Some people look at budgeting as an object of torture – but it doesn’t have to be. If you create your budget with your goals, it’s YOUR budget – something you can take pride in and rely on to help you achieve financial peace of mind.
A budget is not a wish list. It’s a roadmap. If you plugged a location into your GPS and it made you wander around without getting to the destination, you would probably throw it out. It’s the same thing with a budget.
The Workable Budget
A budget that works is the one that really fits your goals and your life. But before you start to design a way forward, you really need to know where you’ve been.
First, track all of your spending each day for a month. You can carry a 3×5 index card and go low tech, or you could use your debit card for all spending and then look at your monthly statement. It sounds like a hassle, but it can be a reality check to see where your money is going each month.
If you have a spouse/partner, make sure you both track your spending. Focus on the positives of working together to know where your money is going. It’s the opening for a transparent conversation. Be honest. This will help both of you choose which expenses are important and what could be cut down if necessary.
The Day of Reckoning
After tracking your spending for a month, sit down and come clean with each other. Agree to be nonjudgmental. Avoid saying something like, “Really? You needed to go out with your friends four times a week?” The judgment will only create problems moving forward to what is most important.
Remember, you’re a team.
Set Your Goals
The next step is for each of you to write down what you want: short term, like weekly dinners out; medium term, like saving for a yearly vacation or new car; and long term, like education for the kids, buying a house, or saving for your retirement.
Then, you’re ready to put a price tag next to each item. Not sure where to start? There are online calculators you can use to help you figure out, for instance, how much college will cost in the future, or how much you have to save today for your retirement in the future. (If you’re an MSA member, you can access financial calculators through your dashboard.)
Share Your Goals
This may seem like an obvious step, but it’s important to remember and follow through. If your partner wants to retire near a lake and fish all day, and you want to roam the country in an RV, you’ll end up with different goals and different savings plans. It’s hard to get somewhere if you’re moving in different directions.
Calculate Income & Expenses
Income: Be realistic. Will you have two incomes? Will one partner stay home to raise the kids? Look at your net take-home pay. How much money is currently coming in?
Expenses: Now go back to your spending lists. Break out what money is currently going to necessities like rent/mortgage, utilities, medical costs, insurance, food, car loans, etc. Then notate all the expenses that are not necessary, like entertainment.
It can be tough, but this is your budget based upon your life and what you want. Just keep in mind that if it’s not practical, it can get harder and harder to carry out.
You may each have to compromise about what can be modified in your current spending so that money can go to saving for your mutual goals. For instance, maybe taking lunch or coffee to work can save $50 a week that can go to saving for college. This is one of the exciting parts – you get to decide!
A workable budget should also account for emergency savings. Even a $400 emergency can be difficult for most people, and financial stress is probably the last thing you’ll want to worry about if an actual emergency arises. Try budgeting for a monthly $400 emergency and then reassess, as you move forward, to see if you need to adjust that initial value.
Write It Down
Plans have a better chance of becoming real if they’re written down. You can use an online budgeting tool, spreadsheets, or good old-fashioned pen and paper.
Check-in each month and hold each other accountable. It’s actually fun. (Yes, we said budget and fun in the same sentence.) Just think of how amazing it will be to take that vacation or to see your kids graduate from college. If you commit to this, you can reach your goals. If you have bumps along the way, that’s okay. As life changes, so can your budget. It’s workable.
Remember, it’s your budget, your goals, and you can stick to it.
If you have questions about budgeting, want accountability, or would like to explore different kinds of budgeting tools – like our online budgeting tool, MSA Wallet® – in order to find the best one for you, talk to an MSA Money Coach. Call 888-724-2326 today.
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