Building a budget that is within the realm of possibilities is one of the hardest things to do when trying to save money. Everyone has a tendency to see the best in themselves and look at the ideal scenario, which can be detrimental to an otherwise perfectly developed budget. So I’ll start by teaching you how to plan for the future in a real way so that you can maintain it and keep your growth sustainable over the long term!
5 Steps to Building a Successful Budget
Step 1: Pick a Length of Time
When you budget you should always budget over the same length of time, be it a week, a month, or a year. This is different for everyone, but before you begin any budgeting you should pick a length of time that you’re going to make this budget repeat over. For most people I would recommend doing monthly, as this is how often bills are due, rent is paid, etc.
For my personal budget, I do twice a month since I get paid on the 15th and the 1st of every month, and I associate different expenses with each paycheque, dependent on where they land. So now that you’ve picked how long you want to budget, what’s next?
Step 2: Know your Spending
Before any progress can be made towards developing a successful you first have to know how much you need to live normally. I wrote a previous post here about mint.com. This is personally where I began so that I could see by category where I was spending the most, the least, etc.
It also makes it so that you can quantify the spending appropriately, for example, it’s a lot easier to comprehend that I was spending $60-$65 a month on coffee, compared to spending $2 a day.
Finally, in an ever-increasing gig-based economy it helps you know how much you make reliably, without guessing, which is crucial when developing a budget, ensuring you know what your spending means are.
Step 3: Identify the Problems
So once you know how much you spend on everything and make you can begin identifying where you’re able to cut back, how much you’re able to save, etc.
The best way to do this is by looking three months ahead. So in my case, I found that I was spending a lot on coffee from coffee shops compared to simply making my own coffee. This is an expense that, three months down the road, I would still be fine eliminating. Benefits, however, is an expense I had that, 3 months down the road I wouldn’t be okay with eliminating. In that three months I may have expensive medication needs, may become hospitalized, etc.
Step 4: Adjust your Lifestyle
On the surface this may seem rather self-explanatory, that is the purpose of budgeting after all isn’t it? But how I approach it is somewhat different. To continue my previous example, rather than simply eliminating all coffee shop coffee from my budget right away I instead decided to keep it in my budget, but then eliminate it for a month. That way, if it turns out that I can’t adapt my lifestyle to be without coffee shop coffee I have still accounted for the money and can instead begin eliminating other unnecessary expenses without having to find additional income from somewhere.
Step 5: Willpower
Finally, and this is possibly the most important point after all of your systems are in place, don’t give up. With temptations everywhere, it is extremely easy to break your budget. $1 here, $2 there, and before you know it you’ve spent all of your surpluses on useless or unnecessary expenses.
This also applies when you eliminate an expense. You may feel like you can’t eliminate coffee shop coffee from your budget, it’s just too hard, but then ask yourself, is there a cheaper substitute? Is there a cheaper coffee shop? Why does this need to take up this much money in my life?
It’s very easy to make excuses, very hard to break habits, but at the end of the day, it will all be worth it when you don’t have to live paycheque-to-paycheque, day-to-day.
There are multiple tools you can use for building a personal budget. There are online tools and apps if that’s what you prefer. I have mentioned these many times before in previous posts. For the less tech-savvy I have included a spreadsheet on my tools page, under budgeting, that anyone can download and use, be it for printing, or on your computer, or whatever you choose to do. It includes an extra page of the glossary if there are terms you don’t understand so that you can start being the best you!
Happy budgeting and I’ll talk to you in the next post!