Spring is the perfect time to get realistic about budgeting. Carmen Wong Ulrich is here to help us set some limits. She’s a personal finance journalist and the author of “The Real Cost of Living.”
Wong Ulrich says it’s a good time to think about budgeting after filing your taxes because most people have been knee-deep in their finances. She sees it’s a good time to go back in and track your expenses — explore where you are spending your money.
“First of all, I do need you to think about goals and kind of see where things are at. So simultaneously you want to say where do I have a hole, meaning that I’m spending too much money and digging myself into one. And then where do I really want to be? Because goals, as we all know, it kind of tricks your mind into getting motivated,” says Wong Ulrich. “But you want to look at what’s been bothering you. Is it groceries? Is it your transportation? What is really eating at you?”
Wong Ulrich says you should name where your money is going — and then put a price tag on it, so that you can identify where you are spending.
“The day-to-day is so expensive. And you find yourself saying, ‘How much did I spend on this?’ Groceries to monthly subscriptions to other fees — every day money is coming out of us. And because usually we use plastic, it’s become this amorphous thing. So it’s good to take a tally every day and I always recommend people to do the diet thing, which is where you really literally write down every dollar you spend. The simple act of writing it down makes you more cognizant of what you’re doing and actually, studies show, makes you reduce where you spend,” says Wong Ulrich.
One big tip she has if you want to maintain your budget throughout the year: automate as much as you can so you have fewer late fees and you can track where everything is going.