Don't let an appetite for the finer things ruin your shot at financial freedom
If you can't find a way to save, you'll never find a way to relieve the stress that comes with financial security.
But those of us living on a fixed income have an even harder time finding corners to cut and fat to trim.
And without some organization, it's nearly impossible.
That is where a few simple tools will help. One of the most effective is a pie chart. And creating one doesn't require loads of time or a degree in computer science. You could, of course, create one by hand, but there are easy options that require little more than turning on a PC, opening a Web browser and stroking a few keys.
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But first, you need to get organized. Take a few minutes to gather six months of old bank statements or, better yet, log into your bank account online. Use a budgeting site like Mint.com to create spending categories based on your purchases, or simply write them down on a piece of paper.
A site like Mint will create a chart for you, but if that's too complicated, go to a site like Yellowpipe.com or Chartpart.com, which are dedicated to creating simple charts. All you need to do is enter data into a few fields and the site will return a customized pie chart detailing all of your spending.
The results are often eye opening.
You may think going to the movies every weekend is harmless fun, but the $10 tickets and $8 bucket of popcorn may be eating up money that could go to retirement, pay down credit cards or simply cover your everyday bills. Better to cut the nights out to once a month, pay for an $8 monthly subscription for a DVD service like Netflix. The popcorn may not taste as good, but you'll remember your stress free days much more than those few squirts of fake butter.
There's often little you can do about fixed expenses like rent and heat, but making a sustained effort to cut down on discretionary spending is the only sure path to getting your piece of the, well, pie.
Matthew Malone writes for the leading Roth IRA and online retirement planning resource, RothIRA.com. He is a CBS SmartPlanet contributing writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Cosmopolitan, Smartmoney.com, Fortune.com, Forbes.com, and other publications.