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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Unlike many New Year’s resolutions, taking control of your finances doesn’t have to wind up as another water cooler punch line.

Few people enjoy balancing their checkbook. But in order to control your spending, you need to see where the money is going. You need to set up a spending plan, says Petty Officer 1st Class Jerry Richmond, a command financial specialist aboard the USS Kitty Hawk.

“I think most junior sailors are really just winging it when it comes to their money,” Richmond said. “Most of them sign up for the Thrift Savings Plan in basic training. But after that, many don’t really have a spending plan.”

According to Colin Schriver, a Yokosuka Fleet and Family Service Center personal finance manager, servicemembers and family members who follow a spending plan generally make better decisions about how to use their money.

“It’s not the big-screen television that kills a person’s budget,” Schriver said. “It’s what we spend every day that really adds up over time.”

Where to go for helpMany online spending plans are free and available in a “plug and play” format that shows exactly where all the money is going, and where you might begin adjusting your expenses.

If you are a first-timer, the spending plan calculator at Yahoo (http://finance.yahoo.com/calculator/ banking-budgeting/bud-02) might be just what you’re looking for. Crown Financial Ministries, an organization that teaches faith-based financial principles, also has a spending plan calculator (at www.crown.org/Tools/budgetguide.asp). It provides recommendations by expense category and can be a good baseline to forming your budget.

If you already track your expenses, you might consider checking out the budget calculator at Consumer Credit Counseling (www.cccsatl.org/index.asp? pg=tools_debtratio). It will generate a budget that will show your actual spending versus the recommended budgeted amounts.

Another option is CNN.com’s budget calculator (http://cgi.money.cnn.com/tools/budget101/budget_101.jsp). Even if you only watch Fox News, this is a solid calculator that offers budget suggestions for expenses and income by category.

Providing for the futureThe goal of a spending plan is to understand where your money is going. If you know where your money is going, Schriver said, you can control where your money is going.

“I never tell people that they can’t spend money,” Schriver said. “Instead, I use a spending plan to help find creative ways to save money.”

Navy spouse Lidia Woodbury believes a savings plan has a lot of benefits. But there is one that helps in an area with which most parents struggle.

“Having a spending plan is helping me with the guilt trip that I have when it comes to spending for the children,” Woodbury said. “I think everyone wants their children to have everything that they didn’t have growing up. … But by having a spending plan, and sharing it with my boys, I can better teach boundaries. That way, I can better provide for their future.”

More debt than income?

Your debt-to-income ratio is a total of all your monthly debt payments divided by your net monthly income (not including mortgage).

If it’s 15 or lower, you’re looking good financially; if it’s between 16 and 20, you’re fully extended; if it’s between 21 and 30, you’re overextended; and if it’s 31 or higher, ouch! Seek help.

Source: Fleet and Family Resource Center

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