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Do you feel like you’re always living paycheck to paycheck? Is your money spread thin? Here are 7 tools you should employ for your financial budget.

Are you running out of money before your monthly bills are paid? Or just scraping buy? Are you ready to take charge of your finances? Want to make today the first day of the rest of your financial life?

Make a Permanent Decision to Take Charge

If you said yes to any of the questions above, congratulate yourself. Seriously, many folks find it easier to avoid dealing with this stuff.

Education is a critical tool. Being proactive will give you a much better chance at future happiness than being reactive.

Now that you have made this important decision, here is how to make your financial budget successful.

Outline Your Financial Budget

The word “budget” unfortunately sounds unpleasant. It sounds like “restriction” or “buzz kill.”

If the words “financial budget” seem scary, think of it as a “spending plan” instead. You decide how much money to spend and in what category, depending on your priorities. Then you get to spend as much as you want to in certain categories, depending on what you decided.

The categories you will mainly need are: (1) Housing (2) Food (3) Transportation (4) Clothing (5) Entertainment and (6) Savings.

Housing includes your rent, mortgage, real estate taxes if they apply, insurance…anything associated with keeping a roof over your head. It would also include what you spend for heat, air-conditioning, water, etc.

Track Your Actual Spending to Create a Realistic Financial Budget

Coming up with a financial budget involves trial and error. It’s one thing to aspire to spend $100/month. But it’s not going to happen if you think you spend $75 when you actually spend $200.

Spend at least a full month writing down everything you spend money on. Whether it was a $1 candy bar purchase, a $50 ticket to a ball game or an $800 unexpected expense that hopefully, you were able to use your emergency cash fund to pay, write it down.

There is power in the pen. Writing down what you purchase can be a powerful tool (as old-fashioned as it may sound). For under a dollar, you can purchase a small notebook that is reserved for this purpose.

The most important thing is to track, however. So if you prefer, you can certainly create your budget with the help of an online tool.

Consider what is most important to you by allocating a percentage to each of your categories. Your percentages should add up to 100%.

If your income fluctuates, you can allocate percentages of your income instead of fixed dollar amounts.

You will also need to incorporate any debt repayment into your budget instead of hoping it will somehow get paid otherwise.

Decide How to Incorporate Debt Obligations Into Your Financial Budget

How much debt do you have? Are there some debts that you are delinquent on? Are there any you are in default on?

Your first step in dealing with debt might be to contact creditors to negotiate a monthly payment amount. Debts that get ignored tend to snowball into much larger financial problems.

You will need to have a strategy for dealing with unsecured debt. “Unsecured” means any debt that is not attached to a tangible item that can be repossessed if you don’t pay.

Once you have listed and totaled your debts, use a debt calculator to give you an idea of how long it will take you to be free from unsecured debt if you continue making minimum monthly payments.

Include at least the minimum monthly payment on all unsecured accounts in your financial budget. Then add as much extra as you can to pay on the smallest debt. Once the smallest debt is paid off apply that bill’s payment to the next smallest debt.

From this point forward it is important to borrow responsibly.

Execute Your Financial Budget

You have tracked, analyzed and planned. Here is where the rubber meets the road.

You will need to have a system for maintaining your financial budget. There are multiple ways of doing this and the best one is the one that you will use.

One way is to maintain multiple bank accounts with different names for different purposes. A main “operating” account acts as a clearinghouse into which you would deposit all earnings. You then automatically transfer whatever percentage or fixed amount of your earnings into the accounts designated for a particular purpose. This is especially useful when making sure you have or are maintaining the emergency cash account.

You can also install a smartphone app that enables you to set up your financial budget and savings goals, as well as connecting to your bank accounts. Choose an app that lets you know what you can spend each month, week and day based on your goals.

You will always want to know how much you have left to spend to stay on track and be alerted when you are off-track.

Consider Ways of Pocketing Some Extra Money

With all of this spending and debt talk, we can’t overlook the issue of income. In some cases, you can slash spending, but it is not going to help the financial budget if there is simply not enough income.

Consider whether you could ask your employer for a raise (after documenting some achievements you have made since your last).

Is there a class you could take to become certified in a new skill that would entitle you to a pay raise? Is there a hobby you enjoy that you could convert into a money-making venture?

There is definitely more to life than work. But perhaps if you are in a particularly tight bind you could pick up a temporary part-time job.

Don’t Let Money Stress You Out

Having a financial budget should be empowering and not limiting. Your financial budget should serve you, and not the other way around.

Having negative feelings around money does not serve your financial well-being. Respect money, appreciate it, and don’t let it see you sweat.

If you find that you have chronic problems with debt and keeping money in your pocket, it may be time to seek help from a counselor about what negative programming you are holding about money.

Please share your favorite tools for your financial budget below!