"What if, instead of being restrictive, your budget set you free?"
A lot of people hear the word budget and immediately groan or roll their eyes. What is it about that word that makes someone have a physical response and want to change the subject? I think it's because they view a budget as being restrictive to how they want to live their life. But what if instead of being restrictive, your budget actually set you free? Free to purchase what you need and want. Free to plan for your future. Free to not worry about when your next paycheck will hit the bank.
There's a lot of freedom that comes with making a budget, especially when you do it right. The trick is to have a plan for every dollar that comes into your account each month and maintain a zero-sum budget. This means that your total income, minus your total expenditures equals $0.00 at the end of the month.
What? How am I supposed to save if I end each month with $0.00? How am I supposed to have fun if I'm draining my bank account each month? When it comes to creating a zero-sum budget, you get the opportunity to tell your money what to do. You are the one who assigns each dollar to its purpose. That means, part of your budget will include saving money and can also include an "account buffer" line so you're comfortable knowing your bank account won't hit that $0.00 mark.
Every dollar that you earn should have a purpose. The purpose for some (or most, depending on your obligations) will be bills and living expenses. But if you budget those right and learn where to make adjustments, you'll be able to make room for other items in your budget such as eating out, coffee runs, shopping, saving or whatever else you want to spend your money on.
My husband and I created our first zero-sum budget back in July 2021, on our annual summer vacation. We'd listened to a lot of Dave Ramsey during the 8+ hour drive from California to Oregon and spent our first couple hours at our destination going over our financials and setting up our budget.
I was in my element with this project. It was like a puzzle to me. We had all the pieces and it was my job to make them all fit together.
I would soon discover that my initial projections were off in a couple categories...groceries and eating out. I had unfortunately under budgeted for these two categories which meant one of two things. Either I needed to increase these categories and reduce elsewhere, or we needed to make some habit changes moving forward.
Budgets are designed to be flexible, but they also help you to see your behaviors through a microscopic lens. It's okay to make adjustments to your budget categories and it's okay to make adjustments to your own behavior to make your budget work.
Budgets are designed to be flexible, but they also help you to see your behaviors through a microscopic lens.
Making it through our first budget month was an eye opening experience for us. We finally had a glimpse into where all of our money was going each month. And the good news was...we knew exactly how to manage it moving forward.
This first budget gave us the freedom to make cuts where we needed so we could achieve the goals we'd put in place for ourselves. What once would have seemed like a sacrifice, now became a choice that we had control over.
We were living our finances with intentionality, which is what I want to help you to achieve as well.
HOW TO SET UP A BUDGET
There are many different budgeting apps available in the Apple, Android or Google stores. A couple of my favorites are Mint.com or the EveryDollar App which is available through Dave Ramsey. Each of these options connect to your personal checking and savings account to easily assign your purchases to your budget categories.
Personally, I combine the use of a budgeting app that tracks my monthly budget, and an excel spreadsheet that tracks my weekly budgets (this is how you will track budgets through my Financial Clarity Program as well). The benefits of having multiple ways of tracking your budget, is it gives you the ability to structure your expenses based on when you get paid throughout the month, thus strategically eliminating the stress or worry that often arises the week(s) or days before payday.
Step 1: When setting up your budget, start with figuring out your net-monthly income first. This will be your total monthly income after taxes.
Step 2: Once that gets recorded, then you can start with your expenses. When determining my expense categories, I start first with Dave Ramsey's "the four walls rule", which is: food, utilities, shelter, transportation. A couple tips when assigning funds to these categories...DO NOT include eating out as part of this food budget and DO NOT include cable & streaming services as part of your utilities. These should be kept in your "extras" categories in Step 4, because they're the easiest budgets to downsize if necessary.
Step 3: After you assign money to those four categories, then you can start assigning money to any debts you may have. I would start with just your minimum payments, and then once you complete your budget, you'll be able allocate any leftover funds to paying down debts.
Step 4: Lastly, create budgets for any "extras", which will also include eating out and streaming services that I mentioned above. This will be the time to budget any money into savings if needed, or allocate money towards purchasing clothing, home necessities, extra curricular activities, etc.
Step 5: Take any leftover funds and apply them to your debts in Step 3, using the snowball method of paying off the smallest balance first.
If you'd like additional guidance on how to set up a successful budget. Download my FREE resource: The Bullet Proof Budget.