Give your budget a check-up

Calculate financial health

Are you looking for ways to stretch your dollars? Start by taking the time to know where your money is going so you can do a better job of managing it.

Step 1: Know where your money goes

Track everything you spend. One way you can do this is keep track of receipts—all of them! Gather your receipts at the end of a week and sort them into groups. If you use a debit card often, you can check your bank statement to see where you're spending your money.

Be sure to include everything - from cash and credit card expenses to online banking and automatic withdrawals. Keep receipts in an envelope, or record them as you go on a spreadsheet.

Step 2: Create categories

After tracking your expenses for a month, determine categories for your spending. They may include housing, auto, food, household, debt, clothes, pets, entertainment, and charity. Don't forget savings!

Add subgroups as needed. For example, housing expenses may include mortgage, insurance, utilities, etc.

Step 3: Calculate your net income

After a month of tracking your expenses, find out what groups you have. Some groups may be: home, auto, food, household, debt, clothes, pets, entertainment, and charity. Don't forget savings!

Add subgroups as needed. For example, House may have mortgage, insurance, utilities, etc.

Step 4: Determine your most important categories

Make sure you put necessary expense categories such as mortgage or rent, utilities, and insurance at the top. If you have debt, this should be at the top of your list as well. Then list important expenses such as food, gas for your car, or household expenses. Add flexible expenses such as entertainment at the bottom of your list.

Step 5: Fill in your actual expenses

Fill in expenses that have set amounts first. For example, mortgage or rent and car payments are expenses that remain the same each month. Include all debt in your "must pay" category. Fill in other necessary expenses next to see what you have left. Don't forget savings!

Step 6: Think about what you really need

If you're usually spending more money than you're bringing home, look at what expenses you can get rid of or reduce. For example, if you have more than one car, maybe you could sell one to bring down your auto insurance and fuel costs. Or maybe you can cut back on your cell phone minutes or take a break from other luxuries. The goal is to get your finances under control.

Step 7: Stick to your budget

This may be difficult, but you can do it. Set a new budget and live by it. If it's not in your budget, don't spend it. If it's an unexpected emergency like a car repair or medical expense, then you must take money out of another area in your budget that month. This is also why it's important to include savings in your budget for emergencies. If you overspend one month, find out what happened and try to stay away from or adjust for that expense the next month. You can do it!

Key savings tips

These tried and true tips will help you keep your finances in check:

  • Build an emergency savings account to cover at least six months of expenses.
  • Pay off credit cards and other debts, and then live within your means.
  • Check your progress throughout the month to make sure you always know how much money you have to spend.
  • Use a computer spreadsheet to track your actual and budgeted expenses. You'll see right away whether you've gone over your target amount.
  • Pay off credit cards in full each month. Don’t put anything on a credit card that isn't already in your budget. If it’s too hard to stick with that plan, it’s time to cut up the credit card.
  • Don't neglect giving. Even if it's a small amount or just volunteering your time, giving can make a big difference. When we give to others in need, whether it's through a church or a favorite charity, money becomes about more than just "me." There's always someone who is less fortunate than you are.

About the author

Jamie Turner Lovett

Jamie Turner Lovett is a Human Capital Leader at Humana. She joined Humana in 2008 to lead the development of the "My Money, My Health, a Guide to Financial Fitness" program. She has 14 years' experience in financial services, human resources, and organizational development. Jamie has a BBA from Marshall University and an MBA from Point Park University. Away from work, Jamie enjoys committing time to philanthropic endeavors, friends, family, and her dogs: Red, Rusty and Cody.

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