If you started this year with a budget, pat yourself on the back — you’re in the minority.
According to a Gallup poll, only about one in three Americans put together a written or digital household budget to document their income and expenses.
Yet, for those struggling to make ends meet, creating a budget and following it can be life-changing. When you map out your earnings and prioritize your spending, a healthy budget can be the tool that can pull you out of debt so that you can build a better life for yourself and your family.
But working on your budget doesn’t simply end once you put it together. Consider your budget a living and breathing document that faces new challenges and changes depending on your financial health. The end of the year provides a great opportunity to truly get a big picture view of how you’re really doing with your finances. Did you have a healthy budget this year?
Here are 5 questions to ask yourself as you take a look back at the health of your budget:
How much did I really earn?
How is your paycheck looking? Did you not log as many overtime hours as you expected? Did you lose a job? Or, did you earn an unexpected bonus, launch a new, better-paying career or build a business that really took off?
Whatever happened, now is the time to tally up all of the money your household brought in this year. If you’re earning less, you’ll need to adjust to maintain a healthy budget. If you’re earning more, you’ll need to decide what to do with that extra cash — perhaps build that emergency fund, sock away more for retirement or save for that home of your dreams.
Is my budget realistic?
Think back to a year or so ago when you might have put together your budget. You may have been eager to get started — ready to take on the world, rein in your spending and come out on top a year later. But how successful were you really? Were you so focused on savings back then that you created a budget that was nearly impossible to follow? A budget isn’t going to get you far if it isn’t a healthy budget.
Take a hard look at your spending. What parts of the budget did you follow? Where did you go wrong? Take a serious, truthful look at what you spent your money on so you can build a better plan for 2018.
Are my partner and I working together on this? Is the whole family involved?
It’s nearly impossible to maintain a healthy budget if the people you live with aren’t on board. Is your partner, for instance, still racking up credit card debt? Are you giving into your kids’ demands for the latest gadget or toy?
Now is the time to have some serious conversations with the people in your life who are making it difficult to boost your financial health. Mint.com offers tips for how to manage a budget when your partner is a spender. Military.com offers some great insights into how to talk about debt with children.
How am I doing on my goals?
What were your goals a year ago when you built that budget? Pay off debt? Build that emergency fund? Take a look at each of those goals. How well have you done? Be sure to celebrate even the smallest of achievements (frugally, of course).
How can I do better next year?
Looking back, it’s likely you had some wins and setbacks over the course of your year. Maybe you earned a small raise, but you weren’t able to pay off as much credit card debt as you’d hoped.
Even if you didn’t stick completely to your budget, don’t give up. Now that you’ve taken an informed look back over the last 12 months, it’s time to look towards the future as you build a healthy budget for the new year. What lessons have you learned, so far? How can you do better?
The CESI Team is committed to helping you reach your financial goals. If debt keeps you from living the life you dream of, contact us for a free debt analysis today and get started on the road to a brighter future!