A major part of the effective management of a household budget is discovering where money is wasted. It’s crucial to determine the most common areas where family money goes down the drain. Sit down with your family at the kitchen table, as if it were a board meeting, and discuss the following:
Who is responsible for paying the bills?
How many credit cards should your household use and who will have possession of them?
What's the family's cash flow -- i.e., how much money is coming in and how much is going out?
What's the overall family budget?
What's the budget for each individual member?
Give everyone a chance to talk, and be sure to set a good example. If your kids promise to cut back on their purchases at the soda machine, you should probably reconsider whether you really need to buy that extra flat screen TV.
Here are the six most common budgetary “black holes” to look out for:
1) Over-withholding of federal income taxes.
To be sure, over-withholding results in big tax refunds, which seem to be a blessing, but all you're really doing is giving Uncle Sam an interest-free loan. You should pay your fair share in taxes -- nothing more, nothing less. Consequently, make sure only the appropriate amount is withheld from your paycheck. Adjust your withholding in a precise way, with the assistance of your company’s HR department.
2) Maintaining very low deductibles on car and homeowner's insurance policies.
This results in monthly insurance premiums that are much higher than necessary, because statistical odds favor you not needing the extra insurance. Opt for higher deductibles; you'll save money in the long run.
Pay off your credit cards as much as possible. A credit card balance at a high interest rate is equivalent to a negative investment. The compounded interest rate builds over time and it saps money from more productive uses. Your top priority in terms of personal finance should be to pay your credit card bill in full, before the grace period ends.
4) Succumbing to subtle, or overt, pressure to needlessly upgrade.
Whether it’s a hotel, gym membership, car rental or airline ticket, resist marketing pressure to “upgrade” when that wasn’t your original intention. Do you really want to spend $30 for more legroom or $20 more a day for a rental car that’s bigger than what you really need? If you don’t need it, stick to your guns and firmly say “No.”
5) Determine the distinction between "must haves" and "desires."
Our consumer society barrages people around the clock with advertising messages exhorting them to constantly buy, buy, buy. However, don’t confuse necessities with luxuries. You don’t necessarily need brand-name electronics and clothing. Lots of material possessions may make you appear rich, but being overburdened with debt is no sign of affluence. True wealth is defined not by what you buy; it's what you can keep.
6) Racking up ATM charges.
Every time you use a cash machine other than those within your bank's network, you’re charged anywhere from $1 to $3 a pop, just to access your own money! Do the math: frequent ATM use accumulates over time. If you need folding money, try various alternatives, such as writing a check for groceries in an amount greater than the bill or taking out one large amount of cash sufficient to carry you through a few weeks or the entire month.
P.S. Now that you've plugged the holes in your budget, you may want to look for some easy ways to add more cash to the pot. Click here to learn how thousands of our readers have tracked down the money and property they're legally entitled to in Why $33 Billion Has Been Forgotten... And How to Get Your Share Today.