Learning how to make a budget isn’t as tedious (or depressing) as it seems. Budgets actually give you more freedom because you don’t have to worry about what you’re spending. You’ll know automatically whether something is affordable or whether it’s something you’ll have to save for, and that—all by itself—can have a big impact on what you decide to purchase.
Get your financial health in order by following these simple steps:
- Figure out where your money is going. Most people set a budget based on how much money is coming in, and because of that, they feel restrained right from the get-go. Instead, write where your money is already going. Apps like Mint can help track your spending, but it can’t catch everything, so make sure you mark down all of your expenses in some way. Take a picture of your receipts, use a notepad or make an audio note whenever you purchase something. At the end of the month, tally it all up, and place each purchase into a category. You’ll be surprised by the results, and you’ll find yourself making small, helpful changes even if you don’t make a full budget stick.
- Invest in the services you really use. Similarly, take a look at your monthly bills—cable, phones, internet, gym membership and other recurring expenses set on autopilot. How many do you really use? How many do you use to their full benefit? If there are services you’re not taking advantage of, look for lower cost alternatives. For instance, if you only work out at the gym once a week, paying a daily rate might be more affordable than a monthly membership fee, even when discounts for classes are taken into consideration. Set your budget for services on what you’ll really use, based on what you’re already using.
- Shrink your electricity budget. Heating, cooling and basic electricity use can take up a huge portion of your budget, so look for ways to cut back. Check your thermostat for programmable features, and figure out how they work. While these units are commonly found in homes, they’re only put to use by 10 percent of homeowners, so chances are you’re missing out on big savings simply by avoiding a simple learning process. Turning lights off when you leave the room, keeping large appliances well-maintained and cutting back on your use of hot water are all big ways to save.Electric vampires are another common source of electricity waste. Unused chargers, large appliances and other gadgets that aren’t being used while being plugged in don’t add hundreds to your bill every month, but they do add up over time. Invest in one of the new power source plug-ins that switch off unused items, or invest a few dollars in upgrading your light bulbs. The latest smartbulbs are especially handy and really do save you money. You’ll be surprised how far you can shrink your utility budget with a few small tweaks.
- Make luxuries special. Many consumers delight in small luxuries—gourmet coffees, fast food breakfasts, high-priced salon items used day-to-day. When enjoyed on a regular basis, they’re easy to be taken for granted. Make them special again by relegating them back to specialty status. It’s one of the first steps in getting serious when learning how to make a budget. Reserve coffees for Sundays out with friends or rent the latest video game to reward yourself for finally getting the basement clean. By changing everyday treats back into luxuries, you can seriously shrink the amount of money you spend on treating yourself, and you’ll appreciate these purchases more in the process.
- Eat more green to save more green. Meatless Mondays started as a health initiative to get people to eat less meat and more vegetables. Making sure you eat something leafy and green once a day is important to improving your diet, and it’s relatively easy to do. It’s also good for your budget, as three pounds of Kale is much more affordable than three pounds of beef or salmon. Challenge yourself to eat meat-free a few days of the week, and you’ll see a big change in your grocery expenses.Don’t know where to start? Try these dishes for a simple, tasty vegetarian try-out: lentil soup, black bean salad, cashew noodles, honey-roasted red potatoes, spinach and feta pasta, and zucchini-potato bake.
- Get used to saving. Most of us carry around a cache of change in the car. Get used to taking this money inside and storing it in a safe place, like a kitchen jar. Once a month—versus when it’s full—make a stop at the bank. This is a small step toward building up a savings, but over time, you’ll get into the habit of saving extra money instead of considering it free money to blow on random purchases.
We hope these tips on how to make a budget will help you stretch your budget further than ever before. However, if you need a bit of wiggle room, a title pawn can help. Call or visit your nearest Title Tree store to find out whether you qualify.