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Take Charge of Your Future by Mastering the Budget
Do you find yourself counting coins to buy enough groceries for the week? Do you struggle to pay the monthly bills? Ever encounter sleepless nights because you aren’t sure if you’ll make it until the next paycheck? We’ve all been there, mama!
But eventually I decided, enough was enough! I knew I had to get serious about my budget and my future and turn things around. And trust me when I say, you can too.
Today, my better half Kevin and I are talking budgets! How to build them, how to stick with them, why it’s not just an allowance, and even some tips for you!
Why Set a Budget?
Setting a budget is not about giving yourself an allowance; it’s about making sure you know where your money is going. Do you really know what percentage of your income you spend on housing, savings, food? … Or coffee?
Kristen: I honestly had no idea how much I spent on Starbucks each month until I set a “Coffee” budget on Mint.com and blew it within the 2nd week of the month. It was truly eye-opening!
By monitoring your spending, you can really identify excess, so you can focus on eliminating it. It also ensures that your money is going toward items that contribute to your future and success.
Budgeting doesn’t have to be painful, but it should be insightful.
Setting a budget is a way to ensure you’re not spending beyond your means. This is the meat and potatoes, folks. We budget so that we don’t overspend. Sticking to our budgets not only means that we have made responsible decisions this month, it means we’ve invested that much more money in our futures. And isn’t that what it’s all about? Whether you’re saving for vacation, retirement, or a kitchen remodel, every single purchasing decision you make impacts that long-term goal.
How do I Start Budgeting?
For the first month, we only want you to track your expenses. Keep a journal of where your money is going! Don’t focus on changing your spending habits; just keep track! Every time you make a purchase or pay a bill, write it down! It might be helpful to keep an Excel spreadsheet or download a spending tracker app on your phone.
At the end of the first month, categorize your expenses. You should use broad categories (e.g., groceries)–there’s no need to be 100% specific (e.g., Kroger or Whole Foods).
An example might look like this:
If you’re outspending your income, it’s time to do some soul-searching. Take a look at your expenses and determine opportunities for some cuts. Usually a call to the cable/internet company can get you a lower rate. You can also try to get new quotes on car and home insurance to find a better rate. Insurance companies have this sneaky trick of giving you a killer rate the first year and then raising your rate the subsequent years, so we highly recommend shopping around. Look at how much you are spending by eating out and try to eat at home more if this expense seems too high. Are you like me and enjoy a little too much Starbs (yes, that is how it is affectionately known in my house)?
Keep thinking of changes until your expenses are less than your income.
Your housing should never be more than 33% of your net income. Ever. It is extraordinarily difficult to balance a budget when your housing is more than 1/3rd of your take-home pay! Also, your car note should not be more than 20%. Between housing and car (not including gas, utilities, insurance, etc.) that’s already more than half of your budget! If you exceed these guidelines, you’re going to have to cut way back on other budgets (for example, groceries, entertainment, cable, internet, travel & gifts).
A good rule of thumb is to keep between three and six months’ worth of living expenses in an emergency fund. While it might be pretty painful to budget for building up an account like this, trust us when we say that you’re going to thank yourself one day when you need to pull from it. And by pull from it, we mean true emergencies like a broken car, a leaky roof, or an actual emergency room bill. Not a coffee or fashion emergency. Don’t rob yourself!
Kevin: We keep our short-term emergency fund (first three months) in high-yield savings accounts and our long-term emergency fund (next three months) in CD’s to gain as much interest on our emergency fund as possible. Might as well make our savings work for us!
If 3-6 months of expenses seems so daunting it makes you not want to try, then start small! Set a goal for yourself for just $100. Use the Qapital app! (Read more about it below.) Once you hit the $100 mark, set a new goal for $1000, then $2000, and work your way up. Setting smaller goals can keep you more motivated to keep going.
The Qapital App
An easy way to start building up your emergency fund is through the Qapital app. Amanda details its perks here, but it’s basically this incredible app that connects with your bank account and lets YOU decide when and how YOU want to add extra savings to YOUR account. It’s completely customizable; you can round-up to the nearest $2 on every purchase and have the remainder go to your savings account; you could have a set amount go to your savings account every time you indulge in a guilty pleasure like coffee or posting on Instagram. Sign up today via this link and with your first deposit, you’ll get $5 toward your savings! How nifty is that?!
A good rule of thumb for your 20’s is to try to save 25% of your net income every month. These savings include your emergency fund, 401(k), employer matching contributions, Individual Retirement Account (IRA), other savings, and investments.
Kristen: I really struggled with this when Kevin first suggested this guideline. I found that it really helped me to have my 401(k) contribution taken out of my paycheck before it was even issued and then to have the necessary auto-drafts made to my IRA and emergency fund accounts from my paycheck before I even saw my “take-home pay.” Because I never saw it, I couldn’t really miss it!
We are 100% for automation wherever possible. Auto-draft when you can and pay yourself first! Send your emergency fund, retirement savings, and any other savings allotments to the appropriate accounts before you do anything else each month!
How do I maintain a budget?
Review each month to make sure you are sticking to the budgets you set for yourself, and see if there are places to spend less and save more! Remember, saving more just gets you closer to those long-term goals!
The Pennies App
We personally love the Pennies app for tracking our budgets (No, we don’t get anything for you clicking on that link! It’s really a great app that we highly recommend). We both got it as a free download through the Starbucks app eons ago, and it’s so user-friendly. It’ll turn yellow or red if you’ve used too much of your budget too early in the month! Notice my grocery budget below. I have 25 days left in the month, but I’ve already used over 30% of the monthly budget! What the app doesn’t know is that I stocked up this week since we just moved into the new house! BUT it does make me more conscientious of my grocery decisions in the balance of the month.
We also use Mint.com to keep an eye on our mortgages (we have rental properties), expenses, savings and checking accounts, and ultimately, our net worth. Mint is a really great application that will also track your budgets. We both have this app on our phones too! (Again, no incentive to us for promoting this brand except that we know it’s going to help you!)
If you’re needing help writing up an actual budget, check out this simple template Amanda made for us. She’s included a calendar month as well as an actual budgeting list. She likes to do things a little differently so she can visualize when her family’s money comes in and goes out. First, she writes every payday and every bill on the monthly calendar. Then she goes and fills in the estimated amounts. (Bills that vary – like groceries and gas – she writes in pencil.)
Once that’s complete, she fills in all the totals on the separate list. If you’re a more visual person, this may work for you, too.
Download this simple budget template HERE.
Don’t Give Up
You’re going to fall off the bandwagon sometimes. You’re going to overspend occasionally. You’ll still splurge randomly. But don’t let it cause you to give up on the idea of saving for your financial future!
Take charge of your future. And do it today. Why put off until tomorrow?
Start tracking your expenses so you can build a useful budget. Make adjustments to your spending habits so that you’re living within your means and not racking up debt. Remember to start your emergency fund, no matter how small your starting goal may be. And use those useful apps to help you automatically save little by little, and to monitor how you’re spending.
Budgeting is just one of the many responsibilities you have as an adult. It’s up to you to be successful. It may take time, and you may slip up now and then. But the important thing is that you stay on top of where you’re money is going. Without a budget, it’s way too easy to lose track.
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. Now get out a notepad, print out your templates, and get started!
Until next time,