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Money saving tips: Hey buster, don't bust that personal budget.

by:
Laurie Campbell

A moment to talk about busted budgets. Personal monthly budgets that is, the kind that should be put in writing, and that should set forth guidelines for regular practices that make for a healthy financial life - unless of course the whole thing goes bust. Generally, three factors contribute to a busted budget. A lack of commitment, an unrealistic approach to spending, and unplanned expenses. With a little self awareness and work, though, the problems can be fixed. If you’ve drawn up a budget plan but can’t stick to it, you may have to take a hard look at your spending habits, or in more extreme cases you may be facing psychological issues about money that need to be addressed through some credit counselling from my organization, Credit Canada. Start with the understanding that modifying a personal budget is a waste of time if bad financial behaviour is not addressed in the first place. Studies show that  "positive replacement" is the best way to deal with bad money habits. Instead of focusing on what you are doing wrong, find motivation through what you can do that is right and enjoyable at the same time. Substitute activities that require spending with activities that come free or that are less expensive. For example, instead of taking lunch with a friend, go for a stroll in pleasant surroundings; instead of taking your children to a movie, engage them in an interesting field trip; rather than taking a special dinner out, cook a special dinner at home. Be imaginative.  When boredom strikes and the mall beckons,  find new ways of filling time that interest you and that may end up adding more zest to life, not to mention your bank account. Think about volunteer work, or taking a second job. You might need reminders that help you stay vigilant. Write down or print out a brief list of reasons about why you want to stick to your budget. The list may include abbreviated short-term to long-term financial goals as well as quotes of inspiration from famous people or family and friends. Carry the list with you in your wallet or purse  - or tape it up somewhere at home - and review it regularly.  You may be surprised by how the words sink in over time. Being off budget could mean being unrealistic about the spending and expense figures you’ve applied to your written document. That’s’ why an honest approach to what you spend on a daily and a monthly basis is so important. When taking account of your spending for a written budget, try to cover every single expenditure, from normal bills to items such as hair care, coffee, pop, magazines, music, movies et cetera. Always track spending by narrow categories rather than general categories. When you lump everything into one category, like food or entertainment, it’s easy to forget about what you specifically spent in the category. Apply your findings to your budget, and review all spending on at least a monthly basis. Make a budget alteration where necessary. Big budget busters often come in the form of a job loss, a health emergency, or some other unpredictable financial difficulty. But people also frequently overlook big budget planning items that are predictable, such as weddings, funerals, and graduations.  The smartest approach here is to make plans for emergencies and to be thorough in your forecast of predictable events requiring spending. Every written monthly personal budget should include a  "rainy day fund" for emergencies, the general rule being that the find should amount to three to six months of your regular income. At the same time, think ahead to all predictable events over the course of year that will require expenditures – holidays and birthdays, for instance. In most cases involving busted budgets, it’s almost always the individual who has created the problem in the first place. And that’s good news. Because it means the power to change things for the better rests in your hands. You only need to act.

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