Strengthen and Secure Your Current Financial position
Updated: Apr 6, 2020
With approximately 160 million Americans currently being told by their state and local governments to stay-at-home, a good first step that one can take to mold a better, more financially secure life following the lockdown is to revisit your monthly budget, and identify areas where you can save more money from each paycheck.
A small “silver lining” from being home for the first few weeks is that we can see what items are truly important in our everyday lives, and what items we can do without. Aside from the obvious worries caused by the coronavirus (you or your loved ones getting sick, potential loss of work once the nation gets through this virus crisis), we can get reacquainted with our spouse and kids, and hopefully that’s a really good thing.
Next up, I believe everyone today could benefit from revisiting sound monthly budgeting. Feeling in control of your budget/spending can bring a much-needed calmness and serenity to anyone’s life. I challenge you (the Reader/Follower) to incorporate these fairly simple budgeting principles for three months and not feel less crazed, and hopefully, a little more calm and serene about your financial well-being.
Putting together and keeping track of a monthly budget isn’t rocket science, and it only takes a couple of hours each month to manage once it is set up. You can separate your expenditures into 3-4 Tiers where Tier #1 is what I call your “Monthly Nut” – those must have monthly costs that are the same (or nearly the same) every month. These costs include your mortgage or rent, home heating, electricity, auto payments, auto insurance, health insurance, life insurance, and maybe your phone/cable/internet bundle.
Tier #2 expenses are Necessary, Large Monthly Costs which can differ significantly week to week, and which can be “managed” a bit once you realize how much is being spent. The two major expenditures in Tier #2 are groceries and automobile gas for the family car(s). Gas for our cars should obviously be significantly less during the crisis, but even after things get back to normal it will be helpful to see how you might be able to use your car more economically. Thinking ahead and combining trips can make quite a difference in total monthly gasoline expenditures. Groceries during the crisis may be more than usual as one is not able to price shop, but this is a time to think through what food items are truly needed each month. If setting up a budget and tracking your expenditures is new to you, this monthly budget exercise can be an eye-opening experience.
I know one couple in their 60s who thought, before they began the budgeting and tracking exercise, that they were spending about $600 per month in grocery shopping, only to find that they were actually spending anywhere from $1000 to $1200 per month on groceries. By paying more attention to what they were buying each week this couple almost effortlessly saved $300 per month going forward after the first three months.
Gas for the family autos is the other Tier #2 expenditure that often surprises people before they begin to track and budget their expenses. Once you see how much you are spending on gasoline each month it can be amazing how a person starts picking up better purchasing and use habits. Some examples include consciously buying gas at the station near your grocery store that is 15 cents a gallon cheaper than the service station near your work. And of course, when you are taking a longer trip together, it feels good to use the car that gets 40 miles per gallon rather than the larger SUV that is lucky to get maybe 20 miles per gallon.
Tier #3 Expenses happen every month, but are much more variable from month to month, and many of these can be managed. These costs include such things as restaurants, gifts, greeting cards, hair maintenance (cuts/color etc.,), Doctor visits, prescriptions, health club dues, other types of dues, EZ Pass, wine and/or beer, Pet Care, clothes etc. If you already have a monthly budget system set up before the crisis this is an area that can be examined to uncover a lot of areas where you may (as a family) been spending much more money than you thought, or than you probably needed to. Such expenses will be cut drastically during the crisis and then when we are all back to normal in a few months, this is an area that should been revisited for potential monthly savings.
Another couple I have worked with each has a stressful job that they enjoyed, but which also caused them to eat out 2-3 times per week because neither individual felt like cooking at the end of their day. They also ate out with friends a couple of weekends each month as a means of socializing, which they both enjoyed. When they realized that their monthly Restaurant costs were regularly over $1000 per month, they became more thoughtful about where they went, and how often they ate out. During the crisis these costs will be cut almost entirely (some takeout/delivery might still be in order), and after the crisis we can re-evaluate how much “eating out” $ should be allocated each month.
Budgeting and tracking your expenses are not in any way meant to be a punitive exercise. You may still decide to spend more than the next person/couple on certain budgetary items, BUT you will be doing so consciously.
It has been my experience that once a person or couple start using a budget to get more control of their expenses, they always seem to find ways of saving significant money each month. For some people this may be an extra $200 - $300 to go into an emergency fund or a rainy-day fund, and for others it can actually be significantly more.
Tier #4 Miscellaneous Expenses
These can be planned expenses that might happen just once or twice per year (i.e., the family vacation, a special concert or weekend away, a wedding to attend out-of-town), and of course they include the surprise/unexpected costs such as car repair, plowing the driveway, new shrubs for the garden etc. Again, such costs will be dramatically less during the Homebound period, but if you become accustomed to reviewing your monthly budget after the crisis you should find more ways to save for the future.
If you find that a miscellaneous item happens more than 2-3 times per year, I suggest that you move those items to Tier #3 and have a guesstimate $ amount put into your future budgetary process.
Serenity Starts to Build After Three Months
I think that even starting such a monthly budgeting system during the coronavirus crisis can provide a sense of “doing something” and can thus begin to provide some calmness in a very stressful time. If you can keep this exercise up after we are all back to our normal lives in a few months I think such calmness should continue.
Once you have tracked your budget and expenses for three months, add the months together to get your quarterly expenditures by item, and then divide by three to get the monthly average by item. This way you can easily spot the outlier months by item and you will gain new insight (and serenity) into your spending habits, while uncovering some significant savings opportunities … thus leading to a more calm, and put-together, you.
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