Get in Shape: Consolidate! (1 of 3)

Get in Shape: Consolidate!

Part I: Budgeting

Are your finances looking a little flabby? Do they get winded from something as easy as an unexpected doctor’s bill? Could your credit card balances maybe stand to lose a few pounds? If so, then it’s time to get your finances in shape! Here’s a workout plan to get your finances looking their best today!

Make a Budget

Making a budget is the most important thing that you can do for your personal finances. It’s everything. It’s the Alpha and Omega. Jordan and Pippen. Peanut butter and pickles (don’t knock it till you try it). Before you do anything else, you should make a budget.

Easier said than done, right? Self-discipline is definitely a big part of this. Because once you make a budget (which can be time consuming already), you also have to stick to it and keep track of your expenses. But while it might not be easy, that doesn’t you mean you can’t get help.

There’s an App for That

There are a whole slew of different budgeting apps and programs out there. Some of them even link up to your bank account to make tracking your finances even easier. Two of the best known programs out there are Mint and You Need a Budget.[1] If you’re a newbie to budgeting, getting a program to assist you is highly recommended.

Some of the programs are free, and some are not. Check them out to see which program works best for you.

See a Credit Counselor

If your finances are really in tough shape, you can also make an appointment with a credit counselor. Credit Counseling Agencies are not-for-profit companies that help people manage their personal finances. They can help you build a budget, and can also give you advice about responsible spending and credit use.

Now, not all of them are legit, and just because they’re not-for-profit doesn’t necessarily mean that they offer their services for free. To make sure that the credit counselor you’re seeing isn’t going to take you for a ride,[2] here are some steps you can take: Check out the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s list of approved credit counseling agencies. Then check to see if the counselor is accredited by either the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) or the Financial Counseling Association of America (FCAA).

Categories, Categories, Categories

When you’re making a budget, you’re going to want to make as many categories as you can. This is because you’ll want as clear a picture as possible of how your money is getting spent.

Break your expenses into daily, weekly, and monthly. That daily three dollar cup of coffee may equal fifteen dollars a week, or sixty bucks a month. Seeing your expenses will help you cut back and ultimately save you more money. The more you drill down into the specifics, the better your understanding of your finances will be.

To read about the next steps you can take to improve your finances, check out parts II and III of this series.

References:

[1] Albright, Dann. “The Online Budget Battle: Mint vs. You Need a Budget (YNAB).” MakeUseOf.com. February 12, 2016. Access May 2, 2016. https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/the-online-budget-battle-mint-vs-you-need-a-budget-ynab/

[2] “Choosing a Credit Counselor.” Federal Trade Commission. Consumer Information. Accessed May 2, 2016. https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0153-choosing-credit-counselor