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Living Within Your Budget

So now you have created your household budget. Congratulations! But now how do you make sure you can stick with it? With the financial pressures of today, how do you ensure that you can live within your budget each month?
There are seven keys to successfully living within your budget: include the entire family, set goals, have discipline, commit to saving, expect changes, reduce expenses, and consider ways to increase your income. Let’s examine each of these.

      1. Make your household budget a family event. One of the biggest factors in unsuccessful budgets is a member of the household who is not part of the budget planning process or does not commit to the budget. As good as a budget might be on paper, if all members of the household don’t understand and agree to abide by it, failure is just a matter of time.
Use the budget planning time to include your children. Educating them about financial responsibility while they are young makes it much more likely they will be successful later in life. It will also help when you have to say “no” to one of their budget-busting requests.

      2. Set goals: Living within your budget is possible, but you must have a good reason to motivate yourself. Goals can be as short-term as buying a new pair of shoes next week, or as long-term as getting out of debt in three years. But without them, you have nothing to reinforce your efforts. Success will likely require sacrifice. Without a goal, there is nothing to sacrifice for.

      3. Have discipline: Discipline is the key to living within your budget. Refuse to spend more than you make. Review and adjust your budget at least once per week as unexpected expenses arise. Evaluate the relative priorities of each expense so that the highest priorities are always met and lower priorities can be delayed until money is available.

      4. Commit to saving: Living from paycheck to paycheck means you are one unexpected expense or one checkbook mistake away from failure. If you're not having luck saving the traditional way, change your mindset. Most people look at saving as putting away money for a rainy day. But a better way to look at it is putting away money for a trip to Hawaii. And if a rainy day comes before you save enough for that trip, then fine, spend what you need to spend and start saving again for your Hawaiian vacation. It's a lot easier to look forward to a positive goal.

      5. Expect changes: Look down the road, and get into the habit of thinking ahead. If you know that your situation is going to change -- a new baby, new clothes for winter, a new job -- plan for it. If not, these things will catch up with you and blow your budget.

      6. Reduce expenses: Review the tips below on ways to reduce your expenses and commit to doing these each month. Every dollar you reduce your expenses is another dollar that can be used to achieve your goals. Reducing expenses is key to keeping your family budget in the black. It takes a little extra effort and time, but you can save hundreds of dollars per month and thousands per year.

      7. You may eventually find that there are no more places to cut and you need to increase your income. This doesn't necessarily mean getting a second job, although that is a possibility. Below are some other ways to increase your available spending money.

Tips for Reducing Expenses
Distinguish between Wants and Needs: You will save a ton of money and be much more likely to stay within your budget if you don't mistake wants for needs. Needs are pretty simple to identify--those items that are necessary to sustain family life: Shelter, food, clothing, transportation. Wants are those things that enhance or possibly improve our family life. A car is a need. Unless necessary for your business, a $40,000 Sport Utility Vehicle is a want, even if a lot of people don't see it that way. This is not to suggest that you shouldn't be able to have the things you want--only that to delude yourself into believing that a want is a need--and busting your budget in the process--is a recipe for financial disaster.

Here are easy ways to save money every day:
      • Use grocery coupons (look online for discount coupons at www.moneyadvise.com/free-coupons-savings/) when you shop at the supermarket
      • Shop for groceries on Mondays- prices are on average lower
      • Buy nonfood items at discount or warehouse stores
      • Always make a list before shopping
      • Eat in more and out less and brown bag it to work
      • If you do go out to eat, choose to go for lunch instead of dinner
      • Buy your kids sports equipment at a second hand store
      • Shop during sales events, at flea markets, and thrift stores
      • Turn off the lights when you aren't in the room

Comparison Shopping
It used to be that comparison shopping was a long and drawn out process. Driving from one store to another or making numerous phone calls could be a real time waster. Even if you were able to make an adequate comparison, sometimes it wasn't worth the hours you needed to invest to get the comparison. The Internet has changed much of that. Now you can make quick comparisons on most items, usually within a matter of minutes. What would once have taken hours to accomplish now happens at the click of a mouse, a real time and money saver. Don't forget online resources. For example, a site such as Ebay could save a lot of money for a couple of reasons: First, you can make comparisons among a number of sellers and second, you may be able to find second-hand merchandise which can save you a bundle.

Tips for Increasing Your Income
The first step is to take a look at your tax return. If you're getting anything but a small return, you're letting the government earn interest for itself with your money. You probably wouldn't let anyone else do that! Consider raising your exemptions. You can obtain a new W-4 form to fill out from your Human Resource department or manager.
Second, save or invest wisely to obtain dividends. This is money that you don't have to work for! It's money working for you.
Third, acquire new skills that can help you get a promotion, or even a new job. Get your GED or college diploma, if you don't have one. There is a lot of financial aid available, and you may even be able to attend college for free.
Fourth, consider starting a home-based business. There are a host of tax deductions for home businesses, not to mention the extra income that may come from just a few hours a week. Although a home-based business is not for everyone, you may enjoy it enough to turn it into your next career!


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