Budgeting as a financial planning concept generally gets a bad rap. For many people, it conjures a scarcity mindset (“I can’t ever buy a latte at Starbucks”). For others, it’s simply boring: the idea of counting every penny instead of living life.
Let’s explore a more positive view of budgeting. Before you swipe left and dismiss this blog as not worth your time, think about people in your life who might benefit from a positive view of managing their own money.
The Big Picture
Budgeting is simply the idea that you should align your spending and saving with the things that matter most to you. Picture your finances as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and your budget serves as the tool to carefully assemble these pieces to create the best possible financial picture.
When you craft a budget, you’re essentially planning how you’ll distribute your income among various priorities such as bills, leisure activities, purchases, savings, and future investments. It’s akin to determining which puzzle pieces represent your most valued goals. Through budgeting, you can allocate your resources thoughtfully to realize these aspirations without facing financial strain. In essence, budgeting acts as a financial roadmap, guiding you towards your desired destinations.
One good thing to keep in mind: Budgets are not prisons. The best ones are flexible and don’t make you feel guilty. They should be helping you understand where your money goes – ideally, it’s going to places, purchases, experiences, and bills that help you live a fulfilling life.
Here’s a good first step: understand where your money is going right now. There are many tools you can use to understand how you spend money and create a budget. Some have a monthly fee, some do not. You Need a Budget and Mint.com are a few of the many options to consider for you, while Moolah U is potentially a great learning opportunity for kids. Another option is our financial planning portal, which clients of BentOak Capital get access to as a benefit of working of working with us. Each of those options will work best once you link your existing bank accounts, credit cards, and more. The idea is that tracking what you spend money on is easier if it’s done mostly automatically for you. Keep in mind that some expenses (property taxes, car registration) don’t happen on a monthly basis and might need to be entered manually for now. If you’re not interested in an online solution, a simple pen and notebook or a computer spreadsheet will do the job just as well (though with less handholding). People budgeted forever without online services, after all.
Second, review your current spending and see if it aligns with what you value. If you mostly value (for instance) time with the kids, time outside, and time with extended family, then check to see if what you’re spending really matches that. If you’re spending money on things, bills, or experiences that take away from time with the kids/nature/family, then consider whether you should reduce or eliminate spending money on those things. If there are things you highly value that you are not currently spending money on, then consider adding it to your budget. If, for instance, you value taking care of your personal and mental well-being, you might budget in a monthly massage or gym membership, or a state park pass for hiking, or….
Third, what would you like to do (or do more of) in the future that you are not or cannot right now? If you want, we can call those things “goals” or “dreams.” We’ll take horses as an example. You want to buy a few horses for the kids, and then house, feed, and care for them. There are costs to each of those things – maybe you already have an idea about what those costs are. Now consider when would you ideally like to make that goal a reality? This will help determine how much you need to set aside each month specifically for that goal or dream. Some of your goals might happen soon. Others, like building a new house, college tuition for children or grandchildren, or a big family trip might be many years in the future.
Fourth, be flexible within reason. As I said earlier, a budget isn’t a prison, and it shouldn’t be a source of guilt because you “aren’t following it.” I hope I’ve conveyed strongly enough that a budget is just a tool for helping you 1) know where your money is going, 2) ensuring your money is being spent or saved in accordance with the things you think are most valuable, and 3) giving you a structure for how to take your dreams for the future and make them a little more real today.
Each of these points could be expanded on much more. There are tons of books, websites, news articles, magazines, and products about budgeting so obviously there’s a lot that can be said – and just as many ways to do something about it.
If something in this blog causes you to pause and think that you might want to discuss more with a BentOak Capital advisor, please contact us at 817-550-6750.
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