April 17, 2024

Tricia Oak

Business & Finance Excellency

6 budget hacks to get your financial life on track

The idea of making a budget may make your eyes glaze over.

Yet it is fundamental to achieving financial wellness.

“It’s really hard to make any plan or progress if you don’t know where your money is going,” said Chris Browning, creator and host of the podcast Popcorn Finance. In his short-form podcast, Browning discusses finance topics such as investing and managing your money in about the time it takes to make a bag of popcorn.

“Refer to it as something else if you don’t like the word,” he said, of a budget.

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With a budget, you are essentially tracking how much money you have coming in and how much you have going out. From there, you can see where you need to start making changes and how much you can save and invest.

Following your budget may also be a challenge. These six hacks can help you stay on track.

1. Separate your bank accounts

Have a separate checking account that is just dedicated to paying your monthly recurring bills, such as rent or mortgage, electricity, gas and cell phone bills, Browning suggested.

Figure out the total owed and set up a transfer into the account for that amount each time you get paid. So if you are paid twice a month, split the number in half and make two transfers.

At the end of the month, use that money toward your recurring bills. Browning likes to pay them with one credit card, which he then pays off every month with this account. Since you will be essentially emptying the account each time you pay the bills off, use one that doesn’t have fees, he said.

2. Simplify

Organize your debt based on type of debt, interest rate and due date, suggests certified financial planner Zaneilia Harris, president of Harris & Harris Wealth Management Group, based in the Washington metro area.

Then determine which debt you want to pay off first — for the quarter, six months, or year — and do it. Then, move onto the next one.

“This helps to eliminate the clutter in your mind around what you are doing and gives you satisfaction knowing you are accomplishing a goal,” Harris said.

3. Hit the pause button

Before you buy that item that caught your eye, stop. If you are in a store, walk around and do the rest of your shopping. If you are buying online, keep the items in a basket for a day or two before hitting the buy button, Harris suggests.

“It will give you an opportunity to really consider if that purchase is necessary or not,” she said.

4. Make adjustments

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Don’t just set your budget for the month and forget it. Instead, think of it as a living, breathing document, Browning said.

Check on it periodically to make sure you are on track so if you aren’t, you can adjust.

“You are changing the plan, but you’re making a more realistic plan and one that you can achieve by the end of the month,” he said.

5. Do some financial sleuthing

If you decide to make a purchase, do some digging first. Obtain as much information as you can about the product, prices, return policy, warranties and options for payments, Harris advises.

Chances are you’ll find sales, special offers and payment terms that fit your budget, she said.

6. Review your expenses annually