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Keeping budget resolution can bring financial freedom
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Studies show many Mississippians are not good at managing their money, so some may use the new year as an opportunity to turn over a new leaf financially.
A 2013 Gallup poll found that just 32 percent of Americans put together a monthly budget to track income and expenses. Even fewer actually stick with it. The results add up to significant debt. Federal Reserve statistics indicate the average household owes $7,281 on credit cards. When looking only at households carrying credit card debt, that average debt rises to $15,608.
Rita Green, family financial management specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said a personal budget is a spending plan that reflects a person’s vision for household priorities and financial goals.
“A budget is an important management tool because goals are not reached by accident; it takes purposeful planning and action,” she said. “The biggest benefit of a budget is that it puts you in the driver’s seat. Knowledge of your available resources empowers you with a stronger sense of control and helps you think strategically about the direction of your financial future.”
Susan Cosgrove, Newton County Extension financial management agent, said a budget helps families and individuals get and maintain control of their money.
“It does not matter how much or how little you have. Planning and monitoring your budget will help identify wasteful spending and guide you to achieve your financial goals,” Cosgrove said.
One reason debt gets out of control and budgets fail is because there is no “one-size-fits-all” budget to follow.
“Every household is unique,” Cosgrove said. “You should customize your budget to your household, whether it be a single person, a couple or a family with children. Each person must find what works for them.”
To make a budget, list all sources of income and anticipated amounts and then list all fixed and flexible expenses.
“Gather all receipts, bank statements and other records from the previous year to give you an idea of your spending history,” Cosgrove said. “Be sure to include monthly expenses and those that occur once a year, such as taxes, insurance, and back-to-school and holiday expenses.”
List expenses realistically, including charitable giving and such things as smoking, snacking and entertainment. Good budgets include an allocation for household savings to help cover unexpected expenses like car repairs or medical expenses.
Total income should meet or exceed total expenses.
“If expenses exceed income, there are only two options: increase income or decrease expenses,” Cosgrove said.
Green said not following a budget should be considered feedback, not failure.
“The important thing to consider is why you weren’t able to follow it. Was it something outside your control? What would you do differently?” she asked. “Then start again with a new budget for the new month, applying the feedback or lessons you learned from the previous month when things didn’t go as expected.”
The MSU Extension Service has several publications that can guide budget development. These include Publication 545, “Managing Your Money,” and Publication 2398, “Financial Fitness.”