritious foods.
This is the heart of “flexible dieting.” Do it and you can’t lose.
And you can get started right away with the calorie and macronutrient calculator at the top of this article.
The Bottom Line on How Many Calories You Should Eat
Many people find counting and tracking just calories burdensome enough.
The thought of keeping tabs on three different quantities sounds insufferable.
It’s really not, though. With a little “practice” it just becomes second nature.
And, more importantly, the payoff is huge:
- You get to eat foods you actually like.
- You improve body composition.
- You don’t have to battle with overwhelming hunger or cravings.
- You don’t have to cross your fingers and hope that it will work.
So, even if you’re still skeptical, give it a go. Follow the advice in this article and within a couple of weeks you’ll see real results in the mirror and on the scale.
I'm Mike and I'm the creator of Muscle for Life and Legion Athletics, and I believe that EVERYONE can achieve the body of their dreams.
If you like my articles, then you'll love my bestselling books. They'll show you exactly what you need to do to build muscle and lose fat without hating your diet or living in the gym.