Budgeting is considered a big step toward financial health, but it requires meticulous attention to the amount of money is coming in and going out to meet goals. Sometimes, those hard numbers shatter the denial that lets us pay for things we can't afford. But if you're serious about a budget, resources such as worksheets help get you started on the road to fiscal fitness.
The key to budgeting is paying attention to every dollar coming in and going out. Even if you use a software program such as Quicken or YNAB, both of which download transactions from your bank, you will still need to pay attention to how much you're spending and how to avoid overspending. If you write down all your income and expenses and the expenses exceed the income, you must either increase your income or trim your expenses. Do not trim essentials, such as insurance, MSN recommends. Trim restaurant or movie trips.
People develop various budgeting strategies according to their lifestyles. For example, a couple may put one spouse's income toward monthly expenses and the other spouse's income toward debt and savings. Families can see what budget would work best for them. One budgeting strategy endorsed by MSN Money is the 50/30/20 budget. With this budget, your monthly living expenses and "must haves" such as tuition should fit within 50 percent of your income. Thirty percent of your income should be "wants." This category includes cable television and other expenditures you could actually live without. The final 20 percent goes to savings and debt repayment. Another MSN writer suggested the 60 percent solution by which 60 percent goes to basic life expenses and the other 40 is divided evenly between retirement, long term savings, short term savings and entertainment.
Most budget worksheets have spaces for you to enter rent or mortgage, utilities, food, clothing and so forth. Some of them have extra options such as pet care and vacation savings. Find the budget worksheet that you can adapt to include all your expenses. Some options are on the Kiplinger website and the National Federation for Credit Counselors website.
Once you've started your budget, you have to develop the habit of keeping it. That means writing everything down in your worksheet or software program and making adjustments to money management. Some software, like YNAB will actually trim your budget for this month on an item if you overspent last month. But self-discipline is key. Liz Pulliam Weston, MSN columnist and author of the article said she and her husband needed a year to change their money management to fit their budget.
Jane Doyle has been writing for newspapers and magazines for more than 30 years. She served as associate editor for a business/lifestyle publication and has written articles for magazines ranging from "Bank Director" to "Natural Home." Doyle holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Kansas.