Do you know how much money you spend each month?
Are you meeting your savings goals?
If the answer to either of these questions is “no,” then there may be a simple tool missing from your life — a budget.
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In a recent Personal Capital survey of people earning over $20,000 a year, 95% of respondents said they stick to some sort of budget. And it pays for you to do the same. When you follow a budget, it’s easier to keep track of your spending. That, in turn, can lead to two positive outcomes:
- Setting aside more money for savings
- Avoiding costly debt that can also damage your credit score
How to budget
Fortunately, you don’t need to be a math genius to set up and follow a budget. All you really need to do is find the right budgeting method for you. Your options include:
- Using a computer spreadsheet to list and calculate your expenses
- Using a plain old notebook and pen to track your expenses by hand
- Using a budgeting app, which will link to your various credit card and bank accounts to tie all of your spending together and help you see where your money goes
If you’re going to set up a budget on a spreadsheet or on paper, you’ll need to look through your last 12 months of expenses, identify each one, and see what it costs on average. Then, you’ll simply compare the total amount of money you’re spending each month to the total amount you bring home in your paychecks.
If your spending is such that you’re able to put at least a little money into savings each month, then you’re in pretty good shape. If that’s not the case, you’ll need to adjust your spending to carve out room for savings. That could mean cutting back on one big expense, like getting a roommate to reduce your housing costs or moving to a smaller home. Or it could mean cutting back on a bunch of smaller expenses, like canceling a couple of streaming services, getting rid of your gym membership, and eliminating one restaurant meal per week.
Checking in on your budget
Setting up your budget might take a handful of hours, especially if you really want to do an accurate job of looking through the past year’s bank and credit card statements to correctly identify your various expenses. Remember, you’ll need to look out for those one-off expenses that pop up during the year so you know to set money aside for them every month.
Once your budget is in place, perform a quick check-in every month to make sure you’re sticking to it. Also, be sure to update your budget any time your financial situation changes. If you get a raise, for example, that’s something your budget should reflect. In fact, that may mean being able to increase your spending in certain categories you may have previously cut back on. On the other hand, if your rent goes up at a time your income doesn’t, you’ll need to account for that change and make adjustments accordingly (namely, by cutting back elsewhere).
The fact that so many Americans budget in one way or another means it’s a more than doable task to put on your list. If you don’t have a budget, set aside some time to create one. It could end up being one of the smartest money moves you’ll ever make.