Poll: Only 32 percent budget
WILLMAR - More than two-thirds of Americans don't prepare a detailed written or computerized household budget, according to a recent poll by Gallup.
A Lutheran Social Service financial educator who has worked with thousands of people says feelings of shame shouldn't stop people from taking steps to get a handle on their finances, and therefore, their lives and financial aspirations.
"It's never too late to learn," says Darryl Dahlheimer, who is now program director for LLS Financial Services in St. Paul. "It's pretty universal that people don't have a handle on their finances."
The Associated Press reports that the Gallup poll found that only 32 percent of Americans prepare a budget, including 26 percent of those with a high school education or less and 38 percent of those who have attended college.
A person's ideology and political leanings don't seem to make a significant difference in whether or not a family makes a budget plan. Thirty-five percent of folks who considered themselves conservative made a budget, while 33 percent of moderates and 29 percent of liberals prepared budget plans, the AP reported.
People with higher household income were a bit more likely to budget. The poll found that 39 percent of people with income of $75,000 or more created a budget, while 30 percent of those making $30,000 to $75,000 did budgets and 32 percent of those making less than $30,000 created a budget.
A recent poll by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, noted in the Real Money blog on Areavoices.com, shows that 57 percent of those polled misunderstand the purpose of a budget, viewing it as a restriction on spending.
"A budget actually provides the structure through which a person can be in charge of his or her spending, directing the dollars to their best use," said Gail Cunningham, spokesman for the foundation. "Spending should be a reflection of a person's priorities, but without a plan, the priorities often get pushed aside in favor of the tyranny of the urgent."
Dahlheimer outlined two steps to begin budgeting, including tracking spending by writing down daily every single purchase. That includes the groceries, bills, trips to a pizza restaurant and every other purchase, big or small.
Lutheran Social Service has a weekly expense tracking sheet and Dahlheimer suggests putting the sheet under your pillow. Why? So you are reminded each night, when the paper crinkles, to write down your transactions.
A month of writing down the expenditures will give people an "aha" moment, where they see how much they spend in each category.
"That really makes budgets work because people self-correct," he said. "People will spot their own areas of change."
Dahlheimer's second suggestion is that people don't make sudden changes, because folks who severely restrict their spending don't stick with the plan because they feel deprived. It's just like starting dieting or stopping smoking, he said, urging people to take steps and use tools and support to make changes.
Financial counselors give people knowledge and tools that they may not have received at home and probably weren't taught in school, Dahlheimer says. That counseling can help people gain control of their money and reduce their spending so that they can use that money for their future goals.
"Most people haven't been taught these tools," he said. "Broad financial education is not taught, even though it is an important life skill."
Lutheran Social Service officials teach personal finance classes at two alternative high schools in the Twin Cities. The classes, he said, are the most popular elective class for students.
Similarly, the instructors at the Ridgewater College Ag Program include Lutheran Social Service personal finance presentations in the first-year money management unit, requiring students to track their expenses and create budget and goals. The department was honored as one of Lutheran Social Service's outstanding financial advocates last month.
The National Foundation for Credit Counseling experts quoted in the Real Money blog remind families that a spending plan includes benefits like thoughtful awareness of spending, relieving financial stress, helping plan for the future, allowing for large purchases and assisting in meeting financial goals.
Just like Dahlheimer, the foundation notes that a spending plan is a tool to start the process to financial freedom, or at least, organization.
"It's a shame that budgeting has a negative connotation. Everyone needs a spending plan, but when times are tough, a budget is even more critical," Cunningham said. "When every penny counts, it's important to count every penny."
Get more resources, including the weekly spending tracker and a monthly expense sheet at www.conqueryourdebt.org. The items are under the "resources" tab on the page. Visit the The Village Family Service Center's Real Money blog at realmoney.areavoices.com.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.