7 Tips For Creating A Budget You Can Actually Follow
If you've ever wondered how your paycheck manages to disappear so quickly, that's probably because you've never set a budget for yourself. Doing so is a great way to ensure you spend money responsibly, making it easier to save cash and achieve your financial goals. Here are seven tips for creating a budget you can actually commit to following.
1. Track your spending.
The first step toward creating a budget is realizing what you've been spending each month. Only then can you begin to make improvements and adjustments. Track every penny that leaves your bank account, and you'll likely see that you've purchased a fair amount of items you didn't actually need. Some of the most common culprits are impulse buys at the check-out counter and those fancy drive-thru coffees that have become an everyday indulgence for so many people.
2. Be realistic.
Once you know where your money goes each month, you can set limits for yourself in each spending category. However, the most important component of a good budget is to remain realistic. If you currently spend $300 on groceries each month, don't try to reduce that number to $50. It's probably not possible, unless you want to eat ramen noodles and TV dinners every day.
A popular rule of thumb to follow is the 50-20-30 budget, which says that 50% of your monthly income should go to living expenses, while 20% goes to savings and 30% goes to costs such as entertainment and shopping.
3. Start with the easy stuff.
Developing and following the perfect budget doesn't happen overnight. A fair amount of trial and error is often necessary before nailing down the perfect plan. When it comes time to make changes in your spending, start off by cutting out the easy stuff. For example, replacing name brand groceries with store brand items can make a big difference while having very little impact on your day-to-day life. You should also cut back on things you pay for but don't actually use. For example, if you haven't been to the gym in six months, nix the costly membership fee. If you only seem to watch Netflix, cancel the cable bill.
4. Then make tougher sacrifices.
Once the easy stuff has been dealt with, it's time to buckle down on more unnecessary spending. This could mean saying goodbye to some things you've grown to love – like eating out multiple nights a week or buying a new outfit every time you go shopping.
There's a silver lining, though – you don't have to deprive yourself of everything fun. In fact, you can probably still do everything you're doing – just less of it. Keep in mind the old motto “everything in moderation.”
5. Take advantage of technology.
Tracking your spending is easier than it's ever been, thanks to an abundance of free apps available at your disposal. You can choose to input all your spending into an app, or use tools offered by your bank or credit card company which analyze your spending habits. One of the best rated budgeting apps is Mint.
Doing all of your spending with debit and credit cards comes with the added advantage of being able to track every dollar spent, simply by logging into your online account. However, if you lack discipline when it comes to credit cards, putting cash into envelopes dedicated to each spending category can be a great method.
6. Automate your savings.
The point of a budget isn't just to spend less, but also to save more. Once you know how much money you can put away each month, automate those savings. Putting your savings on auto-pilot is a fool-proof way to ensure that the right amount of cash gets put aside each month. This limits your ability to cheat yourself out of your monthly savings.
Everyone knows that saving money is harder than spending it, so taking advantage of your bank's automated savings program is a no-brainer. However, if you're carrying credit card debt, be sure to pay off those bills before focusing on your savings.
7. Adjust as necessary.
Be sure to adjust your budget as your needs change – which is bound to happen as you undergo major life experiences. For example, you'll need to reassess your financial situation if you get married or have a child. You'll also need to recalculate your budget if you change jobs or receive a raise. Being prepared to change your budget to fit the needs of yourself and your dependents is the best way to make sure your finances evolve alongside your lifestyle.
Creating a budget is the best way to ensure a disciplined approach when it comes to saving and spending. Although it involves cutting back on unnecessary expenditures in the short-term, the future rewards are well worth any sacrifices.