We get it: budgeting can be tough. And it can be especially hard to stick to the strict budgets that we tend to set for ourselves. But the truth is creating and sticking to a budget is the best way to pay down debt, and pay it down fast.
The trick to creating and effective budget is to make sure it's realistic – that way you're more likely to stick to it.
Here are a few simple tips for budgeting to help you get your financial life in tip-top shape.
Tips for budgeting and paying down debt fast:
Determine your income
First things first, you need to determine how much money you are bringing in every month. This is the first step that people often miscalculate. You cannot simply write your salary down and assume that is accurate. You need to calculate your actual take home pay, which is your pay minus any taxes. This is your net income. If you have any deductions for a 401K or similar accounts, make sure you account for them as well.
Next determine if you have any other income coming in every month. Maybe you have a side hustle that brings in a few hundred a month, or perhaps you have an inheritance that you receive monthly. Whatever it may be, make sure you keep a record of it as income.
Categorize and Track Expenses
This is where you need to get very organized. A spreadsheet will be very useful for you here. You will have two categories each month, fixed costs and variable costs.
Fixed costs are your monthly expenses that do not change. They are the same amount every month. Here are some of the fixed costs you might have:
- Rent or Mortgage
- Car Payment
- Cable Bill
- Insurance Premium
- Trash Collection
- Phone Bill
- Property Taxes
- Childcare Expenses
- Student Loan Payments
- Streaming Services (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Etc)
These costs may or may not be adjustable based on your situation. For example you might be able to cut down on your streaming services, but your insurance is non-negotiable.
Variable expenses are expenses that change from month to month. Here are some of variable costs you might have:
- Electric Bill
- Parking Fees
- Dining Out
- Entertainment/ Attractions
- Home Maintenance and Repairs
Go through your credit card statements and bank statements to categorize everything, that way you won’t miss anything. Experts suggest going back six to eight months to see how much you’ve been spending on each category per month. This will allow you to see where you might be able to cut back. Determine an average for each of the categories that you can plug into your budget. You might be surprised how much you end up spending in certain areas.
Make a Plan
Financial advisors recommend a 50/30/20 model for personal budgets. In this model, 50% of your income is allocated for needs, 30% is allocated for wants, and 20% is put into savings. Another common model is the 70/20/10 plan, where 70% of your income goes to monthly bills and everyday spending, 20% goes to savings, and 10% goes to debt repayment. There are many different budgeting models out there, so do some research and find out what will work best for your lifestyle and your financial goals.
No matter what your plan is, make sure it is realistic, doable, and easy to track. The more complicated your budgeting system is, the more likely you will lose steam and your budget will go off the rails.
Budget your Needs
When reviewing your expenses, you will need to divide all of your expenses into needs and wants. What do you need to survive? What is a luxury? Divide them up and take a look at each category.
Let’s start with your needs. Electricity, rent, internet; these are things we can’t live without. But there is wiggle room when it comes to some of our needs. Groceries are a necessity, of course, but reaching for the brand name isn’t a necessity. Most people need a phone, but do you need a high data plan? Look through your bills and see if there are places you can trim back on your costs.
Budget your Wants
This is where you have the most room to adjust your budget. Entertainment, clothes shopping, dining out; these are all categories that we can adjust drastically. Look at your average spending in these categories and determine where it is easiest for you to adjust. Maybe you can go out to eat once per week instead of two. Maybe you can cancel one of your streaming services. Little changes here and there will add up to big savings over time.
Budget your Goals
What are your financial goals, both short term and long term? The more structured you can be with your budget, the more realistic your goals will be. Come up with a line item on your budget sheet for savings, and determine how much you want to put into a savings account every month.
It is a good idea to reward yourself periodically for reaching your savings goals. Save $1000? Go splurge on something (within reason). This will create a positive reward system and encourage you to keep saving.
Your Goal: Pay Off Credit Card Debt and Student Loan Debt
Getting out of credit card debt is a primary motivator for many people who start budgets. Go through your credit cards and identify any high interest cards. Are you able to get a balance transfer credit card with a lower rate? Transferring your debt to a different card may drastically lower your payments. Use your savings to strategically pay off cards with higher rates.
Look at your student loans and strategize their payments in the same way. Use your savings to pay down the principle on the higher interest loans first. It might be worth looking into consolidating your loans if you are having trouble keeping up on payments.
Your Goal: Buy a House
Buying a house is most likely the biggest purchase you will make in your lifetime. If you don’t own a home yet, don’t get in over your head. Don’t fall in love with a house that will eat up every penny of your income. It is always good to have a buffer in your expenses, and overcommitting to a mortgage payment is a very common and very dangerous error. If you already have a mortgage, look into refinancing if the market rates are good. Reducing this rate can save you thousands and drastically cut your mortgage payment every month.
Your Goal: Buy a Car
Saving to buy a car is another huge purchase, though not quite as daunting as buying a house. If you need a loan to get your wheels, compare rates with many different lenders before committing. Making a down payment can be helpful in ensuring your monthly payments aren’t too high. It is important to know how much you can comfortably afford to spend every month on car payments before you even start looking at cars. It is easy to get swept away when you go to a dealership, so stay committed to the number that your budget allows.
If you already have a car, refinancing your car loan may help lower monthly payments. If you have a high rate, contact Auto Approve today to see if we can help you save some money!
Your Goal: Get Better Credit
Keeping on top of your bills and making consistent payments is the best way to start fixing a damaged credit score. Budgeting can help you prioritize paying down debt which will ultimately help your credit in the long run. It is a good idea to get your credit report at least once a year to check in on the health of your credit. Look for any inconsistencies or errors and report them to the credit agency. Working to maintain a good credit score will ultimately pay off in the long run by giving you lower interest rates and better terms for any accounts in the future.
Maintain Your Budget
Creating a budget doesn’t do much good if you aren’t going to stick to it. Make sure you check in every month to track your expenses and make sure you aren’t going off the rails in any category.
Top Three Tips for Budgeting:
- Know your baseline expenses. This is the bare minimum that you need to get by every month. It’s important to keep this number in mind in case you ever lose your job or life takes an unexpected turn.
- Budget for essentials first. When creating your budget, make sure your rent/mortgage, insurance, electricity, and anything else that you can’t live without are included in your budget first.
- Track and adjust variable spending. Keeping an honest account of your spending will help you eliminate problematic spending patterns. Adjust your spending as needed, keeping in mind that the less you spend the more you save.
Those are our top tips for creating a budget and paying off debt.
We hope these tips will help you create a useful budget that can guide you out of debt and into savings. If refinancing your vehicle can help with your monthly budget, give Auto Approve a call today and see if we can save you money and help you reach your financial goals faster.