2015’s Metro Areas with the Best and Worst Budgeters

by John S Kiernan

WH Best Budgeters BadgeThe economic struggles we’ve endured in recent years have placed considerable emphasis on both the importance of budgeting and our overall inability (or unwillingness) to do so. Roughly three in five adult Americans do not maintain a budget, and 14 percent say they don’t even have a good idea of what they spend on expenses such as housing, food and entertainment, according to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

In the interest of giving the most responsible consumers their just due while putting everyone else on notice, WalletHub searched for the best and worst budgeters in the United States. We did so by examining 16 key metrics, ranging from the average credit score to the percentage of unbanked households. The results of our study, as well as useful budgeting tips, additional insight from experts and a detailed methodology, can be found below.

Main Findings

 

Embed on your website

 

Overall Rank

Metro Area

Spending & Debt Rank

Credit Rank

Saving Rank

1 Fargo, ND-MN 5 1 1
2 Sioux Falls, SD 3 7 6
3 Rochester, MN 2 2 29
4 Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI 4 3 29
5 Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH 7 14 3
6 Cedar Rapids, IA 8 8 14
7 Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA 9 12 14
8 Sioux City, IA-NE-SD 12 10 14
9 San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 1 18 38
10 Duluth, MN-WI 15 4 29
11 Green Bay, WI 16 5 33
12 Madison, WI 17 6 33
13 Lincoln, NE 13 9 36
14 Charlottesville, VA 10 11 48
15 Harrisburg-Carlisle, PA 20 24 8
16 Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA 21 13 36
17 Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA 6 42 38
18 Springfield, MA 28 22 3
19 Pittsburgh, PA 31 19 8
20 Honolulu, HI 53 17 2
21 New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA 25 37 17
22 Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT 51 20 5
23 Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI 46 15 33
24 Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 22 27 58
25 Portland-South Portland, ME 37 28 27
26 Rochester, NY 47 29 17
27 San Diego-Carlsbad, CA 14 69 38
28 Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY 45 30 17
29 Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD 29 62 8
30 Salt Lake City, UT 62 25 7
31 Peoria, IL 60 16 24
32 Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY 41 33 17
33 Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 11 79 38
34 Kennewick-Richland, WA 24 47 58
35 Roanoke, VA 27 47 48
36 Syracuse, NY 61 33 17
37 Binghamton, NY 67 32 17
38 Erie, PA 63 40 8
39 Billings, MT 18 21 90
40 Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 23 50 61
41 Utica-Rome, NY 75 33 17
42 Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI 43 60 24
43 Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD 36 78 12
44 Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO 34 26 70
45 Spokane-Spokane Valley, WA 69 23 58
46 Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade, CA 26 77 38
47 Rockford, IL 86 60 24
48 Richmond, VA 48 71 48
49 Providence-Warwick, RI-MA 92 44 29
50 Chico, CA 58 68 38
51 Grand Rapids-Wyoming, MI 30 46 86
52 Colorado Springs, CO 41 52 70
53 Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA 51 45 72
54 Columbia, MO 40 36 97
55 Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC 73 76 48
56 Fort Wayne, IN 38 54 91
57 Cleveland-Elyria, OH 80 49 64
58 Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI 44 57 86
59 Wichita, KS 79 64 62
60 Evansville, IN-KY 39 66 91
61 Salisbury, MD-DE 98 84 12
62 Bangor, ME 126 41 27
63 Bend-Redmond, OR 93 31 72
64 Austin-Round Rock, TX 19 81 114
65 Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN 90 58 64
66 Kansas City, MO-KS 54 63 97
67 St. Louis, MO-IL 68 53 97
68 Lansing-East Lansing, MI 72 56 86
69 Boise City, ID 49 65 111
70 Eugene, OR 99 39 72
71 Topeka, KS 112 38 62
72 Lafayette-West Lafayette, IN 50 72 91
73 Toledo, OH 111 43 64
74 Dayton, OH 107 58 64
75 Raleigh, NC 35 87 102
76 Medford, OR 108 51 72
77 Fresno, CA 71 118 38
78 Bakersfield, CA 64 126 38
79 Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX 32 96 114
80 Columbus, OH 109 70 64
81 Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 33 104 114
82 South Bend-Mishawaka, IN-MI 81 74 91
83 Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 66 134 38
84 Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH-PA 123 55 64
85 Terre Haute, IN 84 74 91
86 Springfield, MO 85 73 97
87 El Centro, CA 103 106 38
88 Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, IN 76 89 91
89 Knoxville, TN 89 83 106
90 Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ 70 98 112
91 Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 116 102 52
92 Joplin, MO 82 92 97
93 Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL 100 127 52
94 Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL 116 110 52
95 Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN 77 80 137
96 Lexington-Fayette, KY 57 91 137
97 Flint, MI 122 67 86
98 Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC 88 95 102
99 Greenville-Anderson-Mauldin, SC 55 99 129
100 Nashville-Davidson--Murfreesboro--Franklin, TN 101 85 106
101 Greensboro-High Point, NC 104 86 102
102 Abilene, TX 59 115 114
103 Tyler, TX 56 119 114
104 Kingsport-Bristol-Bristol, TN-VA 106 88 106
105 San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX 83 104 114
106 Tucson, AZ 110 82 112
107 Amarillo, TX 78 117 114
108 Odessa, TX 73 123 114
109 Lafayette, LA 113 103 79
110 Charleston, WV 64 113 147
111 Panama City, FL 128 132 52
112 Lubbock, TX 87 121 114
113 Oklahoma City, OK 91 101 135
114 Waco, TX 94 115 114
115 Jacksonville, FL 130 135 52
116 Chattanooga, TN-GA 121 93 106
117 Wichita Falls, TX 114 96 114
118 Tulsa, OK 97 107 135
119 Tallahassee, FL 132 147 52
120 Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA 96 114 141
121 Charleston-North Charleston, SC 94 122 129
122 Lake Charles, LA 131 108 79
123 Birmingham-Hoover, AL 127 120 76
124 Baton Rouge, LA 120 125 79
125 Greenville, NC 129 109 102
126 Corpus Christi, TX 102 130 114
127 Fort Smith, AR-OK 133 89 133
128 New Orleans-Metairie, LA 138 111 79
129 El Paso, TX 125 123 114
130 Mobile, AL 143 100 76
131 Laredo, TX 119 142 114
132 Columbia, SC 115 138 129
133 Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, AR 135 94 133
134 Albuquerque, NM 105 112 150
135 Brownsville-Harlingen, TX 124 143 114
136 Florence, SC 118 146 129
137 Montgomery, AL 140 145 76
138 Memphis, TN-MS-AR 139 128 106
139 Shreveport-Bossier City, LA 145 140 79
140 Reno, NV 134 131 139
141 Monroe, LA 147 140 79
142 Alexandria, LA 149 144 79
143 Savannah, GA 136 136 141
144 Augusta-Richmond County, GA-SC 137 133 141
145 Macon, GA 141 139 141
146 Columbus, GA-AL 146 136 141
147 Gulfport-Biloxi-Pascagoula, MS 144 129 148
148 Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV 142 150 139
149 Albany, GA 148 149 141
150 Jackson, MS 150 148 148

 
Metro-Areas-with-the-Best-Worst-Budgeters-Artwork
 

Regardless of where your metro area falls on the above list, we could all be better budgeters. Here are some tips for how to go about doing that:

5 Tips for Better Budgeting

  • Feed an Emergency Fund – Set aside a bit every month with the ultimate goal of having about a year’s after-tax income in reserve in case of an extended income disruption. Start by putting away 2 percent of your net income every pay period. From there, you can keep increasing your contribution.
  • Rank Your Expenses – Budgeting doesn’t require you to give up all of your hobbies or creature comforts. It simply means cutting back on expenses that you’ve grown to view as necessities but are luxuries that drag you into debt. By ranking your expenses in order of importance, you’ll be able to keep what you value most and avoid all the headaches that come with unnecessary debt.
  • Use the Island Approach – Separate your debt from your everyday expenses. The Island Approach is a strategy that involves isolating different types of transactions to different credit cards for the best possible combination of terms. For instance, you might consider using a rewards card for daily expenses (which you’d pay off in full every month) and a 0 percent balance transfer card to lower the cost of existing debt.
  • Treat Debt Payments Like a Snowball – In constructing your budget, make sure to account for monthly debt payments. When distributing those payments, you should pay the minimum on everything but the balance with the highest interest rate, to which you should allocate the rest of your monthly allotment until that balance is gone. Repeat that process with the balance that has the second highest interest rate until you’re completely debt-free.
  • Eliminate Temptation – We all have our spending temptations, whether it’s a high credit limit that we can’t resist exhausting each month or an Xbox that’s begging for new games. Whatever the spending trigger is in your case, it’s important to eliminate it, even if that means taking drastic measures such as cutting up your credit cards in order to prevent use while continuing to benefit from monthly reporting to the major credit bureaus.

Ask The Experts

Being a good budgeter isn’t just about staying out of debt. The best budgeters make the most of what they have by adhering to a well-crafted spending plan that accounts for the unexpected while leaving little room for frivolity. To expand the discussion, we’ve asked a panel of experts to share their wisdom and insight on the subject. Click on the experts’ profiles to read their bios and responses to the following key questions:

  1. What tips do you have for consumers looking to make a budget and stick to it?
  2. What is the biggest obstacle for consumers trying to stay on budget?
  3. What tips do you have for consumers to get out of debt and stay debt free?
  4. How should parents teach children about the importance of budgeting?

 

< >
  • Kristine L. Beck Director of the Financial Planning Program at California State University, Northridge
  • Peggy Olive Financial Capability Specialist in the Center for Financial Security at University of Wisconsin - Extension, Family Living Programs
  • Mark Zoril, AIF Founder of PlanVision
  • Michael Gutter Associate Professor, Interim Family and Consumer Sciences Program Leader, and Family Financial Management Specialist at University of Florida
  • Kevin Waspi Lecturer in Finance at University in Champaign, Illinois, College of Business
  • David Robinson Senior Lecturer of Marketing in the Haas School of Business at University of California, Berkeley
  • Paul J. Dolce, CFP Founder and President of Financial Solutions, LLC, and Adjunct Instructor in Financial Planning at Ohio State University
  • Nathan Harness TD Ameritrade Director of Financial Planning at Texas A&M University
  • Karen Nunez Assistant Professor of Accounting at Elon University, Martha & Spencer Love School of Business
  • Ann C. House Coordinator of the Personal Money Management Center at The University of Utah

Kristine L. Beck

Director of the Financial Planning Program at California State University, Northridge
Kristine L. Beck
What tips do you have for consumers looking to make a budget and stick to it?
  1. Compare actual spending to budget every month. It sounds like a lot of work, but there are several good apps that keep track of your spending relative to your budget.
  2. Build a savings buffer for emergencies.
What is the biggest obstacle for consumers trying to stay on budget?

Everyone has financial emergencies. For some, a $50 parking ticket is a major emergency, for others it could be a $500 car repair or $5,000 for a new roof. If you have no savings, short-term emergencies become long-term problems and budgeting becomes juggling rather than achieving goals.

What tips do you have for consumers to get out of debt and stay debt free?

Don't use credit cards unless you can pay off the balance every month.

Track your spending, make a budget, and compare actual to budgeted spending every month.

Build emergency savings.

Peggy Olive

Financial Capability Specialist in the Center for Financial Security at University of Wisconsin - Extension, Family Living Programs
Peggy Olive
What tips do you have for consumers looking to make a budget and stick to it?

I’m not a big fan of budgets in the traditional sense. It’s too easy to get discouraged with strict spending limits when something comes up and you go over your budget. I encourage everyone to track their spending and stay flexible within the limitations of their current income. When you have a month where money will be tight - maybe there’s a birthday in the family or less hours at work - you decide where you will cut back on an expense that’s under your control. Keep tracking your spending for a few months and you start to see patterns. If you’re happy with your spending habits, living within your means, and saving for the future, then you’re good to go. If you’re not happy with what you discover, there’s your opportunity to pick a few expenses to focus on next month and look for opportunities to cut back on these expenses. Be sure to keep tracking your spending to find out how much your efforts are saving you.

What is the biggest obstacle for consumers trying to stay on budget?

Everyday life. There is no such thing as a typical month. Life comes with ups and downs, and our spending reflects that reality. That’s why I’m an advocate for tracking spending and making budget decision in real-time. There will be months where expenses are greater than income, so it’s important to have a plan whether it’s pulling money from savings or borrowing AND paying that debt off as quickly as possible.

What tips do you have for consumers to get out of debt and stay debt free?

Some people start with information – monthly spending, income, savings goals, and amount of current debt – to determine how much money they can put towards paying down debt. Other people decide which debt they want to tackle and how quickly, and then they adjust their everyday spending to live on what’s leftover. If there’s not a lot of wiggle room between income and expenses, another option is to boost income through a part-time job or one-time funds, like a tax refund or selling personal items. However you decide to tackle your debt, you need a plan that you can live with in order to keep up your motivation. You need to feel that there’s an end in sight, whether it’s months or years, and focus on what being debt-free will do for you when that day arrives.

How should parents teach children about the importance of budgeting?

There are many learning moments along the way and the specifics depend on the age of the child. Preschoolers catch on pretty quickly that you need money to buy things and you need to make choices around those purchases. Instead of telling a child whining for a treat at the store “we can’t afford that”, try saying “we need our money for other things that we all use.” If you provide an allowance in your family, that’s a great opportunity to pass your values, such as saving or donating, onto your child. Children need the chance to make poor spending decisions with their own money while they’re young and the price tag isn’t so great. This is a great website to check out for financial education activities for various ages.

Mark Zoril, AIF

Founder of PlanVision
Mark Zoril, AIF
What tips do you have for consumers looking to make a budget and stick to it?

I typically ask my clients a couple of questions as I begin to work with them on this. I ask them “How do they feel about their financial situation?” Then I ask them, “How much stress do you feel about your financial situation?” Then I ask “How would you feel if you were able to get your spending and budget in control?”

As I work with my clients, I am essentially asking them why do they want to budget? What is the objective? The answers to the above questions are very predictable. However, the answers to questions 2 and 3 are almost always the same. They typically feel a lot of stress – I can tell by the way the answer. And on question 3, they respond by describing how liberating it would be to feel like they have some control and know what to do.

So, I let them know that with some work they’ll have a chance to improve their situation and they can begin to get rid of the stress that they feel. So, the tip is to think of how they would feel – how less stressful their life would be – if they had control of their budget. This now becomes an important goal for them.

What is the biggest obstacle for consumers trying to stay on budget?

Not sure I can say absolutely what the “biggest” obstacle is. There can be many. I will list out a few here.
  1. They do not acknowledge the real problem. How did they end up in this situation?
  2. Real life events can take people off budget – loss of work; unexpected bills.
  3. Emotional issues. Envy, projecting an image, loneliness, hope, etc…
  4. They grow tired of budgeting and give up.
  5. They miss the things they had.
What tips do you have for consumers to get out of debt and stay debt free?

Use a system to identify where you spend money: Mint.com, YNAB, Budget Simple (I use this one and Mint.com myself). This will help you get more involved because you have to spend the time it takes to track your expenses.

Or, and this is a great way to do it for someone that has never done this before, use a piece of paper and write down everything you spend money on for 2 to 3 months. Put it on the counter or fridge or bedroom or somewhere. This is an excellent way to start the process of becoming aware of where the money goes.

Once you are doing this, you can then begin to prioritize those expenses you can eliminate and those that you cannot. People have to make tradeoffs. But, as they start to eliminate things, they will begin to feel confident about what they are doing and proud of their efforts. This will help develop momentum too! What can we (or I) get rid of next? How will I save money next month?

Also, and this can be very, very effective. Sign up for a few budget blogs!! The Simple Dollar is great; as is Budgets are Sexy; the Cash Cow Couple; Get Rich Slowly; there are many, many more. These are awesome resources for people to feel that they are part of a community of people that are like them. When you visit these sites, get involved in the comments sections and share what you did and what is working for you.

How should parents teach children about the importance of budgeting?

There are many different ways to do this. Of course, they have to talk about the concept of money and how it is earned and what you can do with it.

It is excellent to have some sort of tool – either on the computer (a simple excel spread sheet) or on a piece of paper – which shows how much a child has and what happens to their money when they spend it.

Also, I would strongly encourage parents to discuss with their children how household finances work! And use some of the household expenses as example. We make a certain amount of money and we have to pay for our food, our home, our lights, etc… The big picture is to emphasize the point that it is critical that you don’t spend more than you make. That is the single biggest message someone needs to understand as they grow up – living within your means.

Another critical component is to use examples, all the time, of situations in which the family chooses not to buy or spend money on something. You might say something like “We have to be smart with our money, we only have so much of it, and that (xxxxx) is something that we do not need.” Or, you could say something like, “Sometimes we don’t buy things because they don’t fit into our budget.” If a child hears messages like this on an ongoing basis – not every day – but throughout their childhood, they will begin to understand the importance of saying “no” to certain purchases. This is a characteristic that will help them greatly as they grow up.

Michael Gutter

Associate Professor, Interim Family and Consumer Sciences Program Leader, and Family Financial Management Specialist at University of Florida
Michael Gutter
What tips do you have for consumers looking to make a budget and stick to it?
  1. Get organized, we recommend using a calendar like our UF/IFAS Money Management Calendar to organize timing of money coming and money coming out.
  2. Communicate with any other breadwinners or adults as to spending needs, timing of bills, even things you want to get at some point.
  3. Look at timing of money coming in and money coming out. Some people make enough money but it doesn’t come in at the right times for the bills. This is as simple as organizing and saving money from one pay period to the next. However, without good organization and communication, it is easy to forget why that money is still in the account.
What is the biggest obstacle for consumers trying to stay on budget?

Lack of organization and communication.

What tips do you have for consumers to get out of debt and stay debt free?
  1. Stop using credit at least for a year or two. Freeze your cards in a block of ice. In case of an emergency you can always get to it.
  2. Build an emergency fund to avoid needing credit for unforeseen expenses.
  3. Use PowerPay system to reduce your debt.
How should parents teach children about the importance of budgeting?

Involve them in some family decisions. Let them plan (as they get a bit older - 8 and above in my house) for some of their own spending and purchases using allowances. Let them have some things they are expected to pay for themselves.

Kevin Waspi

Lecturer in Finance at University in Champaign, Illinois, College of Business
Kevin Waspi
What tips do you have for consumers looking to make a budget and stick to it?

Envelopes work well. You don’t have to put cash in them, but a slip of paper that represents the cash/amount for each item: Rent, Utilities, Groceries, and Savings. On the outside of the savings envelope is written a target amount that is hoped to be there each week, and each week’s total is higher than the last. There is no envelope for “other”, the goal is accomplished by having the balance in the savings grow each week, not shrink. Each time the target is reached, that money should be put in a savings account, not held in the envelope.

What is the biggest obstacle for consumers trying to stay on budget?

Temptation and need. Face it; many people have an income that puts them just on the edge. If one thing goes wrong (i.e., the car breaks down), the budget is shot for months. The second reason is the temptation to have what you do not. Every “sale” or new gadget is a temptation to break the budget/savings habit.

What tips do you have for consumers to get out of debt and stay debt free?

The envelopes above work well. Add an envelope for “payments”, and write the total amount still due on each debt owed (total payoff) on the outside. Put this envelope on top of all the others and have that amount nag you every time you handle money. You will soon become sick of seeing how much of what is yours is being “given” to someone else. Let greed counter your spending/debt accumulation habit.

How should parents teach children about the importance of budgeting?

Have them perform tasks, lawn mowing, snow shoveling, cleaning and other useful things for people who need these services done. When the payment for the service is made to the child, take ½ of it and immediately put it into a saving account for them. Let them keep the savings account statements, and watch the balance grow. On a special day (birthday, Christmas, etc.) allow them to withdraw 10% of the accumulated balance to do with as they wish.

David Robinson

Senior Lecturer of Marketing in the Haas School of Business at University of California, Berkeley
David Robinson
What tips do you have for consumers looking to make a budget and stick to it?

Only some people can budget – it’s easy for those for whom it is easy. For those who HATE tracking every little expense, I propose this "non-budgeting:" At the beginning of the month pay everything -- rent, utilities, credit card. Then simply work with what you have left: Money in your pocket or what is in checking (easy to do these days with mobile banking.) If there's no money left, you stop spending until the next paycheck hits

What is the biggest obstacle for consumers trying to stay on budget?

A failure to understand that credit is not free money.

What tips do you have for consumers to get out of debt and stay debt free?

Spend! At the beginning of each month allocate each member of the household some fun money -- as little as $100 can make all the difference in the world. With cash in hand, one doesn't feel so deprived and you avoid all the "you spent how much on WHAT?!" conversations. Another trick that I use myself: If you are forced to use a credit card to make a purchase, go home, log on to your bank and make a payment to your credit card. There's nothing to stop you making 3 or 4 payments per month. If you do that, the money comes out of checking at once and you don't overspend the rest of the month.

How should parents teach children about the importance of budgeting?

Repeat after me: "It sounds lovely, but we just can't afford it." Apply to school ski trips, new video games, the latest fashions. When I'm teaching the staff at Berkeley about personal finance, I convince them of this by asking who would like a better car or a new, larger TV. I get 100 percent of hands going up. Then I show a picture of a $40 million dollar yacht and say: You probably weren't worrying about being able to buy a yacht -- you just can’t afford it. So, now, repeat after me…

Paul J. Dolce, CFP

Founder and President of Financial Solutions, LLC, and Adjunct Instructor in Financial Planning at Ohio State University
Paul J. Dolce,  CFP
What tips do you have for consumers looking to make a budget and stick to it?

First, track expenses using free service like Mint.com or other similar applications.

Pick two or three discretionary items that you want to control. Ignore non-discretionary items. Restaurants, clothing, socializing, etc. are almost always the big hitters.

Determine a maximum amount that you’ll spend each month on those few items. Make it something you can live with, otherwise you’ll never succeed (very similar to a diet).

Use cash to pay for those items by taking the budgeted amount out of the bank each month or each week. Storing the cash in envelopes works well.

If the envelope goes empty, you must stop spending on that item until it’s time to replenish it. If there’s extra cash remaining at the end of a replenishing period, still replenish the item….congratulations, you can spend that much more in the next period, and you’ll still be on budget.

Adjust as necessary. If you consistently have extra cash available, cut the budgeted amount back a bit. If you’re short each month, consider a slight increase.

This is a modified version of the “envelopes method.” It’s very effective for many people.

What is the biggest obstacle for consumers trying to stay on budget?

Using credit cards and debit cards indiscriminately.

What tips do you have for consumers to get out of debt and stay debt free?

First, control spending (see first response).

Direct all savings toward building an emergency fund – first priority.

After building an emergency fund, use the debt snowball approach to pay down debt. In most cases, for psychological reasons, I prefer beginning with the smallest balance, rather than highest interest rate.

How should parents teach children about the importance of budgeting?

Basically, have the child take some responsibility so they learn the value of money (i.e., have them pay for a portion of purchases). Parent picks a maximum (reasonable) amount he or she is willing to pay for a pair of jeans. If the child wants something more expensive, it’s the child’s responsibility.

Nathan Harness

TD Ameritrade Director of Financial Planning at Texas A&M University
Nathan Harness
What tips do you have for consumers looking to make a budget and stick to it?

Budgeting is tricky because, like a diet, it feels arduous to many, so some end up on a roller coaster of strict adherence and then spending sprees. What tips do you have for consumers looking to make a budget and stick to it?

Accountability greatly increases the likelihood of following through. I encourage families to work through their finances together and get the buy in of everyone. If you are not at that stage of your life, then find a trusted friend to work through your budget together. Working with others allows them to help you think through your decisions and requires forethought when planning for expenditures.

What is the biggest obstacle for consumers trying to stay on budget?

For many consumers, the feeling of claustrophobia sets in. You feel like your financial freedom is gone when your budget is set too tight. People oftentimes want immediate results, and so they create a budget that is too tight and restrictive. I suggest that you give yourself a little breathing room and allow for rewards every now and then. For example, if you pay off a debt or successfully accomplish your budget for a few months, allow yourself a small budget party. That might look different for everyone. Maybe it means you get an opportunity to go out to eat at your favorite restaurant. I would encourage you to bring your accountability partners into the celebration and also preset the spending limit of your celebration so that you don’t slip into bad habits.

What tips do you have for consumers to get out of debt and stay debt free?

Similar to the prior two questions, I would suggest getting a perspective by bringing in accountability partners and setting a budget that you can stick to. The Tortoise and the Hare was always one of my favorite Aesop’s Fables because it portrays the power of consistency. You can win the race by creating a plan of success. Spend a week really thinking about your short-term and long-term financial goals. Share these with your accountability partner(s) and set reasonable goals that you will stick to. Making those goals visual can also help. There are free online budgeting tools that will provide you with visual green and red budgeting bars that help you track your success throughout the month.

How should parents teach children about the importance of budgeting?

Get your children involved in the process of budgeting. A friend of mine always says, “You can’t be what you can’t see”. If the kids are involved in the family budget, then they too can learn and grow with you. Make them a part of the budgeting party. When the family successfully attains the budget or pays off a debt, build in a pre-planned and pre-budgeted party for the family. Celebrate your successes together and share in the responsibility.

Karen Nunez

Assistant Professor of Accounting at Elon University, Martha & Spencer Love School of Business
Karen Nunez
What tips do you have for consumers looking to make a budget and stick to it?

Spend less than you earn. That way you can start accumulating savings and the increase each month will motivate you to continue.

What is the biggest obstacle for consumers trying to stay on budget?

Emergencies — those unplanned expenditures. My advice is to have an emergency fund. Add to it each month. Set up an automatic deposit from your checking account into a savings account. The goal should be three to six months’ worth of expenses, or more.

Impulse spending. Stop doing it. Resolve to save for your ‘wants’. Setup a “Fun Money” savings account. Add to it each month. Start small, e.g. $25-$50 a month. You can automate it just like an emergency fund. Use your “Fun Money” to pay for discretionary items. That will help you to start saving and planning ahead. You’ll also feel a wonderful sense of accomplishment when you are able to pay cash for a new toy, e.g. like a new iPhone. Use your Fun Money to reward yourself. Also, the harder you work to save it, the less likely you are to be frivolous with it.

What tips do you have for consumers to get out of debt and stay debt free?

Limit your debt. Most people carry some kind of debt, and their debt load is increasing. Focus on the following things to get out of debt and stay out of debt:
  1. Don’t increase your debt. Stop using credit cards and become a cash consumer. Prepare a budget where your income exceeds your expenses. Make sure you eliminate any unnecessary expenses. Use the difference between your income and expenses in a debt reduction strategy.
  2. Start paying your debt off. Pay your debts off one at a time. List your debts from the smallest balance to the largest. Focus on paying off the smallest balances first while paying the minimum on the larger balances. Once you’ve paid a debt off, take the funds you were paying on that debt and combine them with what you are paying on the next debt on your list. Move systematically thorough your list in this way to gain momentum and establish what’s sometimes referred to as the debt-snowball.
If you must use debt in the future, make sure it’s good debt-debt for something that is valuable and appreciates. Examples of good debt are mortgages and education loans. An example of bad debt is a car loan. Most cars don’t appreciate, they depreciate. Focus on buying affordable, used cars that you’ve saved cash for. Other examples of bad debt are credit card debt for things like clothes, furniture, gadgets and vacations. None of these things appreciate.

Ann C. House

Coordinator of the Personal Money Management Center at The University of Utah
Ann C. House
What tips do you have for consumers looking to make a budget and stick to it?
  • Goals: Before you create a budget, write down your goals. Knowing what you want, one month or ten years in the future, will direct where you want your money to go.
  • Income: Know how much money you have to work with. This can vary from month to month, which can make budgeting difficult. One solution is to figure an average monthly income.
  • Expenses: Know how much money you are spending. Keep track for three months what you are spending in categories such as food, transportation, eating out, entertainment, utilities, etc. and then take the average (add the three months and divide by three). This will give you an amount to put in each category. Some amounts, such as rent, mortgage, and loans, will stay the same month to month.
  • Evaluate: If you are running out of income before you have covered your expenses, you will need to see where you can cut back. A recommended percentage of your NET monthly income:
    • 10% - charity
    • 10% - savings (4% - retirement, 2% - future purchases, 2% emergency, 2% - emotional “I want”)
    • 25% - housing
    • No more than 10% - debt repayments
    • 45% - living expenses
  • A budget is basic to your personal money management. Find a system that works for you and make it yours. It can be as detailed or as simple as you need it to be.
What is the biggest obstacle for consumers trying to stay on budget?
  • No two months are the same. We have the “usual” monthly expenses of rent, food, utilities, loan payments, and then one month we have to pay for our auto tax, license, and inspection. The next month we take our pet to the vet for his yearly checkup. The next month we have expenses related to a holiday. Find a way to account for these non-monthly expenses. You can do this two ways:
    1. Add up all of your non-monthly expenses for the year. What expenses do you have each January? Each February, and so on? Think about your yearly subscriptions, dues, family birthdays, etc. After you have these added, divide by 12. This is the amount of money you will save each month for those non-monthly expenses and pull from this savings account to pay for these expenditures.
    2. Set up several savings accounts at your banking institution. Credit Unions will usually do this with no additional fees. Assign each account to handle your non-monthly expenses. For example, you may have an account for your auto, home repair, pets, travel, family, property taxes, etc. With each paycheck, move money into these accounts as needed. When the brakes go out on your car, you can then use money that you have saved in your auto savings account.
  • Budgeting is about 25% know-how and 75% habit. The biggest obstacle to budgeting is our own worst habits. Do what you need to do to take control of your money. Our brains are not hard-wired and we can change our bad financial habits.
What tips do you have for consumers to get out of debt and stay debt free?
  • Pull a credit report for free and go through each item one by one.
  • Work with your creditors. Half of the solution is to let your creditors know that you know you owe them money! They will be more willing to work with you on your payments. Once the debt is sold to a collection agency, you can no longer work with your creditor, the terms are more rigid and your credit report is severely damaged.
  • Cut back on your spending to the bare minimum and repay your debts by making power payments. Use the free online PowerPay tool. You are still making the same overall debt payments but rolling paid debts onto unpaid debts which has an amazing effect on your debt.
  • Remain out of debt by taking control of your spending.
    • Have an emergency savings account so when those emergencies come up such as needing new tires on your car, you can take it from savings and not put it on your credit card.
    • Know your spending leaks. If it is eating out at work, put X amount of money in an envelope for eating out each month. When it is gone, it is gone.
    • Let others in on your new debt reduction plan. Friends, family and work colleagues can help, and chances are, they need to spend less money too. Together, your office decides to bring lunches from home, and your group of friends will find less expensive entertainment
How should parents teach children about the importance of budgeting?
  • Studies indicate that children who receive and have to budget their allowance grow up to be better money managers than do children who do not receive an allowance or do get an allowance but are not required to budget it. So, parents can teach children basic money management skills early.
  • Get your children into good money habits, such as saving a portion of everything they earn and giving back.
  • Talk to your children about money. Studies indicate this is more difficult than talking to our children about sex. But it doesn’t have to be. When your children are shopping with you and want something they see, remind them that you are on a budget and if they want something, it too, needs to be budgeted.
  • Tell children where money comes from. This will help them, and you, decide where the money should go. Monthly salaries, child support, etc., should go towards monthly living expenses. One-time monies, or money specially saved for a purpose can go towards a vacation or education expenses.
  • Include your children when making family financial decisions. Ask, “Should we go to a movie tonight, or save the money in our Disneyland vacation fund?” This will help them understand that money is not unlimited and that planning (and budgeting) goes into choices we make every day.

Methodology

The best budgeters know the difference between luxury and necessity. They also are able to steer clear of debilitating debt due to diligence and discipline, not pure earning power.

In order to gauge the overall budgeting capability of Americans, WalletHub ranked 150 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) in the United States. We did so by examining 16 key metrics, which were assigned to three main categories: 1) Spending & Debt, 2) Credit and 3) Saving. We assigned a full weight only to the metrics that were available for all of the MSAs included in this report. The others received less weight, as the data were available only at the state level or for select metro areas.

Although only 13 metrics appear below, “Delinquency Rate” counts as four metrics because it is a composite that includes the following delinquency submetrics: mortgages, auto loans, student loans and credit cards.

Spending & Debt – Total Weight: 10

  • Total Non-Mortgage Debt as a Percentage of Median Income: Full Weight
  • Personal-Bankruptcy Rate: Half Weight
  • Foreclosure Rate: Full Weight
  • Housing Expenses as a Percentage of Median Home Price: Half Weight
  • Percentage of Total Non-Housing Expenses to Median Income: Half Weight
  • Credit Usage (%): Full Weight
  • Percentage of the Population Spending More Than They Make: Half Weight
  • Percentage of the Population Paying Only the Minimum on Their Credit Cards: Half Weight

Credit – Total Weight: 5

  • Average Experian Vantage Credit Score: Full Weight
  • Delinquency Rate (Measured across Mortgages, Auto Loans, Student Loans and Credit Cards): Half Weight

Saving – Total Weight: 5

  • Rainy Day Funds: Half Weight
  • Percentage of Unbanked Households: Half Weight
  • Annual Consumer Savings Account Averages: Half Weight

 

Sources: Data used to create these rankings were obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the Council for Community and Economic Research, the Center for Housing Policy, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Experian, Pitney Bowes and Zillow.

Author

User
John Kiernan is Senior Writer & Editor at Evolution Finance. He graduated from the University of Maryland with a BA in Journalism, a minor in Sport Commerce & Culture,…
1563 Wallet Points

Discussion