Creating a Budget - Simplified

Do you ever look around and wonder how your peers finance their extravagant lifestyles? While endless designer outfits and monthly trips across the globe may be the norm for some, I have a hard time believing I am the only college graduate that still worries about money.

Fully realizing that my money stresses stem from living in a financially free state (see my financial confessional here), I recently created a budget for myself for the first time in my life. Like any level-headed millennial, my first stop on the quest to becoming a budget master was obvious – Google.

When a simple search for “How to create a budget” netted me over 600 million results, I knew that I was going to have a tough time pinpointing exact steps. I also realized just how many other people must have the same questions I did. After reading through what felt like all 600 million search results – I gathered what seemed to be the agreed upon steps to creating a budget.

Excellent! Now that I had a “paint-by-numbers” guide, I needed the right tools to dig deeper into my financial habits.

UNDERSTANDING MY FINANCES -


Years ago when I was in college, my dad suggested I sign up for this online budgeting service to get a better grasp on where my money was going. By my money, I really mean his money, hence the concern. Long story short - I created a Mint account back in 2008 and haven’t looked at it since.

Mint is great because once you have linked your various bank accounts, all of your financial numbers are compiled in one place. They make it easy to see what you are spending on, which is exactly what I was looking for. Knowing where my money was going gave me an idea of where I should cut back - an important first step.

I tried to go one step further by using Mint’s budget creation software and found it to be more complicated than I was ready for. It was unclear how to determine what I should be spending my money on and lacked the beginner’s guidance I needed. I was just learning how to crawl and wasn’t ready to sprint.

Conclusion: Mint is a great resource for someone who knows what they are doing and will be my go-to when checking in on my spending trends. But perhaps not a great budget creation tool for someone looking for step-by-step guidance.

DETERMINING BASIC FINANCIAL NECESSITIES -  

Stepping back from budgeting software for a minute, I decided to try a more vague budgeting approach. I had heard about the 50/20/30 method from a friend, and thought this may be a better way to start out my inaugural budget.  

The 50/20/30 methods hold the view that 50% of your income should be spent on fixed costs (rent/mortgage, car payments, utilities, etc.), 20% toward various saving goals, and 30% spent freely. After the original break down, you are free to further categorize that 30% or just spend it freely.

As someone who wasn’t even consistently saving money each month, I decided this was a great first try at managing my money. Some simple math told me that my fixed expenses would be slightly over 50% (thanks to the skyrocketing housing costs in Seattle), so I modified slightly. I went into the following month knowing that I only had a set amount of money to spend on things that were not considered fixed expenses or savings goals. It was as magical as not spending money can be. Just being cognizant of each debit card swipe was incredibly helpful. I provided myself an allowance and stuck with it. The biggest accomplishment was realizing that I was able to save DOUBLE the amount that I had typically saved in any given month. A little discipline and awareness goes a long way.

Conclusion: If you are new to budgeting or don’t do well with restrictions, the 50/20/30 method is a good place for you to start. Knowing I had some structure in my financial life while still feeling free to spend was the best of both worlds.

SEEKING ADVICE FROM THE PROS -

With the realization that I needed all the help I could get when it came to continuing my financial education, I again took to Google. Luckily there are hundreds of independent bloggers who devote their corners of the internet to all things budgeting and personal finance. I’ll do a full post of my favorites in a few weeks, but these are two that I found to be extremely helpful up front.

If you’ve ever done a search for personal finance blogs you may have discovered that many of them are tailored to an older, more established audience. Money Under 30 is not one of those blogs. As the name would imply, this blog lends advice to many situations that 20-somethings commonly find themselves in. David, the founder of the blog lays out his experiences and lessons learned in an inspiring no-nonsense way. Sign up for their free 7 day course to begin making small changes to improve your finances – you won’t regret it.

Sometimes finding a blog you want to follow is as simple as relating to the author’s story or writing style. This is what happened when I began to read Budget Blonde. The author of this blog does a great job of balancing her discussions of how she got out of debt, budgeting for her family, teaching her kids about finances, and her love of blogging. This one is a bit more female oriented, just a heads up.

The Final Conclusion

I’ve slowly came to the realization that the journey to a life of financial health will be a slow and steady one requiring discipline, hard work and consistency. Apparently there’s something to that saying – “Nothing worth having ever came easily.” With a better understanding of my financial past, a roadmap (at least at the basic level) for my monthly spending & saving, and resources to guide me along the way, the last few months have been amazingly productive for my bank accounts. Surprisingly, watching my savings grow and seeing the progress toward my financial goals has motivated me to find ways that I could possibly put even more money towards my goals. I am far from where I would like to be – but finally feel as though I have the tools to help me get there.

What resources did you use to create your budget? Do you follow any personal finance bloggers? Share below!

Charlee Van Wagenen