This post is part of The Definitive Guide to Managing Your Family’s Money series.
When seeking financial advice, the first thing you almost always hear is that you need to make a budget. Some people are immediately turned off by this idea. Many others see the value in it, so they start tracking their expenses but are soon frustrated by the tedious and nonstop record-keeping. Many times we never get past this first piece of advice, and therefore never make any real strides towards getting our financial life together.
My view is that the end goal should not be a lifetime of meticulous tracking of income and expenses. Honestly, that sounds horrible. Rather, the goal should be to form an awareness of your financial goals and then to make conscious decisions about spending that lead to regular habits that fit those goals. By forming rock-solid regular habits, your life will naturally stay within your budget. Then you can focus on living your life and not stress about constantly tracking every penny.
In practice, this means that you need to dedicate some amount of time, likely a month or so, to tracking your expenses if you haven’t already been doing so. That will give you a baseline for what your budget looks like now. Then you can put it side-by-side with your list of priorities to see how it lines up. Think about what changes you want to make to your budget so that it aligns more closely with your goals. Think about specific actions to take or habits to change. Then, spend the next week practicing just one new habit, with the goal being that it becomes part of your daily life. Once you’ve got that habit down, try the next one. If you can do this one step at a time, eventually you will have successfully fit your budget into your normal routines and it no longer has to be something you stress about on a regular basis.
Now, this process will take some time. And this isn’t to say that you never think about your budget again. Regular check-ins are a must to make sure that you’re staying on track and that your goals are still reflected in your budget. Life changes constantly, so it’s ridiculous to think that your budget shouldn’t change with it. My wife and I try to do a quick check-in weekly, just to stay on the same page and give ourselves an opportunity to discuss anything we feel might need to change.
Keep your sights on the end goal: enjoying the life you want to live. Part of reaching this goal will be fitting financial responsibility into your daily routine so that it’s no longer something that has to stress you out. A budget is simply a tool to help you get to this point.