Skip to content
Budgeting a chore, but it has its rewards
Some people just aren't interested in developing a personal budget.
"It seems to me that budgeting is one of those topics no one wants to talk about," said Barbara Babcock, director of community services at Consumer Credit Counseling Service of South Florida. "Strangely enough, people always want to learn more about credit."
Creating a budget is a chore, but it also has a reward. "It's not very exciting--how much fun did you think this was going to be?" said Jessica Cecere, president of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast of Florida. "The fun part is when you start to save money. You almost always find something to save."
There are usually secret places where the money goes, secret because you can't actually find them until you know what's happening to every penny.
A budget is a plan. It organizes you. It establishes your priorities. And it helps you to send your money where you want it to go, rather than allowing it to slip away.
There are many ways to create a budget. Babcock begins by helping people to understand the basic components. She defines income, expenses and debt.
Income is easy. But expenses and debt? It's surprising how many people aren't quite sure what they owe or where they are spending all their pay.
So grab your paycheck and maybe your tax return. Start by tracking what you spend now. For a month at least, log every nickel you spend. Do this by throwing all your receipts into a box or by writing it all down in a small notebook. Or every night, enter each item in one of the many money management software programs or online sites.
A budget is really no more than a list for every expense you have. Add lines for whatever you like. Don't overlook the once-a-while items, such as gifts or insurance policies. Put in an estimate for vacation spending.
Once you have an idea how you actually spend money, plenty of people want to know if theirs is the right idea. "Everyone likes to know if they are normal--just like comparing credit scores, SAT scores or IQ scores," said Catherine Williams, a representative for Money Management International, a California-based counseling firm that helps create budgets for tens of thousands of clients.
The numbers you use really depend on your situation. Let's say you spend 20 percent of income on clothing. If you're a supermodel that might sound right, but it would be four times more than the amount Cecere's organization recommends for the average person.
Then there's this often-asked question: How much do you spend on food in a week?
MMI suggests 21 percent of income should go to food--what you cook, what you spend eating out, snacks, anything. If your after-tax income is $50,000, that's around $200 a week.
If, on the other hand, you follow the basic guidelines developed by Cecere's group, you'd spend only 12 percent. On the same salary, that would be $115 a week.
The general budget guidelines that Cecere's group uses: 38 percent on housing, 15 percent on car and transportation, 12 percent on food, and about 5 percent each on insurance, medical expense, clothing, recreation, savings, debt repayment and miscellaneous.
The organization tailors these guidelines to each client's needs; percentages are only guides.
Once it's all clear to you, you should decide whether you really agree with your budget. Are your spending habits going to get you to your goals? Did you find extra money that you might devote to paying down debt? Is there something you could cut in order to boost your savings?
"When you get your final result, you know if you're in balance or if you need to start cutting costs and watching pennies," Babcock said. "Budgets don't lie."
Harriet Johnson Brackey is a columnist for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, a Tribune Co. newspaper.