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You work hard for your money so why blow it away? Do you track your expenses like you track your income? Do you even know if you are blowing it away on items and services you don’t know about? What is your savings rate? If you know great, but more than likely if you are reading this you don’t know. Which isn’t ok anymore. Your savings rate, track it, know it, love it, live it.
Typically we make money and we spend it first and sock away whatever is left. You don’t know your saving’s rate because it changes every month because you spend differently each month. This month it is that or next month it this. What is left is what you save. This is unacceptable if you want to make changes in your financial life. how much you earn a month it isn’t a license to spend that same amount. If job security was a sure thing then maybe but even then it still doesn’t give you permission to spend it all or nearly all of it. Why, because do you really want to stay in the rat race or stay running in the hamster wheel the rest of your life? I sure don’t, I want off that hamster wheel as fast as possible.
Tracking Your Expenses
The first step is finding where your money is going and when it is going each day, week and month. Input is your take home pay, output is your spending, net is your savings. Click here to download a simple excel spreadsheet to track your expenses or download any one of the many apps to track your expenses. Track for at least 3 – 4 months every expense that causes you to open your wallet/purse and use your hard earned money. Seems too long you say? I recommend this length because it will smooth out one off expenses that may come up. Track it for a month, then just continue into the second month, then the third. You will be done before you know it.
Once you are done, next to each item you spent money on label it with which bucket it falls under. Does it go under food/groceries, rent/mortgage, insurance, car payment, pet supplies, utilities, fuel, eating out, vacation, etc.? Make as many different buckets as you feel but being too specific will make it harder and will not allow you to see the big picture of each category. Credit Cards are pretty good of assigning the labels for you so leverage your credit card statement for that as much as possible to save some time. Add up each expenses in each category to obtain a subtotal for that category.
Once you label everything re-order each expense category in terms of importance from absolute necessity (rent, food) all the way down to something you can could have easily lived without. This will help orient your money into 3 segments. One, necessities in your life. Second, items you value the most. Third money spent on items mindlessly that you are not obtaining full value in return.
Calculate Your Savings Rate…Surprise!
You know what your take home pay is. You now know exactly how much you spent. What is left over? Take that leftover amount and divide it by your take home pay. That is your savings rate roughly. There are different camps on how to calculate this but for the sake of simplicity this is what we will use as it minimizes variables conceptually. If your number is negative then you went into debt during that time period. Where are you? Are you as high or low as you thought. Did it shock you for the better or for worse? Either way its ok as it is a starting point that you can improve no matter what percentage you are currently sitting at.
When I did mine I was shocked as I was not expecting it was as low as it was even though we were taking care of necessities. We were only a one income household at the time I calculated it as my wife’s business was barely turning a profit for me to even use towards making ends meet. We sacrificed her income so she could be a stay at home mom and raise our kids instead of earning money just to turn around and give it up to daycare. That was our decision, to each his own if you can afford daycare to work full time.
Re-evaluate your spending in those lower valued buckets
Take the extra step and divide your expense subtotals of the categories by the income to see how much you are spending percentage wise in each bucket. If you have a category that is higher % than another bucket that you value more than that is perfect place to cut back on that higher %. Which buckets surprised you that are higher than you thought or should not be?
Take a deeper look at the buckets you think are too high dollar or percentage wise and dig deeper to see what is going on there that caused you to get to that higher amount? Was there something that was impulse buy, was it stocking up on bulk items that you may not ever need to buy the rest of year? Simply ask yourself why did I buy that much and was it truly worth it to spend that much and spend it now instead of saving/investing it?
Challenge yourself to at least changes to those unnecessary low value buckets to half the amount that you tracked them at during those 3 months. If half is too much, then anything is something, just take action towards cutting out undervalued purchases. Any little bit will help. Cutting back doesn’t necessarily mean getting rid of it but maybe re-negotiate a better lower price on cable or that lawn service or your phone plan. Is there something you could borrow or share with someone to defer future costs? Think outside of the box if you don’t want to get completely cut it out or cut back. This applies to all the buckets but start with the low value buckets and work your way up to necessities. In the end don’t leave any bucket un-turned!
You have made your changes now what? Guess what, track it again and see what impact your cutbacks have had. Do you feel deprived in certain buckets or are you ok? Do you miss those cutbacks? What does it do to your savings rate, your social life, your nutrition. Once you track this again, see how much further you can go and keep going till you are just above no longer happy in each of the buckets. Just watch that savings rate go up and up. Once you get to that happy level, guess what you just now created a budget for yourself to stick to. A budget that makes you happy spending and happy saving. This budget gives you permission to spend which removes any guilt of buying that comes in the form at times as buyer’s remorse.
Remember don’t look at what you cutback on items you undervalued but in turn you bought the one luxury nobody can sell you, that is your time towards retiring sooner than you thought. That additional savings if invested can earn you more money than spending it on whatever you used to spend it on. As your money grows you are simply buying more time, time in the furture, but more importantly time in the future for yourself.
- Track your spending for 3 months down to the penny
- Look at each category and do the following
- What areas are you spending more than you thought?
- Which categories are you spending less than you thought?
- Of these categories are you getting value for and which are you blindly spending on and not getting the most out of?
- Now you know which categories you can make change and trim the fat to bump up the savings rate.