For some people, budgeting means spending the paycheck until they run out of money. However, if you want to get some control over your finances or save toward a long-term goal, you should create and follow a household budget. Your budget should include weekly, monthly and annual expenses, and should have some wiggle room for the occasional splurge. Build in a system for tracking expenses so you can ensure that you and yours stick to the plan.
Assess your current income and expenses. Gather deposit information, bills, bank statements, credit card statements and records of annual expenses such as property taxes and holiday gifts. Remember emergency or sudden expenses, too, such as car repairs, health care or a new restaurant opening in the neighborhood.
Set goals. You can achieve greater success with creating and tracking your budget if you determine why you want one. Try setting a long-term goal, such as buying a house, as well as short-term goals, such as saving a certain percentage of your income for an emergency fund.
Do a reality check. If your bills and income information do not add up, you have a cash leak. Implement an all-cash policy for a few weeks, and write down all transactions, to determine where you spend excessively. It may be that you can swap that daily double latte for an Americano and not feel the pain, or read your favorite books and magazines at the library or online.
Track income and expenses on a spreadsheet. You can create your own with columns that list fixed expenses and variable expenses, and check it weekly to see if it matches your transactions. If you want to automate the process, try an online tool such as Suze Orman's expense tracker.
Remember your miscellaneous column. On a household budget, a miscellaneous category helps you allow for irregular expenses such as contributing to a gift fund at work, taking a weekend trip, donating to a charity or even just buying cold medicine in the winter.
Adjust your budget as your lifestyle changes. Rather than ignore a useless budget, revive it by adding more to your savings, investment or emergency fund columns.
- Budgeting should not feel punitive. Look at tracking expenses as a puzzle or challenge, with your increased financial prowess, improved savings and less debt as the ultimate rewards.
Nina Makofsky has been a professional writer for more than 20 years. She specializes in art, pop culture, education, travel and theater. She currently serves as a Mexican correspondent for "Aishti Magazine," covering everything from folk art to urban trends. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Mills College.