With the dawn of another January upon us and credit card statements beginning to reveal the full extent of the damage done with Christmas shopping, now is the time when many Americans get serious about living within their means for the year ahead.
Unfortunately for many of us, the decisions of our past mean we have some cleaning up to do before we turn the corner of financial responsibility.
Avoid Immediate Drastic Changes
Before you can even begin to create a realistic budget for yourself, you need to know where, on what and how much youíre currently spending. Take the time to look at your bank and credit card statements for the last regular month (donít use December ó Christmas spending throws everything off) and take note of where your money goes.† Adding up expenses in different areas will likely reveal frivolous spending that can be cut down or eliminated.† †
Once you identify these areas, itís tempting to make the resolution to completely stop spending money in those ways. However, if your frivolous spending habits are deeply rooted in your lifestyle, you might have to take moderate steps to reduce spending rather than eliminating it. Just as you canít go from couch potato to marathoner in a day, committing to a budget takes time, discipline and training. This means that you might have to phase in your budget over several months in order to achieve success.
Donít Forget Savings
Itís hard to save when youíre trying to cover current expenses and pay off existing debt. However, itís important to build up some savings to cover future financial catastrophesówhich are sure to come sooner or lateróand avoid the creation of additional future debt.
If possible, consolidate credit card debt at a zero percent or low interest rate that will allow you to prioritize saving in the short term and retire debt once you have $500 to $1,000 in your savings account for future unforeseen needs.
Find (and Use) the Right Tools
To successfully transition to living on a budget, you need to find the strategy and tools that youíre most likely to use. For some, this might mean using cash envelopes. For others, the use of a mobile app to track expenses by department might be more appropriate. Itís important to remember that budgeting is not ďone size fits all,Ē and there are tools available for every personality.
Donít Give Up
Unexpected expenses creep up. Your best estimates can turn out wrong. You wonít be a budget guru your first month. It takes time to understand everything that crops up in the course of a typical budget month and to begin to understand how to deal with those variables. Despite these challenges, donít give up. Stick to it, be flexible and let your budget take on a life of its own that reflects your priorities and goals for a better 2014.
†Formed in 1974, the Independent Bankers Association of Texas (IBAT) represents Texas community banks. The Austin-based group is the largest state community banking organization in the nation, with membership comprised of more than 2,000 banks and branches in 700 Texas communities. Providing safe and responsible financial services to all Texans, IBAT member bank assets range in size from $10 million to $20 billion with combined assets statewide of nearly $165 billion. IBAT member banks are committed to supporting and investing in their local communities.