Spending within your means may sound like a simple rule to follow, but many Americans spend more than they save, which can result in debt. The good news is that it’s completely avoidable, and it’s reversible over time. With a little planning, tracking and adjusting your spending, you can live happily within your means.
For a stronger financial future, here are a few tactics to start living within your means and building better spending habits.
Create a budget.
Making a budget simply means examining your income and expenditures in order to determine exactly how much money you have coming in and where you’re spending it. Once you've got a clear understanding of your current budget – what income you’re receiving and what expenses you’re responsible for – take a closer look and find places where you can spend less. Not sure where to begin? Get started with this Budgeting calculator.
Identify wants versus needs.
An effective way to streamline a budget is to identify your discretionary spending (wants) versus your essential spending (needs). Recognizing the difference between wants and needs can help you better understand what spending is necessary and what categories you could save in. The first step is to analyze your spending and cut back on nonessential purchases. It can make a significant difference in your annual budget by freeing up funds to be saved or used elsewhere. You may find you save hundreds of dollars a month by reducing entertainment costs or frivolous purchases. The idea isn’t to stop enjoying your life, but to understand costs and prioritize expenses for a healthier savings account.
Tackle your debt.
Many Americans owe money in the form of a student loan, a credit card or medical or consumer debt. It can take many years to pay off debt, but it’s important to live within your means and manage your debt load. Take the time to identify which of your loans have the highest interest rates and start paying them off first.
Consider professional counseling.
If you are struggling and can’t get your spending under control, consider seeking qualified financial counseling. Organizations like the National Foundation for Credit Counseling® offer free financial education and counseling services to help Americans cultivate responsible personal finance habits. Or consider finding a free, certified financial counselor through the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education (AFCPE), a nonprofit organization that aims to improve financial education for both financial counselors and clients. AFCPE’s online search tool can help you find the right advisor for your needs.