If you haven’t done so already, December is the time to review your budget and plan ahead for the coming year. If you set aside an hour or two in the next couple of weeks to review 2011 and plan for 2012, you won’t regret the time spent away from the holiday season.

Review 2011

Look back at you finances from 2011. If you had a budget, compare what you actually spent to that budget. Did you track close to your target? Don’t get too caught up over a few dollar here or there, but if you see any major discrepancies (spending hundreds of dollars more than you planned for), those are the areas that will need some tweaking for 2012. If you were on target with your budget, that’s great!

While looking back over 2011, think about any changes you would like to make. Is there something that you’re currently paying for that you no longer want or need? Has something changed in your life that makes a new expense important? These are the things you will need to decide while planning for 2012.

If you have never set up a budget for yourself before, now is the perfect time to do so! Check out our All Your Worth series for some ideas on where to start.

Planning 2012

If you hit your budget for 2011 and don’t feel the need to make any additional changes, before finalizing the same budget for 2012 you should still consider any cost that you may not have accounted for (i.e. potential higher rates for utilities, insurance, etc.). Then, if you feel comfortable with how everything looks, you have a plan for your 2012 budget that you can feel comfortable with.

Unfortunately, this often is not the case. A budget is very much a “best case scenario” and your actual expenses don’t always come in very close to target. So, if this is your situation, you’ll need to make adjustments.

If you have a non-essential expense coming in at more than you budgeted, like your entertainment or hobby allotment, make it your goal for 2012 to cut back to hit your targeted number. It can be a simple matter of paying closer attention to your expenditures on a monthly basis so you don’t over do it.

If you are spending more then you budgeted on the must haves, it’s possible that you were unrealistic in your amount (you thought you could get by with $40 a week in fuel but you actually need $50). If this is the case, then readjust the numbers to a more realistic target. Then, if you have to, compensate by taking that needed amount from elsewhere (often from non-essential expenses).

It’s also possible you came in under budget in a category. If you spend significantly less than you budgeted, and you are comfortable with what you spent, shift those dollars elsewhere.

If your situation is uncomfortable and you feel like your expenses are too high, you may have to consider reviewing your cash flow and deciding if you need to make any major changes or cutbacks in your expenses.

Again, December is a great time to do this whether you have a previous budget to review or you are starting from scratch. Start the New Year off with a realistic plan to help you make decisions throughout the year.


  • Disclaimer: The information on this blog is not meant for specific financial advice. The ideas/opinions stated are not suited for everyone, and readers should use their own judgment in applying them in their financial lives.