I’ve heard a number of people in my financial education classes tell me, “I’ve tried to budget, but I’m just not a budgeter. Budgeting doesn’t do anything for me.”
To anyone who has ever felt this way before, let me say two things.
First, I totally get it. I was there too. I hated budgeting because it was painful, ugly, uncomfortable, and a general exercise in frustration.
Second, though, is that I can all but guarantee that THE most crucial item of any household or personal budget was missing from your own the last time you tried (and consequently failed) to “stick to” a budget. That principal part of your spending plan is a list of one, two or three goals that explain WHY you’re budgeting in the first place.
Without attaching meaningful and motivating goals to your budget, I completely agree that budgets can end up being a massive waste of time. After all, who enjoys spending an hour or two or three each month reviewing expenses, anticipating purchases, figuring our future income, and trying to balance them all. It seems like a set up for some tortuous reality show.
Listing a goal or two or three at the top of your budget reminds you that there really is a point (and it had better be an important one) to expending all of this energy and spending all of this time trying to make the numbers add up. However, the goal must:
- Specify: What specifically do you want to achieve that requires you to spend some amount of money. It might be a vacation. It might be a newer car. Whatever it is, it must be something important enough to you that you will do just about anything (including creating and looking at a budgeting regularly) to attain.
- Date: Set a deadline for when you want to achieve your goal. Do not state it as a length of time, such as “six months,” because in three or four months, you’ll look at it again and say, “I’ve still got six months to achieve that goal.” Set a specific date, if not at least a month when you want to achieve the goal.
- Be Short-term: Most of us, when we hear the term “Financial Goal,” think of long-term goals like buying a house, retiring, or “becoming wealthy” (that topic is another blog post altogether). However, long-term goals tend to involve large amounts of money that we can’t relate our daily purchases to. For example, we might say, “How could taking a brown bag lunch ($1.50) to work rather than eating out with my co-workers ($6.50) keep me from retiring in 30 years with $250,000. It’s just an extra $5.00!” In reality, that $5.00 per day could end up being $1,300 a year ($39,000 over 30 years) that, if invested even at just an average 8% return, could earn you an additional $122,000 of investment income over 30 years. So, never say, “It’s just $5.00. Who’s going to miss it?” The answer: You are.
If you’re motivated by a long-term goal, make sure to break it down into at least a monthly figure. If it’s a short-term goal, how much are you going to need to put aside (save, invest, not spend) each month in order to reach that goal?
- Quantify: How much money, exactly, are we talking about here? $50 or $5,000? How much is that each month? Each week? Each time you look at your budget, you should also ask yourself, how much closer am I to achieving this goal?
After putting together and writing down your goals, post them where you’ll see them, especially when working on your budget. Then, congratulate yourself. Just by writing down your financial goals, you’re that much closer to achieving them.
Now, give the budgeting process another chance using these tips and then try to tell me that budgets are a waste of time. I believe you’ll find the entire task completely changed for you. Until you’re at a point where your budget is on autopilot, keep looking at it weekly, even for just 15 minutes. Figure out what bills are coming due, how you’re going to pay them (online, by check, in person, etc.), and what you can do this week to get closer to your goal.
Best wishes as you continue to endeavor to live a financially stable and successful life.
If you have any suggestions or stories on how you’ve experienced relief from credit cards and other debt feel free to share in the comment section below. Tips, tricks, and other suggestions are always welcome!