Budgeting For Beginners

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Banking and budgeting! Gross! I know they are dirty words. One of the biggest taboos in our culture is discussing our finances and the big emotions that surround them. That is what this post is all about, talking about money and taming the shame monsters. We want your little castle to be a happy castle, and we believe it can be done with a solid self-motivated education in home economics, which includes a bit of money smarts. We also have a companion podcast for this post and we recommend that you give it a listen for extra information and encouragement.

We believe that home economics can be broken down into 3 key aspects.

  1. The first aspect focuses on using the resources of your land, house, and pantry to best effect with the least waste. For example, when we buy bags of onions for onion soup we can re-use the plastic fishnet onion sacks as dish-scrubbers before we recycle them – saving us money on our cleaning supply budget.
  1. The second aspect of home economics is about practices and strategies to perform maintenance to your home easily and efficiently. For example, if we take care of our outdoor benches – repaint them often – then we won’t need to replace them due to rot.

These first two aspects help us to save money through resource management and by preventing larger expenses later down the road. Most people only think of these two aspects of home economics: the cooking, growing, and storing of foods and products, and maintenance of the home such as cleaning, decorating and the other odd jobs needed to keep home cozy and in one piece. But there is one more aspect.

  1. The third aspect is the banking, budgeting or what you might call “money smarts”! Our belief is that home economics is foundational to the first two aspects. Because, why should you save on odds and ends when you have no idea what you are speeding in reality?  Once you learn about budgeting you will quickly learn that how you spend defines how you live.

Now let’s talk money! Obviously, discussing money can be taboo and scary.  Especially if you feel like you’re not great with your personal finances. But keep in mind you’ll have to move on from those icky feelings to get anywhere. For us, our lives are lot easier since we’ve been truly aware of our finances. Now that we’re married, we joyfully have an eye on the family budget. This has helped us to organize and find our shared hopes for the future. Budgeting has also improved our relationship teaching us to work as a team to keep each other motivated to achieve our goals.

Budgeting becomes a motivating factor in itself. For example, as we see our earmarked funds grow after only a few months, the positive effects become evident, which gives us a strong sense of self-reliance. We don’t worry too much because we have a plan and we keep reworking that plan together as the plan advances. Even the notion of becoming more fiscally responsible can be very scary. For many people, (even us) getting started was incredibly difficult.

To address that difficulty, we’ve developed a system that is very simple and easy to implement. We have three suggestions to lead you down a sunnier path with your family’s finances. These suggestions will work for single people or families of two all the way to large families.

Here are the steps:

  1. Talk about “money smarts” with the people closest to you.

This will require you to tame the shame monster by utilizing positive self-talk. Communication and kindness kills shame. Step one heavily relies on good self-communication. For example, as you’re being honest with yourself, you’ll be creating a kinder and gentler style of self-talk. This is when you’ll say to yourself, “money is not bad”. Or “I am not a bad person because my (or our) money situation got away from me”. Money does not define you, but you need money to get by. By taking the shame out of the equation you can begin to truly help yourself rather than spending time either feeding a shame monster or running from him. Positive self-talk is a crucial aspect on the road to fiscal responsibility. Positive self-talk encourages positive feelings, reinforces new ways of spending and therefore creates a new way of living for you and your family.

Ideally, talking about “money smarts” with the people closest to you would mean speaking with your parents, or a close friend. Warning: this can create some friction, but the payoff is that you will get an idea where you may have picked up some of your good and bad habits. Each individual has a different story and circumstances.  Which means some people will feel more comfortable talking to a partner, or their closest friends rather than their family. This has the benefit of taking to edge off of the subject by making your shame monsters shrink and clearing away those awful feelings. On the other hand, this may be too big of a task right away, especially so if you have feelings of shame regarding how money is impacting your decision-making. If so that’s okay, just work on self-talk until you are ready to step up to speaking with others.

  1. Evaluate what you’re doing with your money.

Start by picking two days a month to do bills and budgeting. Circle it on calendars and set alarms on your phone. For example, we pay bills between the 3rd and the 5th of each month, but you’ll need to decide what works best for you.

Next, write the budget. We suggest guessing a budget first without looking at the bills and receipts from last month. You will need to do that later when you make your real budget. When writing this first budget, ask yourself, “Am I spending too much? If so, what am I spending too much on? Are we in the red or the black each month?” Then write down how you think you are doing.

If you are a couple and your finances are separate, that’s cool, but you need to do this together to help motivate each other, like having a workout buddy. Shame monsters are scared of company, so if your partner is properly supportive they will help scare off the shame monster and all those icky, gross feelings.

Do remember to keep your guessed budget around. You’ll get a kick out of how wrong you were on certain spending habits and how right you were about others.

To write a budget you can use:

  •    A pretty notebook or ledger    
  •    Mint, a free application available for the smartphone. You’ll need to set it up on a desktop first.
  •    Microsoft Excel, a spreadsheet program
  •    Numbers, a spreadsheet program for Mac users

You must do budgeting for one full cycle of your bills and pay periods before implementing step three.

  1. Start by making really small changes to spending.

Like an animal learning a complicated trick, people need baby steps to make significant changes. No one teaches his or her dog to do the whole trick at once. You must break it down into steps. That breaking down is called “shaping behavior”. We suggest, really giving you and your family the focus and time needed to change habits, staging the shaping of your spending and budgeting behavior should take place in 1-3 month increments to create your new habits. You will start by doing the below 2 tasks.

Task #1

For a period of time that covers all your bills and pay periods (1 month for example) use an envelope system of cash for one line item of your budget, where you believe you are overspending.

Some ideas

  •    Lunches
  •    Parking
  •    Fun money

You will see where the money is going and how much is left. Just do yourself a favor and be the bad cop and do not dip into your general funds if you run out too soon. Rough it. Think of it as reinforcement in shaping your behavior. You will repeat this for two more months augmenting the amount of money until your budget is just right.

Task # 2

DIY or switch up something costing you too much money.

Some ideas:

  •    Bring coffee to work
  •    Switch off the cable and read or take a walk when you’re bored.
  •    Do not eat out. If it’s too difficult, just try to limit how many times you eat out, or only go out on special occasions
  •    Commit to reusable for a month. For instance, you might go through your closet and cut up old clothes and use then for rags to avoid using paper towels or paper napkins for a month. This can save you, for a family of two, $10-$15. And if you regularly use paper plates, try using your real dishes this could save you $15-$20.
  •    Do not drink beer, wine or cocktails out. Limit it to home only. This will cut your booze cost by two-thirds. If you enjoy going out, monitor your spending habits. Slight adjustments can make a big difference over time.

Pick one from this list or come up with your own ideas and try to do it for three months. Keep in mind that if you are not sticking to your plan, it may not be working to save you money. Evaluate your budget each month and if needed try something else next month.

Changing something that drains your money can be difficult to do because our first thought is probably something like, “I like my treats, no taking my treats” or “I fought hard for this habit” and “I want, I want all of them – gimmie!” We understand and it’s something everyone goes through on some level.

One final note, for extra credit you can start educating yourself on money smarts by learning about how your debt and money grow. Understanding compound interest means you’ll understand the real cost of debts you may incur BEFORE YOU SIGN, and then you’ll have real freedom to make better choices. In a later post, we will talk more about how this relates to credit cards and why they are the biggest black holes in your financial universe.

Meanwhile, please check out this resource for calculating compound interest.

Catherine & James Hill

 

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