6 steps to take charge of your finances

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KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Taking charge of your finances can be tough. You can sometimes feel helpless, but there are some tactics to get maximum gain.

Fortunately, a budget doesn’t have to hurt. It’s not punishment. Like a healthy and realistic diet, budgeting is all about balance. Save money where you can so you can spend where you want.

The first thing is you need to create a goal. Maybe your budget is currently about damage control, such as managing consumer debt, or paying off that lemon you wish you’d never bought. Perhaps you are thinking about the future: a home of your own. Knowing what you want gives you a starting point and helps you focus on a goal, such as $1,500 to kill that credit card balance once and for all.

What you want to do is schedule your goal. Without a deadline, that goal may remain on permanent “someday” status, so set priorities. Automate a monthly amount toward savings or debt. Open a sub-account and name it for your goal — “Pay Cash for Next Car,” “Down Payment on Home.” Then, save whatever you can reasonably afford each month. Even if you can only save $10 a month, by the end of the year you’ll be $120 closer to your goal.

Track your spending. If you don’t know where your money is going now, how can you make it work the way you want? Some people keep it all in their heads, but if you’re not writing things down, it’s easy to forget a couple of bucks here and there. Those forgotten amounts add up. For example, it’s easy to remember you spent $30 on gasoline. It’s harder to recall the extra money you spent on an energy drink. You don’t have to carry a little notebook. All sorts of budgeting spreadsheets exist online. Find them and use them.

Start slowly. Deny yourself too much, and you may crack after a few weeks. Next thing you know, you’re going on a wild online shopping spree or buying rounds for your buddies at the bar.

If you blow your budget, get yourself back on track, but with modifications. Allow yourself a bit of a slush fund for small niceties, or a touch of riotous living.

If you are successful, celebrate your progress. If in the past 90 days, you pared that consumer debt by $330 — way to go! If your emergency fund is up to $800 — way to go! If you take charge of debt and start making plans for the future means you are taking charge instead of feeling helpless and hopeless.

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