You’ve probably heard one of your friends remark that they don’t have a budget because they don’t have enough money to be bothered. Guess what! That’s precisely why they should have one!
The one ironclad rule of money management is that everyone needs to create a budget. And those with steady incomes stand to benefit the most from this handy roadmap that allows them to assign a destination for each one of their hard-earned dollars.
When you create a personal budget, you develop spending habits and begin to use your money responsibly. You put aside money for bills that might not come due for months (car insurance, real estate taxes, seasonal clothing, etc.) so that you are financially prepared for these large expenditures.
Breaking the paycheck-to-paycheck method of spending is not as hard as it may sound. Here are four tips to get started on budgeting your income:
Add Up Your Income
The first thing you need to know is how much money you are bringing in. Include income from all sources:
- Part-time jobs
- Alimony or child support
- Profit from a side business
- Dividends and interest from investments
If your income varies, divide up last year’s total income into monthly increments for budgetary purposes. You can always adjust this figure if your income changes.
Use Statements to Track Your Spending
Gather two or three months of credit card and bank statements to show your spending patterns. These statements will help you get started on your budget, although you will establish a more detailed spending plan as time goes on. But you can at least create a plan based on monthly expenses such as mortgage (or rent), utilities, cable, gas, prescriptions, etc.
Make a list of those irregular expenses and long-term financial goals.
Think about those expenses that come up less frequently or annually:
- Christmas, Hanukkah, or any other gift-giving holidays
- Car inspections and registrations
- Doctor, dentist, and eye exams
- Real estate taxes
- Professional dues
- Annual insurance premiums
Once again, your calendar, check register, and past credit card statements will help you create a list of these infrequent expenses for which you’ll need to plan.
And don’t forget your long-range financial goals:
- Down payment on a house
- A new vehicle
- Retirement savings
- Saving for college
- An emergency fund
Choose a tool to create your budget.
You can get started with pencil and paper, but an Excel spreadsheet is simple and allows you to make additions and edits quickly and accurately. There is also the popular budgeting app Mint, which is free and will enable you to link bank and credit card accounts for even greater convenience. You can choose spending categories, set limits, and stipulate whether you will carry over remaining amounts from the prior month.
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