8 Tips to Help Your Budget

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Families learn how to budget from volunteers with the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. (Sabrina Candiaflores/DVIDS)

Some people stick to their budgets no matter what. Others use them as a guideline, and still others have no interest in tracking money at all. If you're in the last group, maybe skip this piece. Or at least read with an open mind.

Each time something major happens in life, you should recalibrate your budget. That includes a move, a change in jobs, a change in child care or a pending vacation. In our house, summer is considered a major change.

If you're just getting started with a budget, the best place to begin is by looking at what you're spending. Take an average of your expenses over the last few months, and look seriously at what you need (and what you can cut). When you add up all your expenses, they should be equal to your income (or ideally less, so you can start saving something). If they're not, start making cuts.

Perhaps you're looking to take advantage of the slower summer season, an upcoming move or the fact that you aren't eating out right now to save more money. There are several ways you can cut expenses. Here are some suggestions.

1. Check your subscriptions. It's time to get rid of things you aren't using, or you don't need. If you aren't going to the gym -- or haven't been since January -- consider getting out of that contract. Did you forget to cancel the free trial and keep getting charged monthly? Cancel right now. You may also be able to delay things you aren't using at the moment.

2. Cut everything by $5. Go through your budget, and cut everything you can by $5. While $5 off an individual line may not be a big deal, it will add up. You can easily cut your grocery budget by $5 by substituting a store brand, using coupons or not buying dessert. If $5 is easy, go up to $10 for each category.

3. Sell things. Extra time at home is giving a lot of people time to purge and declutter. Some of the things you have may be worth selling. Use apps like Poshmark and Mercari for clothes, eBay for random items, and even Facebook Marketplace to make a little extra on things you don't need to move across the country.

4. Make it visual. Take your saving goal, or the debt payoff goal, and use it as a motivator. Make a chart and color in the squares as you pay off your car or transfer money into your savings account. This is a great way to help keep your eye on the prize, and keep your family on task too.

5. Consider budget billing. Variable expenses are annoying. The increased electric bill in the summer can really mess up your budget. But many utilities offer budget billing, which allows you to pay a set amount all year long, based on your estimated usage. This is very helpful for sticking to a budget.

6. Adjust each month. Even households with a set income may notice it's harder to stick to a budget some months than others. Don't be afraid to adjust your categories based on your plans that month. You may need to budget for a birthday party, a going-away present for a co-worker or even an increased dry cleaning bill due to a formal event.

7. Make a "Things we forgot" category. No matter how hard you try to fit every expense into a category, you're going to forget something. This is why a "things we forgot" category is helpful.

8. Budget for big things. This one seems obvious, but sometimes big expenses sneak up on you if you don't set something aside each month. Regular fees like dues for the homeowners' association can pop up and wreck a budget, so consider saving for them three to six months in advance to eliminate that stress.

Chances are your budget is not going to be perfect each month, but it can be pretty close as you learn and implement these tips. Knowing where your money is going is the first step in redirecting it to where you want it to go.

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--Rebecca Alwine can be reached at rebecca.alwine@monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @rebecca_alwine.

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