How you think about money is the linchpin to your financial success or struggle. If you’re reluctant to follow a budget because you don’t want to feel “restricted” or “controlled,” ask yourself how you feel right now in your current financial situation. Do you have bills you need to pay but you can’t because the money isn’t there? Even though, you make six figures are you controlled by growing credit card debt? A lack of funds is constraining. Budgets, on the other hand, are constructive — a liberating, necessary framework for successful money management.
Think positive & take Control
: Do you feel like things happen to you, or do you make things happen? Your attitude and habits will be the most powerful catalyst for improvement in personal finance. If you’re not happy with how things are, believe that you can change them. Take responsibility for your financial decisions and start to be proactive, rather than reactive, with your money.
Keep on keepin’ on
: Money management takes sustained, perpetual effort, just like it takes effort to exercise, eat healthy, or keep a house clean. Maintaining structure and order in any realm requires continual upkeep and a hands-on approach. Be prepared to include budgeting as a part of living (for some daily, others weekly). A “set it and forget it” attitude won’t work with budgeting. If you intend to control your money, you’ll need to be involved and aware from the get-go.
Be OK with “messing up”
In other words, overspending is inevitable. If you set your grocery category for the month at $300, but end up spending $372.50, do not quit. Budgeting helps you gather useful data on how much you’re spending and where exactly that money is going. When you quit after only a few months, you’ve interrupted any establishment of patterns. The longer you go, the more you can zero in on what you spend, where you consistently spend too much, impulse purchases, and underfunded categories. It’s not that “budgets don’t work” when you exceed a category balance (and keep in mind that over spending in a category is very different and less severe than overdrafting your entire account), the budget is actually working perfectly by helping you work out the kinks. It’s building awareness, and true awareness comes with consistent, sustained focus.
: Think of a small, flexible sapling that moves with the wind. Now, compare that to the rigid, unyielding branch of a much larger tree. It’s the big ones that always fall hard — because they weren’t willing to bend. Too many people think a budget will only work if it’s written in stone and followed to a ‘T’. However, flexibility, change and adjustments are keys to sticking with your long-term budgeting goals. Before you tackle budgeting, prepare yourself to be comfortable with rearranging priorities and adjusting category amounts as life presents new financial issues or surprises that need to be handled. Keep yourself flexible and you’ll keep the stress down. This is especially true when you’re first starting out. Allow room for a learning curve as you gather spending information over the next few months. Be bendy and keep going.
: Finances are not the place for a "lone wolf" mentality. If you can help it, don’t carry the budgeting task alone. Because of money’s far-reaching effect on all areas of life, it’s crucial for both people in a relationship to have total awareness and be involved in setting spending priorities. Hold regular budget “meetings” at the beginning of each month where the two of you can make plans, create goals, discuss typical spending, or address future needs and concerns. By making a budget plan together and discussing it regularly, you’ll maintain an open dialogue about finances, diffuse potential build-up of frustration, and make better decisions by continually evaluating your progress. A team approach will also give you a built-in cheerleader, a shoulder for support, and a friend to celebrate with when goals are met. Design and foster the budget together and you’ll grow that much closer as a couple.
There’s no exact science behind budgeting, only principles that become more powerful with more practice. Mentally preparing by setting realistic expectations, being flexible, and persistent will ensure a greater level of success. Begin budgeting with the right mindset and you’ll discover a powerful tool in helping you reach your financial goals.
Jesse Mecham is founder and CEO of YouNeedABudget.com. Based on a four-rule method, Jesse's revolutionary software helps people break the paycheck to paycheck cycle, get out of debt, and save more money faster. When Jesse isn't helping people budget, he enjoys doing Cross-fit, golfing, shooting, and eating good food. Jesse and his wife, Julie, have five kids.