By Molly Cataldo

Special to the Herald Review

Do you have a monthly budget?  If not, you’re not alone. Budgeting has gotten a bad rap through the years. Many people look at a budget as something that shows you what you don’t have to spend.

The reality is, a simple budget can be very empowering and make your life much easier as well as giving you peace of mind. Since the New Year is almost here, it’s the perfect time to develop a budget.

It can seem like a daunting task, but it’s really quite simple.

You don’t need fancy spreadsheets or software programs (although if you’re good at that, it can make it easier).

Start by listing all your monthly income. If your income varies, use an average. After that, list all the payments you have to make each month (mortgage/rent, insurance, groceries, car payments, phone, utilities, student loans, etc.). Subtract your total payments from your income. Since many people spend what they earn each month, you may not have much left.

If you don’t have money left, it’s time to take a look at what payments you can reduce or eliminate.

For example: Do you really need a big cable/internet/phone package? Can you downsize it just a bit or eliminate it altogether? Do you eat out for dinner because you haven’t gone grocery shopping? That really adds up.

Then there’s the mindless spending; buying a specialty coffee every day, eating lunch out several times a week or buying lottery tickets. All of this adds up, so look at what you can change, eliminate or reduce. You’ll be surprised at how much money you can “find” in your budget.

Don’t forget to consider debt.

Be sure to meet with your banker to take a look and see where you might save. For instance, if you have a mortgage, can it be refinanced at a lower rate?  If you have high interest rate credit cards you might look at switching to a lower cost card.

And, if you’re not already doing so, be sure to save money every month. Building up a cushion for the day when your car’s water pump fails or you have a medical emergency, can provide great peace of mind and help you steer clear of taking on unplanned debt.

If you need help understanding your budget, or getting a handle on your debt, be sure to talk with your banker.

We want you to be a good money manager and budgeting is the first step.

Molly Cataldo is branch manager, and assistant vice president of Citizens Bank of Evart