There isn't a successful, money-making company on earth that
doesn't produce and work within a budget. They do it not
only because they must but also because budgets are the
building blocks of financial management.|
Individuals, however, are different. The U.S. Department of Commerce found in 2006 that the average American household spent more money than it took in by about 1 percent. Not only is this unsustainable for individuals, but it's probably a good indicator that most Americans either refuse or don't know how to stick to a personal budget.
Americans may not like budgets because they're like diets: they both require discipline, and neither works if not followed. But both are tools that are necessary for a healthier lifestyle, whether financially or physically. If a diet tells you what you can eat, a budget tells you what you can spend.
So what is involved in creating and sticking to a simple, personal budget? It might be easier to think of a budget as a spending plan. Basically, that's what it is. Rather than seeing the restrictions of a budget, see what a spending plan can allow you provide for yourself or your family. It's as simple as keeping track of and paying attention to what comes in and what goes out.
A good first step in producing a workable personal budget is to start with your bills. It's imperative to find out where your money is going and the daily tracking of expenses. Everyone has fixed expenses like mortgage payments or rent; transportation expenses like car payments, gasoline or public transit passes; utilities, food, insurance, etc. Beyond those fixed expenses, it's good to keep receipts and determine how much other money you're regularly spending.
After your fixed expenses have been categorized, it's a good idea to plan for variable expenses like birthdays and holidays, clothing, vacations and entertainment. If you find that you don't have enough money at month's end to cover all the expenses, these variable costs are the first ones that need to be cut.
When you are finished with your expenses, move on to your income. Your income should always exceed your expenses. If not, you must choose between increasing your income or decreasing your expenses. Asking for a raise, finding a more lucrative job or taking a second job are good ideas to increase income. Alternatively, cutting expenses may be easier. That $3 cup of coffee every morning, if eliminated, could save $60 a month.
Ideally, if you make more money than you regularly spend, you should be saving some each month, part of which should go into an emergency or rainy-day fund, typically at least three months' worth of expenses. The emergency fund, best kept in a savings account, will give you much more flexibility if you should happen to lose your job or experience unexpected expenses.
Just like Fortune 500 companies, individuals must understand how much money is coming in and how much is going out; otherwise, neither stands a chance of achieving crucial financial goals. You won't have to worry about living off your credit cards or dodging phone calls from creditors. Through budgeting, learning and accepting limitations on your own income and spending habits, you can take control of your financial future.
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