Obviously, the current economic situation has made us all pause for the cause and re-evaluate if we are spending our money wisely. Maybe not even that, but how many of you have ever looked at your W-2 at the end of the year and asked "Where did all of my money go?". The solution: set up a budget. Now, I think what that initially says to people is CUT BACK. But the word "budget" is actually defined as an itemized allotment of funds for a given period. There, that's not so bad, is it? Basically, having an idea in your head about how much you want to spend is essential to keeping all of your financial ducks in a row.
Some advice I've heard is to keep ALL of your receipts for a month - even if it's a quick coffee run or an unexpected car maintenance bill, keep it all. Then, you can see your spending patterns for a considerable amount of time. This seemed like a little bit of a hassle to me. I didn't want to be that person with a huge stack of strips of paper in my purse. Like there's even room in there anyway. Plus, it's not exactly the most eco-friendly solution to opt to get receipts if you don't have to. Enter my favorite tool in my budgeting bag o' tricks: mint.com.
Mint is a FREE (always a good price, but especially in a recession) expense tracking website. You can input your bank accounts, credit cards, auto and personal loans, and retirement accounts and monitor them at the same time. Then it automatically categorizes items that you're spending money on as "food" or "entertainment" or "gas". At the end of every week, it emails you a report of income, expenses, and upcoming bill due dates. Normally, you'd have to pay someone to do that. On top of all of that, it even searches for deals for you when it comes to interest rates on other credit cards, or banks offering better rates on car loans. AMAZING and way easier than doing all that work yourself with hundreds of receipts. Don't worry - Mint is not a sponsor. I've been using it for 2 years and it has revolutionized the way I look at my spending. I have since realized I spent way too much on coffee per month (uh huh - it definitely adds up), and not enough on saving for emergencies.
Budgeting - not a dirty word. Instead, it's the first step in a long and happy relationship with your money.