After you have taken the steps in the last post, do the following too.
1. Make a budget
I know, it’s a dreaded word for most of us. But it’s not that hard, and if you set it up right, it’s fairly simple. I recommend using a simple spreadsheet. List all your regular expenses (rent, car, utilities, internet, etc.) and their amounts, and then your variable expenses (groceries, gas, eating out, etc.), and then your irregular expenses (things like car maintenance or medical that might not come up every month, but break them into estimated monthly expenses. Now match that up against your income. The expenses should be less.
2. Automate your bills
As much as possible, try to get your bills to be paid through automatic deduction. For those that can’t, use your bank’s online check system to make regular automatic payments. This way, all of your regular expenses in your budget are taken care of. Make sure that your savings is done the same way – automatic deduction.
3. Save for your irregular expenses
Some call it a Project Account, but the key to ensuring that you have smooth finances and that you stick to your budget is to take into account all your irregular expenses, such as insurance, car maintenance or repairs, gifts (think Christmas!), medical and other such things. List them out, estimate your annual spending, and begin saving for them each month. You could set up different accounts for each expense or put it all in one account and use a spreadsheet to keep track of each. Then, and here’s the key, when these expenses come up, use that money for those expenses! That way, you can use your regular budget for the stuff it’s meant for, not for these “unexpected” expenses.
4. Use the envelope system for your variable expenses such as food and gas
This is optional, but it’s a good tip. I’ve been using it myself, and it works like a charm. Let’s say you set aside three amounts in your budget each payday — one for gas, one for groceries, one for eating out. Withdraw those amounts on payday, and put them in three separate envelopes. That way, you can easily track how much you have left for each of these expenses, and when you run out of money, you know it immediately. You don’t overspend in these categories. If you regularly run out too fast, you may need to rethink your budget.
5. Start thinking about your goals, and planning for them
When do you want to retire? How often do you want to travel? When do you want to buy that dream house? Do you want to save for your kids’ college education? Think about what you want in life, and start planning to save for them, especially once you’ve done all the above.
Once you’ve gotten beyond these steps, you should be past the paycheck-to-paycheck syndrome. Now there’s a whole world of personal finance options available to you, including investing your money for your goals. But getting past these first stages is important.