If you want to build or maintain a healthy financial life, then keeping your money in your mattress is probably not the best place to start. Budgeting however, should be your fundamental starting point. After all, how can you tell you’re on track if you don’t know where your hard-earned pay-cheque is going?
Some of us, correction: most of us, will find it daunting to maintain a budget. Getting all your expenses together, tracking what should be paid and when, how much you have left for entertainment, saving for long-term goals – it’s enough to make you give up before you start. But what if there was an easier way to manage your cash-flow that didn’t require hours of sifting through receipts or crunching numbers?
There is and it’s not that hard to get started. It starts with categorising your monthly spending into four buckets:
1. Fixed costs. These are bills that don’t fluctuate much and remain pretty constant each week or month, or whatever period they are relevant to: things like rent or mortgage, a phone bill or your car payment. It also includes essential costs that may vary slightly from month to month, like utility bills such as electricity or water. Although they may vary slightly, you can work out an average for the purpose of this budget. But generally speaking, if you can predict how much an expense will be, it belongs in this category.
2. Financial goals. These include any sort of savings or debt goal you’re trying to work towards every month, whether that’s paying off credit card balances, paying down your student loans, saving for a home or paying into an emergency fund regularly, or topping up your Super on a regular basis.
3. Non-monthly expenses. Got a bill that you have to pay at some point every year, but just not every month? This could include your home or car insurance or for that matter, most annual insurances, car registration fees, annual health payments, and even school tuition belongs in this category. Add up what those types of costs total to each year, then divide that total by 12. That should be what you’re setting aside each month to cover those expenses when they come up.
4. Flexible spending. This category covers all those everyday costs that fluctuate each month. This can include groceries, restaurants, shopping, movies, petrol and pretty much any expense that may vary month to month.
So now that you’ve categorized your costs, how much can you actually flexibly spend each month without blowing your budget? Well, that’s a relatively easy calculation. What is your monthly take-home pay? From that, subtract your total fixed costs, and your financial goal contributions, and those non-monthly expenses you calculated. The amount that’s left over is what’s available to cover your flexible spending – the daily coffees, new shoes, magazines, etc.
If you want to know what your flexible spending is per week just divide your monthly figure by 4.3, and you’ll have your weekly spending number to stick to. So if you work out the above, and stick to it, you won’t be in danger of spending more than you earn.
If you can put your hands on the numbers from your bills, it’s not that hard to work out. And if you can work to a budget each week or month, you’ll certainly be on your way to building a financially secure future. If you want some more great advice about securing your financial future, start by setting up Your Spending Plan.