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Most in US don't set family budget

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The next time you hear someone complain about Washington politicians who can't balance a budget, you should ask them how they're doing with their own finances.

The Gallup polling firm released survey results last month that painted a disappointing, though not entirely surprising, picture about Americans' personal finance habits.

While getting the government's financial house in order was a top issue during the 2012 election, Gallup found that less than one-third of American households - just 32 percent - actually prepare a monthly budget for themselves.

How does that saying go? "Do as I say, not as I do."

Not only do two out of every three consumers avoid figuring out how much they can actually afford at the mall before they go, only 30 percent bother to prepare some type of long-term financial plan to outline how much they would like to save and invest over time.

"Americans who prepare a detailed household budget are in the minority in the U.S.," Gallup chief economist Dennis Jacobe said regarding the survey results.

A minority.

Or think about this: An American adult is more likely to be obese than a good financial planner.

That's right, the 32 percent of adults who actually track their finances are outweighed - literally - by the 35.7 percent of American adults considered obese by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. (Let's not even try to include the ones that are simply overweight.)

Such a paltry statistic helps explain why the average credit card holder has $4,878 in debt.

That figure is based on the latest survey by credit tracking firm TransUnion, taken during the first quarter of this year.

The $4,878 figure was actually a drop from a $5,122 peak during the fourth quarter of last year. TransUnion said first-quarter data is usually less, since many people pay off holiday purchases during the first three months of the year.

Jacobe noted that the strain of the recent recession and modern banking technology - which now lets you check your bank balance as often as you want with a simple click - could have made some consumers opt against budgeting.

But that's not advisable.

"Good management of a family's finances - and the avoidance of financial difficulties - usually involves creating a family budget," Jacobe said.

TransUnion lays out the simple steps for creating a basic budget on their website, Start with your total monthly net income (minus taxes, union dues and other deductions), then list each of your monthly bill, loan and credit account payments.

You should also include estimates for regular expenses that can vary from month to month, including grocery spending, entertainment and restaurant costs. Also, please, please, please, try to include a monthly contribution to savings in your expenses.

After tallying all of that up, if your expenses are greater than your monthly income, you'll need to find a way to either bring in more money, cut some expenses, or a combination of both.

Gosh, sounds like what you've wanted Congress and the president to do all along, right?


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