Budgeting. It’s the dreaded b-word in financial planning. Everyone knows it’s necessary, but most don’t know where to begin.
Or worse, they take a stab at it but overcomplicate things and inevitably fall of the bandwagon. So why in the world is setting a budget (and sticking to it) so tricky? Well, a few things come into play that make budging harder.
First, we all lead busy lives. We’re over-connected, work hours are longer than they ever have been, and the ability to access whatever you need online with one “click” is more prevalent than ever. Second, people are less likely to prepare for large expenditures if they’re use to purchasing things immediately and having the instant satisfaction that comes with it. Finally, even if you’re a fiscally responsible individual, life happens. When big things come up, or even just a series of small, unexpected expenditures, it can be tough to stay on track to meet your goals. It takes a lot of patience to create a budget and stick to it. But what if you could make it easier?
When I work with my clients, I promote the 10/20/30/40 budget. It’s straightforward, and allows plenty of wiggle room for you to enjoy your hobbies and live your life. Let’s look at how this budget is set up, and how it can help you plan, stay on track, and get on the road to financial security.
10: 10% Giving
The first step in the budgeting process is to take 10% of your after-tax income and give it. For many, giving or tithing 10% is a religious belief, but it doesn’t have to be based on religion alone! Whether you see it, you are blessed and there are many causes and organizations that can benefit from your generosity.
It’s time to give back. Pick a cause, a foundation, or another charitable giving source and give 10% of your income. If you didn’t give this money away, you’d likely be spending it on something that doesn’t help anybody and doesn’t leave you feeling fulfilled emotionally. Of course, there’s also a monetary benefit to giving. For those of you who itemize your taxes at the end of the year, gifts to a qualified charity are deductible.
20: 20% Savings
20% of your after-tax income should be contributed to savings. Now, there are a few different ways to save. I suggest people start by setting up an emergency fund. An emergency fund should be anywhere between 1 and 6 months’ worth of expenses, or 25% of your annual after-tax income. After that, you should look to contribute to your retirement accounts and other workplace accounts such as an HSA (Health Savings Account). Finally, you can start saving for large life events (kid’s college) or big expenses (that island vacation you’ve been wanting to take).
30: 30% Debt Repayment
This is the most important part of your budget plan. I’m a big believer in the fact that debt should not be a part of your life. Eliminating consumer debt – auto loans and credit card debt – should be your priority. By creating a debt hit list and organizing your current debts in order from highest interest to lowest, you can get started. Set all of them to the minimum repayment amount, and contribute the rest of your allocated 30% to the first debt on your hit list. Once item number one is paid off, move on to item number two and continue to tick them off one by one. Once all consumer debt is paid, move on to student loans and the mortgage!
Remember, after all your debts are paid off, the goal is to never be in debt again. Use the leftover funds you have from paying off your debts to save for large expenses (a new car) to avoid future loans or credit card debt.
40: 40% Spending
When you decide on where to allocate your spending funds, think first about what you absolutely need. Needs are the basics – utilities, food, and a place to live. These should all fall within your 40% allocation. After that, you can use the rest for whatever you want – Netflix, vacations, internet, eating out, you name it!
This budget is designed to not only help you save now for unpredictable expenses, but also to set you up for future success by paying off debt, saving for retirement, and enforcing good budgeting habits. More importantly, it’s set up to give you tons of wiggle room with minimal mistake-shaming. Budgets with no room for adjustment make it hard to stay on track, and when you’re constantly beating yourself up for spending mistakes you’re less likely to budget at all. You’ve worked hard, and just the fact that you’re wanting to live a financially responsible lifestyle means you’re ahead of the game. You deserve to enjoy your life, and this simple budgeting plan makes it possible for you to be financially responsible while enjoying life. And if you make a mistake? Reassess, readjust, forgive yourself, and move on.
Remember…Don’t Dork it Up!
There are a million different apps and software products that help you budget down to the penny. But over thinking and over-complicating your budgeting process will only make it harder for you to stick to. Grab a pencil and paper. Use round numbers. And remember, this is just a guide, it isn’t a hard-and-fast budget law. Keep things simple and avoid going over the top.