In case you didn’t mark it on your calendar, April is Financial Literacy Month.
That’s 30 days dedicated to educating consumers about the contents of their wallets, spearheaded by nonprofit credit counseling agency Money Management International.
And why do we need an entire month of learning? A survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling gives us a clue.
The eighth annual NFCC survey of over 2,000 Americans found that:
- 34% of households carry month-to-month credit card debt
- 60% haven’t checked their credit score in the last 12 months, and 65% have similarly neglected their credit reports
- 41% would grade themselves a “C” or lower when it comes to financial know-how
And perhaps most worryingly … 61% of U.S. adults don’t even have a budget.
While too many of us tend to equate the word “budget” with the same restrictions as the much-hated “diet,” a workable budget isn’t meant to limit how much you can spend overall — it’s simply a plan for where your money is best spent.
It’s much harder to pay off your debts or subsidise your child’s college education (not to mention meet your monthly obligations) without a plan. When well over half of us say we don’t keep a budget, we might as well say we don’t know where our money is going.
If you’re part of the budget-less 61%, get on the right track with these three simple steps to start taking control of your money:
1. Figure out your monthly net pay. You can’t decide where to spend your money if you don’t know how much you have to begin with. If you’ve been breezing over your paycheck stubs, change up your routine. You should know how much money you’re bringing home after taxes and any pre-tax deductions that have been made, such as retirement contributions.
2. List your major expenses. We’re talking rent, utilities, and debt payments. These are the payments you need to make each month. Subtract them from your take-home pay to see how much money you have left to work with.
3. Track your discretionary spending. Before you plan where the rest of your money should go, you need to find out where it’s going today. Everyone does this differently: Some people write down every transaction in a pocket-sized notebook, others enter it into an Excel spreadsheet, and still more people automate their tracking with an app like LearnVest or Mint. Tracking your spending is key to seeing where you could be spending less (or more!) — otherwise, you’re flying blind.
Once you have an idea of how much money you have to spend, where it’s urgently needed, and how you’ve been spending so far, you should be well on your way to creating a budget — and a plan.