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Financial advisors will be the first to tell you: if you want to buy a house, get out of debt, save for retirement, or achieve any other financial goal, you have to make a budget.
There are many online tools to help you with budgeting, including mobile apps. But you don’t have to have access to technology to create one. All you need is a pencil and some paper. These tips will help you get started.
Track Your Spending
For your budget to be effective, it´s important to know exactly where you’re spending your money each month.
- Write down all fixed monthly expenses or use your favorite online tools or mobile apps to track where the money goes.
- Make sure to include your cash expenses since they can easily go unreported, especially if you’re using computer software.
- Add seasonal or annual expenses such as car registration, tax preparation fees, vacations, or expenses related to the holiday season.
Track at least two months to get a sense of your average of expenses and avoid high or low months.
Track Your Income
The second part is identifying your monthly income. It is important to be accurate since you will be making financial decisions based on what you make. To make an accurate assessment:
- Write down all net income from each job or income source for one month. This may include regular salary, temporary jobs, unemployment compensation, and public assistance. If the amount varies, average it out to the last 12 months.
- Include income that occurs less frequently like annual bonuses, dividends and interests, tax refunds, etc.
Make a Budget
Once you’ve identified your expenses and income, it’s time to make a budget. Consumer.gov has lots of information on creating a budget, but you can also follow these quick tips:
- Create a document with two columns: one with your monthly income and another with your monthly expenses. FDIC.gov has an example of a budget worksheet (at the end of the page).
- In the expenses section, separate them by fixed and flexible. That way you can prioritize your monthly expenditures.
- If monthly expenses exceed income, then you have to look for ways to reduce expenses or make more money. It’s usually more feasible to reduce flexible expenses such as mobile phones bills, water and electricity.
Stay Flexible but Focused
It is ideal to have a monthly budget where income is greater than expenses, and where the budget includes a monthly savings amount. This can help you balance your family budget. Because things can change month to month, experts recommend that you remain as flexible as possible and adjust when needed.
Food is expensive, but you can find tips to help you eat well on a tight budget. For example:
- Prepare stews and casseroles to help stretch expensive food items and provide meals for multiple days.
- Choose fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season. Healthy foods that tend to be reasonably priced and available year-round include apples, bananas, potatoes, carrots, and greens.
- Buy groceries when you are not hungry or rushed.
- Avoid convenience foods, such as frozen dinners, pre-cut vegetables, and instant oatmeal—you pay more for convenience.
If you are struggling to put food on the table, consider programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and school meal programs for children.