One of the most important steps you can take on the road to financial security is to prepare a sustainable budget beforehand. This will help give you the foundation you need to build an effective financial plan that is realistic, achievable and tailored to your own individual circumstances.
The importance of budgeting
Budgets are a vital aspect of financial planning because they identify the capacity you have for saving and investing. By taking a closer look at your income and outgoings, it’s easier to identify surplus cashflow that could be used to reduce debt, save for the future and bring your financial goals one step closer.
Budgeting needn’t be complex, and revolves around two straightforward questions:
What’s coming in?
Firstly, list all forms of income. As well as salaries, consider other forms of income such as interest on bank accounts, share dividends, child support, Centrelink payments or rental income from investment properties.
What’s going out?
Start with all the regular outgoings such as bills, home loan payments, travel expenses and groceries. Then consider any annual or occasional expenses like holidays, birthday gifts, restaurant meals or vehicle servicing.
If you have more money coming in than going out, the surplus can be used for investment or savings purposes. That’s a great position to be in, and the next step is to talk to an Infocus Financial Adviser who will help you make the most of it.
If you are only just covering your outgoings, or have more money going out than coming in, it’s time to look at ways to boost your income or cut back on your spending.
Balancing the budget
Taking on a part-time job or renting out a spare room to a student are two ways you could give your household income a boost – but you may find it is easier to save money than it is to make more.
Most of us spend money on things that are ‘nice-to-have’ rather than ‘must-have’, so there are some simple savings to be made.
Putting your savings to good use
Once you’ve isolated some savings, it’s time to put this surplus cash to work for your financial future. You should find a savings account that offers a high rate of interest on your money.
Searching out the savings
There are plenty of other ways to cut your outgoings. Keep the following tips in mind and you’ll soon see your weekly or monthly outgoings drop.
• Look around for a better home loan rate or have a mortgage broker search for you.
• Investigate whether solar power could save you money on hot water or electricity.
• Shop around when your insurance is up for renewal and ask about multi-policy discounts.
• Change to energy-efficient globes that last longer and are better for the environment.
• Try the supermarket-own grocery brands that provide great savings every week.
• Wrap up warm in winter with a jumper, rather than turning the heating up high.
• Dry clothes on a line not in a machine and look for more efficient models for white goods.
• Find out if you are paying bank fees and look around for fee-free options.
• Ensure that interest is calculated daily on your account, not monthly or yearly.
• Set up an automatic direct debit from your transaction account into your savings account.
• Ask your payroll department to pay part of your salary into your savings account.
• Have a goal in mind that will remind you why you are making these sacrifices!
Keeping your cards under control
It’s also a good idea to look at the way you are using loans and credit cards, and ask yourself if you’re paying more in interest than you need to. Here are some tips for reducing exposure to interest:
• Pay off credit cards each month (if you can) or as much as you can afford.
• Consolidate multiple loans into a single loan with a lower interest rate.
• Switch credit card debt to an interest-free balance transfer deal.
• Switch your spending to a debit card and only spend what you can afford.
• Don’t buy things on credit, if you can’t afford to buy them in cash.
A strategy for success
In essence, good budgeting comes down to common sense and discipline. So it’s important to be realistic about your spending, and not set yourself targets that you can’t reach.
For instance, you are better off switching your weekly cinema trip to a day when entry is cheaper, than it is to decide not to go at all. Similarly, planning to live on baked beans is not practical, no matter how much money you might save.
Above all, remember that budgeting is all about bringing the best out in your situation. Small sacrifices you make now could lead to a brighter financial future down the track.