The budget is one of the most essential part of our financial journey. It is the rock on which all our financial goals stand. It is amazing how such simple tool could be so powerful. But according to a Gallup poll statistic, only about 1/3 of Americans (32%) maintain a household budget and that the average American spends less than 4.5 hours a year figuring out their finances.
While I do not advocate obsessing over our money day in and day out, we can do better than that. Considering that half of American households lives paycheck to paycheck, with 19% percent not having a penny saved to cover emergency expenses. I truly believe that we all deserve a life free from financial anxiety. I think that like me before, people see budgets as too obsessive, unnecessary, and overly complicated. Today I will talk over some of my doubts and how I got on board the budget train.
1. “I always spend way less than what I earn. I got it covered!“
If it isn’t broken, why fix it right? I had always thought of managing my finances this way. As a healthcare worker I am fortunate enough to earn over the median income. If I live within my means, I will always have a decent amount saved. This situation did not scream emergency to me.
If I am paying my rent and all my credit cards in time and in full, and I see my savings grows every month I do not need to budget anything. Not until I got into online shopping, travelling, and trying out different hobbies. These are most definitely not free and since I do not have a budget, I had no idea how much I am spending in these newly discovered ventures.
I increased my spending, but my income and my belief of budgeting remained the same. I started to see less savings at first and then the rude awakening came when I was not able to pay my cards in full. I even had to tap on to my savings account to support my cost of living. If I had a budget then, I would have realized that I cannot afford to pay for all these new things. Most importantly, I would have caught the hole that is draining away my finances.
2. “A budget is too restricting! I want to do whatever I want with the money I worked for.“
I understand how a budget can be very restricting. It could feel that we are depriving ourselves of the things that we deserve to have. Then I realized that with my own budget it does not have to be this way.
I can still do whatever I want with my own money, but this time I would have to put them in categories. In my budget, nobody is allowed to tell me to spend only $2 on coffee or $6 in carwash (don’t you always feel like a celebrity when you get the wash with lava wax!). I will be in charge. If I feel that a line item in the budget needs more funds, I will be very generous with it.
When I realized that I am the CFO of my own life, the budget stopped looking like it is a restriction, but a pathway. Gone are the days of contemplating if I should try that new thing. I know I can because it is in the budget. It gave me more freedom to enjoy life and spend more money on the things that I value the most and it stopped me from wasting my hard-earned cash on things that does not really contribute to my happiness.
3. “That is a waste of time!“
When I was still in school, I remember Friday afternoons when our teachers would tell us that we will have a quiz on 2-3 chapters of an encyclopedia size of a book the coming Monday. Where do you even begin? I completely understand that we go to school to learn and not just to pass a quiz. But still! It would have been nice to have an idea of what to focus on.
That to me is the budget. It allows me to focus only once, and then let these decisions run on autopilot until I open the budget again. It could be monthly or quarterly. I do not have to look at my accounts or tally my upcoming paystubs every time to check if I can afford anything. It’s already done!
When I am faced with a financial decision or an opportunity, I go for it because I know that I have resources allotted for it. This can range from going out for dinner or travelling across the country to visit friends and family.
4. “I do not want to be obsessing about money all the time.“
Recently I learned that the expression, “Money is the root of all evil.” is an incomplete and misleading quotation. The full passage really says, “For the love of money is the root of all evil.”
Discussions about money tend to be skirted around or even avoided. I am all for privacy and so I do not expect for people to divulge specific figures on their accounts, but it seems that if you talk about personal finance, some interprets it as bragging that you have plenty of it, or that you are asking for it because you do not have any.
We do not have to be obsessive with our budgets. I only look at mine at the end of each month when I make the necessary adjustments then I let it go. In our household, we see money as a tool. Like every other tool it can be used for good things or bad stuff. We chose to use it, and so we talk about it because we want to be knowledgeable on how to use it the smartest way we can.
5. “What emergency? I’m still young, not retiring anytime soon!”
44% of Americans worry that they will never be able to retire and that 23% of Americans do not have any kind of retirement plan at allsimplywise.com
One of the many useful things that my budget can do is to help prepare for future expenses. From small setbacks to expensive emergencies up to the much-anticipated retirement, the budget has all the numbers I need to make them as comfortable on the wallet as possible.
I absolutely love our home, but no matter how careful I am something always needs to be repaired or replaced. According to an HGTV real estate article, an average homeowner should save up to 3% of the home value for repairs.
Another huge expense that startles me are car repairs. I depend so much on my car in my line of work that it is my priority that is always on tiptop shape. AAA estimated that the average car maintenance and repair cost is about $1200 per year.
For peace of mind, we put them in our budget because we want to make sure that when these expenses come up, we can just get it done.
Another future expense that I had not thought of sooner was retirement. Why would I? That is still a million years away! But it is not. According to a post on simplywise.com, in 2021, 44% of Americans worry that they will never be able to retire and that 23% of Americans do not have any kind of retirement plan at all.
On hindsight, the best time to start saving for retirement is when I received my first paycheck. This is because when you start investing earlier for your retirement, compounding interest helps your money grow more. When you save earlier, the pressure to save up is also lighter because you do not have to save a ton of money to catch up.
Our old selves are counting on us to take care of them because they may not have the energy to work as much as we do now. We want them to enjoy their golden years and so we carved out a portion of our budget for them.
6. “They do not have a budget; they seem to be alright“
I used to scroll my social media feed until I am caught up from yesterday’s feed. It felt that I am in the know of how my family and friends are doing, but unconsciously, I used their posts as a standard to measure my own life with.
Until I realized that there is more to people than their social media feeds, a lot of things I do not know about in the background. That everybody has struggles hidden from plain view. I cannot assume that a post is an accurate representation of other peoples’ lives. Even my closes family members and friends.
What we know are our own lives, our current financial standing, our own challenges and the goals we set to achieve. It is only right that we make decisions based on those and not on the assumptions we make about others.
7. “I earn and spend so little that there will be nothing to account for.“
Before being intentional about my personal finance, my mindset was to save 20% of my take home pay on top of my 401K deductions and then spend the 80% on living expenses and on the bargains that I find online. There is nothing to account for, whatever amount is on that 20% pot will be my emergency money, my travel money, and my retirement fund.
When I finally tried budgeting, I saw a clear picture of my how my finances look like. I realized I was only one huge emergency away from possible collapse. I was not using money with intention. I found out that If I do not take investing for retirement seriously, gray-haired me would be scrapping beans out of a can every single meal of the day (nothing against beans, but you see the point).
We need a budget if we earn boat loads of money, and even more if we earn significantly less. This simple tool is the blueprint for our short-term and long-term goals. The only instance where I think we can get away without a budget is if we do not spend money on absolutely anything, from the food we eat, the clothes we wear to the house we are living in with all utilities included.
I want to be self-sufficient, but I will still need money to do it. I get that we should not worry so much about anything, but I am concerned that if we let our finances ride the wind without intention, it might land on a tight spot we could not get out of.
8. “A budget is very hard to do.“
It does not have to be complicated. You can put all your information on mobile apps (Mint, YNAB, Personal Capital), create an excel template or use a good old pen, paper, and calculator.
If you choose to write it down or do a spreadsheet, a good place to start will be your Expenses. We want to find out how much goes where to help us set-up a realistic budget for the coming month. First, we will write down the general categories, (Housing, Food, Entertainment…) on what we had spent on this month.
Let us put all the expenses we spent in each category and add it all up.
First time I did my own budget, I was surprised what it summed up to. I realized that I was eating out a lot and buying so much stuff! This is what the budget is supposed to do. Put things in perspective and take you back to reality so you can do something about it.
The next step is to account for our net Income for the month. This will be from all reliable income sources such as paycheck, profit if you have a business or social security (if you are receiving one). We will not include one-time sales on selling platforms (Facebook Marketplace or eBay) if we will not be taking effort to make a sale each month. For this example, I used the median annual income for physical therapists ($91,000) in the U.S taxed at 20%.
To calculate Savings, we would deduct Expenses from Income, and for the Savings Rate, we would divide the Savings by Income then multiply by 100.
If this comes out negative, that is alright! Again, that is what it is supposed to do. At least, now we know that our finances are in a “state of emergency”, but it is not the end of the world. Let it serve as our motivation when we plan the budget for the coming month.
Based on our goals and current spending pattern, we will plan for the budget for next month. We can add new categories that we want to save for, (Retirement, Emergency, Car repairs, Home repairs, Travel, and others). To overcome the urge to spend them, these line items will be set for automatic transfers from our checking to separate accounts immediately upon receiving our paycheck. We would just transfer them back as needed. Also, we can break up categories (Shopping category to Gardening, Art Supplies, Spanish Lessons).
Let us aim to be realistic in allotting funds to our categories by not underfunding them, because changing our consumption habits can take time. Look for line items that you could tweak to save money. For instance, we could shop around for other phone or internet service provider, cut back on dinning to once a week, get quotes from other auto insurance companies, drive less and subscribe to only one streaming service.
As you can see that would save us over $500! More money to put on our passion projects, retirement and emergency funds! We sat down only for a few minutes, but our decisions would have a large impact on our finances.
If we came out positive. That is even greater news! But that does not mean we do not have to look at our expenses with intention. We would still look at each line item and then decide if the amount of dollars we put in is consistent with the things we value the most.
While we are training to stick with the budget, we would have to revisit the budget on a regular basis. In our case, we do so on the last weekends every month. We make sure that we are not overspending on a category, and we are on track in achieving our financial goals.
Remember that each budget is unique, so it does not have to look like ours, your best friend’s, or your sibling’s. Our budget reflects our goals to learn languages and travel. Other’s maybe their love of trying different restaurants and cafes, playing golf, photography, pampering their furry babies or collecting vintage cars. It could be anything! …If planned intentionally. Let your budget reflect who you are. Make your money do things that feels like you.
Welcome aboard the budget train! We now have one of the most important tool that would take us to financial independence. With the figures that we have (Expenses, Income, Savings), we can dive deeper into the nitty-gritty of our finances. Rehab our life decisions to make any path we choose less bumpy. Sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.
Now that you have a budget maybe you would want to how much you need to retire or how far you are from retirement. Please visit the articles. If you find them helpful, don’t forget to comment and subscribe.