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Too Much Month, Not Enough Money Or Budget, Part 2
In my last article, we expanded on our basic budget – a list of our income and expenses and broke them down on a monthly basis, with the option to see if we were ahead or behind. As we discussed in the first article (part 1), the four basic columns of a budget are monthly expenses, other expenses, regular income, and other income. At the end of the last article, we just added and subtracted the appropriate columns and if you found a positive number you were good, if not, we need to reduce your expenses. Again, I want to emphasize that a budget is a necessary tool for sound planning and management. A budget allows us to see how our income relates to our expenses and where we can reduce some of our wasteful and unnecessary expenses. Our spending habits alone can be the success or failure of our financial future.
The first rule of managing your money is Pay yourself first. This is where the first amount you take out of any paycheck is an amount you set aside for yourself or your family – for your future protection. The common amount is 10% of your income. This means that 10% of every paycheck is banked to be used in special circumstances, for rainy days or emergencies. If you earn $500 a week, $50 goes into a special account. The rest of your salary goes towards the rest of your budget and expenses. That 10% is where you’ll build the cushion you need for emergencies, vacations, and more. You will always do it FIRST and you will build an amount equal to at least 6 months of your monthly expenses. This means that you add the Monthly Expenses and Other Expenses columns and multiply by 6 for your “cushion” factor. So if your expenses are $2,500 per month, you need at least $15,000 in an account that will be for extreme emergencies or if you lose your job.
If you live in an area or work in a field where it can sometimes be difficult to find work, you may want to use a higher value, say 9 or 12 months. Anything over this amount in the account can be for regular emergencies, car breakdowns, refrigerator breakdowns, etc. should be in an account that does not have easy access. You should make it a separate account, better yet – make it a separate bank across town. Also, make it easy not to even see it. It’s best if an allocation or savings directly from your job is sent directly to the bank so you never see it. The idea is to make your savings fund difficult to access. If you don’t see it, you won’t spend it.
With that thought in mind, if you can get your paycheck sent directly to the bank, do so. Cashing your check and rolling it around in your pocket until the next paycheck is the surest way to make it disappear. One day it’s there, then the next day you don’t know what happened – but it’s gone! For your whole life, you won’t be able to tell where the money went, but it will be gone and you won’t have anything to show back.
Which brings us to walk around money, you have to build it into your budget. Whether you label it as entertainment or lunch money or operating funds or something else, it needs to be factored into your budget. If you don’t, you’ll almost certainly end up missing every month – too many months and not enough money. And if that sounds like a weekly (better) or monthly allowance, it is. But it’s not your parents trying to control you, it’s you trying to control and manage your spending – for your success. A subtle difference, but it may reassure your ego.
Now back to monthly bills. You should already have added the two expense columns. If you’ve factored everything in correctly, these will be your total expenses for the month. If you find you’re missing something, just add it and revise your totals. Not all of the money you allocate to expenses will be spent each month. It is not free or found money. Remember that you have accounted for all of your expenses for the year so that some of them will be paid later in the year when the bill appears. It won’t be a shock because you’ve already set aside most or all of that money – open a separate account for expenses so you don’t accidentally spend it before the bill arrives. Any money you have that exceeds your total expenses should be placed in the emergency portion of your savings fund to help you build it up faster. Remember that once the emergency portion is built, excess funds can be allocated to larger items and your regular savings fund.
In addition, the money you entered in the other income column must be placed in your savings fund. This will build up both parts of your savings fund faster.
Now, what if you added up your expenses and they were more than your income? You have two ways to solve this problem, more income or less expenses. If you need more income you may need to take a second job or if you are married your partner gets a job. Even a part-time job can help. You can sell things you no longer use; a garage sale is a good start, or selling the spare car you never use. How about selling the dirt bike that has been in the garage for two years, wouldn’t that money help you? What about clothes that are outdated and still in good condition? They can be sold in a consignment store. How about electronics, cell phones and mp-3 players that you no longer use? They are perfect to put on EBay or other service site.
Whether or not you can increase your income, you must also reduce your expenses. There are easy ways and hard ways to do it. Here are some simple ways. Don’t buy books, go to the public library and borrow them. You can also borrow CDs and DVDs from most libraries. If you go out to dinner 3 or 4 times a week, cut it down to once every two weeks, make it a special night. Or once a week, feed the kids early, then after they’ve gone to their room for the night, you and your partner can have a quiet dinner by candlelight – much better than going out. Just having a quiet dinner at home can save $100 a week. Another idea, go for the smallest cable package, remove the premium channels. And one of pickpockets’ biggest expenses is stopping in for a coffee at Starbucks every day. Prepare your own and it could save you over $120 per month. Don’t forget the video rental store, renting a movie and staying home instead of going to the movies could save you $20 per person per movie night – this one adds up quickly. Just look at the general categories (entertainment, etc.) of your budget and you should find something you can eliminate or change that can save you over $100 a week.
Now let’s look at the difficult routes. Things you make payments for and don’t need can be sold or returned to the lending authority funding the item. We may not want to give up our toys, but extra boats, motorcycles, cars all need to be eliminated. Cars that you pay $1,000 a month can be sold, and you can buy a car with a payment of $500. Net $500 a month and you can still get to work. This tip alone can also lower your annual taxes and monthly insurance for more savings. In today’s economy, some dealerships are even accepting return vehicles so they don’t have to find and take them back. It’s not a popular choice, but the idea is to get you to a point where you can pay off your debts with your existing monthly income.
Another idea is that if you are renting in an expensive neighborhood or area, find a less expensive rental. There are plenty of safe neighborhoods that don’t cost an arm and a leg to live in. With the market as it is, many landlords have no choice but to lower the rent in the higher neighborhoods. If this is an option, you need to consider all the factors, transportation costs, grocery store availability, school quality, daycare, etc. yourself. Living in an expensive neighborhood does nothing for your family except drain your resources. But get out of debt and financially secure IS something positive for your family. There will be many things in your budget to consider and many ways to reduce it. You just have to watch it carefully.
We talked about implementing the budget we built in Part 1 of this series. And we looked for ways to get to where we pay all our bills with our monthly income. In the upcoming part three of this series, we’ll talk about continuing to implement our budget and ways to get out of the trap overnight — and pretty much debt-free.
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