This isn’t a “if you’re trying to start your own business” post. This is a “if you breathe air and ever receive money” post. And I know the featured image here is cute, but I’m completely serious about this.
MAKE A BUDGET.
Portland is a gorgeous city, one filled with delicious restaurants of all kinds, and bars where the whiskey is plentiful (as well as the IPAs, which I’m quite over). Of course, none of those luxuries are free, so out comes the wallet. Sure, this isn’t a big deal once…or twice…or maybe even three times…
Obviously I went out more than three times. Maybe more than three times a week…more than three times a day it feels like. But it wasn’t like I went out and blew a bunch of money on a new TV or another game console; it was a series of small transactions, each one fairly innocent on their own, but they massed together to become a pretty significant chunk of cash by the end of the month. Not paying attention to your resources can cost you big in the long-run, particularly if you’re living on savings or are otherwise on a fixed-income.
Many of you are smarter than me and already have a budget, likely keep to the budget, and are shaking your head at me right now. Shake away, I deserve it. But to those of you like me who’ve been playing it by ear, seriously, just go make a budget. You don’t have to get complicated with it; just determine what your monthly expenses are, subtract those from your monthly income, and then push some money to savings. This might not be your final budget, maybe it’s just a starter one to get you thinking about your finances, and that’s quite alright. In the meantime, if you plan to get ahead with your money, you have to take control of it, and that means paying attention to where it’s going.
I’ve owned some budgeting software for a while called You Need a Budget, though I haven’t used it the way I should. It lets you put a budget together on your computer, then use the corresponding mobile app to log your expenses and categorize them under various budget pools you create yourself: food, clothing, savings, insurance, frivolity and mischief…you get the picture. Either way, it gives you a quick way to keep track of your expenses on your phone right when they occur, and then it syncs to the computer via Dropbox. It’s handy. Or, it’s handy when you use it, anyway. Be better than me, folks…
For those looking for a free alternative, Mint.com provides tracking and budgeting capabilities, though it’s a bit more complex than You Need a Budget. I haven’t used Mint since it was incompatible with my old bank, but friends have told me it’s pretty great. The advantage to Mint is that it automatically syncs your transactions to your Mint account, but I don’t think I’d end up paying as much attention to my transactions since I don’t have to actively enter them in to the database. Still, the automatic nature is definitely appealing to ensure accuracy and consistency.
Also, for those who get all nervous about the Cloud and their data flying around in the sky, you can use paper. Though I’m not a fan of Dave Ramsey, a friend almost swears by his financial tactics, and Dave Ramsey has a number of paper worksheets you can download from his website. Print them out, follow the steps, and get to work.
This might feel like it came out of left field, and to a certain extent it did, but I think that monitoring your money is one of the single most important things you can do to reclaim your life and work towards your goals. I’ve been in positions where money was fairly available and I could relax and enjoy life, and I’ve lived paycheck-to-paycheck, looking up my bank account balance every time I wanted to get a dollar cheeseburger. Once you’re behind the 8-ball, it becomes so much harder to get ahead or even just catch up. Just like everything else in life, an ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure.
That’s it, that’s all I’ve got this time around. It’s simple advice, but it’s really important: learn to budget. Budget your money, and, while you’re at it, budget your time. It’s easy to get caught up in the hectic pace of life, but put time aside for yourself to read, write, play games, whatever you need to do to regain your center. It’s a primary rule of budgeting: pay yourself first. All sorts of people are going to come by and demand that you give them your money or time, but generally the only person who will demand that you give yourself money or time is you.
And me. And budgeting websites and books and such. Seriously, it’s great advice.