Laurel Road: How to Hack Your Monthly Budget

As prices go up, spenders and savers alike might soon be scrambling to figure out how to rearrange their monthly expenditures to be more in line with their financial goals. 

Budgeting, or rearranging a budget, might seem like a daunting task, but all it takes is a few hacks to get finances under control. By focusing on some key areas, a budgeter can make massive strides towards their budget goals without feeling overwhelmed. 

Try to eliminate debt

Two of the most useful outcomes a budget offers are to increase savings or lower debt. Budgeters should look over their spending and see where they can cut out unnecessary expenses to pay off debt faster. Sometimes it's easy to eliminate small line items (e.g., homemade coffee can taste just as good as the $6 cold brew from the corner cafe).

It's also sometimes possible to negotiate bills with creditors. This could range from negotiating the APR on a credit card to refinancing student loans for a lower interest rate. This often results in smaller monthly payments and could help pay the debt off more quickly and save more in the long term. 

Track spending and income

The first step in moving toward a financial goal is to calculate both monthly earnings and monthly expenses. Don't forget to include certain items that might come up at different times of the year, such as renters' insurance, subscription fees, or gifts. 

Budgeters can track expenses for a few months prior and compare this to income to get a sense if they're spending more than they're earning, or if they're not saving as much as they'd hoped. After accounting for the necessary bills and expenses, look at short- and long-term goals and use them to inform decisions about how to adjust the budget.  

Keep financial goals in mind (or out of mind)

If a major goal is to add money to a savings account (did someone say Hawaiian vacation?) or to eliminate debt, sometimes the easiest thing to do is set it and forget it. 

A great hack is to set up automatic transfers from a checking account to a savings account, credit card, or student loan account. This can typically be done via a bank's app or website, helping to make sure debt payments are on time without any reminders. 

Figuring out your priorities

A budget plan should first address needs before wants, allowing budgeters to save for goals and major purchases. But, while there are some expenses that are necessary, there are always nice-to-haves that a budgeter might feel are integral part of living the life they want - and that's OK! Just try to fit those items into the established spending plan so that the numbers balance.

When in doubt, use the 50/30/20 rule

The 50/30/20 rule is a guideline for building a simple budget. Looking at net income, 50% should go to needs, 30% to wants, and 20% towards paying off debt or various savings. The 20% can go into different categories such as emergency funds, retirement contributions, or credit card debt. 

For anyone who is overwhelmed by the idea of a budget or just busy, this is an easy way to categorize expenses and build a rough spending and savings plan.

Just do it 

In the end, just find a way to consistently keep tabs on income and expenses, whether that's an app or writing everything down on paper. It doesn't need to be fancy, and the Federal Trade Commission has an excellent basic guideline to use. 

Source: Laurel Road

About Laurel Road

Laurel Road began originating student loans in 2013 and has since helped thousands of professionals with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees consolidate and refinance more than $7 billion in federal and private school loans.

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