Anyone else hate planning a budget? Spending in a planned fashion sounds so…restricting. I work hard so I deserve to buy that third pair of black boots, right? I mean, they are a different style than the others littered across my all too full closet floor. Curbing my pleasure purchases is just no fun. But, when my credit card statement comes in the mail I begin to think otherwise, for a few days, anyway.
One of the great things about life as nurse practitioners is that we really do pull in a solid income. However, the dollars are quickly whittled away after taxes (thanks a lot Uncle Sam!), saving, paying off student loans, writing a monthly mortgage check, buying food, gas, household items, and, of course, funding my shopping and eating out habits. Nurse practitioners with families may find themselves in a tighter situation. With college educations to plan for, dollars disappear more quickly.
If you are a nurse thinking about going back to school to become an NP you may also find yourself in a complex financial situation. Can you afford to go back to school? Will it be feasible to pay off your student loans on a nurse practitioner salary given your situation?
Making a budget, although it seems limiting, will give you peace of mind when it comes to your finances. It will prevent you from making mistakes in planning for your nurse practitioner education or simply life as an NP. Here are a few steps you can take in to get your finances in order.
1. Calculate how much you make or plan to make
If you are already a nurse practitioner, grab your last paycheck and calculate your take home pay. If you have a PRN gig on the side or another source of income, for example a spouse’s paycheck, don’t forget to include this in your total.
If you are a prospective nurse practitioner student determining if you can afford school or just want a better idea of your financial prospects post-graduation, estimate your income as an NP. The average nurse practitioner salary in the U.S. is just above $90,000. I recommend using a more conservative $80,000 estimate. This way, if it takes you a few years after graduation to earn closer to the national average you will be prepared. Plan on at least 25 percent of your income going to federal taxes. Subtract what you can expect to pay in state income tax from your estimated income as well. Using the remaining amount, determine your estimated monthly take home pay.
2. Take stock of your expenses
I recommend tracking your expenses for about three months to get a good idea of how much you spend in an average month. Itemize your spending so you can easily see where your money goes. Some categories to consider include:
- Student loan payments (or estimated payments if you are determining NP program affordability)
- Rent or mortgage and utilities
- Car payment and gas
- Household items
- Health insurance and medical expenses
- Other insurances like auto insurance
- Personal expenses (hair, nails, gym membership, clothing)
- Payments on existing debt
- Saving for retirement and an emergency fund
- Fun stuff (travel, movies, date nights)
- Food including groceries, take-out, and restaurants
3. Set a goal
Whether you are trying to make advancing your nursing education possible, saving for a rainy day, digging your way out of debt, or simply trying to get your spending in check, think about your motives for making a budget. Write them down. Make your goal measurable so you can track your success.
Reviewing your spending for the past few months will give you an idea as to where you can cut back and helps you set reasonable goals.
4. Get a plan in place for meeting your goal
Starting with your current spending in mind, write out an itemized plan for your new budget. How much will you spend on food each month? How much will you budget towards gifts this Christmas? Some areas, such as medical expenses and your mortgage you may not be able to modify. Other budget line items you may be able to eliminate completely such as magazine subscriptions. Be reasonable when it comes to planning your spending. If your plan isn’t sustainable, you won’t stick to it.
Add up each category in your new budget. Compare your new and improved spending plan to your current take home or estimated monthly take home pay. How much will be left to put towards your goal? If you are determining the if you can afford to become a nurse practitioner, will a student loan payment fit in your projected monthly budget?
5. Track your spending
Whether you write down all of your expenses or use an online resource like Mint, you must track your spending in an itemized manner. This way, you can make sure you are sticking to your budget. Discipline is required here. If your date night expenditures are close to maxing out, you may need to get creative and plan a low-cost outing next Saturday evening. If you can barely cover student loan payments with your currently monthly income, now’s not the time to upgrade your vehicle.
Keep your goal visible, maybe even writing it down near where you track your spending, so you remember why you are making a few sacrifices here and there.
6. Make Necessary Adjustments
Life, and therefore your financial needs, aren’t static. Maybe you’re adding a little one to the family which will require a few more line items on your ledger. Or, perhaps you’re changing jobs giving you a little more leeway in your financial planning. If you are overspending in one area of your budget, determine if this is a result of a lapse in disciple or a necessity. Tweak your budget accordingly. Keep your goal in mind as you make changes so you don’t loose sight of your long-term plans for short-term gratification.
Financial planning doesn’t have to be a drag. Taking an initial look at your spending habits can be painful, but a quick glimpse into reality will have lasting benefits and help you accomplish your goals.
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