A reader wrote in and asked how to make a budget. Here was my private response to them. I removed anything about the person’s individual financial situation.
Thanks for writing in. Awesome question. This is one I’ve always struggled to answer because your personality type may or may not be one that does well with lists, forms, and all of that admin activity. Talking to people over the years, I’ve found that some people are just more wired to it than others. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t budget; It just means that it has to fit how you’re wired. Too many advice articles don’t take into account how the person’s brain works–it’s strengths and weaknesses.
You may already know that there are a lot of resources that can help you. Dave Ramsey has this page.
It talks through a zero-based budget and has some really good forms at the bottom to help you lay it all out. That’s if you’re a lists and forms type of person. Personally, I use a free app called BillGuard to help with budgeting. I also use Mint. Love both of them.
I believe that most people who aren’t budgeting are just having trouble changing their behaviors. If that’s you, instead of a full-on budget the first month, set a spending goal. Maybe it’s, “We’re going to cut 15% from this month’s expenses.” Or, “we know we eat out a lot so we’re going to go out once per week instead of twice.” Do something that’s attainable to build positive momentum.
Then, as you train yourself to change behaviors, really set up a budget. In reality, a budget is more about spending less. If you do nothing more than track your expenses and cut them as much as possible, you’re doing quite well. Once you cut them, doing things like investing more for retirement or your child’s education becomes easy because the money is there. Understand that budgeting is just documenting your financial sacrifice. The budget doesn’t change anything. It just celebrates your accomplishments.
If you are the admin type and like keeping track of expenses and such, it’s just a matter of finding a worksheet or app you like and get started. Don’t overthink budgeting. Most people spend too much. A budget helps reign that in.
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