Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Making a Budget… and Beating It!

A lot of people who do not earn great amounts of money know what it is like to calculate every buck they spend. Of course, the best way to make sure their finances are balanced at the end of every month is to make a budget. First, they have to plan for their common, fixed expenses such as their apartment rent or their car payment. In order just to do that, they must put the same amount of money aside month after month in order to meet these unavoidable expenses whose cost do not change over time. But then come what I call the variable or elastic expenses: it is in this column that people can contrive to yield some unspent money and invest it elsewhere.

Examples of elastic household expenses


Variable or elastic household expenses can represent a significant proportion of a given family’s budget. It is indeed not unimaginable that this kind of expenses can make up half, if not more of many households’ budget. If I had to explain in very simple terms what these variable expenses actually are, I would put it that way: variable or elastic household expenses are those expenses which do not cost the same amount of money month after month and for which cheaper or more expensive alternatives actually exist.

Food, for instance, is a variable expense. Although buying food is unavoidable, groceries actually do not cost you the exact same amount of money from one month to another. Buying different kinds of foods in order to squeeze some extra bucks is possible: you could indeed decide to buy the kind of meat that is on sale instead of going for another one that costs more. Making your own lunch instead of eating at a fast food restaurant is another choice you could make and that could save you money.

But food is not the only elastic household expense that exists. Gas, for instance, can also be considered a variable expense, especially if you live in an area where transportation means other than your own car are available. Of course, you can opt for a cheaper or for a more costly option at the pump when filling your gas tank. Yet, I consider gas to be an elastic expense because you could also opt for carpooling, for biking or for public transit when these cheaper options are realistic, adapted to your needs and available.

Entertainment, clothing, home energy, gifts, and the likes also are variable expenses. Since this kind of expenses is likely to be the only place where saving money is possible, this is where you ought to concentrate your efforts if you want to save money. I can already hear you say: “But I have planned some monthly savings in my budget and I have already allowed as little money as possible for food, clothing, entertainment, etc.” This is fine if you want to balance your budget exactly the way you planned it. But if your goal is to yield some extra savings – in order to invest that money elsewhere – you ought to consider the cheapest alternatives that are available when spending money for elastic expenses.

How can this be profitable?


By beating your budget and saving a little more money here and there, you can end up yielding even greater amounts of extra money in the long run. Indeed, if you already are investing in mutual funds, for instance, or in other financing strategies towards your retirement by budgeting a fixed amount of money every month, investing the extra money you save by squeezing your elastic expenses could be profitable in the long run if you invest it in your old days too.

Beating your planned elastic household expenses could also be profitable if you used that extra money in order to pay off your personal debt. Whether it is by redirecting that money towards your mortgage or towards your car loan, you could reduce your total interest costs significantly if you made periodic lump-sum payments, which most financial institutions allow. You could also think of using your budget surplus to pay off credit card debt – in you have any – since it is often considered the worst kind of debt to have due to the skyrocketing interest rates that credit cards carry.

And of course, you could even think of reinvesting your elastic expenses monthly savings in a personal project such as a trip, a new computer or any other thing that is important to you. After all, your efforts to beat a budget that is already tight should be rewarded. Now, it is for you to decide how you want to benefit from your efforts. It could be immediately, by purchasing a new espresso machine or it could be more long-term oriented, by saving for your retirement or by amortizing your mortgage on a shorter period. In both cases, however, the benefits of being thrifty when it comes to your elastic household expenses are quite blatant and inviting and yet, they will only come at the expense of sustained efforts to beat your budget.

About the author:
Alexandre Duval is a blogger for Standard Life, a company that offers a wide range of financial products and services.



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