Are you among the many who included budget planning in your list of 2018 New Year's resolutions? If so, congratulations. If not, there's still time.
Budgeting your money is more than just watching what you spend; it's also about paying yourself first. This means getting the most out of your money by balancing your current expenses and future goals, while still allowing you to enjoy your life. Retirement, for example, may seem to be a long way off, but budgeting today can help you stay on the path toward your eventual retirement.
Here are a few budgeting tips and ideas as you start the new year.
Why Create a Budget?
Budgeting your money can help you to plan ahead and get yourself on firm financial footing. Think about all the things you spend your money on in a month. You probably have a general idea of your expenses, but have you ever been left asking, “Where did all my money go?” The 50/20/30 rule is one effective way to gain more financial control over your expenses.
The 50/20/30 Rule
The 50/20/30 rule can help you determine how much to spend and how much to save each month. Suppose your take-home pay (after taxes and 401(k) contributions) is $50,000 annually. That’s $4,166 per month.
- 50% toward essentials. That means things you have to pay for in order to live. In general, this includes expenses like housing (rent or mortgage), utility bills, food, and transportation. So, in our example, half of your monthly take-home pay would be around $2,000.
- 30% toward personal expenses. This category includes the miscellaneous expenses that can enhance your lifestyle, such as restaurants, personal shopping, travel, or even your smartphone bill. In our example, your personal expenses allowance would be around $1,200 each month.
There are several steps you’ll need to take in order to come up with a budget that works for you and your lifestyle. You’ll need to track your income versus spending, see where your money is going now, and then determine what changes you might make based on the 50/20/30 rule.
There are a few different ways to track your spending, such as recording your purchases in a notebook or using an app on your smartphone. Check the sidebar for a few budget planner programs that can help you track your spending.
Put Your Plan in Motion
It’s easy to talk about budgeting your money, but it takes discipline to follow through on your plans and find the funds to support your spending and saving goals. Here are some initial things you can do to stay on track toward retirement and other goals:
- Spend less; find extra money. Utilities and food are essential, but you can always look for other ways to cut down on lifestyle costs. When you splurge on that occasional indulgence, ask yourself whether you're getting your money's worth. If not, consider scaling back. Do you really need that upgrade right now, or can your current model last another year? By making more thoughtful choices and considering all the options, you may find extra room in your budget to save.
- Automate your payments. This is a great way to pay your bills on time and avoid late payments. By preallocating monthly payments, you can better manage your spending and saving, knowing that those funds have been reserved for known expenses.
- Stay committed. Create a specific goal, such as paying off a debt or funding your retirement. When you have clear ambitions for your financial planning, it can be easier to keep your spending and saving on track. Remind yourself of your goals and the payoff for achieving them.
Hands-On Goal Planning
Planning for tomorrow involves setting financial goals today. Want to know if your plans are on track?