Thursday, September 26, 2013

Does Your Budget Need a Makeover?

It’s not uncommon to reset your budget when you reach a major milestone, such as getting married, retiring or buying a house. When you do that, however, you manage your finances in fits and starts, and you miss numerous chances to save and spend more wisely.

When life goes along smoothly with no major interruptions, you might not think about money. But all the while, costs go up, fees are incurred, and new cost-saving opportunities come along. If you haven’t set a budget in a while, ask yourself these questions to see if it’s time to reorganize your financial priorities.

Has my Month-End Balance Changed?

When you wrote your budget 10 years ago, you may have assumed you’d end each month with a set amount of money left over. Take a look at your bank statements from the past year and see if that amount has gone up or down since your last budget.

Suppose you used to have $500 at the end of each month. If you’re now keeping less, go through your expenses and look for things to reduce or eliminate. If you’re keeping more, have some fun with it; better yet, put that extra money into your retirement account.

Am I Still Getting my Money’s Worth?

If you’re spending more time fixing your 1996 Mustang than you are driving it, you’re not getting much return on your investment anymore. Similarly, your gym membership might seem silly since you bought a treadmill last year. Let your budget reflect these changing priorities.

Just as revenues and expenses change, so does the need for certain things. What seemed essential in your 20s and 30s might not matter in your 40s and 50s. Analyze your spending habits over the last few years and decide whether certain expenses are still important in your life.

Am I Properly Preparing for the Future?

Some situations come out of nowhere, like an illness or a termination. Other things are inevitable, like retirement or the passing of a loved one. These situations don’t have to be imminent for you to start preparing for them, but as the day approaches, give them more attention.

As you get older, you may want to cut back your work hours, thus cutting your pay. Or you may start facing various health problems, resulting in higher expenses. Factor those possibilities into your current budget; the more you prepare, the easier these things will be to manage.

Do I have a backup plan?

Even after you’ve considered every contingency, something unexpected could happen to put your finances at risk. Instead of being blindsided by these sudden changes, protect yourself by having an alternate budget in place.

This Plan B should reflect what would change if things went awry. For instance, what would you do if you or your spouse became ill and needed long-term care? Some people might cut expenses to pay for home care, while others might rent out or sell a second home.

Nothing stays the same, and it’s important to make sure your finances follow suit. Give your budget a regular review to keep your finances on a smooth track.

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