Budgeting can be a difficult burden. When we find it hard to budget, our solution is often to discontinue budgeting. Instead, however, I suggest we make attempts to find a simpler budget instead of vowing never to budget again. I know about budget burnout because over the last several months my family has been in transition. Typically budgeting is easy for us, but without our regular routine the budgeting process has proved ineffective. So I am now on the hunt for a simpler budgeting process. Photo by Kristian D.
This article gives you an idea of how we typically budget. While I am confident we will get back into our regular routine I know there are also many readers who find budgeting difficult. So I went on the hunt to find effective ways of budgeting that are still effective enough to be called budgeting.
In the Journey for a Simpler Budget Always Seek to Be as Close to the sweet spot as Possible:
For a budget to be effective it will require some time commitment on your part. Your budgeting strategy might be to spend whatever you want and then look at your bank statement at the end of the month. This “budgeting” method will have a low time commitment, but also a low financial impact. On the other hand, your budgeting approach might be to save every receipt, make copies, file them into a cabinet, record on paper as a backup and enter the information on your computer. While you have invested a great deal of time, several hours a week are resulting in little financial benefit. The goal is to find the sweet spot – the point where every hour you invest in budgeting results in an increased financial benefit. As I introduce the budgeting options, you need to consider in your situation how much financial impact you are willing to trade for time. Just remember, you need some type of budget, and no, it is not a waste of time.
Some Simpler Ways to Budget:
The 10/10/Spend strategy requires you put your most important payments aside at the start of a month. In this example, one might set 10% aside for giving, 10% aside for savings. From there you would set aside enough money to cover your normal reoccurring bills. Now spend at will – until the money is gone. With this budget you don’t decide how much to allocate to gas, groceries, dining out, clothing, but you group all of those into one category – spend.
Envelope / Prepaid Card / Gift Card
The envelope system is fairly well known. It is fairly similar to 10/10/Spend, but it requires an extra step of allocating funds to individual subcategories (groceries, gas, and clothing). Once a budget amount is set for a category, when you get paid you take the budgeted amount of cash and put it into an envelope. Any purchase you make in any given category should be purchased out of the corresponding envelope. This avoids paperwork and receipt tracking, but does require that you always use the right envelope for the purchases.
Many people do not want to carry cash and find it hard to predict what envelope they might need on a given trip. A solution could be to purchase prepaid credit cards or gift cards. Whatever you budget is the amount you would add to the specific prepaid credit card. The biggest negative is the cost. Typical fees range from $3.95 – $11.95 per card. Store gift cards are typically free. However, if you usually overspend your budget and end up paying late fees and interest on a credit card, getting four prepaid cards for your most overspent categories will save a lot more than your $12 cost.
Try a New Budgeting Program or Learn Your Program Better:
This is one of those momentous tasks that will require a time commitment.
- If you currently budget with pen and ink you might look around for a different form that is simple and easy to reproduce on a monthly basis.
- If you budget online you might consider trying a new program. Here are a few off the top of my head www.mint.com (free), www.mvelopes.com, Quicken Online (free), www.youneedabudget.com ($49.95 with free trial).
- If you currently use an offline budgeting tool on your computer like a spreadsheet, you might give another tool a try. You could look for a more concise spreadsheet or try a program like Quicken.
Word of caution about budgeting programs:
Before trying anything, read a lot of reviews. Getting into a program will take time. Once you have decided on a program, search around on the internet for some free tutorials. Many budgeting programs can do so much more than the average person realizes. By investing some time upfront you will find that time will be saved in the long run.
Five Tips to Simplify Your Budgeting Process:
- Budget yearly. Don’t make the same decision twelve times a year. Allocate your budget amounts and then reproduce that budget each month. You will need to do some tweaking, but don’t reinvent the wheel.
- Automate when possible. The more a computer does on your behalf, the less budgeting work you have. Contact your bank and ask about your bill pay options and features. If they don’t have good features consider ING Direct. You can read about their checking account and also their bill pay features.
- Reduce accounts. The fewer accounts (bank and credit) that you have, the simpler budgeting will be. Perhaps you have had some accounts hanging around that are a hassle to track, just close them for the sake of convenience.
- Think whole numbers. The details of a budget will overwhelm you in a second. Round up whenever possible and try to track the flow of your dollars instead of trying to account for every penny.
- Do it together. Married couples should always budget together. This will alleviate any unnecessary arguments later about where that last dollar should be spent. Decide first, not last. Decide together, not alone.
What suggestions do you have for simplifying the budgeting process?