It's easy to keep track of spending when you have only a few expenses each month. As your expenses grow, however, it becomes much more difficult. If you aren't careful about how you use credit cards, or if you borrow heavily to finance large purchases, you might end up in a situation where you owe more than you make every month. When this happens, sit down and do a formal analysis of your income and expenses.
Tally Your Expenses
List the amount of money you spend during the month for all purchases and expenses. Some of these items are easy to identify: your rent or mortgage, credit card bills, car payment, electricity bill, phone bill, cable bill, gasoline and grocery purchases. Other expenses might be harder to identify, however, such as the money you spend going out for dinner or drinks. If you're unsure of the amount you spend each month, keep all of your receipts and make a list of everything spent each day for a month.
Determine Essential and Nonessential Expenses
Group your purchases and expenses into two categories – essential and nonessential. Essential items are those that must be paid, such as housing, utilities, car insurance and health insurance. Food purchased at the grocery store qualifies as essential, while snack purchases at work are nonessential. Many clothes and entertainment expenses are nonessential as well.
Rank Unnecessary Expenses
Rank the items in the nonessential and unnecessary categories according to the importance you put on them. Make a list of the money you bring home each month from all income sources; total your income and see if it covers your essential items. If so, then use whatever money is left over to pay down credit card debt. Eliminate all other expenses, even if it means you can't go meet friends out for a while, take a vacation or purchase new clothes.
If your income does not cover your essential expenses, then see if there are areas you can cut back on, such as using coupons to save money on groceries or carpooling to work to save money on gas. If you are still coming up short, you might need to find additional sources of income.
Generate More Income
Make a list of new sources of possible income each month. This might include taking on a second job and/or asking for a raise at your main job. Look for opportunities helping family or neighbors do tasks normally hired out to others. Estimate the amount of income possible from these sources.
Locate a second job or part-time work to supplement your income. Place the money from this employment directly into your essential expense fund for the month.
Sell Unused Items
Make a list of items you own that you rarely or never use and have cash value. This list might include a bicycle you never ride, unworn jewelry, sports equipment or items you've collected. Sports cards, comic books, vinyl records and toys can bring significant cash in some markets.
Pay Down Debt
Research the potential income from selling your items and put the items up for sale on Craigslist, eBay, or through a garage sale at your home. Apply cash from the sale of these items directly to credit card debt and your loans with the highest interest rates. If you don't have this type of debt, use the cash for necessary monthly expenses.
Consider Lifestyle Changes
In some cases, you might need to make big changes to meet your budget. For example, if your rent is too high, consider moving in with friends or family for a while. Reductions in the essentials category, even when temporary, help equalize the cash flow in and out of your bank account.
- In some cases you might need to make big changes to meet your budget. For example, if your rent is too high, consider moving in with friends or family for awhile. Reductions in the essential category, even when temporary, help equalize the cash flow in and out of your bank account.
Lee Grayson has worked as a freelance writer since 2000. Her articles have appeared in publications for Oxford and Harvard University presses and research publishers, including Facts On File and ABC-CLIO. Grayson holds certificates from the University of California campuses at Irvine and San Diego.