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Make this smart money move now to get you through the coronavirus quarantine

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It's easy to procrastinate about making a budget.

First, it seems complicated and emotional.

"It can emphasize everything we are giving up, which kicks in loss aversion," said Mariel Beasley, co-founder of Common Cents Lab, a financial research group at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

You may think there are millions of ways to do it and you'll worry you're making the wrong decisions, which can lead to fretting about the regret you will feel. It really may feel easier not to do it at all.

Research suggests people are even less likely to sit down with their finances when they're not doing well. "The ostrich effect," Beasley said. "When we fear things are bad, we prefer to bury our heads in the sand as a way of avoiding confirming how bad things are."

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What you may not realize: Making and sticking to a budget can give you a sense of empowerment and exhilarating control.

It's the best feeling, says Dave Totah, a certified financial planner and senior wealth advisor at Exencial Wealth Advisors, in Plano, Texas.

"When you have a budget, you have control over your destiny," Totah said. "When you fly by the seat of your pants, the outcome is never that good."

When you don't have a budget, the hardest part is starting. "Once you get there, it's like the gym," Totah said. "When you get there and start working out it's not so hard."

Call it something else 

Jordanne Wells, a personal finance blogger, says the very word budget causes anxiety because it makes people think of restriction and deprivation.
Source: Jordanne Wells

 We get it. People hate the very word "budget." Nobody wants to be told what they can't do.

Jordanne Wells, a personal finance blogger in Cincinnati, prefers to call it a spending plan, which feels less restrictive.

It all comes down to the same two things: How much is coming in? How much is going out? Wells recommends thinking about goals.

"If we don't make sure cash flow is able to meet our goals, what are we doing it for?" Wells said.

Write it down 

Peter Dazeley

You get several things from having a written budget. Guidelines, so you don't overspend. Accountability. Family awareness of what things cost and how much leeway there is.

Without this map, you don't know what 's going in or what's coming out. It makes it far more difficult to keep spending levels in line with your income.

Keep it simple 

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Put expenses in one of two categories, says Beasley: fixed and variable.

Fixed costs — things like rent, internet, phone, streaming subscriptions and monthly prescriptions — are consistent each month.

Next, eliminate or reduce where possible. "Can you downgrade your phone plan? Cancel a membership? This takes upfront effort but is much easier to live on," Beasley said.

Another basic system: Use envelopes for categories of cash, Totah says — one for food, one for utilities, one for entertainment and whatever types of expenses you have. Seven or eight can be your week's budget of spending.

Another simple way to understand how much you can spend: Divide your month's income by the days in the month, minus taxes. "That's your daily spend rate," Totah said.

Wells likes the simplicity of pen and paper, and she recommends matching the date you get paid with the bills you'll need to meet with that paycheck. Your rent or mortgage might come out of the first paycheck of the month. Any leftover money goes to savings and other expenses.

Pay less 

Peter Dazeley | Getty Images

Draw the line between what you must have and what's merely nice to have, Totah says. Then, see if you can get better deals.

Consider negotiating. "If you're at a 20% interest rate and you have good credit, [your credit card company] might drop it to 9% or 10%," Totah said.

Try for a cheaper cable or internet rate.

Under the CARES Act, you might also get relief from your mortgage company or landlord. "Ask," Totah said. "If you're a good-paying customer, a lot of companies will make concessions."

It could be a good time to refinance, Totah says. Depending on your balance and how long you've held the mortgage, you might significantly reduce your monthly payment or cut the interest paid over the life of the loan.  

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