Handling Your Finances
Handling money matters is intimidating for a lot of people. Maybe it is for you. You may be overwhelmed or uncertain as to how to start facing your finances. Money matters can seem like a bottomless pit - where does it end? How do I get started? How will I know if I'm making the right choices? Taking responsibility for your family's money is important, but maybe you feel like you don't know enough to really start.
The good news is that you ARE able to handle your finances. You may have never done it before and you may not feel like doing it now, but you can. There are people and resources to help you. It's not about becoming a financial professional. It's not about having your whole life perfectly organized and planned. It's about starting exactly where you are and taking small, manageable steps.
If you're fearful of handling your family's finances, let the benefits convince you. You'll have the peace of mind knowing that you can take care of your basic, monthly expenses. You won't be caught by surprise (meaning without money) for unexpected expenses. You'll have the comfort of knowing that you're doing the best for you and your family.
No matter how lost you feel, or how behind in your bills you are, there are a few simple things you can do to begin getting a handle on your finances:
Step 1: Identify your income. Don't overlook all your potential sources of income:
- Paycheck from your full-time job
- Income from a part-time job or occasional work
- Social security benefits, pension benefits, life insurance benefits
- Child support or alimony
- Interest earned on investments
Step 2: Determine your basic expenses. Take some time to really think through things you spend money on daily, weekly, and monthly. Some of them, like rent or mortgage payment, come to mind immediately. But others, like figuring out how much you spend on lunches at work, or for kids' school or sports expenses, might take a little bit of work. Here are some likely regular expenses. Use this as a start, and add any other regular expenses you incur:
- Mortgage or rent
- Car payment
- Utilities (gas, electric, water, etc.)
- Phone bill (home and cell phone)
- TV/cable bill
- Car insurance
- Student loan payments
Step 3: Subtract expenses from income. This is how much you have to save on a monthly basis or how much you'll need every month just to pay your bills and break even.
See tomorrowsmoney.org's free, online, interactive budget planner.
Step 4: Take a minute and close your eyes to dream. That's right - dream. What are some of your financial goals and dreams?
Write down as many as you can think of - buying a new car or a home of your own, paying off your credit cards, paying for your children's education and weddings, being able to retire comfortably….nothing's off limits. This is your time to really envision what you would like to be able to enjoy with some financial freedom.
Working through these four basic steps should give you a pretty accurate picture of your overall financial picture.