Starting a household budget may not be the most exciting item on your to-do list, but it might be one of the most important. But it doesn't have to be painful, given the abundance of simple, cheap or free financial planning tools out there. Once you take the plunge, planning for household expenses will be a cinch. You'll be better-equipped to save and plan for retirement, and maybe even that trip to Rome. It pays to have a plan, right?
Trying to get your finances in order? There's an app for that. Some offer templates so you can enter expenses on the go, and even share them with your significant other. Overdue bill reminders prevent late fees and credit blemishes. If you prefer a more old-school approach, spreadsheets are a no-frills way to craft a household spending plan. Budgeting software, often available in web-based versions, makes it even simpler. And online budget calculators are perhaps the most pared-down way to get an overview of what you're spending, and in what areas.
As excruciating as it may sound, keeping track of everything you spend is one of the best budgeting tools at your disposal. Accounting for every expenditure, no matter how minute, gives you a good idea of what you can realistically budget for food and other variable expenses. It also helps identify problem areas in your budget, possibly inspiring you to kick expensive, unhealthy habits like smoking or frequent Happy Hour outings.
Who says television is useless? Get inspiration from "budget makeover" and financial advice shows. Whether you're at home watching the tube or listening to the radio during your commute, it's easy to pick up some budgeting tips from the pros. Many money experts have written books expanding on their on-air advice, and it can never hurt to have permanent money management reference from people you trust. Personal finance websites and magazines are also excellent sources of budgeting information delivered in layperson's terms.
Hiring a Pro
Debt counselors aren't just for people who are in serious financial trouble. Counselors can also take a look at your finances and give you targeted budget help, even if you don't need to enter into a debt repayment plan. Advice from a debt counselor won't break the bank, either; a session often costs less than a decent steak. And while plenty of questionable agencies exist, the Trustee Department of the U.S. Department of Justice maintains an online list of government-approved organizations.
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