A key way in which people try to achieve more financial independence is through gaining more control over their personal finances through financial planning and creating a livable working budget. Many people tune out when they hear the word ‘budget’; this is similar to the response when people hear the word ‘diet’.
The comparison is not that absurd. Creating and sticking to a budget is the personal finance equivalent of dieting. Like dieting, budgeting is about creating new habits that lead to better, more sustainable ways of living.
How to Budget without Pain
Budgeting is an extremely important part of being a responsible, wise, user of the resources you are entrusted with – whether you believe you are getting enough economic resources or not.
Your budget establishes the operating principles for your financial life. It involves trade-offs and changing your behavior; essentially your habits with money will be changed and replaced by better ones.
Here are 7 tips to help you avoid the budgeting blues. You will no longer have to endure a fear response when you hear the word ‘budget’.
Tip #1 – Budget by the month
Ideally the best way to start your budget is by tracking your financial life on a monthly basis. This period of one month allows for the ups and downs that occur over the month. Monthly tracking helps to smooth out the weekly volatility that is often a part of how we live.
Tip #2 – Record your spending in separate categories
Normally, you won’t be spending all of your income in one area. Typically, your spending will be divided between your mortgage or rent, electricity, water, rates, tolls and parking, public transport fares, groceries, medicine, etcetera.
In order to get a better picture of where your money is going record every purchase you make in its relevant spending category. So, for example, groceries will be recorded in a separate category to rent; your electricity bill will be recorded in a separate category to entertainment and dining-out.
Later you will analyze your spending looking for patterns which will inform your decisions about what needs to change in the way you spend your money.
Tip #3 – Organize your debts
Your repayments on your debts will be recorded in a spending category, most-likely called something like ‘Debt Repayment’ or something that is more descriptive like ‘Car Repayment’, ‘Mortgage’ or ‘Computer Repayment’.
Even though you are recording repayments so you can track your spending, organizing your debts in a hierarchy from highest balance to lowest balance will allow you to attack each debt in order to extinguish it as fast as you possibly can.
Make sure you keep all records including statements and correspondence from creditors. File it away in a place you can easily get to. Revisit that folder every month. Give each debt a separate folder so you don’t mix-up creditors.
On a ruled A4 or Foolscap piece of paper write the statement date, the ending balance on the statement and any late payment penalty fees. Staple or past this paper to the inside of the folder. This will help you track your balance. In some circumstances any account fees (including penalty fees) and interest may be tax deductible. So, it makes perfect sense to track them
Tip #4 – Keep every receipt you receive and file it away
Keep all receipts for purchases – no matter how small or large. You will use these receipts to reconcile your bank statements at the end of each month. ‘Reconciling’ involves making sure all funds exiting your bank account matches all of your receipts for purchases. They should balance. If they don’t balance you will want to find out why.
Tip #5 – Identify your problem spending areas
Now that you have all of your receipts you will begin to analyze them. Having set limits for your spending in your budget you will highlight those areas where you went over budget? Do you really need $5 take-away coffee twice a day, five days a week? Perhaps you could make it a once per week treat as a reward for sticking to your budget instead of buying coffee every day.
Likewise, decide to cut back on areas you don’t really need to be spending anything on. Instead of dining-out, for example, stay home and cook a healthy, home-cooked meal yourself. Not only will it save you money but it will be more nutritious for you anyway.
The important thing to understand is that every dollar adds-up. Your goal is to have a bulging bank account at the end of the year, rather than an empty one.
Tip #6 – Shop around to save money on your bills
There are so many ways to reduce spending, but one of the best ways involves shopping around for your service providers. Advertising is everywhere promoting good deals to get you to switch electricity providers, gas providers, health insurance policies, and telephone and internet service providers. Take an opportunity to review your providers to ensure you’re getting the best deal. If you are paying too much consider switching.
Tip #7 – Prioritize your financial goals
Rank your financial goals in line with what is most important to you. This could include; saving for a down-payment on a new home, or starting a share portfolio, purchasing an investment property, or it could be something more modest such as saving for a family holiday.
Working out which goals are most important, and where your other financial goals rank in relation to it, will help in designing a budget which will serve to direct funds to each and every goal you commit to.
With your financial house starting to look like it’s in good shape it is worthwhile mentioning that you don’t have to live a hard life devoid of any fun. That would run counter to you achieving an overall, healthy, balanced life.
Be kind to yourself. Allow yourself special treats now and then so you don’t feel like your finances are weighing you down. You will be more likely to stick to your financial plans if you can still find room to live a happy, enjoyable life.
Building a better budget is the best way to achieve a healthier financial life, reducing the stress that comes with being out-of-control financially, and having something to look forward to into the future.
Achieve Financial Independence with Better Budgeting – 7 Tips on How to Avoid the Budgeting Blues