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Q: I know my spending is out of control, but I am not sure where the problems are. I mean, there is never any money left at the end of the month, but I do not know where it went. Whatever you advise, please do not tell me to use a budget. I am just not that kind of person.

A: Congratulations on reaching the point where you know something has to change! This is truly something to be proud of. Many people realize their spending is out of control, but do nothing about it. Instead, they hope the problem will resolve itself. However, inheritances and lotteries aside, it never does.

As in every area of life, you need a solution that works for you. If you feel constrained by a budget, as many people do, there are other ways to get a handle on your money. But, before you write off budgeting as something that would cramp your style, give it some honest thought.

What is the problem with a budget? If the tracking and paperwork seem too overwhelming, and you would like a system that is easier to maintain, I can understand that. But, perhaps you do not like having to make decisions on what you will and will not be able to purchase because you do not have an infinite amount of money to work with.

Time for a reality check.

Any system will do the same thing because the fact is this: everyone has only a limited amount of money to spend, whether that limit is $10 or $10,000.

Having said that, here are three alternatives for getting your finances under control:

  1. Decide in advance how much you want to dedicate to savings, how much to charity and how much goes towards your bills. When each paycheck arrives, put the designated savings amount directly into an account you cannot touch. If you come into the credit union, we will be happy to discuss some savings options. Do the same for charity and bills. This is known as “paying yourself first.” As long as you are not using credit cards, this system will keep you from spending the money you’d rather be saving.
  2. A second option is to implement a spending plan. No, this is not a budget by another name. A spending plan gets you organized and lets you know how much you have for each category of spending – not how little.
  3. If all else fails, work with cash. Designate a specific amount every month that is yours to spend any way you like. Put it into an envelope and stick it in your purse. When it is gone, there is no more discretionary spending until next month! This is a last resort, but it always works.

Here are some tools that might help!

Kiplinger – Household Budget Worksheet

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