I am in no means an expert on budgeting and handling money, but one of the greatest blessings James and I have come to recognize about our marriage structure, is that since the beginning, we have established a concrete and strict budgeting process. This has allowed us to live our lives in a way that has never felt trapped by the stresses of finances.
So, I want to share with you our top 5 tips for budgeting your money. I hope these inspire you, and maybe even help you free from the shackles of debt. Lets dive right in!
Tip No. 1: Establish a Template for Outlining Your Monthly Income & Bills Due
This is a really good place to start. For us, we created a google sheets spreadsheet that outlines every single bill we have for the month, with its corresponding due date. This way, when we come together to talk about our money, we can visually see where everything is going, when payments are being made, and how much we need to have in certain categories to never get behind on payments. This template is going to look differently for everyone, but the first step is developing this plan, so that you can visually outline your money each month. This is important, because you can refer to the template throughout the month to keep track of what is going on, and what you had budgeted for in the first place.
Tip No. 2: Budget At Least Twice a Month
This may seem like a lot, but it is important. I recommend carving out a good chunk of time to sit down and focus on your finances at least twice a month. If you get paid weekly, it may be beneficial to do this more frequently. If you are married, this is a good time to talk about future goals, game plans, and upcoming events that need to be saved for. It is crucial that you do this twice a month, even if you only get paid once a month, because you want to be proactive about handling your money. If you go too long, you will forget how much you set aside for certain things, and will most likely end up spending more than you had originally budgeted for. Twice a month is crucial for us, and also allows us to better control a schedule. We have a pretty good idea about what we have going on over the next couple of weeks, but the end of this month? Not so sure, things could change. This also helps make it a habit. We have never missed a budget meeting in the three years that we have been married, because we make it a priority to do it consistently!
Tip No. 3: Utilize a “Zero Based” Budget
If you take away any one piece of advice from this post, I recommend it be this. And I actually can’t take credit for it. We heard this tip from Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace course (which I highly recommend you check out, as 90% of our principles come from this course) and it is one of the best tips I have ever heard in my entire life. This recommendation emphasizes the importance of having every. single. dollar designated to a specific category, so that by the time you are done allocating your paychecks to bills, savings, etc., you have $0 left.
“…cultivates a habit of wisdom and self-control with your money, which ultimately leads you to financial confidence and freedom“
Let’s break this out…let’s say you have $1,000 in your bank account. You allocate $500 of that for rent (HA, if only), $100 for insurance, $50 for your electric bill, $100 for groceries, $100 for your car payment, and $50 to your credit card bill. This leaves you with $100 left over. Instead of just leaving that there without a purpose, floating around to be spent on something mindlessly, you need to allocate it to some kind of category. Maybe you put half into savings, and the other half you use to treat yourself to something. But whatever you do, every single penny needs to have a purpose. This creates boundaries, so that you are not spending frivolously or beyond your margins. It also cultivates a habit of wisdom and self-control with your money, which ultimately leads you to financial confidence and freedom.
Tip No. 4: Establish an Emergency Fund
This tip is also stressed by Dave Ramsey, but I have heard it my entire life. Establishing a fund solely dedicated to emergencies only is a huge must. For us, it started with making it to $1,000 in a separate “emergency fund” account that never gets touched except for emergencies (ie. car breaks down and needs repairs, home appliance needs to be replaced, etc). You must discipline yourself to never tap into this until a true emergency presents itself. This has proved wonders for us. There have been quite a few times where we’ve been thankful for this fund because our cars broke down or we got a flat tire, and would not have otherwise had the money to afford getting it fixed right away. If you do tap into it, make it a priority to build it up again, so that you always have something there to protect you.
“You must discipline yourself to never tap into this until a true emergency presents itself.”
Since establishing this fund, we have grown the amount of money saved here quite a bit. And this was extremely helpful last year when James was in between jobs and he did not have a paycheck for almost 2 months. Without our emergency fund, we would not have been able to pay our bills. We were so thankful we implemented this into our budget! And I know you will be thankful too next time you get a flat tire and already have the money saved right there, ready to be used. It takes the stress away from so many situations and helps protect against building up that credit card debt!
Tip No. 5: Use Your Credit Card Like it’s a Debit Card
This is an unpopular practice, because the world tells you that the purpose of credit cards is to pay for things you don’t have the money for up front. This is the most dangerous practice a person can make a habit of, because it is the easiest way to slip into debt without even knowing it. I have so many friends and family members with stories of using their credit card “just this once” to buy a new bed, new tires, etc. and then racking up the charges not even knowing how large their debt was getting. Then, when it comes time to pay the bill, the stress sinks in as you realize you don’t have enough to pay it all.
“This is the most dangerous practice a person can make a habit of, because it is the easiest way to slip into debt without even knowing it.”
The solution to avoiding this: only use your credit card for purchases you already set money aside for. James and I have a separate savings account established through our bank that is titled “Credit Card.” Anytime we use our credit card, we login to the mobile app and move the money spent over from checking to this savings account. This way, when it comes time to pay the bill, we already have the money set aside. And anytime the credit card is used, it is for things that we had already agreed to spend money on at our budget meeting. If you don’t have the money for it, WAIT and save up! It’s worth not struggling with credit card debt.
There are so many great resources and tools out there to help make tackling your finances easy. But I hope these five practical tips help you get a good start! Life’s greatest stress does NOT have to be your money! Let me know below if you find any of these useful, or if you have any other tips you want to share!