Do you need it? Or simply just want it?
By Denise Dick
Careful evaluations must be made in budgeting.
YOUNGSTOWN — If you’re like many people across the country, expenses are outpacing your income and something’s got to give.
From weighing your wants versus needs, to figuring out where you spend and determining your priorities, Mahoning Valley residents with experience in financial and family matters offer some tips.
To help get your finances under control, Danielle Lazor, program manager of Family Financial Services at Family Service Agency, Youngstown, urges people to evaluate their circumstances.
“Cell phones are a good example,” Lazor said. “When cell phones first came out, they were basically for emergencies.”
Some people now use them instead of home phones as a way to save money. But because of features like unlimited minutes, unlimited text messaging and Internet access, a bill that generally runs $40 to $50 per month rises to $150 per month.
“You have to evaluate, is it a want or a need?” Lazor said.
Cable television, premium television channels, brand name versus off-brand clothing, going out to dinner and smoking are examples, too.
“Televisions are another one,” she said. “Do you have a regular TV versus a big screen, an LCD or a plasma TV?”
In deciding how to save money, people need to compare basic needs and the things they can do without.
Lazor also advises people to add up the money they spend to determine where it goes. Saving and adding up receipts is a good way to do that.
With gas prices nearing $4 per gallon, the program manager suggests organizing errands to limit trips and save gas. Stocking up on products while they’re on sale is another tip.
A good rule of thumb is to keep at least a three- to six-month emergency fund that would cover monthly expenses if something unforeseen like a job loss occurs, Lazor said.
Janice Elias, chairwoman of the human ecology department at Youngstown State University, refers to a Web site, njaes.rutgers.edu/sshw, from the Rutgers University New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, which offers tips for health and wealth.
“One of the things it talks about is that it’s important for people to know how they spend their money,” Elias said.
The Web site includes a series of tips and worksheets including a food and activity log where users track when they eat or participate in an activity and how much they spend.
“One thing you should not do is take on more debt,” the professor said.
Don’t use credit cards for everyday expenses, she said. That can add to debt as interest charges rack up.
If debt, particularly the credit card variety, is a problem, Elias urges people to contact creditors to try to work out a realistic payment plan. Consumer Credit Counseling Agency also can help, she said.
Selling items you own but no longer use is another way to come up with extra cash, Elias said.
Posting items for sale on E-Bay or taking them to consignment shops were some of her suggestions.