If you are a regular reader of my blogs, you will know that I am a firm believer that it’s always important to budget, never more so than now as we all have increasing costs across the board. Believe me, if you take action today you will begin to feel like you are controlling your financial situation, not the other way around!
Sometimes it seems pointless to budget when you know you have more money going out than coming in. You may feel helpless. But a clear understanding and awareness of your finances is useful and you may come across costs you can cut or at least decrease.
But how do we do it? I hear you ask!
Setting up a budget means you’re:
less likely to end up in debt;
less likely to get caught out by unexpected costs;
more likely to have a good credit rating;
more likely to be accepted for a mortgage or loan; and
able to spot areas where you can make savings.
Make a start on knowing your outgoings
It will take a little effort, but following these steps is a great way to get a quick snapshot of the money you have coming in and going out.
To get started on your budget, you’ll need to work out how much you spend on:
financial products (insurance etc.),
family and friends (presents etc.),
travel (car costs, public transport, etc.), and
leisure (holidays, sport, restaurants, hairdressers, etc.)
Just grab as much information as you can about your income and spending (bills, bank statements, etc.) and get started. If you don’t keep these items in one place, it’s worth starting now. Remember to include all of the costs that you pay out monthly: don’t forget TV licences, maintenance costs, etc.
There are also some great free budgeting apps available and your bank or building society might have an online budgeting tool that takes information directly from your transactions.
Getting your budget back on track
Do you know where your money goes or does it just disappear? The first step of knowing your outgoings will help you to answer this question. Now you need to figure out how you can reduce your spending.
Start by calculating how much money you earn each month.
If you’re spending more than you have coming in, you need to work out where you can cut back — sometimes ruthlessly! You could also keep a spending diary and make a note of everything you buy in a month. It’s quite surprising, when you write everything down, to discover how much you spend. This isn’t the time to hide your own expenses from yourself! Be honest and note down all your spending.
While you are doing this, think of any costs you can cut and jot down a to-do list:
- Haggle with broadband and phone providers
A recent Which? Money survey found that out of 5000 customers 7 in 10 who switched to a new provider made a saving of between 13 and 16%. It’s a good idea to do your homework before you call and get some quotes from rivals.
- Shop around for groceries
It’s surprising what a difference this can make – Aldi, Lidl and Asda tend to be the cheapest.
- Avoid convenience stores
Sometimes it’s easy to pop into Tesco Express or Sainsburys Local if you’ve forgotten something, but it’s a good idea to not buy much there. They tend to charge more than the regular supermarkets because of higher rents and rates. The key here is to plan ahead as much as possible.
- Check you aren’t overpaying council tax
Are you taking advantage of your 25% discount if you are living alone, under 18, full time student or severely mentally impaired?
- Monitor your appliance usage
Try not to use a tumble drier and use a 30 degree wash if possible – this will cut your energy usage by 38% compared with a 40 degree wash. You may be on a tariff where using your appliances at certain times of the day is cheaper so check it out with your provider.
- Don’t heat your whole home
Try and use portable electric heaters for a short while rather than putting on your central heating. Also use hot water bottles and blankets, and wear layers.
Get everyone involved
Get everyone in your family involved in keeping to a budget. Sit down together and make a plan that you can all stick to.
Work out how much spending money is available and agree between you what you’ll each have.
Life is unpredictable, as we know! So try to review your budget and your spending if there’s a change, or at least every couple of months. We never know what is around the corner, so if things change then make sure you update your budget.
Once you get the hang of tracking your expenses, you can try using a service like Mint to manage it for you.
Connect your bank account and it will automatically tag your transactions, so you can easily see how much you’re spending on bills, groceries, restaurants, shopping, and other categories. You can also use it to set budgets for different things like groceries or entertainment and get notified when you’re going over.
Stick to Your Budget
It is easy to spend more than you make, and if you stop tracking your spending you can go over and run up debt really quickly. Learning how to budget helps you decide how to spend your money. Without the plan, you may spend your money on things that are not important to you and cause stress that you don’t need.
Budgeting is one of those things I notice is on people’s lists and tends to remain there! It seems like a massive effort to get it sorted but it really isn’t as long as you pace yourself. Go for it and get it done as you will find it an incredibly useful exercise!