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Budget Basics

Here in the Midwest, we're not known for blowing our paychecks or driving flashy cars.  So a lot of us believe that as long as we live simply and pay our bills on time, the future will take care of itself.  But here's the thing - even frugal Midwesterners can be living beyond their means and not realize it.  If you haven't already, we urge you to get a budget down on paper now.

Prepare to be informed.

The process of listing all your expenditures and comparing the total to your income can be revealing.  It gets you to thinking...thoughts like, "This will all work out if I retire when I'm 80," or "How can two people spend $500 a month on groceries?"  Or maybe even, "Hey, we can afford to enjoy life a little more."

Seriously though, tracing your spending can take a load off your mind, and put you well on the way to a healthy surplus.  To get started, gather up these items:

  • pay stubs
  • recent tax returns
  • bank statements or checkbook register
  • receipts for items you bought with cash
  • one month's worth of bills

Don't forget the payments you make just once or twice a year, like property taxes, auto registration and school activity fees.  Now click on our  Budget Worksheet, fill in the blanks and let our calculators do the math for you.

Before you rearrange your spending, rearrange your head.

With our Budget Worksheet, you'll see exactly where your money goes.  It can be a real eye-opener.  You may decide to make some changes.  Your local Ameriana banker can help.  We'll show you free services, like account alertsonline billpay, and auto-transfers to savings, that put your plan on auto-pilot.

For now, keep this in mind:  Don't expect your financial habits to change overnight.  Give yourself time.  Think through your current money habits, and how they impact your life.  What motivates you to move toward a better balance sheet?

Ameriana will cheer you on every step of the way.  But first, you need to decide just what you want, and why.

How to jumpstart a bright financial future.

Create short and long-term goals.  Maybe you promise yourself that none of this year's holiday spending will go on a credit card.  And that in three years, you'll take that trip to Ireland.  Then when you're throwing a garage sale or passing on those cute patent leather pumps, you can visualize those rolling Irish green hills in 2012, and a smug feeling come January.

Dream big.  Those "harmless" impulse buys can prevent you from accumulating real assets with lasting value.  Stay focused on the big prize, and you'll resist the urge to splurge.

Start with a not-so-strict budget.  If you really spend $500 a month on groceries, don't go cold turkey and try to live on beans and rice.  Instead, direct your attention to areas where you know you overbuy, and try to improve there.  Make it a game to lower your grocery bill a little more each week.

Pay yourself first.  If you're not being kind to yourself by funding the things you want most in life, start now.  Divert a portion of your paycheck to savings before it hits your checking account.  Then every month, you're moving toward the ultimate gift:  a comfortable home, a college education, a secure retirement.

The future is now.   Some people don't like to plan; they want to live in the moment.  But when you accept the future as something we are all creating today, you can live and act - and budget - with a greater sense of satisfaction.  Planning for the future actually frees you to enjoy the present moment more.

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