Do you ever get the feeling you should be able to save more, but can’t quite put your finger on where all the money is going? Or worse, is your credit card balance steadily growing?
If so, it’s time to get serious about your budget.
First, gather the statements from your checking accounts and credit card accounts for the past three months. If you have more than one checking account and credit card, consider consolidating to one to simplify the task of monitoring your spending going forward.
List each expense, maybe on an Excel sheet, or in a designated software like Mint or Prism. (I find that downloading credit card data into such software often produces overly general categories, so you may need to manually enter the best categories.)
Once you have listed all your expenses in categories like dining out, gifts, utilities, mortgage and insurance, you may find some immediate surprises. Many people are amazed to see how much they spend on items like dining out and ordering in, on long-forgotten e-subscriptions or on children’s birthday gifts. (If you have several small children, you may be a familiar face in the Walmart toy section). Each expense may not be prohibitive, but, added together, some of our habits can be real drains on our wallets.
Consider changing some habits by, for example, making dinner a couple of times more per week. It may be too hard to completely abandon certain expenditures you enjoy; instead, do it less frequently and make those occasions all the more special. Look forward to dinner out with the family every Friday.
When attempting to reduce your spending, make sure to look at large items like insurance and mortgage. Are you overpaying? Maybe your not-so-new car no longer needs comprehensive coverage, or at least you can raise the deductible. For your mortgage, is there a chance you could benefit from a refinance?
If you carry credit card debt from month to month, you may be paying more than 10% interest. That’s more than you likely can earn on your investments — not good. See if you can consolidate your more expensive loans into something with a lower interest rate. Eventually, aim to pay these debts off.
As you embark on changing your habits, which is hard, continue to log your spending. Hopefully, you’ll be encouraged to see your spending going down, and you may find that the initial pain from missing out on certain things is well worth your improved financial situation.
Jorgen Vik is a certified financial planner and partner with SKV Group LLC.