Tips to Create, Prioritize and Manage a Budget
Mention the word “budget,” and people’s eyes tend to glaze over. Budgeting isn’t the most exciting activity in the world, and on the surface it is extremely limiting. We don’t like it when other people try to tell us how to spend our money, and even setting parameters of our own may seem too much.
What many of us do not realize is that a budget is the ticket to financial freedom. It restricts what we spend each month, but in the long run it allows us to get more out of our money. Instead of frittering funds away on things we could comfortably do without, we can save up for emergencies as well as things we enjoy.
Here are ten tips for creating a budget, setting priorities and keeping tabs on spending.
1. Be realistic. All too often, we create the perfect budget on paper, only to completely blow it in practice. This is frequently because we are not realistic about our expenses. It may help to save all receipts for a month before you start on your budget. That way you can evaluate how much you’re really spending and avoid budgeting too little for any given item.
2. Remember the little things. Eating out every day instead of packing your lunch might not seem like a big deal, but it can really add up. The same is true for many of the habits we have. Cutting back where practical can save you more money than you might think.
3. Lower your bills when possible. A good place to start is with your cable bill. Do you really need all of those movie channels? What about your cell phone bill? Would a less expensive plan meet your needs? Knocking a few dollars a month off of your bills could leave you with hundreds of extra dollars each year.
4. Get the whole family involved. A budget affects the entire household, so everyone should have a say. You may have to make changes that everyone doesn’t agree with, but they will be more likely to accept them if you listen to all input. Family members may also have ideas that you wouldn’t have thought of on your own.
5. Give everyone an allowance, not just the kids. Setting reasonable limits for discretionary spending will help prevent your budget from being derailed.
6. Make sure the necessities always come first. Budgeting for entertainment and other wants is important, but if push comes to shove, food, water, clothing and shelter are the most important things. Budget for these and the things that enable you to work (such as transportation) first.
7. Include savings in your budget. Saving up some money for emergencies is crucial for every individual and family. Try coming up with an amount to save each month and include it in the budget before any non-necessities.
8. Keep track of all expenditures. Save receipts or write down every expense so you can compare your actual spending to your budget. If you spend less money than budgeted, consider allocating more to savings. If you spend more money than you planned, you need to either watch your spending more closely or make adjustments to your budget.
9. Avoid using credit cards irresponsibly. Buying on credit will result in less spending of money in the short run, but you will have to pay it back with interest unless the balance is paid in full each month.
10. If you get extra money, use it wisely. Consider putting it directly into savings or using it to pay down debt. Spending it on something you want might feel good, but that doesn’t help your overall financial picture.