Happy Monday! I am fully fueled by coffee today but we’ll make it. Today’s topic although not the most riveting post I’ve ever written is absolutely necessary to lead a financially responsible life that is not riddled with stress and anxiety. Do you have your espresso/coffee/tea ready? Good, let’s get to it!
Let me start by saying I am NOT the poster child of financial matters by any means. In fact, I found myself like most recent college graduates with thousands of dollars in student debt, a barley there salary and a credit card. In my mind I got the credit card for “travel” but instead it turned into my card of FUN that very quickly stopped being fun. It took ONE time of not being able to pay my credit card off in full that I took a step back, signed up for a budgeting class through my church and I’ve never looked back. Has this been an easy process? Certainly not. But do I see the value in literally counting every dollar that comes in and out? YES. It was after watching this Ted Talk that I realized perhaps my process of tracking our spending could help one of you, so here’s what I do every single month:
- Analyze spending- First things first, you’ll need to dive deep into your bank account and categorize your spending. This is time consuming but brings to light WHERE all your money is going. First, write down all your bills that reoccur monthly (mortgage/rent, utility payments, car payment, student loan payment, insurance, cell phone bill, gym membership, credit card payment, etc.) and calculate a total. Next, look into the remainder of last month’s spending and categorize that information (our categories include groceries, dining out, doggie expenses, blog expenses, and savings). Your categories may be different depending on your situation but it’s so important to go through EACH expense. Once you’ve done that, determine a total for the two categories. Chances are you already know this but write your take-home pay at the top of the page. If the total of your expenses are greater than your take-home pay, it’s time adjust.
- Analyze debt- If you have a number of debt payments (car, student loan, credit card, etc.) write each on it’s own line with the total amount outstanding. Add up each debt to determine your total amount of money owed. For us that used to include a credit card, two separate students loans and a car payment. I am not kidding, we used to have THOUSANDS of dollars on this page so I promise you that this works. Don’t get discouraged.
- Work to minimize debt- Look at your smallest debt and see if you can pay anything off in the next few months. This could mean that the non-essential categories like dining out or clothing, have to disappear completely for a few months in order to accomplish paying off a debt. This is where budgeting is not fun. It forces you to change habits if you are committed to changing your bank account. Although you may not be able to pay anything off right away recognizing what you owe is usually enough to spark a change in spending habits and avoid incurring more.
- Start saving- Savings will ultimately grow once debt is paid off. However, you shouldn’t wait until you pay off all your debt to save. In fact, according to Financial Peace University (this is the class I took!) you should have $1,000 in an emergency fund at all times. If you don’t have at least $1,000 in savings, build that first while maintaining your debt payments. If you do have $1,000 in savings, start to put any and all extra money toward the smallest debt total. Commit to paying one debt off at a time which will mean skipping happy hours with friends, eating in and forgoing weekend trips. Keep your eyes on the end game of being debt free to get you by!
- Determine budget– Determine your essentials (I am talking the BARE ESSENTIALS- like shelter, food and of course, money you owe). Beyond that, work on your savings and beyond that work to pay down debt. Once you pay off the majority of your debt, you can start to plan for the coming month with non-essential items like those listed on the pink paper for Mack and I. I keep this notepad on the refrigerator and when we think of something outside of our normal expenses we write it down to make sure it’s included in the next month’s budget. This list changes month to month (think things that happen once a year like birthdays, travel, items that run-out periodically, etc.)
- Weekly summary- We’ve been at this budget for over three years now and each and every month I write it down with pencil and post it on our refrigerator. Furthermore, I check in with it WEEKLY which allows us to know how we’re doing (I add up everything we spent, cross of those items that we’re budgeted for and get totals on those categories such as groceries so we know how much more we have that month). I totally understand that life happens so maybe a little extra money was spent on something. That doesn’t mean we overspend for the month rather we adjust and see if we can cut out of another category so our savings for that month doesn’t dwindle away. You can’t make spending habit changes without knowing what you’re inclined to purchase weekly. Did you go to Starbucks five times? See that and change it the next week! We have to reteach ourselves to think differently about money and to hate our debt. The days of purchasing simply based on impulse has to stop. And that’s the honest truth!
By committing to this process we’ve managed to pay off every debt except for our house! I am not saying this to brag but to tell you that it works. A diligent commitment to budgeting has changed our lives. If we want something we plan, budget, save, save some more and then buy it. And if I am being honest, it’s so challenging at the beginning but after about 3-4 months you will get into the groove and more easily see where you need to spend, where you can cut and how best to minimize and ultimately eliminate your debt. I am not saying that it gets easier, because it doesn’t, you have to remain conscious with EVERY money decision you make day in and out. But we know it’ll be worth it someday.
If you have any specific questions about our process for budgeting, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I want to help you! I am not a financial planner but I can certainly answer questions about what we do monthly to achieve our financial goals. Also, I handle our daily budget/spending and Mack handles all of our investments so I am not well versed on that aspect of things. But ask away and we can work at this together. I used to feel so much anxiety in my heart over money and don’t feel that anymore! It’s such a blessing. Start your week on a fresh note and dedicate some time to analyzing your spending. Devising a plan is half the battle, friends!
Thank you for stopping by today!