If you are an employee, around the time of receiving your first payslip for the new financial year you should also receive your payment summary for the financial year just ended. These things used to be called group certificates and contain the total of the amount you earned from your employer as well as the tax that was taken out.
Here is an interesting exercise – take your tax away from your total income for a rough amount of net income. This is the figure that has been going into your bank account (for simplicity I’m ignoring stuff like allowances). If that figure looks scarily inaccurate, if it is the sort of thing that makes you think “Hang on a minute, where the hell is all that money?” then I want you to do something that may frighten the life out of you.
Go through your old tax records for the last five financial years (if you can’t do this because you don’t have them or have no idea where they are, get down on your knees and pray that nobody from the tax office comes knocking on your door anytime soon). Now do the same calculations for those years and add up the total amount that has been paid into your bank account for the last six years.
For the average Aussie it’s quite a bit of money and something that makes you feel rich. Until you logon to your internet banking and look at the amount you have saved (or gone into debt by) over the same time period.
Six years is a long time and your life may have changed a lot since the mid noughties. Your life today with a partner, mortgage and kids might be very different to the single, unburdened one you led back then. But for a few of you, life may not be that different now to what it was. It may be the case that the biggest difference to your financial situation is how much debt you have racked up in those six years.
If it has really flattened you to suddenly realise that the amount you’ve earned looks like a large amount of money compared to what you have to show for it, it’s time to get serious about tracking down those lost dollars. It’s time for a budget.
Budgeting is one of the most painful, boring, emotionally charged and degrading things you can do with your personal finances (I’ve heard it being referred to as a mathematical confirmation of your suspicions). Especially if it’s the first time you have done one.
There are heaps of different ways to do a budget including the traditional pen and paper approach, through to using Excel spreadsheets. I’ve always found carrying a desktop with me while doing the shopping a little cumbersome, so these days there are apps like My Weekly Budget to make it easier.
As painful as your first budget is, it’s important to know that they are a vital tool to getting your act together, and every step after the first is that little bit easier. Start budgeting today and I guarantee you won’t look back with that sick feeling in your guts in six years time.