Americans do not have a retirement plan in place for how they’ll manage their finances when they get old. For one month, keep track of all your expenses. Save all your receipts, make note of how much cash you need versus how much you expense to credit cards, and figure out how much money you have left over when the calendar turns. After the first month, take stock of what you spent. Categorize your purchases in a way that makes sense to you.
Now, write down your actual budget. Based on the month of actual expenses — and your own knowledge of your spending history — budget out how much of your income you want to allocate to each category every month. If desired, use an online budgeting platform, such as Mint. In your budget, make separate columns for projected budget and actual budget. Many people leave significant room in their budget for savings. You don’t have to structure your budget to include savings, but it’s generally thought of as a smart idea.
Be honest with yourself about your budget. It’s your money — there’s really no sense in lying to yourself about how much you’re going to spend when making a budget. The only person you hurt when doing this is yourself. On the other hand, if you have no idea how you spend your money, your budget may take a few months to solidify. Keep track of your budget over time.
The hard part of a budget is that your expenses may change from month to month. The great part of a budget is that you’ll have kept track of those changes, giving you an accurate idea of where your money went during the year. Setting a budget will open your eyes to how much money you spend, if they haven’t been opened already. Setting a budget will also teach you that you never know when you’ll have to pay for something unexpected — but that the unexpected will come to be expected. You obviously don’t plan on your car breaking down, or your child needing medical attention, but it pays to expect these contingencies to happen, and to be prepared for them financially when they come. How much money you spend every month.
When you record how much money you spend every month, you are writing down your actual budget. How much money you plan to spend every month. Your projected budget will help you to stay under cost, so be realistic and try to meet those goals. How much money you put into savings.
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Your projected budget does not refer to how much money you put into your savings. It’s a great idea to have a savings account, but don’t make your monthly savings contributions so high that they cause you stress. There’s a better option out there! How much money you will save from this month to next month.
When you accurately record your actual budget from month to month, you gain a better understanding of where your money is going and how to prevent frivolous spending in the future. The projected income won’t tell you how much you save. How often have you bought a DVD only to have let it collect dust for years, without using it? Books, magazines, DVDs, tools, party supplies, and athletic equipment can all be rented for smaller amounts of money. Renting often saves you the hassle of upkeep, keeps room in your storage, and generally causes you to treat items better. If you have the money, pay a high down payment on your mortgage.