For most people, the word “budget” conjures up thoughts of penny-pinching and the unpleasant task of crunching numbers. This couldn’t be further from the truth. A budget is at the cornerstone of a solid financial foundation, regardless of your situation, and it isn’t that hard to do.
What is a Budget?
A budget is nothing more than a breakdown and plan of how much money you have coming in and where it goes. Could you imagine a business becoming successful if it didn’t keep track of its income and expenses? The same holds true when it comes to your personal finances. If you don’t know how much money you have coming in and where it goes, your road to financial success will be a difficult one.
The biggest fear that most people have when creating a budget is that they will need to suddenly cut back on all of the fun spending -- things like the occasional coffee or dinner out, movie night, or even the trip to grandma’s for the holidays. While you may find that you do need to cut some spending after putting together a budget, without actually sitting down and creating one, it is impossible to know what expenses need to be cut, if any.
Creating a budget may not sound like the most exciting thing in the world to do, but it is vital in keeping your financial house in order. Before you begin to create your budget it is important to realize that in order to be successful you have to provide as much detailed information as possible. Ultimately, the end result will be able to show where your money is coming from, how much is there and where it is all going.
Time Required: 5 minutes to 30 mins.
Gather every financial statement you can. This includes bank statements, investment accounts, recent utility bills and any information regarding a source of income or expense. The key for this process is to create a monthly average so the more information you can dig up the better.
Record all of your sources of income. If you are self-employed or have any outside sources of income be sure to record these as well. If your income is in the form of a regular paycheck where taxes are automatically deducted then using the net income, or take home pay, amount is fine. Record this total income as a monthly amount.
Create a list of monthly expenses. Write down a list of all the expected expenses you plan on incurring over the course of a month. This includes a mortgage payment, car payments, auto insurance, groceries, utilities, entertainment, dry cleaning, auto insurance, retirement or college savings and essentially everything you spend money on.
Break expenses into two categories: fixed and variable. Fixed expenses are those that stay relatively the same each month and are required parts of your way of living. They included expenses such as your mortgage or rent, car payments, cable and/or internet service, trash pickup, credit card payments and so on. These expenses for the most part are essential yet not likely to change in the budget.
Variable expenses are the type that will change from month to month and include items such as groceries, gasoline, entertainment, eating out and gifts to name a few. This category will be important when making adjustments.
Total your monthly income and monthly expenses. If your end result shows more income than expenses you are off to a good start. This means you can prioritize this excess to areas of your budget such as retirement savings or paying more on credit cards to eliminate that debt faster. If you are showing a higher expense column than income it means some changes will have to be made.
Make adjustments to expenses. If you have accurately identified and listed all of your expenses the ultimate goal would be to have your income and expense columns to be equal. This means all of your income is accounted for and budgeted for a specific expense.
If you are in a situation where expenses are higher than income you should look at your variable expenses to find areas to cut. Since these expenses are typically essential it should be easy to shave a few dollars in a few areas to bring you closer to your income.
Review your budget monthly and work with a trusted advisor to take advantage of the various financial tools available to increase your profitability while minimizing taxes. It is important to review your budget on a regular basis to make sure you are staying on track. After the first month take a minute to sit down and compare the actual expenses versus what you had created in the budget. This will show you where you did well and where you may need to improve.