Depending on who you ask, the words “financial freedom” could evoke a number of different images and meanings. But, if you were to ask ME, it would look like:
-Debt free living
-Ability to comfortably live below my means
And, I think for most of us, those would be some of the recurring themes in most of our ideas of what “financial freedom” is. Over the past 5 years, I’ve learned a lot about money and frugality and thought it would be fun to start a series where we could come together to share ideas and learn new ones. Please feel free to email me or comment here with your ideas
One of the first things my husband and I learned to do was making a budget. Of course, we had a very “loose” interpretation of the word “budget,” when we first began. Our first “budget makeover” came after reading Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover, but has since evolved a number of times. In fact, even my thoughts about how to even create a budget have evolved with time. It’s a learning experience, and there’s no ONE right way to do it. You do what works for you.
I’m going to share with you how we arrived at the budget that works for us and give you a sample of what that looks like.
When my husband had one of his first job changeovers, we had decided that SOMETHING had to change in our finances. There was too much money OUTGOING and not enough INCOMING. Change is hard. And, I don’t meet many people who restrict themselves to budgets (in the beginning, at least) because they have TOO much money…it’s usually people who are trying to make ends meet, and then it just goes from there. It was the same for us.
When we first began, we took our incoming amount (paycheck) and did all of the percentages they recommend to you – like (this percentage) of your total paycheck should be for a house, then a certain percentage for cars, entertainment, and so on… And, when we were done, we had the perfect budget… for someone else.
Now, we have a different method for rewriting our budget (it gets rewritten as our needs change and arise).
First, write out all debts and all incoming money. (You can use some of the worksheets from daveramsey.com or you can make your own.)
Second, take some time to write out all outgoing money in a given week. It may take a week, or it may take journaling every time money is spent for 30 days. Track all purchases, even the random gum purchase.
Third, write down the PRIORITIES for YOUR given situation. Choose two.
When we took the time to write down all of our incoming and outgoing money, we knew that according to the “books” we shouldn’t be splurging on a lot of the things we’d become accustomed to. But for US, the two priorities were being able to tithe and keeping the internet. So, we looked in other areas for the “paring down,” and did our best to leave the internet as it was – although, sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures, so if you find yourself needing extra money, you may have to give it up for a while (or find a creative solution) BUT it’s on the “last to go” list.
Fourth, take a hard look at all outgoing expenses (including debts) and really think about how the money gets spent, or if there are any things that could be pared down or done without.
After looking at our own expenses, we quickly realized that Satellite and Netflix weren’t something we needed. Actually, freeing ourselves from that small financial expense opened us up to blessings we wouldn’t have otherwise discovered – we began being more active and spending more time with our family and using our time in more creative and rewarding ways. Now, we wouldn’t go back! We also decided to cut back on gas, having the numbers in front of our faces really made us aware that we were spending a crazy amount. So, we began organizing things in our lives so that we could run important errands and grocery shop on certain days. There were some expenses that we couldn’t tweak, but there were so many that we could: grocery budgets, miscellaneous items, toiletries, clothing, etc. So, we discussed and agreed on terms and went from there…
Fifth, come up with a goal. I have a secret to tell you: If you don’t have a goal that you’re trying to attain with your budget, you probably won’t stick to it. Maybe you’re trying to save money – for a house, college, retirement, new car, furniture, etc. Or, maybe you just want to live more comfortably or go on more vacations. Talk about your goals, and if it helps, put a photo of it on your refrigerator to help you remember!
Sixth, make it flexible. Have you ever tried making a budget but then your friend has a birthday, so before you know it, you go out and eat and, you just spent $50 on food and drinks – which was half of your food budget for 2 weeks…all in one night! Or, maybe you write out your budget and then your kid comes home and NEEDS something for school. Or, maybe your kids suddenly go through a growth spurt and just won’t. stop. eating! Yeh, you have to be flexible. You can put “cushions” in your budget, you can round-up to the next dollar when you’re keeping track of what you spend (so what your paper shows you have left is less than what you ACTUALLY have), you can keep “special money” in a jar to the side, etc.
I’m a list person, so what works for us in keeping our budget flexible is I keep a small notebook in my purse (or a used envelope ) and on it, I write out: $200 groceries, $150 misc., $100 gas. Then, throughout the month, as we spend money (after bills), it has to go in one of those columns. I subtract and keep a running total (allowing myself to see the purchases as I go). Occasionally we need more gas, or there’s a celebration and we need more food money, so we take it from other columns. Generally, this works for us. We’ve become self-disciplined enough to know that if we take $10 out of gas, then I’ll need to not drive much that week – or, I may forego a specialty body wash/shampoo/etc. that I generally like to get. We just get creative!
Seventh, make it yours and put it in action. Feel free to revise it as you figure out what’s important to you. Remember, this budget is about YOU, and my needs/wants vs. your needs/wants could look completely different. So, make it about you and then use it.
So, tell me: Do you use a budget? Have any other tips? Why do you keep a budget – what are you hoping will come from it?