With looming student loan debts affecting almost every dental student, it’s important to implement a budget in order to live smart and keep a strong financial profile. Don’t guess where your money is going: Even if you think you have disposable income, you shouldn’t be spending your money blindly. As soon as you start spending, keep an eye on it before you run into trouble. Keeping track of your expenses is the best way to find out exactly where your money is going. For new dentists, living within your means is a big aspect of becoming an associate dentist.
Check your income, and divide up a certain amount of money to be used for each aspect of your life. Use one portion for your living essentials, another for savings, an emergency fund, etc. Continue down this path to dispersing your income, and focus on keeping your spending under control. Save the house, car, restaurants, and expensive vacations for the future once your career is thriving.
Courtesy of Dr. Janki Patel, a THE NEXTDDS virtual training event entitled “Maximizing Your Earning Potential & Paying Down Your Student Loan Debt” discusses topics such as credit health, types of debt, and much more. Here are the major dos and don’ts for how to best create and maintain a budget.
The Fundamentals of Creating a Budget
Research your net income. Identify how much money you have coming in, and don’t overestimate your total salary as how much you’re able to spend. Subtract your deductions: Social Security, taxes, 401k, and other flexible spending account allocations. Research these deductions to see if there are any different options in different states. This might be a good indicator of a relocation, if that is in your plans. The money left over is your “take home” pay, and what you’ll be able to use as you continue your budget goals.
Track and limit you spending. Categorize your spending to better understand where you can make adjustments. On what are you spending the most money? Where could you cut back (or cut completely)?
Writing down all your fixed expenses is a good place to start, and should be at the top of your list. These include regular monthly bills such as rent, mortgage payments, utilities, or car payments. Since you cannot cut these off completely, it’s helpful to know how much of your monthly income they consume.
Next are variable expenses, or ones that may change from month to month. These include groceries, gas, and entertainment. This is where you might cut back. Check your credit card and bank statements as they itemize your monthly expenditures. Could you spend a little less at the supermarket, or cut back on movie tickets and other entertainment luxuries? Do a number crunch—will this free up money? Even these small savings could mean a huge difference in the future.
Mark your goals, and make a plan. Determine your short- and long-term goals. Short-term could be paying off one of your credit cards within the next year. Long-term could be saving to acquire a practice, something that will take years to achieve, but is still on the horizon. These goals don’t have to be a complete focus, but it may be easier to visualize your budget relative to those short-term goals. With your compiled expenses and goals in mind, make your budget. Get a sense of your monthly habits, break your expenses into “needs” and “wants,” and predict how much you’ll be able to save and spend. Even some “needs” could be cut down accordingly, albeit at a more difficult level. Weigh your options and make the best with what you have.
Other Important Notes and Factors on Maintaining Your Budget
In the case of credit cards, checking accounts, and mortgage loans, maximize your spending by looking at what benefits are included. Use an online search tool such as NerdWallet to find the best deals and benefits that work for you, and take advantage of other free online resources available. Keeping an Excel spreadsheet for logging your finances is another good tool to use.
Prepay your loans and credit cards bills, starting with those that most affect your credit worthiness. If your loans are in deferral, don’t start frivolously spending money you don’t have! Find a certified financial planner, and see how you can work with him or her to create a sustainable plan with your money.
Check-in. Revisit your budget periodically to see how you’re doing. Your budget is constantly adjusting to your habits. Did you get a raise or promoted in the practice? Have your expenses increased since you last made your budget? Have you reached a financial goal and want to make a new one? Keep asking these questions to yourself and review where you need to change your budget.
You wouldn’t travel without directions, just as you can't expect to reach your financial goals without developing a plan for spending and saving. Creating a budget can be overwhelming, but the effort is surely worth it. Developing a budget that you can maintain over time can help you build wealth, while simultaneously helping you get out of debt and cut expenses. Luckily, you will soon be in a position where your income will grow, and you will be able to put more towards your loans and major expenses.