The point of creating a family budget isn't to enjoy a more leisurely lifestyle -- it's about making sure you have enough money to pay basic expenses. The rapid growth in medical and housing costs is dwarfing income growth, reported Nerdwallet.com after conducting a 2016 data analysis -- and it's posed new challenges to families as they try to make ends meet without using credit cards and loans.
Rachel Cruze, a personal finance expert and #1 New York Times best-selling author of "Love Your Life, Not Theirs: 7 Money Habits for Living the Life You Want," shared with LifeZette the most important strategies for having a financially sound 2017. And what's clear more than ever: Both parents and kids can contribute to the family's financial health.
Question: Are January and February good months for re-setting financial goals -- or does the timing not matter?
Answer: This is an excellent time of year to prioritize the budget. The top two New Year's resolutions are always losing weight and getting out of debt. Money is usually at the top of everyone's mind in January. Over Christmas, you may have made mistakes and some bad decisions when it comes to spending, so there's a yearning to start fresh. Families can review their financial goals this month and next, and get right back on track.
And since those holiday shopping and entertainment bills will start coming in, remember to chip away at credit card debt. Paying off debt is an obtainable, tactical goal. You can see progress, That's motivating.
Q: What items are we over-spending on, in your view -- big purchases, or a string of little ones?
A: It's the little things that get us, for sure. The overarching problem is that people aren't living every day on a budget. Every dollar needs to be accounted for, whether it's kept track of with an app or a simple sheet of paper. "I have a budget; it's in my mind" -- I hear that a lot. That's not budgeting. That is a big example of not budgeting.
So -- write it down! Really see it visually, every dollar you spend on every item every month, broken into categories. That will keep you from the little mistakes -- the Starbucks drive-through too many times a week, or that extra trip or two to your favorite shopping destination. Most people say when they start budgeting for real, they feel like they've gotten a raise. Tell your money where to go. Jon't just watch it leave.
Q: Why do so many of us find planning a budget so painful?
A: It seems hard to sit down and begin the process. Remember, there are way more positives coming out of a budget that absolutely counteract the negatives going in to initially making that budget. Thinking, "We can't live on this, we can't have any fun, this is intimidating" -- get past that. The impact of being in control of your finances in your life is so positive.
Q: Let's talk about kids and money. Are we losing our minds as parents and giving them too much cash?
A: The spending a younger child does probably doesn't break the bank, although parents need to be mindful here. But what a parent is dishing out and spending on a teen is probably going to be a scary number. Add up all of that unnecessary spending because there are no limits or boundaries to what you're handing out -- and you are in for a shock. Many parents are sloppy here. They're handing [their kids] a $20 bill every time they ask.
Put some things in place that really work for you. Let your teens have their own checking account, which you fill with a set amount. And if they want more, make them work for it with a part-time job. Your attitude should be: "When it runs out, it runs out." Teens who are making more adult decisions early on are becoming prepared for the real world. You're not harming your teen by doing this. Rather, you're enabling them to succeed.
Allowance as a teenager is different, perhaps, but I really believe in the commission system for younger kids; they work, they get paid. Moving into the teen years, life does get more expensive. I'm OK with a parent giving a teen a certain amount of money every month. No more, however. Early on, if kids establish the foundational thinking that work equals money, this will only benefit them in a variety of ways as they mature.
Walking in and sitting down in a brick and mortar bank is good for kids, too -- people don't do that anymore. But just that one-hour meeting where you help them set up checking and savings accounts is really beneficial to kids. They learn so much, and they see they can consult with adults when they need help.
Q: Where else could we be saving money?
A: Renegotiate contracts, and cancel those you aren't using. People overlook this because it's a monthly expense that is deducted automatically, so oftentimes they don't even think to look. Also, make sure if you are paying for services, you receive them. I have relatives who paid a monthly lawn-care fee, and they realized the company hadn't even been to the house in three months. Companies need to be accountable to their original price and the service that they're contracted for.
Look at your subscription-based services like Hulu and Netflix -- there are so many $9-and-$10-dollar subscriptions out there. While they alone don't break the bank, pile 10 of those on, and there is $100 leaving your wallet every month. Look to see if you are using your subscriptions as well. This is a very good time to look back through the last few months and ask, "Have we been using these services?" If not, cancel or renegotiate fees and contracts.
In 2017, re-energize both as a couple and as a family to implement a budget. Being on separate pages isn't good for anyone -- focus on reunifying over financial goals. Combine those separate bank accounts, so you're working under one shared, jointly-managed account. Hiding purchases from your spouse? Don't do it. Break those bad habits. It will help your marriage, and it will trickle down to the kids, too, setting good examples for them for their healthy financial future.