A Family Budget
“Too much month, not enough paycheck.”
“The money runs out before the month does.”
“The harder we work, the behinder we get.”
Have you heard these clichés? Have you spoken these clichés? Funny how they don’t sound very clichéd if you are forced to deal with a budget crisis every month!
For a lot of families, the budget process is pretty simple. It looks something like this:
The money comes inThe money gets spent.
The scenario rarely varies much–the income generally is fixed, and the outflow only seems to increase. If too much money gets spent, the shortfall gets added to the debt load. As the debt load increases, more of the money coming in goes to paying the debt, which leaves less for spending, which increases the debt. Sound like a vicious endless cycle? It is, and many families can’t seem to find their way out of the circle.
When asked “where does the money go?” most families will quickly respond “for necessities–food, clothes, things for the kids. Nothing is wasted.” Yet, if asked to produce their family budget, many can not come up with a single scrap of paper indicating just where the money is going. Is it a fun task? Not really! Can it bring big rewards to your family finances? Absolutely!
Keep track of your Credit Report
Start the process by taking a look at your current Credit Score. Getting a problem repaired now is always easier than attempting to do it after you have applied for a mortgage or car loan. You can get a free copy of your Credit Score from Consumer Info.
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Have a Plan
Without a definite plan of attack, your budget goals will probably be doomed. Like diets, many of us have started on family budgets only to see them wither away with time. If you are like most of us, you will probably need a program with some structure but will not force you to turn your life inside out. We’ve found a couple of excellent sources to get your start.
|The Average Family’s Guide to Financial Freedom is easy to read and follow and is highly recommended if you want to make a real impact on your financial condition. If you are serious about planning for and modifying your financial condition, the little you will spend on this book can be an exceptional investment!
Buy it at Amazon.com
|Live Well on Less Than You Thinkis subtitled “A Guide to Achieving Your Financial Freedom” and it delivers on the promise. Fred Brock gives a clear road map on ways to live on less. In his words, “cutting expenses increases income” and this book describes hundreds of hints and tools, both large and small, of doing just that.
Buy it at Amazon.com
mvelopes is an online budgeting system that works. Mvelopes users have found that once they know where they’re spending their money, they end up saving 10-20% of their income. If you make $40,000/year that’s $4,000 dollars you could save using Mvelopes Personal. You can even try it for free. More information.
The process of developing and maintaining your budget is much simpler if you have the records of what you are currently spending on hand. Rather than saying “I think we spend about $300 a month on groceries,” you will have the exact average monthly expenditures for various items. Keep bills from utilities, physicians, service stations and any expense that varies from month to month. Once you have a running total for several months you can develop an average and adjust your budget up or down accordingly.
Incorporate Your Goals
Family budgets that include established short or long term goals are always the most effective. For example, you may decide that “we want to trim enough from our current spending so that we can buy a $2500 Certificate of Deposit within 6 months to begin a college fund.” Or, “the savings from our budget will pay for our entire vacation next August so that nothing will be added to the credit cards.” Discussion is important here so that everyone focuses on the same goal or goals. Start slowly with a fairly easily attainable goal and then “test’ yourself with a more difficult (and rewarding) goal as you get more proficient at your budgeting process.
Develop Your Budget
Just the idea of a budget makes a lot of families shudder. Many feel that it will be too restrictive and limiting. They assume that they will lose too much of their spending freedom, taking away some of the pleasures in their lives. In reality, an effective budget does the opposite: by keeping track of your expenditures, it allows you to concentrate on those items that bring the highest reward, both financially and personally. An effective budget puts YOU in control of your finances, rather than letting the control slip into the hands of chance.
Want to have more money for the things you want? Want to develop a savings or investment plan for the future? Start by taking a picture of your current financial situation to determine where the funds are going now and to begin to develop plans for reducing expenditures. You can begin the process by printing out a budget form. Then you can, with all concerned members of the family contributing, start to determine which budget items are necessities, which are “luxuries” (and perhaps expendable) and where expenses can be cut or eliminated. As you begin the focus on your budget, we have a few hints on some efficient purchasing tactics as well as saving money on those items that you must buy. Get the most out of your investments.
Pay Down Your Debt
Concentrate on a plan to reduce your debt exposure. If you are like millions of other Americans, your credit card debt is likely excessive and the biggest problem. First, cut up all but one of your cards to avoid adding additional debt. Next, if you are a homeowner, you may want to consider a small home equity loan, which can consolidate your debt and allow a single payment with a generally lower interest rate. In addition, your interest on such a loan may be tax deductible (check with your financial or tax advisor). Before you take a home equity loan, though, closely examine your financial situation and compare offers. LendingTree Mortgage Loans is a good source for home equity (and refinancing) rates and information. Find more information on LendingTree Mortgage Loans here. For a plan to work yourself out of debt, see the website at DebtGoal.
The Average Family’s Guide to Financial Freedom BIll and Mary Toohey tell the story of how they got their financial picture in line and increased their net worth to nearly $500,000. The plan takes a little work and some sacrifice, but the rewards are, for most families, well worth the price.