Have you ever seen the bumper sticker that reads, “Why is there so much month left at the end of the money?” While this may prompt a smile for some, for others it may be hitting a little close to home.
If unexpected expenses, impulse purchases, rising costs of food and utilities, and the economic downturn have your paycheque stretched to the max, take heart. You’re not alone in feeling the pinch. Best of all, by employing some common sense budgeting, spending and saving smarts you will soon feel more in control of your financial situation.
OH NO - NOT THE "B" WORD
Gail Vaz-Oxlade of TV’s Til Debt Do Us Part says, “Trying to get through life without a budget is like trying to drive a car with no steering wheel.”
While creating a budget may not be your idea of fun, it is an important step in getting a bird’s-eye view of your finances. Here are some steps to creating a budget:
- Gather all the statements and receipts you can – These are statements that show a source of income, such as your pay stubs, or an expense, such as bank statements, investment accounts, utility bills, car loan(s) and groceries. (Not everyone keeps grocery receipts and smaller ticket item receipts, so before doing this exercise, you may need to save these up for a period of three months to get an accurate picture of your spending.)
- Record all sources of income – Use the net income amount (portion after taxes) shown on your paycheque. Record other sources such as alimony, child support, pension, etc.
- Create a list of monthly expenses – These include your set monthly expenses such as a mortgage or rent payment and car payment(s), plus other unfixed expenses such as groceries, utilities, entertainment, auto insurance, or retirement savings (anything you spend money on).
- Break expenses into fixed and variable groups – Fixed expenses are those that stay the same each month (mortgage, rent, car payment). Variable expenses include groceries, gas and weekend outings for example. (The variable expenses are important because should you want or need to cut back, this is where you would start.)
- Calculate your totals – Add up your monthly income. In a separate column, add up your monthly expenses (fixed and variable). This is an important indicator. Ideally, you want your income to be more than your expenses. If your expenses total is higher, then you need to make some changes in your spending.
- Make adjustments – If you have more money than you spend, you can look at smart uses for the extra amount, such as saving for retirement, college or a trip. If your expenses column is higher than what you’re bringing in, you need to review where your dollars are going and look at ways to cut back so that you can generate savings or pay off debt, or both!
SMART COOKIES KNOW HOT TO SPEND WISER
If you find that you want to put some money away for a rainy day, but you aren’t sure where to find it, the Smart Cookies can help. These five young Canadian women have banded together to help each other eliminate debt, spend smarter and save better. Now they’re helping other women do the same with their book, The Smart Cookies’ Guide to Making More Dough. Here are some of their top tips for saving:
- Instead of dinner with friends, go out for breakfast or lunch or even just coffee. If you’re dying to check out a new restaurant, go early and have a drink and split an appetizer.
- Rather than buying bottled water, purchase a reusable bottle and at-home filter system. Not only will you save money, you’ll do something good for the environment.
- Co-workers invite you to meet them for dinner after work? Be fashionably late. Eat dinner at home, and join them for a drink and dessert later.
- Save money on the clothing items that only you see, such as underwear and socks, or the basics that can go with anything, like white T-shirts, by shopping at places like SuperStore and Costco.
- Form an exercise club with friends. Organize daily or weekly walks, runs, hikes or bike rides. This way, you can be money conscious, social and fit all at the same time, and working out with friends will give you the motivation to keep going.
- Stretch time out between visits to the salon. Instead of getting a cut every six weeks, aim for every eight weeks. This will save the cost of at least two cuts plus tips each year!
- Take advantage of free makeovers offered at makeup counters and boutiques before a big night out.
- Lose the landline. Compare how much you use your cell phone versus your landline phone. Does it make sense to have both?
- Cut the cable. Take a close look at what you’re paying for all those channels that you may not be watching. Look at the basic cable package and see if you can survive on it alone.
- Shop in-store and buy online. Try on your favourite branded items to get the right fit, and then go to eBay or an online retailer to order them at substantially cheaper prices. Before you hit the purchase button, open a new window and type the name of the retailer and “coupon” or “promo code” into your favourite search engine. You may find discounts or coupons that you can use when you check out – saving as much as 30 percent.
For more great tips from the Smart Cookies, visit www.smartcookies.com.
PUTTING YOUR MONEY TO WORK
Saving is great, but making your money multiply on its own is even better! In a bank savings account, your money is safe, easy to maintain and withdraw, and you even earn a little bit of interest on it. But if you want to see your money grow a little quicker, here are some other places to keep it.
Money Market Fund – Used for short-term loans, money market funds usually pay better interest rates than a savings account, but you’re assuming a slighter higher risk.
Guaranteed Investment Certificates (GICs) – GICs are purchased from a financial institution. You agree to invest a fixed sum of money for a fixed period. When you cash in your GICs at the agreed-upon date, you’ll get the money you invested plus any accumulated interest.
Mutual Funds – When you invest in a mutual fund, you are buying shares of the fund and any growth is passed on to you. The same is true of any losses, however. Mutual funds can be a smart choice because they’re often invested in a diverse selection of stocks to balance out the risk. If you need your money, your funds can be sold quickly. Your investments are monitored by a professional money manager, meaning there is less need for you to babysit your mutual funds.
Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) – An RRSP does two things for you. It enables you to save for retirement by contributing a portion of your income into a tax-deferred fund. This means that you don’t have to pay taxes on that money until it’s withdrawn. The other thing an RRSP does is allows you to claim a deduction to reduce the amount you owe in taxes. For more information, go to the RRSP page on the Canada Revenue Agency site at www.cra-arc.gc.ca.
There are many other vehicles that can help your money grow. For more information, ask your financial institution or an investment firm to advise you.
No matter how long you’ve been working or how old you are, it’s always a good idea to review your spending and saving habits. It’s your money. Make it work in your favour.