Straight Talk

As the holidays approach, gift yourself a budget that works

It's budget time!
It's budget time!

It can seem tough to create a budget — not to mention stick to it — but "it's actually not as hard as you think," said certified financial planner Stacy Francis, president and CEO of Francis Financial. Three simple steps can help you reach your budgeting goals and live the financial life you've always dreamed of.

First, get real — a realistic and practical budget is key. "Just like diets fail, that's the same reason budgets fail," said Francis. "That's because we deprive ourselves."

Next, find the "leaks" in your budgeted spending and then plug them. "It might be those small things that you spend money on every day — the things you may not notice."

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Lastly, set goals. "You need to set your spending goals, and you also need to set your savings goals," Francis said. Three "fantastic" tools can help with goal-setting.

The first tool is old-school pen and paper.

"Write down everything that you spend, and you will find, number one, that you spend less, but also, number two, that you're much more conscious about where your money's going," she said.

'Tis the tax-planning season!

The second tool? Francis terms it "the old granny system," because she learned it from her grandmother.

Set up a system of envelopes you carry around, containing all the cash you have available for four or five chosen "red-hot items" for any given week. Red-hot items are things you tend to overspend on. When an envelope is empty, "you're not spending any more money" on that particular item or service.

The third and final tool is using a free online financial-planning service, such as, which links up and tracks all your investment and savings accounts.

"Now we're going into the holiday season, where we see most people, unfortunately, overspending," Francis said. "You want to make sure that you're not one of those people that's going to have a holiday spending hangover."