Everyone seems to hate budgeting. People think budgeting is for squares, and that sticking to a predetermined budget will prevent them from having any fun in their lives. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
Budgeting is there precisely to empower you to make the most of the resources you have available. Think of it this way: if you have a plan already made, you won’t have to agonize over whether you can afford to buy something you like – you’ll know it already.
A well-made budget will allow you to keep track of all the things you are liable to pay every month, so that anything left over will be yours to play with. In fact, a conservatively estimated budget will likely be able to surprise you with the amount of money you actually have let over at the end of each month’s bills! Let’s see how this works through some quick and easy tips.
- Make a zero-based budget
At the beginning of each month, make a plan that is going to make use of all the funds you estimate will be available to you for that month. That means that when you subtract all of your expenses from your earnings, you end up with zero, hence the name. All that means is that you shouldn’t leave any unallocated funds in your account, since that means your plan wasn’t comprehensive.
- Make a new budget for each month
You shouldn’t assume that the same basic breakdown of your expenses for the previous month will hold up for the next month as well. There are various factors that go into the expenses for each month, such as the season, holidays, birthdays, etc. For instance, you should expect to pay more for heating in the winter, and more in power bills in the summer if you have an AC. Not ot mention the various gifts you will be liable for month to month with birthdays and holidays!
Once you sit down to actually make the budget, start with the most important items first. These include the rent, bills, as well as any credit payments you are liable for. Food and clothing are also at the top of the list, as is transportation. If you have debt you need to pay off, make sure to take care of it first! Once these are accounted for, you can move on to other expenses.
- Make a schedule
Once you’ve figured out which bills you have to pay, you should make a monthly routine of paying them, as that will make things easier for you in the long term. It may not be a bad idea to set up an automatic draft to pay the bills at the same time each month. You could also plan to buy groceries in bulk once or twice a month, at a set day.
When you have organized everything so precisely, and have gotten used to it, a lot of the budgeting anxiety will disappear over time, as you become more confident that you can cover all your expenses mont to month.
- Create a buffer zone in your budget
When you are making your monthly budget, always set aside a certain amount of money for any unexpected expenses you may be liable for. If there is an unexpected expense that keeps popping up from month to month, you should definitely bump it up as its own category in your budget. Any funds left over from this buffer zone each month should be left in the same category next month. As your reserve cash increases from month to month, you will feel better protected against these nasty surprises.
- Stop using credit cards
Once you’ve set up a monthly budgeting system, you should simply cut up your credit cards. Credit card debt is among the most onerous debts you can accumulate, due to the high interest rates banks charge, which can accumulate if left unpaid. If you have made a budget that is in line with what you can afford to spend each month, there is no conceivable reason why you would need to fall back on your credit card!
Arguably the most important tip when budgeting is to relax. It will be difficult, especially in the beginning, but after a few months, you will get used to it, and feel like a responsible adult when you find yourself able to meet all your commitments, and still have money left over to have fun!
How to budget without stress
When asked what their most important personal finance goal is, most people will simply say that they would like to spend less than they make. This is a very good answer, since it allows people to pay off debt, have savings on hand for emergencies, and put money away for a comfortable retirement.
However, saving money can be very difficult to accomplish, especially in these times. There are two main reasons for the inability to save money. Firstly, people may not have enough income to be able to save at all, and secondly, people may be needlessly overspending. Since there is not much we can do to help the first category of people budget better, in this article, we will offer some quick tips for people who fall into the latter category.
- Know what the goal is
People who are averse to budgeting often think that they would have to keep track of every dollar they spend obsessively. While that approach would definitely work, it is not the primary goal of budgeting. The goal is to become aware of what we’re spending money on, and how much each item in our budget will cost us from month to month, so we can plan our expenditures in advance.
- Try tracking your spending
As previously explained, the goal of budgeting is not to account for every dollar you spend. However, doing so for a limited amount of time can give you an insight into the exact way in which you spend money, so that you can plan your future budgets more easily, without having to keep track of everything. This sort of empirical method is sure to give you lots of data on your spending habits, so you should keep at it for about a week or so. If you are particularly zealous, you may try doing it for a month, in order to get a full picture.
- Split your budget into 3 categories
If you do decide to track your spending for a month, it is more than likely that you will come to the conclusion that you overspend on only a few categories of expenses. People most commonly overspend on eating out, buying clothes, gadgets, and entertainment. With that being said, decide on three of these categories you can forego, in order to bring up the overall health of your budget up.
- Use a card
While most budgeting experts advise cutting up your credit cards in order to save money on the associated interest rates, other types of cards can actually be pretty useful when budgeting. That is because your purchases are recorded electronically, and are therefore easy to access and categorize. To that end, you can use rewards cards, bank debit cards, or prepaid cards, which charge little in terms of fees.
- First save, then spend
Seeing as though the goal of budgeting is to spend less than we make, it is a good idea to save up first before spending. That means that the first item you put in and account for in your monthly budget will be how much you want to save, and then allocate the remainder of your funds according to priority. That way you make sure that you save a set amount of money each month, instead of whatever is left over at the end.
- Make use of th 50/20/30 plan
This plan was popularized by U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren in her book All Your Worth. Basically, it splits the overall budget into three categories: the first 50% should be spent on necessities, 20% on long term savings, and 30% to lifestyle items. This is great advice for first time budgeters who need a framework to start them off.
- Use the tools available to you
There is a whole world of different tools to help you with budgeting nowadays. While it can’t be said that any budgeting app is the best, as they all have their pros and cons, you will certainly be able to find one that suits your style and your needs best. These are useful for several different reasons.
Firstly, they can connect to your bank account and credit cards, in order to keep track of and categorize all of your purchases, which helps you plan ahead. The second major advantage is the fact that there is some external support to help you keep at it when you waver!
Top 10 Budgeting Tips to Get You Through College
College students are often tight for cash, squeezed from all sides by tuition fees, textbooks, accomodation, not to mention food and other necessities. That is why it is very important that you are able to budget effectively, if you want to finish college with your finances in good shape. Here are the top ten budgeting tips for college students:
- Be realistic
It may sound obvious that you should be realistic about your monthly income and outgoings, but there is actually a bit more to it than that. You need to make a forecast about how much money you will have coming in, and how much you will need to spend in order to live comfortably. This is more difficult than it seems.
- Separate the essential from the non-essential
There are certain budget items that you ‘need’ and there are other items that you merely ‘want’ but don’t really need. The non-essential items must be relegated to the back of the queue when the allotment of monthly funds is concerned, and that is the only way to make your budget work from month to month.
- Guess High for expenses and low for income
In order to make sure your budget works from month to month, you need to be quite conservative in your estimates. That means accounting for lower income and higher expenses. That way, even if your income is higher and expenses lower, you have money left over. This is a far better scenario than the opposite, overestimating your income and underestimating your expenses, which leads you into debt.
- Include a general category in your budget
It is a very good idea to plan for various unexpected expenses in your budget in advance. The best way to do this is to tally up all of your expenses for the month, and allocate an additional 10% of that sum for various expenses. That way, you are prepared for any emergency that might come your way. If you end up not using this money, simply reserve it, and add to it next month. That way, you will have some extra savings for a rainy day.
- Count savings among your expenses each month
Decide on how much you want to save each month (in addition to the item from the previous paragraph), and then count that sum as an expense in your budget. That way, you are forcing yourself to put money aside each month, which will help you a lot in the long run.
It would also be a good idea to open up a separate savings account and deposit money into it each month. This is a particularly good option if the bank offers you a good deal as far as the interest rate they will pay you is concerned.
- Keep your budget in line with your goals and values
Once you’ve made your budget, and stuck to it for several months, you would do well to check it to see whether your needs and values have changed in the meantime. In that case, it may be necessary to recalculate your expenses, and reallocate funds according to your new priorities. This may seem scary, but it is necessary if you are to stick to a budget from month to month.
- Organize your bills
Don’t wait for your bills and receipts to accumulate to start organizing them. File them away into categories such as housing, utilities, car expenses etc as soon as you pay them. That will make it easier if you need to find them in order to dispute a bill, or apply for a new service.
- Rebalance your budget
Governments do it all the time, so why shouldn’t you? Make sure you stay on top of your expenditures and income, and don’t just blindly stick to your budget once you’ve made it. Make sure you can be flexible with recalculating and rebalancing it as necessary.
- Pay in cash for small expenses
Contrary to some other budgeting advice, you should pay in cash as often as you can. It is more difficult to calculate your expenses that way, but it is good training, and before long, you will be able to get a feel about how much you are spending without thinking about it too much.
- Don’t beat yourself up too much
No one is perfect, and you should expect to make small transgressions each month. Don’t beat yourself up about it too hard, especially if it hasn’t had any serious impact on your overall finances for that month. Treat yourself.
Investing your first $1,000
You may be tempted to write off rich people’s success, attributing it to inherited wealth, connections, or sheer dumb luck, but that is simply not true in most cases. Many people who are affluent now started from nothing, and made their money through wise investments.
The good news is that you can do that too, especially with good financial advice. In this guide, we will give some suggestions on how to invest $1,000 wisely, with great returns. However, you should keep in mind the fact that you shouldn’t invest any more money than you are comfortable losing!
Exchange-traded funds: These funds, abbreviated to ETFs, have become quite popular in recent years, which is a great success, especially considering they were only introduced about 20 years ago. The ETFs can be bought or sold at an exchange during any trading day. ETFs hold a diversified portfolio of assets such as technology stocks, or a representation of the overall stock market.
These funds offer a few benefits. Firstly, they make sure you haven’t put all your money in one basket, since the portfolio managers diversify the investment among many different stocks. Secondly, the management fees are not particularly high, especially compared to actively managed funds.
Mutual funds: Though people usually invest a lot more money into mutual funds, that is not to say that it is impossible to invest $1,000 in them. For most retirement mutual funds, the minimum investment just so happens to be $1,000, so you should be able to do it quite easily. They are easy to set up and manage, especially for a beginning investor.
There are several advantages to mutual funds, depending on your goals. Firstly, mutual funds also expose the investor to a broad swathe of carefully picked stocks, which diversifies your investment automatically. Secondly, if you intend to keep investing after your initial $1,000, then mutual funds are the best option, since the returns are better for larger and regular investments.
Certificates of deposit: These are the safest investments available to most investors, since they are insured by the Federal Government (the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp, to be more specific). Therefore, it is next to impossible to lose money on a CD, since whatever you lose will be reimbursed by the government. However, since there is no risk, the returns are small as well. In fact, the highest yield among CDs is a bit less than one percent annually.
These are great for beginners, since there is no risk, and even the small return you get is better than having your money sit beneath your mattress. Furthermore, many banks do not even charge penalties from withdrawing money early, so you will most likely be able to get at your money quickly if you happen to need it.
However, CDs are not going to make you rich. Most economists suggest taking on some risk, especially for young people. In fact, a commonly cited formula for investing is that you should subtract your age from 100, to find out which percentage of your money should be invested in items with a bit of risk, and the rest should be kept safe. For instance, if you are 25, you should invest 75% of your funds available for investment into items with a bit of risk.
Another good piece of advice is to invest in the stock of well-known companies. These are considered relatively safe investments, since many of these are simply too big to fail. Therefore, you should invest in a company you know well and believe in, so that you can anticipate price fluctuations. For instance, if you are into tech, you might want to consider investing in Google or Facebook, or other notable tech companies.
Finally, if you are investing, why not simply invest with the best? Warren Buffet is considered the greatest living investor, so investing in his company, Berkshire Hathaway, is a relatively safe bet, based on his long history of great investments. In fact, Buffet may even be able to beat the market, which is the goal for all investors, so you can benefit from that too!
Whichever of these options you choose to go with, you have to keep one very important thing in mind. Don’t invest without having done through research into the company and industry you are investing in. A successful investor must do their homework!