Dear Dave: I’ve worked in a hospital as a nurse for 10 years. I make good money working long hours. The problem is that it seems to disappear, and I’m left trying to stretch those last few dollars to the end of the month. I know I eat out a lot. I grab quick meals between shifts and on the way home because I’m too tired to cook. I think I spend more than I should on other things, too. Do you have any tips for someone who wants to get control of their money, but has very little free time?
Dear Amy: Sometimes the medicine that works the best tastes the worst. This is true for both physical and financial health.
That’s why, no matter how tired you are or how little free time you seem to have, you must make time do a written budget every month. This is essential, and it really doesn’t take long. When you sit down and commit a plan to paper, giving every dollar a name before the month begins, you’re taking control of your money instead of allowing a lack of it to control you.
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Start with the income you know is predictable. If this isn’t possible, look back over the last several months and find the minimum amount you brought home during a month over that period of time. This will be the basis for your budget. Once you’ve established a baseline income, you can prioritize expenses. But remember, restaurants are not a priority!
When you start telling your money what to do ahead of time, you’ll have more ability to do what’s needed with what you’ve earned. It’s empowering and energizing, and it gives you the chance to make your Total Money Makeover a reality!
Dear Dave: Why do you say that personal finance is 80 percent behavior? I thought money was more about math and keeping track of things.
Dear Gerald: Keeping your checkbook balanced and things like that are an important part of what I teach. However, behavior plays an even bigger role for several reasons. You can add, subtract, multiply and divide all day. That stuff’s easy. But until you learn to control your behavior, stick to a budget and spend less than you make, you’re always going to have problems with money.
One of the keys to being a success in personal finance is realizing work comes before play. This is a behavior issue. Let’s say your car needs new brakes. You know this, and you know you have a limited amount of cash, but you still walk into a store and buy a big, fancy television instead. That is not mature behavior. As long as you behave that way, your money will always slide right out of your hands.
And this means you’ll never have enough for important things like saving, investing and giving.
Dave’s latest project, EveryDollar, provides a free online budget tool. Follow Dave on Twitter at @DaveRamsey and on the web at daveramsey.com.