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5 expert tips to help you get your finances in order

(BPT) - While many costs may be stabilizing or even slightly decreasing these days, the Consumer Price Index reveals that some prices remain stubbornly high, including basics like rent and many food items. These external circumstances can make it difficult to stay on top of your household finances, even with steady employment. Some things are still in your control, however, including how you manage your budget and work on paying down debt.

Many financial experts recommend taking a proactive approach, and not being afraid to put down on paper what you're earning, spending and saving to help you reach your goals.

Here are top tips that can make a difference when it comes to managing your money.

1. Create a budget

The word "budget" may sound unpleasant, but if you view it as a simple tool for keeping your finances in order, it doesn't seem so bad. Simply put, write down what all your income and expenses are over the course of a month or two. Then take a good look at what you're spending, prioritizing needs like food, rent, utilities, insurance and minimum debt payments.

If it's clear you're spending more than you're earning (or close to it), that means it's time to cut down on some discretionary expenses - "wants" versus "needs," like entertainment, gifts, etc. Also review how you're spending on some of the needs - such as choosing to dine out frequently rather than making dinners at home. Spending less than you earn is key to a workable budget.

To get started, you can find plenty of free online budget templates and tools you can download and use without having to sign up for a budgeting app or service, if you don't want to do that.

2. Budget for inflation

Unfortunately, the realities of things you can't control - like inflation - mean that it's also a good idea to allow for the possibility that prices may go up. For example, you may want to base your allowance for gas to help you get to work every day on what you've been paying, but gas prices can go up, especially during the summer, around holidays, or sometimes in response to world events. Adding a cushion into expenses that can be more volatile is a good idea.

3. Reduce your debt

Paying down as much debt as you can - especially higher interest debt - can help you get control of your finances more quickly. Two schools of thought around reducing debt are out there, and either one can work:

  • Pay down highest interest debt first: Bottom line, this will reduce the interest you're paying on debt the fastest, which can mean saving more money in the long run.
  • Pay down smallest debts first: Psychologically, this can be very effective. You may see entire debts being erased more quickly, such as store credit cards, which can inspire you to keep going with your efforts (just make sure not to keep using those cards). That also means having fewer payments to track every month.

Whichever approach you take, set aside in your budget an amount that's over the minimum monthly payment for the debt you'll focus on first.

4. Pay attention to online spending habits

It can be all too easy to overspend when surfing the web - and easy to lose track of how much you're spending. One tactic to avoid impulse buys is to give it 24 hours. Don't click "order now" before thinking about it and reviewing your budget to see how you're doing. Ask: Do you need this?

Don't be fooled by sites that say there's "only one left" or another tactic to urge you to buy on impulse. Chances are, it will not be your last opportunity to buy that product.

5. Save on healthcare expenses with a VSP vision plan

While healthcare expenses overall may seem like another aspect of your budget that's hard to control, you can make some smarter choices when it comes to your eye health. With VSP® Individual Vision Plans, for example, you can purchase vision insurance at any time, with no need to wait for an open enrollment period.

You can visit an eye doctor and save with VSP vision insurance, benefiting from 20% savings on additional glasses or sunglasses, including lens enhancements, from a VSP network doctor within 12 months of your last exam. Best yet, you can find the best vision plan for you.

Unsure about what kind of plan you may need? Compare vision plans and find the one that meets your needs.

Making smarter decisions around budgeting, spending and finding ways to save will help you feel better as you work to improve your financial situation. These tips will help you get started.

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