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A household budget is a great tool for tracking your monthly expenses and income – and planning for the future. Besides helping you get organized, it also allows you to focus on two important things: How much money you have in the bank, and how much your bills cost you each month.
A realistic budget can help keep your revenue and expenses in line, and can even be a roadmap for setting realistic saving goals – whether it’s for a new car, a fun vacation, or the day you retire. It can even help you plan for the unexpected - a trip to the hospital, a costly car repair, or a broken water heater.
The basics are straightforward: How much money do you have? And how much do you spend? With a good budget, at the end of each month you can compare the list of your expenses with your income. Whether you purchase a computer program to enter and track your income and expense categories, do your budget online, or with pencil and paper at home, make sure to record the numbers and total them up every month. While you can – and should – make adjustments each month as necessary, make sure you also take a look at your spending and income at the end of each year so you can set goals for the coming year.
A big first step in creating a household budget is figuring out your monthly expenses. Thinking of all the things you spend money on will take some work, so don't get frustrated if it doesn't all happen in a single sitting.
Here are some tips:
Here are some important expenses to track:
These are costs that stay the same - things such as rent or mortgage payments, car payments, student loans, and your cable bill. Don’t forget regular but occasional things like car or life insurance bills.
These are bills you have to pay monthly but have totals that can vary – things like gas, electric, water and phone bills, as well credit card payments.
This category includes things like fuel for your car, groceries, as well as entertainment costs – such as going out to eat, going to the movies, or enjoying vacations and other travel.
Irregular expenses and cash
These are miscellaneous things such as clothes; gifts for birthdays and holidays; medical co-pays or prescriptions; printer ink; donations to charities; sporting events; and cash you might spend for things like snacks.
Set up the expenses category of your household budget so you can track your regular expenses individually. This helps you monitor any possible changes … and can even help remind you to make sure you’ve paid a bill.
Expect the unexpected
You should also set aside money each month for unexpected expenses such as emergency medical bills or car repairs.
There is no specific number for this, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Recommendations include always having at least an extra $1,000 to $2,000 in the bank, setting aside 10% of your income each month, or having a cushion of at least 6 times your average monthly expenses. In other words, be prepared.