“Do you have a budget?” I asked. My friend smiled slightly and answered, “Kinda…I mean, I pay my bills every month so I use that as a way for me to see where my money is going at least.”
I suspect this is the way many people answer this question. But this isn’t budgeting. Budgeting is by far the most important piece of your finances. It is the tool that will control your impulsiveness (did someone say Black Friday?) and give you freedom in the end! Trust me, I know this from experience.
A “benchmark” by Dictionary.com’s definition is
any standard or reference by which others can be measured or judged
An example of this is a benchmark software that is used to compare the computing power of two completely different laptops. Since the software sets a standard, both computers can be equally compared.
A budget is essentially the benchmark for your finances.
It is where your finances can be measured month after month so you can compare normal behavior with where you want to be.
Well known leadership guru, John C. Maxwell, says this about budgets:
A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.
That’s what we want – a way of telling our money where it goes. A plan. And it doesn’t who you are or how much money you make, you need a plan for your money.
So what exactly are the four ways a budget will help your life feel more fulfilling?
1. A budget will show you exactly where your money is going
When you make a budget, you will get to see exactly where your money is going. Start by going through your bank or credit card statements. List them out in categories like giving, housing, transportation, food, entertainment, insurance and debt. What categories are the largest? What are you most surprised about when you look at your spending?
A coworker of mine recently told me that his bank app broke down his spending so he could see it. You know what he found? He was spending upwards of $300 alone on restaurants per month! What!
Fulfilling Way #1: Awareness
2. A budget will help you design a plan to pay off student loans (or other loans)
Since you now have a benchmark for your finances, you can use it to determine a plan to pay off your loans more quickly. If you were my friend in the previous section, I suspect you could drastically reduce spending in the restaurant category. Think about it. You could knock down the amount on your student loans (or maybe a mortgage) by over $3000 extra per year if you dedicated yourself to a plan. That adds up quick. Especially in interest saved.
Fulfilling Way #2: Freedom
3. A budget will help you set up a plan for saving
You know how you’ve been telling yourself you can start saving when you receive the next paycheck? Well, this will make you do it! Savings fall into a few categories. One is saving an emergency fund, another is saving for general expenses (college, a car, a home) and the last is saving for retirement. If you don’t have a plan for saving already, make it happen. Get an emergency fund. Start saving for a house. Get involved in the 401(k) program at work.
In his book Profit First, Mike Michalowicz outlines his business plan where he says you must pay yourself first from revenue. That ensures you get paid and then you must figure out the rest of the expenses accordingly to fit with the rest of the revenue. I think this is how your budget must be. Savings is important. If you have trouble saving, have it automatically withdrawn from your paycheck or account into another account (like your 401(k)). Then you make the rest of your personal revenue work for the rest of your expenses. Don’t have enough? Cut something. Like restaurants 😀
On another note, I’m a Christian so my first thing I do is withdraw for giving. But savings is second and it’s taken straight out of my paycheck and put in another account.
Fulfilling Way #3: Security
4. A budget gives you a plan for giving
What do you value around you that needs financial support? Church? A nonprofit you believe in? A budget allows you to put your money where your mouth is!
As a Christian, I greatly value the work of my local church. So Bailey and I give regularly as a way to help them with the finances they need and as an act of faith on our part. Having a budget lets us know how much we can sacrifice. It’s not about giving what’s left over at the end of the month (that you didn’t use on restaurants). It’s about giving first and knowing how much we can put into other categories.
Fulfilling Way #4: Sacrifice
Side note: A budget will give you the freedom you didn’t think you had
I like to spend money but I also like to focus my saving. I can honestly say I would feel bad eating out at Chipotle if we didn’t already have a set amount of money we agreed at the beginning of the month would be for eating out. (Why all the restaurant examples? I love food. It’s as simple as that.)
People think that having a budget will take away the freedom they had before they had a budget. I am here to tell you that isn’t true! You didn’t have freedom before. It just appeared like freedom because you weren’t focused with your finances or were going into consumer debt.
Budgeting isn’t hard! It just takes some time. Don’t get frustrated with it. Just set up a general budget, track your purchases and income, then refine it the next month. It will work the kinks out if you are focused. Stay disciplined and it will work. I guarantee it!
What should I use to budget?
I personally like budgeting apps. I think they’re convenient. A few that are great possibilities are Everydollar, YNAB, and Mint. They all are available as apps for your phone but they also provide the convenience of being able to be used on your computer browser as well. Personally, I use Everydollar and have loved it.
You wanna Become the Expert? Master the Simple and a budget definitely qualifies as part of the Simple. And the essential.
How do you keep track of your money? Do you budget and does it work for you? I want to hear from you in the comments!
I wrote a lot more about finances in my book Graduated and Clueless. Check it out here!