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Making Ends Meet

A guide to help families get the most from their money

Making ends meet is a challenge for almost every family. One of the most important tools to help you meet that challenge is a spending and saving plan designed to fit your family.

Your plan for spending and saving is a guide for dividing your income so that it provides for your needs and as many of your wants as possible. A spending and saving plan can help you in these ways:

This publication can help you develop a spending and saving plan for your family. By following the six steps discussed, you will take one giant step towards better money management.

1. Your Family Goals

Before you begin to divide up your income, you will want to think about your family goals. What is important to you and your family - your values - will influence the goals you set for using your money.

Your family probably has a number of goals that require money. Talk over family goals for using money and try to identify the ones that are most important to your family.

Some goals may take a short time to reach, while others may require a longer time, maybe even several years. Family goals will change from time to time. Therefore, every now and then, review your goals to see if they are still important to family members.

Identifying Family Goals

Have you ever talked together, as a family, about the goals of each person and the family for using money? The following activity may help you identify some of your most important individual and family goals.

1. Ask each family member to write down his or her goals that require money. The goals can be individual or family goals. They can be desired soon or in the future. (See the following example.)

The things or goals that I would like to have or do are --

  1. make money last until the next pay period
  2. have a sofa that makes into a bed
  3. pay all the bills.

2. Then, each family member should mark each goal he or she has written down, indicating which ones are most important:

*** three stars if it is something that the family or a family member must have or do.
** two stars if it is something that is needed or wanted, if the family can possibly find the money, but could be put off for a while.
* one star if it is something that would be nice to have or do, but could be put off for quite awhile or could even be given up entirely. (See the following example.)

The things or goals that I would like to have or do are --

  1. make money last until the next pay period ***
  2. have a sofa that makes into a bed **
  3. pay all the bills. *

3. Next, one person should collect each family member's list and make one list with goals that are alike grouped together.

4. Once the goals are all listed, family members should discuss each one and agree on its importance to the family.

5. Finally, the information obtained through discussion and agreement on family goals can be used to complete the following chart.

Our Family Goals

To Accomplish This YearEstimated CostHow To Reach Goal *
1. ________________________________________ ______________________________
2. ________________________________________ ______________________________
3. ________________________________________ ______________________________
To Accomplish in the Next 5 YearsEstimated Cost How To Reach Goal *
1. ________________________________________ ______________________________
2. ________________________________________ ______________________________
3. ________________________________________ ______________________________
To Accomplish in More Than 5 YearsEstimated Cost How To Reach Goal *
1. ________________________________________ ______________________________
2. ________________________________________ ______________________________
3. ________________________________________ ______________________________

* Examples: save each pay period, work overtime, use income tax refund, etc.

2. Your Family Income

Once you have determined your family goals, the next step in developing a spending and saving plan is to figure out how much income you will have to work with. If income is from more than one source and comes at different times of the month, it is wise to look at the total income for a month. Income can come from a variety of sources, such as earnings from a job, interest, rents, public assistance, social security, or child support.

When you total the family's income, it is important to be accurate and include only income that is "for sure," not what it "might be." For example, if income varies each pay period, use an average or low figure, not the largest ever received. If wages are seasonal and might not be received some weeks or months, figure the average income over the year on a monthly or weekly basis. Save money for those weeks or months when there is no paycheck.

Plan only on "disposable" income, that is, what is left after taxes and other deductions. The following chart can help you organize and determine how much income your family has to work with.

Our Family Income

Source of IncomeWhen ReceivedAmount per Pay PeriodAmount per Month
1. _______________________________________ ________________________
2. _______________________________________ ________________________
3. _______________________________________ ________________________
4. _______________________________________ ________________________
5. _______________________________________ ________________________
6. _______________________________________ ________________________
7. _______________________________________ ________________________
Total Monthly Family Income $___________

3. Your Family Spending and Saving Plan

When you have a clear picture of your family's goals and income, you are ready to start your spending and saving plan. To begin the plan, you should determine your family's expenses.

Look back to what you have spent on basic things such as food, clothing, and housing. Seeing what these things have cost your family in the past can give you an idea of what future spending will be. Records you may have such as bills, canceled checks, and receipts will help you be more accurate in determining your family's expenses.

As you look at your expenses, consider which ones are fixed expenses, which ones are flexible, and which ones are periodic expenses.

Fixed expenses stay about the same. They include things such as rent or house payments, insurance, time payments, and charge accounts.

Flexible expenses, while they may be necessary, vary in amount from week to week or month to month. These include such items as food, clothing, utilities, gasoline, personal and recreation expenses, savings, gifts, medical care, and educational expenses.

Periodic expenses occur quarterly, semi-annually, or annually. These expenses include things such as driver's and automobile licenses, subscriptions, Christmas spending, and automobile insurance. You should set money aside regularly to meet these expenses when they are due.

You should also keep in mind unexpected emergencies that may occur. These might be such things as automobile repairs, household repairs, and medical bills. You may want to develop a special emergency fund to help cover these expenses.

The chart below can help you develop your family spending and saving plan. You may want to develop your plan on a weekly, semi-monthly, or monthly basis, depending on how often you are paid.

Our Family Spending and Saving Plan

Fixed ExpensesDate DueAmount Due
_____________________________________ ________________
_____________________________________ ________________
_____________________________________ ________________
_____________________________________ ________________
Periodic ExpensesDate DueAmount Due Amount To Set Aside
_______________________________ ___________________________
_______________________________ ___________________________
_______________________________ ___________________________

Flexible ExpensesWeek 1Week 2Week 3Week 4
Food__________________________ __________________________
Gas__________________________ __________________________
Electricity__________________________ __________________________
Clothes__________________________ __________________________
Laundry__________________________ __________________________
Gasoline__________________________ __________________________
Medicine__________________________ __________________________
Doctor, Dentist__________________________ __________________________
Church__________________________ __________________________
Gifts__________________________ __________________________
Recreation__________________________ __________________________
Personal Care__________________________ __________________________
Insurance__________________________ __________________________
Savings__________________________ __________________________
Other__________________________ __________________________

4. Your Family Resources

Money is an important resource, but it is only one of many resources available to families. Other resources that families can use are time, energy (effort), skills, talents, and personal characteristics. Resources are also available at little or no cost through communities, such as libraries, schools, parks, beaches, educational organizations, and churches. By substituting one resource for another, families may be able to save for things they need or want soon or in the future.

Ask family members to list some of their own personal resources. Then, as a family, make a list of your total family resources on the chart below.

Our Family's Resources

  1. ___________________________________________________________
  2. ___________________________________________________________
  3. ___________________________________________________________
  4. ___________________________________________________________
  5. ___________________________________________________________
  6. ___________________________________________________________

5. Controls To Help Your Plan Work

If you stick to a spending and saving plan, it can help you stretch your family's money resources and live better on the money you have. A spending and saving plan can help you see how to use money to pay bills and get more of the things that you need and want. A plan allows you to decide what is important to your family and to make choices before spending your money.

You can make your money go farther by developing habits or routines that help you control your money. For example, which of these actions might work for you?

6. Putting Your Plan into Action

Once your spending plan is developed, you will want to put it into practice. Think of it as a trial period and if it doesn't work, revise your plan. Your spending plan is made to help you, not to make you feel uncomfortable. The plan may require revision fairly often, as your family, your circumstances, your needs, and your goals are always changing.

After your trial period, look to see how well you did. Chances are you will discover that your money is going farther in providing the things that your family needs and wants. Congratulations; you have taken a giant step toward better financial management and making ends meet!

This publication was adapted from materials originally developed by Mary Heisler, Margaret Nelson, and Laurie Boyce, University of Wisconsin-Extension. Adapted and distributed in Mississippi by Beverly R. Howell, Ph.D., Family Economics and Management Specialist.

Mississippi State University does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability, or veteran status.

Publication 1876
Extension Service of Mississippi State University, cooperating with U.S. Department of Agriculture. Published in furtherance of Acts of Congress, May 8 and June 30, 1914. Ronald A. Brown, Director

This document is public information and may be reproduced in part or in total. It should not be used to imply endorsement of any specific brand or product. Mississippi residents may get a printed copy of this publication through their county Extension offices.

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