By Benjamin Temin
“I know I don’t have enough money to cover my expenses. I am in the red every month. What’s the point of managing a budget if I know there isn’t enough?”
This is a common question we hear from people struggling to make ends meet and it brings up some important points about the nature of managing money. In my previous blog, Basics of Budgeting, I defined budgeting as “a plan for the way we spend, save, give, and generally get our money to do what we want it to do – it helps us take control.”
This blog will address why making that plan is so important, especially for those on a tight budget.
- Prioritize needs. One of the first steps in setting up a budget is listing all your income and expenses. When you look at the expenses, you should organize them by needs. There are the things you need to live, things you need to work, insurance and other obligations. Ensuring those are paid first may sound intuitive, but without conscious planning, it is the non-essential expenses that tend to capture our attention – and our wallet.
- Gain control. Finances are consistently identified as one of the top stressors in people’s lives. When someone is struggling to make ends meet, there is often a feeling of lack of control. Even just looking at your bank account can be stressful when things don’t all add up. However, in the long run, being proactive by knowing what money is available helps with planning how you will spend your limited resources. That clarity can give you more confidence and restore a feeling of control.
- Make choices and set goals. Once you have a full and realistic money picture, it is easier to decide on the appropriate next steps in setting your goals. Whether you want to reduce or trim spending in certain areas, take a second job, or even ask for help, these are not easy choices. If you budget accurately, you will have concrete information to help you set goals, plan steps to achieve them, and identify challenges you may face. Understanding how much more you need to earn or what impact cutting out certain expenses will have on your bottom line will make the decision-making process easier.
- Be realistic and flexible. Starting to actively track your money and plan the way you spend it is a big change. If you are new to the process, give yourself time to learn and adjust. If you veer off course, try to identify what factors may have led you astray so you are prepared in the future, then try again.
You have every reason to be hopeful because no matter what your bank account looks like, taking an active role in budgeting and in planning how you spend and save is a major step towards financial wellness.
Thank you for reading! In the next blog, we will address some of the most common issues that couples should consider when budgeting together.
Benjamin Temin is a Coordinator for Economic Sufficiency at Jewish Community Services.
JCS is a comprehensive human services organization providing a broad range of services that meet the diverse, multi-dimensional needs of individuals and families throughout Central Maryland. To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or 410-466-9200.