Financial experts recommend that every person and every family create a budget, which is simply a spending plan. But even the best of budgets can get off target if you aren't vigilant of common budget breakers.

Problems that throw off a budget:

  • Bookkeeping errors. It is impossible to have a home budget without balancing your checkbook. If you can't balance your records, ask your bank account manager for help. To keep a good checkbook:

    • Use a ledger-type checkbook (as opposed to a stub type).

    • Before you tear out the first check, write in every check number.

    • Before you tear out a check, record the information in the ledger.

    • One spouse should keep the ledger and the checkbook so that only one person is making entries.

    • Balance the ledger every month without exception.

  • Hidden debts. These usually include bills that do not come due on a monthly basis. Your budget must provide for these. If not, such expenses will eat up the surplus money you've set aside for emergencies. An example is insurance that is paid on a yearly basis. The needed amount should be divided by 12 and put aside every month. Since dental and medical bills don't come due every month, estimate how much you spend on a yearly basis, divide that amount by 12 and put aside that money every month. The same is true for clothing, car repairs, vacations, magazine subscriptions, and taxes.

  • Impulse items. These are things you always wanted but never needed. Credit cards are the primary means of buying on impulse, so if you stop the credit, you probably stop the impulses. Impulse purchases can be small or large. They range from buying homes and cars to buying lunch. The price of the object is not the important issue; its necessity is. To break the impulse habit:

    • Use a delayed-purchase plan. Buy nothing outside of your budget unless you wait 30 days.

    • Check and record at least three other prices for that item within those 30 days.

    • Never use credit cards for impulse purchasing.

    • Stay out of the stores unless you truly need to purchase something.

  • Gifts. We place so much importance on gifts, often trying to out-give others. If they are going to be that important, they should be part of the budget.

    • Keep an event calendar during the year and plan ahead for the gifts. Buy on sale.

    • Initiate some family crafts and make some of the gifts that you need. This will bring your family together, and also reflect more love.

    • Draw names for selected gifts rather than giving each family member something. This is particularly good when extended families are large.

    • Do not buy gifts on credit. Pay cash.

From The Complete Financial Guide For Young Couples by Larry Burkett. Copyright (c) 1993 by Victor Books/SP Publications. Used by permission of Victor Books, an imprint of Chariot Victor Publishing, a division of Cook Communications, Colorado Springs, Colo. To place orders call toll free: 1-800-437-4337.

Larry Burkett is founder and president of Christian Financial Concepts, a nonprofit nondenominational ministry that provides personal counseling and instructs individuals through nationwide seminars. He holds degrees in marketing and finance and is host of two radio programs. Larry has written more than 40 books, including The Coming Economic Earthquake, Debt-Free Living, Women Leaving the Workplace, and the novels The Illuminati and The THOR Conspiracy. He and his wife, Judy, live in Gainesville, Ga., and have four grown children and nine grandchildren.For information about the ministry of Christian Financial Concepts, write to: Christian Financial Concepts, P.O. Box 2377, Gainesville, GA 30503-2377 or call: 1-800-722-1976.