When Expenses Exceed Your Income

Sometimes we can take an idea from one field and apply it to another. For instance, there’s a concept that successful small business people know. That is that you need to focus on covering monthly expenses before you begin to pay yourself. In some circles, it’s known as covering your monthly nut.

It’s a key issue. Before you open your doors for business on the first of each month, you know roughly how much you’ll be spending on rent, utilities, insurance, wages, and licenses. You’ll have those expenses even if your sales are zero for the month.

Your first monthly goal is to earn enough for covering monthly expenses. After that, you can worry about paying suppliers and still later about paying yourself.

The same concept applies to the average person. You have a monthly nut, too. There are a certain number of expenses that occur each month just like clockwork. Regardless of your activities that month, you’ll face those bills. For most families, the monthly nut includes rent/mortgage, utilities (electric, water, phones), a car payment and insurance.

Many of us have added other things to that monthly nut like Missy’s ballet, Junior’s kung fu lessons, Mom’s yoga class at the gym, and Dad’s monthly golf game.

Then there’s the minimum payment on the credit card accounts. And, the 26 months of boat payments still due. All those expenses pretty much happen automatically.

Ever wonder where your money goes? Take a few minutes now and list the commitments on a piece of paper. Total your monthly nut. It’s not uncommon for families to have $1,500 to $2,000 or more per month already spent before the month starts.

OK, so now that everyone’s depressed, what’s the advantage of knowing about a monthly nut? What can we do differently?

The first exercise is a “what if” game. For instance, what if I lost my job and had to live on unemployment compensation? After covering monthly expenses, would I still have enough left over to feed myself? Or, what if my company went on a 30-hour work week? Create your own variations.

The next exercise asks the question “Is that still true?” Circumstances change. Sometimes the product or service that we needed yesterday is not necessary now. For instance, there was a trend to drop the home landline as more people got cell phones. In this game, you look at each item in your monthly nut and ask yourself do you still need it.

A third question for this game is “Have my needs changed?” We still pay for basic cable but determined we weren’t viewing most of the channels within the more expensive tier we originally subscribed to. Dropping that tier saves a few dollars each month. Or carrying collision insurance on an old car might be a mistake. Look at each monthly nut item and see if you would buy a different package today. If so, talk to the supplier about changing it.

The final question is “Has the competition changed?” I may still need the product or service, but competition could mean that I’d save money by moving my business to another company. Insurance and some utilities are prime examples.

Remember that any savings will drop your nut each and every month. This is not a one time saving. Your effort will be repaid every month.

There’s one last tool that we can use because we understand the monthly nut. We’ve all seen it. The salesperson says, “It’s only so much per month.” And, the payment, taken alone, doesn’t seem big compared to your income. But a more accurate evaluation would be to think of that amount added to your existing nut. You’ll have a much better perspective of the payment. And, probably be more resistant to it.

Evaluating your monthly nut is important today. Many families are running into trouble because their commitments are higher than their income can support. Reducing monthly expenses before trouble occurs is the best way to avoid trouble later.

This article by Gary Foreman first appeared on The Dollar Stretcher and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.