While I am far from a financial wizard, I have come a long way in my day. In my former financial life, I would have been the stuff of Suze Orman’s nightmares. But, some severe financial issues resulting in bankruptcy finally made me see the light; and it truly hit me for the first time that my woes were not to be blamed on outside forces, but only myself. Most of us are so poor with money simply because we have never made the time to educate ourselves on these matters and make deliberate choices on how we manage our finances. It may sound cliche but one of the most powerful strategies I found for turning my financial situation around was learning to budget, and here are three tips that helped me get on the right path.
See Budgeting in a New Light
My first step in using budgeting to my advantage was learning to view the practice in a different light. The word has a negative connotation and it conjures up images of depriving ourselves of all the fun stuff in life in the name of ‘’financial responsibility.’’ No wonder most people shy away from it. But, for me, I started viewing it as a way to manage my money more responsibly, a way to improve my financial health over the long term. The extreme emotional toll my money woes took on me were still very fresh in my mind, and I was game for doing anything that would prevent me from feeling that way again. Constantly thinking about my debt from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to bed at night, feeling stick to my stomach….no thank you. Perspective is everything in life, and if you start seeing budgeting as a tool that will help you, rather than hinder you, it will be much easier to get started.
One of the biggest hurdles to sticking to a budget is being realistic about our finances. We fail to plan our budgets realistically and when we have a hard time sticking to them, we just give up, rather than take the time to tweak them. When I first started my adventures in budgeting, I greatly overestimated how much money I could put in savings because I was greatly underestimating what I would need to spend money on over the month. While it can be prudent to review where we are maybe spending too much money, do not attempt to make drastic alterations to your lifestyle in the name of saving some dough unless you are particularly out of control of course. Set aside reasonable amounts for recreational activities like going to out to dinner or a night out on the town. Don’t attempt to drastically alter your diet so you can cut down on your grocery bill—if you love making a nice fresh salad for lunch, don’t try to convince yourself you won’t mind eating Ramen noodles a few days a week. You get the point.
Set Specific Goals
If you are feeling the pull to make a budget, there is likely some financial issue pulling at you, whether you are hoping to increase your savings or pay down your debt faster. Clarify to yourself exactly why you want to start a budget. What are your exact goals? Why is it important to you to be more responsible with your money. Clearly outlining your ‘’why’’ will make it much easier to make your budget because it will serve as your motivator to stick to your plan. Because of the bankruptcy, I was cleared of debts but I never had a savings account. I was always living paycheck to paycheck and I always hated that feeling. It was one of the primary reasons I got into the mess I had been in the first place. Peace of mind was my motivator and it was a powerful one.