Outside Economics

Four Simple Steps to an Effective Budget

Posted by Wendell Brock, MBA, ChFC on Fri, May 26, 2017

We typically know how much we spend each month, but do we really know the details? Budgeting is the process of creating a physical plan for the uses of our monthly/annual cash flow. A budget therefore is a spending plan, it is the document that tells you and others how and where the money will go. While that is the basic concept there are several aspects of putting together and implementing a budget, namely finding the data, drafting an effective budget, agreeing to the budget, and using a budget. Budgeting is an essential building block to personal finance. I hope to bring about a positive mindset about using budget, so lets explore these items: 

Finding the Data

Right off the top this can be a task of self examination! I ask clients to go back through four months of check book statements and list and total where money was spent. Where people spend money tells a lot about what is important to them. The reason I ask for three months, some quarters may have a funny month of spending, it may require some extra data mining from another month or two in order to get enough accurate information. 

Don’t forget to list all the sources of income. Often the focus is solely on the spending, but listing income is important too. List bonuses, or second jobs, etc., an accurate income figure is especially important if it varies monthly due to commissions, overtime, or other factors. bigstock-Budget-Finance-Cash-Fund-Savin-95460770.jpg

When assembling this information determine the level of detail to categorize the spending. For example there are several items that I buy at a grocery store that are not actually “food”, but since I bought them there, I put them in the grocery category. I try to keep it simple, otherwise I could end up separating items on one receipt, calculate the proper tax, and then put them in their proper category.

Next arrange where the spending has been based on “Needs” vs “Wants”. This is really important as it helps to prioritize our spending. Maybe you value your entertainment budget, but most likely it’s not more important than your mortgage.

Drafting the Budget

Once the data is organized, it is easy to see where and how much money has been spent. This becomes our basis for drafting the budget. Make sure at the top of the budget is the line “Pay Myself First”. Successful budgeters realize that they don’t save what is left over, they save first and spend what is left over.

Add a bottom line figure of approximately ten percent of the spending part of the budget for “TIF” - Things I Forgot. We all forget items or things pop-up which need some attention. This is where those items go.

After subtracting the savings, spending, and TIF, from the income, the bottom line should equal a “0” - zero! This is called Zero Based Budgeting. If the figure is positive put more into savings, if it is negative, then look to the wants section for items which may be easier to live without. 

This is where each person needs to come to grips with the “needs vs. wants” in the family finances. Focus on the needs then prioritize the wants and make things stretch as far as possible. However, do not eliminate or cut into savings. Savings is not the float figure in the budget!

Agreeing to the Budget

Now that the budget is drafted, it has to be agreed upon. It is critical that spouses agree to the budget, particularly if this process is to be successful and effective. Both spouses must be “All In”; one can’t simply dip a toe, while the other dives in. I cannot emphasize this enough. It does not work well if one spouse works within the budget and the other spends what ever they want, after all they should be on the same team.

Because things change, spouses should have a monthly meeting about their budget items to review what was done the past month and what the plan is for the next month. This little meeting should be taken seriously, by calendaring and keeping the meeting time sacred - do everything possible to make it happen. Needed changes should be noted and agreed upon and then move forward. 

Using the Budget

The budget is a financial tool, a spending plan - where dollars are told what their job is and sent off to do that task, in an effort to accomplish certain goals. What a budget is not, is a form of punishment! A budget should free us from many financial decisions that may be thrown at us on a daily basis through various forms of media. A budget is a way of disciplining ourselves by keeping our needs and wants in check.

We all have wants, a new TV, automobile, vacation, etc.. A budget helps us get these items by structuring how and when we get them. It keeps us from impulse buying, by predetermining how and where we are going to spend our hard earned money. This means that all these wants, can be had in their proper time, when the money is saved to make such purchases. This is a category I call “save to spend”. My mother use to remind me as a young boy, “You can only spend it once!”

Let the budget work for you by developing the habit of using it. Make your monthly meetings effective, at times they may take only a few minutes to simply review and say, “no changes needed”. Good, move on and have fun. Other times the meeting may take a little more time due to larger up-coming changes as to where money needs to go. Once this begins to happen regularly, recognizable progress will come. 

Don't let the on-going meetings be the weakness that kills the process. Remember the meeting may only need to be ten minutes to review and discuss the next month. The habit and discipline of monthly meetings will be what greatly increases your success of sticking to your spending plan. Steven R. Covey said, “The power to make and keep commitments to ourselves is the essence of developing the basic habits of effectiveness.” Keep it simple, but make it happen. With a new mindset about the use of a budget, your financial effectiveness will increase by keeping the commitment to properly manage your cash flow. Effective money management buys you financial freedom.

For more information you can see this article: Budgeting 101 and you may download my FREE simple Effective Budget Spreadsheet here.



"Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see." ~ Mark Twain

Topics: Budget, budgeting, personal finances, financial freedom, Effective Money Management

Budgeting 101

Posted by Wendell Brock, MBA, ChFC on Wed, Mar 19, 2014

Many people squirm at the thought of actually budgeting their money. Some say it constricts their money and makes them feel like they have less. For people who actually make and use a budget, they know otherwise; a budget simply tells their money where to go. People who live on a budget know the benefits of living intentionally with their money.budgeting piggy bank

When considering a budget, it is important to know three things: how much money is coming in; how much money is going out; and where is the money going. Unless you are living on an irregular income- say a commission based income - money coming in may be the easier of the three to figure out.

Once that is established, it is time to start figuring out the bills and the random spending that may be a little out of hand. Where does it all go?

Begin by making a list of all the bills and recording the amounts due each month. It may be good to see if any of these bills are higher than what they ought or could be. For example, housing expenses should fall between 25-33% of income. Any more than that and you will find yourself stretched too tight and will struggle to make the rest of your monthly payments.

            Here are some general guidelines to follow when constructing a budget:

            Housing: 25-33%                    Charity: 10-15%

            Utilities: 5-7%                       Clothing: 2%

            Food: 5-10%                          Saving: 5-10%

            Transportation: 10%               Personal: 5%

            Medical: 5-7%                        Recreation: 5%

            Miscellaneous: 5%

Keeping track of your spending can be a real challenge! There are a number of online tools you may find to be of help. One online web site is called mint.com. Some banks also offer online tools to help track your spending.  Debt management can be a very challenging part of the budgeting process for most people; it will be discussed in another article.

It is important to spend every dime on paper before the month begins. Decide at the beginning of the month what is important to you. If you have a savings goal, or a charity goal, or if you know that a trip is coming up, allocating those funds at the beginning of the month is essential so that these goals are met.

You may find yourself constantly adjusting your budget as the month goes on. It may be that you didn't set aside enough money to certain categories. For example, you may need to over-fund your grocery category in order to keep within your budget. It may take you a few months to get the numbers adjusted to fit your needs, so don't become discouraged. As time goes on, you will get a better feel for how much is needed in each budget category.

As a married couple, it is vital that each spouse come together each month to work out the budget. Both spouses should have a say in where the money goes even though only one spouse is likely to be doing the manual labor part of the budget. Working together here will benefit the marriage as a whole because money is a reflection of our goals and dreams.

For those of you who are single and considering marriage, talking to your dates about finances is an essential way to get to know each other. Keep in mind that the size of the paycheck isn't what matters most, but what happens with that paycheck that can be a deal breaker. If you are dating someone who is heavily in debt and perhaps is a chronic spender, you will need to heavily consider the consequences of attaching yourself to them.

If finances were only about math, then few of us would have financial problems. Search out your triggers, be aware of your habits, and mend them if they need mending. Recognize that our emotions play a big role in our abilities to have and follow a budget.

Keep working at it and know that everything becomes easier with practice.   Living on a budget is an essential step towards financial freedom! Good luck as you embark on this exciting journey!

Topics: Budget, Spending Plan, budgeting


Wendell W. Brock, MBA, ChFC

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