A new year often inspires resolutions, including financial ones. But when it comes to personal finances, what are the myths and facts you should believe? Farm Bureau Financial Services breaks down the budgeting myths that are preventing you from building wealth. Below are five everyday myths that could affect the way you handle money—and some money saving tips to conquer them.
Myth: You Can Count on Money from the Future to Pay off Big Purchases
Maybe you just need a new tablet, or you’ve been driving the same car for 10 years and want to put a down payment on a new one. You don’t have the money right now, but maybe last year you got a huge tax return or a hefty bonus at work. What could it hurt to throw it on a credit card now and pay it off in a few months?
It’s dangerous to count on tax returns or work bonuses to pay off debt. There may have been unique conditions last year that lead to that large return, or you might find a changes in either your situation or tax laws this year will lower your return. Your company might have a down year and put raises and bonuses on hold.
Even worse, you might put a big purchase on your card, then spend your return or bonus on something else when it arrives. It’s easy to find other uses for that money when it arrives. Your best bet is to hold off on that purchase until you have the money in hand, so you’re not gambling with paying off debt.
Myth: You Need to Create Very Detailed Spending Categories in Your Budget Sheet
Did you stop at Starbucks today? Better add $5 in your latte column on your personal budget sheet. If you streamed a new movie, mark that off on your movie column, then add $6 to your frozen treats column for that milkshake you bought yourself as a snack.
A million different categories on your budget sheet might make you feel super organized, but the fact is they make it more difficult to keep track of your spending habits. It will also make it less obvious that these small expenditures add up to big amounts of money every month.
You should aim for having five to seven spending categories in your budget. The latte/movie/dining out you did? They can all fall under a general “entertainment” category. Fixed household expenses like mortgage, the water bill and others can be a category, and car payments, insurance and fuel can be another.
You’ll end up with several big buckets of money to pay your expenses from, instead of dozens of smaller ones. The end result is it will feel like your money is doing more.
Myth: A Budget Will Immediately Solve Your Money Problems
A budget isn’t a money genie. Think of it like a diet and exercise routine for your wallet. But unlike an exercise plan, your wallet will get lighter, not heavier, if you don’t stick to it.
Creating a budget helps you find places to cut spending and figure out what you can start to save. In the beginning any extra money might be allocated to paying down debt, or maybe you’ll have an extra $50 or $100 a paycheck to tuck away. Saving a few extra dollars a month may not sound like much, but you’ll notice the results at the end of the year. It’s one of the best ways to save money.
Myth: The Money in Your Primary Checking/Savings Account Should Be Able to Support Your Family Needs in a Crisis
You need to build up a crisis fund in case you get laid off, there’s a family illness or some other huge expense comes up. Since your regular paycheck is usually eaten up by regular expenses, this fund needs to be quite a bit bigger than just one paycheck. How big? Enough that you can get by on it for three to six months.
You’ll want to keep this money in an account other than your regular checking account, so that it doesn’t get dipped into for everyday expenses. When you get windfalls like a tax return or a bonus at work, tuck some of it away in this fund to further pad your cushion.
When do you tap into the fund? Financial author Dave Ramsey has a series of questions you should be able to answer “Yes” to before using this money. “Is it unexpected?” “Is it necessary” and “Is it urgent?”
If a circumstance occurs that requires you to dip into this fund, make sure you start building it up again immediately. You never know when it might be needed down the road.
Myth: It’s Going to be Tough to Keep Track of This Budget
If you spend all day dealing with spreadsheets at work, the thought of dealing with one during your free time might make your eyes glaze over. But there are several great apps that will make the process of making and sticking to a household budget or personal budget much easier.
There are options like mint.com, which is free and keeps track of your budget and credit score and sends alerts when you go over budget. It syncs with your checking, bank accounts and even 401(k) and IRAs to give you the big picture on your budget.
GoodBudget makes it easy to create a budget based on your cash flow. You put cash into virtual envelopes, making it easy to allocate what you’ll be spending and when you’ll be spending it.
Expensify lets your scan in receipts with your phone and categorize them by the kind of expense and its frequency. You can also sync your bank account to get real time examples of what’s coming into your account and what’s going out.
Making a budget may not sound exciting, but it will lay the groundwork for more exciting things. Want to take a vacation, or buy your dream home? The road to financial security starts with making a budget. Working to give yourself some breathing room each month will be a lot more fun than living paycheck to paycheck.