Tag Archives: budget

Need a Budget?

You Need a Budget — Here’s How to Make One –
If you’re just winging it financially, that can mean missing out on important opportunities to improve your financial health. Start by learning why you need a budget and how to create one that works.

Why follow a budget?
Budgets have many benefits beyond the obvious one of forcing a close examination of spending habits and determining ways to make improvements. These plans also prepare you for emergencies, comfortable retirement and other financial goals. In addition, budgets prevent you from spending more money than you have so you can avoid excessive debt. All these advantages can add up to the lasting peace of mind that comes with financial stability.

Budget basics
Creating a budget starts with a clear snapshot of your money. Begin by adding up income from salary, investments and other sources. Next total your fixed expenses. These are bills that are about the same each month, such as rent or mortgage, car payments and utilities. Finally add up variable expenses, which may include entertainment, groceries, clothing and incidentals.

Now it’s time to do the math. Subtract expenses from income to see where you stand. If the picture isn’t pretty, examine variable expenses first to see where you can cut back, or try to find ways to increase earnings. You’re then ready to set goals such as saving for a home, vacation or an emergency fund.

Budget tips
To make the most of your new budget:

  • Consider opening a savings account at a financial institution like Harris County Federal Credit Union. Making regular deposits can help you move toward goals.
  • Consider investing in share certificates or opening an individual retirement arrangement, or IRA, to reach long-term objectives.
  • Keep track of cash spending to see where you can cut back.
  • Create goals that are specific, attainable and rewarding.
  • Set specific time frames for reaching each goal.

Budgeting can be much easier these days thanks to free tools that make it possible to manage finances from your smartphone, tablet or other device. Here are just a few of these apps:

  • Mint: Mint can help you categorize and track spending, provide a way to set goals, and view progress using pie and bar graphs drawn from your accounts and transactions.
  • Level Money: Designed for Android- and iOS-powered devices, this app lets you know how much cash is available for the day, the week and the rest of the month, using account links and goals you’ve created.
  • BudgetPulse: Although most of these apps provide secure links, some people just aren’t comfortable plugging personal account information into a networked device. This one offers an alternative by letting users manually import or input banking information rather than requiring a live link. It works with any Internet-capable device and lets you engage your social network to share goals, while facilitating donations from friends via PayPal.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, remember that you’re human. If you stray from the spending plan, don’t give up. Acknowledge the error and get right back on track. As time goes on, goals that once may have seemed mere possibilities may appear more attainable, and you can begin to consider reaching for even bigger and better things in the days ahead.

Roberta Pescow, NerdWallet

Good Credit

– To maintain good credit – live within your means
Consumer debt is growing at an alarming rate. Sometimes it’s hard to see it coming before you suddenly find you’re a statistic.

Ask yourself these questions:
Is your spending out-of-control?
Do you feel like you’re in over your head?
Are you missing scheduled monthly payments?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may be headed for serious financial trouble – a bad credit rating that will follow you for years to come. It can keep you from getting things like a mortgage, a car loan, or even a job. It’s never too late to start on the road back. Harris County Federal Credit Union suggests these ideas to help you get started.

First, realize that you’re not alone
The Federal Reserve estimates that U.S. consumers are currently carrying a debt load that is 37% heavier than it was just five years ago. Recent world events have created a very unstable economy and many jobs have been lost. People are finding that it’s very easy to borrow more money than they can afford to repay.

Prepare a written budget, and then stick to it!
The best way to keep your credit good is to live within your means. It may take a while to establish a budget. You’ll need to track your spending for at least a month, maybe up to three months. Once you actually start recording your expenditures, you may spot some items right away that can be trimmed. HCFCU has worksheets and formulas that you can use to set up your budget.

Write down all your ongoing monthly expenses: rent or mortgage, car payment, utilities, loans, all the things you write a check for every month. Remember to add in groceries, gas and an allowance for emergencies like medical expenses or car repairs. Then subtract those expenses from your monthly income. This will tell you how much discretionary income you have.

Be diligent about making your scheduled monthly payments on time
Your credit rating- good or bad – will follow you for years to come. If your mortgage, auto loan or credit card account becomes delinquent, it’s noticed by credit reporting agencies all over the country. Paying on time lets creditors know you’re serious about maintaining your good credit, and that you are a “good risk” for future credit offers.

From your written budget, organize your scheduled monthly payments according to their due dates. Depending on when you get paid each month, determine which bills get paid out of each paycheck. As soon as you get paid, pay your bills first.

Credit cards – a double edged sword
It’s easy to get into financial trouble with credit cards. If you get to where you’re only able to pay the minimum amount each month, you need to put the brakes on your spending right away. The “minimum payment due” on your credit card statement may look like the easy way out, but it can take years to pay off your balance at that rate. Pay as much as you can each month.

On the other hand, responsible credit card use can help you break large purchases into smaller, more manageable monthly payments. For instance, if you need to replace your refrigerator, consider paying with a credit card so you can pay for it over a few months. Remember though, that you’ll be paying a finance charge on the unpaid balance, so decide up front how much you’re going to pay each month.

Bankruptcy should only be considered as a last resort
It will leave a bad mark on your credit for the next seven to ten years! Contact HCFCU for alternatives.

Help is available from Harris County Federal Credit Union
If you’re having trouble making ends meet, give us a call. There are many different ways we can help you manage your debt. We’ll look at your unique situation and help you find the best remedy.