This was published in the New Haven Register on July 10, 2017.
Are you controlling your money, or is it controlling you? If you have trouble saving for retirement and wonder where the money went at the end of each month, the answer is to create and follow a budget. Don’t run — this can be fun!
Your first step is to develop the proper attitude: Realize that following a budget is not a painful discipline imposed from above, but rather an interesting way to gain control over your finances and ensure that your money goes where it matters most. It’s a foundation of personal finance, financial planning and retirement planning. Here are some budgeting tips:
Get Your Spouse on Board. You can commit to spending limits and a savings strategy, but if there are boxes arriving every day on your doorstep from Amazon with goodies you didn’t order, you have a problem. Develop a strategy that involves a household budget, meaning it includes you, your spouse and anyone else living in your home. Bring them in on the process from the start.
Understand Your Financial Habits. You don’t have to track every penny you spend to create a budget, but it can be surprisingly helpful to do so, at least for the first month or so. That’s because most people don’t realize the extent of their spending or know what they spend their money on. It’s easier to see areas where you can cut spending when you understand your spending patterns. If you continue to track spending it can help you stay on your budget plan.
Make a Plan and Follow It. As with many endeavors started with good intentions, the tricky part is sticking with it over the long haul. You can get help creating a budget, a savings plan and an investment strategy from a financial advisor or Certified Financial Planner. The key to following your plan is to stay motivated. For instance, identify how much money you save every month and think about how you plan to spend that money. Give yourself a small reward every month that you hit your budget targets.
Place Savings at the Top of Your Priority List. One of the best-known keys to successful budgeting is to put saving first, often expressed by the phrase, “Pay yourself first.” You can do that by participating in automatic savings programs that send part of your paycheck directly into a retirement savings account, and simply by transferring money into your savings account before paying the bills.
Make It Reasonable. If your budget leaves no room for spending on fun activities or items, you will become too unhappy to continue following it. Life is meant to be enjoyable, and you can simply include things you enjoy in your budget — movies, eating out, purchasing books or video games, traveling. Just avoid the temptation to overspend in this area, a common way people bust their budgets.