Money seems to be a mystery for many people on how to save and spend wisely. With tax return season upon us it is important to understand budgeting and how to make the most with your money. Creating a budget is important because it will show how much money is coming in as well as how much money is going out each month.

Some people are surprised when they see how much money is going out to pay for bills, debts and especially food. Include items that are not regular expenses as well in a “miscellaneous” category, like movie night or haircuts. If you go over your budget one month, do not get too upset It is a learning process. Just try to do better the next month.

There are online tools and phone apps to assist if starting a budget seems overwhelming. If you are not happy with how much you are spending, it is time to see what can be cut down. When making a budget be sure to include setting aside money to build an emergency fund.

An emergency fund is another important factor in managing money, or what grandma called her “rainy day” money. To be successful in managing finances, there needs to be a sum of money set aside for when an emergency happens, (car breaks down, unexpected doctor appointment, phone breaks). When money is set aside, people are not tempted to charge the expense to a credit card which then would add another payment to be made each month. It can be paid up front and not thought about again.

How much to save for the emergency fund depends on the individual or family. How much does the individual/family usually, on average, have to pay when an unexpected expense arises? For some it might be $500, but for others it might be closer to $1,000. Building an emergency fund could take a while, but knowing a sum of money is there to fall back on is worth it.

Set goals on what you wish to do with your money and aim to save up for it. Set aside an amount that is doable, whether it be $2 or $20, each paycheck and over time it will add up and the feeling of accomplishment is rewarding.

When tax return checks come in, think about the best way to use that money that will benefit long term. Do not think of it as bonus money. There could be a better use that decreases the stress managing money can bring.

The Cooperative Extension office has resources to share on financial literacy, improving credit scores and budgeting. If you have questions about basic budgeting strategies or would like more resources on money management, contact me at 586-4009 or ekmcclure@ncat.edu.

Emily McClure is family consumer science agent for the Jackson County Cooperative Extension.