DEAR HARRIETTE: I am so tired of being broke that sometimes I pretend that I am not. I have been on-again, off-again with work for more than a year now. So when I do come into a few dollars, I really want to do something special for myself. I find myself spending money on items that I cannot afford. There are nights I know I should spend my money on groceries and instead, I use my potential grocery money for a week for one night's dinner. I really need to learn how to create a budget. What are the best ways to start budgeting? -- Need a New Plan, Chicago
DEAR NEED A NEW PLAN: Look at the big picture. Map out the next three to six months based on all of your expenses. Include rent, electricity, telephone, food and any other basic expenses you may have. Now list all of your income streams and match the two lists to each other. This will give you a sober picture of how well you can take care of yourself right now.
I agree that it is nice to treat yourself to something special every now and again, but dinner at a restaurant is too expensive when it equals a week's worth of food. Look in the newspaper and online for fun free ideas in your city. If you get creative as you treat yourself, you can find fulfilling outlets without depleting your resources.
Budgeting works best when you write everything down and keep track of what's coming in and what's going out on a daily basis.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My friend is miserable at her temp job, but she is afraid to quit and pursue her dream of becoming a singer and business owner because of the cost of living in New York City. How can I help encourage her to follow her dreams and still be realistic? -- Clipped Wings, Queens, N.Y.
DEAR CLIPPED WINGS: Many people who move to New York City to pursue their artistic interests must have some kind of employment to tide them over while they work to hit it big. This does not mean that anyone has to stay in a miserable job. Your friend should evaluate the pros and cons of her job versus her flexibility to develop her creative interests. She should also look around to determine what alternative employment opportunities exist that may be more pleasant for her.
I do not recommend simply quitting to try to make it big. What she should do is save her money as she makes a plan for her future. Is she recording now? Is she performing in places where she can earn any money? Has she secured an agent to help get her a record deal? Does she go to music industry events so that she can network with others in her field of interest? By focusing her energies on building her persona in her field of choice, she will be inching closer to making her dreams come true.