Budgets are a great tool to help allocate your money as efficiently as possible. You can use them to watch your discretionary spending, to save for retirement, or to pay down debt. You can also use them to help you schedule out large purchases. So how do you make these large one time payments fit into your budget when you wouldn’t otherwise be able to cover the cost in a single month?
ESTIMATE THE COST
The first step you should take is to estimate the cost of what you’re looking to purchase. Whether it’s a new mattress, a trip to Italy, or the cost of a home repair, do some digging to identify exactly what you want to purchase and how much it will cost you. This is a good basis for estimating how long you will need to be saving for a particular item before it is feasible.
LOOK AT YOUR CALENDAR
Cracking open your calendar is a good next step to take when you’re working towards making a large purchase. For instance, if you’re attempting to save for a trip to Italy in July and it’s currently February, you may be able to save over the next five or six months depending on how your pay periods fall. Besides factoring in your normal budgetary income and expenses on a monthly basis, you should also look at your calendar to see if you have any big one time expenses or income that will be coming your way between the time you start saving and the time of the purchase. For instance, you may be able to factor in a tax refund, but you may also have a friend’s wedding that may offset that. Factoring in these longer term items can make a big impact on your bottom line.
SCHEDULE PAYMENTS TO YOURSELF
Once you’ve figured out how much time you have to cover the expenses, divide your estimated cost by the amount of months you have to save that money. For instance if you have 5 months to save $2,000 for a trip, you should be saving about $400 per month. To help ensure that you do save that money instead of spending it on things you may not need in the current month, you should schedule that money to come out of your checking account as soon as it gets in there. Pretend you’re paying your credit card bills or student loans and move it to a savings account where you can access the money quickly if you need it, but not so quickly that you can spend it mindlessly. Capital One 360 offers a great online savings account with a higher than average interest rate and it will let you set up multiple accounts so that each can denote something different you’re saving for. By scheduling automatic payments to an account like this each pay period, you have a much greater likelihood of meeting your savings goals.
CUTTING COSTS OR BUMPING YOUR INCOME
Once you’ve calculated what you need to save monthly, that money will have to come from somewhere in your budget. If it was otherwise going towards savings, you may not need to make any adjustments, but often that is not the case. Most times you will need to take a hard look at your spending and your budget and decide what you’re willing to give up in the short term to be able to afford that big expense. Maybe dining out seems a little less important than a trip to Italy, so every time you turn down a dinner invitation you can remind yourself of what the payoff will be. If cutting expenses isn’t enough, are there ways you could earn extra income? If additional income is hard to come by, the last question you should ask yourself is if you really can afford this item. Could you delay your trip until September to give yourself extra time to save, or is there a cheaper option available to you that would be satisfactory? By thinking through these questions ahead of time, you can really see what works for you and your budget and make the best decision for your lifestyle and your wallet.
Written By: Lindsay Dell Cook
Lindsay Dell Cook is a CPA and founder of Budget Babble. She lives in Philadelphia with her uber supportive husband and adorable daughter. When she's not working, she enjoys spending time with her family, taking their lovable mutt for walks, or reading a good book while buried under a pile of cats.