Create A Budget You Can Live With And Stick To
Many people think they don’t know how to budget. But the problem is many people have been taught to budget the wrong way. Here is a conversation we often have with our financial coaching clients at Fiscal Fitness Phoenix:
Coach: “Have you tried to budget before?”
Client: “Yes, I wasn’t very good at it.”
Coach: “What did that process look like? What exactly did you do?”
Client: “I downloaded a worksheet from the internet that lists your income for the month and then your expenses. I’d always get to the end of the month, and it never went as planned. I couldn’t do it.”
Coach: “You mean something like this?”
Client: “YESSS! It didn’t help. It’s so hard to budget. “
But the problem isn’t our clients (or you). It’s the way they and you have been taught to budget.
The Traditional Way of Budgeting Does Not Work
The traditional budget fails 80% of the time. Eighty percent! We don’t like those odds.
If you google “budgeting template” you’ll get more than 18 million results, most with some version of the same excel doc above. It’s a shame because this version of budgeting does not work for most people even though it is the way most commonly taught.
Don’t Budget Like a Corporation
This budget is not designed for how you live your life. You likely don’t get paid on the first of the month and then immediately pay for all your groceries, pay all of your utilities, and take out all the cash you need for the entire month. That is not how life works.
Yet it continues to be pushed as a solution by financial professionals even though it’s the wrong tool to solve people’s budgeting problems.
We have a better way.
At Fiscal Fitness, we have created a budgeting system that mirrors the way you live your life. It’s called the Plan Ahead Method budget, and it has helped hundreds of our clients achieve peace of mind and clarity with their money.
Budget Like You Live Your Life
Your budget should work for you based on the timing of your life. The most important factors in successful budgeting are not a starting and ending point each month. They are the actual dates you get paid and the dates your bills are due. This is the basis of the Fiscal Fitness Phoenix Plan Ahead Method. Our three-step process will have you thinking differently about how to budget and hopefully, seeing a better way.
Ready to get started budgeting? Great! We will walk you through this process step-by-step.
Step One: Get Organized
Before you can create a useful budget, you need to know the numbers.
It’s likely you have a number of fixed expenses. They occur every month, have a set due date, and are the same amount each month (or relatively close). Most people refer to these as their bills – things like mortgage and utilities, car payments, minimum payments on debts, but also Netflix or Hulu, and you gym membership.
Are you keeping these in your head or do you have these bills written down somewhere? I want you to get these out of your head. Write them down. You’ve got so many more important things to think about!
Make a list of all your bills that include:
- the bill description
- the amount
- the due date
But make sure to organize this list by due date! Unlike traditional budgeting, you’re not going to list your bills by the highest to lowest dollar amount.
When you organize your bills by due date, you see the timing of when they will need to get paid more clearly. It will give you a more realistic amount in your bank account at any given time. On payday, you’ll be able to glance and see exactly what needs to get paid between now and your next paycheck.
It seems simple. Almost too simple.
But that’s good. We want to help you gain clarity about your finances and organizing your expenses this way is an easy way to do that.
Step Two: Create a New Spreadsheet
You do not need to be an excel wizard or even own excel to complete this step, so don’t let either of those things stop you. If you share finances with another person, we recommend creating this new spreadsheet either in Google drive or making an excel file that can live on a shared drive.
We fully recognize that in most relationships one person is the money one, but having a spreadsheet that is accessible to both parties helps keep everyone on the same page. We always encourage couples to try to stay on the same page when it comes to their finances.
Step Three: Fill In Your New Budget
Now comes the fun part – filling in the new spreadsheet with your new budget.
List your next three pay dates and the amounts of each paycheck at the top of each column. The first line of each new column is going to be the amount of your paycheck. The next line in the first column will contain your current bank account balance.
After that, you’ll list all of the bills that fall between the first paycheck and the next. Remember, you’ll list them in date order, not by amount. After you’ve listed your bills, you’re going to list the amounts of the recurring expenses you have each month, like groceries, gas, pet food. These are your expenses that are not a fixed amount and due on a fixed date each month.
When you’ve listed all of your bills and recurring expenses, total up the amount at the bottom of that column. That number represents what should be left in your bank account before your next paycheck.
You’ll do the same for the next column – listing and adding up all of your expenses – but the second row total in the second column won’t be your current bank total. It will be the total at the bottom of the first column. Repeat this for the third column as well.
At this point, you’re most likely looking a month out and seeing the amount leftover increasing slightly. And once you see that increasing, you can start figuring out where you’re putting that money. Our recommendation? Start opening a bunch of savings accounts. Seriously, see why savings accounts are the key to getting ahead.
If you’re looking for more guidance, let the financial coaches at Fiscal Fitness help you create and implement a rock solid plan for your money.
Ways to be Successful at Budgeting
Budgeting this way will take a little getting used to. You can get the hang of it, but here are a few ways to help you catch on even quicker:
- Overestimate your bills. This is an easy way to end up with more money at the end of the month than you expected. If your water bill fluctuates between $120 and $150, always pick the $150. If your car registration is coming due but you’re not sure the exact amount, estimate high. When you budget this way, you give yourself padding should everything come in on the high end.
- Set goals for your extra money. Be intentional with whatever you have in excess. If you see it as free money, you’ll be more likely to treat yourself to something than use it as a tool to achieve your larger financial goals ever sooner. This is a great way to help you pay off debt.
- Extend your budget for at least three months. You need to see this far out to really get a handle on what you are spending and the ebbs and flows of your budget. Not every month has the same expenses, so budgeting this far out will give you a clearer picture overall than just a month’s worth of bills and paychecks.
- Avoid adding extra expenses or increasing spending amounts after the month has begun. We know expenses sometimes creep up, but by overestimating your expenses and account for all known bills, your surprises should be minimal. And if you find you are routinely going over the amounts you set or are constantly upping them midway through the month, increase the amounts. Remember, you are trying to be realistic about your spending.
There is a Better Way to Budget
Different, right? In this case, different is definitely better. When you budget based on when you get paid and when your bills are due, you are less likely to be surprised.
You will never have that moment where you realize three major bills are due and you still need money for groceries.
Yes, you will still use a spreadsheet, but it’s one that works with your unique situation in mind, not the assumption that you get paid your entire paycheck on the first of the month.
We are confident that once you try budgeting the Fiscal Fitness way, you will not go back, especially if the traditional way of budgeting has failed you in the past.