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Becoming financially independent and secure – budgeting, saving, debt and other key matters.

4a. Budgeting

Est. read time: 6 min

A budget is basically a plan for your money: How much do you have? How much could you have? How much do you earn? How much do you spend? How much do you save? How much do you need ? A budget can help you answer all these questions.

Budgets are very useful to make sure you don't spend more than you earn and to help you save money for the important things like a car, a house or a holiday.

Where to start

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A budget comprises three main items:

  • Income – how much money you earn.
  • Expenses – how much money you spend.
  • Savings/Investments – how much money you put aside.

Income

Your income (or earnings) is basically the money you earn on a regular basis such as a salary, Centrelink and other government subsidies, or interest from your savings.

You can also earn income in one-off or less regular ways, such as selling unwanted items on Gumtree.

Think of income as all the cash that comes into your bank account.

Expenses

Your expenses are ALL the costs you incur to live – or all the cash that goes out of your bank account. This isn't just your regular expenses like rent, phone, credit card payments, weekly groceries and petrol. Make sure you also include any less regular expenses such as insurance premiums, utility bills, car service charges and registration costs, replacing essential clothing for you and your children, school costs, etc.

When you do a budget you need to include all your expenses, even the one-off and irregular expenses like going to the movies, buying clothes and getting your hair cut.

Savings

When you're saving for a goal like a house or a car you should treat the money you put aside just like an expense, as if you MUST spend the money. Savings and investments are where you can start to put your excess money after you have paid all your expenses.

Savings are very important for several reasons. Firstly, they're the only way to make large purchases. While credit can be used to partially pay for a house or a holiday or a car, you still need to put down a deposit. A house usually requires at least a 10% deposit. Think about how long you'd have to spend none of your current wage to save that much!

Secondly, savings are important in case of emergencies. What if your car is damaged in an accident and needs to be fixed? What if the accident means you can't work for a while and you lose your wages, but you still need to pay your rent? A good tip is to save at least 3 months of expenses as a ‘rainy day' fund.

Creating a budget

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How do you create a budget?

The best way to start a budget is to go back and look at your income and expenses for at least the past few months. Get your bank and credit card statements and any receipts you've kept from purchases.

Next, group the transactions into income vs expenses, and regular vs irregular.

Now you need to work out what period your budget will cover. One of the best ways to budget is based on how often you get paid – weekly, fortnightly or monthly.

If your budget is weekly, but you pay your rent monthly then you need to adjust your rent to an equivalent weekly amount by dividing it by four.

In reverse, if your budget is monthly but you buy your lunch every Friday (i.e. weekly) then you would need to multiply that by 4 to determine and equivalent a monthly amount.

You can also determine equivalent amounts to be set aside to cover monthly or annual costs such as those listed above, under ‘Expenses'.

  • First – take your regular income items, list them and add them up. This is your income for the period.
  • Second – take all your regular expenses, list them and subtract them from your income.
  • Third – now subtract the amount you've allocated to save each period. It doesn't have to be a lot, saving just $20 a week will mean having over $1,000 in a year plus a small amount of interest.
  • Finally – list all your non-essential expenses. Don't be scared to include these, we all need to have fun, buy new clothes, spend some money on ourselves. The trick here is not to go crazy.

If, after you've listed all your income, expenses and savings, your budget is negative then you are spending more than you earn. You will need to look for ways to reduce your expenditure to match your income.

Reducing your expenses

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If you're spending more money than you're earning, then you need to do one (or both) of two things: Make more money or spend less money!

You may consider getting a second job – but don't forget to budget the extra expenses like bus fares or petrol. You can also make some extra money doing odd-jobs like dog walking, or selling items and clothes you don't use anymore.

Just remember that except for wages, most money isn't certain and regular and may stop at any time, so you can't rely on it. Spending less money is certainly the easier option.

Have a look at all the expenses you've listed in your budget, all the expenses you identified when you started planning. What expenses are essential? Rent, phone, groceries are all essential, but not all expenses are. How often do you need to go out to eat or see a movie? How often do you buy clothes, or “spoil yourself”? These expenses aren't essential, and you should consider reducing or eliminating them if it helps to balance your budget.

For the expenses you can't eliminate, make sure you aren't spending too much. Could you get a different phone plan that costs less or maybe walk to the next bus stop to get a cheaper fare? Can you replace bought lunches at work with lunches you make at home and take with you? Do you need to stop every day at the coffee shop? You may be able to negotiate to get cheaper utilities by shopping around between service providers.

The Synergy website has useful tips on reducing your electricity bill, and the Water Corporation has tips on their website about reducing your water bills.  You can also register for Synergy's My Account feature to manage your power usage.

Following your budget

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Now that you have a budget you need to do three things:

  • Assess your budget – is there anything there that might increase? Are there things you can remove? Is it realistic? If you haven't included the coffee you buy every morning, your estimated expenses could be too low by as much as $100 a month.
  • Follow your budget – your budget is your money plan, so now you need to follow it. If you said you were going to stop or reduce spending on something, now is the time to act. People have different ways of doing this. Some take cash out of the bank and put it into envelopes for each category. Once the envelope is empty, they've spent their budget and can't spend anymore until the next period. Some people keep their budget printed out in their wallet, so they can check it before they spend money. Try different things and see what works for you.
    • Compare your actual expenses – at the end of each period, go back to your budget and look at how much you actually received and spent. Did you have the right amount? If not – why? Make changes to your budget as you need to. If you forgot to include something, then add it in, or if you thought something would be more expensive than it was you may consider reducing the amount.

Budgeting Apps and Spending Trackers

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There are many ways you can create and keep your budget – starting with the basic pen and paper, the slightly more advanced excel spreadsheet or even an app.

Budgeting apps come in all shapes and sizes and a few good examples are listed below:

MoneySmart has a budget planner that helps you create a budget, work out where your money is going and whether your income covers your expenses.

TrackMySPEND is an app designed to help you keep track of what you're spending your money on and help you get started with that basic question “where does all my money go?”

TrackMyGOALS is for helping you start saving and see the progress you're making on your savings targets.

PocketBook and MoneyBrilliant are apps that sync with your bank accounts – all you have to do is put each expense into a category and the apps will show you where it's all going. They also have tools to help you create your budget and track your savings.

No two people budget the same way, so try all the options available to you and see what works. When you meet your goals, celebrate, budgeting can become addictive!

Further information

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The MoneySmart website has more information on how to manage on a low income, budgeting tips for saving money and spending.

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