4 Ways to Improve Your Budget for 2018

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You're probably aware that having a budget is one of the easiest ways to track your spending and increase your chances of meeting your money-related goals. Yet nearly 60% of Americans don't maintain a budget, and those who fall into that category are putting their finances at risk.

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If you're among the 40% or so of U.S. adults who do have a budget, you're already on the right track. That said, it pays to make your budget as effective as possible, and with the new year approaching, now's the perfect time to revisit that key document and change it for the better. Here are just a few tips for an improved budget going into 2018.

1. Trim the obvious fat

Though most of us learned the difference between needs and wants back in elementary school, those lines tend to get blurred as we get older and start taking on various expenses. For example, is having a vehicle a need or a want? It's easy to argue both cases.

On the other hand, there are certain expenses that are not only glaring wants, but not even pressing wants at that. So as you examine your budget for the new year, think about the things you're currently spending money on, and eliminate those that aren't actually doing much for your quality of life.

For instance, if you have a $50-a-month gym membership that you rarely utilize, it pays to cut that cost and put that money to better use. The same holds true if you're paying for an upgraded cable plan and come to realize that you haven't accessed one of its premium movie channels in months.

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2. Cut one major expense

In an ideal world, your total spending per month would come in well below the amount you bring home in your paychecks. In reality, many of us blow through our paychecks in their entirety, and some of us spend so much that we actually exceed our monthly earnings. If you fall into either category, take a look at your budget and pledge to cut one significant expense in 2018, whether it's your rent, your car payment, or the amount you spend on restaurant meals and takeout. Though it's true that making small changes that save you $5 here and $10 there can, in fact, add up, if you're looking to improve your financial outlook, you'll want to cut an expense that puts at least $100 back in your pocket each month.

3. Be smart about one-time expenses

Many of us have larger expenses that we pay once a year, as opposed to once a month. And it's easy to forget about those bills when sitting down to create a budget. But if you fail to include one-time expenses in your calculations, you could end up falling short when the time comes to pay them.

Imagine you pay your auto insurance once a year, and that it costs $1,500. If you neglect to set aside $125 a month for that bill, and you don't have any savings, which is the case for nearly 40% of Americans, then you'll be in quite the crunch when that payment comes due. It therefore pays to take some time this month to review your bank and credit card statements, list out your various one-time expenses, and incorporate them into your 2018 budget to avoid future hiccups.

4. Always allow room for savings

We all know that spending more than what we bring home is a bad idea, because it inevitably leads to debt. But what about those of us who manage to avoid debt, yet also aren't able to save? Unfortunately, the latter scenario isn't great, either. Without savings, you'll have nothing to fall back on if a financial emergency strikes. Furthermore, if you don't start setting money aside for retirement, you're apt to struggle financially once you're too old to work.

As we gear up for 2018, review your budget and find a way to set aside at least 10% of your income for savings, whether it's for short- or long-term purposes (keeping in mind that you should first work on building an immediate safety net, and then focus on establishing a nest egg). That could mean cutting several expenses or pledging to work a second job to generate more earnings. Just don't make the mistake of letting savings fall by the wayside, because it's one you'll no doubt come to regret.

Wouldn't it be great to kick off the new year with a clear financial plan? If you work on making the above changes to your budget now, you'll be better positioned to enjoy a more financially healthy 2018.

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