With the holidays upon us, this time of year brings to mind financial goals and plans for the New Year. Get ready, get set…go!
In a 2015 Bankrate.com survey, 36% reported preparing a paper-based budget while 26% went digital. An impressive 18% kept a working budget “in their head” and the remaining didn’t use any kind of budget at all. Whether you use a basic Excel spreadsheet, your favorite smart phone app or keep a binder (hello, Pinterest fans!), there is something for everyone. Just keep it simple and use something you’re comfortable with.
What are next year’s financial goals?
Most of us have some kind of financial goal we’re working toward. Perhaps you’re paying off a loan, saving for a house down payment or building a retirement account. Maintaining a budget is key to keeping on track with those goals during the month, and more importantly, throughout the year. This year, my goal is planning a budget for the entire year. Bonus goal: saving for vacation. Go big or go home, right?
Let’s start with the monthly expenses we see throughout the year. Think of your rent or mortgage payment, utilities, transportation, food, and so on. This is where your monthly checking account statements come in handy. Begin with reviewing the last twelve months‘ income and expenses. Sounds intensive but it will give you a better of idea of where your income stands against expenses.
Build up an emergency savings fund
Beyond your monthly expenses are the less frequent items that do not occur regularly or as often. For example, auto insurance and oil changes. Then there are the unexpected bills that can instantly tie up even the best budget. An emergency savings fund is a great way to set money aside for the unexpected car or house expense. You may not need it but it’s a huge comfort knowing it’s there.
Once I have an idea how much I spend in each category during the year, I can estimate how much I have in discretionary funds each month. If I spent $600 on my holiday vacation this year, I could use that to estimate next year’s needs. Divided into 12 payments over the year, that’s $50 a month I’m transferring to credit union savings accounts with automatic deposits. Some months I may be able to make that goal while other months I have to trim back a bit. Allowing for flexibility is key.
Keep tracking your progress
Once you’ve set your goals, follow up by tracking your spending with the Hub, an online financial management tool, free from DCCU. By consistently tracking spending, you’ll know if you’re moving in the right direction or if you need to make any adjustments.
Remember–it’s an ongoing process. You’ll get there!