Be a Budgeting Superstar Without the Struggle


What's Hot


2 Types of Black Marks Might Vanish From Your Credit File SoonBorrow

6 Ways the Obamacare Overhaul Might Impact Your WalletInsurance

7 Dumb and Costly Moves Homebuyers MakeBorrow

This Free Software Brings Old Laptops Back to LifeMore

Obamacare Replacement Plan Gets ‘F’ Rating from Consumer ReportsFamily

Beware These 12 Common Money MistakesCredit & Debt

21 Restaurants Offering Free Food Right NowSaving Money

17 Ways to Have More Fun for Less MoneySave

House Hunters: Beware of These 6 Mortgage MistakesBorrow

30 Household Uses for Baby OilSave

25 Ways to Spend Less on FoodMore

Nearly Half of Heart-Related Deaths Linked to These 10 Foods and IngredientsFamily

5 Surprising Benefits of Exercising Outdoors in WinterFamily

10 Ways to Save When You’re Making Minimum WageSave

Boost Your Credit Score Fast With These 7 MovesCredit & Debt

7 Painless Ways to Pay Off Your Mortgage Years EarlierBorrow

The Most Sinful City in the U.S. Is … (Hint: It’s Not Vegas)Family

The True Cost of Bad CreditCredit & Debt

10 Companies With the Best 401(k) PlansGrow

This Scam Now Tops ID Theft as the No. 2 Consumer ComplaintFamily

6 Stores With Awesome Reward ProgramsFamily

6 Ways to Save More at Lowe’s and The Home DepotSave

6 Healthful Treats for Your DogFamily

New Study Ranks the Best States in the U.S.Family

Thousands of Millionaires Moving to 1 Country — and Leaving AnotherGrow

Strapped for College Costs? How to Get the Most From FAFSABorrow

6 Overlooked Ways to Save at Chick-fil-AFamily

Ask Stacy: What’s the Fastest Way to Pay Off My Mortgage?Borrow

Where to Sell Your Stuff for Top DollarAround The House

8 Ways to Get a Good Price on a Shiny New AutoCars

Ask Stacy: How Do I Start Over?Credit & Debt

Secret Cell Plans: Savings Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint Don’t Want You to Know AboutFamily

30 Awesome Things to Do in RetirementCollege

14 Super Smart Ways to Save on TravelSave

The Rich Prefer Modest Cars — Should You Join Them?Cars

You’ll Soon Pay More to Shop at CostcoSave

10 Ways to Save When Your Teen Starts DrivingFamily

One of the best gifts you can give yourself? A spending plan that allows you to reach your goals. (And it doesn't have to hurt.)

Creating a budget — one that will get you out of debt so you can save money — is a great goal for the coming year. Taking control of your finances is possible only if you have a spending plan.

But don’t budgets hurt? Not if you do them right.

A successful budget includes a goal — a reason to follow a regimen. That goal should be:

  • Specific. “I want to handle money better” could mean anything. Paying only two overdraft fees a month is technically better than your usual five.
  • Important. Maybe you’ve always wanted to self-publish a science fiction novel. That’s an intriguing goal, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of, say, an emergency fund or regular contributions to a retirement account.
  • Achievable. Sure, it would be great to pay off your mortgage within two years while also clearing $30,000 in student loans. Don’t set yourself up to fail with unrealistic objectives. Do resolve to set reasonable objectives and use the momentum of each success to keep moving toward bigger goals.

Hold yourself accountable

Some goals are short-term, such as paying off a credit card or setting money aside for new winter boots. Others, such as buying a home or saving for retirement, won’t happen overnight.

Personal finance author Liz Weston is a fan of the 50/30/20 budget: No more than half of after-tax income going toward “must-haves,” 30 percent for “wants,” and 20 percent for savings and debt repayment.

Thus you would put basics like rent and utilities under “must-haves” and that new boots fund under “wants” (unless your current pair lets slush in at every step).

These categories are somewhat flexible. If paying down consumer debt faster or putting more in retirement is a priority for you, then shoot some of your “wants” dollars toward those goals.

Look for ways to add more cash to the categories that matter most. Here’s where frugal hacks come in handy. Every dollar you don’t spend is a dollar that can be sent toward the future. See these Money Talks News articles for money-saving tactics:

You shouldn’t try them all at once, any more than you would try running a marathon before getting into shape. Incorporate money-saving ideas gradually into your lifestyle.

Care for the future you

Retirement planning should take priority over debt repayment. Not contributing to your plan at work means you’re giving up potential company matches. Even if your employer doesn’t match, every dollar you don’t put toward retirement is a dollar that won’t help you later on.

Weston suggests setting aside 10 percent of your salary for those retirement years. Yes, it will be tough. But this is the optimal time to start.

“Ask any of your older co-workers if it gets any easier to save for retirement,” Weston says.

Track those dollars

If you need help budgeting, ask for it. Groups like the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and the Financial Counseling Association of America offer help with getting your finances in line. Often that advice is free.

Just remember to check any credit counseling organization through the Better Business Bureau and your state attorney general’s office.

Before revamping your spending, figure out where the money is going right now. Some people write down what they spend and create spreadsheets of their expenditures.

However, there’s a much easier way — online budgeting sites/apps such as Mint.com or PowerWallet, a Money Talks News partner, which will track your cash and measure your progress.

Setting limits doesn’t mean nixing future fun, but you need to be aware of how money leaves your hands. Snacks, lapsed promotional offers and banking fees are all examples of small expenses that can wreck your finances.

Monitor your progress

Go over your spending plan regularly to compare it with your actual spending. If you find that you’re busting your budget regularly, it is time to remotivate yourself.

Think about why having control over your finances is so important. Remember that both current and future needs will be met only if you get smarter about money practices. Keep yourself motivated by involving your partner or family in the budget planning process. Or share budgeting tips with family members and friends. Reward yourself occasionally. Just build the reward into your budget.

Deciding not to spend is not deprivation. It’s security. And it will feel great.

Do you have tips for building a budget that works? Share them with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Marilyn Lewis contributed to this post.

Stacy Johnson

It's not the usual blah, blah, blah

I know... every site you visit wants you to subscribe to their newsletter. But our news and advice is actually worth reading! For 25 years, I've been making people richer without making their eyes glaze over. You'll be glad you did. I guarantee it!

💰🗣📰

Read Next: Ask Stacy: Where Can I Find Help With Credit Card Debt?

Check Out Our Hottest Deals!

We're always adding new deals and coupons that'll save you big bucks. See the deals to the right and hundreds more in our Deals section.

Click here to explore 2,069 more deals!