Michelle’s Mailbag: Budgeting apps and endless bills

Michelle Singletary
Columnist June 10, 2013

This online feature allows me to answer the questions I couldn’t get to during the live chat and to respond to questions you send by e-mail (colorofmoney@washpost.com), Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/MichelleSingletary.com ).

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.” View Archive

From Twitter Randolyn Flournoy @RandyTresev: I need budgeting help. What budget apps if any do you like?

Michelle: I’ll be honest I don’t budget on my smartphone. Don’t do any of my banking either. I’ve been slow to do much of anything on my mobile phone except play Angry Birds or check movie times. So I haven’t tested any budgeting apps. Perhaps I should.

But when it comes to budgeting, it really doesn’t make a difference to me what you use. What’s most important is to write down the numbers on paper with a pen or pencil or input them in Excel spreadsheets, use budgeting software, tools online or download a mobile app. Just use something that puts the numbers right in your face and not just in your head.

Budgeting is all about making the numbers add up. You can’t spend more than you make. And to really be budget smart, you should spend less than you make so you have money to save and invest.

So don’t worry about what tool to use. Just budget.

 

More things to pay for

Q: What is the best way to make sure income keeps up with the bills. When I graduated from college, I didn't have a cellphone or Internet access. Both of those bills and a few others came later. It seems that every few years, there is another bill to add to the pile, things like data plans for the mobile phone. It seems that each month, the bills get larger while the paycheck stays the same size. Is the only way to stay on top of the bills to constantly cut back?

Michelle: The quick answer to the question is yes. To stay on top of your budget and make it all work out, you can’t let your expenses outpace your pay.

So yes, that means cutting back and cutting out.

You should make it a habit to every so often look over your expenses and see if you’ve gotten off track with your spending. For example, I have three children with all their activities, a demanding job, a husband with a demanding job, community service work we both are committed to and every so often we are just too tired to cook. So we pick up take out or eat out. Unchecked, that expense can get out of hand. And when it does we cut back a great deal on eating out.

Some fixed expenses you may not be able to control. But there are many expenses you can manage if you want to be financially responsible. 

Help

Q: I recently got laid off. My company is offering a three-months severance package, which is good. I'm looking for temporary work because I want to be able to save some of the severance. I'd been paying double on my student loans when I was working because I'm eager to get those done (one of them has a higher interest rate than my mortgage). Should I continue doing that or should I keep that money for expenses?

Michelle: Right not your focus should be saving as much cash as possible while you look for a full-time job.

I love that you were working so hard on getting that student loan monkey off your back. But right now you need to pull back from that goal. Concentrate on paying only the basic things you need.

Just make the minimum payment due on the student loans until you find a job.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name and hometown. Your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

Follow me on Twitter at @SingletaryM, or connect with me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MichelleSingletary.com.

Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or singletarym@washpost.
com. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to postbusiness.com.

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