Decrease your anxiety by making budgeting your new best friend
The dreaded “B” word – budgeting. Somewhere in time, this innocent word got an ugly connotation, and although not entirely unfounded it doesn’t deserve to be shunned the way that people do. In the end, it is not your budget’s fault that you are a bad planner because, in essence, that is what a budget is – a plan for your money.
There is a misconception or myth that a budget limits you, forcing you to do things with your money that you otherwise would not have liked to do. In actual fact, having a budget and sticking to it frees you up. A budget gives you the freedom to spend your money because now you know exactly how much money you have.
A budget does not control your spending, it simply reminds you to work with your money intentionally. If you want to simplify your life, lower your stress, sort out your anxiety and make life just easier in general (all the single moms, hands up if that sounds like you!), then start budgeting.
Having a concrete plan means you do not have to mentally track every financial transaction, freeing up that mental space to rather deal with more pressing matters. Even if you can list “good with money” as one of your top skills, you can still improve your life by creating a monthly budget. And if you are a single mama, who needs to raise kids on a single income, then you need all the help you can get!
What is a budget? Budgeting definition
A budget is simply a tool that helps you track your finances. It provides a detailed record and plan of what comes in, and what goes out, for a given period. In simple terms, it is a plan for your money. Having or not having a budget won’t change the amount of money you earn or the things you need to pay. It won’t even necessarily change the amount you save (if you do save). A budget allows you to control your money, to tell it what to do, and to get your money to work for you so that it doesn’t end up slipping through your fingers.
A budget stops you from spending mindlessly since most of us see our paycheck as a goal and not a guideline. If you have a budget, you know each Rand by name, where that Rand is going, and what you had to do to get it. That being said, a budget is not a reporting tool that you use AFTER spending the money. You cannot point to a stack of receipts and say “yes I budget”. Paying your bills on time does not constitute a budget, it just makes you a conscientious rule-follower, which is good. But you are still not in command and in charge of your money. A budget is also not planning how to spend your salary, but forgetting to take into consideration the income from your side-hustle, the interest you accumulate (or pay…) on your credit card, potential investments, etc. That just makes you seem effective, while in actual fact you can put yourself into a really bad situation. If you have used any of these “budgeting” techniques, you need to seriously read on.
Effective budgeting, the type that has the power to change your financial position and give you freedom, includes:
- A digital or written plan
- Created before the period in questions commences
- That accounts for every cent that will come into your possession
- And will assign each of these scents to a specific goal or purpose
Sounds easy right? It should be.
The importance of budgeting: why you should have a budget; all the advantages and benefits
Now that you know what a budget is, let’s talk about why you should have one. It is definitely not because The Man wants to control you, or because I feel there are a few minutes in your day that is not already filled. It is because if you have a budget, you know for sure that you have enough money to do the things you need to do. And if the budget shows that you don’t, you can automatically see where you are short and use that as a way of rectifying or changing the situation. Paying off debt becomes really easy if you budget for it, as do saving.
The idea of a budget is that you spend a bit of time once a month, or ideally once a week, and then reap the rewards. If you make use of templates and have a steady income with more or less recurring payments it becomes even easier. Some of the benefits that you will get include:
- Peace of mind over your money
- Control over your finances
- Identifiable and reachable financial goals
- The conviction that should anything happen, you will be taken care of because you saved
No matter your financial state, a budget will empower you to make your money go further. That can mean finding money to pay off debts, or finding enough money to not have to make more debt, or saving extra money, or finding money that you spend on mindless things to enable you to save. It makes your money stretch further, again, because you know where it came from, and where it needs to go. Total financial freedom.
How can I use a budget to help me?
Your budget is going to give you an action plan. It will help you achieve your goals because you will know exactly where you stand. It frees you to break those expensive habits that you most probably didn’t even know you had. Do you remember every time you buy a takeaway coffee? Or quickly grab lunch on the go? These small amounts add up, but because they seem small and insignificant, we don’t bring them into account and then we wonder where that extra R1000 went. Use your budget to track your life, and you will be amazed at what else changes.
Types of budgets: different budgeting techniques and methods
In my quest to find the simplest, easiest to use budgeting technique I came across a lot of opinions and theories. The two techniques that I found to be the most appealing are the zero-based budget and the 60% solution. I will quickly discuss them before going into the step-by-step process of creating your own budget.
1. The 60% solution:
This budget compels you to fit your regular and repeat monthly expenses within 60% of your gross income. That leaves 40% of your income for savings, retirement, emergency fund, and spending. The percentages within this budget are recommended as:
- 60% monthly expenses
- 10% retirement fund
- 10% debt repayment or long-term savings
- 10% short-term savings for things such as car services, registration fees for the kids’ schools, etc.
- 10% spending money
What makes this budgeting technique great is how simple it is to use. You basically only have 2 categories, with the money for each category split into different compartments. Proponents of this method recommend that you pay as many bills as possible online, and automate your savings. Then whatever is left over from the 60%, draw that money and pay cash for everything else. This way you never overspend. If you want to refine this further, you can use the percentages I have given under the “Tips” section to further divide the 60%. You then draw the cash that you have available to spend on the recurring purchases such as petrol/transport, groceries, kids. Place the available cash in an envelope and mark clearly. Every time you then have to purchase something in a specific category, you use the specific envelope. When the money is finished, it is finished and you have to wait until next month.
2. Zero-based budget
A zero-based budget simply means that your income, minus ALL of your expenses, will equal zero. This means you know exactly where every cent has gone. Similar to the 60% solution budget in that it is easy to use and understand, the zero-based budget works with what you already have. To use this budget, you first write down your projected income. That includes your normal day job, as well as any other monies you might be getting from your side-hustle, or other sources of income. Next, write down your fixed expenses. These are usually bigger amounts that stay relatively the same every month. And lastly, the categories that change every month, things like groceries, transport, entertainment, etc. Calculate the amount you need to pay all your fixed expenses, then subtract that from the total projected income. Everything that is left over is then for your variable expenses. You can divide that amount according to the given percentages (below) or according to your needs, e.g. you decide 50% will go to groceries and eating out, 10% to transport, 20% to entertainment and the rest to savings. With this budget, you kind of begin at the end and then work your way back.
The budgeting process step-by-step
Convinced? Then here is what to do next: set up your budget. You can use a budgeting program, or an app (see below), but I prefer good ol’ paper and pen which I then transfer to an Excel spreadsheet.
Step 1: calculate your projected monthly income
For an accurate projection, only include take-home income, i.e. after tax and deductions. Try and not include special income such as tax returns or annual bonuses. If you are self-employed, average what you make over the year and seriously work on creating a savings account to carry you through the extra dry months.
Step 2: create a list of expenses, divided into fixed and variable
Fixed: rent or mortgage, electricity and water payments, medical aid, insurance, car payments, school fees, gym fees, internet fees, cellphone contracts, etc. Basically, anything that can go off with a debit order
Variables: groceries, entertainment, clothing, personal care, store card accounts, etc.
Step 3: critically look at your expenses
Are there any of the fixed expenses that are luxuries (that you maybe cannot afford?) or are there things that go off every month that you cannot even remember? Take time to investigate if there might be a cheaper or better option. Also, remember to check in yearly with your insurance providers, you are eligible for a decrease in payments if you didn’t claim the last year, or have reached a certain age, or maybe you have a different car, etc. Do the same with your variable expenses – do you spend too much money on eating out because you do not know how to cook? Then it might be cheaper to rather switch to a box-scheme or a home-delivery service. Do you spend hundreds of rands each month on magazines that end up in the trash, unread? Do you buy clothes as a hobby? Use this as an opportunity to simplify a few other habits. After you have done this, total your expenses.
Step 4: do the maths
Take your income and subtract your expenses. If you have a positive number – well done! You are one of the very lucky few. If you are in the red, you have some work to do.
Step 5: prioritize and shuffle
I hope you have already seen where you can cut back, what you can eliminate totally and where you need to tread lightly. Make those tough decisions to free up money so that you can get yourself into good financial health.
After you have followed these 5 steps, you have a budget! Now use it.
Budgeting tips and tricks, with apps to make life easier
Want to get the most out of your budget? Then follow and incorporate these tips:
1. Get your percentages right
Use the recommended budget percentages to structure your budget. You are allowed to make small concessions or changes to suit your lifestyle and needs, but within bounds. If you are able, divide your budget up like this:
- Category Percentage of Overall Spending
- Giving 10-15%
- Housing 25–35%
- Utilities 5–10%
- Food 10–15%
- Transportation 10–15%
- Health 5–10%
- Insurance 10–25%
- Personal 10-15%
- Recreation 5-10%
- Saving 10-15%
These percentages will change as you pay off debt (or make new debt) or as your income increases, but use these as a guideline.
2. Plan and schedule the monthly money talk
Once a month, sit with your significant other, or whoever you share financial responsibilities with, and discuss your financial situation. Cover goals, ideas, problems, etc. Finalise the budget for the coming month, and discuss and make those big decisions. Are you going to save for that overseas holiday, can you afford to get the car serviced, etc.
3. Forget that it is a chore, make it a lifestyle
By incorporating this into your daily life you will start to see financial planning as part of your routine. After a while, it will no longer seem like work, but rather an investment into your financial freedom.
4. Adjust and adapt as time goes on
You get those outlier months were your money just cannot stretch that far. Don’t change your budget to cover that month. But if you see every month you exceed your budgeted grocery amount, or you always have money left over from the personal care budget, then it is time to reassess and change the percentages or the rules. Your budget should adapt to your lifestyle and its changes just as much as you should adapt to meet your budget.
5. Never borrow from next month
It does happen that you blow your budget. Sometimes you need that few rands more than what you planned to spend for the month, and then the temptation is great to take that money from next month. But you cannot take money that you have not received or earned yet, so fight the temptation. If you do need a few extra bucks to spend this month, then borrow from another category. So if you have R1000 to spend on groceries, but you need R1200, then take R200 from your leisure category meaning that for that month you will have R200 less to spend on leisure, but R200 extra to spend on groceries.
6. Track your spending
Track every cent you spend. I mean it. Every. Single. Cent. Even the small amounts can make a big difference since they all add up. Know exactly where your money went, and keep the receipts as proof.
Using a budgeting app on your phone makes answering the age-old question “but can I afford it” really easy to answer. Just check! Some of the apps enable you to set up alerts for when you are approaching your limit, or if you spend more than what you should have on a specific item or category. Some apps to look into:
Sound like something you need to start doing? Then just do it!