With the new year, comes the tradition of setting resolutions, and for many, have already been broken. For many of us, prioritizing our spending is key to having the funds to do the things we need or even want to do. Unfortunately, creating a budget can be an unpleasant experience, just like visiting a dentist.
Individuals can often be hesitant in creating a budget because there is the belief it will limit the extra-curricular activities we enjoy. While a budget can be an eye-opening experience, the goal is to set priorities and eliminate the unnecessary expenses in our lives. A real budget will empower you to focus on both the present and the future.
After focusing on the necessities, such as: food, housing, clothing, transportation, utilities and health care, you can then focus on your priorities. If, after paying for necessities, there are no funds remaining, seeking professional guidance might be the best option.
Asking a trusted advisor or financial representative can often point you in the right direction. The key here is to seek impartiality. Do not seek guidance from a friend or family member as they might not have your best interests in mind. For more professional, impartial guidance, seek assistance from a representative from your financial institution or an investment advisor.
When you are ready to take the initial steps in planning a budget, take into consideration:
- Determine Your Expenses and Income: Look back over the prior three (3) months to gauge what you have spent and your earnings. Don’t forget those few dollars here and there for vending machines and haircuts. Continue to track your spending for the next few months and you may be surprised where your money goes.
- Prioritize Your Monthly Spending: When you know how much you have available to spend, assign funds to those items beginning with necessities. Include realistic goals and savings for emergencies.
- Track and Adjust Your Spending: A budget is meant to be a flexible plan to hold yourself accountable. After tracking, you may decide you don’t want to spend as much money on that extra coffee every day, but rather apply the money saved to something else. Adjust your budget as often as needed to ensure it works for you.
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Everyone has different priorities and goals so that the financial strategy will vary from person to person. For example, when repaying debt, it may be best to pay off the highest interest rate account first. On the other hand, if income is a limitation, choosing a different repayment method may be the better option.
Even financial experts, such as Dave Ramsey, offer advanced strategies for different situations while maintaining the core plan of his “baby steps.” Having a plan grants you the control to overcome unexpected events. Just like life, a program needs to be flexible, or its constraints will be overwhelming, but having a plan helps to keep you in control.
Should you ever find yourself in the position of being unable to make a payment on time, it is always best to communicate with your finance company. Whether the issue is a single short-term occurrence or a potential prolonged financial constraint, contacting the lender may give you flexibility and options you were unaware existed. They may also have opportunities to put you in a better position. The chances are that with the careful steps you took in creating your initial budget, you will be able to use that same mindfulness to work with your lender and pull yourself back up where you want to be.