Think that you stink at budgeting? You don’t need to be a math wizard; all you need are these 7 budgeting skills to succeed.
It’s funny; people sit around and say, “I’m no good with budgeting; I’ll never get it!” Sound familiar?
Yes, you have probably said this to yourself at some point. But the great news is that ALL OF US have said this to ourselves at some point! In the beginning, I HATED it; I was not only petrified; I was heartsick, thinking that I would never “get it.” But guess what, I did “get it,” and you can too!
There are some budgeting skills that you can cultivate to help you get better and do better with your budget planning process! You may need some practice, and that’s okay, you’ll get there!
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No one is born knowing how to build a realistic budget or how to be good with money. Everyone has to learn this skill. Yes, some people are naturally smart (we can’t all be Albert Einstein with his crazy awesome brain), but for 99.7% of humans, we all start with the same base knowledge (aka nothing).
Personal finance is 80% behavior and 20% head knowledgeDave Ramsey
Essentially, it’s not about being smart; I mean, budgeting is only addition & subtraction when you think about it. It’s the doing part where most people get tripped up. Yes, it’s your behavior that determines success. (and trust me, you want to be successful with budgeting, and here’s why budgeting is important).
So essentially, you don’t need to be smart to budget effectively; you just need to have good money management habits!
Resource for building good habits
One of the best books I have ever read on building good habits is James Clear’s Atomic Habits. I was only 25 pages in when I realized that what he was saying (and how he was saying it) made so much damn sense! Just as a quick rundown, in order to build good habits you need to…
- Make the habit obvious
- Make it attractive
- Make the habit easy to do
- Make it satisfying
There’s a lot more detail, methodology, and tactical advice that he gives. If you haven’t read it I strongly suggest that you do. You can get it at your local library or grab it here: Atomic Habits – an Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones.
The knowledge you need to budget effectively
You need to have a base knowledge of budgeting, which means you need to know that you earn X amount and that you need to spend less than that to be “successful.” Again, it’s budgeting basics; elementary school level math, addition & subtraction.
You also need to know which budgeting method you’re going to use, as there are a handful of methods. You can usually narrow down your choices to 2-3 methods, but then you may need to test drive the budget to see how it fits. It’s totally normal for you to change methods, so don’t get discouraged if you need to change.
You also need to know your financial numbers, or at least where to find the numbers. You need to know your income, your debts, and your monthly expenses. Those figures can be composed of many sets of numbers, but you should all be able to find them on your bills, credit card statements, etc.
One of the best tips that I can give someone is to limit “how” you spend money because when you use cash, Venmo, bank auto drafts, Paypal, credit cards, debit cards, and barter, tracking your money gets very convoluted & confusing. I strongly suggest that you use 1-2 methods max. I prefer to put everything on one credit card, and I do mean everything. That way, I only need to look at one place to find all my info.
That’s all the knowledge that you need, those two things; basic math and your budgeting method. The rest are just skills & habits that can help you! Let’s go through those now!
The 7 budgeting skills for success
Budgeting Skill #1 – persistence
The dictionary defines persistence as being “firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.”
You need to really want this, so you stick with it! You need a reason/why so strong that you won’t quit. So think about what’s driving to budget, how strong is the motivation? Because when times get tough (and sorry to say they will), what will keep you going?
You will run into things that will throw your budget planning in a dumpster fire (busted water heater anyone?), or you’ll get the math wrong, or you’ll forget about your annual amazon membership fee that got auto-drafted, so you got overdraft fees. Not to mention the small unexpected expense that comes out of nowhere.
This leads to budgeting skill #2, which can be hard, as we are the toughest on ourselves…
Budgeting Skill #2 – forgiveness
Don’t worry about making mistakes. Yes, it sucks, but learn from the inevitable mistakes and try not to make them again. Just know it’s okay, as making mistakes is how we learn best!
When you’re just starting out budgeting, it will take you a good 3-4 months to get in a groove and tweak all your numbers so that they fit and make sense. I honestly have never met anyone who nailed their budget the first month. There is always “something” that happens, and sometimes it may not be within your control, and sometimes it was a mistake that you directly made (math errors in da house!)
Forgive yourself, learn from it, make changes if need be, and move on.
Budgeting skill #3 – be a timely tracker
As the old saying goes, “What gets measured gets managed.” That means you need to stay on top of your income and what you’re spending in a timely manner.
If you wait until the end of week 3 of the month to log all your receipts, and you find that you’ve overspent (by a lot), then it might be too late to fix it. So make sure that you log your outgoing money once a week so that you can course-correct if need be.
This skill doesn’t sound fun, and honestly, it’s not fun at all. But it’s necessary to succeed.
If this sounds like torture to you, maybe you should consider using cash envelopes for your spending (they work great for saving too). This way, every time you spend, you look at your dollar bills and pull some out, then you’ll automatically know how much you have left. You need to know how you spend money the best. (if that makes sense).
Budgeting skill #4 – forethought
To be an effective budgeter, you need to be able to do some financial forecasting. That is, to plan ahead and see what your monthly income will be and what your upcoming expenses will be, and work those expenses into your monthly budgeting process.
For example, think of annual subscriptions, presents for birthdays & Christmas, plan for the one-offs (i.e., new tires for your car, HVAC serviced annually, Valentine’s Day gift, etc.)
If you don’t look ahead and plan for these things, you will continually be going over budget, getting mad at yourself, getting frustrated with the process, and giving up. Neither of us wants that. So grab a calendar, and plan out when you’ll need to spend money).
Budgeting skill #5 – resourceful
This could mean many different things, but I have a few main areas I want you to consider. Be resourceful as in…
Be an active learner
Again, no one is born knowing how to budget their money, those that have learned were once a newbie student, making lots of mistakes and learning from them.
Financial literacy is a big deal, you need to find 1-3 money gurus, learn from them, and do it often! Listen to podcasts, read blogs, use their books. I love Jean Chatzky, David Bach (he makes so much sense!), and Dave Ramsey is the debt dumping guru to thousands! Be sure that the people you follow are teachers and not just sellers.
Use the tools available
The good thing to know is that budgeting has been going on a long time, so there are lots of tools available to you! For example, you don’t need to make your personal budget forms from scratch; you can buy a printable budget planner to get started on the right foot! By buying a template from a trusted resource, you can be sure that the form works and is user-friendly. No need for you to recreate the wheel!
Gather your financial statements, your bills, your budgeting tools, and work through the numbers. Don’t forget to run your calculations a few times to make sure you didn’t put in a wrong number somewhere (yup, I made lots of these mistakes). Then use these figures to make informed financial decisions (not emotional decisions).
Budgeting skill #6 – be an honest editor
An editor, not as in a publication, but edit the unnecessary out of your life. You think you “need” that subscription box. It’s so cute! But do you really need it? Probably not. #sorrynotsorry If you want to stay within your monthly budget, you’ll need to cut the extras and make sure you come in under. Again, it’s math; either you have the positive cash flow to cover the expense, or you don’t. (Psst… putting it on a credit card that you can’t pay off means you don’t have the money for it).
You need to ask yourself the hard questions and be able to answer honestly, lying to yourself isn’t going to get you to your financial goals.
Also, reconsider the people & media that you currently consume. Is following them encouraging you to get closer to your goals? If you follow a fashion blogger and always end up buying their looks, it might be best to unfollow them. I did it, I unfollowed all brands and influencers selling things, and I never even missed them! My inbox was so much easier to manage after I unsubscribed from tons of people, so much less stress (I hated seeing a full inbox, so overwhelming)!
Budgeting skill #7 – patience
Hmm… have “patience” that doesn’t sound fun. But neither does going into $7,849 of credit card debt, according to WalletHub.com. Sometimes credit card debt has to happen (broken water heater, blown-out car tire, etc.). But sad to say that most of our credit card debt comes from instant gratification.
We see –> we want –> we buy
Sure, I’d love to have lots of things, but I can’t afford them. I am practicing “spending” patience, even though I probably won’t ever afford some of the things. For example, I’d love a Daily Harvest smoothie box subscription, but dang, it’s expensive! Too expensive for me. So I’ll ask for a gift box for my birthday or Christmas and be thankful for it. But it won’t ever be a regular purchase.
Patience also helps when saving up, be it for your emergency fund, your sinking funds, or another financial goal. Watching your bank account grow starts slow, but it gains steam as your continue to save. Using some great savings trackers can help keep it fun, and your eye on the prize!
For example, there are some things that I will save up years for! Our family loves to vacation at Walt Disney World, and it’s not cheap. According to a popular vacation site, the average cost of a one-week vacation at WDW is $6,150. Now you can certainly do it a lot cheaper, and go full luxe. This was just the average.
My family usually budgets $4,500 for a trip (7-11 days usually), we could do it for less, but we like to eat great food and stay on property. It’s our preference, and we save up a long time to afford our preference. Having this savings goal is a great motivator to help us reign in our spending habits and grow our savings account!
At the end of the day
Most of the budgeting skills we just went through are behaviors and habits that you can develop over time. It’s not rocket science or CSS coding. But it will take effort to continue with it when it gets tough. So you need to have a solid ” financial why ” to help you get through the tough times.
Just remember that habits are developed little by little, over time. It’s not immediate success (or failure). The great news is that with every new month comes a new budget and another chance to rock it!
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