How do you stretch a dollar? Answer: B U D G E T!

by Damon Carr
For New Pittsburgh Courier

Type in the question, “How do you stretch a dollar in your Google search?”

You’re certain to get images of a dollar bill being stretched to the point of it being torn. Growing up in a single mom-headed household, I recall my mom saying we have to stretch this money to last us the entire month. I don’t recall ever making it through the entire month without being cash-strapped for weeks before another deposit hit. My mom was on a fixed income. She received her check once per month. Apparently, the money didn’t stretch as far as she had hoped it to. Every month! There was too much month left at the end of the money. We’d go broke within the first couple of weeks in the month. Then we’d have to live through the rest of the month with no cash. The only thing that felt stretched was the number of days left in the month before our next check.

A dollar is a dollar! You can stretch it. You can fold it. You can crumble it up. You can create a paper airplane out of it. Fact remains, a dollar is worth a dollar. You can only trade it for something of equal value. Money is the greatest magician of them all. It can disappear right before your eyes leaving you to wonder where the money went.

Money can be a great servant. It will obey your every command. You have to be the master of it. The only way to stretch a dollar is to be proactive and manage it before you spend it. You have to tell your money where to go instead of wondering where it went. You have to live below your means with a purpose. Being a master over your money is how I define budgeting. Budgeting is you taking control of your life and your money. Budgeting is you putting your priorities, responsibilities and goals in order.

I’ve teamed up with CCAC Adjunct Professor Tracy McDonough. Below she’ll share her personal budgeting story:

“No one wants to be put on a budget. I know I didn’t. I grew up in tight circumstances with a single mom for most of it and not much money coming in. When I got my first real job out of college making a whopping $17,000 per year, I did not want to budget. I had never in my life been able to spend freely.  I wanted to buy clothes, a car, etc. But $17,000 per year is not much to live on—especially after taxes. Budget here I come. Ugh!”

“I wasn’t great at it in the beginning. When I decided to go to grad school, I knew I had to get better at it as money would be even tighter. Luckily, I was getting an MBA, so finance became part of my studies. On this relatively small salary, I had to cover everything including student loans from undergrad and current tuition (about $5,000 per year).”

“Recommended steps to working in a budget:  

1. PRIORITIZE. Rent, utilities, food, transportation, debt payments, current biggest need (for me that was tuition)

2. No more than 30 percent on average of your net pay should go towards rent/mortgage

3. A car payment lasting longer than three years is a car you can’t afford

4. NEVER defer student loan payments as they grow quickly and can’t be discharged—even in bankruptcy

5. IMMEDIATELY start an emergency fund

6. Make tough, even hated decisions” 

McDonough continued: “Number 6 is challenging. One tough decision I made was to give up life in a condo with my college roommate to save money by living with my mom. I paid her about $150 a month to cover utilities, “rent,” and groceries. Those things were previously about $650 a month. $415 of that savings went to tuition, another $85 went to the emergency fund.  I also gave up my gym membership for walking at the park during this time.  I loved my aerobics classes. God worked it in for me.  My best friend that I met in grad school’s mom owned a gym. My weekly aerobics class was now free. God worked through my mom, too.  Because I helped her with shopping, paying bills and cooking, my mom saved most of the money I was paying her in rent. When I moved to Pittsburgh three years later after finishing grad school, she handed me a check for several thousand dollars to get started in my new life.”

Thank you again, Tracy. This is Damon Carr…

As I was reading your story, Tracy, the first thing that jumped out at me was you gave your mom $150 per month and it covered rent, utilities, and food. If your mom has some extra rooms available, there’s a couple of readers that would like to rent one of those rooms (joking).

You could see from Tracy’s story that she was intentional. She knew what she wanted. She was knowledgeable about both her income and her expenses. She understood that she can have it all. She just couldn’t have it all right now. As a result, she prioritized what was most important to her. Her buying and spending decisions were based on that priority. She made sacrifices. Her being willing to give up her luxury apartment and move back home with her mom allowed her to cash-flow graduate school and minimized student loan debt.

Most importantly, her creating a budget where she could see in black and white how to best manage her money to get the biggest bang for her buck is what gave her the foresight to make those decisions. Having a budget is what allowed her to stretch her dollars. Today Tracy, her husband and two sons are living a financially stress-free life. They have a firm handle on their personal finances.

In closing, remember, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

A budget is what allows you to manage your money and track and measure your progress. If you’re having a hard time getting forward traction with your money, you need a budget to help you stretch your dollars.

(Damon Carr, Money Coach be reached @ 412-216-1013 or visit his website @ www.damonmoneycoach.com)

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