Money, money, money.....
It’s about to get real, guys. It’s a long one so buckle up. Let’s talk finances.
Money is a hard subject to talk about for a lot of us. How much or little we have is a very private, and sometimes anxiety-provoking topic to discuss. But let’s face it. Money likes to govern almost every area of our lives and
it LOVES to complicate the simplicity we would like to enjoy.
It determines what clothes we can put on our backs and what food we can eat. It plans our vacations, it creates opportunities, it hinders opportunities. Sometimes it gives us security and sometimes it takes away our sleep at night. It creates beautiful weddings and it causes divorce.
Why....why in the world....do we let green pieces of paper decide our happiness? What if I told you, no matter what stage of life you are in, that you can simplify your budget and take back control of your finances? It is such an important topic that I felt compelled to address it early on in our blog series to help bring you stability and peace of mind in your financial journey.
Trust me, I get the struggle. You’re talking to a single, rural-area schoolteacher. I know the importance of financial security on a personal level and through situations I’ve witnessed. I’ve seen the broken homes, the hungry children, the defeated parents in our communities who so desperately wish to break through to a day when there is no question as to whether or not there will be dinner on the table. I know those who have experienced events completely out of their control that caused financial hardships. I know those who are haunted by financial mistakes made years ago.
But I’ve also seen successes. I’ve seen lives become more full and rewarding, not because of a love for money or an over abundance of it, but because of the desire to learn to use money as a tool rather than allowing it to be a tyrant who dictates whether or not we will sleep easy tonight.
I graduated college at 21 and moved out of my parents’ home within a few short weeks into my first apartment. Because my parents were gracious enough to let me stay (thanks for feeding me every now and then, Mom) I was able to save money through college and felt good....maybe too good...about being able to move out on my own and stand on my own two feet.
Then came reality.
Who knew that shampoo and soap didn’t just magically appear in the shower? Since when did a person go to Walmart and spend 10 bucks on a package of toilet paper? What happened to my free snacks, my laundry detergent, my towels and washcloths? Furniture is THAT expensive? Who decides how much this water bill is supposed to be anyway?! What terrible mistake had I made? WHERE WAS MY MOM?
The fact is, when I was about to make my first huge financial decision (moving), reality slapped me upside my hard head because of my own poor planning and lack of consideration for all that I would be responsible for. Planning where your money goes is the first step in making your money work for you, whether you are covering your monthly expenses or financing a large purchase.
Now, I’m not here to promote any financial gurus or tell you that I have a secret to make you rich in 30 days. I’m here to implore you to create a smart, simple budget.
Through plenty of trial and error, I’ve found that the more complicated your budget is, the less likely you will be to follow it. It takes a little work on the front end, but the result is a more simplified financial life. My method may not fit perfectly into your unique financial situation, but I hope it can be a jumping off place for you.
Let’s take a look.
The first step you have to take, no matter what your finances are, is to take inventory of your monthly, fixed expenses. This is your mortgage, your car payment, student loan payment, credit card payments, you name it. Anything that you can expect to contribute a fixed dollar amount to every month is considered a fixed expense. Make a list and write these numbers down. Record your total and keep it in a place where you can easily and frequently reference it.
Personally, I have found success in dedicating one checking account strictly to paying bills. If you take any of my advice from this post, I HIGHLY recommend that you consider doing this. When I get paid I automatically take out the amount I will need to cover my fixed expenses, and it goes directly in my “Bills” account. Boom. My bills are covered and I don’t have to worry that my dinner with friends may cause me to run short on cash for my electric bill. That money is set aside and untouchable.
Now I want you to subtract that dollar amount from your total take home pay. All that remains will go to your savings and variable expenses. Every dollar will have a “job.” It will either be assigned to cover variable expenses or it will be assigned to savings. Leave no gaps. This can get a little tricky but is certainly not impossible to navigate with a little practice and an honest look at your income. Some of my variable expenses include gas, food for myself, toys and food for my dog (Millie), and fun.
Keep in mind that a budget is a fluid document because variable expenses can change from month to month. Perhaps one month you can expect to change the oil in your car, or another month you have a gift to buy (feel free to send me one while you’re at it!). Take account of these things and add them into your variable expenses category.
For me, after making a reasonable estimate of my variable expenses, I was comfortable splitting my remaining money after bills in half and putting one half in a savings account and one half in my variable expenses account. I treat my variable expenses account like my allowance. If I find some cute clothes but only have 100 dollars left for food and gas with a week until pay day, too bad. No extra clothes for me this time. When that money is gone, it’s gone.
No cheating and borrowing from savings.
This will not only help you discipline yourself to discern needs versus wants, but will also keep you within the dollar amount that you find reasonable for your lifestyle.
Adjust for the needs of yourself and your family, but PLEASE set aside a fair percentage of your income to savings and/or investments. This is both your cushion for a rainy day and an investment in your future.
Be kind to yourself and save. You won’t regret it.
Now that you’ve survived my ramblings, you’ve created an easy, three-category budget that tells your money where to go and what to do for you.
As always, stay tuned. We will have some fun blogs on the way!
P.S. You can find sample budgets at mint.com or download an Excel budget here.