I know budgets sound about as sexy as brussels sprouts, but I’m here to try to change your mind. Budgets aren’t about deprivation or going without. They’re about making sure you really understand how you’re spending your money. A budget offers the opportunity to delegate your fiscal resources to the things that truly matter to you, whatever they may be.
We associate budgets with being broke in a time where lavish lifestyle choices are flaunted in our faces on the regular. The stigma stings, but I think it’s time to change our minds about being responsible with our bankroll. Creating a budget is not about punishing yourself; it’s about freeing yourself from greenback related stressors. It’s about making sure you have enough money to take your children on vacation at the end of the year without going into debt. It’s about ensuring that you don’t spend $1,700 a month on food for your family of four — that really happened at this house, and it’s still a VERY sensitive subject. Spending mindfully and budgeting are about making your money work for you the way you have to work for your money. I know it can be sort of intimidating to get the ball rolling, so I’m gonna break it down for you. Take it from a serial spender: It is possible to have a budget and still be bougie.
Record Your Expenses
Keep track of your expenses for two months. Boom. Done. No deprivation involved. This will give you an idea where your bucks are really going and help you to set up a realistic budget.
Find Monthly Income
Determine the amount of money you have coming in on a monthly basis. It is important to know exactly how much you have coming in so that you know how much you can afford to spend. Add up all of your income sources to determine your total household income. Ideally, you should create a budget in which your income matches or exceeds your outgoing expenses. If your numbers just aren’t adding up, you will need to adjust accordingly. The easiest way to restore budget balance is to scale back on unnecessary expenses.
Break Down Expenses
Break your expenses down into variable and fixed expenses. Fixed expenses are things that should never change, like your mortgage or your life insurance policy, while variable expenses include potentially flexible categories such as food, gas, entertainment, and your energy bill. I suggest creating very specific categories to cover any and all spending needs you have to helps to organize funds. For example, rather than building a miscellaneous category, divide these funds into smaller categories like kid’s activities, beauty, eating out, Starbucks, Sour Patch Kids habit, or WHATEVER YOU WANT because this is your jam. You get to decide.
If you are looking to free up some cashflow, start by categorizing your monthly expenses into true needs versus wants. For example, you need to pay your mortgage, but you want that expensive gym membership. Cable, gym memberships, or extracurricular activities may need to take a brief hiatus until your incoming funds increase.
Assign Each Dollar a Job
Fund categories such as groceries, cell phone service, and entertainment, with the amount you need to cover your monthly expenditure. You should have an idea of how much money you’ll need for each category after tracking your expenses. If you have money left over after you’ve covered your monthly expenses, you can add money to savings, pay down debts, hit up your favorite restaurant for date night, or invest.
Assigning every dollar a specific duty is called a zero-dollar budget and it helps eliminate that “where did my money go?” panic at the end of the month. Oh, and this is where you can set aside your hard earned bucks for those little luxuries you crave (and deserve!).
Track and Analyze Your Expenses
I strongly suggest using a software program such as YNAB as you begin this process, but an Excel spreadsheet or even an old school pen and paper will also work. YNAB allows you to create a budget and access it from your smart phone. My husband and I are able to enter purchases and deposits as we make them so nothing gets lost in the daily shuffle. We have an up-to-date understanding of monies available in every category, which helps us stay on track. It’s easier to pass on lunch with your work family when you realize that you might need use the cash that’s earmarked for your massage this weekend.
Adjust as Needed
Your budget is not set in stone. It’s as flexible as you need it to be. Some months we have to allot for an increase in gifting or daycare bills, where other months we have extra cash to play around with. It changes as often as we need it to to meet the needs of our family while still remaining focused on our longterm financial goals.
Budgeting hasn’t magically turned us into millionaires overnight, but it has made our financial life far easier. It’s opened our eyes to silly spending habits and how quickly those seemingly insignificant purchases can add up to a significant amount of lost loot. It’s taught us to be more mindful about where, how, and even when we shop. For example, I’ve learned that picking up our groceries rather than aimlessly wandering through Target saves us hundreds of dollars each month. Literally. It’s turned me into a huge financial geek, tbh. So, take the plunge. If you want to get your financial house in order, broach the subject of budgeting with your better half. I bet you don’t regret it.