Learning to love budgets: Taking the pain out of sticking to a budget

Learning to love budgets Taking the pain out of sticking to a budget

Want to learn to love your budget and stick to it? Andrea Sophocleous investigates.

January 27, 2009

Spending money is easy. Saving money seems to be a little harder. However, learning to create a budget – and sticking to it – can mean the difference between struggling financially and financial peace of mind.

Dean Easterby, a financial adviser at Centric Wealth, believes the biggest barrier to sticking to a budget is the pull of modern society’s consumption culture. “Immediate gratification, that idea of ‘I want that plasma TV, and if I can’t afford it I will go into debt to buy it’, is all too common today,” he says.

For most of us, the need for immediate gratification means we often spend more than we earn, thanks to our access to credit and “buy now, pay later” interest free schemes – or, as dubbed by some financial experts, “buy now, worry later”.

Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show Australian household savings have been in steady decline for decades. More worryingly, the savings ratio – what is left over once household consumption has been deducted from household disposable income – has been in negative territory since 2002. In other words, we are spending more than we earn, a dangerous equation at a time of rising interest rates and debt.

The answer to emerging from debt is learning to love budgets. Budgeting may get a bad rap, but once you make the transition you’ll never look back, argues Easterby.

The first step in creating a budget is calculating your weekly expenses, including rent or mortgage repayments, transport expenses, utilities, food, clothes, entertainment, credit card repayments and medical expenses. Comparing this list against your weekly income will help you determine your budget.

The goal is to cover your expenses and have money left over which can be put aside as savings. “That’s the only way there can be any savings and repayment of debt effectively,” Easterby says.

Online budget tools, available as Excel spreadsheets, can take the pain out of creating your first budget.

Ideally, Easterby suggests setting aside a fixed percentage of your income – 10 or 20 percent – into a high interest savings account, such as BankWest‘s TeleNet Saver or UBank’s USaver, both currently at 5.62 percent p.a.

The savings can be used for extra repayment of debt to help you climb out of the debt quagmire, or a holiday, a car or for investing. The satisfaction of watching your savings grow and being able to buy things outright rather than on credit will help you love budgets. This simple, painless step can turn you from a spender into a saver.

 

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Learn more about savings accounts

How much money should I have in my savings account?

A good rule of thumb when working out a minimum balance for your savings account is to make sure that you’ll earn more in annual interest on your savings than what you’ll be charged in annual fees.

If you’re saving with a specific goal in mind, prepare a budget so the interest you earn on your deposits will help you efficiently reach this goal. Online financial calculators may be helpful here.

How to make money with a savings account?

Savings accounts make you money by earning interest on your savings. The more money you deposit, the longer you leave it in the account, and the higher the account’s interest rate, the more interest you’ll be paid by the bank or financial institution, and the more your wealth will grow.

To make sure your savings account makes money and doesn’t lose money, it’s important to maintain a large enough minimum balance that the annual interest earned exceeds any annual fees charged on the account.

Can you have a joint savings account?

Yes. Joint savings accounts can be useful for two or more people wanting to combine their savings to meet shared financial goals, including spouses, flatmates and business partners.

Some joint savings accounts require all parties to sign before they can access the money. While less convenient, this extra security can help encourage all parties to meet their shared financial goals.

Other joint savings accounts allow any of the account holders to access the money. These accounts can be convenient for financially responsible couples that trust one another implicitly. 

Can you set up a savings account online?

Yes. Several large and small banks offer online applications for savings accounts, and there are also online-only financial institutions to consider.

Online-only savings accounts are often less expensive than other savings accounts, though they may not offer the same flexibility, features, or face-to-face service as more traditional savings accounts.

Can you set up direct debits from a savings account?

It’s not usually possible to set up a direct debit from your savings account to cover ongoing expenses or bills, as savings accounts are structured around growing your wealth by earning interest on regular deposits, and discouraging withdrawals.

Some transaction accounts allow you to set up direct debits and also earn interest, though you may not enjoy as much flexibility as a dedicated transaction account, or get as high an interest rate as a dedicated savings account.

How to open a savings account for my child?

Some banks and financial institutions allow parents to open a bank account for their child as soon as it is born, and start depositing funds to go towards the child’s future.

Children’s savings accounts generally don’t have fees, and are structured to help develop positive financial habits by limiting withdrawals, encouraging regular deposits, and earning interest on the savings, similarly to standard savings accounts.

What is the interest rate on savings accounts?

As banks frequently change their rates, the most accurate way to look at interest rates on savings accounts is to use a savings accounts comparison tool. When you look at the savings rate check what the maximum and minimum rates are. Often banks will offer you a promotional rate for the first few months which is competitive, but then revert back to a base rate which can sometimes be less than inflation. Ongoing bonus rates are often a safer bet as they will keep rewarding you with the maximum rate, provided you meet their criteria

What is a savings account?

A savings account is a type of bank account in which you earn interest on the money you deposit. This makes it one of the easiest and safest investment tools.

Who has the highest interest rates for savings accounts?

As banks frequently change their rates, the most accurate way to know who currently has the highest interest rate is to use a savings account comparison tool.

How does interest work on savings accounts?

The type of interest savings accounts accrues is called compound interest. Compound interest is interest paid on the initial deposit amount, as well as the accumulated interest on money you have. This is different from simple interest where interest is paid at the end of a specified term. Compound interest allows you to earn interest on interest at a higher frequency. 

Example: John deposits $10,000 into a savings account with an interest rate of 5 per cent that he leaves untouched for 10 years. At the end of the first year he will have $10,512 in savings. After ten years, he will have saved $16,470.

How do I open a savings account?

Opening a savings account is a relatively simple process. If you’ve found an account with a suitable interest rate, you’ll just need to get in contact with your chosen lender via a branch, phone call or hop online to begin the process. 

You may be required to provide:

  • Personal details, including identification (driver’s license, passport etc.)
  • Tax file number
  • Employment details

Can I overdraft my savings account?

A lot of savings accounts won’t let you overdraw. Some will allow this feature but you’ll need to apply first. It’s best to read the fine print and check with your lender whether this is a feature they offer. It can be a helpful addition, but as your lender can charge you a fee as well as interest for going into negative numbers, it’s best to avoid overdrafting when possible.

What is a good interest rate for a savings account?

A good rule of thumb to keep in mind with savings accounts is to look for a rate that is higher than the CPI inflation rate. This number is constantly changing, so check the Reserve Bank of Australia’s page. If you aren’t earning interest above this then the value of your money will go backwards over time.

Can you direct deposit to a savings account?

Yes. You can make one off payments or set up regular direct deposits into a savings account. This can be organised easily through online banking or by making deposits in a branch. Talk to your lender to find out the easiest way for you to set up direct deposits.