As we have reported a number of times that, since the financial crisis of 2008, more consumers have struggled to save money.
There are many reasons for that, including stagnant wages and rising rents. Many complain that it's hard enough meeting day-to-day expenses, let alone building up a nest egg.
It's been suggested by many personal finance experts that just starting to save something – anything – on a regular basis is a great way to begin saving money. While that may be true, there is another important step to take before making that commitment to yourself.
It's pretty simple, really. You have to write out a budget.
Seeing a list of all your income and expenses on a single sheet of paper will help you see exactly what resources you have coming in each month and where it's going. If you have no money left at the end of the month, this sheet of paper will show you why.
Print this worksheet
To start, you might want to print out this handy budget worksheet from a the Institute for Financial Literacy. The space at the top of the first sheet is where you add up all your sources of income. For a majority of consumers it will be a paycheck. But others may have additional income, so make sure you list all of it.
The next section is where you list all the taxes you pay. Most people probably don't think much about taxes because they are taken out of your paycheck. But they are real expenses and should be listed. You may have to consult a recent pay stub to get that information.
After subtracting taxes from income, you have your net income – the total amount of money you have to spend each month.
The second page is where you start listing all your monthly expenses, broken down as “fixed,” “variable,” and “periodic.” Then there are all the “discretionary” expenses, like entertainment, gifts, and subscriptions.
You may have to consult bank records and credit card statements to assemble the list, but try not to leave anything out. If you made several ATM transactions during the month, try to remember what you bought with the cash.
The bottom line
After adding up all the expenses, subtract it from your total income. If you're lucky, it will show a positive balance at the end of the month. That is the amount of money you should be able to put into saving each month and still make ends meet.
You'll notice that the place where you list expenses has a column marked “Current” and one marked “Revised.” If you need to carve some money out of your current spending, look for areas where you can reduce spending and enter the revised amount.
You might not think you are wasting money, and truthfully, you probably aren't. But that doesn't mean there aren't areas where you can economize and start saving.
But without a budget, you probably aren't going to be able to identify these areas for saving.