By Jessica Ludvigsen

Struggling with personal finances? You are not alone.
According to recent studies, nearly seven in 10 Americans don’t prepare a household budget. Almost half would be unable to pay cash for a $400 emergency.

With the New Year, resolve to do a better job managing your money. Here are six big-picture tips to keep in mind when preparing your 2018 budget:

1. Be Realistic. Starting a budget is like starting a diet: It’s best to ease yourself into it. Drastic changes that are impossible to meet will only leave you feeling discouraged and defeated. Don’t beat yourself up when you stumble. Learn from your mistakes and keep at it. Also, leave a percentage of your budget for the ‘fun’ stuff (but don’t exceed that number).

2. Take One Step at a Time. Look at your transactions from a typical month and identify a common purchase or two that can be cut back or eliminated. For example: One less trip to the coffee shop each week could net you $300 over the course of a year. One less family dinner at a restaurant each month could easily double or triple that. Build upon your early success by tackling one expense at a time.

3. Connect the Dots. Foregoing certain purchases might feel like a sacrifice, but keep it in perspective: You’re on the path to something bigger. Whether you want to retire debt, save for a vacation, boost your rainy-day fund or simply stay in the black each pay cycle, all of these are noble goals. Focus on what’s important by connecting the dots to how small savings decisions can really add up.

4. Strive to Save. When formulating a budget, you need to account for monthly costs such as utilities, rent/mortgage, gas, groceries and insurance. In the same way, make sure to set aside a recurring “payment” to your savings account. To start, don’t put too much emphasis on how much you should save – the main thing is to get into the habit of not immediately spending every dollar you earn.

5. Try the 52-Week Challenge. Did you know that if you save $1 one week, $2 the next, and so forth … you’ll have $1,378 after one year? The 52-Week Challenge is a fun way to build wealth.

6. Fund the Full Match. If your employer offers a 401(k) match but you don’t contribute your full amount, fix that right away. Let’s say you earn $50,000 a year and your company offers a 6 percent match. If you’re only contributing 3 percent, your retirement fund is losing out on $1,500 annually. Don’t leave money on the table.

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