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The Future

Perhaps you haven't saved enough to have the kind of retirement you desire, or even to retire at all. It's not too late! You can start taking control of your financial situation today by creating a budget and sticking to it.

8 Steps to Creating a Financial Budget

1. List out your fixed expenses

Start by listing the expenses you cannot compromise on: things like housing mortgages, medical expenses, education fees and money to support your family.

If you're really strapped for cash, even some of these could be reduced. Cycle to nearby destinations. You could support your parents through non-financial ways that might help them just as much, such as by buying them meals or sharing necessities with them so they won't need to get their own. If you have children in school, you can check if you qualify for any financial aid schemes that could help you with their school fees.

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2. List other important expenses

Write down the things you need but which have more room for adjustment: such as food, clothes, and non-fixed utilities bills.

Cooking your own food can save you a lot of money and also be healthier, leading to reduced medical expenses in the long run. While most of us don't have the time or access to a kitchen for all three meals, you could aim to prepare at least one or two meals a day. Breakfast is usually the easiest - just make a sandwich, have a bowl of oatmeal, or grab a few biscuits. If you find cheap food to be too bland, you could make up for it by treating yourself to a good meal every now and then with the money you have saved.

Public nudity is frowned on in Singapore, but that doesn't mean you need to shell out thousands of dollars to look good. Look out for sales where you can. Seek out clothes from lower or mid-range stores that fit, are durable, and look good. It's often cheaper to tailor decent-quality clothes than to buy more expensive versions, and cheap clothes that fit you well will make you look better (and look more expensive) than expensive clothes that don't fit you. Alternatively, you might wish to choose a few pieces of high-quality designer clothes that you know you'll be wearing a lot and would be willing to splurge on, especially if you're working in a career where appearance is important. A good rule is to only buy the clothes you love, not those you like. For the same price, it's better to have ten amazing pieces of clothes than fifty average ones. Don't buy something just because it's on sale if the only reason why you're even considering it is because it's on sale.

Cut down your water and electricity usage where you can. Don't leave the tap running while brushing your teeth, washing the dishes or shampooing your hair. Reuse only-slightly-dirty water for mopping the floor or washing the toilets. Turn off lights and other appliances – including computers – when not in use, instead of leaving them on standby where they will still suck up energy.

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3. Keep track of your spending

Whether you use a budgeting app or keep notes in a physical notebook, tracking every purchase you make will help you be more aware of where your money is going and make you more conscious of your spending habits.

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4. Use hard cash where possible

You can't buy a car with a bagful of coins, but for small-ticket items, use hard cash whenever you can. Credit cards are so convenient that people often forget how much they're spending. Being able to actually see and feel the cost of each purchase makes the transaction a bit more painful and a lot more real, and might help you cut down on unnecessary or extravagant expenses.

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5. Don't get yourself into debt

Sometimes, debt is unavoidable. Perhaps someone you love falls ill and racks up major medical fees, or you're just not making enough to get by. But when you can help it, don't spend more than you can afford (and definitely not more than you make). If you have credit cards, ensure that you can pay all your bills on time, or the debt will keep increasing with interest, causing you to eventually lose significantly more money and time trying to pay back what you owe than if you had never fallen into the debt trap to begin with.

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6. Save regularly

Determine a minimum, non-negotiable percentage of your income to go into savings each month, and make this the first cut of every paycheque. This way, you'll ensure that your savings will keep growing through the years, and any extra you manage to save will be a bonus. You'll also have a stash of money for any emergency costs, minimising the impact any financial crisis has on your life.

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7. Increased income doesn't have to mean increased spending

Earning more doesn't mean spending more. Once you have enough for your basic needs, anything extra is a luxury. Even if you win a billion dollars in the lottery, you don't actually need three mansions and your own personal spacecraft.

If you're already living comfortably on your current income, there's no reason to change that even if you get a raise. Put enough of any additional income into savings and investments to ensure you can be financially secure enough to continue enjoying your retirement years and supporting your family. Consider giving the rest to those who need it more – perhaps a trusted charity organisation you care about, or a friend in need.

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8. Don't make assumptions about future income

When calculating your budget and how much you'll need for retirement, leave out money that you can't be sure of – for instance investment returns or salary raises. Markets might crash, or you might never see a promotion for the rest of your life. You might even lose your job. Plan for the worst. That way, if the worst happens, you'll be prepared. If it doesn't, you'll get to enjoy even greater financial freedom!

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