Mention the word "budget," and many people immediately think of penny-pinching and cutting back on the fun-funds - those for going out with friends or heading to the ballpark for a baseball game. While you may find that you need to cut back on some of the funds spent on entertainment, you really won't know until you develop a budget and work the numbers.
You have an income. You have expenses. In the ideal situation, what you bring in should be greater than what you shell out. In the not-so-ideal situation, your expenses come close to or exceed your income. And that's how the trouble can begin. How can you avoid this situation? With a budget, of course. A budget is nothing more than a breakdown of how much money you have coming in (income) and where it goes (expenses).
Budgeting is important to help you:
- Manage your income and control your spending.
- Prepare for large purchases or emergencies.
- Prepare for quarterly or semi-annual expenses.
- Save for vacations, special purchases and occasions.
- Avoid those "uh-oh" moments when expenses exceed your income.
The first step in creating a monthly budget is to determine your net monthly income (income after taxes and all of your deductions are taken out of your pay). This is different from your gross monthly income (income before taxes and your other deductions). This is as easy as looking at your pay stub and multiplying it by the number of times you get paid each month. You'll also want to take into consideration any other income you have - such as interest, dividends or income from a part-time job.
The next step is tracking your regular and fixed expenses. These are the bills that recur every month and will be relatively the same amount month after month. These include bills such as rent, a car payment and insurance. Remember to include any payments that automatically get deducted from your account - like a gym membership, turnpike EZ Pass, or contribution to your IRA.
Once you have all of your fixed expenses, it's time to dig a little deeper to look at your variable expense. Look at your latest bank statement for help. There you will find items like utilities, your cell phone bill, groceries and entertainment.
Now it's just a matter of totaling up the amounts - your income and your expenses - and subtracting your expenses from your income. If you have a positive number, congratulations! You are spending less than you earn each month. If you have a negative number, you are living beyond your means, and adjustments to your spending habits need to be made, or else you are going to be in a heap of financial havoc.
If you find yourself not making ends meet or wanting to save more, look at things you can cut back on - like dining out less or canceling that gym membership you rarely use. If you still don't know where your money is going, track every cent you spend for a month by writing it down in a notebook. By the end of the month, you'll be better equipped to make those budget decisions.
Remember, life can change in a moment's notice, so it's good to have a solid foundation for developing a budget that you can live with - and stick to - even when life throws you a curve or two. That way if your car needs repairs or your dog has a huge vet bill, you can easily recover from those unanticipated expenses.
For more information, check out our Budgeting brochure.
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The key to successful saving for larger purchases is to budget and stick with it. This means that you need to distinguish between "wants" and "needs," especially when money is tight. Furthermore, this may mean telling yourself "no" because you have the larger goal in mind.
We offer many types of savings accounts to help you save for special events and purchases. Consider our Supplemental Savings or Money Management Accounts. You could opt for a certificate account.
To save for larger purchases, keep these strategies in mind:
Establish goals that are realistic and simple. This means looking at the purchase price and giving yourself a realistic timeframe to save for it.
Plan a budget that you can live with, that does its job and affords you some "wiggle" room. If you develop a budget that is too stringent, you'll set yourself up for failure.
Monitor your spending and know how you spend your money. If you know that you'll never give up going out with your friends for drinks on Friday night, budget that money into the savings plan. With that being said, give yourself a budget for your Friday night outing so you can still spend time with your friends without going overboard and blowing your budget.
Bills should take priority over wants. Don't purchase that flat-screen TV at the expense of not paying your rent or car insurance.
Save something every pay, even if it is only $10. Financially successful people always make sure they pay themselves first - which means sticking away money into savings.
Limit debt payments to 10-15% of your net income. The only way you are ever going to meet those larger and long-term goals is if you are clear of debt. Think long and hard before you whip out your credit card.
Congratulations. You're having a baby or making plans to adopt. Maybe you're blending families. Just because you're expanding the family doesn't mean you have to go broke.
If you haven't already, discuss with your spouse how you're going to financially manage kids and all of the expenses associated with raising them. It's a good idea to talk about both of you working or one of you staying home for a while once a new baby is born. If you are about to become a single parent, it is especially important for you to have a financial game plan, and blended families have additional concerns such as child and spousal support payments to make or receive.
Here are six things to immediately consider:
- Take a look at your budget. How will having a baby affect your income and expenses? You'll now have to buy diapers, formula, special food, clothes and supplies. You'll have to pay day care and a variety of other expenses you can't begin to imagine. If you are a single parent, consider your options for child support and other financial assistance. If you're going to stop working after your baby arrives, now is the time to start "practicing" living on less. And even though it is only temporary, the same goes if you're going to take an unpaid maternity leave.
- Check the leave policy where you work. How much maternity leave do you get?
- Check your health insurance. Does it cover medical care for you during pregnancy and for your newborn baby?
- Make saving a habit. Children, no matter what age they are, cost a lot of money. Take a look at your investments and/or consult a financial planner.
- Review or purchase long-term disability and life insurance coverage. If you have life insurance coverage, you should review your policy and consider upgrading to fit the needs of your expanding family.
- Check out special benefits that you may qualify for, such as Medicaid and the WIC program.
As parents, we understand the value of managing our money, but it can be difficult to find a way to successfully relay this life-skill to our teens. We want them to value money, but using phrases like "Money doesn't grow on trees" just makes them turn a deaf ear (leaving us to mumble to ourselves, "I sound like my father!").
One of the first steps you can take to relay the value of money to your teen is not by telling them, but by showing them. In this electronic age, many teens have grown up watching us pay for things with our debit card. For some teens, this has caused them to not understand that the money still comes from somewhere.
To show them where your money comes from, invite your teen to sit down with you as you are doing the monthly bills. Show them your pay stub and explain all the local, state and federal deductions to them. From there, offer to review your monthly budget with them so they can see the expense side of your family. These little steps will help open their eyes to all the money that goes in - and out - each month (even if it is electronic).
Teach your teen a valuable financial lesson - to save. One of the best financial lessons any teen can learn is the difference between "wants" and "needs" and how to avoid spending money on things that we don't really need. Talk to your teen about setting savings goals, and if they don't already have one, set up a savings account for them to watch their money grow.
If your teen is old enough, they may even be earning money at a part-time job. An important lesson teens can learn is how to deposit checks and make it a habit of saving a percentage of their earnings. Additionally, if you feel it is appropriate, you can help your teen open a checking account so they can begin learning how to balance their checkbook.
Like many parents, you are probably giving your teens spending money - or better yet, a regular allowance. Instead of giving your teen a weekly allowance, you may consider giving them a monthly allowance so they can start to understand budgeting money over a longer term.
Couples who successfully manage their money have some of the happiest relationships. Keep in mind that if you're not careful with your finances, you'll make your life and the lives of your loved ones more complicated down the road.
Knowing exactly how both of you save, spend and view financial responsibility is key. If you lived together before marriage, then you already have insight into this. Even so, take time to find out what money really means to each of you.
Here are 8 steps to creating a financially successful relationship:
- Set aside uninterrupted time to have a serious talk about your separate money, "our" money and money matters of the present and future.
- Make a list of topics to explore. Examine each other's credit report. Take advantage of AnnualCreditReport.com, which provides consumers with a free credit report once every 12 months.
- Is one of you a saver and the other a spender? Does one or both of you live paycheck to paycheck?
- Pay off as many bills as you can before saying, "I do." How much unsecured debt does each of you have separately? Decide what debts become joint debts and what debt remains the sole responsibility of one party.
- Consider how you will handle checking and savings accounts. Will you have a joint account for joint household living expenses and maintain separate accounts for individual expenses?
- Develop a household budget. Will you jointly share responsibility for handling the money matters, or will one person take care of the bills each month? If one person is going to do all the household accounting, then the other person needs to be sure they understand what's going on with the money. Go over monthly expenses and bills together so each of you knows how much money is coming in and how much money is going out, and for what.
- Use online banking such as Members 1st Online (if you're not a user, sign up here). This way, you can both oversee the household finances and know where the money is going.
- Decide on a record-keeping method. Where will you file receipts, monthly statements and other important financial papers?
Take the time to discuss money matters before you say, "I do," to avoid some of the common frustrations associated with financial miscommunication.
Just like with marriage, divorce or death brings on new experiences and responsibilities. You may need to file for child support, spousal support/alimony or Social Security. You may need to deal with insurance claims and estate settlements, and you may also find yourself 100 percent responsible for the household bills.
When faced with a divorce, there are some things you should consider:
- Educate yourself. Go through all of your financial records and figure out where the money is. Pull credit reports to see if there are any credit cards or loans you don't know about.
- Collect information. Before you visit an attorney, make copies of all financial records, including all account statements from all financial institutions in which you do business, investment statements, tax returns, mortgage statements, insurance policies, safe deposit box information, wills, trusts and bills.
- If you have children, file for child support and/or spousal support/alimony.
- Establish credit in your own name. Open a checking account and a savings account in your own name. Get one credit card in your own name and manage it very carefully.
- Separate credit accounts. Debt incurred in a joint account will follow both spouses after the divorce.
- Maintain insurance coverage. You'll still be covered under your spouse's health insurance until you're divorced, and at that time, health insurance must be specified.
- If you're in a financial bind, we offer several loan options to help you manage your current accounts or establish credit in your name.
- If you don't have automatic payments set up, consider doing so. This way you know your bills will be paid on time and you won't forget about anything. Update your beneficiary designations on IRAs, retirement plans, employee benefits, annuity contracts, life insurance policies and estate plan. Re-title assets if needed.
- Identify retirement money available to you.
- Protect your identity. Be sure to change your online passwords and watch for signs that new accounts have been opened in your name.
When your spouse dies:
When a spouse is grieving, it may be difficult to consider practical matters, such as finances. Emotions are high, and it is hard to think straight. While taking control of finances is important, surviving spouses shouldn't rush; they should take time to grieve and adjust. Then:
- Contact your attorney and your financial advisor to verify that all steps you take are consistent with your spouse's will.
- Organize your finances and evaluate your current financial situation. Go through all financial papers and make a list of your assets and liabilities. If you live in a community property state (Pennsylvania is not), credit accounts opened during marriage are automatically joint. You'll be responsible for any debt that your deceased spouse incurred.
- Get at least 10 copies of the death certificate. You'll need copies for insurance claims, 401(k) payouts, Social Security, your financial institution(s), probate and to change the titles on property.
- Cancel any unnecessary subscriptions and services. These include health clubs, private club memberships, etc.
- Contact life and health insurance providers. Insurance companies will distribute money to the beneficiary listed on the policy. Don't cancel any health insurance until all outstanding medical bills have been paid.
- Look into survivor benefits. Most people think about Social Security benefits, but there may also be pensions, retirement funds or other financial accounts available - as well as military benefits if their spouse was a veteran.
- Meet with a financial professional to review your investments and insurance coverage, and to develop a budget.
- Set up an estate account. This account is used to manage funds for the deceased. It is managed by the executor, executrix or administrator of the decedent's estate. It may be used to accept deposits earned by the estate or to pay estate expenses such as those for funeral expenses, medical bills, debts or taxes.
- Protect your identity.
If you need money for funeral or medical expenses, consider a Signature Loan or a Home Equity Loan to get you through a financially challenging time.
Once your situation settles and all final expenses are paid, consider various savings options. Short- and long-term certificates will help you have money saved at a higher interest rate. You can select terms that meet your savings needs so your money is available if you need it three, six or more months down the road.
We offer free access to money management and financial education services through GreenPath Financial Wellness, a financial management program. Through comprehensive education and exceptional service, GreenPath has been assisting individuals for more than 50 years. As a member, you can receive assistance.