a few hours to create and maintain a household budget may be the key to
identifying opportunities to save more for the future, including for long-term
goals such as retirement. Yet it's surprising how few households take the time
to commit to a budget. Many financial experts recommend making time for this
task, which could pay dividends down the road.
Finding the extra money to save is not always easy. The good news is that many families realize they spend money on nonessentials -- such as eating out and specialty coffees. These are expenses that can often be reduced with the aid of a budget. A budget may also help you reduce large expenses to make room for savings. For example, if your transportation costs are considerable because of a long commute to work, look into carpooling with a colleague or working at home periodically.
The first step is to understand and summarize your various sources of income, which may include earnings from a job, alimony, real estate income, and income or dividends from investments. Next, determine how you spend your money. Start by tracking your spending for a month. Gather bills and receipts and don't forget things like an occasional splurge on new shoes or a cup of coffee.
You may want to group expenses into the following categories:
- Fixed committed expenses, such as mortgage, loan, and insurance payments that are the same from month to month.
- Other committed expenses, which are things you can't live without, such as food and clothing.
- Luxury expenses, which are things you like but don't necessarily need.
You can tally your income and expenses in writing if you prefer. Or consider trying one of the many online budgeting programs to help get you started.
At the end of each month, see how your actual spending stacks up against your budget and how much income is left over. When looking for places to cut additional costs, start with luxury expenses, followed by other committed expenses.
Budgeting will initially require some extra work and organization. But a little extra effort now can go a long way toward helping you pursue your financial goals.
© 2011 McGraw-Hill Financial Communications. All rights reserved.