Like many people in their mid-thirties, I have gone through several major life changing events over the past few years. Building a career, having a child, and purchasing a home are just a few of the exciting events that I have experienced first-hand.
But with these events often come significant financial changes and a whole lot of planning for the future – retirement, children’s education, and aging parents, to name a few. With so much going on and so many things to consider, keeping track of finances can be difficult, even overwhelming.
The recent purchase of a new home gave me a chance to reorganize and re-evaluate my finances and prompted me to track my budget more closely. I started to track my expenses daily and found it to be an eye-opening experience!
Once I was able to see where my money was really going, I was able to plug the leaks and redirect my money to be more in line with my financial goals. Here are some things that I have learned in the process:
- Establish a system that works for you. There are several record filing systems and budgeting methods to choose from. If you find one doesn’t work for you, don’t give up! Simply try a new system.
- If you overspend, get back on track. Don’t let it give you license to blow your whole budget.
- Work a slush fund into your budget. Overspending is bound to happen and it will keep you from needing to tap into your savings.
- Plan ahead. One of my budget leaks was unplanned expenses while running errands. Now before heading out the door, I always make sure that I have plenty of drinks, snacks, and activities for my son in order to avoid spontaneous purchases.
You don’t need a big life changing event to reap the benefits of tracking your expenses. If you want to get started with your own budget, but feel overwhelmed or not sure where to begin, it may be helpful to speak with a financial counselor. They can take a look at your situation, help you establish a budget and offer expert advice. Here are some things to look for when choosing a financial counseling agency to work with:
- Choose a non-profit agency that is accredited by the Council on Accreditation (COA) or the International Standards Organization (ISO), or is a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC). Your local credit union may also be able to direct you to a financial counseling agency.
- Find out what services are offered. A good organization will have a range of services, such as budget counseling, debt management services, and credit report counseling.
- Ask what, if any, fees are involved. Most non-profit financial counseling organizations offer some of their services and educational information for free. If you are interested in Debt Management services, fees should not exceed $50 per month, or so.
- Consider the way you would like to receive the services. Counseling may be done in person, or over the phone or internet. Choose a method that will fit your needs.
Taking a few minutes each day to write down my expenses and review my budget keeps me on track to meet my financial goals, both short- and long- term.
Beth Luke (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a financial educator for GreenPath Debt Solutions, a non-profit, national leader in financial education and counseling.
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