Keeping track of where you’ve spent your hard-earned money can be a daunting and frustrating task. Many times, it can feel like you don’t know where the money was spent, and it may seem like you’re spending it quicker than you make it. With a little bit of discipline and awareness, however, you can put yourself on track to take control of your finances, one transaction at a time!
The first step is to understand where your money is being spent. A great way to do this is by preparing a budget of your monthly expenses. To prepare a budget, you need to consider all your expenses and create an easy way to track them. Most expenses can be broken down into one of two categories: necessary/fixed such as your mortgage, insurance, and utilities, and discretionary/variable such as travel, entertainment, and dining out. Once you have all of your expenses broken down into one of the two categories, you can assign each line item a specific dollar amount to begin keeping track of monthly. This is your estimated budget. At times you will notice that certain expenses tend to increase, such as dining out in the summer. Having a budget will help you spot your “bad” spending habits and make it clear if you’re spending more than your monthly income allows. As time goes on, you will build a track record of your spending, which will give you more awareness, and thus more control, of your finances.
Preparing and sticking to a budget takes time and discipline, but the reward of feeling financially secure makes it well worth the effort—think of all the stress you’ll relieve yourself of. By taking a proactive approach to handling your finances, you will be able to adjust your spending as needed and move one step closer to financial freedom!
- Choose your budgeting tool. To help prepare a budget, first figure out how you you’re going to keep track of it. An Excel spreadsheet can be a simple tool; there are also plenty of budgeting apps available such as Mint and Clarity that let you link your various bank and credit card accounts.
- Break down your expenses into “necessary” or “discretionary.” From there, you can create different spending line items such as mortgage/rent, groceries, and entertainment. Decide how much money you will assign to each item, and then track how much you actually spend in each area.
- After tracking your expenses for 3 months, you should have enough data to point out your “bad” spending habits. Every 3 months, choose 3 categories that you want to spend less in, and reduce your spending by 15 percent. For example, if you spend $1,000 per month on dining out, reduce your budget to $850. Continue to revisit your goals, progress, and areas for improvement every quarter.
- Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc.® owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and federally registered CFP (with flame design) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.
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