Employing a budget into your personal finances may be the biggest step toward your goals.
To download the Free Monthly Retirement Budget Worksheet click the image or click here.
I'll never forget while still in college I was trying to determine how I was going to purchase my first house. A brief glance at my checking account balance, and the thought of moving back home, quickly got me motivated to figure out a solution. It didn't take long for me to realize the problem was I didn't have any idea where my money was going. Just as fast as it came in, it went right back out.
After pondering for some time how I was going to make this work, it hit me. I needed a monthly budget and I needed to set monthly goals. So that's exactly what I did. I created a Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet which I'm sharing for free with you today. I listed all of my income and fixed expenses and found there's no reason why I couldn't save for a down payment on my first house.
The key was to control the entertainment expenses, eliminate unnecessary/wasteful expenses and look for cheaper alternative to the ancillary expenses I wanted to keep. Of course, equally as important was setting the goal. I defined exactly how much I was going to save to achieve my goal.
Now, I would be lying if I told you that I never blew up the budget from time to time, but by and large, making the commitment to the budget and the goal allowed me to buy my first house just over a year later.
So where does your money go? If you find yourself asking that same question I did years ago, it likely relates to the cash flow within your household and the lack of having a cash flow management system to restore some financial control of your expenses and allow you to achieve both short and long term goals.
Now, I know what you're thinking, it's tough these days for a middle-class household to maintain financial control. If you find yourself too often with inadequate cash on hand, you aren’t the only household feeling that way.
Today’s middle class has it tougher than the previous generations. We can look at some telling statistics that point to this...
In 81% of U.S. counties, the median income is lower today than it was in 1999. Even though we've been in a recovery, much of the job growth in the past few years has occurred within the service and retail sectors. (The average full-time U.S. retail worker earns less than $25,000 annually.)
Between 1989 and 2014, the American economy grew by 83% (adjusting for inflation) with no real wage growth for middle-class households.
In the early 1960s, General Motors was America’s largest employer. Its average full-time worker at that time earned the (inflation-adjusted) equivalent of $50 an hour, plus benefits. Wal-Mart now has America’s largest workforce; it pays its average sales associate less than $10 per hour, sometimes without benefits.1,2
Essentially, the middle class must manage to do more with less and the need for budgeting is as essential as ever.
So how can you make life more affordable? Budgeting is an important step. It promotes reliance on cash instead of plastic. It defines your expenses, it underlines where your money goes and where it shouldn’t be going. It paints a visual picture about your finances. It demonstrates that you are in control of your money, rather than letting your money be in control of you.
So where do you start? First, you have to make the commitment. Fill out our free retirement monthly budget worksheet. Evaluate areas where you can make cuts. Eliminate the unnecessary "stuff": coffee/lattes, cable, eating out, memberships, movies, outfits or the latest "must have" gadget. Shop around for better deals on your fixed expenses like auto insurance and wireless providers. In other words, make your expenses lean and mean. Try to get more with less.
Next, determine what you have left to work with and start setting goals.
For example, tackle your most expensive debt first. Being debt free is financial freedom. You remove the shackles of being an indentured slave to a bank. The interest you are paying is not only costing you for the purchases you financed, but it's also costing you positive interest you could have received in a retirement account.
Furthermore, consider the choices you make regarding your vehicle. Many middle-class families love to buy that new car (a depreciating asset) or lease a new car every few years simply because they want to be seen driving a better car than they can truly afford. I can't tell you how many times I've seen people pay off a vehicle only to go out and finance a new one. There's simply no logic to it. The better option is to buy a lightly used car or keep the one you have and drive it for years, maybe even a decade(s). Not glamorous? Perhaps, but it will leave you with a substantial amount of money in your pocket that you can put toward more important things. Like looking glamorous in retirement.
As you are tackling your debt it's essential that you plan to set some cash aside for an emergency fund. According to a recent Bankrate survey, only 4 out of 10 Americans have savings they can rely on for emergencies. Think about how much better you would feel knowing you have the equivalent of several months of salary in reserve for the next crisis. Again, using a budget will allow you to build it. The key is to recognize that a crisis will come someday; none of us are fully shielded from the whims of fate.3
Finally, budgeting for your future. A recent poll found that one third of Americans have not saved for retirement and 56% have saved less than $10,000. Consider how many of these people might have accumulated a nice nest egg over the years by simply budgeting just $50 or $100 a month into a retirement plan? Budgeting just a little at a time toward this very important priority could promote profound growth of retirement savings thanks to interest yields and tax deferral.4
Turning to the financial professional you know and trust for input may help you to develop a better budgeting process. For example, I use financial technology for my clients to complete a detailed analysis of their monthly budget, debts and what their future will look like given current assets and then we determine where they can improve. Nevertheless, the budgeting you do today will no doubt allow you to reach your goals in the future, and remember the saying. "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time."
Download the "Free Monthly Retirement Budget Worksheet."
If you do not have Microsoft Excel installed on your computer you can still use Microsoft Excel Viewer which will allow you to print the worksheet.
Click the icon below to be directed to Microsoft's website to download the viewer.
James Spicuzza may be reached at 727.939.9465 or by e-mail.
Learn more about James Spicuzza.
1 - washingtonpost.com/sf/business/2014/12/12/why-americas-middle-class-is-lost/ [12/12/14]
2 - tinyurl.com/knr3e78 [11/27/12]
3. - http://www.bankrate.com/finance/consumer-index/money-pulse-0117.aspx [1/12/17]
4 - http://time.com/money/4258451/retirement-savings-survey/ [3/14/16]
This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note - investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaging in rendering legal, accounting or other professional advice. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service.