Budgeting is boring. And restrictive. And stops you from doing all the fun stuff you want to do, in the hope you live long enough to have a depressingly shit retirement.
Or, option 2… it gives you the freedom to not have to worry about whether you can or can’t afford to spend money on something. Gives you the money to do the things you really want to do. And helps you de-stress when it comes to thinking about your future.
Honestly, both are a little bit true. But I’m gonna show you how I budget, and how that led to me being able to retire to a life of doing what I want in just 12 years.
What finance blog shouldn’t start with a quote from Billy Shakespeare? Polonius was a right legend, and like any good fatherly advice, I’ve no doubt was completely ignored by his son.
Did Simba take his Dad’s advice? I actually dunno so feel free to let me know if you do. He probably didn’t, but then did at the end and all was OK.
Anyway, the first thing you need to do is be honest with yourself. And you can’t be trusted, so we’ll use numbers instead.
Have a look through your bank statements and look for how much usually comes in each month and how much usually goes out each month.
Minus the amount you put into savings and that gives you your true surplus. If it’s less than you have coming in, high five! If it’s more, what the hell yo?!
But for this blog, we’re mostly focusing on the expenditure.
Everything you spend money on can be run through these three questions.
So let’s look at your housing costs.
Replace it? You could live somewhere cheaper and replace the current home for another one.
Reduce it? You could bring in a lodger to reduce the cost to you.
Remove it? You could move back in with parents and remove the need to pay for your own accommodation (some parents charge rent so watch out for that!).
Pretty extreme, so let’s go for an easier one.
That gym membership you aren’t using.
Replace it? Do you mostly just go to yoga classes and then run on the treadmill? Maybe it’s worth ditching the expensive all singing all dancing gym membership and go for a run outside and attend the occasional yoga class somewhere else.
Reduce it? If you’re an entrepreneur, could you go for one of the cheaper day-time only packages, or could you just swap gyms and join a local authority gym or PureGym?
Remove it? Screw it, do you even go? For the cost of a months membership of most gyms you could buy a kettlebell and some bands and do your workouts at home.
You can do this with everything. Sometimes the answer is No to all of them. In which case cool, you’re as low as you can go with it. Or you’re shit at this game. But either way, you move onto the next item.
Oh, but don’t forget annual costs that don’t show up in your regular monthly outgoings. Those things will creep up on you and catch you out.
Once you’ve been through the list, then you can set yourself a budget for various things. You can either go super anal about it and come up with tonnes of different categories. Or you can be a bit more chill about it and just give yourself a small number.
Whatever works for you.
Use MoneyHub (other budget apps do exist) to do it all for you and make it way easier.
I tend to go somewhere in the middle. I’ll bunch things like housing costs together (utilities, rent/mortgage, cleaner, broadband, etc.) as these tend not to change too much and are usually paid by direct debit or standing order each month. I can then be a bit more specific with the fun stuff like Eating Out, Amazon, Shopping, etc.
Doesn’t matter what the number is at this point, just pick a number at random if you want. The idea is to have some kind of budget for you to review in a few months time. So no need to be too harsh with yourself at this stage.
This is where most people mess up. Chances are you were super keen on budgeting when you set the amount, and then life happened, and you started over-spending. So checking on the budgets became a reminder that you’d screwed up, and you’re a failure, and you’ll end up poor and unloved.
So you just stopped checking. Who needs that level of judgement?!
This is why we don’t set too strict a budget initially! It’s meant to be fun. OK, fun is over selling it, it’s meant to be something you accept as a fact of adulthood for the rest of your life. So best to not make it too depressing, eh?
Because I’m a slacker I use MoneyHub. So quickly scanning that once a week gives me a good idea of where I am with my monthly expenses. Now some of them are front-loaded, so I’ll have spent 95% of my utilities and housing costs by about the 5th of the month… but then there’s nothing left to go.
Things like ‘Eating out’ are much more evenly spread, so if I check 2 weeks into the month I know I should be at around 50%. If I’m way under that, then I can guilt-free go for a few extra coffee dates or meals out. If I’m above that, then I need to think twice about where I’m doing and what I’m ordering.
Check as often as you want, but don’t forget to check it regularly and use it to help guide your expenditure!
After 3 months you should have some good data on each budget category. Where you over or under budget each month? Did your life suffer because of it? Did you get dumped cos you became a cheapskate?
Review what has happened and adjust the budgets as necessary. Now I’d always suggest having a “Savings & Investing” category. When you’re adjusting budgets, remember to move this one up with everything you save. But remember it doesn’t have to be all the way.
Let’s say you’ve got the following data after 3 months.
Average Over / Under
Savings & Investment
You’ve saved £50 on the first two categories on average each month, but you’ve overspent by £25 on your food budget.
No great shakes. What I’d suggest doing at this stage is bumping your food budget up by £25, reducing the other budgets by the average underspend, and adding £25 to your savings each month.
Run the test for another 3 months and see where you’re at then.
The other option is to add £12.50 to your savings account, and add £12.50 onto your - INSERT FUN BUDGET CATEGORY HERE. Could be holiday budget, eating out budget, lawn tennis budget. Whatever it is for you.
That way you’re incentivising yourself to save money in boring stuff that we don’t really care about, and getting not only the future benefit of more savings but also the immediate benefit of having more of what you love!
All the wins!
Alright, cool. Don’t bother then.
If you’re good at saving and investing and living within your means without a budget, then fine. It may not be that useful for you to track your incomings and outgoings as tightly.
But think of it like a diet. A lot of people when they work with a nutritionist will say things like;
“I don’t understand, I don’t eat too badly but I always put on weight / never lose any weight / my weight just stays the same.”
Chances are, these people just aren’t aware of what they are actually eating - in calorie terms - on a daily basis.
You tracked the toast you had this morning, but did you track the butter you put on it? And are you sure it was 15g of butter, not 25g?
Multiply those few things here and there you forget about and that’s where the hidden calories come from.
Same with money. That Costa coffee on the way home from work, the extra USB cable that you needed for your phone, the new pair of socks that looked cute in the store. On their own, no big deal. But when you put them all together, they quickly start to add up.
On the plus side, it’s the same when it comes to investing. An extra £100 invested now could turn into £500+ in a bunch of years time. It will all add up eventually.
So just do it. Even if just for a short while. See if it makes a difference, if it doesn’t, you’ve lost maybe an hour of your life. If it does, you might have made thousands if not tens of thousands of pounds extra for your future retirement!
If you need help and some accountability to get you started, and to know where you can invest and what it will turn into you might want to check out the 21 Days to Dominate Your Finances.
Do you want to know how to invest your money wisely and make it work for you? Do you want to get a grip and secure your finances for troubled times or understand how to invest your money in todays’ uncertain times?