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Budget Basics

Considering the images that are typically evoked by the thought of a budget it’s not surprising that many people don’t like the thought of budgeting. Many people hear the word budget and they cringe, at least inside. For some reason the very word budget has been given a negative connotation in our society. It brings up images of deprivation, limitations and constraint. But is that really what a budget is? I think not, in fact I think of my budget as exactly the opposite, something that is freeing and offers a way to enjoy myself more without guilt.

At its core a budget basics are simply a way to plan your spending so you can focus on putting your money to its best use. If you’re already under a heavy debt load then a budget could mean that you need to cut back on some aspects of your life such as eating out, partying or buying expensive toys. However you can always go back to those things once your debt is under control.

A budget makes your income and expenses much clearer and gives you a way to make conscious decisions about your spending. This is very different than spending on a whim and ending up broke at the end of each month. We all have things that waste our money, but with a budget you can eliminate the worst offenders. If you have financial goals (and all of us do) then a budget will help you to plan how you are going to achieve those goals whether they are short term goals like buying a new TV or longer term goals such as taking an exotic vacation with your spouse to even lifetime goals such as retirement.

Budgeting is very different for every person and the way your neighbor or co-worker budgets may not be right for you. Only you will know how to create a budget that you can stick with to help you meet your goals. Some people can make a mental budget and are fine following that. I’ve always found that small expenses tend to creep in when I try to follow a mental budget. These expenses seem insignificant at the time, but when added up can mean several hundred dollars of frivolous purchases by the end of a month. People like me need to write their budget down, use a spreadsheet or some other budgeting tool such as You Need A Budget. It helps keep us focused and accountable.

There are many good reasons to use a budget. Some of the most common are:

  1. Working to get yourself out of a high debt situation
  2. Saving for a major purchase like a down payment on a house
  3. Working towards a large financial goal such as retirement or college education
  4. Dealing with limited income
  5. Trying to live more frugally and simplify your life

I’m sure you can think of others; which is the reason why everyone needs to plan their own budget that focuses on their own goals and what’s important to them.

No matter what goals you have with your budget, the budget exists to help you plan and most importantly to be conscious of how you spend your money. This may be a bit of a chore when you first start out, but you’ll soon find that a budget can also be enjoyable. It can show us how to have more money for the fun things we want to do.

Consider this:
If you buy your lunch out every day and spend $6 on average you’re spending over $1500 a year on take-out food for lunch alone. Add a dinner out on Friday and maybe a few drinks on the weekend and you’re easily spending over $3000 a year that could be put to better use. What if you saved that money and put it towards your retirement so you could stop working several years earlier. Or you could use it to take a dream vacation. Maybe you need it for your child’s education or even your own. In the long run you’re going to get more enjoyment from these things than you get from those fast food lunches.

One thing you should be aware of when you start using your first budget is that while it will give you a good guide of what you should do, it won’t be able to change your bad money management habits. Only you can take the steps to change your own behavior regarding money. Without the commitment from you to change your own spending and saving habits your budget isn’t worth the paper it’s written on or the bytes it takes up on your computer.

At the end of the day your budget should give you a clear picture of reality, the reality of how much you earn and how much you spend. Some people shy away from creating a budget for this very reason. They know that their spending is irresponsible and they are afraid of confronting the reality. Don’t be! The very best way to start enjoying your money and your life more is to consciously plan where your money gets spent and thus take control of your money, rather than letting it control you.

You’ll find that the act of writing down where your money goes will make it much easier (and more enjoyable) to make decisions about how to spend the limited amount of money you have. And if you can attach a goal to your finances such as paying off credit cards, retiring early, taking a well deserved vacation or whatever you value you’ll find that it’s actually very easy to make conscious decisions about how to spend (or save) your money.

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