Budget can be a worrisome, depressing, or buzz-killing word. Many online articles in financial blogs will offer a “perfect formula” for your budget, with percentages to allocate for this-or-that. Although well intentioned, these numbers can really make you feel as though you are not adulting correctly. The shock of it may leave you asking yourself “Wow, should my rent only be that much of my income?!” . Or you may wonder, “Wait, do they mean a percentage of how much I earn before taxes are taken out or after?”. Although these formulas may promise a small number of “easy” steps to get your budget under control, I wholeheartedly believe that your budget needs to be specifically tailored to you and your needs!
Let’s talk about some simple tools that you can use to create your own custom budget. I use the word “tools” because I am not offering a simple three step template to financial freedom. What I can offer instead is a simple way of viewing your finances to help you decide how to create your own budget.
Since the word budget by itself can be triggering, let’s start by renaming it Your Financial Plan. That sounds more official (and bougie)— Like you have a Financial Planner and wear a monocle while donning your Sunday best to attend the neighborhood garden luncheon.
This is a large, important task that I do not want to rush. Therefor I have broken up creating Your Financial Plan into a two part mini series. For today, we will focus on putting together The List.
Where to start: The List
Now that we have labeled Your Financial Plan, how best to begin? This is where you will start to put the work in. It is time to make a list! I recommend breaking that list down into three categories: Need-To-Live, Gotta-Have-It, and Nice-But-Unnecessary. (Feel free to rename these as you please, since after all, this is your custom plan!) Creating three lists can feel daunting and also leave room for “forgotten spending”, so I recommend starting with single list and then splitting it up into categories afterward.
Important note; check your credit card statements for the past year to see if you have any annual membership charges you forgot about. They are often left forgotten and can easily add up.
This category is for all the payments that are required for your standard quality of life. Obviously, this will include such items as your payments for where you live and any utilities that you need, but this category is for anything YOU need to live a well-adjusted life. Is the gym membership in this category? Perhaps, depending on your lifestyle. I can tell you that my Amazon Prime subscription is on my Need-To-Live list. That is something that I utilize and insist on making room for in my plan. Only you, the owner of your finances, get to decide on what payments are non-negotiable!
While you could technically put all of your spending items on the previous list, that is ultimately not going to help you to change or eliminate anything. This list is for the items that you really want but could definitely live without. If for example your Netflix subscription is really important to you, but you are not willing to switch to eating only peanut butter sandwiches in order to pay for it, then that would belong on this list. This list is important to prioritize since any money you have leftover for the month after your Need-To-Live items are taken care of would be allocated to the items on this list.
This list is likely going to be the shortest, I am sorry to tell you. It will, however, be the easiest to tackle to make visible changes in your finances. This is the list of things that you regularly pay for that could easily be cut out in order to increase your cash flow. Like the lists above, only you can decide what these unnecessary items are, but I had a surprisingly easy time going without my morning cold brew coffee on the way to work each morning once I drafted this part of my plan and saw the potential savings.
Next Week: The Decisions
Once you have your list completed, give yourself a breather. Just making this list of all the things you spend money on can be exhausting! Take a little time and keep your list in the back of your mind for a bit. You may find that you forgot some expenses or that you need to re-prioritize some of the items after a day or two.
The next step in creating Your Financial Plan is going to involve a lot of decision making, so review your list to make sure that you are giving yourself the correct information and a solid foundation. You just might surprise yourself with a bright financial outlook!
Be sure to tune in next week where I provide some of the most important decisions you will be making in regards to Your Financial Plan using the lists we created today!
Check out Part 2 of this series!
Do you have any budgeting tips you’d like to share? Are there any other financial questions you’d like to see answered in Real Talk? Let us know in the comments below!