The Ultimate 2013 Family Budget Challenge

Allison Kade
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3. Align Your Budget for the New Year

This is both an art and a science. Start with the science by looking at any new expenses that you’ll face, so you can adjust your budget accordingly. The goal is to increase or decrease each item on your current budget to bring it in line with your spending needs for the coming year.

Now for the art part. Play around with your budget to make those increases or decreases a reality. Are your essential expenses coming in over 50% of your budget? Maybe you can make a resolution to use less electricity in the new year to lower your bill. Are your lifestyle expenses over budget? Maybe you can go to a restaurant one fewer time per month.

And don’t forget that income is part of the equation, too—if you make more money, you’ll have more wiggle room all around. This could mean anything from picking up an occasional extra shift at work to earning extra cash by running errands, like this mom. Another thing not to gloss over: Be sure to include your financial priorities in your budget. These are all of the changes that you’d like to see in the new year, such as increasing your 401(k) contribution or opening a 529 for your child.

4. Stay on Track

There are two components to making sure that you’re doing right by your 2013 budget: tracking your progress, and motivating yourself.

To track your progress, log in to the Money Center at least once a month. As for motivation, it can take many different forms. One way is to indulge in a little reward at the end of the month if you’ve stayed within your budget—like brightening your home with flowers. You can even get the whole family involved by treating everyone with a pizza night for staying on budget. There’s an added perk to this line of thinking: Getting your kids in on the act teaches them good financial habits and gives them their own reason not to badger you to buy more stuff.