By Sheryl Smolkin
Everyone has their own system for handling the family finances, but if you are carrying expensive debt and always borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, you definitely need to do some serious budgeting. If you think you can’t afford to save for your children’s education or your own retirement, closely scrutinizing how you spend your money will help you to uncover ways to free up the funds you need to plan for the future.
Budgeting isn’t rocket science but it requires time and commitment. On her television show Til Debt Do Us Part personal finance maven Gail Vaz-Oxlade helps floundering families by putting them on a cash-only budget and dividing up into jars the amounts they can spend each week for each category, including debt-repayment and savings.
All nine seasons are available to watch online and there is more information and there are budgeting tools on her website.
Almost every personal finance blogger has done a series on budgeting and created budgeting spreadsheets you can download. For example, take a look at the Squawkfox budget series and tools. Retire Happy’s Jim Yih has also posted templates from his Take Control of Your Money workshop.
When my husband and I were first married, money was scarce and we budgeted quite carefully. Although we kept separate bank accounts, we did have a joint account for paying house expenses.
Once we had children our expenses increased but we also earned more. We still kept separate bank accounts, but each of us was responsible for specific expenses.
This ad hoc arrangement has worked well for us and for many years we have not had a formal budget. However, as we get closer to retirement, I realize that we will have only about 50% of our pre-retirement income. Therefore, it’s time to take a serious look at how we are spending our money now and how we will spend it once we are on a fixed income.
I can write off a portion of our house costs because I work from home, so I have a pretty good handle on these expenses. Most other expenditures like food, clothing, gas, car repairs, insurance, entertainment, travel, pet care, gifts etc. are charged to credit cards so we can accumulate airline points. It will take some time but it shouldn’t be too difficult categorize and analyze these expenses.
Finally, both of us withdraw cash at irregular intervals to pay for personal grooming plus lunches out and other miscellaneous expenses. These amounts are more difficult to track and we will have to make lists in our smartphones or find the right smartphone app to organize the information.
Once I get a handle on what we are spending now as compared to what we will have available to live on in future, I will track our monthly expenses as against income and projected income on a spreadsheet.
Some of our expenses will go down after retirement because we won’t have to pay professional fees and my husband won’t be commuting to work. We will also pay lower taxes and no longer have to save for retirement. Going down to one car or moving to a less expensive home are longer-term possibilities. But there is no doubt we will have to make compromises.
Whether you are just starting out or close to retirement, you may need help to create and stick to a budget. On the Canadian Finance Blog, Tom Drake discusses How to Choose a Fee-Only Financial Planner. If you are deeply in debt, the Saskatchewan Credit Counselling Society can help you consolidate your debts, develop a budget and get back on track.
If we had budgeted more carefully over the last 15-20 years we would have more to spend in retirement. But you can start right now. If you have used budgeting tools or resources that you recommend to others, let us know and we will share them in a future post.