The Secret to Effortless Budgeting
Updated: Nov 5, 2021
Budgeting can feel like a complicated chore. That's why it's important to know how to simplify the process.
In my experience as a finance blogger, I research lots of finance topics every day to help readers learn the basics of personal finance and incorporate those basics into their lives successfully.
It's a tricky process. But I've learned a lot along the way. Especially when it comes to the secrets behind actually being successful at personal finance. In fact, if you really know what you’re doing, then budgeting can be effortless.
Understand the Purpose of a Budget
One of the major hang-ups that keeps people from even budgeting in the first place is not understanding the real purpose behind a budget.
You might think that a budget is meant to keep you from spending money and remind you of all the funds you don’t have. Not true!
A budget is actually to help you spend your money mindfully and show you just how much money you really have.
When we are mindful about the way we live, we live with more purpose, with more control, and with more personal success. If we eat mindfully then eat healthier and better health leads to better, more fulfilling lives. The same goes for being mindful about your finances.
So stop postponing budgeting because you think it’s all about being strict and obsessing over every penny. It’s not. The real purpose of a budget is to seek financial mindfulness.
Choose the Best Budgeting Method for YOU
There are countless budgeting methods out there and each one has something great to offer. But not every budget method is going to work well for YOU.
Personal finance should be just that, personal.
For example, the straight-forward simplicity of the cash envelope method has always really appealed to me, but I hate dealing with cash. Instead, I like for all my finances to be done on my phone. So instead I tried using Trello to create digital “envelopes” where I could easily move cards of “cash” around all on my phone.
Don’t force yourself to use a method that just isn’t realistic for you. Realistically I knew I wasn’t going to go through the extra hassle of taking out cash and dividing everything up into envelopes. So I didn’t! I modified basic budgeting methods to my own personal preferences, which made getting myself to actually use my budget easier.
Use the Right Tools
I used to use Trello as a modified, digital cash envelope system. Now I use Google Sheets. Sometimes, taking your budget back to basics is actually the easier path.
I used this YouTube video when I was first learning how to make formulas and calculations on Google Sheets. I then created a simple monthly and weekly budget.
On my weekly budget, I know how much I can afford to spend each day after all my important monthly expenses have been taken care of. I can then use this weekly template to input how much I spend each day and keep track of how I’m doing.
Keep it Simple
In general, simplicity is always better. It’s when things get overcomplicated that we get overwhelmed and give up. So keep your budget as simple as possible.
You don’t have to buy expensive budgeting app memberships or use complicated envelope methods to budget your expenses. Just use Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel to quickly total your daily expenses and keep your spending in check.
These platforms now also have mobile-compatible versions so you can easily budget from your phone as well.
Know HOW to Budget
Contrary to what you might think, budgeting is really easy. A simple budget basically consists of 3 lists: your sources of income, your fixed expenses, and your variable expenses.
Once you know how much money you have coming in this month you can do the following:
First, list your fixed expenses.
Fixed expenses are bills or payments you make each month that don't change in amount. This is what makes them “fixed” rather than “varied.”
This includes things like rent, utilities, insurance, car payments, memberships and subscription payments, student loan payments, credit card payments, or phone bills.
Fixed expenses often include the most important things you need to financially account for each month, like rent and other important bills. This is why we calculate our fixed expenses from our monthly income first.
Second, list your varied expenses.
Varied expenses are any other payments that aren’t the same amount each month. This is why they are called “varied” rather than “fixed,” because the exact amount changes.
This includes things like groceries, gas, clothes, household supplies, hygienic supplies, eating out, and entertainment expenses.
For example, you might spend $50 on groceries this week, but next week you end up spending $65. Or you might spend $20 on a new blouse this month but then the next month you don’t buy any new clothes.
When you get to budgeting varied expenses, you’ll want to calculate how much you want to spend on each category. Then use your weekly budget to help you stay within those guidelines.
Or you could simplify!
Simply determine how much you can afford to spend on all other expenses and purchases each month, week, and day after you’ve already taken care of your most important fixed expenses. Then use your weekly budget to help you not overspend on this “varied expenses allowance.”
Budgeting doesn’t have to be a big, complicated hassle. It can be easy and effortless if you just keep things simple and use easy-to-use, free tools like Google Sheets.
In essence, the secret to effortless budgeting is knowing how to make budgeting simple and work for you, on your own terms. This means the process won't look the same for everyone, but that's ok! What matters is finding a system that helps you stay in control of your own finances.