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More times than not, when you take a look at those individuals who struggle with debt, you can pinpoint the problem rather quickly.
Constructing a prudent, intelligent financially sound person starts with the foundation that often is devoid the moment you spend a few minutes with an individual who struggles with debt. That “foundation” is a budget, something that easily measures your expenses versus your income and how you spend your money.
Sounds easy enough, right?
The issue with budgets is twofold: the ones who have them but couldn't tell you the first thing about them or, worse yet, the ones who don't have them at all.
Recently, a person asked me quite simply how they could save money over the next six months, to which I asked a question that seemed rudimentary and common in nature.
“Do you have a budget?”
This person replied “yes, I do.”
So far so good, but the follow up question wasn't exactly met with rave reviews. I asked “do you spend more than you make?” The response, “I don't know, probably.”
When it comes to matters of money, there are no minced words or uncertainly. Money is black and white and so too should be your budget. The two variables that cannot be manipulated or questioned is how much you're bringing in versus what's going out. If the latter is more than the former, your budget isn't up to par.
Even more ridiculous is the aforementioned person who actually has a budget but really doesn't either know what that means per say or just chooses to ignore for reasons that only they can understand. You can argue that having a budget and not knowing the ins and outs of it is no different than not having one at all. The budget itself is only as good as the person who follows it.
Aside from not following or having a budget, one of the bigger missteps when it comes to money and tracking it is the easily forgotten incidental expenses that often plague even the most ardent and savvy money manager.
For instance, you may have, after your bills are paid, approximately $1,000 leftover cash to stick into some sort of savings account. But ask yourself an important question: did you remember to include items such as your daily coffee, lunch on the go three times per week or an allowance for things like clothing, tolls to and from work or gas?
Having a budget is hardly full proof if the person behind it isn't willing to adjust it, monitor expenses closer than just the topical, monthly bills or pretend that it even exists.
Every parent, particularly first time ones, are guilty of this when it comes to their child.
Overspending on birthday parties.
Moms and dads will argue vehemently that the idea behind spending loads of cash on birthday parties is the notion that you truly want to capture these precious moments and do so in a way that is filled with grandiose gestures and activities that can range from pony rides, blow up bounce houses or live entertainment that tips the scales at thousands of dollars just for a few hours.
Neither mindset is wrong per say but could use a little tweaking when you consider that having a child and saving money should go hand in hand, since parents can't escape the magic number that is the cost of raising a child from birth to 18, a figure that continues to rise every year.
So the idea of spending boat loads of cash a handful of parties from ages 1 through say early teens isn't going to leave much in the way of dollars leftover for the truly important events, such as college expenses or buying a car for a 16 year old who, let's face it, is going to need one.
That isn't to suggest that the birthday parties can't be festive, enjoyable and outstanding but devoting obscene amounts of money, especially if you don't have the extra capital to go around, isn't money well spent. No one is saying you have to buy white paper plates and cups and get your uncle to dress up like a clown and fumble over balloon animals for duration of the party.
What parents can do is actually create a specific budget that is within their range that they feel comfortable spending. Much like the budget you create for your household, this one also needs to be written out, followed and observed while you're party planning. Social media has given parents the opportunity to share crafty, inexpensive ways to dress up a birthday party but without spending a fortune in the process.
As for the food and entertainment, the former is best done at home by the parents but doesn't necessarily have to be a buffet or mélange of dishes. Remember, you're feeding the kids and parents alike but this isn't a five star affair. Pizza, salad and other low cost dishes either to make or order would surely suffice. Save the finger sandwiches and expensive deli trays for graduation day.
Entertainment can be a real budget back breaker and range anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of dollars. What is incredibly asinine and short sighted are the parents who have magicians and clowns attend a birthday party for kids that are too young to enjoy it. Plan your entertainment around the ages of the kids in attendance and don't be afraid to allow the party itself to be all the fun you'll need.
Perhaps you can have a pool party at a friend or family member's house if weather permits or birthday's with colder months can include arts and crafts or make use of things you already have at your home (how about dusting off that Nintendo Wii or even borrowing one from someone as part of the games). Old fashioned games like water balloon toss or one legged sack races not only get the kids moving but are budget friendly.
So party on with the same fervor and energy that a high end, expensive party would cost, only minus the overhead that is going to put quite a damper on the festivities.