It doesn't take much for you to get behind on monthly bills, but it sure takes some time to catch up. The comparison in my mind is to weight gain. A one-week vacation can easily pack on 5 to 7 pounds. Losing that weight however, can take a good month of cardio. That's no fun, and neither is trying to find the extra cash to pay last month's credit card payment.
Every financial professional's suggestions in regards to budgeting seem so simple. Five percent to savings, thirty-five percent to housing expenses, ten percent for food?tell me honestly, am I supposed to put all my cash in individual envelopes and label them with their assigned debt? Let's get real here. Debt is an overpowering epidemic in America. It's growing every year. I think its time that someone actually made sense out of it all.
If we start in the beginning, it is important to make a budget for your household. Start with any program you like. Try shopping around online for different budgeting calculators. Once you find one that work for you, start making it realistic. It's easy from an outside standpoint to put everything in a box of percentages. What if your numbers don't add up? It's time to think outside the box.
When considering housing expenses, you may be over your limit. An average target is 35%. If you own your home, you can't just sell it and move back with Mom and Dad to save money and refinancing may cost you more in closing costs than you are actually saving. If you need a little extra in one part take it from another. Reduce some of your more flexible expenses like a cell phone bill or clothing costs. Find a less expensive plan and shop the sales at the department stores.
As far as money allotted for paying down debt like credit cards and student loans, you can shave a little off of savings until the balances are paid down or paid off completely. It is important with credit card debt to pay more than the minimum amount due, otherwise you are paying mostly interest and very little of your balance. Student loans however can be paid off in minimum payments without costing you enormous interest rates.
Food expenses should average about $150 monthly per person. This is the total amount including grabbing a bite to eat at the local restaurant. Look for sales at the supermarket and cook at home more often. Frozen and gourmet prepared foods are more expensive than home cooking. Break out the recipe book; your family may just thank you for it.
You realize the basic idea, but what if you don't fit into this category either. If your debt is far less manageable you can contact your local Consumer Credit Counseling Service or a debt consolidation company to help you get back on track. If your credit is still in good shape you may be able to get a low interest loan to consolidate debt yourself with monthly payments you can afford.
It's understandable that with today's busy schedules and the high demands placed on the working family that the last thing you want to do after a long day is to work on your budget. Unfortunately money problems don't go away by themselves. Either deal with them head on and find a way to work through them or they will catch up with you.
Jason M. Rigler
Cash now for future payments