This is a guest article by Phil Cioppa of Arbol Financial Strategies, LLC. Phil has over 10 years of financial service experience and specializes in asset management strategies, insurance planning and taxation issues. A budget is an important part of any financial plan, and right now is the best time to take another look at yours.
Do you feel like your dollars don’t stretch as far as they used to? No, it is not your imagination. They don’t, because we are experiencing some of the most difficult economic times since the gas lines of the 1970s and the Great Depression in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
What does this mean for you? It means that it’s time to revisit your household budget to make sure that you are living within your means, that you are not wasting your hard-earned dollars on items you don’t need, and that you are setting money aside for what is really important.
What is really important? No, it’s not having the latest high tech gadget, a flashy new car, or more clothes to hang in your closet. It’s building and maintaining an adequate financial safety net for yourself so that you have the money you need to pay for setbacks and emergencies. For example, you lose your job, your employer decides not to continue paying for your health insurance, your car dies and you need to replace it, your child has an unexpected medical problem, your home needs an expensive repair, and so on. Without an adequate safety net, you may have to use credit cards to fund the unexpected, which could be devastating to your finances.
Saving for retirement is also really important. No matter how far away you are from retirement, if you don’t begin planning for it now, your inaction will come back to haunt you. No matter what –- put money aside for the future! When that future becomes “now,” you will be glad you did.
I know that doing all of this may sound like a tall order, but it’s non-negotiable. To start, re-evaluate your financial priorities, study your budget to figure out how your spending and your priorities line up, and then reduce your spending as necessary so that you can begin building a financial safety net as well as a retirement fund. And yes, doing this may require some sacrifice on your part.
If you have to spend less, examine your essential expenses, like food and other day-to-day costs of living. What can you reduce? Also look at the fat in your budget –- the stuff that you enjoy or think is nice to have, but that you really don’t need. What are you willing to give up?
Here are just a few of the kinds of questions you should ask yourself as you rework your budget:
- Is your current cell phone plan truly the best deal for you?
- Can you save money by bundling your phone, Internet and cable service? You’ll usually find that new account holders get the best deals so you may want to change providers.
- Have you explored whether you could purchase your electricity or gas from a less expensive source, assuming those services are deregulated in your state?
- Do you really need all of the TV channels you are paying for? If you changed to a cheaper package, would you miss the channels you eliminated?
- Are you paying too much for your insurance? Ask your insurance broker to evaluate your insurance needs and explore whether you could save by consolidating all of your insurance with one company.
- What about your vehicles? Can you get rid of one or them? And, how often do you use the motorcycle or boat you pay to insure?
- How much are you spending each week on restaurant meals, happy hours, and coffee drinks? If you take the time to add up those expenses, you may be surprised at your final total. Take the money you are spending on such nonessentials and use it to pay off your debt faster, or to increase the amount that you save each month.
- If you’ve been dropping thousands on vacations away, take vacations closer to home or even consider a vacation at home. Given rising airfares, you could save a bundle.
- Refinance your home. With interest rates at all time lows, you could realize a substantial savings by getting a new mortgage loan and paying off your current one.
Nobody likes to change their lifestyle, but nobody likes to be broke either or to come up short when it’s time to retire! The key to surviving and even flourishing in a down economy is to be realistic about your spending, to decide what your financial priorities and needs really are, to give up some of your creature comforts if necessary, and to save, save, save. It’s essential if you want more money in your pocket for today and for tomorrow.
Published or updated January 19, 2012.