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Step 3: Follow Your Plan

Focus on Savings

Determine the amount of your budget that you can afford to save each month. Have it direct-deposited to your savings account, or to your mutual fund. Wherever you decide to keep your savings, make sure you put money into it every month. That savings will make a big difference for you later.

Use Cash

Take out enough cash to last one week at a time. Make up your mind that the cash you have is all you get for discretionary expenses, or things that you could live without, each week. It's much easier to turn down a $60 pair of shoes when it will take the last of your week's cash than it is when you just have to swipe a credit card.

Cut Bad Habits & Share the Responsibility

Make sure you're not the only member of your household concerned about your budget. If you're working hard to save money, but your spouse is out spending you into debt, you're fighting a losing battle. Sit down together and make a plan to determine how much ­spending money you should each have. Then, check in every week to see how well you're doing. If the entire family shares the responsibility for the budget, everyone can cut back just a little and make a big difference. One person shouldn't have to shoulder the entire burden alone.

Pay Down Debt

If you have credit card debt, you may feel like it's going to take forever to pay it off. But you can get ahead by choosing one card -- ideally, the one with the highest interest rate -- and paying as much as you can on it every month. If you have other cards, pay the minimum balance on those until you've paid off the first card. Then, choose the next card and pay extra on it while you pay minimums on the others. If you pay only the minimums on all your cards, you'll be paying a lot more in interest than you may realize.

Stick to It with REALTALK

Once you've started on your way, you'll be less likely to overspend if you realize how much money has actually gone through your hands and especially once you see your savings account growing. If you're on a tight budget, a couple of small mistakes can lead to overdraft charges and insufficient funds in your account. If you keep on top of your habits, you will succeed.

Cut Expenses

Maybe you could bring your lunch to work twice a week, or set up a carpool with a friend. Just c­utting out restaurant and gas costs can help increase the amount of money you have available for savings and purchases.

Be Flexible

It can be hard to get back on track if you let yourself get too frustrated over a mistake or two. You can prepare for a major purchase without having to borrow more than is absolutely necessary, and you can feel good about keeping your finances under control. Budgeting will come more easily the longer you stay with it, and you will reap the rewards in years to come. Above all, remember that budgeting is worth the effort. Keeping on budget can make your entire life run more smoothly, since so many things are affected by your finances.

next step: secure your future

If you find that you keep reaching into your savings, set up a CD or other account with early withdrawal penalties. Get better prepared with REALTALK right away!

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