One of the most popular New Year’s resolutions is to get on a budget and stay there. Yet many people don’t accomplish even the first step. Just 58 percent of Americans track their spending against a monthly budget, according to a Bankrate.com survey.
Want this year to be different? You’ll have to commit some time to analyze your current spending in order to find ways to fine-tune it, and some time to track your progress and make adjustments.
Here are three steps to get you started:
1. Put together a comprehensive list of all payments you must make on a regular basis. It should include your rent or mortgage payment, utilities, debt payments and periodic expenses like car insurance that may not be due each month. Don’t forget to include savings, for emergencies, short-term goals and retirement. Websites like Mint.com can help you organize your spending by pulling together data from different bank accounts and credit cards. Your bank may also offer similar tools through online banking.
2. Track your day-to-day spending for at least a week. Use a system that works for you: a spreadsheet, an app like Xpenser, Pennies or Cashish or old-fashioned pen and paper to keep a daily record. The more precise you are, the clearer the picture you’ll get of where your money goes.
3. Examine your lists to separate needs from wants, and start trimming the wants (entertainment expenses, for example) until you’ve brought your spending in line with your income. Still not balancing out? Take a closer look at your needs to see if there are ways to reduce those costs. The grocery store, where overspending can be unconscious as you roam the aisles, is often a good place to begin. Try shopping with a list, tracking sales and eating simpler meals to trim your total at the register.
FOR MORE: Try using an app like Pageonce or a website like Manilla.com to keep track of when your bills are due. Check out Billshrink.com to help you find lower-cost cellphone plans, credit cards and gasoline.
READ: “The 10 Commandments of Money,” by Liz Weston or “7 Money Rules for Life,” by Mary Hunt. Or follow the steps in “The Budget Kit, The Common Cents Money Management Workbook,” by Judy Lawrence.