At the start of each New Year we often make all kinds of New Year’s resolutions, from getting in shape and eating healthier, to overcoming an addiction. But there’s one bad habit that a lot of Americans tend to overlook: spending. Our spending addiction coupled with our and failure to budget is causing some long-term and potentially detrimental damage. So it’s time to get some tough love and get American families’ finances back on track.
All week on Making it in America, we’re taking you through a Budget Boot Camp, because let’s face it, we could all use a little tough love when it comes to spending. We’ll introduce you to experts who share their best advice when it comes to getting your budget and personal finances back in order for 2013.
Farnoosh Torabi is a personal finance expert and author. Her latest book, You’re So Money – Live Rich Even When You’re Not, is a guide for young people who are searching for financial independence. She has some great tips for people who are struggling to overcome piles of debt, as well as for people who just need to get back on a budget plan.
Here are Farnoosh's top tips when it comes to day-to-day spending habits and overall budget plan:
- Establish Short-Term Goals: Without them, your budget will prove meaningless. For example, "I need to save $5,000 towards a new car by September," or "With $3,000 saved by June, we can go on a family vacation."
- Trim the Fat : Go through your monthly fixed costs - car insurance, utilities, gym membership, etc. -- and try to lower those bills by calling and negotiating lower rates.
- Seal the Leaks : Take last year's bank statement or credit card statement and really understand how you're spending, and on what exactly you're spending. Before you can budget, you need to know yourself and your messy habits. For example, one year I took a look at my credit card bill and realized that 20% of my expenditures that year were from restaurants and dining out. It made me stop dead in my tracks and commit to cooking more at home.
- Establish Rules of Thumb : As humans, we gravitate toward rules of thumb to help us make decisions more easily. For example: My rent will not exceed 25% of my take-home pay; I will only eat out once a week, instead of four; I will not buy something JUST because it's on sale, etc.
- Stick to Cash: In order to really budget effectively, you have to set aside the credit cards. Studies show we can save 20% by sticking to a cash diet. The bigger the bills, the harder to break.
- Don't Go it Alone : Budgeting with a friend or enlisting the free help of a credit counselor will make you feel more accountable and motivated, much like scheduling workouts with a friend. Share your spending diary with each other, share tips, schedule meetings.
If you need exact numbers to stay on track, here's Farnoosh's Budget Breakdown:
- Housing - no more than 30%
- Transportation - 15%
- Debt - 15%
- Retirement - 10%
- Food - 10%
- Rainy Day Savings - 10%
- Health Insurance - 5%
- Miscellaneous - 5%