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Saturday, April 22, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Budget basics

Everybody hates them. Nobody wants to stick to them. But a household budget can help families identify ways to cut costs and save for retirement, college and other needs. Below are experts' tips for getting a family budget up and running:

1

Don't call it a budget. A "budget" connotes a straitjacket, doing without, while a "savings-and-spending plan" focuses on making informed spending choices.

2

Budgeting (oops — making spending plans) is for everyone. Planners report putting even affluent clients on spending plans because they, too, frequently struggle to save adequately and control spending.

3

Spend less than you earn. Building wealth and financial security is based on this simple premise.

4

Develop a financial plan. Families often are more motivated to stick to a budget after they develop a financial plan based on their life's goals and values.

5

Pick a method that fits. Some people work best with a detailed spending plan that tracks every penny. Others do better with a "top-down" approach: They set aside funds for their savings goals and major monthly costs such as mortgage payments and groceries, then let the little stuff fall where it may.

6

Pay priorities first. That's key to budgeting, whichever approach you take, and reduces what you can potentially fritter away.

7

Track spending. Many households don't have a clue where their money goes. The process of tracking helps identify additional ways to save.

8

Practice short-term goals. Budgeting for a short-term, modest-expense goal is good "practice" for saving for retirement. It's like losing a pound a week on a diet — signs of progress motivate you to continue.

9

Spend from sub-accounts. Establish savings sub-accounts for goals such as a vacation, new car or retirement. With a single large account, it's far easier to blow money.

10

Look for trends. There's a simple way to gauge whether your budget is working — are you increasing savings and decreasing debt at a good pace — or dipping into savings and investment accounts to meet cash-flow needs?

Source: the Financial Planning Association

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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