Before you start a financial life plan to invest in your future, you first must tackle the art of proper budgeting. Life throws plenty of curveballs, and getting a grip on your day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to-year monetary needs will help you when the time comes. Once you’ve developed a proper budget, you can begin to set life goals and figure out how to make them happen.
Unfortunately, budgeting can be very overwhelming for many. Thankfully, there are many great websites and apps available to make things a little easier. I offer budgeting advice and recommend some helpful financial planning tech below:
Track your spending, income, and make a detailed spreadsheet
Before you can begin to budget for your future, you have to know how much money is coming in, how much money is going out, and where all the money is going, specifically. You should immediately begin to track all of your spending in a spreadsheet. Separate it out by type of spending – categories like bills and fixed expenses, discretionary spending, and savings. Use past bills and bank statements to create a larger history of your spending.
If you feel lost tracking this from scratch try an app or program that helps track spending like Mint or Quicken.
Know the difference between fixed and discretionary spending
Fixed expenses usually fall into the “can’t live without them” category. This includes your major bills – house payment or rent, loans, debt payments, clothing, and utilities. Discretionary spending usually refers to anything considered optional like going out to eat, going to concerts, vacation, etc. Some expenses can technically fall into either category, like a cellphone plan. But for most people it will be easy to decide whether something is truly necessary or not.
The trick of course is making sure you don’t overspend in either area. You can use apps such as ShopSavvy to comparison shop while sites like GroupOn and LivingSocial can hook you up with good deals. There are also plenty of apps that help you track your overall spending. For example, LearnVest has an app that helps you group your expenses so that you can manage fixed and discretionary spending separately and more easily see where you might be able to reduce your spending in certain categories. It also helps you set and track financial goals.
Create your budget – down to the percentage point.
Here’s where discipline really comes into play. You need to decide how much or your income you want to spend on fixed costs, discretionary costs, and how much you want to put into savings. One idea is to follow the 50/20/30 rule.
This means that 50% of your income is devoted to fixed costs – those things you simply must pay. That means that 20% can go toward some sort of savings and 30% can be allocated for discretionary spending.
Investing firm LearnVest suggests four basic categories for savings.
“Consider putting at least 20% of your take-home pay toward important payments or contributions that will help you secure your financial foundation. We believe there are three essential goals everyone should strive for: paying down credit card debt, saving for retirement and building an emergency fund. But your financial goals can also include larger savings priorities like a down payment on a new home.”
Building an emergency fund is key. You should always use your savings allotment to first build a fund that can support you if one of life’s unexpected curveballs comes your way. Having an emergency fund will then allow you to begin to pay down debt and then eventually invest in your future.
Once you develop a sensible budget, it’s important to stick to it. It’s also important to always be looking for ways to cut your expenses so you have more money to put away in savings. When you focus on saving, you can begin to set goals for your future. For example, maybe you’d like to buy a house some day or create a website for that online business idea you’ve been kicking around. Using technology to help you track your spending and saving will make it much easier to stay on track to achieve these financial goals.
Bottom line: Don’t get complacent in your habits – always look for ways to maximize what you can put away for the future. Remember, the compound nature of investing means that the earlier you can start saving, the better.
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