Staying On Budget — The Basics

Dollar-Sign-2055058For most of us, living on a budget is a reality whether we like to admit it or not. We can’t afford everything that catches our eye and we can’t really go anywhere we please without some advance planning and saving. For some, however, things are even harder because they simply can’t keep their spending within the limits of their income, or worse still, some don’t earn enough to be able to live comfortably without worrying about money. Whatever the situation, staying on budget requires, well, a budget. A layout of your usual, say weekly, spending, will help you see what you spend the most money on, what you can save and what the expenses are that can’t be avoided. Making a budget is the first step toward staying on one. The second is planning your spend.

The first step includes your sitting down and listing all things that you spend money on. It’s easiest to start with utilities, mortgage payments, car payments and anything else that sucks out part of your income every month. Then go on to groceries, gasoline, clothes, entertainment, eating out, etc. You probably don’t have a clear idea about how much exactly you spend on each of these things, so track all your expenses for a couple of weeks or a month to get such an idea. This will make it easier to plan this spending later. Go for a rounded figure and round it upwards, so you can surprise yourself next time you shop with spending less than planned. You’d also do well to include in your budget an approximate sum for unexpected events, such as visits to the doctor. This could be a percentage of your monthly income that you set aside and don’t touch. This way, if no unexpected event occurs over a few months, you’ll have some saved money you can choose how to spend.

Once you’re done with drawing a budget, start planning your expenses. Of course, there’s nothing to plan when it comes to bills, though you could try to save on electricity and water if you’re not already being energy-efficient, but you can easily cut your grocery and other household expenses by just making shopping lists and making sure you stick to them. The same goes for clothes shopping, especially for the kids, since it happens more frequently while they grow. List everything you need — and the focus here is on the word need — to buy and go shopping with the list in hand and on a full stomach. This is not a joke — hungry people tend to spend more on food. You already know that but let’s have it one more time: buy in bulk whenever and whatever you can. Things like toilet paper and soda, for instance, can save you quite a considerable bit over time if you buy them in larger quantities. Also, if you work at an office, try to bring a homemade lunch some days instead of lunching out every day. These are among the easiest tips to save some money and stay on budget.

Additional advice from budget planners is to make yourself accountable to someone. It could be your husband or it could be a close friend, but whoever you choose, feeling that you have to report on your spending to someone will make you more responsible and will help you resist the temptation of a dreamy pair of shoes when you’re doing shopping therapy. Still, making an impulse buy occasionally could be that little indulgence you need to stay on course. After all, we’re only human, there’s nothing wrong with slipping a bit now and then, as long as it doesn’t get you into debt, that is.