Have you ever pulled a $20 out of the ATM and two hours later you have no idea how you spent the money?
That’s why you need a spending plan. Most of us spend small amounts of money everyday on things that we don’t event remember buying. That $1 soda at work takes up $240 a year. How many times have you walked into a store to grab 1 thing and come out with waaaaaay more than just 1 thing? All this extra spending on small things is part of the reason you may be in debt.
Having a spending plan is a way to help you recognize what you’ve been spending your money on and what changes you may want to make. It works like this:
1) Go through your bank statements and credit card statements. Put the money you spent in categories so you can see what you spent your money on. I use a software program because it’s easier than writing everything down. Notice all the money that you spent on non-essential items.
2) Don’t freak out when you see how much money you waste every month.
3) Make a list of your fixed expenses; the bills that you have to pay every month. For example, your rent/mortgage, lights, water, gas, car insurance, credit cards, etc.
4) Make a list of your variable expenses; the bills that you have to pay sometimes. For example, your yearly payment for your magazine subscriptions, your quarterly tax payments if you’re self employed, etc.
5) Make a line on your list that says, “me”. You are going to start paying yourself every month just like you pay everyone else. Creating, or adding to, an emergency fund is one of the main reasons you need a spending plan. Take all that money you’ve been wasting and put it into an account that you can use when you’re in a jam. I suggest trying to build up 6 – 12 month’s worth of income. When an emergency comes, and there will always be an emergency, you’ll be ready.
6) Make a line that says, “retirement”. I don’t care if you haven’t even opened a retirement account and you can only put $5 in it. You’re going to start putting money aside for your old age. As your account swells with cash you can take time to think about where you’d like to invest it. The first step is to start. The more you put away now, the less you’ll have to worry later. Compound interest will make a huge difference in your retirement lifestyle.
7) Whatever money you have left, go wild! You know what your fixed expenses will cost every month, what your upcoming variable expenses will be, you’ve put money away for your emergency fund, and you’re started contributing to your retirement account. The money left over is called your “discretionary income”. Take this money and enjoy yourself knowing that you’re doing everything you need to be doing to become, or stay, financially stable.
If you find that you don’t have enough income to cover all your expenses listed on your spending plan, then you have two choices. You’re going to have to increase your income or reduce your expenses and no, cutting out saving for your emergency fund and/or your retirement fund are not options.
You are responsible for your life. You have the power to be financially stable, or not, by making smart choices…… and that’s why you need a spending plan.