The past few months have been quite busy for my wife and I. Those who follow this blog regularly will know that we just moved to a new city (and state). The move was busy enough, but now we are adjusting to living in a new city, making new friends, and living with a dog.
It hasn’t been stressful (after the move), but it has been busy. Since we are living so differently now, I’ve found that it’s hard to motivate myself to do many of the same things as I used to do. Budgeting is one of these activities.
Ever since I set my 2014 goals in January, I haven’t looked at our budget. I still am tracking our net worth because it is fun to watch it inch up each month, but that’s about it. I’ve also been looking at our credit card statements because I never want to get charged for another expense that I didn’t authorize (again). But, I have no clue which categories we are going over, how much we are under or over, and the list goes on.
By all standards, I’m in what I call a “budgeting stink.”
Have you ever eaten a distinct food or meal before getting sick? I have and if you haven’t experienced this, consider yourself lucky. About 6 years ago I ate pancakes with my wife (then-girlfriend) right before getting sick. It wasn’t just a one time trip to the bathroom. I went back and forth to the bathroom that night so many times that I ended up in the hospital for three days. While the hospital visit was bad enough, that experience absolutely ruined pancakes for me. Even though I used to like them, I couldn’t bring myself to eating them for several years. And I still won’t go out of my way to eat them.
Budgeting kind of feels the same way. This is how I define “budgeting stink.”
I didn’t have a bad experience with it, but I just find myself unmotivated to login to the many tools that manage my budget automatically. I know it’s pain-free and it only takes a few minutes, but I lack all motivation to do it.
Why Budgeting is Important
Given my current state of mind, I can’t help but wonder if it’s really necessary. Here’s what traditional arguments for budgeting often look like:
- It helps you understand where your money is truly going or gives you an accurate picture of your financial situation
- Budgeting helps control your spending
- It helps you direct your spending to where you want to put it
- It helps you avoid financial disaster
- Allows for a collaborative effort (multiple family members to have input)
- It helps you focus on savings
- It changes the way you think about money: more as a tool instead of an unnecessary evil
Living in my current budgeting stink AND going through the reasons for actually budgeting that I’ve learned over the years, it forces an important question (or questions)…
What Exactly is Budgeting?
Is Budgeting Really Necessary?
Am I doing some form of budgeting by monitoring my individual transactions and net worth?
Do I need to be doing more?
The last question is ultimately what I am stuck on.
I know what I am currently doing. I know that my wife and I are in the black each and every month (because our net worth is going up) and we are still saving a decent amount of money each and every month.
I know all of this without doing the traditional sense of budgeting. Why waste my time just to know more of the same stuff?
[Corey taking a day to think about it...]
After thinking about my situation for a day or two, I’ve realized that the key is that while I know which direction we are going, I don’t know the details. I can’t tell you how much we are spending in our groceries or food category or how that compares to how much we want to spend.
While budgeting is never an exact science (and there is no one way to do it for everyone), my experience has been that budgeting involves specific categories. The reason for doing this is to give you an accurate picture of your spending. It’s an ongoing balance between getting too detailed and not detailed enough.
Because we haven’t been closely monitoring our budget, we may have been missing out on an opportunity to change directions and stop any unnecessary spending before it gets out of hand.
Now, luckily, as I’ve hinted at above, my internal counter is always going. For example, I know that if we spend over $100 for one week’s worth of groceries, that’s something to pay attention to. If it happens multiple weeks in a row, we’ve got a problem. While I may not be adding up the total amount, I still have a rough idea of what we’re spending.
This is how we’ve managed to not ruin our finances while going through a budgeting stink.
But that doesn’t mean it’s the perfect system. This is why I’ve so cleverly called it a stink.
What’s the Bottom Line? How to Get Our of a Budgeting Rut?
Okay, that sounds all good, but if you find yourself in a similar rut, how do you get yourself out? As it turns out, I’m in the middle of this process and I know how you feel. As it turns out, I have some suggestions.
Find What Motivates You
As I’ve already mentioned, I’ve continued to monitor our net worth. I do this because it is exciting to watch. Figuring out how much I spent on groceries not so exciting. To motivate myself, instead of just comparing apples to apples, I can add up the remaining amounts to see how much I’ve increased my net worth.
Tracking your net worth may not be what excites you, but you need to find out what motivates you.
Make it As Pain Free as Possible
The next thing you need to do is automate it as much as possible. I have to believe that if people knew how easy it was to track your spending with tools like Quicken, Personal Capital, or Mint, they would do it more regularly. I recently started budgeting with Quicken and it really does make it as simple as can be. If you aren’t using one of these tools, shop around and find the best option for you. There are many free tools like Personal Capital and Mint so test these out before buying.
Commit to it With Someone else
The last tip that I have is to tell someone that you want to start budgeting. Not only does this give you the opportunity to start budgeting together, exchange tips, and improve your method, but you can also keep you accountable. Regardless of whether they are pushing you to keep it up, just telling them may be enough to keep yourself committed.
While I’m not completely out of the wood and back on track, I’ve already started to pull up my budget and see how I can make improvements. If I can do it, you can too.