How To Save Money

At A Glance – Developing the habit of saving money is the key to your financial stability. It is your SuperPower. Even if you’re not a natural saver, it is a skill you can learn.

What Does It Mean To Save Money?

Saving money is living on less than you earn. It’s setting aside some money from every paycheck. It’s building an Emergency Fund. It is being intentional now to secure your future.

Why Do You Want to Save Money?

Saving Money Is The Most Important Step In Building Wealth

Let me say that again…It is THE MOST IMPORTANT step in building wealth. Your future financial stability and your retirement depend on it. Every dollar you save now could keep you from being the greeter at Walmart when you’re 75!

Becoming a saver will be the key to your financial stability and financial independence. Some of us are natural savers, and some are not. I am NOT a natural saver, but I have learned how to be a saver. It is like a muscle you need to work out. You keep exercising and over time, it gets easier

Save For Short, Medium And Long-Term Needs

The money you save can be earmarked for short-term, medium-term and long-term needs. Short-term would be any money you need in the next 1-3 years. This could be your Emergency Fund, money for next year’s property taxes/insurance or a vacation.

Medium-term savings is for 3-6 years. This could be saving to pay cash for your next car, the down payment for a house or the AC/Heater that will need to be replaced.

Long-Term savings, 6+ years, would be for things like your child’s college expenses, a new roof and retirement.

Having Money Saved Smooths Out Your Cash Outflow

Having money saved allows you to pay for large expenses without using credit. If you know you will need a replacement car in 5 years, you can create a sinking fund to pay for the car. Save 1/60th (5 years = 60 months) of the car’s expected price per month into your sinking fund. In 5 years you can purchase the car with cash and avoid all loan charges and interest.

Do the same with other large purchases like insurance, taxes or car repairs. If you save a little every month for those items, you can smooth out the cash outlay. That way you don’t have to come up with thousands of dollars all at once for a major purchase or repair.

I use this strategy to pay for our car and homeowners insurance. I save 1/12th of the insurance cost every month and then pay cash for the new policy. I don’t have to pay any extra fees for them to bill me monthly. It took a while to collect the money when I started using this method. At first, I paid that month’s bill and set aside a little extra. Over time I was able to collect enough to pay the entire policy at once.

How to Save Money?

Spend Less Than You Make!

It’s so easy to say and so hard to do sometimes! This is an area where I failed when things got bad for us. Sometimes we weren’t spending more than we made, but we were surely spending it ALL. You have to spend less than you make. The difference is ‘The Gap’. The bigger the gap, the more you can save.

Track Your Spending

Tracking your spending is one way to discover if you have any gap. If you track your spending, you can see where your money is going. Tracking helps you see where you might be overspending and where you can cut.

I recently read a story of a person who discovered they were overspending their income by $3,oo0 a month! You might be thinking, “How can that happen!” The answer is easier than you think. Remember my mantra…Pay Attention! This simply happens because we don’t pay attention.

Use A Budget

Using a budget puts guardrails on your spending. Once you get a picture of your spending by tracking it, you can create a plan for your money with a budget.

A budget helps you to grow the gap. Include your savings in the budget as a line item and then increase it every chance you get. Set a goal to save at least 15% of your income and increase it as you can.

Pay Off Your Debt

If you are carrying any debt other than mortgage debt, it needs to be eliminated. You cannot make headway with saving if you are weighed down with debt. You don’t have any control of your life when all your money is spoken for before you even earn it.

Check out my debt payoff article, How To Pay Off Credit Card Debt In 6 Steps.

Use Your Employers Free Money

One of the best ways to boost your savings rate is to use someone else’s money! If you have access to a retirement plan at work, such as a 401k, see if your employer matches. Most employers will match your contributions up to a certain amount. If you have a 401k with a match, be sure you contribute at least up to the match. That’s free money!

Tip: A lot of people think if they get the match, they have maxed out their 401k contribution. You can likely contribute far beyond the match. The max contribution to a 401k for 2021 is $19,500. If you are 50 years old or older, you can add a catch-up contribution of $6,500 for a total of $26,000. And these limits do not include the employer match. Check with your plan administrator and tax professional for details about your plan and your tax obligations.

Where To Put Your Saved Money?

Short-Term Savings and Emergency Fund

Any money you will need within the next 3 years is short-term savings. This includes your Emergency Fund. You do not want this money to be at risk. Therefore, a savings account or money market account is a good choice. These can be found at your local bank, an online bank or an investment firm such as Vanguard, Fidelity or Schwab.

Interest rates for savings accounts are next to nothing these days, but you don’t expect to earn a lot on short-term savings. You just want to make sure your money will be there when you need it.

Medium-Term Savings

Money needed in the 3 – 5 or 6 year time frame is medium-term savings. This money can stand a small amount of risk in order to realize some gains.

For this fund, we personally keep our money in a conservative bond fund. This fund does fluctuate up and down, but only in small amounts.

Long-Term Savings

Any money that is not needed for 6 or more years is long-term savings. This money can stand the most risk in order to enjoy the most gains. It can be invested in a variety of ways. A balanced fund, equities such as low-cost index funds or rental real estate are some of the choices for your long-term savings.

Tip: Look for a future post on investing. In the meantime, check out J. L Collin’s book, “The Simple Path to Wealth.” If you’re new to investing, this is a great place to start. It helped me understand the stock market, how it works and how to not be afraid of it.

When investing, remember that at any one time your investments might have gained or lost money, but over time, they usually gain. It’s time in the market that counts. I am retired and 65 years old, but I still have the possibility of a 30-year investment horizon.

The most important tactic for your long-term savings is this…DON’T TOUCH IT!

When To Save Money?

Early And Often

Save as much as you can as often as you can. Every dollar you can squeeze out of your budget will make your future more comfortable and less stressful. Especially if you are starting late like I did.

I’m not saying you need to live on beans and rice until you retire. Strike a balance between a life you enjoy now and a life that will be what you dream of in retirement. To read how one dollar today can turn into many in the future, check out my article on the power of compounding

Pay Yourself First

When I first started getting my finances in order I heard people say, ‘Pay yourself first.’ I didn’t even know what that meant.

Paying yourself first means to set aside your savings BEFORE you pay your bills. You are paying your future self.

If you were to look at my pre-retirement budget, the first line item was Tithing/Giving and the next was Savings. Pull out your savings first, then live on the rest. You Can Do It!

Automate Your Savings

Brad Barrett on the Choose FI podcast says to get your ‘Lizard Brain’ out of it. What does that mean? Automate everything you can. Especially your savings. That way you don’t have to think about it. You won’t forget to send your extra dollars to savings, and you won’t be tempted to spend it on that new couch.

You can do this by setting up an automatic transfer from your checking into the account where you keep your savings. This can be from checking to a savings account or checking to an investment firm like Vanguard.

If your paycheck is an auto-deposit, you may be able to set up an automatic transfer to savings from your paycheck.

So automate your savings already!

What Do Our Readers Say?

I asked my Started At 50 Facebook group to share their money-saving tips. Here are a few of their responses.

  • Always shop with a list – Ashley
  • Cut the cable – Jack
  • Use envelopes, track cash flow and net worth – Diana
  • Auto transfer savings to an account at a different bank so you don’t see it – Kristy

What Does The Bible Say

God calls us to be good stewards of everything we have. A steward is one who manages the property, finances or affairs of another. Everything we have comes from God, and He expects us to manage it well. Saving some of today’s earnings for the future is a way to manage well.

Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man’s dwelling, but a foolish man devours it.

Proverbs 21:20

Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.

Proverbs 6:6-8

Key Takeaway – Developing the habit of saving money is the key to your financial stability. It is your SuperPower. Even if you’re not a natural saver, it is a skill you can learn.

Assignment 1 – If you have non-mortgage debt, devise a plan now to pay it off.

Assignment 2 – Check with your employer for the matching rules on your 401k and get your match.

Assignment 3 – Make a list of the short, medium and long-term items you need to save for. Then look at your spending/budget and determine how much money you can send to savings.

Coming Soon – A primer to investing

Why You Need An Emergency Fund And How To Get One

At A Glance – An emergency fund is a financial safety net for future mishaps and/or unexpected expenses.

What Is An Emergency Fund?

An Emergency Fund (EF) could also be called a “Rainy Day Fund”. It is a stash of money, usually cash, that is set aside for an unexpected event, such as a medical emergency, a large car repair or a job loss.

Why Do I Need An Emergency Fund?

Life Happens. Things break, accidents happen, or there is, say, a global pandemic! An EF can keep you from taking on debt while you work through your emergency.

And don’t emergencies seem to happen at the worst times! The water heater breaks right after you had to get a new transmission. With an EF you won’t have to take on more debt to keep life going.

Without having some cash set aside, you might have to put your emergency on a credit card or take out a personal loan. Both of these options come with high interest rates that set you back even more than the emergency did.

One of the main reasons Stephen and I had such financial woes in our earlier life was because we did not have an EF. We had just drifted through life with no safety net, and when the BIG unexpected event happened we fell off the financial cliff! It affected our marriage and our family. Life was very unpleasant. Now we have enough cash to handle almost any emergency.

How Much Do I Need?

If you don’t have any cash on hand right now for emergencies, you need to start with a Baby Emergency Fund of $1,000.

Your Baby Emergency Fund is your first line of defense against a dumpster fire event in your life. It keeps you from getting off track and taking on more debt when you have a small to medium-sized emergency. If you have a flat tire or the washing machine quits, you can handle it.

The typical advice about how much to keep in your fully-funded Emergency Fund is 3-6 months expenses. This will handle larger events like a large medical bill or job lay-off. Your fully-funded emergency fund keeps you going without adding additional debt and stress. Having 3-6 months of expenses saved can give you the peace and confidence to face almost anything life can throw at you.

Here’s another advantage of having a fully-funded EF. If you have a large emergency or a job lay-off, you can temporarily cut back on your spending. Three to six months of savings can be stretched to last even longer as you cut back on discretionary spending. Eating out and vacations can wait.

How Do I Build It?

You can build your Emergency Fund by saving, selling something or a part-time job. If you need to build your Baby EF, the fastest way to accumulate that first $1,000 is to sell something. Have a garage sale or sell some stuff on market place. You probably have enough stuff around your house you could sell to stash away that first $1,000.

The rest of your 3-6 months of EF can come from saving money from your monthly paycheck or by taking on a part-time job or side hustle. It will take some time to accumulate 3-6 months of living expenses, so be patient, but be diligent. The more you are willing to sacrifice, the faster this will go.

If you don’t know how to save any extra money from your paycheck, take a look at your budget and see where you can temporarily cut something. If you aren’t using a budget, this is a good time to start. Here is my article, How To Do A Budget. It explains how to set up and use a budget, and includes a spreadsheet you can download. Or you can use an app like YNAB and Mint.

Where Do I Keep My Emergency Fund?

You want your emergency fund to be accessible, but not TOO accessible. In other words, you don’t want to be tempted to use your EF for that new big screen you’ve been wanting.

Since your EF will probably be cash, you could keep it in a savings account or a money market account. These can be held at your bank or a brokerage firm. You might even want to open a separate account at a different bank. This does two things. You know exactly how much you have, and you can’t do an online transfer into your checking account. This will keep you from being tempted to use it for something else.

As you are deciding where to put your cash, you will probably think, “This is boring. It’s just sitting there. I could do better than this piddly amount of interest it’s earning.” And you’ll be right. It is boring. It’s not making anything. But the point is not for it be a great investment, it’s meant to be a safety net. It’s what lets you sleep at night without worrying about Murphy knocking on your door!

When Should I Use My Emergency Fund?

This is an Emergency Fund…use it for emergencies!

What’s an emergency? Let’s start with what is NOT an emergency. A new couch is not an emergency. A vacation is not an emergency. A nicer car is also not an emergency.

Your EF should be used for things that are truly emergencies. As mentioned above, a large unexpected medical bill or job lay-off are true emergencies. Another example is paying an insurance deductible for something like a hail storm or a car wreck.

Also, keep in mind that not every large expense is an emergency. A new roof or a vehicle will be a large expense, but they are not a surprise. Large purchases or repairs can be planned for. You know they are coming eventually. These large purchases can be handled with a sinking fund. A sinking fund is where you set aside money each month in preparation for a large purchase.

For example, if you need to replace your car in 5 years and you think it will cost about $15,000, set aside $250/month. In 5 years you will have the cash to pay for the car. It won’t be an emergency.

When you need to use your emergency fund, you will need to replace what you spent. Start saving again until your emergency fund is fully funded.

What Does The Bible Say

There is a great example of an EF in the Bible in the book of Genesis. Pharaoh has a dream which Joseph interprets. The dream tells him there will be 7 years of abundance and then 7 years of famine. Pharaoh puts Joseph in charge of building Egypt’s “Emergency Fund” so his people will not starve during the famine. Read about it here.

Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine.

Genesis 41:34-36

Conclusion

Having an emergency fund keeps life’s mishaps from turning into stress and drama. After you have lived with one for a while, you will discover that you don’t have as many emergencies. If something unexpected happens, you handle it, replace what you spent out of the fund and move on.

Key Takeaway – An emergency fund is a financial safety net for future mishaps and/or unexpected expenses. Having one will keep you from going into debt to handle an emergency.

Assignment 1 – Build your Baby Emergency Fund of $1,000. Sell something or take on a part-time job.

Assignment 2 – Look at your current budget and make adjustments to temporarily save as much as you can to build your fully-funded Emergency Fund.

Assignment 3 – Decide where to put your Emergency Fund.

Coming Soon – My first real retirement trip!

Have there been times in the past when you could have used an EF? Do you have an example of when having an EF kept you out of the ditch? Share your story in the comments below. I love hearing how our members are navigating our “strange new world”!

How To Pay Off Debt

At A Glance – Debt is NOT your friend. It robs your future, and more stuff won’t make you happier. Pay off your Debt as quickly as possible. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it! Then you can start to design the future you’ve always dreamed of.

Accumulating debt has become an American past-time. Everything we want comes with “easy payments”, so why not buy it? Often-times we don’t realize how deep we’re in until we realize we can’t get out. 

How many of us find ourselves thinking things like: 

  • I don’t want to buy some else’s car problems, so I need to buy a new car.
  • My new baby needs the best and safest equipment, so I’ll just put her cute new stuff on my credit card.
  • My boss was really unreasonable today, so I’ll go to that new bar for a happy hour with my friends.
  • I need all this stuff to keep up. I wouldn’t want my friends to think I’m not doing well.

It feels normal because it’s what everyone else is doing. We have become professionals at retail therapy.

We’ve created a lifestyle that’s impossible to maintain. And we fund it all with debt. Take my word for it – this will NOT bring us joy. It only brings us bondage. Debt is a mental, emotional and financial drain that robs your future.

Debt Is A Product

Did you know debt is a product? Just like your favorite candy bar or the shampoo you use, debt is a product we buy. And just like the other products, it is heavily marketed to us.

Debt is sold to us in the form of credit cards, car loans and mortgages.

You Can’t Borrow Your Way Out

The only way to get out of debt is to quit borrowing. Taking out one loan to pay off another is just moving the debt around. 

If you are serious about wanting to get out of debt, you have to stop taking on new debt. You can’t get out of the hole by digging it deeper.

What Does The Bible Say About Debt

The Bible has a lot to say about money. That is one of the things I explore here at Started At 50. If you study God’s word, it doesn’t take long to see that debt is not part of His plan for us. He knows it’s not good for us. Here’s a couple of examples.

Proverbs 22:7 – The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.

Romans 13:8(a) – Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another.

What Is Debt?

What is considered debt? The definition of debt is simple…Debt is anything you owe to anyone. Having debt means you are funding today’s life with tomorrow’s dollars. When does it end?!!!

It can end here and now. You CAN get out from under the stress and the bondage of debt. It won’t be easy, but it is possible. You can do it with a few simple tools and a plan.

Let’s talk a bit about the different kinds of debt and the effect debt can have on your life and then we’ll dive into the nuts and bolts of Debt Payoff.

Kinds Of Debt

  • Credit Cards
  • Student Loans
  • Car Loans
  • Mortgage
  • Personal Loans
  • Medical Debt
  • Payday Loans
  • HELOC
  • 401k loans
  • Loans from Your Parents
  • “90 Days Same As Cash” Purchases
  • Financing Your Kids Braces

Did you see anything on this list you had not previously considered debt? Many of these types of debt are common in our culture. It’s normal to have a Car Loan or Student Loans. Other types of debt such as Payday Loans are truly insidious, but they are all damaging to our financial well-being.

How Can Debt Affect You Emotionally?

Frustration – It can be frustrating to have an unexpected expense that has to go on the credit card. Just when you thought you were making headway! Frustration can lead to giving up.

Denial – Do you shove unopened bills in the drawer? You just don’t want to know how bad it is! Denial could lead to unhealthy coping habits like drinking in an effort to forget.

Stress – Do you have more month than money? How can you juggle all these bills. Even with making minimum payments, you don’t have enough to go around! Stress could lead to weight gain or relationship problems.

Fear and Panic – Do you let all your calls go to voicemail because you’re afraid it’s a collector. Are you fearful your credit card will be denied while you are at a restaurant with your date? Fear and Panic could lead to feeling anxious all the time and not enjoying life.

Shame – Do you hide your spending or the amount of debt you have from friends, family or co-workers. You don’t want anyone to know how deep in debt you are. I mean, what would they think! Shame can lead to living an inauthentic life.

Anger – Are you having money fights with your spouse? Are you yelling at your kids or your co-workers because you can’t quit thinking about your money problems? Anger can lead to relationship issues.

Depression – You have just shut down. You can’t see a way out and your spouse doesn’t understand the pressure you’re under! You can’t deal with it anymore. Depression can lead to a whole list of mental, emotional or spiritual issues. Deardebt.com is a one of many resources for someone who is struggling with depression and mental health problems due to financial strain.

I experienced a lot of these emotions when Stephen and I were having our money issues. We had dug such a deep hole, I didn’t think we would EVER climb out. We couldn’t talk about money without getting into an argument. I was frightened and he had shut down. We were going nowhere.

The stress was unbearable and I became hopeless. This is no way to live.

You’ve Got This!

I want you to know that no matter where you are starting, YOU CAN DO IT! Your self-worth is not your net worth. Your past mistakes do not define your future. Forgive yourself and let go of the past! If you are starting your Debt reduction journey, let us know in my FB group, Started At 50. We are all there to support and encourage each other. We will not judge!

Getting back to Zero is a great feeling. You will be starting your Financial Freedom clock. This is where I was at 50 years old!

First Things First – Your Emergency Fund

Before you start to pay down your debt, you need to build a baby Emergency Fund. If you already have one, great! If not, you need an EF of $1000 in the bank. Why would I ask you to save $1000 when I’ve just spent pages telling you to pay off your debt? Because you need a safety net. Some cushion between you and life. As soon as you commit to paying off your debt, your car will break down or your refrigerator will go out. You don’t need to go deeper in debt while you are trying to pay it off.

This was one of the big problems I experienced in our dark days. We had no safety net and when life threw us a curveball, it sent us over the cliff financially.

Try to save your $1000 quickly. Have a garage sale, sell stuff on Marketplace, work some overtime or declare a “No Spend Month”. Find any way you can to get this first $1000. Then when you have a flat tire, it’s not a disaster!

How To Pay Off Your Debt

There are 3 commonly accepted methods for paying off debt. The Snowball Method, the Avalanche Method and the Hybrid Method. Let’s look at how they work and the pros and cons of each.

Snowball Method

This method is fairly simple. You list your debts starting with the smallest balance down to the largest balance. Ignore the interest rate, just rank them by balance amount. You make minimum payments on all but the smallest debt and throw everything you possibly can at the small one until it is paid off. This means any extra money you can get your hands on goes to this debt. This could be money from a side job, overtime, or by selling something.

After the first debt is paid off, take all the money you were paying on it plus the minimum payment you were making on the second debt and put it on the second debt. You keep doing this for each debt on the list until all are paid. Each time adding the money from the payments on the previous debt. This is the snowball and it gets bigger as it rolls to each debt.

Snowball Pros and Cons

The advantage (or pro) of the Snowball Method is it gives you a quick psychological boost. Paying off all your debt is not going to be a piece of cake. You didn’t get into debt overnight and you won’t get out overnight. It takes time, discipline and it will probably take some sacrifice. The Snowball Method gives you a quick win and helps you feel like you are making headway. This can give you motivation to stick to it.

The disadvantage is the Snowball Method does not take math into consideration. You may pay your first debt off quickly, but that might be a loan with a small interest rate. Meanwhile, the loan with the large interest rate, say your credit card, is treading water and accumulating interest while it waits for you to get to it.

Avalanche Method

The Avalanche Method is similar to the Snowball, but it considers the interest rate instead of loan balance. In this method, list your debts starting with the largest interest rate down to the smallest. Pay minimum payments on all but the first debt on the list. Throw all the money you can at the first debt until it is paid. Then, like in the Snowball, you add what you were paying on the first debt to the minimum payment of the second and keep going till all debts are paid.

Avalanche Pros and Cons

The pro for the Avalanche is you are considering interest rates. You save money as you pay down the loan with the largest interest rate first. As the loan balance decreases, the amount of interest being charged decreases also.

The con for the Avalanche is emotional. The loan on the top of your list may have a large balance and take months or even years to pay off. This can be discouraging to see all your other debt treading water while you work on the one.

Hybrid Method

The Hybrid Method combines the pros of the Snowball and the Avalanche. Using this method you can pay off one or two small debts first for that quick win to get you motivated. Then as you feel you have the discipline to “Stick To It”, start working on the debt with the largest interest rate. This method is a hybrid of the other two.

One note about credit cards. Your credit card debt may have the largest interest rate of anything on your list. Check into transferring your CC balance to a zero-percent card. If your credit score is high enough, you can open a card with a zero percent interest rate for a period of time (6 or 12 months). This may save you some money as you pay down your debts. WARNING: Don’t do this if you have not changed your spending habits. It will only make your problem bigger!

Choose What Is Right For You

Is there a right or wrong way to pay your debts? Probably not. As with other financial tools like Budgeting or Expense Tracking apps, pick the one that works for you. If sticking to your payoff plan may be hard for you, choose the Snowball. Pick the Avalanche if you think you can stay with it and don’t need the “pat on the back”. Not sure, try the Hybrid.

You can accelerate your journey to being debt free. You can Earn More or Spend Less. Better yet, do both.

One note about interest rates – If you have anything with a greater than 10% interest rate, this is “Hair On Fire”. Address this loan as soon as possible. If you have anything worse, like a payday loan at anywhere from 200 to 2400%, this is “Nuclear Armageddon”! Do Not pass GO, Do Not Collect $200…borrow the money from your brother if you have to. Pay this thing off TODAY!

Conclusion

No matter which method you choose, the much BIGGER point here is to Get Out Of Debt! As I said earlier, these methods are simple. The execution of the plan will take grit. It won’t be easy to turn down that invitation to go out for dinner or forego a vacation. Life may feel very restricted…for a while. Remember, this is a season. It won’t last forever and it will be SO worth it.

Exercise Your Frugal Muscle

One unexpected benefit to the hard work of paying off your debt is you are building your frugal muscle. You will need to really think about every purchase while you pay off your debts. Then when the debts are gone, you will have created your frugal muscle. You will know how to pay attention to your spending. You will be in the perfect position to start saving! And saving money is what sets you up for a great future of financial freedom.

Key Takeaway – Debt is NOT your friend. It robs your future, and more stuff won’t make you happier. Pay off your Debt as quickly as possible. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it! Then you can start to design the future you’ve always dreamed of.

Assignment 1 – Accumulate your $1000 baby Emergency Fund if you don’t already have one. Do it NOW!

Assignment 2 – Pull out all your debts. I mean ALL of them. Make a list of loan balances, minimum payments and interest rates. Decide which pay off method is right for you. List the debts in the order needed for the pay off method you have chosen. Smallest to largest balance for the Snowball. Largest to smallest interest rate for the Avalanche or your choosing for the Hybrid.

Assignment 3 – DO IT!!! You have a plan, so NOW is the time to get started. If you have trouble starting or you just need help from a real person, email me at becky@startedat50.com. Also, don’t forget the FB group Started At 50. We can crowd-source any question you have.

Coming Soon – Managing those Credit Cards

Benefits Of Using a Budget

In a previous post titled How To Do A Budget, I showed you the How of doing a budget. How to identify what categories need to be included, the basic math used and a spreadsheet to start creating your own budget. You can use this spreadsheet, a pencil and paper, or one of several apps for budgeting. Some of the more popular are YNAB, Mint, and Every Dollar.

This post talks about the Why of Budgeting. A budget is just a list of categories with math behind it, but the emotions and decisions that are wrapped up in putting together your first budget can be overwhelming. This post will help you work through your own Why as you wrestle with these concepts.

Budgeting can be a scary word. Many people approach budgets with fear, especially if they don’t have much experience with them. But budgeting does not mean you will have to start scrimping and living like a miser. It just means you understand your finances and have control over them.

It’s stressful not knowing what money is coming in, what’s going out and what our obligations are. No matter how big our checking account is, we can feel stressed.

Budgeting is creating a plan to help you get your finances where you want them to be. A budget is the ideal way to get an understanding of the way you spend, the way you save and then identify ways to improve. A budget also helps define your values. Look at where you spend your money. Does that align with your goals and values? If not, changes can be made.

9 Benefits of Budgeting

(1) Gives You a Framework for Money Conversations:

There was a time in my marriage when money conversations almost always fell off the cliff into the abyss of arguing, pain, and indecision. We couldn’t agree and the conversations led us nowhere. I talk about this in the post Being on the Same Page With Your Spouse.

If you’re married, don’t start the conversation by talking about money. Start by talking about your WHY. Talk about your wants, dreams, and goals. Why are you saving , why would you care about how much you’re spending? Will it relieve stress in you life and your relationship? Will it allow you to go on that vacations you’ve been dreaming of? What’s your WHY?

After you’ve had a few of these conversations, THEN you can talk about money. Working on your budget together can become the basis for many interesting and productive money conversations. Make the decisions together. Compromise together. No matter where you are starting…have patience with each other.

(2) Provides Control Over Your Money:

You have total control over where you spend your money. If you choose to spend money on A, then you may not have as much for B. If you want a latte three times a week, put it in the budget. If getting a babysitter once a month is important, put it in the budget. If there’s not room for those discretionary items, cut back somewhere else.

What if there’s not room for any of those things? If your finances are a dumpster fire, cut everything you can! Just remember, it won’t be like this forever. There was a time when I told my kids, “If you can’t eat it, we’re not buying it.” These times were not pleasant, but they were temporary. We dug ourselves out and you can, too!

(3) Let’s You Track Your Financial Goals – Saving, Long-Term Spending, and The Emergency Fund:

A budget will not only help you plan for this week and this month, but it will also help you with long-term goals. Do you want to take a big vacation in five years? Will you need a roof or major car repair next year? Do you need to beef up your Emergency Fund? A budget can help you find and accumulate cash for these kinds of issues.

(4) Budgeting Will Open Your Eyes. It Helps Shed Light on Bad Spending Habits:

Do you get to the end of the month and think, “Where did all my paycheck go?!” Does it feels like it disappeared? Once you really start looking at your spending, you will be able to identify where it’s going.

You may have large medical bills that you just have to gut through till they’re paid. Or you may find that you’ve got some bad spending habits that need to be reigned in, like going to the drive-thru too often or all those Amazon boxes! How about bank fees? If you are paying the bank for overdraft fees, this needs to stop now!

(5) Helps Create a Cushion for Unexpected Expenses – Emergency Fund:

Do you have an emergency fund? If not, you need to start working on that today. We all have emergencies! No one is exempt. For some people, a flat tire or car repair is a real emergency. An illness or a broken heater can be financially devastating.

The lack of an emergency fund is what caused most of mine and Stephen’s financial hardships earlier in life. “Stuff” happened and we had no safety net.

Could you cover a $500 emergency without going into debt? $1000? $5000? How about a job layoff? You need 3-6 months of living expenses in an emergency fund. This needs to be kept in an easily accessible place. But not too easy. A savings account or money market fund will do nicely for now. Remember, this is not a new couch fund!

(6) Helps Identify Money for Paying Down Debt:

If you are paying down debt like credit card or student loan debt, a budget will help you identify cash you can send toward that debt. Any extra cash you can use to pay down debt will get rid of it sooner and save you money in interest payments. If you’re having trouble making your minimum payments…see dumpster fire above!

(7) Helps Identify Money for Investing:

If your Emergency Fund is in place and you are paying on your debt, you may be able to identify some extra cash to start investing. If you can identify money to invest, I would start with your employer’s 401k and get the match. I will talk more about investing in a future blog post, but for now, do everything you can to get your employer’s match if you have one. Don’t turn down free money!

(8) Helps Ensure You Don’t Spend Money You Don’t Have:

You may be in a place where you are spending more money than you make. Stephen and I did that for a while when he had no income. It felt terrible! We were living on credit cards and digging a bigger hole with our debt every day. Again, this is a dumpster fire. You may not realize you are doing this. One reason would be because this is “normal” in our culture. A budget can help you identify the problem when more money is going out than coming in.

(9) Helps Keep Your Eyes on the Prize (Motivation):

After Stephen and I put out our dumpster fire and got on track with a budget, it helped to keep us motivated. If you’re paying down debt or just starting to invest, the numbers don’t seem to change very quickly. It takes some time to get traction. The budget helped us to “Keep Our Eyes on the Prize!”

Assignment 1 – Evaluate your budget WHY. Where do you find yourself with your money right now? Are you in a dumpster fire or are you ready to start investing?

Assignment 2 – If you haven’t done a budget yet, start working on you first draft. There is a spreadsheet template in Personal Finance Basics Part 3: Let’s Do A Budget.

Key Takeaway – A budget is the ideal way to get an understanding of the way you spend, the way you save, and then identify ways to improve. A budget also helps define your values. Look at where you spend your money. Does that align with your goals and values?