Making a budget is a great idea, but requires some action to make it happen. Sticking to that budget is just as important to financial success and also requires work. But budgets with oversights can make your hard work useless. To ensure that your budget is realistic and worthwhile, be sure to avoid these common mistakes.
1. Not Having a System
Keeping track of your money (both incoming and outgoing) is an important part of budgeting. But a scattered mess of receipts will not help you. Spreadsheets, software or mobile phone apps can simplify and streamline the budgeting process — find out which works best for you. Reviewing your spending regularly ensures the most accurate and helpful budget. It’s a good idea to set some time aside each week or month to track the flow of money into and out of your wallet. Making it a habit will increase your success and make any budget updates go quickly.
2. Dishonest Tracking
Exactly how much did you spend on groceries? On happy hour? On the online shopping sale? “Adjusting” your numbers before entering them into the budget makes keeping a balance impossible. Track the money you spend, then identify needs and wants and assess which expenses should stay for the future budget and which should go. Setting unrealistically low spending limits can hurt just as much as overspending — looking at actual numbers from the past few months can help set attainable goals.
3. Not Having an Emergency Fund
Another way to make sure your budget is realistic is by being prepared for the unexpected. From medical costs to maintenance and repairs, irregular costs add up. Instead of maxing out your credit cards or running your credit limit, add some wiggle room to your budget by starting an emergency fund. A modest amount can keep you safe when tough times and unexpected costs hit. Remember, this is separate from your other savings (like retirement and home down payments) — which you should not leave out of the equation. Ideally, a deposit to your emergency fund is a monthly expense factored into your budget.
4. Forgetting Yearly and Seasonal Expenses
Insurance premiums and property taxes aren’t usually charged by the month but they do require some of your attention and your funds. It’s easy to forget about these bills that don’t arrive regularly, but to pay the total bill at once you must be prepared. One approach is dividing the lump sum and allocating one twelfth of the amount to each month’s budget.
5. Being Too Rigid
Many of your expenses will likely fluctuate. While it is easiest to assume static food, clothing and shelter costs each month, it is also important to be somewhat flexible with your budget. For instance, the holidays and summer weekends may require some extra funds compared to the average week. An inflexible budget will make it difficult to save money and can affect your ability to accurately view your finances.
Budgeting is an empowering financial tool that can help you achieve your dreams and keep you out of debt — taking the time to create the right budget for your lifestyle enables you to control your money. If you find your budget failing or your money disappearing, take a closer look and recognize the missteps you could be making. Debt can be a major force in your financial life through its impact to your credit scores. You can monitor how it’s affecting your credit every month for free on Credit.com.
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