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Time and time again, we hear about the importance of budgeting—but for most people, it’s a struggle to actually stick to a budget every month. Whether you’re broke AF or just scraping by, you can feel overwhelmed by all the money-related advice out there.
You see articles on how to save money, how to invest your money, how to find cheap housing, and so on. It’s enough to make your head spin! There are so many different ways you can manage your money — but very few of them are easy if you don’t have a firm grasp on your financial situation right now. Even people who are in the best personal financial situations can struggle with the difficulty of sticking to their budgets or keeping track of their expenses.
Why is budgeting so hard?
There are a few reasons why budgeting can be so difficult, but the root of the issue is usually a lack of awareness around your financial situation. First, most people have no idea how much money they make in a given month, let alone how it’s being spent. So, you have no idea what you’re working with or where you can make cuts if you’re in a pinch.
The truth is that many people spend their money as soon as they make it, ending the month just counting down the days until payday. But it doesn’t have to be hard. There are some simple ways to keep on top of finances and get your budget working for you without the headache.
Know your income and expenses
In order to get a firm grasp on your financial situation, you need to know how much money is coming in and going out each month. This will give you a clearer picture of where your money is going and what your financial needs are.
Being aware of exactly what your income and outgoings are is the first step to getting a good grip on your finances.
It will also help you decide if you you’re income is enough, whether you’re able to cut back anywhere or if you want to start a side hustle for extra cash. Finding ways to increase your monthly income can help towards alleviating money stresses.
Track your cash flow
As you track your monthly expenses, you’ll notice certain patterns emerging — like when you tend to spend the most money. Tracking your cash flow will give you a better idea of where your money is actually going each month. This can help you find ways to cut back on unnecessary spending.
For example, if you notice that you consistently spend a lot of money eating out, you can start meal prepping at home so you don’t have to spend money on food. You can also track your cash flow for future planning purposes, like estimating how much you’ll need to save for retirement or to pay for your kid’s college tuition.
A lot of people have a difficult time visualizing how much they’ll need to retire. But if you’re tracking your expenses and income now, it’ll be easier to estimate how much you’ll need to retire down the line.
Commit to a payment plan
If you have debt, whether it be student loans, credit card debt, a car payment, or a mortgage, you need to make a commitment to get that debt paid off as quickly as possible. If you have high-interest debt, you need to get that paid off as soon as possible. Even if you can only put $50 a month towards your debt, every little bit helps.
Don’t forget about saving
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the importance of paying off debt. And while it is important to get rid of your debt as soon as possible, don’t forget about saving for the future.
Using a savings calculator like those on SavingsCalculator.org is a great way to help figure out how much you need to save and how long it might take you.
For example, if you have kids, you may want to have money set aside for their college fund. I have 3 kids, so being able to save money for their education is a biggie – this education savings calculator shows me how much I need to set aside each month to reach my savings goal for when they’re ready to head off to college.
Establish an emergency fund
Having an emergency fund is crucial. Whether you experience a medical emergency or your car blows a tire, money will be a necessity whether you like it or not. And having an emergency fund makes it easier to deal with these situations.
For example, if you lose your job and don’t have any income coming in, you’ll need to figure out how to pay your bills. If you have no money in savings, you may have to go into debt just to cover your expenses — like rent, utilities, and groceries. It’s much easier to pay your bills if you already have money saved up in an emergency fund.
This fund should be enough to cover 6 to 9 months of expenses. When you’re employed, it’s tempting to use your savings to pay for large expenses. But you should try to avoid using your emergency fund unless absolutely necessary.
Stick with it
The key to budgeting successfully is to make it something you do regularly. If you need to set calendar reminders sit down and check your budgeting, do it! When you view your finances as a part of your daily life, it becomes much easier to make adjustments when they are needed.
If you really want to boss your budget, you need to commit to keeping track of your income and spending, managing debt, and making saving a priority if possible.