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.
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.
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Apps aren't only fun--they're income!
Easyshift is an app that lets you moonlight as a "mystery shopper." When you go on your regular errands, you complete tasks for retailers' research departments like taking pictures or answering a few questions, and you get paid ($2-$4 per task) for the privilege.
Have you heard of TaskRabbit? It's a website (and app) that lets you outsource chores to willing parties. If you're one of those willing parties, you can earn some extra cash doing anything from picking up groceries to assembling IKEA cabinets.
If you have a reliable car (and some great driving tunes), consider bringing in some extra money from a car-sharing service. Services like ZimRide let you sell seats on trips you're already taking for as much as $25, and services like Relay Rides let you rent out your car at your chosen price for the hour, day or week (and provides free insurance!).
And what about parking? If you have it, you can rent that out, too, with Parking Panda.
Do you have a Masters degree in Engineering? Are you a whiz in the kitchen? Do you know the ins and outs of Photoshop?
Any skill someone else wants to learn is an opportunity for you to teach it. Depending on experience and whether or not they join a larger organization, tutors can bring in up to $50 an hour (in cash) teaching out of their own homes, or visiting their students (who could be both children and adults).
In addition to advertising in your community through the standard newspaper ads, Facebook posts and fliers in the library, consider applying to be a tutor on sites like Tutor.com, the Princeton Review and Kaplan.
Almost everyone has dabbled in babysitting at some point, but the job only becomes more lucrative as you grow older and are able to offer more skills, like driving, cooking or CPR certification.
Websites like SitterCity (we interviewed the founder here!) or Care.com are great resources for matching sitters with families.
Charging $12-$15 an hour is pretty standard, but to figure out how much is appropriate for your age and experience, use SitterCity's Babysitter's Rate Calculator.
Spread your availability by speaking with your child's teachers, any friends who work in your community and with real estate brokers, who may work with families with small children who are new to town. If possible, you may even consider an arrangement where you can watch children at your house--it's a built-in play date for your own kid!
(Prefer watching four-legged cuties rather than two? Petsitting.com has you covered.)
Another way to finance your habit might be cleaning your closet--and your child's. It's doubly beneficial: You can clear clutter and make some cash at the same time.
Start by choosing high quality pieces from the current season without any visible wear and tear. Make sure they're clean and folded, then bring them into your local consignment store (here are our tips for consigning clothes).
If it's easier, take well-lit pictures of the pieces and list them on a site likeeBay or Dresm, a site specifically meant to facilitate sales of used clothing.
Style blogs don't have to be a guilty pleasure. Instead, they can be the inspiration for a side-job as a "style entrepreneur."
StyleOwner is a free site that lets you create your own store by choosing items from a "Master Closet" of over 2,000 brands. When your friends--sent that way through your tireless efforts on Facebook, Twitter and emails, no doubt--buy from your store, you earn 10% on everything you sell!
If you're lacking a yard (or half-decent weather), there's also the option of hosting a virtual yard sale: The app Yardsale lets you connect with neighbors and friends without setting up a single folding table.