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Money Matters: Budgeting tips from a recently unemployed Dad

moneyFinances – an area that can cause stress on any couple. Chances are if you were like me (and many other guys prior to having children) the most attention you paid to money was checking the receipt out of the ATM.

Balance a check book? Why doesn’t your online access do that?

Use a credit card? Sure I’ll pay it off later.

Budget? We don’t need no stinking budget.

These are but a small sampling of the things that most of us do over time that can lead to financial trouble.

The last 12-18 months have been tough for us all.  Chances are we have either been or known someone who has been laid-off, myself included. Here are some tips that I have used in order to get my financial house in order:

The B Word – Budget

Seriously, how many of you know what you spend each month on groceries, gas, and lunch at work? Here is what I suggest:

  • Take 3 months and track what you spend per category to get a monthly average. There are many tools available to do this, the one I personally use is Mint.com –  it is free, secure, and very easy to use. All you need to do is log on, enter your online access information for your bank accounts, mortgage, credit cards, etc. and you will gain access to budgeting and tracking tools. I have tried other software, but this has been the easiest one for me to work with, and again, it’s free.
  • Build the budget, start with your take home pay and look at each of the categories where you spend money.  Are your payments more than your take-home pay? If so, look for some places to cut.
    • For me it was lunches at the office – I saw that I was spending a minimum of $170 a month in food, on top of what my family was paying for groceries. I started small at first 2 days a week, and am now bringing lunch 4 days a week. By making a lifestyle change and brown bagging my lunches we have been able to save $150 a month.

Paying with Credit

We never thought we were spend thrifts, but after we took a course by Dave Ramsey, our perception was changed: credit cards, car payments, lay-away plans – they all had to go. There is not enough space in this post to do the course justice, but you should know that the course and the concepts taught are not hard but with discipline you can change your spending habits, stick to a budget, and start saving for your future. It helped us tremendously.

Start saving for the future

If  you can get on the budget, payoff the credit cards, and have some money left over, then it is time to start saving. Not only for you, but for your family.  If you have a newborn, then college might seem like it is far off, but let me tell you it goes pretty quick and the more you save today, the more you will have later in life.

Many people say financial freedom will bring you happiness and while I am not sure about that, I do know that getting on a budget and predicting our expenses each month has given my wife and I a level of comfort that seemed unimaginable  just 12 months ago.

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