You know how the budget game is played. It’s income minus expenses in the quest for more money at month-end. Yet, despite your many attempts at following a budget, you sometimes feel like throwing in the towel. You pledge that this time you will take charge of your finances.
Great timing. It’s Financial Literacy Month in Canada. And you’re in good company with scores of other Canadians who know there’s no better time to work on that budget.
Financial experts advise tracking discretionary expenditures, such as food and entertainment, to determine how much you’re spending in each category. Then you make some cuts in your spending until you reach your goal. You know…extra money left at the end of the month.
In theory, simple, right?
The challenge isn’t with creating a budget. The challenge is managing the budget after you make it. So, if you have long-forgotten the budgetary promises you made to yourself, why not pick up the ball and give it another go? The point is to stick with it. Here’s how:
Start with a Budget
Use a Mobile App
Who has time to track every penny? There are several free applications for your mobile phone, such as Mint and Clarity Money, that track how much you’re spending. Mint allows you to set personal spending limits by category. Plus, it automatically tracks your banking and credit card accounts and puts your spending in the appropriate buckets, alerting you before you step out of bounds.
Review Your Spending Regularly
Don’t stop there. Your budgeting app is not an excuse to disengage. Review your spending every other day, more frequently, if necessary. Keep in mind the following:
- Are you spending your money prudently?
- Did you find the best price?
- Are the services and stores you use congruent with your financial means?
- Are your expenses going into the appropriate categories?
You should feel good about your spending decisions. If you find areas that need work, take note, and make adjustments. You’re still in the game.
Set Financial Goals
Know the ‘Why’
Although the budget is the place where you begin to take charge of your finances, it’s important that you know why you are budgeting. Maybe you’re saving for your first home. Maybe it’s to liberate yourself from credit card debt. Or maybe you just want to breathe a little easier at the end of the month.
With goals, it becomes easier to maintain a budget. Write them down. Make them specific. For example, if you want to pay off debt, you need a plan for when this will occur. Your goal should also state the time in which you will resolve the debt.
Pay Yourself First
If the slightest unexpected expense has you reaching for your credit card, you need a better gameplan. Whatever your goals, savings must be a priority. Before you buy a stick of gum, make a deposit to savings.
It’s popular nowadays to lob criticism at the “give up your latte” brand of financial advice. Forfeiting Starbucks, a pack of cigarettes, or a Big Gulp won’t make you rich. However, a string of small sacrifices can help you build a savings cushion that simplifies your financial life. Get creative, too. Could you negotiate a better mobile plan or cable package?
Experts recommend that you set aside at least $1,000 in an emergency fund. That’s about $20 a week for a year. If you can’t manage $20, then go for $10. Use the spending data from your financial app to find the areas where you may be able to reduce your budget.
If you find that you cannot locate even a small amount to save, your debt may be out of control. Consider professional help from a licensed insolvency trustee firm.
Automate Your Finances
Technology facilitates the automation of our financial goals, including how we save money. Set up an automatic deposit from your checking account to your savings account each pay period. Also, set up autopay for all of your bills. This will keep your payments timely, eliminate late charges, and, most importantly, commit the money so that it doesn’t sit, available, for other purposes.
If you tend to dip into your bill-paying funds, put the money in a separate account. Forego the ATM card for this account. You might also consider putting your savings account in an inconveniently located bank and nix the ATM card, as well.
Be a Smart Financial Consumer
According to a recent law, before your credit card company raises your credit limit, you must give consent. It’s your right. And it’s your responsibility to use credit wisely. This means allocating your limit wisely. Here are two of the best ways to avoid balance creep.
Cook Your Own Meals
According to Forbes, a restaurant prices its menu items up to 627% of the cost of the food. And it’s not just restaurants that charge for convenience. If you buy prepared meals in the store, whether fresh or frozen, you’ll pay more.
Cooking makes good financial sense. If you don’t know how to prepare cheap meals, there are over 72 million results on Google for budget food bloggers. Take a look at a few recipes on the top blogs, and you’ll start to see that there are easy– and tasty ways– to eat on a budget.
You work hard, and you deserve nice things. Undoubtedly. But when you pay your monthly bills and wonder why on earth you spent money on that, it can be helpful to reframe your thinking about spending.
If you have a difficult time saying no to indulgences, think about everything you consume in terms of the environment. Before you buy, ask yourself if you really need it. If so, could you find it used? Can you borrow it?
And, the next time you’re pruning your possessions, ask yourself if your discards can be reused, sold, upcycled, repaired, or regifted. Admittedly you may not get rich this way, but it will markedly raise your consciousness, making you more grateful for what you do have. You may find yourself automatically making better decisions regarding money and how to make the most of it.
Borrow Money Wisely
Credit cards are a great way to earn airline miles or to track your spending. And, certainly, you’ll appreciate loans for buying a house, a car, or paying a large medical bill. But if you use credit to make ends meet, it will be impossible to take charge of your finances.
Ideally, you should pay revolving credit card debt off in full every month. Not feasible? Understood. However, you can stop using them. Stash those credit cards out of reach and pay your discretionary expenses with cash.
Research shows you’ll spend less money when you pay in cash. Use the money you save to start aggressively paying those credit cards off.
Need Help to Take Charge of Your Finances?
Follow these steps, and you will master the budget game. It’s not easy, but the results are well worth the effort. Congratulations. You’ve done your part for Financial Literacy Month. More importantly, you’re building sound financial habits and a plan for life.
If, on the other hand, despite all your efforts, you are still struggling with debt, you may need professional help to get back on track. If this is your situation, why continue to struggle? Please call Allan Marshall and Associates at 1-888-371-8900. You’ll rest easier after a free consultation. And you’ll discover that there are ways that you, too, can take charge of your finances.