Living paycheck to paycheck can make saving money more difficult. But tight finances don’t mean that a family can’t have a safety net. A budget is important and allows you to keep track of expenses, income and to analyze monthly spending habits. But how do you begin your family’s budget?
While a budget should be a monthly spreadsheet that includes projected miscellaneous costs, fixed expenses and variable expenses, there also are habits that consumers need to execute daily and weekly. These healthy habits help keep tabs on spending and may even allow families to plan for savings.
If you’re ready to begin to create your budget, here are all the steps you need to take daily, monthly and yearly to help meet your financial goals.
Make a List
Spontaneous spending can be the kiss of death for a healthy budget. Just say no to spur of the moment purchases. This means only buying what you need on errands and grocery shopping. Get in the habit of making a list for every errand and store visit. This helps you to stay focused and only buy what you need! Remember, those checkout lanes are filled with items that are meant to entice you to buy on impulse. Don’t grab an extra candy bar, lip balm or battery pack unless it’s on your list! You can resist the temptation!
Take Cash to the Store
It’s so easy—or perhaps too easy—to swipe a debit or credit card at the register. But if you go into the store with a fixed amount of cash in your pocket, you may be more apt to budget your spending. Obviously, you need to bring enough money to purchase all the items on your list, though. You can hunt for list prices online to ensure that you have enough cash to pay in-store.
But if you have set your grocery budget for $125 per week, then bring this amount to the store with you. If you stick to your list, you should be able to meet your spending goal. And when you’re paying in cash, you also want to hunt for the best deals to make those dollars stretch. So opt for discount stores or grocery stores that sell only store brands (and offer cheaper prices because of the private label).
Save Your Pennies
Paying in cash means you’ll probably receive change back (although this isn’t a guarantee). Whatever money you receive in change should be stashed in a savings jar. Every penny helps you build savings, and loose change adds up over time!
Review Your Daily Spending
Every evening, review your spending habits for the day. Did you go over budget? If so, why? Maybe you stayed on budget or managed to save money! Always account for the daily habits, because, over time, these habits can help you evaluate what you’re doing right…or wrong.
One of the monthly bills most homeowners and renters dread is their electricity and/or gas bills. Heating and cooling and water usage can seriously impact a monthly budget. It’s important that families keep an eye on their utility costs and evaluate how they can lower those bills.
If your utilities are blowing the lights out on your budget, you need to make some changes. One of the easiest ways to lower electricity costs is to always make sure that you’re unplugging unused appliances and turning off lights when you leave a room. You should also embrace energy-efficient options like LED light bulbs.
Water use also can contribute to higher utility bills. Install low flow shower heads to keep water usage under control. And limit shower time. Don’t leave water running while washing hands or brushing teeth.
Credit Card Balances
Each month, review credit card statements to audit purchases and review your card balances. If you’re trying to keep monthly expenses lower, then limit the amount of purchases that you place on your cards. Use credit for emergencies only and not for daily spending.
You also can review how much principle you’re paying toward the balance. If possible, try to budget a little extra to help lower those balances (and monthly payments).
Long daily commutes to work aren’t just tedious and time consuming, they also can be expensive because of gasoline consumption. While you can’t control the cost of commuting, you can hunt for the best gas prices to keep your spending a bit lower. Use apps that help find the cheapest gas, and avoid filling up your tank in areas where gas taxes may be higher.
Set Savings Goals
At the end of each year, it’s time to review your monthly budget and your end-of-year savings. Did you meet your goal from last year? Or were you unable to save the money you had hoped? The New Year means new goals. If you were able to meet or exceed your financial expectations last year, then set your goals a bit higher this year. Savings accumulate over time. So meeting one year goal can lead to an even bigger nest egg for the next year.
However, if you were unable to save anything, and you’re still struggling, then it’s time to dig deeper into the budget. Review your monthly expenses for the year. This could take some time, and, yes, it might be frustrating, but it will help you understand any problems and concerns with your spending. Or it can remind you that perhaps this year was filled with many unexpected expenses. Sometimes water heaters need to be replaced, cars need to be repaired and HVAC units require a repair man.
Reevaluate the Budget
Expenses may increase with the New Year. Adjustable rate mortgages may lead to higher or lower payments, or maybe you added a new car payment. Review your monthly budget and make any additions, deletions or updates so you have an accurate understanding of this year’s finances.
Creating a budget doesn’t have to be an intimidating endeavor. There are many steps you can take daily, monthly and yearly to ensure that you are making smart financial decisions that help you stay on budget. Track spending, buy with cash (when you can), shop smart by making a list and save those pennies each day! Each month, look at your gas budget and focus on gassing up for the lowest price—apps can help. You also should review utility costs each month and have a keen eye on credit card balances. Remember, credit cards should be used for emergencies not for daily purchases. Every year, reevaluate your budget and set your savings goal for the year.
Creating a budget and tracking your spending helps you understand your money habits—good and bad. Sometimes a budget helps us see that we need to make changes, but other times our budget shows that we’re on the right financial path. Create your budget and start tracking your finances to plan for your future and help pay down those debts that may be weighing you down!