In theory, managing your money should be simple. Just work out how much money you make, and then create a budget to make sure you don’t spend more than you earn.
Unfortunately, in reality it’s not always so straightforward. There’s the unexpected emergency, the birthday you forgot about, car repairs that cost more than you thought, petrol prices going through the roof (again), and those “impulse buys” that seem to catch us at our most vulnerable.
The truth is, budgeting can be one of the most difficult aspects of adulthood. But if you don’t establish some sort of financial plan you risk overspending, which can lead to far more serious problems later on.
To help you take control of your finances, here are seven important budgeting tips.
1. Figure out your income.
How much money do you bring home each month (i.e. after tax and any other deductions)? If you don’t know, you need to find out.
If your pay varies from week to week, calculate how much you were paid in the past year and divide that amount by 12 to get a monthly average. If you need to estimate, always round down so you don’t run out of money early.
2. Review your ongoing expenses.
Now it’s time to make a list of all of your regular bills and expenses—the mortgage/rent, utility bills, car repayments, insurance, private health cover, etc. Add them up, work out the monthly average, and compare that figure to your total monthly income. (Hopefully it will be less.)
By subtracting this figure from your monthly income, you’ll know how much money you have left over each month for everything else.
3. Determine your living expenses.
The next step is to determine how much money needs to be set aside for necessities—food, clothing, petrol, public transport costs, etc.
Rather than estimating the amount, save the receipts from everything you buy for an entire month. Then once the month is over, take a look at what you bought and separate the items you needed from the items you wanted.
Add up the amounts for the items you needed to buy, and subtract the total from what you have left over each month. If there’s any money left over, it’s time to work out what to do with it.
4. Decide what to do with any extra income.
So what should you do with that extra money? Putting it in a savings account is always a good idea, as it will it generate interest over time. And should an emergency arise, you’ll have a sum of money you can dip into that isn’t already allocated to other expenses.
Don’t think of it as “disposable income”. If you get into the habit of spending it on frivolous purchases you’ll not only lose it pretty quickly, but also develop bad spending habits.
But if you do decide to buy something that isn’t a necessity, you’re better off using this money than the money set aside for food or bills.
5. If there isn’t any money left over.
And if there isn’t any money left over? Well, it may be time to change your lifestyle.
On the income side you might consider changing careers or finding a second job. But if you don’t have the time or the energy for that, then it’s time to take a good hard look at what you’re spending.
Try to cut back on your monthly bills. Cancel any perks such as pay TV. Trade in your car for something more cost-effective, or consider switching to public transport. And if you eat out regularly, learn how to cook so you can save money preparing your own meals.
There’s no limit to what you can do differently to save money. So review your list, and look at all the ways you could cut back on spending.
6. Never buy on an impulse.
If you see something you absolutely must have, take some time to think about it. While it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a new purchase – that excitement often wears off over time, leading to buyer’s remorse.
So instead of pulling out your credit card whenever you spy a beautiful new jacket, note down the price and style then go home to think about it. You might be surprised at just how quickly your interest wanes. If it doesn’t, see if you can find a similar product online or at another store for less. Or get into the habit of shopping only during retail sales periods.
7. Stick to it.
A lot of people find it’s easy to lose weight at the beginning of their diets, but much harder to keep it off as time goes by. It’s the same with budgeting. A budget works only if you stick to it. As the months go by, don’t lose your momentum by suddenly making inadvisable purchases.
Stick to your budget long enough for it to become a habit. Do that, and you’ll have a much easier time making your money last.