Tired of living paycheck to paycheck?
Believe me, I hear you. So many people are stuck in this endless cycle, struggling and scrambling to pay their bills every month. Oftentimes, ending up with little to nothing in their pocket.
Have you ever sat down and actually calculated your income and expenses, making sure you are living within your means? Taking the time and making a budget, will help you find the money that seems to be disappearing each month. You will be able to track your expenses, make any necessary changes and eventually reach your financial goals.
Whether your goal is to buy a home, build a “rainy day” fund, pay off debt, or even save for retirement, making a budget is the first step to financial freedom.
CALCULATE YOUR NET INCOME
Seems simple enough, right? Basically, before you can even start making a budget, you need to figure out exactly how much money ends up in your pocket every month. This is very simple to do if you are paid on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.
If you are paid on a weekly basis, take your weekly check amount and multiply by 52 (weeks in a year). Divide the number by 12 (months in a year), and you have your monthly net income. If you are paid on a bi-weekly basis, take your bi-weekly check amount and multiply by 26 (1/2 the number of weeks in a year). Divide the number by 12 (months in a year), and you have your monthly net income.
Things become a bit trickier if your monthly pay varies or you are salaried. If this is the case, make an estimation of your total income for the month and use this number for your calculations.
PAY YOUR TITHE FIRST
If you pay a tithe to your Church, make sure you do this first, before paying any bills. Oftentimes, it is helpful if we automatically have the 10% withdrawn from our accounts every time we get paid. This way, it is as if we never had the money in the first place, so we won’t notice its absence.
If we leave our tithes until the end of the month, we may be left struggling to meet our financial obligation. I have also tried to put tithe money aside and noticed that I would end up spending a portion of it whenever an “emergency” came up. To prevent this, it is smart to pay your tithe first before paying any of your other bills.
BUILD AN EMERGENCY FUND
Have you heard the saying to “pay yourself first”? Well, it couldn’t ring truer. Experts say that we should always have enough in our savings account to sustain us for at least eight months. Now, this can definitely seem daunting at first, but the point is to reach this goal little by little. Aim to initially save $1,000. When you have reached that goal, aim to save another $1,000, and so on.
A little bit goes a long way, and if an emergency ever arises, you will feel so much better knowing that you have put something aside for a “rainy day”. Like with tithing, we can even set up our bank accounts to automatically move a certain amount of money to our savings account with each paycheck. This can either be a percentage, such as 5% of your income, or a fixed number. Give it a try! At first, you may notice the missing money, but soon you won’t even realize it’s gone.
CALCULATE FIXED MONTLY EXPENSES
Your fixed monthly expenses are the bills you have to pay each month. This includes: rent or mortgage, utility bills, credit card bills, car insurance, student loan, etc. These are the bills that are an absolute necessity, and we cannot avoid. Make a list of your fixed expenses and determine the number that you need each month to take care of these responsibilities.
FOCUS ON PAYING OFF EXISTING DEBT
Ever heard of the snowball method? Dave Ramsey’s, The Total Money Makeover, describes this method in detail. It is a great tool to help you get out of debt. This book has been instrumental in creating our family budget and working towards total debt elimination. I don’t know about you, but the looming pressure of debt can sometimes feel so constricting. Our family is personally aiming to pay off all debt, including credit cards, mortgage, student loan and car payments, within the next five years.
How should you go about paying your debt? Start with the smallest balance first, which is usually a credit card. Work towards putting a little extra money each month towards that debt.
Once you have paid off your first debt, put the amount you were paying towards your next biggest debt balance. This way, the amount you pay creates a “snowball” effect. The extra money added to the new debt makes the snowball bigger and bigger. Eventually, you will find yourself debt free.
FIGURE OUT WHAT’S LEFT FOR YOU
After you have taken care of your monthly responsibilities, determine what is left over for you. This is money that will be used for food, gas and other “variable” monthly expenses, including fun money. Determine how much you will be allocating to each category and stick with it. When the money runs out for the month, that’s it. This is where the next step comes in, implementing a cash system.
USE A CASH SYSTEM
Have you noticed that when you use cash, it is a bit more difficult to part with? Swiping plastic is so easy. Almost, too easy. But, when you are forced to use cash, you will take more care with how much you are spending. Once you have figured out your categories for discretionary spending, having allocated a dollar amount, withdraw that amount of cash at the beginning of each month.
Next, put the money in an envelope dedicated to each category. I’m sure you have heard of the “envelope” method before, but left me tell you, it actually works! I find that when I do this, somehow I always manage to spend almost exactly what I allocated for that month. For example, I will go grocery shopping, intending to spend $70 dollars, and will literally spend $69.95. I am amazed by the effectiveness of this method.
Implement these steps for making a budget, and you will be left with something that is maintainable. Remember, if you have never created a budget before, take baby steps, because even small changes can make a huge difference. Pretty soon, you will be on your way to financial freedom and no longer living the paycheck to paycheck life.