Learning To Budget

Here are some tips for getting control of your financial life:

First, figure out where your money is going. Budgeting is important, but before starting a budget sit down with pen and paper, your recent paychecks, and bills for the last three months. Write down your total monthly income. Then write down all of your monthly bills. Include groceries, utilities, rent, gas, car payments, insurance, everything. Whatever you have left over, when you subtract your bills from your income, we call disposable income –money you get to save, pay down debt, and spend on yourself.

The next step is to set your priorities. Setting your priorities for that disposable income is one of the important steps. Which is more important, buying new clothes or paying down debt? You may have bills that you could cut by making better choices. For example, a phone bill could be cut in half by going with a smaller plan or less expensive phones. Also, ask yourself if you could allot a smaller grocery budget. A family of four could easily live off of $125 for groceries per week as opposed to, say $175.

Third step, pick a monthly allowance. With the money that you have left over after all bills are subtracted, you can give yourself a monthly allowance to spend. This is money that you can use for anything you want. Clothes, movies, going out to eat. By doing this, you give yourself some room to play, but not so much that you go over budget. Pick a reasonable amount according to your budget, you still want to have money in the bank to get your through to the next paycheck, or in case something should come up you didn’t plan for.

Fourth, create an automatic savings plan. Include this in your bill section. Set up a savings account and fund it with an automatic deduction from each paycheck. If you can only afford $10 per paycheck, do it anyway! It WILL eventually add up, and you may be thankful someday you have that money to fall back upon. That savings cushion can shield you from having to go into debt should your car break down.

Fifth tip, always look for ways to save. Part of budgeting well means looking for as many ways to save as possible. Some ideas include carpooling to work or school, clipping coupons from the newspaper, and swapping out babysitting with friends. When grocery or clothes shopping, look for items that are on sale. Buy in bulk when you can—toothpaste, soap, detergent, paper products. Doing little stuff like this will help, I guarantee it.

Next, know your temptations. We all have our temptations, areas that we find easier to spend money in than others. If you love to buy things on Ebay, stay off Ebay! If you love to buy books, as I do, stay out of the bookstore! Look for ways to enjoy your hobbies without spending as much. For example, check out your local library for free books, movies and music options. If you love shopping, try thrift or re-sale stores.

Next option, find cheap entertainment. My wife and I figured out how much of our money was going to entertainment. Movies, concerts, eating out, and shopping were taking up too much of our budget. So we figured out an amount to spend per week on entertainment, and when that was gone, we had to get creative! We’ve enjoyed an array of different fun outings as a result. Picnics, walks, bike rides, movie matinees, and many other wallet-friendly things  have become part of our recreational rituals.

Last for today, set long-term goals. One of the best savings motivators is planning long-term goals. It’s a budget tip that’s guaranteed to get you places! If you start saving up for a new laptop or a vacation to Italy, or even having a baby, you will be more encouraged to save for that purpose. Just give it a try and you’ll see what I mean!

As powerful as it is, it can take a little while to get the hang of budgeting, so don’t despair! Be patient, stick with it. You will get it eventually, and then you’ll be sharing tips for handling a budget with your friends! It’s not difficult, it just takes a little self-discipline and the realization that everything we may want is not what we need.

Even if you ultimately have to come see me about a major financial problem, I want to be sure you’ve tried every possible alternative. If you have questions about bankruptcy visit my website, cypresscoastlaw.com where you can access my complete library of Friday Financial Focus shows. Or call me at 424-1764, that’s 424-1764. If it turns out you do need a bankruptcy, I’m the man to see. Initial consultations are always free.