Budget.  For many, this is a scary word.  It means numbers.  Making sense of numbers.  Calculating numbers.  And quite frankly, I’ve learned over the years that not everyone is comfortable confronting numbers.  But if you want to have control of your financial situation and use simple concepts that big businesses use to your advantage, you’ll need to be armed and ready to face the numbers.  I’m happy to say that they’re not as intimidating as they may seem!

Even numbers can be visual, and in this Three-Part Series, I’ll show, in pictures, how you can create an effective budget that gives you power and control over your finances.  In Part 1, we’ll address the overview of a budget and why it is important.  In Part 2, we’ll go over how to create a budget; and in Part 3, we’ll address what to do after you’ve created your budget to maximize its use.

So what is a budget, why is it important and why do you need one?

A budget is an itemized financial plan for a certain period of time such as a week, month or year.  You anticipate your income (inflows) and plan your expenses (outflows) accordingly so you can see what you’re left with.  Ideally, you will spend less than you bring in.  Here is what this looks like:

This snapshot of a budget allows you to see your monthly income, itemized expenses and what you have remaining. This makes it easy to see if you’re sending more than what you’re bringing in.

Over time, a budget helps with planning ahead and in anticipating problems that may arise.  This insight allows you to think about what changes should be made and respond by reallocating resources as needed.  For example, if you’re over your groceries amount for the month, you can plan to spend less.  Or if you’re spending too much on cable each month, you can negotiate a lower rate with your cable company.

See how the highlighted amounts changed compared to those in Exhibit A. By planning and reducing your expenses in certain areas, you’ll be left with more to reallocate.

To your benefit, a budget provides an organized and easily understood breakdown of how much money you’re bringing in and how much is leaving your pocket.  It is an invaluable tool that allows you to manage your money and prioritize your spending.  An important point is the fact that the effectiveness of a budget doesn’t depend on your income.  In fact, your financial situation is largely about what you do with your money as opposed to how much you make.  With a budget, you can identify and get rid of wasteful spending, quickly adapt as your financial situation changes and attain your financial goals faster.  You’ll have a more accurate sense of if you’re able to afford your dream vacation or your friend’s wedding.  You’ll know how much you can save for your future.  This financial clarity is especially empowering.

With the reductions made in Exhibit B, additional money at your disposal can help you save more for your future or toward planned expenses.

In Part 2 of this series, we’ll go over each step in creating a budget that is tailored to your situation.  Share your experience with a budget or what you would like to see in Parts 2 or 3 in the comments section below!

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