Do you budget? Do you think you need to? If the answers to the following questions are “I don’t know,” then you might need to. How much do you spend every month? How does that compare to how much you earn? What about debt? Mortgages, car loans, student loans, credit cards; how much do you have? Do you know when they will be paid off?
What can budgeting do for you? It can help relieve the stress you feel when thinking about money. Do you try to avoid thinking about money? This stress and anxiety come from not knowing and not having control. You don’t know the real story about your money. Maybe you’re doing just fine. Or you could be paying down your loans faster. Perhaps you’ll realize you need to save more if you want to get that new game system or have a nice dinner or go on a vacation. A budget helps you understand your money flow so that you’ll know what you have. It gives you back control.
I use You Need A Budget (YNAB for short) to budget both my and my husband’s accounts. You could say I’m a bit of a budgeting nerd, as I’ve been tracking my money since I was a kid. I’ve used an allowance book where I kept track of my “earnings” and expenses every year since I was about ten years old.
As I got older, I transitioned to using Quicken to track all my accounts. When Quicken started to move away from the personal consumer market, I switched to mint.com. They were perfect to budget with for my late college and early work years, but I eventually got frustrated with them. As a young adult, life didn’t happen very consistently. My expenses changed every month, which made sticking to a budget challenging. That’s when I found YNAB.
Budgeting helped me pay off $12,000
My first job post-graduation was at the Apple Store. I was part-time at first, but because of the upcoming holidays, I was working full-time hours for several months. Then January hit, and my hours were cut drastically. I was paying rent without being able to afford it long term. Friends and coworkers kept inviting me out, so I did. I had an issue with my car that needed fixing. I wasn’t using my mint.com budget very effectively. Somehow, I ended up with over $12,000 in credit card debt.
It was during this time that I started listening to Suze Orman. I was desperate for any help. Suze, in her distinct way, helped to smack some sense into me, and I started learning the difference between wants and needs. My boyfriend at the time was an accountant and helped me make an Excel sheet with all of my accounts and debt balances. This sheet was not a budget, but it was a way to keep track of how my accounts changed every month. Tracking your balances is the best way to start when you’re not sure how to begin budgeting.
By combining balance tracking and budgeting, I was able to pay off all of my credit card debt over two and a half years. It felt amazing when I made my last payment. It was liberating and lightened my shoulders immediately. If a recent college grad working in retail can do this, you can make a budget too.
How to budget manually
If you are a pen and paper kind of person and you don’t mind working with numbers yourself, budgeting manually may be a good option for you.
- Make a spreadsheet and list all of your accounts. Update the balances every month.
- Once comfortable with step 1, start tracking your monthly income and expenses.
- After step 2 has become a habit, start categorizing your expenses into “buckets,” or “envelopes.” Don’t set any limits yet.
- By now, you should have a feel for how often you need to check your income and expenses. Some people can stay monthly. Some people might need to do it weekly. Set goals for your “envelopes.” Now you have a budget!
There are many resources out there to help with the actual process of budgeting. My point is that budgeting is like any other skill. It is a skill that you need to practice. From my own experience, I know that you can’t just jump into what the experts all recommend and expect it to go well. Just like with any routine, start small.
How to budget with YNAB
I like using YNAB because of its automation. It frees up time for me to do other things. YNAB uses the following four rules for the best use of its platform.
- Give every dollar a job
- Embrace your true expenses
- Roll with the punches
- Age your money
YNAB will connect and automatically sync with your accounts to download transactions. You’ll need to specify each budget category at first, but YNAB will learn your everyday purchases. As a budgeting nerd, I have a lot of categories. I find joy out of tracking my transactions. It excites me to make plans for future purchases or savings goals and to watch my numbers go up. If that is not who you are, that’s ok too, because you can use more general categories and still be able to budget successfully.
I suggest you try the manual method first if you’re not sure about budgeting. Once you get used to tracking your money flow, you’ll start to be more aware of your spending. YNAB can help increase your awareness by using generated reports.
Use my referral link to get one month free with YNAB: sign up here. This free month is on top of the free 34-day trial they already give you!
Budgeting is a means to an end
People first, then money, then things.Suze orman
Suze Orman used to sign off on her show every time with the above quote. The “people” part means you. She wanted people to take care of themselves first, then their money, then their material possessions.
A budget should never become an overwhelming part of your life. It is a place to check in with your present and future goals. It provides control over your life and your plan. No matter what people say, there isn’t much you can’t do without money. It is worth minimizing your stress and anxiety about money. That way, you can have more energy for the essential things in life. You’ll have time and the resources for things like spending time with your family and friends, and going out there and living your life.
If knowledge is power, then knowledge about your money is control over your life. Start small, stay steady, and grow to where you are comfortable. You can do it!