Individual spending plans big part of managing finances

Everyone’s financial circumstances are different, but during the COVID-19 pandemic the need for having control of your finances has become more apparent. Whether you are a producer, entrepreneur, wage earner, family, student or senior, a good understanding of personal and family financial goals and expenses is essential to reduce stress and maintain control of your money.

Developing an individual spending plan can help you meet your every day needs and plan for tomorrow.

Everyone’s financial circumstances are different, so you need to develop an individual spending plan. A good place to start is to talk to someone at your financial institution.

Most financial institutions have a consultant on staff and pamphlets or online information about developing spending plans and tips on money management. Online information may include tools, worksheets and budgeting courses. Websites such as royal or are good places to start.

Another good source of information is the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada website Never hesitate to ask for professional advice, the sooner the better.

It is recommended that when creating a spending plan, you start by analyzing your sources of income and where your money goes.

The first step is to list all sources of your income. Sources may include monthly salary (take-home pay), investment income, pensions, government benefit plans, employment insurance, rental income and the sale of items or produce. Total the income you expect to receive or have received.

Next, list all your fixed expenses and total them. Fixed expenses include all those expenses you have to pay monthly or yearly. These may include housing costs (mortgage or rent and property taxes); utilities and home services (water, gas, electricity, phone, cable/internet, and home security); insurance (medical/health, auto, home and life); childcare, loans and credit card payments. Some individuals consider contributions to registered pension plans and charitable donations as fixed expenses.

Now from your total income, subtract your fixed expenses. The remaining amount of money should cover your flexible expenses plus allow you to develop saving plans for emergency and future spending goals or wants.

In your emergency fund, you should have sufficient funds to cover three to six months expenses. The COVID pandemic has highlighted the need for an emergency fund. Your emergency plan may be needed if you are laid off from your job with no income or for unforeseen expenses, such as a new furnace, appliances or a medical emergency.

The next step is to list and total your flexible expenses. These expenses may include groceries, entertainment (eating out, movies, concerts, gym membership and sport activities); transportation (loan payment, gas, parking, service and repairs); clothing (new purchases, dry cleaning and alterations); personal care (hair, manicures); pets; and other expenses (tuition fees, uninsured health items, vacations, alcohol and cigarettes).

The best way to calculate your flexible expenses is to keep track of your spending for one to three months.

It is recommended that receipts from all purchases be kept, which include store, credit card and debit receipts. Store them in an envelope or file for future reference. The receipts are handy if an item must be returned and for calculating your flexible expenses. Use your receipts as a guide for developing your flexible spending categories.

To calculate your flexible spending, use paper and pencil or a computer programs such as Excel to develop a spreadsheet with your categories. Using your receipts, enter your purchases and amount paid to the correct category column on your spreadsheet. Total each column and divide by the number of months that the receipts are from to get the average per month, for your flexible expenses.

There are many apps and computer programs to help track your money.

One is, where bank account transactions can be downloaded and categorized. Another useful website is and the article “Post-Secondary Education, Money and Me — Some ideas to help students look after money”. The article expands ways to keep track of your money such as money in and out or the envelope method.

Once you have a picture of where your money goes, look for ways to stretch your income to meet your expenses or future financial goals.

For all your expenses and purchases ask yourself if you need or want the item or service and if you could cut back on the services or purchase amount. Fixed expenses may be difficult to cut back on.

One area maybe to check is your cable, internet or cell services provider for lower fee options. Also, you may have some flexibility in your contributions to private pension plans and for charitable donations.

If you use a credit card, pay the full amount on every statement and on time to avoid high service charges. A credit card enables you to track your spending through the monthly statement and often has loyalty points. If you find yourself in a financial crisis, make the minimal payment and consult with the credit card company for a debt repayment plan.

To help stretch your dollars in the flexible categories, simple changes could save you money. Ask yourself, “do I really need this item?” Using cash may help eliminate some impulse buying and reduce credit fees for smaller items. Try to develop the ability to say “no” and stick to it.

Another area where saving may be made is in food spending. Check grocery flyers and plan a grocery list from the specials. To help lower food costs, shop for foods that are in season. Also shop when the store is not busy and when you are not in a rush. Preparing meals and eating at home can add to the nutrition of your meals, save you money and add to shared family time. Eating out or pick-up meals can be planned for and used as a treat.

As shopping habits change and more people are shopping online, the convenience of it often leads to impulse shopping. Before ordering online ask yourself “do I need this?” or “do I want this?”

Also check the policies regarding delivery and return charges before hitting the order button.

If you are having troubles meeting your loan payments, go and talk to your financial adviser to ask for changes to your payments or to extend the repayment time. Do not just stop paying on a loan.

Two things to keep in mind are never use future income for paying your fixed expenses and secondly, pay yourself first by contributing to a saving plan. Saving plans are designed to help you reach your future financial goals. Short-term goals may include your emergency fund, vacation, new furniture or renovations. One should also start a long-term saving or investing plan. Long-term financial plans may be for education, retirement or property.

Remember, your financial future is in your hands. Never hesitate to ask for professional help or resources.

Being aware of your financial circumstances allows you to be in control of your spending and saving, and this increased control will help ease your stress.

Cooking For a Crew Contest

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Send your “Cooking for a Crew or One and Two” recipe entries to or mail to:

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Linda Ashley is a home economist, retired high school educator and contributor to the website. It was made possible by donations to the Canadian Home Economics Foundation’s Emmie Oddie Recognition Fund. This fund was established to acknowledge the contributions of Emmie Oddie, who used her home economics background to greatly impact and improve the lives of families living on the Prairies. For almost 50 years, Emmie answered questions from readers of The Western Producer.

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