How to successfully BUDGET
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– America’s 78 million credit cardholders carried an average balance of $7,564 last year.
The cost in interest and fees amounted to more than $1,000 for the typical budget.
If you just said, “Budget – what budget?,” you know what I mean.
Truth is, most of us go on spending sprees from time to time.
But, when power-shopping creates the illusion of success, even as debts spiral out of control, it has become a weakness.
Some obvious signs that spending is out of control include making minimum payments on your credit cards, late fees, bounced checks, lack of a budget and loss of sleep over money worries.
Debt counselors say there is no easy way out of this fix. The answer for most families is belt-tightening.
Is there an area in which you might need to adjust your finances by a notch or two?
1. Consolidate credit cards.
You might want to pay off the cards with the highest interest rate first. If you have a card with a low teaser rate try to eliminate that balance before the low rate expires. Consolidate your credit card debt on the one with the best rate. Make more than the minimum payment each month. Just paying the minimum on a credit-card bill can result in it taking you 20 years or longer to pay off your current balance. You could end up paying five times as much as the price tag amount.
2. Refinance your home mortgage.
Refinancing may entail some costs such as origination fees and points so the savings on monthly interest charges must be great enough for you to recoup your upfront costs during the period you expect to live in the home.
3. Track expenses.
Use your checkbook, credit card or debit card so you have a receipt. And, limit your use of ATM machines because there is no easy way of tracing how the cash withdrawals are spent.
4. Create a budget.
After tracking expenses for several months, categorize your spending, taking special note of two categories: necessities (e.g., utility bills) and discretionary expenses such as cable TV, cell phones, babysitters, restaurants and health clubs.
5. Arrange for automatic bill paying.
Pay monthly bills (such as your mortgage) with automatic bank transfers to make sure you don’t spend the money elsewhere and incur late fees. See if your local utility has a budget saver plan that lets you pay the same amount each month.
6. Curtail discretionary spending.
Ask yourself if you really need a gazillion cable TV channels, and whether that health club membership has you on a financial treadmill. Take the phone number for pizza delivery off the speed dial function on your telephone. Buy private label brands. Clip and use store coupons, which can easily save you $300 a year in tax-free money.
7. Pay less for necessities.
For example, you might lower your insurance bill by combining all your policies with one agent and by increasing your deductible. Check out some of the new low-cost long distance phone rates. Buy clothing that can be machine-washed instead of dry-cleaned.
8. Pay down your debts with any windfalls
such as a tax refund, bonus or over-time pay.
9. Make saving a habit.
Once you pay off a loan, continue setting aside the amount of your payment each month. Consider arranging for automatic transfer of the funds to your savings account. You might be surprised at how fast the savings add up. For example, just saving a dollar in pocket change every day can add up to $35,458 at 4% interest in 40 years.
10. Compare your spending to that of others.
Of course, spending varies by income and region of the country (e.g., housing is more expensive on both coasts). But in all cases the total should not exceed 100% of your income. So if your expenses are high in one area, they should be lower in another area. Using the figures below as a general guideline, take note of where your spending might need adjustment.
(Average household spending) Statistical Abstract of U.S., 1999 Spending Range
• Food/alcohol = 13.5%
• Housing = 29.6%
• Apparel = 4.8%
• Transportation = 17.0%
• Healthcare = 4.9%
• Entertainment = 4.6%
• Personal care = 1.1%
• Reading = .5%
• Education = 1.3%
• Tobacco/misc. = 3.0%
• Cash contributions = 2.6%
• Insurance/pensions = 8.4%
• Taxes = 8.7%
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