Is there a way to make budgeting simple? Let’s face it the idea of budgeting sends shivers up the spine of most people. Some people would prefer to have their fingernails torn off versus the joyless process of setting up a household budget. Ditto actually tracking everything over time. And yet again ditto to having to take that painful end of the month/quarter/year look at reality versus the budget. It takes time, effort, and mental aptitude. Not Friday night fun!
In addition, the conversations that result are not usually pleasant and happy bonding time. In fact, more typically it may end up being a really long weekend without much talking to your spouse or partner. Feelings of anger, shame, and upset can certainly make appearances, but also the potential for feelings of uplift and growth.
Despite the “not fun”, there is value in the budgeting and the monthly tracking process. The question is how to make budgeting easy.
Budgeting Shackles – Do Not Do This at Home!
I’ve been a Quicken user for over 20 years. Geeky or what? Hold the comments please. Back in the day I would do zero based budgets building from the ground floor up to the total household expense picture. This involved running historical reports, estimating the numbers for the year ahead, and punching it into the budget tool. It was intense on my brain and took time – way too much time. But you can’t let a good budget go to waste, right? I then tortured my spouse at the time to look at it together in detail. (My humble apologies to her for that.) That was just setting up the budget!
Every month or quarter I would go analyze things and come up with my “findings”. Too much here, close to the number over there, happily under budget in a few spots. I would “report” my findings to my poor spouse and have a pep talk on how we really needed to be more careful going forward.
Get the picture? Painful! Hence not relationship friendly! As a matter of fact all of that effort didn’t really change the behaviors and results! Basically, it was time wasting!
Please! Can There Be a Better Way?
Over the years I relaxed my grip and found a happier place. Indeed all that hard earned money should and can bring joy, fulfillment, and peace while still building for my future financial self.
What shifted? Most importantly my mindset around abundance and gratitude for my income and spending, but also how I “budgeted”. Here’s how I found a way to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness while budgeting.
Make it simple!
- Start with your after tax income for the month. “After Tax $”.
- Figure out how much you need to save and invest for your various goals. “Savings”.
- Subtract “Savings” from “After Tax $”. The remaining amount is your “Available Spending” for the month.
- Figure out your non-discretionary items that you need for basic living. i.e. mortgage/rent, loan payments, groceries, utilities/cable/phone, etc. These are the same or close to the same every month. “Required”.
- Subtract “Required” from your “Available Spending”. What’s left is your fun, entertainment, travel, recreation, clothing, dining out, etc. budget. “Enjoying Life”.
Putting it all together: After Tax $ = Savings + Required + Enjoying Life
Budgeting for Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness
Does it matter if you know how you spend each dollar of your “Enjoying Life” budget? No, it doesn’t. It only matters that you spend up to your budget and not beyond! If you stay within budget, then you know your “Savings” and “Required” are already covered.
So just track the “Enjoying Life” area. As the month progresses, check your speed of progress to the budget. If you are ahead, then pause and downshift your spending. If you are behind, maybe you can stay behind! Use any extra for the most meaningful items at that time. Perhaps the emergency fund, extra retirement, debt reduction, a mix of areas?
Benefits of this approach: Simple. No brain damage. Not time consuming. Relationship friendlier. Prioritized for saving first versus hopefully there is something left. Abundance based living with spending freedom versus living in fear of the budget shackles.
Community Conversation Questions:
Please share some of your thoughts, stories, and perspectives around your household budgeting experiences.
- Why do you do budgeting? What’s worked well for keeping with it over time?
- What budgeting tools have you tried in the past? What’s the best method for you?
- How does it impact how you navigate your monthly financial matters?
- What actions to you take or not take if you are over budget in some areas and under budget in others?