New Year, New Budget

Planning a budget is one thing, but sticking to a budget is completely different.

People have many reasons for setting financial goals, from paying off debt to saving money for retirement. And let’s be honest, it’s just smart to be financially responsible! Although managing your finances can be overwhelming, with sound advice and self-discipline, it’s doable. Now, who’s in?

Be real: Keep your goals manageable by making sure they are realistic. For example, if you want to save money for retirement, look at all your monthly bills and expenses and write down a comfortable number that you think you could set aside each month to save. Then, do it.

Evaluate last year’s bills: Look to previous year’s expenditures to determine which months were the most expensive and why. Did you have any unexpected expenses? Did you conserve as much energy as you planned? Determining patterns in your spending can help you plan better for the future.

Set and track your monthly budget:  Use budgeting software, like Mint or YNAB, to help you see exactly where your money is going. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this yourself, consider consulting a financial coach to help you set a budget. Sometimes seeing what you actually spend can be a real eye opener.

Emergency savings: Many people mismanage their budget when it comes to incidentals like medical bills, car repairs or home repairs. Ideally, you should have six to nine months of take-home income set aside to help you remain afloat should the unexpected occur. The best way to start an emergency savings fund is to set aside a small amount of money each month. To ensure that you don’t spend this money, it may help to set up a separate savings account.

Leave your debit card at home: Impulse purchases can quickly diminish your bank account. With your card, it is far too easy to make blind purchases without much thought. Calculate how much cash you will need each week for regular purchases by looking back through two or three months of bank statements. Then, have that cash on hand and use it wisely. When it’s gone, it’s gone.

Look for coupons: Finding coupon codes and discounts is easy with websites like Groupon. Cash back websites like Ebates help shoppers save by giving them a percentage of their purchase back in the form of cash. Do a little research. Before you buy anything online check for discounts, deals and savings.

Sources: mint.com, budgetsimple.com

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