Whether you've had financial difficulties in the past and are trying to re-establish good financial standing either during or after personal bankruptcy, or you are simply trying to make your dollars go as far as possible, it's important to have some basic tips about budgeting and saving money. Budgeting gets your spending under a controlled flow, and saving money makes it last a little bit longer.

These are some things to keep in mind when you're putting together your budget:

Balance the books
Establishing a personal budget can be difficult because it requires attention to the very last detail about your income and expenses. The best way to get started is by getting a budget worksheet that is already formatted and set up for you. Look online to find these for free download. There are also several popular software programs that will help you establish your budget, and many of these will often automate math functions and other features.

Keep track of everything
If necessary, carry a small notebook with you- account for every penny you spend, even if this seems like excessive "nitpicking" or "sweating the small stuff." You'll quickly see that a large portion of your expenses occur in this area. Categorize your spending, as this will make it possible for you to refine your budget as you go along.

Make a goal
What do you want to accomplish by having greater control over your expenses? Perhaps you want to save a certain amount of money so you can begin investing, perhaps you need to set aside a certain amount of funds to help a loved one. Whatever it is, assign a specific dollar amount to it, and then use your budget to figure out how long it will take you to effectively reach your goal. As you go along, you might discover more ways to become more efficient and reach your goal even faster.

Everyone has had the experience of paying for something only to realize later that a better bargain was available. Chances are that this happens more than you'd ever imagine! These are some of the main areas where you can save serious money over the long term:

Calling plans
The long distance calling wars never end. With the dramatic increase of cell phone use over the past few years, the issue has gotten even more complicated. Call your provider and ask what plans might match your calling needs most. Tell them you want to save money. Another tip you can try is this: when long distance companies call you to convince you to switch to their service, don't hang up. Instead, get the exact information on their offer and write it down. Call your own long distance company and tell them you're thinking of switching so you can save money- often, they'll give you a credit for some free calling. The number one rule for cell phone users is to observe calling hours and roaming costs. Don't go over your minutes! If you need more airtime it's better to pay a little more to upgrade your plan- it will save you a lot in the long run.

ATM and bank fees
One of the most profitable developments enjoyed by banks over the past several years is the fact that people do not want to go out of their way and will easily brush off the idea of spending a dollar to get their own money. This adds up to an industry in its own right that delivers American banks over a billion dollars per year! When you need money, stick to using the ATMs at your own bank to avoid fees whenever you can. Keep in mind that the cash-back options available when you pay with a debit card in many locations such as supermarkets and post offices will allow you to get your cash just like an ATM withdrawal, but there's no fee to do it. When banks or any other financial services are concerned, know what you're paying for- many institutions will often enroll you in a service plan that you don't need, such as theft protection or card loss insurance, knowing that most people tend to overlook these charges. Call your bank or credit card company and verify if you are being charged for any such services you may not want.

Shopping is the most important of money-saving areas because it is the thing you need to do most often. Prioritize your shopping needs- and remember that necessities always come first! Scan your local circulars for coupons- you'd be amazed how much you can save over the course of a year just by using discount coupons regularly. The number one thing to look for when you are shopping is whether or not you can buy larger volumes of whatever it is you're looking for, especially in the supermarket. People with poor spending habits always look to spend the least money at a given moment, but this results in buying a product that will not last as long. "Family Size" products, although more expensive upfront, always provide a better value. The number one thing to avoid when shopping, no matter where you are, is impulse buying. Studies have shown that a huge fraction of what shoppers buy include things they never meant to buy in the first place, especially in the supermarket. The best way to avoid impulse buying is to make a list of everything you need to buy before you go to the store. When something's not on the list, don't buy it! With a little discipline you will soon get a much stronger control over your spending.


(in Oakland, CA)



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