Personal Budget Strategies

Cutting down on luxuries is crucial in creating a realistic budget.
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Budgeting is a tricky but necessary part of setting up housekeeping. If you've never budgeted before, now is the time to get started. Realistic budgeting includes a willingness to confront your spending patterns honestly, strip out those things that are eating up your income, delay gratification by putting some funds in savings, and call in third-party help when you need to.

Document Your Spending

If you don't know, or understand, where your money is going, you are going to have a hard time managing it. Take a month to carefully document your normal spending habits. During this month, try not to change the way you spend your money. Instead, keep records of what you spend and where you spend it. When the month is up, sit down with your significant other and have a look at your spending. Identify at least five ways in which you are each overspending, set some limits, and redirect that money toward savings, investing, or paying down debt.

Be Realistic

Spend money on what you can actually afford, not on what you'd like to own. If you're earning a modest income and struggling under a load of student loan debt, your wardrobe shouldn't include $300 pumps. Being realistic about your budget works both ways, though: It's easy to strip all luxuries and entertainment from your budget while you're writing it down, but going for weeks eating only ramen and reading magazines at the library is going to get real old, real fast. Make sure that your budget includes a reasonable amount of money for a balanced diet and the occasional night out.

Include Savings and Investments

Just because you have money in your pocket, or in your checking account, doesn't mean that you should spend it. After paying your bills and for necessities, make sure that some of your money is going into your savings (you should have at least eight months of expenses in savings) and investment accounts. If you don't have either, what are you waiting for? Your bank can set you up with an interest-bearing savings account, and there are tons of online investment brokerages that can help you invest your money.

Seek Outside Help

If budgeting is too daunting for you, or you and your partner or spouse can't come to an agreement on how to spend and save, get an expert to help. Credit counselors specialize in helping people set up realistic budgets and pay down debt. If you are ready to start investing, a certified financial planner can help you set short- and long-term financial goals for yourselves.

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