Any good financial adviser will stress the importance of saving for the future -- for emergency purposes, retirement and, in some cases, future college tuition for the kids. Make sure your family budget accounts for this by setting aside a portion of your income each month to build up your savings account. Jennifer Openshaw of Family Financial Network says to "Pay yourself first... straight off the top... at least ten percent of your income." She recommends that people put that money straight into a savings account, then look at what is left over each month to create a budget.
When it comes to creating a family budget, it's better to overestimate your expenses. A classic mistake families make when mapping out their finances is to let their optimism get in the way of creating a realistic budget. You aren't doing yourself any favors by setting a budget that just doesn't match up with your financial needs. Of course, you should trim the extras where it makes sense; however, you need to be honest and create a budget that you can live with. Underestimating expenses will only lead to a sense of frustration and failure down the road.
A budget will only work if it is followed. Don't get complacent and let your spending be influenced by the siren call of those fabulous daily deals beckoning you to "buy now!" or continuing bad habits of buying what you want, when you want it. Before making any purchase, whether it's a new outfit or a half-price restaurant gift card, first check your spreadsheet to make sure you can hand over the credit card without busting the budget.
Start your budget by listing the expenses you know you can count on every month. Mortgage payments, car payments and utility bills are all recurring expenses you can easily estimate. It's the "extras" that can trip you up if you fail to account for them. Ask yourself if you plan to take any family vacations, if you will be making any home improvements or if you want to designate a general "entertainment" fund to cover eating out, movies or tickets to museums or the zoo. Kids' extra-curricular activities like sports, dance and art classes are also expenses that can add up over time. Review recent credit card statements to get an idea of how much you need to set aside for the extras.
Approach your family budget with a positive attitude and be clear about the purpose of the budget. Are you looking to pay off your credit card bills, save money for travel or just to live within your means? Creating a budget is the first step in achieving the goals you are setting for your family -- and that's a good thing. As in life, success will come when you approach the project with enthusiasm.
Wall Street Journal columnist Jennifer Openshaw shares more tips on creating an effective budge.
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