Do you ever feel like making a budget is making up numbers and hoping for the best? I know I did. When my husband and I first started budgeting, I was convinced that there was no way I could keep up with it.
For one thing, we weren’t really sure what income we brought home every month since taxes and withholdings are complicated. Then, every time we tried to log into our accounts, we had forgotten usernames and passwords. On top of that, we had no idea what we actually spent or should be spending on any given category.
This was discouraging because I knew we needed to allocate our income but budgeting felt like we were hoping that the numbers we wrote down would change our spending habits. This was not the case. Since budgeting was not intuitive, I believed that is was too complicated for us. I used this as an excuse to not budget effectively for a long time.
Thank God we had some intense goals and that my husband was motivated because he kept me on the bandwagon. After struggling with these problems for quite a while, I began to notice certain trends that made budgeting more complicated and time consuming. I started to brainstorm answers to the these problems. The answers accomplished a few things for us:
- It de-stressed budgeting
- It simplified our budget meetings
- It made our monthly budget meetings shorter: 20 min or less!
- It gave us confidence in our budget because we knew that our numbers were realistic and effective.
The key isn’t just what you do during the budget meeting, but what you do before. Here are 8 Things to do before your budget meeting to save you time and stress.
Schedule Your Budget Meeting
- Don’t be fooled, if you don’t set a time to have a conversation about where your money is going to go every month, I promise you that conversation won’t happen. Everything important in your life is scheduled. You schedule work meetings, get togethers with friends, and dates with your spouse. And for most of us our money comes to us on a schedule (#payday). So why wouldn’t we schedule a specific time to spend 20 minutes making a plan for our money every month? Jake and I schedule our budgeting meeting in our mutual calendar so we won’t forget. This helps us set aside the time to be focused on our finances. This helps the decisions of these meetings be unilateral and more effective.
Quickly Reconcile Last Month’s Budget
- One of the main obstacles to first setting a budget is that you don’t really know how much you spend in certain categories. Understanding your spending habits helps you set more realistic numbers for your next month. So before I make the budget for the coming month, I pull out our budget from the previous month and my banking app and add up a few numbers. I can see where we over and under budgeted and what funds we can roll over to our goals. I can’t tell you how much this has helped our budget become more accurate over time. Keep in mind this shouldn’t take very long.
Have a Goals Conversation
- If you are setting a budget every month without a goal, I’m genuinely curious why you would take the time to do it? Accomplishing a goal is the reason you put limits on yourself in some categories, so you can spend more in others. I want to encourage you to write down your financial goals and start your budget conversation with those goals in mind.
- Some examples of goals that budgeting can help you get to are:
- paying off student debt, car debt, credit card debt, buying a new car, home improvement projects, vacations, saving for education, early retirement, you name it. Budgeting (which is a fancy term for telling your money where to go) is the only way to get there.
- Set realistic goals as a family and create a budget that gets you there!
- Then every month you can track your progress to get there. Seeing the progress keeps you motivated because you see that your budget is making a difference!
- It’s not just enough to have goals but it’s important to rank the priority of them since it’s impossible to achieve 10 things at once. Decide which goal you are most motivated to reach and what goal you’ll tackle next. Having your goals numbered and ranked helps you keep focus and build real momentum.
Make a Document That Contains All of Your Usernames and Passwords
- I think this is honestly the most frustrating part of making a budget for the first time. You forget what accounts you have and how to get into them. So if you spend the time doing this ONCE it will make all of your following budget meeting easier. Go through all of your bills and bank accounts and write down your username and passwords on a word doc on your computer, then password protect it. You could also write them down and place them somewhere in your house. Whatever method will help you know all of your login information forever.
Pull Out Your Schedule
A lot of the expenses that end up surprising us in the month are things we already have on our calendar. Jake and I keep a family google calendar on our phone where we schedule everything. Before our budget meeting we make sure to pull out the family calendar and add any expenses for specific things we have coming up that month like
- Doctors appointments
- Date nights
- Any Miscellaneous Fees
Have this information ready for your meeting and it saves loads of time.
Decide Paper or Electronic?
- I have budgeted with paper, excel, and tried different apps. However, the app that I find really easy to use is called EveryDollar. It’s an app affiliated with Ramsey solutions but I love that it has my categories, it’s easy to us, and you can even hook it up to your bank account so it can do the reconciling part of your budget for you! It’s free and we have used it for the past few years. Whatever you decide, stick with it so you can keep consistency.
Know Your Take Home Pay
- Most of us know our gross pay amount because it was the amount you agree to when you take a job, but a lot of people don’t know what they actually take home and why. The first step to making a budget is to figure out how you get paid and what you get paid. For people who work on salary, this is easier since your take home shouldn’t change from your employer every month. For people who work hourly, this means knowing what hours you worked and your percentage withheld from your paycheck. For those of you who work commission, it can seem more difficult. Let me share with you what we did. When I worked a sales job my income varied vastly from month to month. The process that worked for us was whatever money I was paid in one month became our budget amount for the next. Let me break that down. If I made a sale in March my company paid my commission in the middle of April. Since it was hard to estimate how much money we would receive based on bonuses and such, we took any commissions and marked it as income for the next month which would be May. That way when May came we knew the income we needed to allocate to the dollar and cent.
After these steps, you are ready for your stress free budget meeting! Now don’t worry, the first few times you do these preparations it will seem very time consuming but I can promise you that after a few months, preparation should only take you about 15-20 minutes.
What I love most about doing this preparation before is that when we sit down for a budget meeting we are 100% ready.
We already know our take home pay that we get to allocate, we open up our bills for the month with the passwords without the wasted time of trying to remember login information, we use our budgeting app that refills our unchanging expenses, and then fill the rest.
Here’s to less stressful budget meetings!