Budget

Money, it’s a shame! We love Mint, and so should you.

“Money, so they say

Is the root of all evil today

But if you ask for a raise it’s no surprise

That they’re giving none away.” – Pink Floyd

So I did an article a few weeks back about my personal struggles with money. That posting boiled down a very practical book on personal finance into the five essential ingredients for getting on top of things:

  1. Plan for monthly bills and daily needs.
  2. Keep a running total of daily needs spending.
  3. Have a bill payment plan where bills are paid each month automatically
  4. Have a savings account for what you want and need
  5. Keep a record of all of the above.

You must do all these things to have any control over your money – no matter how much of an income you have.

The issue though came down to implementation. All of these things required time – something I have little of these days. So, were there tools out there that could help me?

First a few words about my personal relationship with finances. Money is a topic I find frightening and I tend to shy away from it – mainly because it’s just so depressing watching it pour out every month. I thought, well, some people seem to have a knack for it. I just don’t – and there’s no changing that. I just got used to being a colander or a sieve – and tried to earn as much as I could to balance things out.

There’s a strong correlation between money and food (or alcohol, or anything else you can abuse or get addicted to). In my case, I would binge spend to feel better – the same way some people drink whiskey or food when things get most hopeless. The feeling of being out of control, of being a victim of circumstances beyond my control – a car bill or the dishwasher breaking setting us back once again – would start the spiral.

 

This morning we had a breakthrough. I think it’s the first time in twenty years of marriage that we’ve had a discussion about money and what we’ve spent without an argument. Here’s how it worked:

  1. Go to www.mint.com and sign up. It’s FREE and amazing – and yes, they have an app for it on your phone.
  2. Add any accounts you have. We’re talking checking, savings, 401(k)’s, and your credit cards, home/rental and cars. This way you know your financial health in one nice snapshot. (turns out, you may find out you are worth more $-wise than you think!)
  3. Then it’s time to fill out a budget. Do the best you can on the categories – they’re all prefilled out. I pulled my checking account records for the previous month and had a good idea of what I spent each month. I also allowed money each month for fun money – you know, fishing and other trips – and an allowance, small, each month, for things like a vacation, home expenses, car breakdowns, etc.
    1. It’s very important to allow SOME room for fun. There’s no point in being a budget Nazi if you will break down and binge spend because you’re going overboard. For me, I need some time every few weeks to get away. If you select the option to “Start each month with the previous month’s leftover amount” – you can even save up this discretionary money for that trip to the Bahamas you’ve always wanted to take.

Guess what? You are basically done at this point. At this point all your financial transactions – everything coming in and out – will show up on one nice dashboard. You can check it daily or – as my wife and I have committed to doing – once weekly. We look at every item we spend and make sure that it’s falling into the correct line item on the budget:

 

See that line item below for “Royal”? That’s $40 bucks I spent on fly fishing books at Joel’s fine fly fishing shop locally in Lake Oswego. (Yes, I’m an addict.) Knowing that it would be showing up and that I would have to account for this made me spend a little less at that store this day.

Then we can go through and see if we’re over or under-spending. See below – we definitely spent a little more than we should have last month on eating out and even on groceries. I can fine-tune this then for the next month – or adjust the budget so it’s more reasonable. Like with tracking what you eat every day, a tool like Mint really makes tracking – and being accountable for – what we spend will help us turn our financial ship around.

Hopefully, over time we will become a little less of a colander – and more of a bowl. Going through what we spent and saved took us less than half an hour – well worth it. We’ll keep doing this every week. What a great feeling!

A little something on that dirty word… money.

Just a little riff on personal finances.

Had the pleasure recently of reading “The Debt Free Spending Plan“. It’s very practical and pragmatic in dealing with debt and managing money. For too many of us, we’re never taught personal finance like we are other essential topics like math, reading, etc in school. As a result – and I think this is deliberate – we get stuck in these cycles with large amounts of credit card debt and spending on things we really can’t afford or even enjoy. I know in my case – when I think of my household expenses (and fishing equipment!) – I tend to think of my house as being a type of colander. I dump money into it and it just runs out the bottom!

So, time to put some thinking into managing a budget. The book is fairly long; I’ll boil it down to the essentials, and you can think about picking it up on your own.

  1. Gather up all your credit cards and freeze them. (Some people literally freeze them into a block of ice in their freezer – so before they use them, they have to defrost it!)
  2. Make up a monthly budget. (more on this below) Everything should be categorized, from income – to Bills and lastly Daily Needs (fuel, food, etc).
  3. Total this up. What’s left over – the balance – can go into Short Term Savings (for things like car expenses that are impossible to predict), Long Term Savings (a buffer), and lastly Fun Money (vacation getaways, fishing gear, etc).
  4. The basic principle is you should always be running in the black. ONce you do step #3 above you will know how much you have to live on each month. You should have money set aside even when you say things like “Oh, I never buy clothes.” Stick cash for clothing – even if just $10 – into an envelope. You can stash it or spend it – but don’t forget to save up for that category. Make sure money is left over for fun and vacation $, even if just a few dollars each month.
  5. You will need to go through this budget every month on the 28th and refactor. Add $ where it’s called for to each category, or take it away. The author recommends picking a category each month (like Gym, for example) and seeing if you can reduce it. could you go to a less snazzy gym and save a few bucks for fun money?
  6. Now buy a notebook. (Or use Mint for us tech savvy types!) Each daily need should have its own tab, with the $ you have to spend on it on the title. (Fuel – $275 for example). Once each day, you will take your receipts – or your debit card expenses – and write down what you’ve spent on each category and update the running total. (2/6/2015 Chevron -$46 = $184.84, for example)
  7. Have two savings accounts – a short term savings and a healthy reserves for emergencies.

There’s some other money saving tips there that she explores in more detail – avoiding bulk stores (it encourages overspending), cooking at home, getting a cheaper cell phone etc with three quotes minimum for any major purchase, using a HSA/Medical Savings Plan, etc. But in short it’s a nice and sweet little 5-step program:

  1. Plan for monthly bills and daily needs.
  2. Keep a running total of daily needs spending.
  3. Have a bill payment plan where bills are paid each month automatically
  4. Have a savings account for what you want and need
  5. Keep a record of all of the above.

 

That’s it! Nice and simple. I’m going to give this a try – and see if it doesn’t improve some things. I really miss the days of being a DINK (double-income no-kids) kind of family. Hopefully with this program we can have the room to do more fun things guilt free- because we’ll be in the black.