Oh the random financial complaints at work…
- “An extra $1,000 a month? Ha! Wouldn’t that be nice.”
- “Nobody can possibly afford to stay at home with their kids anymore. It’s just not possible!”
- “So you just signed your life away on that mortgage? Don’t worry, everyone has debt.”
I find myself having to bite my lip more and more these days. Apparently, the more fiscally wise you become, the less you can relate to…well, anybody. But, if I were given the choice to either relate to broke people or to be insanely wealthy, I think I’d choose insanely wealthy every time, wouldn’t you?
The truth is, I used to have a broke mentality for quite a few years. I bought TVs, stereos, flashy cars – I thought I was pretty big stuff.
…And then I discovered that I couldn’t even afford my $75/month student loan payment after graduation. Talk about a kick in the face! It was only $75, and it was putting me in the hole each month. I finally got angry about my poor financial decisions and decided it was time to change! No longer would I be a slave to debt!
That’s when I finally started digging through my “budget”.
My quote unquote “budget” wasn’t an on-purpose budget. It was more my default budget after a few years of unwise spending. It was finally time for me to take a serious look at my money and tell it where to go, instead of wondering where it went at the end of each month.
Your Spending Turned to Savings
At the moment you spend your money, everything is justified. You want to spend $100 on a pair of jeans? Well you deserve it because you worked really hard this past month. Plus, they’ll probably last longer because they’re “high quality” jeans (*cough cough* — this is always such a lie to yourself. You know deep down that they’ll fray down to nothing in less than a year.) Want to spend $150 a month on your phone? Well, you do make quite a few important phone calls for work, so it’s important that you have a nice phone…. Blah blah blah.
This could really go on and on. You know exactly what I’m talking about. In the moment, all of those purchases sound like such a good idea.
BUT, you know what I discovered? When you go back through your expenses and take a look at them with a level head, you’ll probably say something like, “What was I thinking? Am I an idiot? Why would I spend so much money on that?”
And this is exactly how you’ll save hundreds of dollars in your budget.
It’s Time to Budget
A few weeks ago, I wrote a wildly popular article called, “How Much Should You Spend on That?“, which allowed people to enter their income to see how a broke person would spend their money vs. a rich person. Basically, broke people spent like they were rich, and the rich spent like they were broke (so they could invest and become uber-wealthy in the not-so-distant future).
This takes that article to the next level. It’s time to recognize what’s wrong with your spending. From which categories could you save hundreds of dollars?
First, download the free budget tool here (or click on the image above) and get familiar with the layout. It’s really quite simple. Your income goes on the right and your spending goes on the left. Now, let’s figure out how we can save hundreds of dollars!
1) Study your past spending
Before you can plan your budget for the future, you first need to have a clue what you’ve spent your money on in the past. Get out your credit card and bank statements (you can find these easily online) and start reviewing your spending.
Categorize your spending as you go. Write it out on a piece of paper.
- Property Tax
- Dining out
Etc, etc, etc.
Anything that you’ve spent money on, write it down and place it in a category.
2) REVIEW EACH CATEGORY
Alright. THIS is where there is money to be made. When I decided to aggressively get out of debt, I followed these exact steps. I took a look at my actual spend, wrote it all out on paper, and THEN I reviewed each category. My mental review went something like this:
- Mortgage – “Looks like it’s divided into principle, interest, and escrow. What’s the escrow for? Oh, property tax and insurance. Why is my home insurance so high? I should probably get some other quotes on that.”
- Food – “I spent $600 a month on food for myself last month. Is that high? It seems high. WHOA! $350 of that is dining out! If I didn’t go out to eat so much, I bet I could save at least $250 on my monthly food bill.”
- Car Insurance – “My car insurance is $85 a month and I own a $2,500 car. That can’t be right, can it??”
- Phone Bill – “$95 a month? Really? I bet if I called the sales team, they’d discount that – especially if I threatened to join another provider.”
When you look at your spending after the fact and truly review it, you’ll find that there is A TON of savings just waiting for you to capture!
3) Fill In Your Zero-Based Budget
It’s time to enter some numbers into your budget sheet. Open it in Excel and enter your monthly income into the “Planned” fields. You’ll see that your income is totaled at the top of the page.
Now you’ll have to enter your planned expenses. Change the categories if you need to and enter a planned expense into each row. If you have money left when you’re done (ie. your income total at the top is still greater than your expense total), enter the remaining planned “expense” into the “Savings” line. So basically, if you don’t spend all of your income in a month, then you’ll build onto your savings!
4) Track Your Spending
Now that you have your expected spending in the budget, you can track your actual expenses alongside them. At the end of each month, take note of how well you did in each category. If you need to adjust it one way or another, make the adjustment! The idea isn’t to constrain yourself and have no fun in life, it’s to actually have some money left at the end of each month!
You Have the Power
Congratulations! You made a budget! Do you realize how HUGE this is? Now that you are actually watching your money and telling it where to go, you’ll get out of debt faster, build up a savings account, and actually have money to invest for your future! By taking just an hour or so to review your budget each month, you’re changing your entire life!
Your spouse will thank you, your children will thank you, and so will your children’s children.
Congrats again. Congrats on getting on a budget, sticking to it, and changing your family tree.
My name is Derek, and I have my Bachelors Degree in Finance from Grand Valley State University. After graduation, I was not able to find a job that fully utilized my degree, but I still had a passion for Finance! So, I decided to focus my passion in the stock market. I studied Cash Flows, Balance Sheets, and Income Statements, put some money into the market and saw a good return on my investment. As satisfying as this was, I still felt that something was missing. I have a passion for Finance, but I also have a passion for people. If you have a willingness to learn, I will continue to teach.