Monday, January 5, 2009

Budgeting -- Unpopular, but oh so Important!

In recent years the idea of living on a budget has fallen out of favor. Baby-boomers, we are told, don't care for budgets. They prefer a spending plan -- it fits more with their mindset.

Call it a budget or a spending plan or whatever you like, successfully managing your financial life starts with getting control of your cash flow. In the simplest terms, when spending exceeds income, you're in for trouble. This is true whether you make a lot of money or almost none at all.

That's the big idea, but most people are looking for more guidance than that. They're wondering, for example, how much they can reasonably spend on housing, or how much they should be saving for retirement. Here are a few benchmarks to start with, established by the Foundation for Financial Planning.

First some definitions:
  • Disposable Income - This is your total income from all sources minus federal and local income taxes and your own contributions to your retirement plan(s). Taxes are not optional and we recommend treating retirement savings (at least 10% of your total income) the same way -- as though you have no choice about it.

  • Living Expenses - Includes rent or mortgage (principal, interest, taxes and insurance) food, utilities, medical, transportation -- required expenses, none of the fun stuff.

  • Discretionary Income - Subtract your total living expenses and debt payments (non-mortgage debt) from Disposable income to reach this number.

Using these concepts, here are some ratios that can help you determine whether your lifestyle is reasonable based upon your savings and income:

  • Basic Liquidity Ratio - Divide your total savings (money in bank accounts and liquid or readily salable investments) by your monthly living expenses. The result is the number of months you can survive without an income, or your Basic Liquidity Ratio. This ratio should be greater than or equal to six, meaning that you could survive on your savings for six months if you were suddenly unable to work and earn an income.

  • Debt Ratio - Find your Debt Ratio by dividing your monthly debt payments (excluding mortgage payments) by your total monthly income. A Debt Ratio greater than 10% is a red flag indicating that the interest on your credit cards or other loans is eating up too much of your income.

  • Housing Ratio - This is your rent or mortgage payment (principal, interest, taxes and insurance) divided by your total monthly income. If your housing ratio exceeds 30% you are house poor -- spending too much of your income on housing, which leaves you with too little for retirement savings and other living expenses.

Use these ratios to take a good hard look at your lifestyle. If your ratios are out of line -- you are living with excessive risk and building a financial house of cards that will probably fall apart with the first strong wind.

Annette Simon

Copyright 2009 Garnet Group LLC

No comments:

Post a Comment