It's happened to all of us: the car breaks down, and you're frustrated - or worried - about that repair bill. Or maybe you opened up a credit card bill, only to wonder when you'll ever see that balance shrink. No matter how much you earn or how much money you have, we all have our bills to pay - and we all need room in our budget to deal with life's unexpected surprises. Here are six components every budget should have, so you can weather any financial storm.
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- Emergency Fund
Car repairs, crazy utility bills, roof leaks - life comes with its share of emergencies, and they usually come with an inconvenient price tag. There's nothing worse than getting hit with an unexpected bill, which is why you need an emergency fund. Instead of pulling out a credit card, write a check next time. So how much should you save? Think of some unexpected expenses you've had in the past year, and add those up. Consider any future car repairs (particularly if you drive an older model), and home repairs if you own a home. Also think of how you would pay the bills if you lost your job. It's recommended that you set aside three to six months of living expenses.
Set up a savings or checking account where you deposit money as soon as your paycheck comes in, so you're not tempted to spend it on something else. Emergency funds take a little while to build, but they're a must-have part of your budget. (Learn more in Build Yourself An Emergency Fund.)
- Retirement Savings
Maybe 65 seems a long way off, and retirement savings don't seem very important to you. Think again: the younger you begin saving, the more you'll be able to accumulate by retirement time. You don't want to be bagging groceries when you're 70, do you? The amount you save for retirement can be small at first, to get you into the habit without feeling too much pinch in your wallet. Check with your employer; you may have a matching 401(k) program to boost your savings.
- Property Insurance
If you have a mortgage, you'll likely pay for homeowners insurance, which includes insurance for your furniture and property. Check your insurance policy to make sure that you have enough coverage; if you're a collector or have a lot of tech equipment (if you work from home, for instance) the standard coverage may not be enough. If you rent, get renters insurance. Premiums are relatively low, and you'll be covered in case theft, an accident or a fire causes you to lose everything you own. (To learn more, see Insurance 101 For Renters.)
- Life Insurance
Nobody likes to think about their death, but life insurance should be part of your budget. Think about it: how will your loved ones pay the bills if you die? If you're single, simply covering funeral expenses is probably enough. Those who are married and have children should think about how much money the household needs to keep things going. Take the time to crunch the numbers, so you can have peace of mind about your family's security.
- Debt Busters
Mortgages, car loans, credit cards – they're a part of life, and they can become so overwhelming that you would rather not think about how much you owe. Don't make that mistake. Just like companies do on their financial statements, write down everything you own. Now deduct all that you owe - the amount you end up with is your net worth. As part of your budget, you should find ways to increase your net worth every year, which is your way to make sure you're getting ahead financially. Set aside money each month to bust that debt - it's a budget must-have. (Learn more in our Financial Statements Tutorial.)
- Vacation/Fun Fund
All work and no play makes for a dull life, so set aside money every month for some fun. Whether it's a vacation, or a monthly spa visit, find some room in your budget to enjoy life. Don't feel like you should do this at the end of the month with money left over either, because you'll spend it on something else. Pretend this is a bill like any other: it's an investment in your happiness. That's worth it, right?
The Bottom Line
Each of us has a unique budget and financial situation, but we all face similar financial storms that can wreak havoc on our lives. With these budget must-haves, you'll be ready. (For more helpful tips, check out The Beauty Of Budgeting.)
If you're still feeling uninformed, check out last week's business highlights in Water Cooler Finance: My iPad Beats Your Toyota.