Regardless if you earn $45,000 or hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, a budget is the most important step you can take toward putting your money to work for you instead of being controlled by it. A budget will reveal how much disposable income you have to save.
Following a budget will also help you from sabotaging your savings and investments, says Gwendolyn V. Kirkland, a certified financial planner and managing principal with Kirkland, Turnbo & Associates in Chicago.
In essence, each month you should review your bills, adding up fixed and variable expenses. Subtract your monthly expenses from your monthly income. Track your expenses for at least 30 days to get a true handle on where your hard-earned dollars are going.
Kirkland suggests using budget planning worksheets which can be found in any personal finance software, such as Microsoft’s Money or Intuit’s Quicken. You can also search online and print out sample budget forms via sites such as BudgetTracker.com.
Not only do you need to manage your monthly cash flow, you need to direct your use of credit, Kirkland says. Don’t use credit cards to buy non-wealth-producing items such as television sets, stereo systems, and furniture unless you can pay off the balance within the next two to three months, Kirkland says.
According to GetOutofDebt.org, in recent months a number of people saw their credit card issuer lower their credit limit, increase their interest rate, increase their monthly payment, change their payment due date, close the account, or reduce their rewards program in some way. Although in many cases these changes were made for reasons other than the cardholder mismanaging the account, it still adversely affected their credit score.
More than ever, you have to guard your credit score closely, says Steve Rhode founder of GetOutofDebt.org and president of the consumer credit and debt services company Myvesta Foundation in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Be meticulous about paying bills on time, paying the minimum due, and having clean active accounts.
If you are way over your head and drowning in debt, it is probably too late to seek credit counseling or debt reduction plans, Rhode says. You may find yourself worse off in the long haul, especially if you have lost your job or have a medical need.
“Consider getting a free bankruptcy consultation from a bankruptcy attorney. You may need to get out in front of this situation with the protection of the law and not let your debt situation continue to pile up,” he adds. “If you are worried about getting your wages garnished, chances are very good that your situation is already beyond a reasonable expectation that any other alternative exists other than bankruptcy.”
Tax planning should also be part of your overall money management strategy, say financial gurus. Don’t wait until April 15. Plan for taxes in advance throughout the year. Consult an accountant to make sure you are taking all allowable deductions. Save receipts that are work-related or are for business purposes. Keep a record of charitable donations.
In addition, an accountant can advise you on how to adjust your withholding every tax year. If the government takes too little taxes, you will wind up paying more to the IRS, say financial planners. If the government is taking out too much tax, you are depriving yourself of money that you could be putting into investments earning interests.
Further Reading: Wealth For Life Principles
1. I Will Live Within My Means
2. I Will Maximize My Income Potential Through Education and Training
3. I Will Effectively Manage My Budget, Credit, Debt, and Tax Obligations
4. I Will Save At Least 10% of My Income
5. I Will Use Homeownership as a Foundation For Building Wealth
6. I Will Devise An Investment Plan For My Retirement Needs And Childrens’ Education
7. I Will Ensure That My Entire Family Adheres To Sensible Money Management Principles
8. I Will Support the Creation and Growth of Minority-Owned Businesses
9. I Will Guarantee My Wealth Is Passed On To Future Generations Through Proper Insurance And Estate Planning
10. I Will Strengthen My Community Through Philanthropy