As summer draws to a close and kids get back to school, it’s a good time to dust off our personal finances. You aren’t alone if summertime has had you paying less attention to your bottom line. For many folks it’s not uncommon to get a bit out of touch with spending. Vacations, trips to the pool, frozen snacks, it all adds up. While it may seem easier to be an ostrich and keep your head in the sand, this time of year is a prime opportunity to consider our future goals while simplifying our lives and taking charge of our finances. It also puts you on good solid footing going into the upcoming holiday season where expenses can again get away from us.
One of the best ways to accomplish this is to create a budget or at least a way to track your expenses. This will require an initial commitment of time, but the dividends are high! Spend some time on an upcoming weekend planning for your future (maybe better prepare for that trip next summer) and learning about your spending habits?
It’s easy to get off track without a budget. For example, when I go to the grocery without a list, who knows what I might end up with. “How exactly did Timballo di Piccioni end up in my cart?” I can’t even pronounce it let alone spell it! Making a list keeps us on track to do and buy the things that are necessary in life. Just as having a list will keep you out of the exotic food aisle at the grocery store, a budget can help you avoid missing a vacation or getting into credit card debt.
Start your budget by making a list of your expenses. Some things like the gas bill or the cable bill are easy to find in your checkbook registry or online bank statement each month. The expenses from the local grocery could potentially be broken down in a dozen different ways, but for most of us a trip to the grocery isn’t “Entertainment.” Simply label the category “Essentials” or “Grocery” and be done with it.
When you find yourself at the end of the list after Essentials, Mortgage, Vacations, and the doggie day-spa you might realize that something is glaring. It’s that gap between your income and your expenses! Recognize that gap as an opportunity. Carefully determining where your money went will help you see where it could have taken you!
Here’s an example of how it all works. A client came to see us a few months back for our Prosperity Planning™ services. We will call her Mary. Mary needed to save more money today in order to successfully have the retirement lifestyle she desired. The dilemma Mary faced was that when things were said and done at the end of the year, everything that went into her wallet had gone back out. Unfortunately Mary could only account for about three-quarters of the dollars she had spent. By creating a budget she found the money she needed to prosper during her retirement years. Now Mary is on track and looking forward to some amazing years ahead of her.
Another way to simplify is to take an inventory of what you have but don’t really need. Let’s see, the new suit that was only worn once, an electric countertop nonstick quesadilla cooker (still in the box of course) and probably quite a few other items that were “great finds.” In the end, the lack of budgeting often leaves us a few pounds heavy and a few dollars short.
A budget creates a better understanding of your personal finances, and thus greater personal power to make the best choices for your desired lifestyle, both present and future. It is okay if you occasionally stray from your budget. Budgets can be intimidating, so I prefer to use them as a guide rather than a law so that you can appreciate rather than resent your new responsibility.
Finally, remember that you are not alone. Budgeting can be a challenge, but it is well worth the investment of your time. All of the dollars spent due to lack of budgeting could have been put to better use. A 10%, 8%, or even only 5% return can add up to quite a healthy sum. It might mean a beach cottage or a substantial travel budget when you retire. It might even mean your child’s college tuition.
So, take some and as the kids are getting back to work, you can too on your finances. Weigh your options (electric countertop nonstick quesadilla cooker vs. beach house.) Understanding your personal financial health can bring you greater joy today and tomorrow. I think I’ll join you in reviewing my own budget this evening, just after I figure out how to cook my Timballo di Piccioni!
FIVE SIMPLE STEPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL BUDGET
- Gather together your checkbook register and credit card statements from last year. Both of these are usually easily available online.
- Evaluate your budget’s complexity. Do you need a software program like Quicken and Mint, or will a simple spreadsheet or pencil and paper do the trick?
- Create pertinent yet simple categories for your expenses. Make enough categories to monitor your spending with conscious choices, but not so many that record-keeping gets complicated.
- Monitor your budget no more than once a week. Over-monitoring may lead to boredom, confusion, and ultimately the demise of your budgeting system.
- Challenge yourself to meet those budget goals you know may be tough. Consider building rewards into your process to congratulate yourself for staying on track!