Tired of living paycheck to paycheck? It’s hard to get ahead when you’re always trying to catch up on your bills, but it’s not impossible. At Modernize, we know how much finances play into your mental happiness, physical comfort, and the quality of your relationships. Don’t let your finances destroy you. Use these tips instead to create a practical and manageable budget.
Create a Plan
It makes sense that budgeting efforts start with a basic spending plan. Regardless of whether you’re new to finance or are a twenty-year veteran, it’s important to not only set a budget, but also create one that is manageable and realistic for you.
Try tracking your spending for a week to grab a diagnostic view of your habits. You can do this by hand, separating each purchase into categories, or use free online software like Mint. With Mint, you can actually link your accounts and view the previous month’s spending to gain this insight.
Now, create a new budget, either through a spreadsheet or free software. Set up your basic categories: need, want, and save. Your rent payment or mortgage is a need. Christmas gifts are a want. Your 401(k) contributions are savings. Here is a list of some basic budget categories to get you started.
Fund the Plan
Now that you have a list, you need to fund your budget. If your income is predictable, you can fill out your budget for the month ahead of time. Make sure you cover necessities first, then wants. You may find that your “wants” are occasional, like books, gifts, clothes, and dining out. These categories are optional to fund. Once your bills are covered and you’ve made the lifestyle spending choices you can live with, put the rest of your income into savings.
Some advisers will suggest you put money into savings or against debt before you fulfill a wants budget. It really is up to you, but make sure you have enough to have a bit of fun, while making progress on your financial goals. It’s all about balance.
Freelancers, commision-based employees, and those with inconsistent hours may have trouble with this part. Plan for the worst-case scenario. What is the least amount of money you consistently make each month? Aim for that. It may only cover your needs, and that is fine. Any extra work or commission you earn can go to wants and savings. In fact, this may show you that you need to work more hours or jobs to live the lifestyle that makes you comfortable.
Setting a budget doesn’t eliminate sales, impulse buys, daily deals, and holiday shopping ads. You will see temptation everywhere, and when you are stressed, tired, or upset, you may be more tempted to indulge. It’s okay to be tempted, but here are some pointers to avoid overspending.
If you can wait on a purchase, wait. If the item you want is not on sale, you can get it any time. You can save up bit by bit and give yourself time to decide if you really do need it. If it is on sale, take at least a few minutes to consider the purchase, if not a few days. Walk around the rest of the store and get what you need first. By the end of your shopping trip, you may feel differently. Avoid impulsive purchases of anything you cannot return, and be sure to keep your receipts. Buyer’s remorse is a very real thing, and it’s okay to take something back!
If you find yourself tempted at certain stores, carry cash instead of plastic. A cash budget is a visual depiction of your finances. When you’re out, you’re out. Use coupons to get the best deals, and if you have extra money at the end of your shopping trip, go for a treat.
Improving your finances will improve your health, mental state, relationships, and feelings of security. Try to remember those impactful benefits when impulse buys seem too tempting to avoid!