As featured in the Finances FYI section of the the Seattle Times
By 1st Security Bank
Setting a monthly budget, and sticking to it, can be very difficult. With unexpected costs, fluctuations in prices, and debts with high interest rates, you might find it impossible to set a monthly number and not exceed it.
Luckily, there are many ways to help control your finances and make sure there’s enough each month to cover your expenses. We’ve put together simple budgeting tips to make your monthly budgeting process a breeze – from prioritizing certain payments to proper spending habits, you’ll find stability each month with these budgeting tips.
Eliminate debt first
If you want more money to spend on the things you love, eliminating high-interest credit card payments or other debt is the quickest way to do it. It’s not easy, but by reducing monthly interest payments, you’ll be better off in the long term.
When calculating your monthly budget, try to put as much as possible toward paying off your debts. This might mean cutting down on entertainment or restaurant spending, but the sacrifice is well worth it to stop paying interest. Smaller payments are better than late or missed ones, so be sure to keep up on due dates to avoid considerable fees.
This popular budgeting strategy will help you map out a plan for every dollar of income during the month. Start by calculating how much money is incoming each month, and subtract expenses until you reach zero.
This doesn’t mean you have to spend every single dollar you earn, however. Some of the expenses you take out should go into savings, retirement plans, or other investment areas. Having a dedicated plan for every dollar you earn will reduce impulse buying and help you track your finances.
Plan for change
Accounting for the ever-changing nature of expenses is essential. Some months, you may need to spend money on vehicle or home maintenance. Others might bring higher utility costs or annual insurance premiums. Planning ahead for one-time expenses will ensure you aren’t caught off guard as the calendar turns.
Make a detailed list of additional expenses that don’t occur monthly and spread them out across the year. This might mean performing an oil change a month early, so you don’t have a significant increase in expenses the following month. Thoughtful planning can help keep your monthly obligations comparable without any big spikes in costs.
Leave some wiggle room
Even if you’re using zero-based budgeting, leaving some room for error is critical to managing unexpected expenses. Try setting a percentage of monthly income away specifically for emergencies, and try not to touch it otherwise.
Many people strive for 10%, but any amount you can stash away will be invaluable during a time of need. This will also help protect you from future debts, as many people turn to credit cards when the unexpected happens.
Set financial goals
You probably won’t have much success saving money and sticking to a budget unless you set some goals at the start. That doesn’t mean you should shoot for the moon, however. Set small goals that are attainable but still challenge you to be disciplined with your spending.
As you begin to achieve smaller goals, you can start increasing the difficulty and the timeframe of your savings. Set savings account balance goals for six months and one year out, and keep them in mind when creating the monthly budget. Visualizing your financial growth will make reaching your goals a priority and provides plenty of satisfaction along the way.
While creating and sticking to a budget takes discipline and patience, it’s one of the best things you can do for your financial well-being. Set goals and use intelligent spending habits to achieve them!