3 Simple Steps to Budgeting Bliss


Sticking with a budget is hard. Tracking every dollar you spend and taking hours to analyze your spending patterns every month sounds like an accounting nightmare. And when you consider that the results often reveal guilt-inducing impulse purchases that force you to scrimp and save until your next paycheck comes, it's no wonder that so few people even make the attempt at budgeting.

Budgeting challenges grow even larger when you're dealing with two or more people. Whether you decide to keep separate accounts or put all of your income into joint accounts for the family's overall spending, the biggest issue you'll face is how to keep from spending more than you earn.

Given the prevalence of credit cards and other ways to get yourself in financial trouble, it's easy to outspend your income temporarily. So you have to find ways to live within your means. Below, you'll find three steps to help you overcome the obstacles that get in the way of successful budgeting.

Step 1: Get Your Main Money Issues on the Table.

Communication is the key to finding happiness under financial pressure. That's easier said than done, though, as talking about money is nearly taboo in many families. As a result, you might not even know how to think about potential money issues, let alone talk about them.

Nevertheless, unless you find a way, no one in the family will have any idea what the others' priorities are.

Therefore, the first step is to do what it takes to get everyone's most important money concerns out in the open. Every family member should have the opportunity to talk about their financial priorities as well as how they hope to achieve their money goals.

Only once you know what's important to everyone does it make sense to expand the conversation to consider how to manage the money you have.

Step 2: Get the Financial Information You Need.

Next, you need to figure out what your financial resources and obligations are. In particular, knowing how much you make after taxes is an essential part of budgeting within your means. On the other end, knowing what you spend your money on will likely reveal leaks you weren't even aware of, potentially opening the door to money-saving strategies.

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After you gather that information, everyone will have a better idea of whether current spending patterns are sustainable and fair to everyone in the family. And advances in technology have made compiling all that data much easier. Dedicated budgeting software packages like Quicken make it easy to access transaction information from bank and credit-card accounts to get a picture of your spending and income.

Online services like Mint.com make budgeting more convenient than ever, with mobile access that lets you track your spending with a smartphone. Moreover, with many credit card companies providing detailed reports tracking overall spending, you should be able to get the information you need quickly and easily.

Step 3: Look Forward.

Once you have a grasp on your financial past, the last step is to think about your future.

Some budget-tracking software will begin with a default budget for you to get some perspective on how typical households spend their money. You'll have preferences that differ from the norm, of course, so don't expect those figures to work for you necessarily.

The key is this step is to look for areas where you're spending money on things that don't bring you benefits. That's where you'll concentrate most at first and take action to cut costs.

Finally, experimenting is critical for budgeting success. Some families leave a lot of leeway for unstructured spending, while others prefer greater control in order to keep everyone feeling comfortable. Whatever works for you is the best solution. Just don't be afraid to tweak a system that's not working until it does work for you.

Budgeting Bliss Is In Your Reach

It's always hard to start budgeting, but a good budget can prevent big money trouble from causing family stress.

Whether you're already having money arguments or just want to prevent them before they start, getting your money issues under control should make everyone feel much better about family finances.