Budget: a word that causes stress and anxiety for some while helping others bring order to their lives. Do you wish you had something to help you get your finances in order but believe creating a budget would be impossible? I want to give you hope; you can create a budget. It is simply a plan for every dollar, not a magical formula. Congratulations on taking this step, and here’s some step-by-step advice to help you get started.
First you will need to create a document to organize your information. Make a column for income and one for all expense categories, including payroll tax, health insurance, utilities, food, housing expense, property taxes, eating out, cars, clothes, savings, nail salon, charitable donations, debt, retirement, etc.
Now you need to determine how much you’re spending each month and how much debt you have. Gather all your records, bank statements and receipts. Because some expenses are intermittent, I recommend you go back 6-12 months for a better idea of where your money goes; record this information on your spreadsheet under the appropriate category. Next, list your income and all the deductions from you paycheck. Remember to include any money besides your salary you receive each month. If you are self-employed, you’ll need to calculate your monthly salary or draw from your business along with any deductions. Total each column and divide by the number of months of data you have. This will determine your average monthly income and expenses. Remember, you are doing this is to help get your finances in order; if you aren’t thorough, this will be a waste of your time.
Next is analysis. Review the numbers; do you like what you see? Did you realize how much money you spend on non-essentials? Analysis is hard because our spending often is tied to emotion. It requires us to make some choices. Perhaps your analysis shows you aren’t spending more than you make, but based on how little you are saving, you will never be able to retire? Do you want to stay where you are financially, or will you discipline yourself to get to a good place? Decide what is important, and determine whether your spending aligns with your priorities.
Once your analysis is complete and you know what you want to change, you can begin to develop a budget — or what I like to call a financial life plan. Find an app or accounting program you like and input all the data you have collected. Decide what aligns with your values and develop a spending and saving plan that works. Instead of a rigid plan, build one that offers some flexibility so you don’t quit before you even get started. The bottom line is this: don’t procrastinate. Getting your finances in order can be like getting healthier; the longer you put it off, the harder it is to get going and the more discipline it will take. Start today!
Kathy Rogers is the vice president of Marston Rogers Group, a life planner and financial consultant. Reach her at (228) 206- 5902 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.