Sound Budgeting Can Bring Calmness and Clarity to Your Hectic Life
Updated: Apr 6
Is there anyone you know who has a completely serene and organized life? It’s almost laughable, isn’t it?!
I remember first reading the book Future Shock (by Alvin Toffler) during college in the early 1970s, and I remember being kind of floored as I was agreeing with the main premise that there was too much change happening in too short a time period. As we move forward almost 50 years, the pace of change has exploded – to a degree that would have been unfathomable to the world of the 70s – and I believe everyone today could benefit from being able to slow things down just a bit.
Sound Budgeting can help to bring this type of calmness and serenity to anyone’s hectic life, and I believe pretty much everyone I know could benefit by revisiting this straight-forward foundation to Financial Security.
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I challenge you (the Reader/Follower) to incorporate these fairly simple budgeting principles for three months and not feel a little less crazed, and hopefully, a little more calm and serene about your financial well-being.
For those of you who still like to use cash for at least some of your weekly purchases (i.e. coffee, lunches, maybe a glass of wine or beer after work with friends), how many times do you visit the ATM each month and wonder where the heck did that last $50 - $60 go? And, for those more modern folks among us who prefer to use credit cards, Apple Pay, PayPal etc., how often are you unpleasantly surprised when you see your end-of-the-month total credit card charges?
Putting together and keeping track of a monthly budget isn’t rocket science, and it only takes a couple of hours each month to manage once it is set up. You can separate your expenditures into 3-4 Tiers where Tier #1 is what I call your “Monthly Nut” – those must have monthly costs that are the same (or nearly the same) every month. These costs include your mortgage or rent, home heating, electricity, auto payments, auto insurance, health insurance, life insurance, and maybe your phone/cable/internet bundle.
Tier #2 expenses are Necessary, Large Monthly Costs which can differ significantly week to week, and which can be “managed” a bit once you realize how much is being spent. The two major expenditures in Tier #2 are groceries and automobile gas for the family car(s).
I know one couple in their 60s who thought, before they began the budgeting and tracking exercise, that they were spending about $600 per month in grocery shopping, only to find that they were actually spending anywhere from $1000 to $1200 per month on groceries. By paying more attention to what they were buying each week this couple almost effortlessly saved $300 per month going forward after the first three months.
Gas for the family autos is the other Tier #2 expenditure that often surprises people before they begin to track and budget their expenses. Once you see how much you are spending on gasoline each month it can be amazing how a person starts picking up better purchasing and use habits. Some examples include consciously buying gas at the station near your grocery store that is 15 cents a gallon cheaper than the service station near your work. And of course, when you are taking a longer trip together, it feels good to use the car that gets 40 miles per gallon rather than the larger SUV that is lucky to get maybe 20 miles per gallon.
Expenses happen every month but are much more variable from month to month, and many of these can truly be managed. These costs include such things as restaurants, gifts, greeting cards, hair maintenance (cuts/color etc.,), Doctor visits, prescriptions, health club dues, other types of dues, EZ Pass, wine and/or beer, Pet Care, clothes etc.
Another couple I have worked with each has a stressful job that they enjoyed, but which also caused them to eat out 2-3 times per week because neither individual felt like cooking at the end of their day. They also ate out with friends a couple of weekends each month as a means of socializing, which they both enjoyed. When they realized that their monthly Restaurant costs were regularly over $1000 per month, they became more thoughtful about where they went, and how often they ate out.
Budgeting and tracking your expenses are not in any way meant to be a punitive exercise. You may still decide to spend more than the next person/couple on certain budgetary items, BUT you will be doing so consciously.
Free Download: The RetireCreatively.com Budgeting System
It has been my experience that once a person or couple start using a budget to get more control of their expenses, they always seem to find ways of saving significant money each month. For some people this may be an extra $200 - $300 to go into an emergency fund or a rainy-day fund, and for others it can actually be significantly more.
Tier #4 Miscellaneous Expenses
These can be planned expenses that might happen just once or twice per year (i.e., the family vacation, a special concert or weekend away, a wedding to attend out-of-town), and of course they include the surprise/unexpected costs such as car repair, plowing the driveway, new shrubs for the garden etc.
If you find that a miscellaneous item happens more than 2-3 times per year, I suggest that you move those items to Tier #3 and have a guesstimate $ amount put into your future budgetary process.
Serenity Starts to Build After Three Months
Once you have tracked your budget and expenses for three months, add the months together to get your quarterly expenditures by item, and then divide by three to get the monthly average by item. This way you can easily spot the outlier months by item and you will gain new insight (and serenity) into your spending habits, while uncovering some significant savings opportunities … thus leading to a more calm, and put-together, you.
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