Whether you’re a recent college graduate, a parent, millennial working at their fourth start up, boomer working their nine to five until the sweet day they reach retirement, etc. you probably have some sort of debt or monthly payments that you dread giving parts of your paycheck to. When one is working a job where they’re making a steady income and also have acquired debt to be paid off, it’s important to set financial goals, both short and long term, for yourself so you can budget enough that your bills are being paid, but also give yourself room for some leisure.
The biggest tip that we all are aware of is to budget yourself. Obviously, this can be easier said than done, especially when unexpected expenses pop up every other week, however, setting a general standard of spending for yourself is the best way to ensure that you’re remaining financially responsible. Budgeting itself can mean a whole bunch of things, you can work with your bank, use one of the hundreds of apps on the market, use a financial advisor, or just go old fashion and write it all out. Either way, having an organized format of your monthly expenses laid out in front of you is the best way to understand areas where you can make improvements.
First, you’re going to want to write down what payments are mandatory to get done monthly. This would include car payments, rent, electric, water, heating, etc. just make sure this section includes every bill that you know you’ll receive at the end of every billing cycle. Next write out your necessary monthly/weekly expenses that go beyond a physical bill and would be paid for with either a credit or debit card. For example, groceries, toiletries, cleaning supplies, etc. basically anything that won’t show up in the mail as one bill for the whole payment. Now, write out additional purchases that you make weekly/monthly that aren’t necessities, for example, daily coffee purchases, clothing/accessories, electronics, etc. Finally, write out whatever debts you have, and how often those payments are and if they’ve even started yet. Now you have all monthly expenses laid out in front of you, and you can work to figure out the best way to manage all of it.
“It’s very important to always prioritize saving money [if you can]. This is because your savings is the foundation of financial health. The mistake I see a lot of people make is that they focus solely on paying off debt and find themselves in a situation where they need money for an unexpected expense. Since they don’t have savings, they have to resort back to using debt to cover the costs and dig a debt hole once again,” Danetha Doe, personal finance expert and creator of Money & Mimosas tells Yahoo News.
Doe’s point about unexpected purchases is extremely important. You need to have some sort of cushion in case, for example, you have an unplanned medical expense, your car breaks down, your pet needs a surgery or any other type of purchase that can’t be planned for. Try to put a portion of your paycheck into your savings account every time you get paid. While it can be difficult, as for most you’re taking money out of an already small amount of weekly payment, however, your wallet will thank you when your car decides that it needs a new battery and that’s your only mode of transportation.
“How much money do you have to put towards your goals, whether that’s paying down debt or saving for a house? Look at your income versus your expenses; go through your bank statements from the last month or two to figure out your costs. If you have a surplus, that’s great,” she adds. She then suggests to thoughtfully determine how much you’re spending on your wants—dinner with friends and entertainment—because “you have to enjoy life—but you also want to identify hard figures to put toward your goals,” says Melissa Leong, author of the award-winning finance guide, Happy Go Money.
Leong is raising the other most important point when it comes to budgeting yourself. Not only do you need to ensure that you have a cushion for unexpected expenses, but you also need to look at what you’re spending money on that’s considered a “leisure” purchase, over a necessary expense. While you should definitely allow yourself the freedom to spend your money on entertainment, there is most likely areas in your spending that can be cut and help you save. For example, do you really need to spend $5 at Starbucks everyday for a coffee when you can just make a one time purchase for a nice coffee maker? How often are you going to the movies, or out to eat, or to the club etc. These are all experiences that you definitely should allow yourself to do, however, if you can reduce how often these purchases are made, both your savings and checking accounts will thank you. The last thing you want to do is fill your credit card bills with multiple “want” purchases that hinder you paying your actual bills/debt.
Credit card bills can be the number one culprit of prolonging paying off debts. Constantly charging your cards with weekly purchases will always catch up to you, and you could potentially find yourself at the end of the month figuring out what to give up for the next week, groceries or electricity. No one should be put in that position, so try to use your checking account for bigger necessary purchases so there’s no bill at the end of the month, leave the credit cards for cases where its really necessary and for when you know you’ll have the money to pay for the charge in a month.
If all else fails, work with a professional to budget out your monthly expenses and debts. Those individuals make it their business to help you live your life to the fullest while also avoiding digging yourself into deeper debt.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at email@example.com.