Good for you on trying to find some help for your budget! Seeking out budgeting tips is the first step in making your budget more effective for you. The first step is, yes, a budget can be very helpful if used in a constructive way. If it’s only promotes guilt and shame, then you need to re-think your attitude. With that, here are some helpful budgeting tips:
Include ALL sources of income and expenses. Your budget is only as good as the information you put into it. If you aren’t painfully honest in what your expenses and income are, your budget won’t work. If you fail to include your quarterly HOA dues or that annual supply fee that your kids’ daycare requires each year, your are going to have a very hard time sticking to a budget.
Plan for life’s extra things. Doesn’t it always seem like something pops up that requires money to solve? This can include everything from buying the kids new school clothes and budgeting for those Christmas gifts to putting money aside for your co-pays on doctors visits. Remember; birthdays, holidays (Valentine’s Day), anniversaries, and other occasions happen on the same day every year. Either plan for the day or don’t celebrate the day.
Be realistic about food. A family’s food or grocery expense is often the most difficult to budget for. After all, who spends exactly the same amount at the grocery store each week? Then factor in the reality that most people today eat out a few times a week (at least) as well. And your bill at the restaurant can vary depending on where you go and what you order. Budgeting tips for food are tricky, but you can look at what your average monthly grocery bill is to get you started. Then also consider your average restaurant tab. Most banks offer online tools that will make this averaging easy for you. Otherwise, you may have to dig through some old bank statements to crunch numbers by hand. But because food is one of your bigger expenses, this one is definitely a figure you want to get right if you want an accurate budget. And, trust me, the eating out is what’s killing your budget, not the grocery store.
Use your budget. Probably the most underused tip. Simple but easy. Making a budgeting and researching all the budgeting tips in the world aren’t going to help you make ends meet and keep you from over-spending each month if you don’t use your budget. Your budget is a great tool that can help you to keep tabs on how you are doing. Make it a habit to refer back to your budget on a regular basis – daily or weekly if necessary. Look at what you’ve spent so far for the month, how much income you still have coming in that month, and what expenses you need to pay for. Then you can very quickly determine if you have the extra spending cash to go to the movies that night or if you should watch a show on the TV.
Creating and maintaining a budget requires a conscience effort. I used to freak out every time I had to reconcile my bank account. Because I’d done very little with my budget most of the month, I now had to reconcile a massive amount of receipts. Not fun. Instead of fretting each month, I reconciled every day. Did it take more time? Maybe. More than anything, it gave me piece of mind knowing that I knew exactly how much I could spend the next day. Very empowering indeed.