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In order to experience personal financial gain, we need to spend less than we make. If your current income is not enough to pay bills, groceries and other expenses, a strict budget can be advantageous for turning things around. Having money set aside in a savings account allows people to have the funds for emergencies, retirement and vacations. Living paycheck to paycheck can be downright dangerous if an emergency situation comes into play. In fact, a recent study done by the Federal Reserve concluded that 53 percent of study candidates only had enough extra money to cover an emergency situation costing about $400. If the hypothetical expense came to more than this, respondents of the study would have to borrow money or sell personal items to pay for it.

For some, a lack of adequate income is the blame for financial woes. However, for most Americans, their financial problems are a direct result of overspending and straying from an otherwise solid budgeting plan. The new year is a great time to start fresh, get those finances in check and begin to live within your means.

Set a Goal

Keeping a budget means more than tracking every penny we spend. While doing so is certainly a way to perceive the fundamentals of your spending, it shouldn’t be the overall goal. Point being that someone can know easily where all of their money is going and still be dealing with financial problems. The general goal for keeping a budget is to spend less than you make and putting that unspent money into more important expenditures, such as a savings account or retirement fund. If your goal for budgeting isn’t to meet this objective, you need to reevaluate what you want to get out of financial allocation.

Track Your Spending for a Week

For one week, try to diligently track your spending to figure out where your money is going. It can be easy to pull up to the drive-thru window, spending $30 each time, because you don’t think $30 is very much money. However, if you drive to your local fast food restaurant four or five times a week spending $30 per visit, you’re spending about $120 to $150 a week solely on junk fast food. Keep receipts for a week so that you don’t estimate expenditures when calculating costs. Keep a journal and jot down everything you spend money on during the week. This can include things like gas for the car, trips to the convenience store for your morning coffee or visits to the ATM to pull cash out for vending machines at work.

At the end of the week, look back on this list and determine where cuts can be made. If you find that you spend most of your money on weekend shopping for frivolous things, change your game plan for the weekends so that you can have fun without spending so much cash. If you’re spending a lot of your income on take-out, shop at a low-cost grocery store like Aldi’s and prepare your meals at home.

Commit to Change Your Behaviors

Just because you know where the problem lies does not mean you’re always going to be willing to change. Sure, you spend $100 a week on expensive coffees at the local cafe, but you love your morning brew, right? If you truly want to get a hold on your budget, you need to commit to change. It’s kind of like losing weight and dieting; it’s hard and people fall off the band wagon because it’s too difficult to make permanent changes that will have any real long-term effect. The best way to commit to a budgeting plan is to establish a strategy for changing your ways, saving money and avoiding those temptations.

If managing your finances is too much a burden to bear, you can either choose to work with a financial expert or download a tool to your mobile device or computer. There are plenty of free or low-cost apps that allow you to integrate your bank account into the app’s system, giving you a feel for where your money is going and tips for reducing debt. Financial experts, though expensive to hire, can establish a specific budgeting plan that is easy to follow and worth your while in terms of monetary gains.