Question: My wife and I have frequently read about the importance of having a budget. I guess that we're like most people these days -- even with both of us working at pretty good salaries, we're feeling the bite of inflation. But doesn't budgeting and penny-pinching take all the fun out of life ?
Answer: On the contrary, budget consciousness doesn't mean penny-pinching, and if you do it right, it can make life more fun.
The picture most people have of budgetion is the advance allocation of income to specified spending catepories, followed by unswerving adherence to the limits set for each group of expenses.
I don't think this works for anyone but the most precise person with a very rare, and finding two people with those characteristics who are married to each other is even more difficult.
Don't start with a preconceived notion of how much you ought to be spending Instead, begin the budgeting process by deeping track of what you actually are spending over a period of at least two months.
Divide your expenses into rather broad categories: shelter, food, clothing, transportation, taxes, retirement savings (including Social Security), entertainment/recreation, medical, savings/investments and, of course, the old standby, miscellaneous.
You may have special interests that indicate a need for other than these basic groups. For example, if you tithe, you may want a separate category for religious activities or perhaps a more inclusive "contributions."
In any case, of course, my general list can be -- and probably should be -- modified to meet your particular needs.
The most important consideration during this exercise: Don't cheat. Put down every nickel you spend, no matter how small the amount (and no matter if you feel guilty about spending it)
Next most important: Don't change your normal spending patterns to make the list look good. This simply would defeat the purpose, which is to get a handle on where your money is going now.
As time passes and the monthly totals accumulate, you will get a pretty good feeling for how you're allocation your dollars. Then you can relate your spending patterns to your sense of values.
Now comes decision-making time -- the crux of the whole budgeting process. The importance you attach to that activity.
If you find that this is not the way things are going now, you can make a conscious decision to apply less of your resources here and more there, so that a greater part of your money is spent on those things that give you the most pleasure or satisfaction.
Because there is a finite limit to both money and time, all of us are faced with the need to choose. If you don't keep track, it's woefully easy to drift into patterns that don't really produce the most satisfying results.
By developing the relatively painless habit of recording all of your spending, you will find yourself in a position to eliminate the superfluous and put your money where your heart is. Q: Is there any general rule for determining whether I should itemize deductions or take the standard deduction?
A: The only general rule is to go whichever way gives you the lower tax. And the only way you can determine that is to make at least a rough estimate of your deductions and compare the total with the standard deduction (now called the zero bracket amount).
The ZBA for 1980 is unchanged from 1979: $2,300 for a single individual, $3,400 on a joint return and $1,700 for a married person filing separately.
Even if you don't own a home (so you don't have mortgage interest and property taxes to claim), your deductions may add up to more than the ZBA.
Generous charitable contributions, high state income taxed, large medical bills, sales tax on a new car, a major casualty loss or substantial job-related expenses (other than travel) either individually or in any combination may bring your deductions to more than ZBA.