Budgeting is a pain. But what’s more painful is a bill you can’t easily pay, debt that costs a fortune or not having enough money to retire.
Fortunately, you can have a useful, working budget without watching every penny. Automation, technology and a few simple guidelines can keep you on track.
The following approach works best if you have reasonably steady income that comfortably exceeds your basic expenses. If your income isn’t steady or doesn’t cover much more than the basics, you may need to track your spending more closely.
Also, no budget in the world can fix a true income shortfall, where there’s not enough coming in to cover your basic bills. If that’s the case, you need more income, fewer expenses or outside help. One place to start your search for aid is 211.org, which provides links to charitable and government resources in many communities.
Otherwise, though, you can craft a spending plan with the following steps.
START WITH YOUR MUST-HAVES
Must-have costs include housing, utilities, food, transportation, insurance, minimum debt payments and child care that allows you to work. Using the 50/30/20 budget, these costs ideally would consume no more than 50% of your after-tax income. That leaves 30% for wants (entertainment, clothes, vacations, eating out and so on) and 20% for savings and extra debt payments.