Freedom From Financial Fretting

By Kristen Castillo

December 7, 2018 5 min read

Stressing about your budget? You're not the only one worrying about money.

A survey of 1,000 Americans over 30 shows that while 66 percent of them have a budget, 70 percent have a tough time sticking to it. The survey was commissioned by GuideVine, a service that matches people with financial advisers.

Take charge of your finances so you can get rid of money anxiety and start using your dough wisely. Here are financial experts' budgeting tips to help you make sense of your dollars and cents.

*Track Your Expenses

"Many of us have no idea what our expenses add up to every month," says Carla Dearing, the CEO of Sum180, a mobile financial wellness service.

She suggests using online money tracking services, like Mint or Quicken, to see all your financial accounts in one place. Mint even sends you alerts reminding you to pay bills and telling you when you exceed your budget.

Blogger Alex Tran, who calls herself the "queen of budgeting," also recommends using apps such as Credit Karma.

"Get those (apps) and look at them daily," she says. "See where your money is going and be aware of your spending habits."

Dearing cautions consumers to eliminate hidden expenses, too. Review your credit card statements to see items you're paying for and may have forgotten. Cancel ones you may not be using, such as a gym membership from an old address or subscriptions to professional publications.

"You may not notice right away, but automatic charges like these all add up, especially over time," says Dearing.

*Write It Down

Consumer finance expert Kevin Gallegos, who's senior vice president of client enrollment for Freedom Debt Relief, says you'll stay on track and avoid debt by keeping receipts and a spending log.

"It's very similar to writing down everything you eat when trying to lose weight," he says. "By doing this, you'll find ways where you can cut back and better prioritize."

Figure out your financial goals, such as vacations and planning for retirement.

"Write them all down, and then build the budget with the goals in mind," says Gallegos. "This will help make sure that spending is in line with your goals."

*Cash Only!

Stacy Caprio of the financial website advises using the "cash budgeting method" as an easy way to stay on budget. Set a budget for yourself and then stash that weekly allowance in an envelope of cash each week. You can only spend what's in the envelope, which means no extra trips to the ATM or using a credit card.

"It's easy to carry it around and only takes a few minutes to prep each week, so it's an easy way to make yourself stick to your weekly budget," she says.

*Don't Forget Fun!

Budget some fun into your money plan, too.

"What kinds of things -- if only general categories -- would you like to splurge on?" asks Gallegos, noting that splurges can range from training for a marathon to buying a designer bag, a new set of golf clubs or a new outfit.

He says often people set up a separate savings account exclusively earmarked for fun expenses. Others redeem credit card rewards as their indulgences for cash, gift cards and luxury items.

*Question Your Habits

Tran urges consumers to resist impulse buying on everything from insurance and groceries to department shopping, dining out and other expenses.

"When you see something you want, ask yourself the following questions: A. Do I need this? B. How often would I wear/use it? C. Is the value of the product worth the cost? D. Do I already have something similar?"

*Step by Step

Small actions add up, too!

"Jump-start your savings campaign with a no-spend month," says Dearing, explaining that a month of only buying necessities can have a significant impact on your balance sheet.

For example, take lunch to work and use free entertainment like visiting local parks. You'll save money during those 30 days, and you may also re-evaluate your spending habits altogether.

Next, identify a few regular monthly expenses that you can cut, such as premium cable, online shopping or a too-generous data plan.

Get creative so you won't feel deprived.

"If you love to eat out, challenge yourself to make delicious meals at home six nights a week," says Dearing. "Your one restaurant meal per week will feel more special, and you'll save a ton of money."

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