Budgeting can help you achieve your goals faster.
Once you realize that budgeting can help you achieve the goals you’ve set out for yourself, you may find the process inspiring.
- Think of your budget as a spending plan
Think of your budget as your “how-to” plan for spending your money rather than what you “can’t” spend. The upside is that by budgeting for short- and long-term expenditures, you can spend money without feeling guilty about it, because you’ve actually planned to spend it!
With a budget, you will simply be allocating all your expenditures with a means to an end, whether it’s getting out of debt, keeping your food bill down, having some fun in life, or saving for retirement. You may even discover that you have more money than you thought. Once you become intentional about what you’re spending, you may realize that your gym membership or all those monthly subscriptions you’re not using won’t be missed and you’ll have more cash free for other purposes, like the occasional Starbucks run or other little treat that makes you happy.
- Try using a zero-sum approach
A zero-sum budget means that every penny you have coming in each month gets allocated to a category. The goal is that your monthly income minus your allocations equals zero, so that you’ve put every dollar you have to use.
Start your zero-sum budget by figuring out your monthly net take-home pay or income amount, then allocate all of it to either savings, investments, bills, expenses or debt payoff. This forces you to be accountable for every penny, which puts you in control.
- Start with the most important categories first
Start with your true necessities, like mortgage, utilities, food and transportation. Make sure savings is a top priority. Then you can fill in the other categories that are discretionary.
- Strive to save 20-30% of your net for short- and long-term goals, and limit housing costs to 30%
So how does this break out? If your net income is $4,000 per month, you should strive to save $800 – $1,200 per month towards short- and long-term goals* and limit your mortgage or rent to $1,200 per month or less.
*Your short-term goals might include a vacation, wedding or down payment for a home. Long-term goals might be accumulating an emergency fund that equals six months’ expenses, getting out of debt, or saving for college or retirement.
- Label savings
Rather than have a lump savings account that includes everything you are saving for, try to use separate accounts or find a way to label them using a software program. That way you can see at a glance how close you are getting to each individual goal, like your vacation fund, emergency fund, etc.
Labeled savings accounts can help you keep track of progress toward your goals separately and feel a sense of accomplishment as you achieve each one.
- Remember each month’s varying expenses
Your spouse’s birthday, your birthday, holidays, back-to-school, annual car or home maintenance, Christmas each December—don’t forget to include varying annual expenses in each month’s budget. Not having money allocated for special occasions or annual expenses can take the joy out of life, while planning for them can do the opposite.
- Create a buffer, and use cash for problem areas
Create a buffer of cash that’s available; think of it as a little temporary augment to your emergency fund until you’ve been budgeting for a year or more. That way if something you forgot comes up, you’ll have the money for it—and you can put it in the regular budget for next time.
If you run into problem areas—for example, maybe you always grab extra unplanned items at the grocery store—consider using cash for problem categories rather than a credit card. Envelopes with cash can hold you more accountable because when the cash runs out, you have to stop spending.