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house_budgetA new home often means making significant adjustments to how you spend your money. Expenses such as mortgage payments, property taxes, insurance, utilities, and maintenance add up quickly and can easily throw your best financial intentions out of whack. Creating and following a budget is a great way to make sure you stay on track while cutting down on financial stress at the same time.

Having a budget gives you a roadmap for your financial needs and goals. Yes, your monthly home-related expenses need to be met, but you’ll also need to consider much more: food, clothing, education, healthcare, transportation, and savings for both retirement and emergency expenses.

As a homeowner, you’ll definitely have unexpected costs that arise at inconvenient times – the water heater needs replacing, or the roof needs repair right away. Having a way to cover these expenses is critical not only to your home but to your peace of mind.

Start your budget planning by examining your income against your expenses. First, list your monthly income – your take-home pay if you get a paycheck, self-employment income, and any other outside sources of income. This amount will form the basis of your budget.

Next, make a list of your monthly fixed expenses. These include the mortgage payment, insurance, phone and internet service, trash collection, automobile payments, etc. For expenses that are typically billed less frequently, such as property taxes, insurance, and school tuition, divide the total yearly amount by 12. Fluctuating costs such as gas and electric bills can be averaged to a monthly total and added to this list as well. If you carry credit card balances, you’ll need to factor in those payments, too. Importantly, savings should be considered fixed expenses – making this commitment to your future will pay off, literally, in the years to come.

Now you can list your variable expenses. These are expenses over which you have some control: food, clothing, cable or satellite TV, gasoline, entertainment, gym memberships, and even haircuts are some typical examples. Track these expenses for a few months so that you’ll have accurate numbers to work with. It’s very important to be realistic about what you currently spend, because once you’ve come up with your overall expense budget you may need to look for reductions in these variable items.

Add your fixed and variable expenses together and compare them to your monthly income. If your income is enough to cover everything, you can still look for ways to budget in your favor. Reducing some variable expenses and shifting the difference into savings, for example, is a great way to boost your financial situation without making major changes.

And if expenses exceed income? If an increase in income isn’t on the horizon, you’ll need to reduce your expenses so that they’re in line with what you can actually afford. First, go to your list of variable expenses and closely consider each line item. Do you really need that upper-tier cable TV package? Can you prepare more meals at home? Go to the movies less often? Reducing expenses in these categories can really add up on a monthly basis.

If reducing your variable costs still isn’t enough, you’ll need to look at your fixed expenses. Consider trading down to a car with payments you can afford and raising the deductibles on your home and auto insurance. Check into cheaper plans for your cell phones. The differences can be significant over the course of a year.

No matter how carefully you plan your budget, it won’t work if you don’t stick to it. Use personal finance software to track your budget, and continue to make adjustments over time. By keeping to your budget, you’ll come out ahead and sleep better at night, too.

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