When you mention budgeting in a group of personal finance bloggers, awkward things happen. Some believe in budgeting, some hate budgeting. Some have detailed spreadsheets that track the path of every dollar, others just wing it. At the end of the day, having some sort of tracking ability of where your money is going, what you are spending on average every month, and how much income you are earning is critically important to your financial success. Whether you want to call that a spending plan, a budget, or your magical money plan is up to you. But having a tracking system of some kind is important.
Even at the most basic level—what is your monthly income, what is your monthly expense total—you still get pushback from individuals who say they can’t manage that. Why?
Fear of the Unknown
The first reason is the natural fear of not knowing how to do something. People think of giant two-inch-thick corporate budgets. They think of calculators, crunching numbers and a huge investment of time. It’s all because they have never been shown how to budget—and specifically how to make it a simple process. If you are afraid of budgeting because you don’t know how, fear not: A multitude of great websites out there can show you how to create a budget from the most simple calculations to a detailed spreadsheet that follows every dollar. Wise Bread and Moolanomy are two of them.
If you don’t want to take it that far, just do the following: Tally up your total income last month, tally up your total expenses last month and calculate the difference. If your expenses are higher than your income, you’ve got a serious problem on your hands.
Fear of Accountability
I think if you stop at saying you’re just afraid of the unknown or learning how to budget, that’s cutting it short. What most people don’t want to readily admit is they fear the accountability that comes with budgeting. Working off a financial plan for your life makes it hard to justify the three nights at the bar last month that cost you $100, or the gym membership you never use.
Coming to realize your luxury car lease is holding you back financially isn’t fun. And it can scare you to realize that you have overextended your finances by spending more than you earn. It’s hard to give up a lifestyle, even if you really can’t afford it. A budget is essentially a weekly/monthly dose of reality, and that can be a tough pill to swallow. No one wants to be told that they shouldn’t be doing something they’re currently doing.
Budgeting Is Necessary for Success
Whether you go all out with your budget in a spreadsheet or software program, or you do your calculations on the back of a bar napkin, having some sort of system in place is essentially to long-term financial success.
Can you be successful by driving blind into your financial future? It’s possible. But having a budget helps you see the mile markers and speed bumps of your financial life. You’ll know when you can afford to speed up your spending, and when you need to slow down or come to a stop.
Put Retirement in Your Budget Today
To build up a substantial nest egg that will last throughout retirement, you need to begin saving now. I can hear your screaming already: “How can I get started today, with a vehicle like a Roth IRA, when my budget is barely squeaking by as it is?” Granted, it’s an uphill battle, but it’s one you must win.
Focus on the Basics
No matter your current lifestyle, we can all agree that we need some very basic things, and everything else is just icing on the cake. Everyone needs these four items:
That’s it. Granted those are very, very core needs—and they don’t include designer clothes or even designer water. Things like electricity, heating and cooling, and the ability to get to and from work are also pretty important.
What isn’t important? Cable television. The fastest internet speeds around. A brand new car. A smartphone with 256 GB. Dry cleaning. A lawn mowing service. Three closets full of clothing. A DVD or Blu-ray collection. Gourmet food and premium gasoline.
Do any of these sound familiar? If you’re looking for things to cut from your budget in order to set aside some money for your financial future, some of them make great starting points. Get out your phone and start canceling some of the premium services. Do a quick calculation to figure out exactly how much money that could save you.
Be Diligent in Cutting and Saving
The ideal: Cut enough money out of your budget to start fully funding a Roth IRA up to the contribution limit. For this year you’re looking at $5,500 if you are under age 50, $6,500 if you’re above that age. That’s equivalent to $458.33 per month. If that sounds like a lot to cut from your budget, it is. Even if you could only cut $200 from your budget, that’s a huge step in the right direction. Putting aside any money for retirement is better than putting nothing aside.
However, there’s one thing you must be keenly aware of as you start canceling services and reaping budget benefits. That extra money you cut—if not carefully accounted for—can easily be swallowed up elsewhere in the budget.
If you cut out cable and downgrade your internet plan you might save $100 per month; don’t let it get diverted into other things. Deposit it in a separate bank account. Better yet, set up automatic deposits into this account—or even into the Roth IRA itself, if your provider allows it. The money will disappear if you don’t earmark it for retirement.